Glossary & Explanations

  • Ace: A pilot who has scored atleast five aerial victories. The term signifies a mark of distinction and respect. Almost every fighter pilot during and since the First World War aspires to join this elite listing of pilots. During the Second World War, aces made up thirty percent of the RAF’s fighter pilot force, but they accounted for over sixty percent of its wartime victories.

  • ADGB: Air Defense, Great Britain. The pre-war name of Fighter Command, used for a time from 1944 to 1945.

  • AI: ‘Airborne Interception’. British night fighter radar.

  • Angels: The altitude of a particular group of aircraft. Angels 12 means 12 000 feet.

  • AOC: Air Officer Commanding. The usual title for an RAF officer commanding a large formation, usually above wing strength.

  • AVG: American Volunteer Group. An American fighter group formed before the war in China, and manned by volunteers and fought in Far East until 1943, when its members were absorbed into the USAAF as the 23rd Fighter Group.

  • Balboa: Fighters serving as decoys, while bombers attacked a nearby target. Balboas wrere usually flown over Belgium and France.

  • Bagful: Recorded enemy signals traffic on paper tape.

  • Bandit: An enemy fighter.

  • Blonde: Recorded enemy signals traffic photographically.

  • Bar: Insignia added to a medal – usually a bar across the ribbon – showing that it has been won twice.

  • Bomber Command: Arm of the Royal Air Force operating bombers.

  • Bomber Wing (BG): A US Army Air Force (USAAF) formation, equivalent to an RAF wing, and consisted of four squadrons each with 24 aircraft.

  • BSDU: Bomber Support Development Unit.

  • C-i-C: Commander-in-Chief

  • Circus: Large fighter sweep by as many as ten fighter squadrons accompanied by a small force of bombers (usually six), designed to draw enemy fighters into action.

  • Coastal Command: Arm of the RAF operating maritime aircraft.

  • Convoy Escort (Aircraft only): Usually consisted of two aircraft flying in ‘racetrack’ pattern over shipping, sometimes at low level. Often long and monotonous tasks that were detested by pilots, fog and poor weather accounted for many aircraft crashing into the sea.

  • Diver: Royal Air Force codename for the German V-1 Flying Bomb.

  • DF: Defensive Fire – a standard gunnery technique whereby artillery batteries designate certain likely line of advance that the enemy would take, by giving them code-numbers, and range in upon them in advance. Then when attack developed, observers in the forward positions could instantly summon artillery fire by simply giving the gunners, the relevant codes designating a particular area. For example: “DF34, DF56…etc. The system was highly effective, because it did not involve the precious time needed to calculate the aiming coordinates from scratch.        

  • Ditched: To land a damaged plane in water.

  • Dogfight: A twisting, turning engagement where moves are met by counter-moves as each pilot attempts to put his guns on the enemy. Indicative of the combat style used in WWI. Loosely used to describe means of any air combat engagement.

  • Enigma: A top-secret cipher machine used by Germany during the war. Duplicated by the Poles in the early 1930s one such machine was smuggled out to England just before Poland fell, and with this machine, the British armed with an early computer and several gifted cryptanalysts and mathematicians broke Germany’s wartime codes. The project went under the codename ‘Ultra’.

  • Fighter Command: Arm of the RAF operating fighters; equivalent to an USAAF corps.

  • Fighter Group (FG): A US Army Air Force (USAAF) formation equivalent to a British wing, and consisted of three to four squadrons each with 24 planes.

  • Flak: Antiaircraft fire. Usually known as “Ack-Ack” fire by allied troops.

  • Fleet Air Arm (FAA): The Royal Navy’s air arm.

  • Fliegerkorps: German air corps. Typically a Fliegerkorps operated between 300 and 700 aircraft of all types, its strength depending upon the importance of its area and the nature of operations it was called upon to fly.

  • Gee: British navigation & blind bombing device.

  • Geschwader: German wing – usually consisted of two to five groups. The Geschwader was the largest German flying unit to have a fixed nominal strength. Originally it had been intended that the component Gruppen of each Geschwader should operate together from adjacent airfields, but under the stress of war this soon broke down.

  • Gruppe: German Group – normally consisted of 36 to 48 aircraft. The Gruppe was the basic operational unit of the Luftwaffe that was able to operate autonomously in varied theatres, but it fell under the control of the parent Geschwader when in the same area.

  • IFF: Interrogation friend-or-foe. A device to identify an unidentified aircraft.

  • Intruder: nighttime “Rhubarb”.

  • Jabo: (German) Luftwaffe slang for fighter-bomber

  • Jagd: (German) ‘Hunter or Free chase’. Used to describe German fighter units.

  • Jim Crow: An allied fighter-reconnaissance sortie over the English Channel.

  • Kampf: (German) ‘Battle’. Used to describe German bomber units.

  • Kampfgruppe: (German) ‘Battle Group’. German specialized unit, pathfinders, etc. Usually at group strength.

  • Kette: German term for ‘Vic’ or ‘Vee’ of three planes.

  • Kill: A downed aircraft or flying bomb credited to a pilot.

  • Line of Communications: An army unit’s supply route – usually a road that was capable of accommodating vehicles bearing supplies, messages, troops…etc

  • Luftflotte: (German) ‘Air Fleet’: Luftwaffe arm roughly equivalent to a USAAF air force. Each Luftflotte was a self-contained and balanced air force, with its own fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, ground attack and other units.

  • Marsten Matting: The perforated steel planks laid down on nearly every Allied airbase constructed during the war in France and the Low Countries.

  • Monica: British tail warning device originally installed on heavy bombers.

  • Nacht: (German) Literally night. Term used to describe a German night fighter unit. Ex – Nachtgruppe…etc.

  • Noball: Allied air attacks against enemy radar sites.

  • NCO: Non-Commisioned Officer. The usual leader of a section, usually a Corporal or a Sergeant. 

  • Perfectos: Triggered enemy IFF device and gave bearing of transmission.

  • Piperjack: Radar jamming device.

  • RAF: Royal Air Force

  • RAAF: Royal Australian Air Force

  • Ramrod: A standard “Circus” operation, but involved the destruction of a ground target. The Germans of course had no way to distinguish between a ‘Circus’ or ‘Ramrod’, so both types of missions usually drew the Luftwaffe into combat.

  • Ranger: Freelance fighter sweep.

  • RCAF: Royal Canadian Air Force.

  • RCM: Radar Counter Measures.

  • RFC: Royal Flying Corps.

  • Rhubarb: A fast low-level fighter sweep over enemy territory, usually involving two aircraft. Used as an advanced training exercise.

  • RNZAF: Royal New Zealand Air Force.

  • Roadstead: Low-level shipping and coastal strikes.

  • Rodeo: Pure fighter-sweep without any bombers. The Luftwaffe usually ignored this, for it posed no threat by itself.

  • SAAF: South African Air Force

  • Schwarm: (German) German equivalent of the ‘Finger-Four’ formation.

  • Scramble: A quick take-off to intercept an enemy flight.

  • Scuttle: To destroy a friendly vessel with torpedoes or gunfire after it has been severely damaged by enemy fire and is not salvageable.

  • Serrate: A British device, which could track German night fighters from the emissions of their Lichtenstein radars.

  • SHAEF: Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force – under US General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s. Controlled all allied units (air, sea and Ground) in Europe from 1944 to 1945. 

  • SS: (German) Shutzstaffel (SS) or ‘protection squad. An elite and ruthless German combat army, formed in parallel to the regular Wehrmacht. Initially, SS recruits had to have a Nordic appearance and unmixed German ancestery dating back to 1750. In 1933 it had strength of 50 000, but by 1944 it had grown to over a million men with volunteers from other European countries.

  • Stab: German Headquarters flight – usually consisted of three to five aircraft flown by the wing’s CO and staff.

  • Staffel: German squadron consisting of 9 to 12 aircraft. The Staffel was equivalent to early British squadrons.

  • Standby: A state of readiness for a squadron; Pilots are strapped in and wait for orders to take off at a moments notice.

  • Ultra: See ‘Enigma’. The ‘Ultra’ project was so-top secret that it did not become known to the public until 1974. During the war, senior British and allied commanders received relevant Enigma decrypts only when it concerned their units. The information was passed on Special Liaison Units (SLUs) operating with senior air force, army and navy formations, who passed on the information to the commanders when necessary and destroyed the messages after they had been read.  

  • Valhalla: Luftwaffe slang for a large formation of enemy aircraft.

  • Victory: The shooting down of an enemy aircraft.

  • USAAF: United States Army Air Force. In World War II and before, all aircraft units were under the army.

  • Wehrmacht: ‘Land Army’. The German army.

  • Window: Aluminum strips designed to disrupt German radar.

  • Zestörer: (German) ‘Destroyer’. Used to describe a German twin-engined heavy fighter unit. Initially formed as an elite force within the Luftwaffe to accommodate the Me110 long-range fighter.

RAF Formations

Main units are listed here in descending order of size, with approximate number of aircraft (varies widely and is totally dependent on the size of the squadron), and the usual rank of the commander, which again varies because of combat losses, appointments, etc.

  • Air Force: Held control of several groups, and operated in a tactical role – under an Air Chief Marshal.

  • Group: Held control over several wings or squadrons – under an Air Commodore or an Air Vice-Marshal.

  • Sector: Controlled anywhere from two to five wings – under a Group Captain.

  • Wing: Controlled anywhere from two to six squadrons – under a Wing Commander or a Group Captain.

  • Squadron: The basic operational unit of the RAF that was capable of operating autonomously. Initial strength during the war was two flights providing a strength of 12 aircraft. Later, a third flight was added bring the establishment’s strength to 24 planes, sometimes even exceeding this number by having as much as 30 airplanes. Usually commanded by a Squadron Leader or a Wing Commander.

  • Flight: consisted of two sections giving an operational strength of between 6 to 8 airplanes – under a Flight Lt

  • Section: Smallest fighting formation in the RAF. It consisted

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