Know Your Squadron
Before entering battleespecially before commanding a flight or a squadron--you need to be aware of the squadron's composition, and where you fit in. In Single- or Quick Start missions, you are made the Squadron Commander by default, and may select how many aircraft you wish to accompany you. In a regular career mission, however, the squadron's composition is dependent on how the war is going so far, your rank, and other factors (such as how many pilots came back from the previous mission), so it is vital to at least glance at the Armaments chalkboard (look under "SQUADRON") before running out the hangar doors. How many flights will you have? How many in each flight? Which is your flight? Knowing all this beforehand is important to minimize confusion later on, when the enemy is converging from all directions.
Remember that a squadron (or staffel) is composed of up to four flights (also called sections or schwarms), each containing four aircraft in the USAAF and Luftwaffe, or three aircraft in the RAF. In an RAF squadron, each section leader has two wingmen (both of the other aircraft in his section), but in a USAAF flight or German schwarm, each flight leader has one wingman, plus a second element containing the other element leader and his wingman. This is an important distinction to remember, especially if you alternate between flying in RAF and USAAF or Luftwaffe missions. In an RAF mission, if you tell your wingman to "Cover Me," you will have two aircraft watching your six. And because your wingmen in the RAF are also your entire section, telling your section ("Red Section, Cover Me") will have the same effecttwo wingmen protecting you.
In a USAAF or Luftwaffe mission, however, telling your wingman to cover you means only one aircraft at your tail, because each flight or schwarm is made up of two elements: one element lead (also the flight leader) and his wingman, plus the other element lead and his own wingman. On the other hand, telling the flight or schwarm to cover you means both your own wingman and the other element will watch you, for a total of three others.
As an RAF Section (or Squadron) Commander, telling your wingmen/section to engage means both of the other aircraft in your section will head out and target on their own, leaving you alone. In the USAAF and Luftwaffe, however, telling your flight or schwarm to engage will split the flight into the two elements, with the other element lead (plus his wingman) heading out, and your wingman staying to cover you, unless you specifically order him otherwise. So in the USAAF and Luftwaffe, if you want each of the three others in your flight to do something, you have to issue the order twice: once to the flight (the other element lead will acknowledge), then again to your wingman. This is a little more work, but does give you more flexibility in assigning duties to your flight.
Also be aware of the command hierarchy: as a Squadron Commander, for example, your squadron orders are given to the other flight/section/schwarm leaders, not to each aircraft in each flight. Those leaders in turn disseminate the orders to their wingmen and/or elements, and can vary a bit depending on the circumstances, such as the type of mission, enemy numbers, aircraft types and morale. As a USAAF Squadron Commander, for example, you might tell Blue Flight to engage. Blue's flight leader may decide to have the three others in his flight all cover him, or break it apart into 2+2, or 1+1+1+1 with each of the four of them engaging on their own. Or, you may tell White Flight to forget about the fighter escorts and just target the bombers ("Target Bombers", then "Engage"), but upon examining the enemy, White leader may have one plane in his flight hang back and cover the other three (targeting fighters and "Cover Me" instead of targeting bombers). You can't micromanage (and thankfully don't have to) every plane in the squadron when you are Squadron Commander; rather you must rely on the judgement of your subordinates in carrying out your overall orders. But you do need to know who you are leading and how many you are leading to carry out an effective mission, which is why checking the Armaments board for the squadron composition should be the first thing you do after a mission briefing.
Basic Commands to Your Wingman
Keep in mind that under the RAF you have two wingmen, which also makes up your entire section, so Wingman orders under the Radio Command menu will be the same as section orders to your section (use either in the Radio Command menu, if you are in the RAF). In the USAAF and Luftwaffe, however, commands to your wingman will only apply to your one official wingman, and not to the rest of the flight or schwarm.
In most cases, you don't need to issue any orders to your wingman at all. The default is for the wingman to cover you, generally staying in formation (or following you around in combat) and breaking off to drive away enemy fighters that may try to attack you. The wingman won't chase them too far, only long enough for them to break off of their attack on you (unless he is particularly good and can quickly shoot them down, of course). The wingman will then return to your side (or as close as possible if you are maneuvering excessively) to cover you some more, until you order otherwise.
You have the ability, however, to use your wingman more aggressivelythe best defensive sometimes is a good offense--and order him to attack specific aircraft, or to attack whatever you attack, in tandem. Or, if resistance is light, you might decide to send him off on his own to attack or protect as he sees fit.
The "Engage" command sends your wingman (or both wingmen in the RAF) off on his own, at his discretion. If there are no good targets in sight, he may stay in formation with you, or between attacks may join up with you, but as long as his standing order is to engage, he may break off, target and attack at will.
If you select a specific target (with the T key - default), then tell your wingman to "Attack My Target," he will go after that selected target and pursue it until it is destroyed (or you call him back), leaving you free to target and attack others. Once the original target is destroyed, your wingman will notify you, then will return to the default "Cover Me" command. You might use "Attack My Target" when escorting bombers, for example, when you notice two aircraft heading toward the group. Have your wingman take one, and you take the other! Or, when attacking another fighter (and his covering wingman), have your wingman target his wingman, or both of you target the same, or any other combination, as you see fit.
Another possibility is to have your wingman attack whatever you are currently targeting, so the two of you might attack one aircraft in tandem, then move on to the next, and the next, with him attacking whatever you target automatically. To do this, first point out a target (any enemy, actually) to your wingman by selecting the target with "T" (default) and tell your wingman to "Attack My Target,". The wingman will reply, then order him to "Regroup,". The combination of staying in formation and attacking your target will keep him at your side (or close to it) and targeting whatever you target automatically. It can be a powerful offensive technique, but under these orders your wingman won't break off to cover you, so always remember what your last orders to your wingman were, because he'll keep following them until otherwise ordered. Also, don't get too close together in the tandem attacks, or you may find yourself victim to accidental friendly fire!
Another strategy is to use your wingman as a decoy. Select a target then tell your wingman to "Engage," or "Attack My Target" (either one will work). Fall back a ways and follow (preferably with the sun at your back, which makes you harder to see). Enemies in the heat of battle may find the lone aircraft too hard to resist and will close in on his six and your twelve! Open fire, but be careful not to hit your wingman, of course. Take caution though; the enemy may try the same trick on you, so look out for lone enemies flying slow, trying to entrap you!
To bring your wingman back to your side again, tell him to cover you, or "Disengage" (he'll come back and cover you again). You may also wish to periodically have him "Regroup" (if you have told him to engage on his own, for example), to keep him in the general vicinity. He won't stray too far in any case, but it's probably best to stay close to each other in case one of you gets jumped by a couple of tandem attackers.
Flight and Squadron Commands
The same or similar commands that you can give to your wingman can also be given to a whole (single) flight, or to all flights in the squadron. You can get the entire squadron to cover you, for example, but that is probably not the best use of your resources. The most common command to individual flights (or to the squadron) is to simply engage, which if given to your own flight (USAAF) or schwarm (Luftwaffe) will initially split the flight into 2+2, with you plus your wingman as one element, and the other element leader plus his wingman going off and doing their own thing. That other element leader may in turn split into 1+1, but will usually keep his wingman covering him, or may even call for them to attack together in tandem. To bring them all back, tell the flight to "Disengage" or "Regroup,".
If you are the Squadron Commander, the squadron commands you can issue are the same as issuing the command to each flight individually. It is just easier to say "Squadron Engage" rather then "Red Flight Engage; Blue Flight Engage; White Flight Engage." If you do tell the whole squadron to engage, your own flight will engage as described above, then each leader of the other flights will decide how to best carry out the engage order from their perspectiveyou do have to trust your subordinates! Usually the flights will break into 2+2, but some may split into 1+1+1+1 if their leader is feeling aggressive (or safe). As with your wingman, you may wish to periodically tell your flight (or squadron) to regroup to get everyone back together, if they seem spread out and the enemy has been driven away, at least temporarily. Don't be too passive, though, as an aircraft ordered to regroup may pass by other enemies on the way back into formation---it's usually best to make sure the enemy is dead or retreating before pulling back, else they will gain the offensive!
If you are flying in a career mission, depending on your ranking and other factors you may just have one flight/section/schwarm under your command, or just one wingman, or you may be someone's else's wingman with nobody to command! The Radio Command menu (TAB key - default) will gray-out any class of commands you are not authorized to issue. Though you should have checked the squadron's organization before you took off (on the Armaments board back in the hangar), you can also determine the hierarchy somewhat by seeing what is grayed-out in the radio menu and what is still highlighted.
If another (AI) pilot is leading the squadron, there is some flexibility in EAW in that you won't actually be ordered to attack, or cover someone, or regroup, but it is for the greater good of the squadron (and the mission outcome) if you heed your leader's request. When first intercepting a squadron of bombers and their escorts, for example, your AI leader may already have a flight of fighters covering the escorts, and may want you to focus on the bombers. Or, vice-versa. You can have your flight attack whomever you wish, but if your leader warns you to "lookout for the escorts," it means he prefers you target the bombers. If your leader says to watch for fighters, he wants you to target the fighters. As the hierarchy goes, if you are the flight/section/schwarm leader, you need to turn around and issue the same orders to your flight, plus your wingman (if you want him to do something else besides cover you).
If you are flying along with your leader in formation, when you first encounter the enemy, you could break off on your own (or with your flight) by telling them to engage, without penalty. However, it is best to wait for your squadron leader to say "let's get them" before breaking off. The leader may have already sent a different flight after the enemy, and now sees another squadron approaching (that you don't see) and is saving your flight to attack them. Stay in formation until the leader says to "go get 'em," then turn around and tell your flight to engage, and peel off!
Giving Orders: Effective Leadership
As a leader of a flight/section/schwarm, or especially as the leader of the whole squadron, your leadership (or lack of) can and will affect the outcome of an encounter. If you are commanding the whole squadron, and upon contact with the enemy don't give orders to engage, your subordinate flight leaders and wingmen won't know whether to cover you, attack, or stay in formation. They will stick with the default, to cover their respective leaders, but once shot at and lacking any engage orders, they may break off, or not. In any case, they will be confused as to what you want them to do. Poor leadership will lead to indecisive and passive air combat, and probably quick death.
When you first encounter the enemy, in most cases you should simply tell the squadron to "Engage,". If you want them to attack, you have to at least issue this command, because they will not automatically engage (in case you deliberately want to keep them together). Likewise, if you are just a flight/section/schwarm leader (with an AI squad leader), remember to turn around and tell your flight to engage after your leader tells you to get them, otherwise your flight will all stick to the default and just cover you. You may want to keep it that way, but in the USAAF and Luftwaffe it is probably more advantageous for your flight or schwarm to break apart (engage) into its elements of 2+2. Just remember to issue the "Engage" command to start the attack, because they won't attack until ordered.
As a squadron leader, you can also partially engage your squadron, as a strategic maneuver. With the enemy approaching on the horizon and from the left, for example, you might tell Blue Flight to engage, which will send them directly toward the enemy as a decoy. You and the other flights could then continue straight ahead, or climb, maybe with the sun at your back. Peel off another flight, then you and your own flight continue on and turn around to attack from the rear. Surround them!
Things get complicated when the different squadrons are sent to intercept you from different directions. To have one of your flights engage a particular squadron, select a target ("T" key - default), then tell them to engage, and that flight should head in that target's direction. If you are being surrounded, however, you may wish to stay together as long as possible. To do that, hold off on issuing the "Engage" command until the last minute, to keep everyone clustered together. Keep your situational and spatial awareness! When Ground Control warns you of enemies at vector 330, it doesn't mean you have to turn to heading 330 to meet them head-on. Fight the encounter on your terms! Maybe tell one flight to engage, then you and your other flights circle back. The enemy may surround and pounce on your decoy, then you can descend from the clouds and pounce on their six! Of course, sometimes the enemy approaches suddenly and without warning, leaving you little time for figuring out a clever strategy. Just hit (TAB - default), squadron (or flight), "Engage," and do your best.
Note, though, that in an escort mission, "Engage" has a slightly different meaning than in a fighter sweep or intercept. "Engage" to an escort aircraft means to begin actively escorting the bombers. This means escort aircraft told to engage will peel off and stick close to the bombers, chasing off (and trying to shoot down, of course) any enemy that gets too close. If the escort strays too far, it will break off and regroup with the bombers---the mission objective is to get the bombers to their destination, not necessarily to shoot down the enemy. This may or may not be the best strategy tactically (actively counter-attacking the attackers was found to be generally more effective, later in the war), but the bombers will scream "Where are you guys?!" if you stray too far. Escort missions tend to be difficult for this reason, because you are forced to be on the defensive and react on the enemy's terms.
With the other mission types, however, "Engage" means to head toward and attack enemy fighters (or both fighters and bombers in intercept missions), unless otherwise specified with the "Target " radio commands. Aircraft will usually go after the easiest target, and will try to stick to it until it is destroyed or a much better one comes along. Or, they may lose their target in the sun, clouds or against the terrain, and may seem to wander a bit before finding another good one. Between individual dogfights, aircraft will try to head back toward the center of the action, or toward the general vicinity of the squad leader, so action may spread out, but usually not too much. When activity seems to have quieted down, you will probably want to tell everyone to "Regroup" (or if you are not the leader, you may hear "OK everybody, break it off!" which is your signal to regroup), which helps to prevent getting spread too thin, especially in enemy territory. After regrouping, you may discover the enemy has retreated, or worse, that some friendly aircraft were shot down. Or, maybe they just got lost and out of radio contact (or out of ammo), and headed back to home on their own. Try to keep everyone together, though, in case another enemy squadron looms over the horizon.
You are always allowed to radio Ground Control for radar vectors or other assistance, whether you are just a wingman or are the squadron leader. They may or may not have radar coverage in that area, however, so they may not be able to help you much. Primary radar (especially the somewhat crude radar used at that time) is also imprecise, and more so the further the distance, so vectors and distances may be estimated. It is usually accurate enough, though, to point you in the general vicinity and close enough to spot the targets visually. Where there is radar coverage, use it to your advantage! In a chaotic dogfight, if you have shot down your target and are now a little disoriented as to where you are or where to go next, ask for a vector to the nearest bandit. Ground Control should more-or-less be able to vector you toward the center of the action. Likewise, if you are escorting bombers and lose sight of where they are, ask for a heading to rejoin them (you can also look at the map if radar coverage isn't available).
The vectors given by Ground Control are compass headings (000 to 359) to fly to intercept the target. If they say vector 270, turn until your compass (or heading indicator) has you pointed to heading 270 (due West). Based on your current speed and their current speed, you should meet them quickest by flying the given heading.
Even if Ground Control has no radar, they
can often track the action based on time estimates, position reports
and a network of ground spotters, and may be able to at least
give you a rough vector back to base if nothing else. Regardless,
it's always a good idea to be aware of landmarks and significant
geographical features whenever possible, to help orient yourself
after a dogfight.
"When in doubt, the autopilot can bail you out." The autopilot in EAW is more sophisticated than the wings-level or altitude-hold autopilots (at best) from the time period. Your EAW autopilot will essentially fly you to where you "should" be at any given time: toward the bombers you are supposed to escort, into formation with your leader if the leader has called for a regroup (or wants you to cover him), or just along the route's checkpoints if the mission is completed.
If you are a flight or squadron leader and ask for vectors to the bandits (like on an intercept mission), the autopilot will program itself to follow the given vectors. All of the autopilot programming is automatic, depending on the mission, so in general, if you're unsure of where to go, just turn it on and it should take you there.
Once you get back to the area around your
home base, especially when you are in formation with the rest
of your squadron, you may wish to let the autopilot take over.
It will turn you out and line you up in sequence with everyone
else, and even line you up for landing and roll you to a stop
if you like. In general, you can turn on the autopilot whenever
you need a breather to reorient yourself, or scan for enemies,
and you should be fine. It can do just about everything for you,
except fight your battlesthat you have to do yourself!