The first World War saw the introduction of many new technologies on the battlefield. At first, the aircraft over the fields of France and Flanders were unarmed and used purely for reconnaissance, but soon pilots brought bricks, hand grenades and rifles with them to try to destroy, or drive away, the enemy's planes.
As the planes became more rugged and powerful, machine guns were mounted on them and skirmishes between opposing aircraft became common: Dogfighting!
This was an entirely new tactical situation, nobody had been trained for it, and the few that survived more than a few sorties did so because of luck, talent and/or intuition. The need to communicate the experiences of these pilots to the new recruits was immediate. In September 1916 the German ace Oswald Boelcke wrote the most well-known guidelines for novice pilots. It comprised (in part) eight simple rules for success and became known as the Dicta Boelcke:
- Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.
- Always follow through an attack when you have started it.
- Fire only at close range, and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.
- Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
- In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.
- If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.
- When over enemy lines, never forget your line of retreat.
- For the squadron: Attack in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.
The above is just a summary, and though it may seem overly simple, learning the Dicta could be the difference between life and death for a young pilot in WWI, in fact, the Dicta were still relevant to new fighter pilots for decades to come. Only when radar replaced the eyes of the pilot, and guns became secondary to guided missiles was Boelcke's advice outmoded.