flight formation

It was not the only inopportune plane crash of WWII for the Germans, though. Only a couple years later, Germany would lose one of its leading fighter tacticians, Werner Moelders, in a crash of a He111 carrying him to the funeral of Ernst Udet. Werner Moelders was not only a fighter ace, but also an outstanding leader who encouraged the adoption of modern formation fighting tactics. The interwar years had bred some bad habits in the air forces of the world, and most of them flew into combat the same way they flew at air shows: parading wingtip to wingtip in pretty little vee formations that were useless in combat. The German pilots, thanks to Moelders, adopted more pragmatic, loosely-spaced formations of twos and fours in staggered line abreast (known as the finger four formation by the allies, since the positions of the planes in formation resemble the relative positions of the tips of the four fingers of your hand) that allowed the pilots to watch the skies for enemy planes instead of spending all their time avoiding midair collisions. Eventually these tactics were adopted by all of the world's air force, and are still used today, at least by fighter pilots flying with any sort of life expectancy.

Other air forces have pioneered their own unique approaches to survivability in the air, but none of them have been as successful as the finger four. For example, the Iraqi air force found that its planes were much less likely to get shot down if they buried them in the sand, but this tactic did not prove to be a war winner. It didn't do wonders for the plane's mechanical condition, either, so be careful shopping for Mig-29's on ebay. Make sure there are no big gaps in the logbook around 1991 when you buy...

It should be noted that airplanes brought yet another dimension to land combat during the early years of the war in the form of the paratrooper. The Russians actually invented the paratrooper, the Germans merely introducing the refinement of allowing the troops to ride INSIDE the planes. The Germans were also the first to put them to good use, by airdropping commandos onto key bridges and fortifications in the path of the German march through the low countries. Following the success of their first airborne operation, they became more ambitious and decided to capture the entire island of Crete with them. This went slightly worse, and established for the historical record that the parachute was not the ideal piece of outerwear when descending through large quantities of flak. But they took the island, thereby insuring Germany's wartime supply of olive oil and polka music.