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Sopwiths Over Flanders Fields 2

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#1 33LIMA

33LIMA
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Posted 21 September 2016 - 04:41:21 PM

The Pups are coming!

 

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Jagdstaffel Boelcke
Jan. 4th 1917
4.15pm
Near Metz au Couture
Sopwith One Seater, No. LRT 5193
Motor: 80hp le Rhone No.5187

 

A new type of plane, never seen before, but as wings broken, barely discernible.
Pilot: Lieut. Todd killed, papers and valuables enclosed. About 4.15pm. Just after starting, we saw above us at 4000 meters altitude four planes unmolested by our artillery. As the anti-aircraft guns were not firing we took them for our own. Only when they were nearer did we notice that they were English. One of the English planes attacked us and we saw immediately that the enemy plane was superior to ours. Only because we were three against one did we detect the enemy's weak points. I managed to get behind him and shoot him down. The plane broke up whilst falling.

 

This combat report of Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen (quoted from this site) records the Red Baron's impressions after his first encounter with the redoubtable Sopwith Pup, on of the few fighters able to take on and beat the Albatros scouts fielded by the German Jagdstaffeln. Armed with just one Vickers Gun, the Pup lacked the hitting power of the later and even more famous Camel. But its much more viceless flying characteristics and great agility made it a decent fighter. In his peerless memoir No Parachute, 46 Squadron's Arthur Gould Lee recounts one battle with the dreaded V-strutters during which his flight demonstrated the Pup's superiority at height, with the Albatrosses trying fruitlessly to climb up to the Pups, which were able to stay above the enemy and mount diving and zooming attacks with complete impunity.

 

So this installment of Sopwiths over Flanders Fields features the Pup. And as No Parachute and its sequel Open Cockpit are probably my favourite WW1 aviation memoirs, the campaign will see me flying with AG Lee's 46 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. My last Wings over Flanders Fields campaign with 'Forty-six' is probably this one from CA-WW1, flying the Camel. When Lee joind the squadron in France in May 1917 they were flying Pups, having recently converted to the fighter role after flying Nieuport 12 two-seaters.

 

I have selected 'Always lead' so I fly as patrol leader not wingman and for my first mission, we draw a patrol entirely behind our own side of the lines, which would have been most unusual for the offensively-minded RFC, led by the redoubtable Brigadier General Hugh 'Boom' Trenchard. We are based at la Gorgue, near the River Lys, and are to patrol down to the airfield of Fienvillers, some miles to the south-west. I'm leading 'B' Flight with three Pups; 'A' Flight, with another four, is detailed to provide top cover.

 

Here we all are, lined up and ready to go. My machine, nearest the camera, is in WoFF's default and rather anonymous 46 Squadron markings - as are most of the other Pups. The aircraft numbered '2' is in my flight and is flown by real-life ace Clive Brewster-Joske; 'B' flight is led by another squadron ace, Cecil 'Chaps' Marchant, flying the Pup with the yellow nose.

 

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Here's a closer view of Marchant's machine:

 

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Taking off in WoFF is a whole (less fraught) different ball-game, compared to Rise of Flight and with no aircraft more so than the Pup, which comes off the ground quickly and cleanly, like a creature keen to leave the earth and get into its natural environment. The WoFF weather can often be pretty foul but today, there's a lot of blue sky, with moderate cloud at around ten thousand feet. The bright conditions show off nicely the fine lines of WoFF's Pup, whose detail goes as far as legible 'Palmer Cord Aero Tyre' printing on the tyres.

 

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The 'office' is equally well done, with lots of wood, brass and leather in evidence.

 

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My own kite isn't as colourful as old Marchant's, but she's a nice bird. She has her roundels outlined in white, a recent addition as previously, there'd been complaints about the dark outer blue ring making the national markings hard to distinguish, against the khaki PC10 finish.

 

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Our first leg is up to the north-east, not that we need the extra distance to climb to patrol height before reaching the patrol zone. I fly the leg anyway. Despite the long second leg down to the south-west, I have plenty of time, and if I stick to the programme, there's more chance we'll end up in the same airspace as 'A' Flight. Safety in mumbers, and all that.

 

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I level off for a while to let Joske and the other pilot, Sergeant Schellden, catch up.

 

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Then we climb up, passing over la Gorgue and the Lys again on our way back down towards the airfield in whose vicinity we were to patrol.

 

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I am half expecting the skies to be empty when we get there, and to fly home cursing the staff officers who have sent us on this fool's errand. Trenchard must be on leave, otherwise he'd not have one of his squadrons swanning about in this fashion, when they could have been dominating the skies on the Hun's side of the lines.

 

However, this time, the staff officers were right.

 

...to be continued!


  • Dave63 likes this
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892

#2 33LIMA

33LIMA
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Posted 23 September 2016 - 12:32:16 PM

Enemy in sight!

 

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Our three Pups, in echelon right formation, make the long climb down to the south-west, where we are to patrol for at least 20-odd minutes. I tend to ignore such timings, whether or not they may be somehow tied into the mission being nominally counted successful. However, I do like to fly in real time. WoFF doesn’t have a usable ‘warp to next encounter’ key (which I like, and use regularly, in First Eagles 2), but my aversion to dull transit flights is generally less than my dislike of time acceleration, which I avoid on anything but really long flights. Fortunately this is WW1, Western Front so even relatively long flights are bearable in real time. Especially as you could run into something at any point.

 

At one point on this transit, a group of apparently  friendly aircraft flies past; I cannot tell if it is ‘A’ Flight, but it seems unlikely as they are flying back in the direction of la Gorgue. I’m still well short of my patrol zone so do not turn aside to confirm their identity, and they quickly disappear from view.

 

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Flying on, it occurs to me that I’m still in the possibly dangerous mindset of not expecting contact with the enemy, so far behind our lines. Wait till Trenchard finds out, I’m thinking, the staff officer who has us patrolling so defensively will get a rocket! Still, I keep an eye open. There’s a haze which limits visibility of the ground and broken clouds all around. And the sun, high on our left, could hide a squadron or more in its glare. I scan as usual, but I’m hoping that this won’t be the day the Huns break the habit of a lifetime and send scouts/fighters over the lines. If anything, I am expecting to see maybe a bombing or reconnaissance mission, for us to be the hunters, not the hunted.

 

Eventually, we reach ten thousand feet and after putting on a little more height, I level off. The skies around us remain obstinately empty, and I’m still fully expecting this party will be a washout. As we near Fienvillers, I edge to one side and look out ahead for the airfield that marks our patrol zone.  Soon, we are there.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-15-23.jpg

 

And that's not all I see. At about the same level and to my left front, I notice some grey-white puffs in the sky. I watch long enough to confirm they are not cloudlets. They are bursts of friendly Archie, tracking Huns I cannot yet see. I can feel he corners of my mouth rise into a faint smile. We are going to have some sport on this mission, after all.

 

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I bank left into a wide turn calculated to bring us onto a rough interception course without stretching our formation. To my right rear, Marchant and Shellden keep up nicely. As we draw closer, I see that there are two enemies, close together, flying roughly north-eastwards. They take no hostile action and we continue to close steadily. Helpfully, Archie falls silent for now.

 

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The Huns have the look of two-seaters, DFWs probably, on a recce. It’ll be our job to ensure what whatever pictures they have taken are never seen by the enemy.

 

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Sure enough, DFW C.Vs is what they are, the nearest one flying to the left and slightly below the more distant, close enough for mutual support.

 

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As the range winds down it occurs to me that having caught the enemy, it’s rapidly becoming necessary for me to decide what I’m going to do with them.  They are indeed DFWs, tI decide to attack the nearest from below and behind and, from just out of range, I settle into a curve of pursuit, pushing the nose down as I do so. At the same time I order the others to attack, hoping they will pick the second enemy. This seems to work out quite well. I slip under the tail of my target un-molested by fire from either Hun.

 

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So I pull up my nose to bring him into my sights and give him a couple of short bursts.

 

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I have yet to find a way of keeping pace below and behind a moving target while keeping my nose well up and my fixed guns on target. Either I have to nose down to avoid coming up level with him, forcing me into a series of short rollercoaster-like attacks from below and behind; or keeping him in my sights with my nose up brings me up level, directly behind him. The former is probably better tactics but the latter is what I end up doing, today. I keep shooting as I come, ready to dive down again the moment I start taking return fire from the observer.

 

But it never comes. Some rounds whip in from my right, from the other DFW, but that soon stops – a glance reveals my two flight-mates are racing in after him. So I keep on chipping away at my target. He seems every bit as fast as I am, but suddenly, the range starts winding down, slowly at first, then faster.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-19-12.jpg

 

Pieces fly off him, but though there is still no return fire, he won’t go down. Two MGs would have made short work of him from this range, but I have only my single Vickers. I am now closing fast from dead astern, intending to blast him out of my way, but in the end, I have to break hard, which I do at the last possible second. Stupidly, I break left, but high rather than low. I'm lucky to escape a bellyful of lead. If I’d had a cricket ball, I could have hit the Hun observer right on the noggin with it as I overflew him, so close we came.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-20-31.jpg

 

The break is so violent and close that I am by no means sure I haven’t connected with him, somewhere. But looking back, I see that the Hun is now losing altitude, even as the other two Pups flash past on the tail of his leader.

 

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The realisation of how close I have come to wrecking myself shocks me, and I hold my breath until I have checked that my machine is still in one piece and answering her controls. Which she is, glad to tell, though she seems to have acquired a pronounced desire to roll to the left. Something is not quite right, but I am still in business. I come around for another pass.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-21-16.jpg

 

As I break from my second firing run, I look back and see that while my target is still there, a dark column of black smoke marks the final plunge of another aircraft. It is the leader's DFW.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-21-40.jpg

 

I come around after my own target and make another attack, again taking no return fire, but now having to avoid my companions, who are quickly turning their attentions to the second Hun. This time, I notice as I pass that his propeller has stopped turning. He is certainly heading for the lines, but it seems doubtful that he will reach them, let alone cross them back into Hun-land.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-22-13.jpg

 

My flight-mates are taking no chances, however, for they both wade in after him. This is where one really feels the lack of a general recall order in WoFF – the ‘R’ command works only after an order to attack ground targets, rather weirdly. My comrades are now taking needless risks, as well as potentially depriving their flight commander of a victory that is rightfully his. I am concerned that my worst fears have been realised, when I see a Pup falling past the surviving DFW in a vertical nose-dive. He disappears somewhere below and the more I think about what I have just seen, the more concerned I become that he is not going to pull up.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-22-57.jpg

 

I swing away, testing my machine’s controllability but ready to make an attack of my own should it prove necessary. As I turn back towards the enemy, I see that he is no longer gliding steadily earthwards, but falling like a stone, and in flames, just like the other DFW a few moments before.

 

Shot09-21-16-23-24-16.jpg

 

I orbit the scene, giving my flight the chance to close up. I see two unidentified aircraft fly over us, unengaged by Archie but too far away to confirm who they are. They’re much to high up to be Marchant and Shellden. Where have they gone? Finally, a solitary Pup appears, closing up behind me. It’s Marchant. So it seems that the nosediving Pup was Shellden, and that he’s not coming home.

 

I decide to put down for repairs at the nearest base, rather than fly all the way back to la Gorgue in a damaged kite. I tell Marchant to make his own way home and set down at a nearby field, relaxing only after I have rolled to a stop with the motor switched off. 

 

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Later, it’s confirmed that Shellden has indeed ‘gone west’. I suspect that the destruction of the second DFW came from his having collided with it. Either way, he is credited with both Huns. It’s not an outcome I’m going to argue with; at least the CO will have something positive to write in his sad little letter to the family back home.

 

In strictly military terms, the mission’s been a success. The Huns won’t get to develop those photographs, but I’ve lost a member of my flight on my very first mission. So I’m not feeling particularly victorious. Hopefully, I’ll feel better in the morning, after a few drinks and a sing-song around the old piano, cracking out some of the songs which make light of the things that are best not dwelt upon.

 

When you soar into the air in a Sopwith Scout

And you’re scrapping with a Hun, and your gun cuts out

Well, you stuff down your nose, till your plugs fall out

‘Cos you haven’t got a hope in the morning!

 

Sung to the tune of ‘Do you ken John Peel?’

 

Next up – the Sopwith Triplane!


  • Dave63 and Silberpfeil like this
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892





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