First mission in a new two-seater career in Wings over Flanders Fields
'Truly, this machine is a whale' ('walfisch' in German), one of the acceptance commission officials is reported to have said of LFG Roland's C.II two-seater, when it first flew about October 1915. Not the kindest of epithets, but it stuck - indeed, one famous flier of the type, Eduard von Schleich, made his Roland look even more whale-like by painting a mouth and eyes onto the nose of his machine, as people familiar with the old Airfix 1/72 kit will recall. Portly though it looked, the Roland was in its time an advanced machine, fast and well-armed, with superb view and fields of fire upwards, for a biplane. Less happily, the thin wings were reported to warp under front-line conditions, reducing climb rates, and the poor downward view and high approach speed made for rather a lot of landing crack-ups. Nevertheless, about the middle of 1916, RFC ace Albert Ball described the Roland as 'the best German machine now' and they type soldiered on over the Western Front till about mid-1917.
This isn't my first WoFF mission report in this type - that can be found here. However, it's been a while since I have flown the Roland. I decided it was time to break out of my traditional 1917 campaigns with one the year before, flying and fighting against an earlier generation of combat aircraft. For the German side of that experience, I was initially tempted to fly the neat Halberstadt D.II..
But instead for additional novelty, I thought I'd go for a two-seater, with the Roland being an obvious choice - like the RFC's Sopwith Strutter, it was no mere target, but more of an all-round combat aircraft, with a decent air-to-air capability.
To digress slightly, I'm still flying the original version of WoFF - my PC, though able to produce acceptable FPS (most of the time) with high graphics settings, has been left behind as the minimum specs have crept up. However, though I think it has introduced some stutter on my old rig at low level in graphically 'busy' situations, I am using the latest version of Ankor's DX9 mod, which to aircraft and ground shadows, has now added two really outstanding new features to Wings over Flanders Fields - subtle 'head bobbing' during manoeuvres, and mouse look. Marvellous stuff!
For my Roland campaign, I wanted a unit equipped with this type in the summer of 1916, based in the British sector - until the arrival of WoFF Ultimate Edition, the sim has somewhat limited coverage of French orders of battle, now pretty well remedied with the addition of the Caudron G.IV and Breguet 14. So I ended up with Feldflieger Abteilung 3, based at Menen in Flanders, starting in August 1916.
Here's the squadron roster, which shows me at the head of the second flight as usual in WoFF, in this case Kette Zwei; also as usual, I've enabled the 'Always lead' option to ensure that I fly at the head of my flight, every time, with no need for tedious formation flying. The unit still has some old Aviatik C.IIs. It was quite common for German two-seater units to operate a mix of aircraft types, helped no doubt by the fact that many had similar makes of engines, which probably shared many parts.
Our first mission was artillery observation, directing the fire of a battery. I believe Rise of Flight is the only WW1 sim which provides a game mechanism to simulate this activity; in the others as in WoFF, it's a case of flying to the objective, where you can orbit back and forth between the likely positions of target and battery, simulating your task (which was commonly flown in a back-and-forth figure of eight pattern).
'Art obs' planes generally operated alone, on the British side having escort only in the form of timed patrols; but the Germans often seem to have provided direct escorts. In fact, the 'CL' or light C-type two seater, though much employed later for ground attack, was intended to have just such an escort role. And the Roland C.II is arguably the immediate progenitor of the CL types that followed, like the Hannover CL.II and III and Halberstadt CL.III and IV.
For this job, four of us are detailed: three Rolands and an old Aviatik. I have accepted the unit's stock colour scheme for my kite, though with the now-free historical skin pack, I could have chosen something different, but all I did was reduce the flight's fuel load to 80%, more than enough for this operation.
Here I am hareing across the grass at Menen. The weather is good, Kette Eins is said to be flying in support, plus we have two Fokker eindekkers coming down from the north as additional cover. All in all, it's quite a big effort for an art obs mission, so perhaps the target is especially important.
Early on, I realise the Aviatik is going to struggle to keep up with our fast Rolands. I should perhaps play it as if he is the one with the morse transmitter plotting the fall of shot, and maintain formation with him so as to act as a close escort. But I decide instead to press on and sweep the skies clear, ahead of him.
Although WoFF doesn't have a functional 'warp to next event/waypoint' feature and has limited time acceleration, I generally prefer flying in real time. Even if the flight to the front is longer than this trip, the visuals are sufficiently impressive to make it a valued part of the experience, for me. The excellent cloudscapes are a major part of this, especially with Arisfuser's cloud mod.Love it!
For much of the trip down to the south-west towards the lines, I see neither Kette Eins nor the eindekker escort. But finally, nearing the front, I look up and behind, and there, hanging in the skies above, is a Fokker monoplane. The second one is lower down, but also catching us up...or trying to, not very successfully.
Soon, seen through the broken cloud, the green and yellow fields below us are giving way to the muddy earth brown of the shelled area. It won't be long now, till we are in the target zone.
At this point, we see the black smudges of German AA fire below and ahead. As I watch, I can see that the bursts are tracking towards us. Looking for their targets, I can just about make out two small specks close together, below and ahead of the flak bursts. They're on a roughly reciprocal course, but are not climbing as if to intercept us.
I watch the two enemy aircraft warily as they pass below and slightly right. I can see as they pass that they are 'pusher' types, probably F.E.2s, 'Vickers two seaters' as they Germans commonly knew them. If they'd been DH 2 fighters, they would likely be attacking us. I could ignore them, and possibly should. I hesitate, remembering that we have artillery fire to direct. But I decide that can wait, and pull around and down, after the two Englishmen, before they get too far away. Leaving the rest of my own flight lagging, I'm soon attacking their leader from his blind spot. Obligingly, my trusty observer starts shooting at the second F.E. to our left, even as I'm knocking bits off the first one.
My target turns right out of formation. I close the range, firing as I come and getting more hits.
At this point, the F.E.'s speed drops off, and a wisp of dark smoke begins to unravel in his wake. I weave but end up overshooting, giving his observer the chance to put some rounds into my machine, in return. I try a rolling scissors but he's going so slowly I just can't keep behind him, working hard as I have to, to control my Walfisch's tail-heavy tendency to push the angle of attack well up. The F.E's bobbing up and down now, like he's strugling to stay under control, but I know only too well that he's still dangerous. So I do what I should have done earlier and make a clean break, swerving away and then coming around in a wide arc to make a fresh attack. This at last has the desired effect. After some more short bursts from my forward-firing MG, the F.E. goes down with a stopped propeller.
I look around for the others, but see nothing of them. I recall noticing two of them flying close together straight and level, so perhaps they had decided to leave me to it, and go on with the mission (the WoFF AI will reportedly do this, if they conclude their leader is giving up or no longer able to fly the mission). My plans for my next move are interrupted, however, when the noise and revs of my motor drop back. The power dies too and I'm left to turn east and search for somewhere to force land. Evidently, the hits the F.E. did managed to land on my Roland are responsible for this unfortunate turn of events.
Happily, I'm well on our side of No Man's Land and almost clear of the ground torn up by shellfire. And there's an airfield nearby, but while I edge around in its direction, I haven't enough height to make it there. Instead, I manage a creditable forced landing in a big field that's fortunately bereft of the lethal fences which can bring many such a move to grief, in WoFF.
Well, my diversion meant that I failed to get to my artillery spotting location, which is not good; but my flight may have been able to carry on. In return, I've knocked down an Englishman, at the cost of a damaged motor. Not too bad a day's work, for my first day at the front!
Below, is my pilot logbook after this sortie, opened to show that I have made my victory claim, as yet unconfirmed...
A couple of pages further on, I can re-read the combat report which I typed up afterwards, against the entry for the claim.
So far, so reasonably good. Very early days yet, but I'm rather hoping that this will be the start of a long and successful career!