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1917(2) OFF MOD v.1

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New mission, same new flak. 1917(2) covers the period May - December, starting with the winding down of the British Arras spring offensive and ending with the Battle of Cambrai in the autumn. During this period the French front was quiet, following on from the failure of Nivelle's offensive on the Aisne, and attention was now about to switch to the Flanders area. During one of the worst summers on record, wet and miserable, the British repeatedly tried to break through the well prepared German defences in Flanders - starting with the successful capture of the Messines-Wytschaete ridge in June, to prevent the Germans from gaining overlook of the preparations for the major British offensive of that year, the Third Battle of Ypres, that opened on 31st July but failed to make much progress, continuing sporadically after this initial failure into further assaults: on the Polygon Wood (end of September), Paschendaele Ridge (October), and then the Battle for Paschendaele itself between 30th October and 10th November. Finally, with the use of tanks, a partial breakthrough was achieved further south, at Cambrai, but it was ultimately a failure due to the lack of reserves needed to exploit the opening, and ended with a successful German counterattack south of Bourlon Wood. In this eight month period there was a considerable shift in air tactics on both sides of the line. The German air service, despite expansion by the end of the year to almost twice the size that it was at the start, was still struggling against numerically superior odds and an influx of British pilots now better trained, with technologically superior aircraft, and deployed in larger squadron-strength offensive patrols. To prevent the British regaining air supremacy over the vital 'active' areas of this front, the Germans responded by grouping their best pilots and Jastas into the first wing-sized formation, or Jagdgeschwader 1 "Richthofen's Circus", that could be moved along the front to wherever it was most needed. This had the effect, however, of taking the best pilots and units away from the 'quiet' sectors, and this allowed the British Corps machines to go about their daily photo.recon. and art.obs. missions in these areas with far less opposition than might otherwise have been the case. Both the British and the German air services also started to develop a doctrine of ground attack, a development of the 'contact patrol' into a full fledged 'battle' or 'protection' patrol aimed at the silencing or supression of the mg nests and hidden artillery batteries that formed the major obstacle to the advancing infantry (the product of a new doctrine of 'elastic' defence, developed first by the Germans along the Hindenburg Line and subsequently adopted by the British as well). Scouts, such as the DH5 and the Camel, were used for this by the British, whilst special 'Schutzstaffeln' two-seater units were used by the Germans. The period also saw the development of the first 'wireless intercept' missions on both sides, where the wireless signals from the enemy art.obs. aircraft were triangulated by listening posts along the line, and a pair or section of fighters, held at readyness, would be 'scrambled' to intercept (but often arriving too late). The British also extended the strafing and bombing missions into the German rear areas, targetting the lines of communication and airfields, whilst two-seaters would bomb the airfields and railway junctions by day and night. Despite these efforts the British had nevertheless failed to make a decisive breakthrough by the end of the year, and were about to be forced back onto the defensive as the German forces started to redeploy westwards after the end of the Russian campaign in the autum of 1917. The Germans knew that if they were to have any chance of winning the war in the west, they needed to strike now, before the USA's entry into the war tipped the balance decisively back in favour of the Allies...

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