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IL2 - World War One

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Fighting World War One in the air, IL-2 style

Dark Blue World 1916

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This is intended to be the first in a short series of mission reports, designed to showcase a new kid on the World War One airwar block - IL-2 Dark Blue World (DBW) 1916. This 'mod within a mod', as the title suggests, adds a 'Great War' experience to that long-running and still popular WW2 classic, IL-2. It's is not new, but it has been recently updated and expanded, to the point where it's now a serious contender for any WW1 flight sim enthusiast.

For anyone new to DBW 1916, I'll respectfully refer them to this post, in which I've attempted to describe how to get up-and-running with DBW and the latest version of DBW 1916:


DBW 1916 started with mostly 'Frankenplanes', adaptions of some existing IL-2 types like the Po-2 biplane. These are still there, but they have now been joined by a considerable variety of authentic British, French and German aircraft, including not only favourites like the Camel, Fokker triplane and Nieuport 17, but also some less-often-seen types like the German Roland DII 'scout' and AEG CV two-seater, seen below:

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I've purchased and flown pretty well every version of IL-2 since the original, but it's only with the advent of Dark Blue World that I've spent much time with the sim. DBW adds many planes, maps, better visuals and sounds, and most important to me, does a better job than previous (payware) addons in bringing the European Theatre of Operations to IL-2. So I was intrigued to read modder VPMedia's announcement on another site that the basic 1916 component that comes with DBW had been updated. So I gave it a try, and while DBW 1916 is still something of a diamond in the rough, I was most favourably impressed with the package in its current form.

Having so far played around with quick missions, I decided it was time to get serious - and fly a campaign! The single-player campaign is, to my mind, the heart of a good sim. There are now several campaigns available for DBW 1916, which you can find here:


These campaigns are sets of linked missions, which you simply unzip into your IL-2 'Missions' folder - everything else you need to fly them, comes with the latest version of DBW 1916. Some of the mod's planes like the Camel (and even the inline-engined Albatros DIII!) have their engine power controlled by the magneto (via whatever key you assign in the 'setup' screen) rather than the throttle. You can search 'blip switch' at the aerodrome.com for a good description of how rotary engines did this. Perhaps because I have on-screen messages like power settings turned off in IL-2, I found this magneto power control hard to get the hang of. So I elected to fly a campaign in an aircraft which DBW 1916 gives a conventional throttle, the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a. Of the two campaigns available for that aeroplane, I chose the Western front-based 'Code of Honour' campaign, in preference to the Palestine-based 'Angels of Armageddon'.

DBW 1916 includes very pleasing WW1-themed loading and menu screens. It also features, as menu music, recordings of songs from that era, including the iconic 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary'. To get the full effect, you might want to try humming or singing this to yourself, while studying the screenie below:

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Campaign Preliminaries

'Code of Honour' assigns us to the Royal Flying Corps' famous 56 Squadron, formed in England in Spring 1917 to fly the new SE5, of which great things were expected, after the hammering the RFC had taken during 'Bloody April', when a hard price was paid for its successful support of the British Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Arras. The squadron included some experienced pilots, not least the great ace Albert Ball. Ball hated the SE5 at first, calling it 'a dud' and regarding it as inferior to the Nieuport types he was used to. In fact, when the squadron took the field in France, Ball was allowed to have a Nieuport for his solo patrols, flying the SE when operating with the rest of the squadron.

This DBW 1916 campaign starts - some months after 'Fifty-six' deployed to France - on 31 July 1917, at the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres (pronounced 'Wipers' by the British 'Tommies'!), also known as the Battle of Passchendale. By this time, most pilots flying the type would have appreciated the SE5's virtues, although in 'Sagittarius Rising', CS Lewis, who served with Ball in 'fifty-six' from the start, recorded that 'unfortunately, it soon became clear that, good as the SE5 was, it was still not equal to the enemy. Scrapping at high altitudes, fifteen to eighteen thousand feet, the Huns had a marked superiority in performance'. Evidently, the SE really needed the extra 50hp it soon got, with the more powerful geared 'Hisso' and later, the ungeared British Wolseley Viper development of that famous Franco-Spanish-Swiss engine.

Back to the campaign! 'Code of Honour' uses a Somme map. This actually covers an area well to the south of the real-life 'Third Ypres' battlefield. By the time of that battle, the tide had begun to turn, thanks in part to the arrival of the SE5/SE5a, which had been joined, by then, by the RE8 and the equally-famous Sopwith Camel.

Our first mission was what would have been called, at the time, a Line Patrol - a flight up to and then along the trench lines. The main aim of such patrols was to destroy or drive off enemy two-seaters flying artillery observation or reconnaisance missions in our patrol area; and to protect our own two-seaters, who would be doing the same thing. We were flying in two flights of four each, with myself as number four in the right-hand flight. In 'normal' IL2 campaigns, you can get to lead a mission or flight by setting your starting rank high enough in the campaign setup screens. But in a campaign, like 'Code of Honour', which is actually composed of single missions, there's no such facility, I believe. So I could forget about leading a flight ,on this mission!

Here's the mission briefing, showing our area of operations. As you can see, this being a single mission, you can change quite a few mission parameters here. I left them alone, except that I used the 'arming' option to replace the default skin (actually one of the colourful schemes briefly used by 60 Squadron) with a skin for a machine flown by the legendary RFC ace JTB 'Jimmy' McCudden, which carried Fifty-six's early squadron marking, a broad white rear fuselage band. This skin, I believe, came with a series of skin packs which are already available for DBW 1916, which I had previously installed.

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The mission begins

At last, it's time to fire up the mission, and see what the latest DBW 1916 and 'Code of Honour' SE5 campaign have in store for us!

The first thing you notice is the new loading screen. This looks like a couple of pages from a contemporary illustrated magazine. It's another neat touch, giving DBW 1916 a professional touch as well as adding a bit of atmosphere.

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Now, to the flight line! I should perhaps have used the mission setup screen to roll the clock forward a tad, as it was still rather dark. Light enough, though, to get a good look at my mount and at our airfield.

You may be able to make out that the planes in my flight, ahead of me, carry the default 60 Squadron skin with distinctive white-edged blue markings, while the second flight, to my left, has the white converging lines that 56 Squadron used later on in the war. The broad white rear fuselage band of the skin I'd chosen was correct for the unit at the time of this campaign, I'm fairly certain.

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As for the DBW 1916 SE5a, it's a decent representation. The interesting thing is that it's an early variant - a proper 1917 model, rather than the 1918 Wolseley Viper-engined models generally featured in other sims (tho OFF does have a version of this with some cosmetic modifications to resemble an earlier machine).

The main points of identification are the sharply-upswept underside to the nose, relatively shallow radiator and low thrust line/prop. These indicate the DBW 1916 SE is powered by the 150hp direct drive Hispano Suiza engine. This was fitted to the original SE5 - and to the first SE5a's. Apparently, the 'a' suffix does not, as commonly reported, denote the later 200hp engine, but the fitting of more squared wingtips. The DBW SE has quite raked wingtips, so it might actually be an original SE5, not the SE5a that it's billed as. The SE5 had the 150hp engine with upswept lower nose, and raked, not more squared, wingtips. It was modified before entering combat, most visibly by the original, unpopular 'greenhouse' windshield being removed and replaced with a much smaller, conventional one, and the centre section being modified to replace a prominent 'blister' gravity fuel tank, with one neatly built in. The DBW SE5 has a four-bladed propeller, though, which usually came with the later 200hp engine. This had a higher thrust line - because it drove the prop via a gearbox, not direct - which the DBW model does not have.

Either way, despite some mixed features, it's an early SE5, and ideal for the 1917 era.

The REALLY impressive thing was the airfield and its environs. Even in the half-light, I could see it was heavily populated with figures, vehicles and all the paraphernalia of a busy operational airfield.And all around, were the trappings of the French countryside, including a windmill and a small but impressive chateau. DBW 1916 has the most detailed and impressive airfields of any WW1 sim.

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I'm not sure if there was ever an airfield called 'Albert' at the much-knocked-about French town, close to the lines, whose teetering church tower statue of the Virgin Mary was a local landmark in WW1. And if there was, its complement of aircraft would not have included a large four-engined bomber bearing a suspicious resemblance to the later Soviet TB-3 with an extra wing - one of those aptly-named 'Frankenplanes', as some enthusiasts dubbed them. But the airfield was a truly impressive spectacle, even in the poor light: just full of detail (tho I had to use the latest Nvidia driver's ability to set Vsynch to 'Adaptive (half refresh rate)' to avoid serious stutter around airfields).

Our two four-plane flights were drawn up in parallel, in line astern, with me at the rear of the right-hand flight. I tested my controls, fired up the engine and held the joystick hard back, which in this position acts as a brake. Soon I was roaring off into the lightening skies, past the parked biplane bomber 'Frankenplane' and after my flight-mates.

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Into battle!

Our two flights climbed steadily for the Lines, leaving our airfield behind us. You can perhaps make out in the shot below the tethered baloon. I suppose we were just about close enough to the front for an observation balloon to be viable! The Somme map landscape was excellent; the preponderance of red-roofed, whitewashed buildings might have better suited the south of France but it is pretty impressive. It's a matter of taste but like the airfields, I'd rate the DBW 1916 Somme terrain as another area where this mod excels. It's ultimately a matter of taste, but overall, the DBW 1916 terrain is perhaps the best available in any WW1 sim or mod. RoF has better water effects but otherwise I think I like DBW-Somme best.

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Below is the DBW 1916 SE5 cockpit, with those of other sims below again, for comparison. Adequate, perhaps, but while the control column looks about right, the layout otherwise does not appear particularly accurate - short of instruments and no sign of the breech end of the Vickers gun on the left, for example. Nicely textured, though. As far as the audio was concerned, the engine sound was a little quiet to my ears, inside and out, tho the revs did audibly pick up in a dive, a neat feature.

DBW 1916:
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Rise of Fight:
First Eagles 2:

As we came up to the Lines, we encountered two other areas - besides the airfields and surrounding countryside - where DBW 1916 stands out from the other WW1 sims - the front, and the flak.

Over Flanders Fields has been the champ, in its more varied, more convincing and more active portrayal of the 'shelled area', the lines of opposing trenches which cut across NW France, Belgium and Holland. In that department, OFF now has some serious competition, from DBW 1916. The front lines ahead of us were alive with noise, shellbursts, fires and explosions; it was like looking down onto a scene from Danté's 'Inferno'. And the terrain itself was most convincing; there was no 'river of brown mud' with regular trench lines, but a much more varied, tangled and ultimately more convincing battlefield landscape, well up to the high standard set by OFF's front line. In the twilight, some of the shellburst effects looked like rather large lightbulbs being switched on and off; to my eyes, a little too white, a little too long-lasting. All in all, though, the spectacle was impressive, immersive and pretty convincing. Another big plus for DBW 1916.

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We then experienced the other area where DBW 1916 excels - Archie, to use the RFC's dismissive jargon for anti-aircraft fire (based on the contemporary music hall refrain where a wife reins in her husband with the line 'Archibald! Certainly not!').

By now, we were on the leg of our patrol which took us south, down the Lines. Suddenly, the deeper rumble of the shellfire below was drowned out with a series of sharper bangs as the sky ahead of us came alive with the flashes of bursting anti-aircraft fire. In all the sims I have played, I have not so far come across a more convincing, visceral and downright scary portrayal of AA fire. I have even seen aircraft reel under the impact of close bursts. Brilliant!

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I could see that Archie was not shooting at us, but at something up ahead. That 'something' was a flight of enemy scouts, which swept straight towards us, head on and still under AA fire. As they closed, the rapidly-diminishing space between the two sides was filled with glowing chains of tracer fire.

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It was another impressive spectacle; the peaceful skies, one moment quiet and full of gentle pastel shades, had suddenly sprung into aggressive, violent life. The DBW '16 visuals did a great job of making the point that the joyride was over, and a life-or-death fight had begun.

The DBW 1916 SE5 seems quite handy and I whipped around after one of the Huns, who turned out to be a flight of Albatrosses. At this point, I failed to get padlock working, and tried to track my enemy with mouselook, instead.

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I got in a few bursts but soon lost him in the general gloom and ground mist. The others, friend and foe alike, seemed to have gone for the deck fairly quickly, judging from the occasional bursts of tracer fire which I could see snaking about at low level.

Even though I was now apparently on my own, I was reluctant to lose altitude until I was quite sure that there were no more Huns up at my level. By the time I had decided that this was so, there was no sign even of the tracer fire. I banked around, then leveled out, wondering what to do next.

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You can see from the cockpit shots that there are some issues with rendering, including the disconnected gunsight, 'loose ends' to some bracing wires, and the misplaced aileron. I've seem similar issues in the DBW 1916 Nieuport 28.

Anyway, there I was, but where was everyone else?

Whither away?

I banked around, looking for any sign of other aircraft. After a bit, I saw some more tracer fire, evidently an air fight resuming down below. In the murk I could not make out the planes involved, and by the time I got down there, it had all gone quiet again. In the air, at any rate.

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I wheeled around a bit more. Finally, I saw more low-level tracer fire, further away this time, and again turned my nose in that direction.

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Whatever it was, it was over well before I got there. I met two SEs from my squadron coming the other way, having evidently settled matters without my assistance. I turned in after them as they swept past, back onto our patrol route.

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By this time, the Hun Archies were in full swing and the sky around us was soon flecked with noisy bursts of orange fire, which faded to black smoke and trailed away behind us. Some rounds burst quite close to me and although I seemed to escape damage, the effect was really quite scary, and I threw in some evasive action, just in case. Really, DBW 1916 brings AA fire to life in a way the other WW1 sims don't quite manage.

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By this time, we had reached the southern limit of the leg down the Lines and the pair I was following turned onto the next leg, heading back into friendly territory. It was something of a relief to leave the ferocious AA fire behind, even if its bark was worse than its bite.

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A glance at the inflight map confirmed that we were indeed homeward bound. Seemingly, the patrol was 'programmed' just to fly one big circuit, rather than, more realistically, flying a 'beat' in a given area for as long as our fuel loads permitted.

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There was at least still some opportunity to practice my formation-flying. This I managed to do, rather better than I would have in Rise of flight; perhaps because the DBW 1916 SE5 is fairly well balanced, stable and steady, which I think she should be. For some reason, my companions climbed into some cloud, but I managed to come out the other side still in reasonably good position. 'Am I finally getting good at this, or what?' I asked myself, rhetorically. You can see that the other two aircraft carried the coloured noses, fuselage stripes and fins used, in 'Flight' colours, by the SE's of 60 Squadron for a time, before the RFC powers-that-be insisted that such unofficial and un-British markings were removed.

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Home, sweet home!

En route back to our airfield close to the front, there was little to do except keep formation and admire the view. The light was improving but there was still a light mist around. DBW 1916 makes the most of the excellent IL-2 atmospheric effects.

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Nearing the aerodrome, the other two SE's split left and right. At this point the usual IL-2 ground control radio chatter intruded; I thought I had that muted, so that's something I will need to do. I had already edited the config file so as not to display on-screen messages or warnings, from flying the parent sim in WW2.

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Without further ado, I spiraled down to lose a bit of height, turned into a final approach, and settled down into a nice steady descent towards terra firma, well throttled back.

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On 'short finals', I roundly cursed whoever had left that b***dy windmill standing right at the edge of the airfield, having realised, quite late on, that I was heading straight for its outstretched sails.

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Having managed to avoid tilting at that particular windmill - which I am sure my virtual self would have been a long time living down, in the virtual Officer's Mess - I taxied right up to the canvas hangars, where you can see the quite extraordinary level of detail that goes into airfields in DBW 1916.

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So concluded my first campaign mission in Dark Blue World 1916. Being new to the package, I was a bit lost during the air combat, like a tyro in his first sortie, all over again. The mod has some rough edges, to be sure; notably some rendering issues in cockpit views and those 'Frankenplanes'. And as yet, the only campaigns available seem to be themed mission sets. But it is still developing, and already, DBW 1916 has some really outstanding features, that rank with or above the best the others can offer. Definitely recommended.

Kudos to SAS~CirX, VPMedia and teams for bringing us Dark Blue World, a mod which first transformed single player IL-2, and has now added a very creditable WW1 capability to what is still one of the top-notch propsims you can play today.

To follow - another DBW 1916 mission in a different campaign.

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