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33LIMA

IL2: Defence of the Reich

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Flying a classic Western Front campaign...in a classic Eastern Front flight sim!

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I don't know about you, but the sim that came closest to my ideal of a WW2 flight sim was (and in some key ways, still is) European Air War. For one thing, EAW had - in spades - many little but oh-so-immersive touches that later sims seem to omit or neglect. There was something resembling a decent pilot logbook; basic but effective verbal campaign briefings; and a between-mission representation of your bunk in a Nissen Hut complete with creaking bedsprings, coughing (but invisible) companions, and a radio set which you could tune into renderings of appropriate popular music of the day. Break off from the campaign and you got an on-screen day pass complete with tickets to an appropriate show and a picture of your 'floosie'!

 

Not only that, but EAW featured the two aerial campaigns that defined the European Theatre of Operations air war and always interested me most: the Battle of Britain in 1940, and what might be called the Battle of Germany, 1942-45, where the tables were turned and it was the Luftwaffe's turn to defend the Homeland against swarms of marauding bombers. In EAW, I could escort Stukas or Heinkels in 109s or 110s or try knocking them down in a Hurri or a Spit. And I could take to the skies over the Reich in my favoured German mount, the venerable 'Gustav' or Bf109G, and lead my staffel into deadly firing passes on huge combat box formations of B17s or B24s, braving swarms of tracers and watching my kills go slipping or spinning out of formation trailing smoke. If I fancied something different, I could slip into an FW190A or D, a later Bf110, or even a jet Me262. Or I could swap sides and take on the Luftwaffe in a P47, a P38 or a P51. My idea of sim heaven!

 

When CFS2 came out, I enjoyed the better graphics and the change of scenery to the Pacific, as well as the opportunities afforded by many add-ons that enabled you to experience Pearl Harbour, fly with the Dambusters and all the rest. I spent a lot of time back in the ETO with CFS3, which failed to add better ground control and seemed worse in the air-to-air department, tho it was reasonably good in its declared aim of simulating tactical air ops, albeit in a weird version of WW2 where German shipping traffic plied the English Channel in daylight and an invasion could have been mounted in either direction.

 

Battle of Britain 2 'Wings of victory' I played as well, loving its superior AI tho ultimately finding its odd combination of wargame and flight sim not quite to my taste. For the Battle of Germany, 'B17  the Mighty Eighth' was a really superb bomber sim but its fighter capabilities were much more limited.

 

As for IL-2...well I bought and played, on and off, just about all the successive versions and some add-ons but while the rather dry single-player campaigns were jazzed up somewhat over the years, the Eastern Front never really floated my boat. Despite the 'Battle over Europe' add-on, coverage of the ETO remained very limited, while IL-2's drive to the Pacific seemed to me to have many fine aspects like the ability to defend Singapore in Buffaloes or later, take the fight back to the Japanese in a Beaufighter, but ultimately, to fall somewhat short, not least due to a hopelessly inadequate set of ship types.

 

I longed for the tussles with the fleets of bombers that EAW brought to my screen, especially the missions against the 'Amis' in their 'viermots', the big, four-engined Flying Fortresses and Liberators, with their attendant swarms of 'little friends', the Thunderbolts, Lightnings and later, the Mustangs. EAW was still in business, but I wanted to experience its massive battles with the graphics, AI, damage and flight models of a modern sim. IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad might be an interesting diversion to the East, and DCS-1944 might get there one day, but what of the present...?

 

Having rediscovered the delights of IL-2 in the form of the excellent Dark Blue World mod - surely, the ultimate single-player add-on for IL2 - and found there existed a version of Boelcke's "Defense of the Reich" campaign just for DBW, I thought it was time to revisit the virtual skies over the crumbling Thousand Year Reich. I wanted to see if I could rediscover the thrill of sailing, cannon blazing, into a combat box which filled the skies around me with tracers from dozens of .50 cals. Would IL-2, DBW and Boelcke's campaign hit that spot?

 

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...to be continued!

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Allright, I chewed thru my fingernails wondering if this is gonna be cool or what. Now sitting on edge of seat with bated breathe.

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Part 2 - the campaign, the plane and the mission

 

Boelcke's Defence of the Reich campaign is actually a set of campaigns. There's a Luftwaffe fighter campaign ('Defense of the Reich') and a US Army Air Force one ('Battle over Germany'). Within this, there is a series of no less than ten sub-campaigns, covering the period 1943 to 1945 and spanning several different areas of operations. Details and the download are available here:

 

http://www.axis-and-allies-paintworks.com/download.php?view.517

 

The first German sub-campaign is 'Germany Berlin 1943  You encounter bomber formations mostly without escort. Sometimes some P47 and/or P38 will appear, but only a few.' Not too many pesky 'little friends' - sounds like a good place to start, I thought to myself. In contemporary Luftwaffe parlance, an opportunity to have a crack at the 'Dicke Autos' without much interference from the 'Indianer'.

 

I began with a new pilot, for whom I chose the surname Knoke, as I had just started re-reading the autobiography of Heinz Knoke, the rather sensationally-titled 'I Flew for the Fuhrer'. This is the best Luftwaffe pilot memoir I've read, a fine counterpoint to what for me is the premier RAF memoir (and the best fighter pilot book of all, IMHO), Pierre Clostermann's 'The Big Show'. There's a really great little IL-2-based movie featuring missions re-created in Knoke's own words from the book, here on Youtube:

 

 

Unfortunately, while the available campaign aircraft was, as I'd hoped, a Messerschmitt Bf109G, Knoke's unit of the period - 5 Staffel from II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 11 - was not one of those available for this campaign, which started on 17 August, 1943. So instead, I chose JG27.

 

Here's the brief for the first mission; militarily, it's a little vague, only implying that we might expect to be intercepting an incoming enemy bomber raid. You can see that we were based at an airfield NW of Berlin, somewhere near Oranienburg I believe. I'd selected the rank of Hauptmann and as I'd hoped, was rewarded with leadership of the Staffel operation, leading two schwaerme, each of four Gustavs. I prefer to lead as I'm thereby freed of the chore of formation-keeping, and instead get the extra tactical element of leading the mission, which is how I like it. Strangely, the briefing lists me as a Oberfeldwebel (senior NCO) rather than the comissioned rank I'm fairly sure I'd chosen; but no matter, there I was, at the head of my Staffel and all was well with the world.

 

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Here's my bird, on the ground at the head of the Satffel. I should probably have stuck to the default skin because I ended up with the Berlin Bear badge of II/JG27 on my port fuselage as well as the I/JG27 'Afrika' emblem either side of my engine cowling; likewise my flight-mates ended up with two II/JG27 badges. Still, it's a nice skin, tho personally I'm inclined to think that at this period the JG27 rear fuselage stripe was the original ReichsVerteidigung red, rather than the later green. For this operation, I had used the pre-mission aircraft setup screen to select for all planes the 'loadout' of one nose-mounted 3cm MK108 cannon, two MG151 2cm cannon in underwing 'gondolas', and a 300 litre drop tank. Just the thing for knocking down the 'heavies', I thought.

 

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I've never bothered with 'Complex Engine Management' as I find it a distraction. So it was a simple matter to check the controls, start up, lock the tailwheel and roar off down the runway, opening the throttle slowly but still having to apply a fair bit of rudder to  keep her roughly on the centreline of the long concrete runway. Gear and flaps retracted, I throttled back and fretted impatiently till the others had caught up.

 

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Then I opened her up, trimmed elevator for the climb, and we steadily climbed for height on our assigned track to the holding pattern south-east of Berlin, the second schwarm vapour-trailing as it tailed us above and behind. I felt a surge of pride mixed with a twinge of anxious anticipation.

 

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What would today bring for us? I was soon to find out.

 

...to be continued!

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Part 3 - battle is joined!

 

At this point a small confession is necessary. I'm an IL-2 newb. Yes I started with the original IL-2 not long after release and worked my way, over the years since, through Forgotten Battles, the Ace Expansion Pack, Battle over Europe and Pacific Fighters, all the way to IL-2 '46. But for various reasons, I've only ever played in intermittent bursts, too short individually to get to grips with all the little foibles and distinctive features that any sim has. It's only since downloading Dark Blue World that I've got back into IL-2, and have begun to appreciate the many recent improvements, like the end of the original awful droning external engine sound and the fact that aircraft markings - the 'decals' - now look less prominent and less like badly-applied and over-thick waterslide transfers on a model kit. Plus the European Theatre of Ops (a.k.a. Western Front) is now much better catered for. For example, the Beaufighter is now a kosher representation of the RAF model rather than a repaint of the Aussie-built version. I like to fly pre- and post-combat in the external view; it looks good and helps compensate for the limitations of 'flying' and 'fighting' in glorious, peripheral-vision-free MonitorVision. So since DBW, I appreciate more than ever not only the fine IL-2 environmental effects, but also the great aircraft models. Though lower-polygon that those of some recent sims and lacking modern refinements like self-shadowing, the planes in IL-2 I still find rather marvellous to behold.

 

Take my mount on this mission, the Bf109G5. She may look more like a G6, with the little airscoop in the triangular fillet under each windshield side panel (which the pressurised-cockpit G5 lacked). And a tropical G6 at that, having the extra small cowling bulge and airscoops below the main starboard MG cowling bulge. But I still think she looks better than ever in DBW, and is brought to life by the rotating spinner which animates the 'burbelschnauze' corkscrew marking. Plus the pilot figure looks from side to side at times, and his oxygen mask appears at altitude.

 

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Compare this with the Gustav from Combat Flight Simulator 3, below. Apart from the rather distorted view produced by CFS3's unfortunate wide-angle lens effect, it's not a bad looker, here seen in its reskinned guise from the ETO expansion mod:

 

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However, comparing with the IL-2 version, though the latter has somewhat fewer polygons, the CFS3 prop spinner isn't animated (neither are the radiator flaps), the pilot has no animations and looks like he forgot his parachute (as he is wildly low in his seat) and the prop diameter looks much too big. And the IL-2 cockpit is much better, from the inside.

 

IL-2 afficionados will already know all of this but I think it's worth repeating, especially for anyone who hasn't tried the sim in its most recent incarnations (and with DBW, in particular).

 

Anyway, meanwhile, back at the war...

 

...one of the issues with IL-2 is the radio chatter. Yes it is there, and it's much better done than in, say, CFS3. Unlike the latter, you can actually use the radio to do all kinds of useful and interesting things, like issue a much wider range of commands to your wingmen, and interact with ground controllers, such a prominent feature of WW2 fighter ops (especially defensive or tactical fighter ops). For a WW2 sim, the inability to interact with a ground controller was a really glaring omission from the CFS series (CFS3 in particular) and in this respect, IL-2 is up there with EAW, which did all of this and did it well.

 

The downside in IL-2 is that you are on the same radio net as other flights or squadrons. This is not necessarily un-realistic, of course, but the problem is that nobody uses callsigns. So unless you mute your radio, you will hear the radio traffic of other flghts, announcing things like course changes or sightings. This can be distracting, misleading even; especially if you have decided to call Ground Control for (say) a vector to your target at the same time, or are in the landing pattern and can't tell if the instructions or warnings from Control are for your mob or the other lot. I daresay more frequent IL-2 players learn to distinguish radio calls better than I do. But while good old EAW's ground controller will give you the bearing, altitude and heading of targets, the lazy sod in IL-2 will just give you their bearing.

 

Partly to compensate for this, and perhaps because I'm a lazy sod myself, I tend to fly with the on-screen text displays and icons turned off - but with MAP icons and flight-path turned on. I consider this some compensation for the limitations of ground control and the difficulties of orientation and navigation in MonitorVision. So you can see in the screenie below that, from turning on the map screen instead of calling the Fat Controller on the radio, I have twigged the fact that things are about to get interesting. As my plane (white plane symbol) leads my Staffel (following cluster of blue plane icons) around the holding pattern - accompanied by some other friendlies (small stack of blue plane icons orbiting in the opposite direction), I can see that the Amis (red plane icons) are inbound in strength, my direction.

 

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I mentioned there there was another friendly flight in the area. This consisted of some Focke-Wulf 190s; A6's by the look of it, as they had the long-barrelled MG151's outboard instead of the short-barrelled MG FF's, and no cowl bulges for the MG131s that came with the A7's and later. They carried the Wilde Sau badge of JG300, a relic of the time when these 'all weather interceptors' were primarily single-seat night fighters, introduced after the use of 'Window' radar jamming on RAF Bomber Command's Hamburg raid forced the Luftwaffe to modify their previous tactics of tightly radar-controlled fighters operating in 'boxes' on the 'Kammhuber Line' system.

 

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Anyway, I now knew the Amis were coming, and I turned gently left to bring the Staffel onto a reciprocal heading, for a classic head-on attack, where fewer guns and a much faster closing speed reduced to manageable proportions the risks of tackling the expected 'heavies' . As I stared in the direction from which I knew the enemy to be coming - from past experience expecting to see a typically small IL-2 bomber flight or two, rather than the masses that you get in EAW - I could literally feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as I noticed the big cluster of specks hanging in the distant sky. There, hung row upon row of what could only have been four-engined bombers, boring relentlessly straight at me.

 

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...to be continued!

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Part 4 - blow for blow!

 

I gave the order to drop tanks and away they went.

 

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As the range to the enemy formation rapidly wound down, two things became apparent. First, my target was indeed a large formation of four-engined bombers - B-17s, to be precise, and unescorted. Second, I had screwed up my head-on pass: despite the briefed mission height of about ten thousand feet, I had climbed to what I knew to be more like the historical altitude at which the 8th AF flew bomber missions, in this case about twenty-one thousand. The bombers were much nearer this height than the paltry altitude in the mission briefing but I was a little high and worse, they were not closing head on, but slipping somewhat from left to right as we closed.

 

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By making a last-minute turn first right then back left, I was able to make a short head-on pass at one of the 'heavies' on the edge of the enemy gaggle, and although needing a deflection shot because I had to put the nose down to get my guns onto him, I was pleasantly surprised to see the flashes of some hits on the B-17 before he slipped rapidly past. Needless to say, in the rush I had no time for a screenshot, but you can just about make out my machine above and ahead of the tail of the nearest B-17 in the first pic below, as I flashed past the flank of the enemy formation, unscathed by return fire, as far as I could tell.

 

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As for my Staffel, they had been somewhat caught out by my late swerve, and had not engaged. So I decided to remedy this by coming up on the radio and commanding them to attack the bombers, on their own initiative. Even had I managed to get us into a neat extended line formation attack into the front of the Ami combat box, I'm not sure it would have helped: having made a few tests in quick missions, there seems no way to organise it so they make such an attack; unless the mere act of leading them head-on into an enemy formation is enough to get them to engage any targets coming into their arcs of fire. It seems giving them free rein to attack, is about all one can do.

 

Knowing how dangerous AI bomber gunners can be, and unsure what the result would be of reducing their effectiveness (by setting Bomberskill=0 in the IL-2 conf.ini file, as campaign maker Boelcke recommended) I awaited the results of my Staffel's attacks with considerable trepidation. I pulled up and around, flying past the Fortresses just out of range, intending to come in for another head-on pass, on my own if need be. As I overhauled the Boeings, watching the action unfold and listening to the excited cries of the others on the radio as they got stuck in, I was gratified to see that they seemed to be doing rather well. Defensive fire flew in all directions from the big bombers, but they began to take casualties. Smoke streamed from some, while others fell out of formation, on fire or minus important parts of their airframe, as German cannon-fire took its toll.

 

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Inevitably, the casualty list was not entirely one-sided. Before long, my number three was going down with a dead motor and - though still apparently under control - from the blood-spattered canopy, a badly-injured pilot.

 

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The rest of the Staffel were undeterred. They pressed home their attacks to good effect and with considerable determination, using a combination of level and diving attacks, even as the Fortresses made their bomb runs.

 

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They were not alone. The boys from JG300 had also joined the fray and were making their presence felt amongst the increasingly ragged enemy formation, whose ranks seemed to be thinning out appreciably.

 

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...to be continued!

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Part 5 - down and out!

 

At this point, my move to position myself for a second head-on attack was thwarted as the bombers made their turn for home, leaving me out of position. Instead, and encouraged by the good results and low losses of the others, I decided to take advantage of the reduced cohesion of the enemy formation and play a little game of 'Devil take the hindmost'. Specifically, I rolled into a beam attack on one of a trio of Fortresses that was lagging behind the others and was already under attack from another Messerschmitt.

 

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This, alas, is where I came unstuck. I was merrily blowing large holes in my target bomber, anticipating the moment when he would burst into flames and fall away, when my own aircraft was hit hard by return fire; possibly from the last B-17 in the group, which was trailing somewhat behind, rather than my own intended victim. My engine seized almost immediately and as my speed rapidly fell off, I found myself carried forward by my momentum, right past my former target's left wingtip, making a perfect mark of myself, before I had the sense to break hard away and down, as quickly as I could manage it.

 

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Somehow I escaped further damage and duly relieved, sailed quietly and ingloriously away from the battle.

 

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A hasty check of my map was made, and duly revealed an airfield apparently within gliding distance. However, I misjudged my rate of descent, had to make a 360 degree turn to lose excess height, and ended up too low on 'finals', compounded by the fact the airfield was on a sort of plateau, higher than the surrounding countryside. At least I made it onto terra firma in one piece, and my aeroplane looked like I might have made a great landing after all, by the classic definition ('It's a good landing if you can walk away from it; a great one, if you can re-use the plane.'). Provided the ground crew don't mind a bit of work to straighten out or replace a few bent bits and pieces, here and there.

 

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So, that was it. Personal score, two B-17s damaged (plus one Bf109, namely my own!). The mission debrief sadly recorded one of my men killed, but confirmed several Staffel victories, between the others.

 

So how did it compare to the same sort of mission, flown in the classic European Air War?

 

Well, it has to be said that IL-2 suffers in the comparison from its reliance on limited maps, whereas the likes of EAW and CFS3 provide whole theatres. This leads to some compromises. In this case, I was operating in defense of the Berlin area, which did not come under serious attack from the 8th AF until early 1944, several months after the period of this mission.

 

The basic IL-2 written briefing I find inherently less satisfactory than the EAW verbal one, which, though rather 'canned' in content, is, to me, just so much more engaging. IL-2's confusing radio chatter from other flights is absent in EAW and the latter's ground control target directions are a lot more useful.

 

As had been said before, IL-2 looks and feels optimised for lower-level ops, with a curving horizon, rather close in, when seen from higher altitudes; and I fancy my '109, renowned as superior to the Focke-Wulf above about 20,000 feet, felt rather slow and sluggish at height, even allowing for my external gun-pods. The B-17 formations seemed a little bit spread out and also seemed to get worse as things progressed, even allowing for losses. Perhaps that's a tad more realistic than text-book combat boxes being maintained at all times. The lack of flak in the target area was surprising, even on the bomb run; though I'm not sure if that was a problem or was a case of clever AI flak gunners holding fire, while friendly fighters were engaged.

 

More positively, the IL-2 graphics are just incomparably better than in the older classic, and likewise the damage and flight models. The heavy bombers in EAW seem way too easy to knock down, and their defensive fire too weak. It can be thoroughly satisfying to make several passes in EAW, each time knocking a B-17 or a B-24 out of a combat box, and just taking the odd hit with quite a low risk of death or serious engine or airframe damage, even in attacks from dead astern. Had it been so easy, the Luftwaffe would not have needed to resort to dropping time-fused bombs on the bombers, nor using long-range rockets. Nor would they even have needed to resort to head-on attacks, leaving astern ones to heavily-armoured 'Sturmbock' Focke-Wulfs.

 

So I rate rather highly the realism and immersion of the IL-2 experience of 'Defence of the Reich' operations, despite the compromise in the use of a Berlin map in this campaign.  And I don't know if the EAW modders have fixed it, but while in IL-2 the bomber formation may have got a bit ragged, in EAW I recall that if the lead bomber was damaged and headed down, the whole formation would gradually lose altitude with it, which could lead to some very odd and unconvincing scenes.

 

Best of all, IL-2 proved able to bring to the screen an impressively-large formation of 'heavies', and although the scale of forces engaged on both sides was below what EAW can render (especially with settings tweaked) the IL-2 experience was sufficiently large-scale to create the 'suspension of disbelief' that's necessary to create immersion and a sense of faithfulness to reality. So overall, while I have to say that EAW is still the unbeaten champion in several aspects of the presentation of its single-player campaigns, IL-2, in the shape of campaigns like Boelcke's 'Defense of the Reich' (of which the foregoing mission is but a small sample), can now provide a great way to re-fight those classic tussles between the Luftwaffe and 'The Mighty Eighth'.  Many IL-2 regulars will already know as much, no doubt; for me it was a pleasant and welcome surprise, that I was able to re-create so well a classic Western Front operation, in a classic Eastern Front sim!

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It was an interesting read and well written too! Thanks for sharing!

Edited by SFP1Ace

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Outstanding article. Im a bit of an IL2 fan myself so will have to look up these mods. Thank you for the time and effort.

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Hi 33LIMA

 

Your mission reports here and in the "Best Current WWI Sim" thread over at SimHQ are very interesting and well written!
I enjoy them very much, please keep on writing them. :pilotfly:

 

Cheers

vonOben

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I began with a new pilot, for whom I chose the surname Knoke, as I had just started re-reading the autobiography of Heinz Knoke, the rather sensationally-titled 'I Flew for the Fuhrer'. This is the best Luftwaffe pilot memoir I've read, a fine counterpoint to what for me is the premier RAF memoir (and the best fighter pilot book of all, IMHO), Pierre Clostermann's 'The Big Show'. There's a really great little IL-2-based movie featuring missions re-created in Knoke's own words from the book, here on Youtube:

 

 

There is a "I Flew for the Fuhrer" campaign over at Mission4Today, but it's from 2007 and is for the unmodded game:

http://www.mission4today.com/index.php?name=Downloads&file=details&id=2232

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I think that's the one that starts with a transit flight in a 109E? Didn't finish it for some reason; must dig it out again and see if it'll work in DBW or in 4.12!

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      The 'Demarcation' campaign is the first mission-set in the series and sees the player flying a Nieuport N4 monoplane. This famous French company is of course more famous for their V-strutted fighters starting with the Nieuport 10 and 11. But pre-war, Nieuport was noted for its racing or sports planes including a line of neat monoplanes, from which comes the aircraft I’ll be flying on this campaign. There’s some more info about the type on Wikipedia, here; evidently the type was quite widely used, albeit in small numbers, notably by the Russian Air Service. For this campaign I’m with the French air service, which was probably the biggest and best of the combatant air forces at the start of the war and in the thick of it from start to last.

      In the early months of WW1, aircraft were purely for visual reconnaissance and were not routinely armed. Rare exceptions included the Farman of Louis Strange, 5 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, who contrived to fit a Lewis Gun, only to be ordered to remove it after the extra weight resulted in the aircraft failing to get high enough to intercept a snooping German warplane. Thereafter, pistols and carbines remained the only (generally ineffectual) option for aircrew who fancied having a crack at their opposite numbers in the air. The first air-to-air ‘kill’ came in October 1914, when Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault brought down a German Aviatik; Quénault reportedly had to finish the job with a rifle after his Hotckhiss MG packed it in.

      As I was soon to discover, my single-seater Nieuport is armed from the get-go, with what looks like a Danish Masden mag-fed LMG. The real catch is that it’s mounted to fire upwards to clear the propeller arc, this being before the introduction of deflectors or interrupter gear. Lanoe Hawker had some success in 1915 in a Bristol Scout with a Lewis gun mounted to fire left and ahead so this arrangement isn’t entirely untypical of the sort of lash-ups early aviators made from early in the war, to get a decent crack at the enemy in a single-seater, with no observer to man a flexibly-mounted gun.
       

       
      Here’s the mission brief. It's just as well I've got the MG, because apparently, the enemy fliers have been activer over our territory. While my patrol zone is marked as a recce objective (eye graphic on a yellow triangle) our aims are offensive in nature. It's a defensive patrol, for two of us, though by the sound of it, my companion’s dodgy motor means that I might be alone. We don’t have far to go, in the horizontal sense anyway. But this is the Vosges and elevation will be a different matter, as I will soon find out. Typically for these new missions, you can forget about one of IL-2's most useful navigational map aids - there's no minimap path. This is 1914 after all, just over ten years from Kittyhawk and Orville and Wilbur's first successful flights in a heavier-than-air flying machine.
       

       
      Intrigued to find out how my first venture into virtual 1914 military aviation will work out, I wasted no time launching the mission, having made sure that in the difficulty settings, I had turned off flutter and wind effects (which the WW1 flight models can’t cope with – IIRC they result in planes having regular attacks of ‘the wobbles’).

      And this is what I saw. Truly, our airfield is a veritable diorama, packed with people, vehicles and other aircraft. While the people aren’t animated, it’s still an impressive spectacle, packed with interest.
       

       
      My number two tried a couple of times to get his engine running but each time it spluttered to a stop; possibly just as well as the bloke in front of him seemed disinclined to get out of his way. My motor showed no such reluctance and after a quick look around I decided to take off straight ahead, without worrying about runways. This worked out just fine, my lightweight aircraft lifting off at a speed which didn’t seem much faster than some of the trucks motoring around the airfield.
       

       
      Sitting roughly at mid-chord above a broad wing, it was obvious I wasn’t going to see much from the cockpit. The Voisins and Farmans parked around the airfield would have made much better reconnaissance machines, and indeed they served on after Nieuport monoplanes had disappeared from the front lines. Flying from the external view, I got a much better view of both my aircraft and its surroundings.
       

       

       
      And fine surroundings they were. Our airfield turned out to be on a little plateau set into the side of an impressive mountain, which comprised a series of peaks with lower ‘saddles’ in between. I resisted the temptation to play that song from that musical, but the hills, if not alive with the sound of music, certainly looked worth the trip.
       



       
      After a bit of sight-seeing, orienting myself with the help of the map, I realised that my reconnaissance objective had been rather inconveniently sited at the top of the highest peak. As my rate of climb seemed to be rather close to the  ‘imperceptible’ end of the scale, this presented me with a bit of a problem. Throttle fully open, I settled into the best climb I could manage on a course parallel to the long side of the ridge or peaks. Compared to the WW2 planes I’m used to flying in Il-2, it felt like I was in a powered glider, and a nose-heavy one at that. Heck, this ‘racing’ plane felt slow, compared to the WW1 planes I’d flown in other sims. Slow...but not too sedate, with a tendency to dive away or begin a roll to either side, if I didn’t concentrate on keeping things level. With little dihedral, a small unbalanced rudder and wing warping for lateral control, this seemed to make sense. Quite an interesting experience in itself, the flight was shaping up to be.
       

       

       
      Realising that I was not going to gain enough height on one leg, I could not resist the temptation of turning right and crossing the ridgeline over one of the saddles. Even getting high enough to do this, took a certain amount of time and effort and I just scraped across. Having gone over the mountain to see what I could see, like the bear in the song the result was not unexpected – the other side of the mountain.
       

       

       
      I now flew a long leg away from the objective to gain sufficient height. That done, I turned around - gently, so as not to lose any of my precious height - and made my way back, aiming for the top of the correct peak.
       


       
       
      Finally I was right over the summit. I should have over-flown my objective to one side or the other, but I was quite keen for my track on the map to intersect the centre of the target marker, lest such precision was needed for mission success or to trigger some necessary mission event.

      In fact it worked – I got the ‘mission completed’ text so that was it. And I didn’t get shot at, or even see a single enemy aircraft. They were there, though, but I only realised that later, when I noticed an enemy aircraft icon on a screenshot which I had taken with the mini-map view briefly turned on!!! To be honest, I'd sort of forgotten the briefing, having been so taken up with the actual flying side of the challenge. And I had become rather fixated on overflying that big marker, as if I were genuinely on a recce flight. Anyway, the top of that mountain was about as bare as a mountain-top can be. Giving up on earlier ideas about putting in a flypast at the castle I’d seen on a lower peak nearby, I decided that honour had been satisfied; it was time to go home. A nice hot brandy in the Mess would help me recover from the rigours of flying amongst the mountains in my little powered glider. Down we went. The early aviators were in the habit of turning off their motors during a descent but I just cut the throttle to idle and experimented a bit with diving angle and airspeed. The unfamiliar flight model I found quite convincing; I have no idea at all how a real Nieuport 4 handled but this one felt just about perfect, for such an aircraft.
       

       
      It wasn't long before I was turning onto my final approach...although to the wrong airfield I believe, a deceptively-similar one on a similar mountainside plateau. I must have had my mind firmly set on that brandy!
       

       
      For a sortie on which I'd missed my opportunity to have my first air fight, I'd actually found the experience surprisingly absorbing. I think I'll try at least one more campaign mission in the Nieuport 4, before moving on to something more warlike. There's just something about the mission which seemed to capture so well the experience of stooging around in an aircraft that is little more than a docile but ungainly powered glider..albeit one with a sting.
       
      ...to be continued!
    • By 33LIMA
      Flying a vanilla campaign in the classic WW2 sim's latest mod!

       
      You can say what you like about the newest addition to the Il-2 line, Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) - and many of us do just that! But one thing it has done for me, is stimulate my interest in its predecessor's original, Eastern Front campaigns. No mean achievement, that, for until relatively recently, I'd regarded Il-2 as mainly offering planes I didn't especially want to fly, in places I didn't especially want to fly them, to adapt another simmer's comment.
       
      At the moment, I have two installs of Il-2 1946 - one for Dark Blue World (DBW), the other for the new Community User Patch (CUP). Due to different files, units and other factors, it seems likely to take a while, before many campaigns that work in DBW or other versions of Il-2, also work in CUP, though some already do and the list is growing steadily.
       
      Both to check out the compatibility of some stock Il-2 campaigns with CUP and to indulge my new-found interest in the Eastern Front variety, over the last month or two I've been running, on and off, a standard Soviet fighter campaign, flying one of the aircraft available in BoS - the rather sleek but not especially high-performing LaGG-3. Like other aircraft before and after, this seems to have been a basically decent design which needed a more powerful engine to turn it into a competitive fighter - which it got, when its inline engine was replaced by a radial, creating the Lavochkin La-5.
       
      From this campaign's timeframe, though, the La-5 is about a year away. It's July 1941, just weeks into Operation Barbarossa, and I'm flying a LaGG-3, defending our dearly-beloved Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics against the fascist hordes of Nazi Germany. And an interesting challenge it's been, keeping my virtual neck intact, up against superior numbers of superior planes and - historically, anyway - superior aircrew.
       

       
      So far, courtesy it seems of some Soviet Socialistic miracle, I have not only survived, but knocked down some enemy aircraft. I'm on my fifth mission, no less...but wondering how much longer my good fortune can possibly continue.
       
      Here's the latest briefing. As you can see, it's a fairly straightforward escort job, with a hint that we might want to shoot up some stuff on the ground at some point, too. Maybe it's a difficulty setting I applied when I created the campaign, but the usual Il-2 red and blue front lines aren't shown on the map. But I'll be able to gauge the whereabouts of the enemy from the front-line target the bombers we're to escort will hit. Happily, the target's not too far off, so I can fly the mission in real time with no need to use 'warp'...which as just as well, as Il-2's never had that, relying on autopilot and time acceleration.
       

       
      The briefing doesn't tell me how many are in our flight, or the type and strength of the bombers. Nor do we get their or our altitudes. I put this down to a level of uncertainty, even confusion, in an air force with its back against the wall...or perhaps, against a Commisar with a small-calibre pistol and a willingness to employ it, in stiffening our resolve, should that become necessary.
       
      At the flight line, I find that there are in fact three of us on this hop. Having chosen a high enough rank to avoid the (to me) hateful chore of formation-flying - and to enjoy the extra challenge of flight leadership - I'm at the head of the queue. This being a stock mission, there's none of the newer formation takeoffs. Happily, the default Il-2 conga line is a short one, today.
       

       
      The current LaGG-3 I find is a nicely-rendered bird. More rounded contours in some places, inside and out, would be nice but I'm not complaining. Her authentic, subtly-weathered camouflage and national markings are convincingly-applied. There's no sign of the original opaque Il-2 markings, which looked like the over-thick waterslide transfers you used to get on plastic kits, guaranteed to blot out all but the crudest surface detail. And the cockpit, though clearly well behind the latest self-shadowed, finely-curved marvels, is still quite serviceable.
       

       

       
      One new feature the LaGG does enjoy are more rounded wheels, and very welcome they are, too. Soon, I was aloft and retracting the gear. After the crazily finnicky ground handling of BoS, takeoffs in '46 are...well, whether more realistic or not, more what I'm used to.
       

       
      Another, older improvement to Il-2 that the modders have wrought is the engine sounds. I absolutely loathed the dreadful external engine drone of the original sim. That's a distant memory now, so I can admire my bird in the external view without feeling that I need to turn down the sound.
       

       
      In fact, so much was I enjoying the external aspect of my LaGG sweeping over the Steppes, that I decided to let the autopilot fly, for a bit. There was now sign of the bombers and I thought, rightly as it turned out, that my alter ego would have a better idea than I, were they were and at what height we should be.
       
      My number three lagged (sic!) for a bit but my number two wasn't long in catching up. We perhaps tend to take for granted these days such Il-2 wonders as different planes having different individual numbers but even now, not all sims have this and it's still a fine thing to behold.
       

       
      Three of us had left our airfield. How many would return, and would I be amongst them? The answers would not be long in coming.
       
      ...to be continued!
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