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Defence of the Reich, IL-2 style - the next mission

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Mission #2 in FlatSpinMan's campaign - the 'heavies' show up!


Having flown the first mission in FlatSpinMan's campaign 'Luftwaffe pilot - Defence of the Reich' and to my surprise, found myself intercepting an RAF shipping strike while on a transit flight, I was keen to fly the second mission and see what was next in store. I had certainly enjoyed swatting some of those pesky Mosquitos - and earning an Iron Cross in the process, tho perhaps not the universal admiration of the Kreigsmarine, over the small matter of certain shipping losses which, despite my best efforts and three kills, I had not been able entirely to prevent. But my main aim in signing up for this campaign had been to defend the Fatherland itself from flocks of marauding Ami heavy bombers - to the Jagdflieger, known variously as 'dicke autos' (fat cars) or 'mobelwagen' (furniture vans) - did somebody in the nachricthen/signals section have a road traffic fixation??? And I also wanted to confirm - as Boelcke's Reichsverteidigung campaign had already indicated - that IL-2 '46 plus Dark Blue World plus a suitable campaign or two equals a satisfactory-or-better fix for my craving for the sort of action I used to get in spades from good old European Air War.


I wasn't disappointed!


The mission


Notwithstanding my transfer flight south having been rudely interrupted by the impertinent Englishmen in their little wooden planes, I found from the mission briefing that I was evidently now well settled into my new unit, I Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 1 (I/JG1). And as I'd hoped, our tasking for today's mission was intercepting incoming Ami bombers. The date wasn't given, but would have been consistent with spring 1943, likely prior to JG1 giving up the eastern part of its North Sea/Baltic Sea area of operations to JG11, which was created at that time, with units of JG1 being transferred in to form the nucleus of the new unit. Here's the briefing:


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The briefing itself is nicely written, with some succinct but excellent advice. The 'int' (or 'intel' as the Amis call it) on what we were intercepting is a bit scant and/or scattered and a tad vague but good enough, taken together. The short verbal briefings in EAW were quite good in that respect though uncannily, they were always able to tell you the raid's target, not just an estimate thereof! As you can see, though the placenames show that this is Latvia/Lithuania on the eastern side of the Baltic Sea, FlatSpinMan has made the best of IL-2's available maps by telling us it's the Heligoland area, on the western side of Denmark, for which the map is quite a good proxy, placenames apart.


I chose the briefing's recommended 'skin' for my aircraft, which came with the campaign's recommended skinpack: 'White 3', still an early 'Gustav' with rifle-calibre machine-guns atop the engine and no bulges there to spoil my machine's clean lines. Knowing we were up against unescorted heavy bombers, I naturally chose the R6 'loadout': a pair of 2cm MG151 cannon in underwing gondolas (or 'bathtubs'). Here's my 'kanonenvogel', in which I was leader of a 4-plane schwarm for this operation. Fortunately, we were not the only defending flight on this mission, as it turned out!


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It's a nice skin, looking like the JG5 aircraft I flew in mission #1 has had the yellow wingtips removed, the aircraft ID number overpainted, and the JG1 'Winged 1' unit emblem substituted for JG5's. I don't think that JG1 adopted that emblem until rather later in the war but that's a small quibble. As you may have gathered, this was another air start, not my ideal perhaps but certainly a real time-saver plus it gets you to the correct height as well as on the correct course, in this case for the head-on attack recommended in the briefing, well out over the sea.


And there they were - the Ami bombers. Still just a cluster of specks in the clear blue sky well above the scattering of cotton-like clouds, but heading right at us on a steady course. I could feel the corners of my mouth curling almost imperceptibly in satisfied anticipation as I sat slightly forward in my seat, tightening my grip on the joystick and placing my left hand on the throttle. Not long, now!


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...to be continued!

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Battle is joined!


I haven't flown many IL-2 Reich Defence missions yet, but one thing I have learned is that I'm rather good at messing up head-on attacks. I think I'm closing directly head-on, but at some point, often rather late, I realise that my targets are slipping left or right and I need a hasty course correction, often ending up with a deflection shot as my targets slips past at an angle. It is some consolation to see from actual Luftwaffe gun camera footage, which you can see on Youtube, that - whether by design or not - head-on attacks were often made like this, in real life. Take the first sequence in this compilation, for instance:



And so it came to pass, on this occasion. It's no co-incidence that statistically, the most dangerous slots in the USAAF combat boxes were those on the outer extremities of the formation, when viewed from the attacker's perspective. They are less protected by the guns on other bombers and just seem the natural target for any attack...except (in the immortal and eloquent words of Sgt Wells in 'Dog Soldiers') for '...glory boys, kamikazes, or full-on f***ing f***wits'. Not particularly seeing myself in any of those categories, I steered towards the left edge of the enemy formation as the range wound down rapidly. But finding, as usual, that the oncoming Liberators were crossing slightly left to right, I managed only a short burst of deflection shooting, from which, alas, I observed no hits.


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I flashed past the flank of the nearest 'vic' of Liberators, without taking any damage. Having not found a way to command my flight to make attacks in formation - head-on or otherwise - I had instead led them into the attack with me. I did this in the hope that they might engage any target that crossed their path, or if not, that their presence near me might at least deter the enemy gunners from concentrating their fire on my aircraft alone. Whether it worked or not is hard to say; but we were all still in one piece as we came through. Not the most successful of openings to the fight but at least we were still in business.


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I turned left, away from the bombers, and came onto a parallel course, out of range and climbing slightly. My plan now was to come around for another head-on attack, but in the meantime, to watch for any opportunities for easier pickings. My flight had spread out a bit and I throttled back and called them to order, determined to do better on the next pass.


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...to be continued!

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First blood!


As I began to overhaul the unescorted Liberator formation, it became clear that a battle was still under way down there, even though my flight had pulled away with me after my (sort of) head-on firing pass.


16.11.2013 19-12-34.jpg


In fact, battle had been joined before I'd fired a shot. If you look at the first and last of the trio of screenies featuring my attack in the previous post, in the first pic, you can see quite lot of orange-red tracers from bomber gunfire, down in the bottom left-hand corner; and bottom centre, against some clouds, a couple of specks which must be fighters. And in the third screenie, you can see a pair of 109s diving steeply through the far side of the formation, even as I closed in, firing, on the near side.


Tunnel vision being what it is, I noticed none of this, at the time. But now, seeing that the Liberators were under attack by other comrades and that their formation had begun to look rather stretched out, towards the rear, I decided to let my flight-mates off the leash. Having given them the order to attack, and accompanied now only by my own wingman, I looked around for a suitable target.


Most of the potential victims I could see seemed to have been singled out already by other fighters. So after some hesitation, I decided, rather rashly, to try for a rear three-quarters attack on the outermost Liberator on the outside of the formation nearest to me, ahead and below. As I swept in at him, I became aware that he wasn't in as exposed a position as it had seemed initially, with several bombers to his left likely close enough to take me under effective fire. My head told me to break off before it was shot off. But my hands refused to take the hint. I was committed.


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By this time I had abandoned the pleasures (and advantages, in terms of situational awareness) of flying in the external view and I was back in the virtual cockpit (and the current IL-2 Gustav's 'office' is still a very satisfying rendition). Throttle wide open, I worked my controls as smoothly as I could, to bring my Revi reflector sight to bear on my chosen target. In Il-2 - as, reportedly, in real life - it can be convenient to find the range with your lighter weapons and cut loose with the cannon when you know you're on target. But here, with an enemy brimming with .50 calibre machine guns growing ever closer right in front of me and other equally well-equipped bombers looming to my left, I had no time for such niceties. I squeezed both triggers as my sights came on.


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The results, it has to be said, were both immediate and satisfactory. There was a series of flashes on the B-24's airframe as my rounds hit home and his number 1 engine burst into flames. He rolled rapidly left and plunged away, down through the periphery of the formation, even as I pulled back on the stick and rolled into a right-hand climbing turn to avoid return fire.


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'Viktor, Viktor!' I would have shouted on the radio, to invite comrades to witness my victory claim. But I didn't have a radio, and anyway, I was confident that I could rely instead on IL-2's game engine keeping tally and chalking up my kill.


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For a moment, suddenly conscious of what it was that I was seeing being simulated, brought to life so vividly by the aged but still exquisite combat flight sim that is IL-2, I watched the Liberator fall. Then I gritted by teeth and turned my attention back to the business in hand.


…to be continued!

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Back into battle!
This was no time or place for sentimental reflections on the horrors of war. I was the virtual leader of a flight that was still in contact with the enemy and there was work yet to be done. By now, the Ami formation was beginning to look seriously harried, with several stragglers slinking away, damaged engines streaming smoke and mostly still under attack by our fighters. I contemplated reforming my flight but as things stood, we seemed to have the upper hand. So I decided to leave them to it, for a little longer, and released my number two to make his own attack. Searching for a potential second victim, I noticed a 'vic' of three Liberators which had become well separated from the rest of the formation. To their right, a solitary B-24 was under attack from another '109. As I watched, the lonely Liberator took the final plunge.
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As I drew closer to the three bombers remaining ahead of me, they came under attack in turn. One of them, already trailing dark smoke, fell out of formation and slipped across my nose from right to left, as his attacker zoomed up and clear. This was too good a chance to pass by!
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Closing rapidly, I opened up with all weapons on the damaged bomber. Once again, the impact of three cannon and two machine-guns was rapid and in this case, even more devastating. The Liberator broke apart in mid-air and I narrowly missed flying into the shower of disconnected parts, large and small, that had, just a split second before, been a enemy bomber in full flight.
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I was not done yet. For my next victim, I selected a solitary B-24 that was sliding off to the right, obviously in distress and trailing a long, broad streamer of dark smoke. But though still heading inland - with, possibly, a full load of bombs -  he was losing height steadily and, I judged, unlikely to get much further. So I left him to his fate.
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Instead, I pulled up and went for a head-on pass at another 'vic' of three Liberators which was trailing well behind the main formation. However, the gap was not really wide enough for me to line myself up and I aborted that attack, swinging around so as to make a firing pass from astern. Not usually a good move, of course. But I had asked myself THAT question and the answer was, yes, I AM feeling lucky. Besides, the trio was already under attack from astern from a '190 or another '109, possibly one of mine, and the two of us would split their defensive fire. This cunning plan promptly turned to liquid poo before my very eyes as my comrade's aircraft suddenly pulled up from his firing pass trailing a long banner of orange fire.
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No longer feeling particularly magnanimous, and without giving the Liberators time to redirect their fire onto me, I held down my triggers and raked the offending bomber. I got some hits but the Liberator carried on seemingly without serious damage, my cannon ammunition having chosen that moment to give out. I broke away, no longer willing to be the sole target of the return fire of three enemy bombers, with nothing to hurl at them in return but some rifle-calibre bullets. The battle was over, I had decided.


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I throttled back, started an orbit well out of range of the Amis and called up my flight, ordering them to reform. Having mostly left them to their own devices, I was mightily relieved to find that they had not suffered unduly from my rather lax leadership and were all still in the Land of the Living. Checking my kneeboard map, I oriented myself and turned our formation back for home, as the battered Ami formation disappeared gradually to the east. We had not turned them back, but we had reduced their number; and without loss to ourselves.
I was rather flabbergasted to be credited in the debrief with no less than five victories, which is as many (or more!) bombers  I remembered actually engaging! I can only guess that some of the others I had put rounds into - generally, aircraft already damaged - had come to grief later. By my own reckoning, I can legitimately claim two, at most three, Liberators downed; the others can be added to the Staffel's score! I got another medal for my pains, at any rate (despite the friendly kill recorded against me...had it been my fire which 'flamed' that other '109, as we converged, firing, on the same target?).
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This was a very satisfying and enjoyable mission. Perhaps the bombers' defensive fire was a bit weaker than it should have been. But if there is one thing I really hate in any sim, it is 'sniper' gunners (on the ground or in the air); in this instance, the lesser evil is the lesser accuracy/lethality, in my book. Up to now, with the same settings in Quick Combat or in campaigns, I had been clobbered fairly regularly by bomber gunners. So I'm telling myself that my tactics have improved. I know they haven't, much; but perhaps just enough to make the difference between virtual life and death. When the fighter escorts show up in the campaign, that will be another matter, and we shall see!
Of course, the forces involved in all these Reich Defence missions are smaller that you'd get in EAW and smaller again than in real life, beyond the early probing attacks the USAAF made in 1942. But they are large enough to give a believable and very satisfactory impression of the missions they portray. 'B17 - the Mighty Eighth' - even tweaked - gives you a maximum of eighteen bombers in your combat box. And many of those are 'ghosts', visible but with no other part in the mission, beyond window dressing. And that sim still manages to secure the necessary 'suspension of disbelief', in its otherwise faithful portrayal of those forays over the Fatherland. At least as successful in its way is IL-2, a classic sim if ever there was one, now able to provide us with the great ETO experience the early iterations lacked.
There's no question in my mind, then, of the proof of my original equation - IL-2 plus Dark Blue World plus campaigns such as Boelcke's or FlatSpinMan's DOES equal a very satisfactory fix for anyone who wants to defend the 'Thousand-Year Reich' from the 'heavies' in the best traditions of that classic, European Air War. Highly recommended!
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      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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