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CFS2 revisited: Mosquito Squadron

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Low-level precision raids in the 'Wooden Wonder', CFS2-style




Why a mission report on a sim released way back in 2000, you may ask? Well, there are three reasons for this, which go beyond a mere trip down memory lane.


Firstly, there's the relative dearth (in number, sometimes also in quality) of sim releases since then; such that many older sims still compare favourably, in features, if not graphically. IL-2 was released the year after CFS2 and it remains well worth playing. CFS2's graphics may be noticeably more dated but they're still quite serviceable and the sim itself benefited from a tremendous amount of additional freeware and payware content, extending its scope from the Pacific to Europe, Korea and even Vietnam.


Secondly, this report was intended to be first in a series comparing the 'Mossie' in different sims - at least, in CFS2, CFS3 and IL-2. I say 'was'...which leads me onto the third reason for a CFS2 mission report...


…which is that my dated but effective 8800GT graphics card gave up the ghost at the weekend, leaving me having to make do with the budget card it replaced (a 9300GS!). So for the next few months or so, it looks like I'll be dusting off some older sims…which is not entirely a bad thing. Or so I'm telling myself!



The add-on, the mission and the plane


A little while ago on another forum, Hauksbee posted about some famous Mosquito precision bombing missions, which included Operation Jericho, the raid on Amiens Prison designed to aid the escape of French Resistance captives believed to be facing execution. This brought to mind the Just Flight add-on for CFS2 called 'Mosquito Squadron' which I recalled featured this very mission, as well as the Gestapo HQ raids which had prompted Hauksbee's original post. You can find out more about the package, which I believe is still available, here:



…and here:



I already had CFS2 installed on my (Vista 64) PC - I still enjoy firing up some of the historical missions for a rattle in a Zero or a Corsair - so I installed the add-on, spooled her up, created a new British pilot and kicked off the Mosquito campaign.


Sure enough, the campaign mission set included Op Jericho, along with many other representative or historical Mosquito raids. And though these are arranged in date order, to create the semblance of an operational tour or career, you can start the sequence with any mission you choose.


So it was that I found myself at the planning screens for Operation Jericho, on 18 February 1944, leading a strike force of eight aircraft. All were Mosquito FBVIs, the fighter-bomber version packing four .303' machine guns and a similar number of 20mm cannon. Despite the latter taking up a good bit of space including the front half of the internal bomb bay, the FBVI still had a room in the rear half for a couple of 500lb bombs, less than the contemporary BIV glass-nosed bomber but capable of being supplemented by bombs or rockets carried under the outer wings. The famous 'Mossie' will need no introduction to anyone with any interest in WW2 aviation; she had a blistering performance for her day and was the envy of her enemies, excelling as day bomber, fighter-bomber, night fighter, anti-shipping and photo-recce aircraft. The 1960s film '633 Squadron' may (or may not!) be rather clichéd by modern standards but it was a feast of roaring Merlins and low-flying Wooden Wonders, with the odd bit of wooden special effects to match but totally free of the contrived Star Wars-style CGI which seems to blot most flying films nowadays. 


Anyhow, back to our raid on Amiens Prison...the CFS2 planning screens, as usual, allowed me to switch crews between flight positions, inspect a map, check mission goals...and view a 'recce photo' of the target. This latter was most useful - it was a render of the target building, annotated to highlight the guard towers, walls and barracks that wanted bombing, as well as the jail block itself, which did not. This was useful, both to help me get 'eyes on' the target during the run in, and to make sure we attacked the right bits of it, only!




The default armament for my machine was rockets and I stuck with these as more accurate weapons (in my unpracticed hands, anyway!) than the HE bombs which I think were actually used on the real raid. Having quickly run through the planning phase - too quickly to take a screenshot, but you'lll be able to see the map at the debriefing stage, later - I kicked off the mission. And here we are, lined up on the runway at RAF Methwold:




Experienced CFS2 players will understand that this sim dates from the time when Microsoft flight sim landscapes were basically barren, apart from placed sets of 'scenery' objects, like the RAF airfield provided with 'Mosquito Squadron'. Despite being Pacific-based, CFS2 does at least include reasonably topographically accurate terrain for much of NW Europe and (as far as I know) the rest of the world, even if it is covered with nothing more than bland (but reasonably effective) textures and odd spots of scenery objects created and placed for specific missions.


Looking at our mounts, the Just Flight Mossie is a nice representation. The canopy framing looks a little slender but the machine's outline looks quite accurate; unlike the CFS3 Mossie, which was a BIV bomber with distinctive split (instead of flat-fronted) windscreen and glass nose painted over for the FBVI and FBXVIII variants, and had a rather poorly-shaped fin.


One negative about this CFS2 version is that the upper surface camouflage pattern is mirrored, whereas in real life the green 'shadow shading' on the upper surfaces was different on left and right sides. Otherwise, it is a reasonable representation of the mid-war Mossie scheme, which used the RAF fighter Command scheme of the day, later modified to use the same, lighter shade of grey above and below.




Inside, you get the old-fashioned fixed cockpit graphic and the less detailed virtual cockpit, the former only supporting snap view, the latter panning as well. Neither are up to IL-2 standards but CFS2 virtual cockpits are not bad, some considering them generally better than the CFS3 versions, though the Just Flight Mossie's is rather dark.





In the external view, I set the flaps to down one notch, checked the controls worked, and started engines, my two Merlins firing up one after the other. One of the highlights of this package - as with the Just Flight 'Dambusters' add-on - is the engine sounds, which are noisy, dramatic and effective, worthy of any current sim.


Brakes off and throttle briskly up to the limit, and I was on my way. Rudder was needed to keep her straight; with the rapid acceleration from my fast application of full throttle, it was easy to overcorrect and some care had to be taken to prevent my kite ground-looping. The CFS2 Mossie's wheels are not animated in rotation but they and the undercart look the part, unlike the undernourished articles on the CFS3 version. I was soon off the ground and retracting my gear.





Flaps up, I called up the 'radar'/Tactical Display/TAC - retained in CFS3, but changed from rectangular to an even more radar-like circular display - and checked the orientation of my first leg with the blue track line to the next waypoint. I climbed slowly and turned gently onto my course, at which point the track line turned green. Throttling back for a bit to enable my squadron to catch up, I looked around. Apart from the scenery objects representing RAF Methwold and the nearby village of that name, there was not much to be seen - open country with summer-like field textures, the odd beige-grey patch denoting an urban area, the flat landscape reasonably appropriate for the low-lying county of Norfolk in eastern England.





Settled on course and into formation, I set the TAC to display ground targets and used the 'warp' feature to avoid the long flight over Norfolk, across the Thames Estuary, over SE England then the English Channel and overland to Amiens in north-western France.


CFS2 campaign missions being scripted rather than 'dynamic', I was confident that unlike CFS3, warp would bring me out at a sensiblly low level, appropriate for this mission, not the 'one-size-fits-all' tens of thousands of feet of the later sim. And so it came to pass.


...to be continued!

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'At precisely 12.01 pm, with the guards sat down to eat their lunch, bombs from 11 Mosquitoes hit the prison.'

(Martin Bowman, 'Aircraft of the Aces - Mosquitos of World War 2', Osprey/DelPrado)


We exited 'warp' over the western fringes of a town which must be Amiens, at perhaps two or three thousand feet. Peering ahead, I began to see buildings take shape out of the bland mass of CFS2 urban textures (they emerge from the general blur rather close, perhaps, but without the rather obvious 'pop-up' of IL-2).
We seemed to have rather a lot of Canadian pilots in the squadron, from the accents of the voices warning me that the target lay ahead and that flak was coming up to meet us...either that or these were the stock CFS2 aircrew voices. The flak needed no such announcement; I could see for myself from my virtual cockpit the black busts appearing in the sky ahead, soon joined by yellow pencil lines of tracer fire. Looking behind, two aircraft of the second flight were already going down, though from the lack of flak bursts in that particular piece of sky, it could have been a mid-air collision.
This was where that recce photo came in handy, as I was soon able to identify the target building amongst a cluster of smaller structures, more or less dead ahead. The moment of truth had arrived!
It was at this point that I realised I had made no plan at all for the attack. In fact I had rather got out of the CFS2 flight-leading habit. Air-to-air I was used to, from flying a lot in CFS3 derivative Over Flanders Fields and the occasional CFS2 Pacific fighter mission. But here, the task was a bit more complicated. A certain amount of precision bombing (or rocketing) was called for, against a very specific target. And I knew that my wingmen had likely not been pre-programmed by the mission designer to attack anything, and would be relying on my orders, on arrival…as in, now.
My original, large-box version of CFS2 came with a large printed manual, but I was loath to pause the game while I retrieved and read this. So, recalling my experience with OFF and with ground targets selected on the rectangular CFS2 TAC, I started tabbing through these targets. I was relieved to see the 'gamey' but rather useful yellow 'target selected' brackets appear on the ground, with my first tap of the key. Watching what they picked up as I tabbed, I could see that the target brackets appeared to be cycling through the things we needed to destroy: the prison's walls, guard towers, and guard accommodation.
As all this was happening, my speed was carrying me up to the flak-laced sky around the target, so I had to act quickly. First, I needed to make a rapid choice between going straight in, or pulling to the side while I organised things at leisure. I decided to carry on. Each time the target brackets picked up something I reckoned needed whacking, I gave an 'Attack' command  - the 'A' key, no nested menus needed for CFS2's short command set! As I remembered would happen, with each command, a pair of aircraft peeled off to attack the designated target. Not entirely realistic, but reasonable enough, as I had no way of saying on the radio - 'Red Section, target - guard tower, northeast corner of prison, go!'
I roared past the target at about seven hundred feet. The need to issue this flurry of commands had left me with no opportunity to make an attack of my own, but I could at least distract some of the flak and set myself up for a firing pass with my rockets, on the way back.
And that's what I did. I jinked then throttled back, pulled her up, around and over, nosing back down at the target in a 30 degree dive and edging the throttles fully open as I came in. I 'armed' (selected) the rockets and lined up my target - a section of wall with a guard tower at each end - in my reflector sight.
Allowing for the drop in the rockets' trajectory, I let the centre of the sight reticule move up and through my target and fired when it I judged it was sufficiently far above my mark. Fire! With a loud whooshing sound, a pair of HE rockets streaked away, their oversize tracers leaving a trail of grey smoke. No time to ripple off a second pair. I pulled up and flashed over the target, narrowly missing crashing into it. I was only vaguely conscious of gouts of dark smoke around my aiming point and more aware now of the angry bangs of flak and the tracer slashing past my canopy. Crikey, this is b***dy dangerous, I thought to myself.
cfs2 2013-12-16 21-10-16-24.jpg
...to be continued!

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'The first bomb blew in all the doors and breached one of the outer walls'

(Martin Bowman, 'Aircraft of the Aces - Mosquitos of World War 2', Osprey/DelPrado)


Up and around for another pass. I got off four rockets this time, noticing that my first pair seemed only to have cratered the vicinity of the wall I was firing at. On the R/T, I could head my squadron was taking some losses but also making some attacks of their own.
On my last pass, heading now in the direction of home, I loosed off the last of my eight rockets. By that time, I could see that the prison wall, which had seemed to be coming apart on the last pass, was now missing a large section, both where I had been attacking it and in another area! Yesss!
My final personal contribution to the mission was a risky firing pass at a couple of the AA guns nearby. Not good life insurance but it might mean the difference between life and death for some of my mates still attacking the target, and perhaps also for the virtual prisoners down below whom we were trying to save, albeit at the risk of hastening their demise.
That was enough for one day. I could have stooged around until I was sure all of my squadron had made their attacks. I think the only way to do this is maybe selecting targets and hitting the 'A'/attack key until the only acknowledgements you get are people telling you they could not comply. But I decided to call it quits and avoid more losses in that flak-infested area; I had seen at least two Mossies go down and that was enough. I circled the objective in a wide arc and gave the recall command…and home we went. Yes I know the pic below shows us fully loaded but I didn't take a screenie on the way home, partly through the release of tension after some tricky flying.
Time was short so I skipped the rest of the flight home and just went for the debriefing. The damage we'd wrought was credited to us - or mine was anyway, not sure how to view individual wingman results in CFS2 or if they're just taken into account overall, in resolving the mission goals - but it wasn't enough to count the mission as a success. CFS2 missions are very goal-oriented, but in this sort of mission that's not a bad thing. We'd missed the guard accomodation, whose destruction on the real mission was deemed important to helping the prisoners escape. This is more realistic than the stock CFS2 campaigns, whose objectives typically set you unrealistic fixed goals like destroying at least a certain number of enemy aircraft, and fail you if you don't. Daft.
Overall, this was an engaging and enjoyable mission and - though I'll miss the more modern sims for the time being, -I'm now looking forward to playing further missions in this and/or in some of the other CFS2 expansions I picked up 'back in the day', as well as some other classic sims. I gather there's a new .exe of European Air War a-coming, for one. And plenty more where that came from...Screamin' Demons Over Europe, M1 Tank Platoon 2 and Panzer Elite, anybody?
cfs2 2013-12-16 20-54-19-36.jpg
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