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Red Sun Setting - IL-2 1946

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Defending 'Bloody Tarawa' in the Ki-43 'Hayabusa'!

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Having enjoyed flying the Nakajima Ki-43 in an island defence mission courtesy of CFS2 and Yoshi's 'Battle of Chishima' campaign, I was keen to see what IL-2 had to offer, in the same department. IL-2 1946 includes the previous 'Pacific Fighters' installment so I opted to use this, combined with Dark Blue World, the premier add-on package for offline IL-2 fans.


If you want to see the real Hayabusa in action, you probably can't do better that this war-time film:



This looks to be a reconstruction for the cameramen of a 25 December 1941 Imperial Japanese Army raid on Rangoon, Burma by Ki-21 'Sally' bombers with a Ki-43 'Oscar' escort. Even though I suspect it has no real combat footage, it's pretty good stuff, and includes some staged dogfights between Hayabusas and a P-40 and Buffalo. There's some impressive Japanese model-making skill on display too but it all gets blown up in the 'bombing'! The real Christmas Day raid on Rangoon is described in some detail in Chapter 7 of Grub Street's 'Bloody Shambles' by Shores, Cull & Izawa and involved over 60 Ki-21s escorted by 25 Hayabusas, followed by another thirty-plus Ki-21s covered by a similar number of Ki-27s and was intercepted by both the American Volunteer Group and the RAF. The defenders reportedly believed they had definitely shot down at least 42 enemy aircraft but Japanese losses are said to have been two Ki-43s, the same number of Ki-27s and three Ki-21s, plus a handful more force-landed; casualties on the ground were more clear cut and were estimated at 5,000 killed.


The Hayabusa also stars in the recent Japanese movie 'For Those We Love', about the Kamikazes, notably in the final climactic attack on a US Task Force. The flying sequences look to be filmed with a mix of scale models, CGI and full-size taxying replicas, and have the odd contrived moment, but they totally put to shame the high production value but inane and inept combat footage in films like 'Red Tails' or 'Pearl Harbour'. This is the link to what I believe is the legitimate official trailer on Youtube (as opposed to the 'unofficial' uploads which include the final attack in full):



As for the simulation equivalent, while CFS2 features the mid-production Ki-43-II (shorter span wing and two heavy MGs), IL-2 '46 + DBW provides virtually the 'full Monty', from the early Ki-43-I with longer-span wing, tubular gun sight and two rifle-calibre MGs, through later versions with one heavy and one light MG; to the Ki-43-II with reflector sight, more powerful engine, two HMGs, shorter span wing and extra intake in the lip of the upper cowling; and the Ki-43-III with separate exhaust ejector stubs.


See for yourself:



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The mission

I forgot to create a new pilot so I ended up with a rather un-Japanese named left-over pilot! But having created a stock IJA fighter campaign, I was pleased to see that I didn't have to start with the long flights of the Malayan operations but could choose to begin later, in November 1943, on defensive operations - just before the US Marines came ashore in Operation Galvanic - defending Tarawa atoll itself. 


I'd picked a starting rank high enough to lead operations, which is how I like it. Here's the briefing for the first mission - and it's 'in at the deep end' with a 'scramble', to intercept an incoming enemy raid. I'd have appreciated some information on the the enemy's height and maybe numbers, but at least I knew they were coming and roughly where they were coming from!


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Here we are on the airfield - six of us, lined up and good to go. CFS2 formation takeoffs are in pairs and quite brisk, but while I believe the Team Diadolos patches now support formation takeoffs, in DBW it's as per the stock IL-2 'conga line'.


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This is the 'vanilla' IL-2 Ki-43-I skin, solid green uppers rather than my preferred mottle. But my main beef here is that it's late 1943, yet we've been given obsolescent early-model Hayabusas, with the original 980hp engine and just one of the rifle-calibre MGs upgraded to a 12.7mm model. Okay for 1941-42 but not so good for this point in hostilities. I haven't checked but maybe it's because this is a stock campaign and the later model Hayabusas come with DBW. Whatever the reason, it appeared that someone at Imperial General Headquarters was being rather parsimonious with the latest kit. And this, despite the fact that, as the briefing reports, we're believed to be facing an attack. And a massive one at that.


This being a 'scramble', there was no time to waste musing on the shortcomings of our kit. I don't bother with Complex Engine Management and as I dislike fiddling with radiator flap settings (and have on-screen text suppressed, so don't get 'Engine overheating!' warnings) I have set my motor to keep itself cool, as well. This may not be very 'hard core' but it's just how I like it.


So I started up, checked  my controls and set flaps to one notch down. Possibly that is actually the 'combat' setting - the Hayabusa being one plane which really did have combat flaps, apparently needed to meet the design requirement to have manoeuvrability comparable to its fixed-undercart monoplane predecessor, the Ki-27 'Nate'. Anyway off I went, followed at intervals by the others. The IL-2 Ki-43 is somewhat higher-polygon than its CFS2 equivalent although its mainwheels are rather angular, side-on anyway.


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It took me a second or so to realise that the green aircraft parked to my left as I took off were not modern Argentine Pucarras who'd badly lost their way in space and time, but typical Japanese dummy aircraft. They weren't the only ones; further down the runway was parked a row of dummy fighters, the far side of which sat the airfield's real planes, sensibly in blast pens. Some nice touches there!


So the mission had begun. Now, where were the Americans? Coming from the south-east, the briefing said, though our flight plan indicated that we should head pretty well due south. Airborne, I raised flaps and undercart and began a turn to the right as I gained height. I could have climbed away from the incoming raid to gain more height before turning south, but orders are orders and they said 'go south'.


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...to be continued!

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The Yanks are coming...


I climbed hard, without waiting for my flight to catch up. That could come later, once I'd gained a few thousand feet. My lightly-built aircraft rose steadily, till I was passing the first clouds, out on my right, by now settled onto a roughly southerly course. And there they were! Looking half right, I saw a ragged group of dark specks between banks of clouds, heading on a reciprocal course - straight at the airfield I had just left! They were too far away to identify the type, but I felt sure that they could only be the incoming American raid. Still climbing, I banked right and swung in towards them.


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As I cleared the tops of the intervening clouds, I saw that the first group - which I had intended to cut in behind - was merely the lead element in what looked to be a long procession of enemies. This wasn't quite what I had been banking on! Now what? What's the plan, now?


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I hesitated. My initial thought was, safety first - go wide and come in behind the end of the procession. I could not tell from their appearance or their formation which were bombers and which were fighters. If I stuck with my original plan, I would be sandwiching myself between the lead elements and those behind, some of whom might well be fighters who would then pounce on us. A dangerous and perhaps foolish move. It seemed the better tactic would be for me to go wide and play 'Devil take the hindmost' with the rear of the procession; by which time I should also have gained a better picture of the enemy's dispositions.


But my job was to defend our island base. And the American formation was practically on top of it. That thought sealed the deal. Dangerous or not, I had to try to disrupt the attack by hitting the leading enemies, as quickly as I could. So I continued to curve in towards my original target, the leading enemy flight. At the same time, I gave the radio order for a general attack, reckoning that the sooner we all got amongst them, the better.


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At this point I cursed again my obsolescent mount. Its tubular, Aldis-stye gun-sight, used with the standard long eye relief that works just fine with a reflector sight, blocked rather important parts of my view ahead. Even after I had used Ctrl+D to swing aside the front sight cap, the cap itself added to the problem. Oh, for the reflector sight that came with the later Hayabusa our outfit should have been flying by now! I could have switched to the 'no cockpit' view (or perhaps there's another forward view which helps). But I decided to make do and get on with it. Closing in steadily, I noticed as the range wound down that my target was a flight of Avengers, who seemed intent on bombing our airfield in a shallow dive. We would see about that!


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...to be continued!

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I was by now closing steadily on an Avenger who was on the right of the enemy's leading element. I remembered the story of Zero ace Saburo Sakai, who was nearly killed over Gaudalcanal by an Avenger's rear gunner while approaching from behind what was then, to him, an unfamiliar single-engined aircraft. I have 'bomberskill=3' set in IL-2's conf.ini configuration file, which is recommended to tone down 'sniper' gunners, but I have been whacked often enough making an unsophisticated pass from behind - probably quite realistically - to know that I was still taking my virtual life in my hands here. The range was still quite long. But I might be dead the next second. So I started snapping out short bursts, noticing as I did so that the other Avengers were starting to wheel to the right. I had seen no bombs dropped...had I missed that? Had the Avengers simply picked a flak-ridden airfield as a rather dangerous waypoint? Or perhaps, had we actually succeeded in putting them off their stride and saving our base from their bombs? Hard to tell. But there was business to be getting on with, regardless.


I saw muzzle flashes wink at me from my target's rear gun turret but his rounds went wide. I bored right in, seeing some tracer smoke trails high and left, evidently from comrades pitching in...so I had not been alone in this. My Avenger now seemed to be falling back out of the sky towards me and more of my bursts were producing hits, whose flashes splattered his wing roots and rear fuselage. Fragments of the Avenger swept past me. He wasn't turning with the others...but he wasn't going down, either. To Hell with my plane's feeble armament! And to Hell with the brass in Tokyo who kept us flying such relics! A sheet of whiteness was spreading in my windscreen - clouds! The American looked to be trying to slip away into cloud cover, and it seemed like he was about to make it.


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Just as we were both engulfed in the cloud, the Avenger at last spouted a stream of dark smoke and curved down and right. Just as well, for at that very moment, my ammunition gave out.


The clouds were not deep and we were soon through into bright skies again. I watched the Yank swing away. The return fire seemed to have ceased. Phew!


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Looking beyond the smoking Avenger, I could see that there was a fight going on between several aircraft. It looked to be the remaining Avengers, harried by my flight-mates. My target was still descending in a wide spiral and I cut across the enemy formation as I watched him go. My wingman was still with me and I decided that I would order him in, to give the coup de grace, if the Avenger hung about much longer, before taking the final plunge. I was quite keen to be credited with this kill but equally, as I was now disarmed, I would present him to my number two rather than let him escape.


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...to be continued!

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It ain't over till the fat Geisha sings
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It looked like the American raid on our island base was now moving on. Having expended all my ammunition on my damaged Avenger, I was disinclined to go after them. Instead, I wheeled around above the spiraling American bomber, to make sure he didn't slip away. If there was any doubt that he was going down, I would order my faithful wingman to clobber him. I'm not really sure that Japanese fighter leaders had individual wingman - sources tend to suggest they fought samurai-style, in individual combat, not in the accepted Western tactical formations. Anyway the flight-mate trailing behind me seemed to favour Western tactics and I hadn't the heart to tell him to clear off and do his own thing.

It was about this time that I became aware that the enemy had not entirely cleared off, either. Below and ahead of me, were two small, grey single-engined aircraft. Stubby fuselages, rectangular wings - I recognised them immediately. Wildcat fighters. Not so good!


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I watched them carefully, maintaining my height advantage. Would they come up after us? The answer seemed to be 'no'. They fell behind us and slipped out to sea, away from our base.

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Relaxing somewhat, I returned my attention to the damaged Avenger. Was he going down, or was he not? The jury seemed to be still out on that one. I flew over our airfield. Then I noticed that the American was going down more steeply than before. He seemed to have rolled out of his spiral. Down he went, towards the glittering surface of the ocean below. This kill would be mine!


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I looked behind. My wingman was still with me, just to my left. But to the right, not much further back, a sudden shock! Two Wildcats, and they were coming straight at us!


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I did two things at more or less the same time. I stuffed down my nose and dived for my airfield. Diving away from a heavier US fighter was not a good idea as a rule. I knew that much. But our base was not far below me and I planned to draw the enemies onto the fire of our AA guns.


This course of action immediately showed promise, as the flak boys quickly started shooting, which I could see from the muzzle flashes down below me.

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And if this didn't do the trick, well that would be where the other thing I did, would pay off. Hopefully. I ordered my wingman to cover me. Just in case he hadn't already decided it was time to do that. Which it didn't look like he had. Looking back again, all I could see now were two Wildcats. Closer than before.


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That part of my cunning plan seemed to go quickly from bad to worse. I have on-screen subtitles turned off but I didn't need to understand a syllable of Japanese - which I don't - to realise that the voice that suddenly screamed at me over the radio in that language was from someone who was definitely not having a good day. Looking behind again, I saw my wingman's Hayabusa going straight down in a vertical nose dive. Ooops!


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...to be continued!

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Joining the Caterpillar Club, Imperial Japanese Army chapter

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Evidently, the chap screaming over the radio had not been my wingman. The latter was very much in business, as it turned out, despite having last been seen going down vertically. In fact he had recovered sufficiently to chase the two Wildcats off my tail. Great stuff! Definitely worth a bottle of saké in the officer's club, later.


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However, it was expecting rather a lot for him to keep both of the Americans tied up, and sure enough, one of them was soon after me, all over again.


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Out of rounds, I milled around with the Wildcat for a bit, exploiting my Hayabusa's superior manoeuvrability to avoid his fire. All the while, I was edging lower and closer to my airfield, now just a few hundred feet below.


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Finally, having opened out the gap between us, I grabbed my chance and dived again for the airfield, intending to make a sharp pull up and left turn onto short finals and then plonk my kite down on the nearer edge of the runway. I could only hope that the airfield flak would cover my backside for the last lap of my escape bid.


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I didn't get far. I'm not sure if it was the Wildcat I was dodging or if another one had slipped in behind me. But suddenly there were rounds slamming into my aeroplane which quickly burst into flames.


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Clearly, it was time to take my leave and make my application for membership of the Caterpillar Club. I'm assuming here that there was a Japanese branch of the exclusive society whose members were entitled to wear the little caterpillar badge, signifying a silkworm and the fact that the wearer had saved his life by means of a parachute descent. I broke right and upwards in an effort to get out of the merciless hail of 50 caliber tracer fire before 'hitting the silk'. Then I bailed out.


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I wasn't the only one.


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Not all the casualties had been Japanese, though.


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The American formation seemed to have swung to the north, where perhaps their real targets lay. Anyhow, our battle was over.


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The mission debriefing recorded the enemy raid as having comprised ten Avengers, four Hellcats and another ten Wildcats. It was no wonder, then, that it had been such a hard fight for the six of us. We lost two pilots killed and four wounded, but were credited with three kills, including my Avenger.


Quite a mission! The main problem was my obsolescent Hayabusa; I really should have had a Ki-43-II with the more powerful motor and two heavy MGs, instead of one heavy and one light. But it was great fun and looked brilliant, with IL-2's excellent visuals and environmental effects at the highest settings. I should also have replaced the stock Ki-43 skin with a better one, preferably in my favourite mottle finish and with the normal yellow inner leading edges, which the stock skin lacks for some reason.


Not that I didn't equally enjoy and appreciate the CFS2 Hayabusa mission I'd flown just before this one; but defending Tarawa in IL-2 '46 + DBW certainly gave me a deep impression of the increasing desperation the Japanese fliers must have felt, up against superior numbers of superior planes flown by some of America's finest. Highly recommended.

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      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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