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Pacific P-40: IL-2 '46+DBW

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Holding the line against the Japanese onslaught in New Guinea!

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There's no point disputing matters of taste - as the Latin saying goes, 'de gustibus non est disputandum'. But if there was a contest for the most attractive US WW2 fighter, the Curtiss P-40 would get my vote. Especially the later models with that long, deep radiator bath under the nose, with or without the famous 'sharkmouth' marking. The P-40 is of course celebrated mainly for its exploits with the American Volunteer Group in the China-Burma-India theatre and with the British and Commonwealth air forces (and later the USAAF) in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. While the Warhawk/Tomahawk/Kittyhawk lacked the high-altitude performance to keep it competitive later in the war, the P-40 made a vital contribution to the middle part of the Allied war effort, adding service in Russia to its many laurels.


There's some great P-40 warbird action here, courtesy of New Zealand's Historic Aviation Film Unit, showing the -C, -E and -N variants:



Up to now, my simulation 'stick time' with the P-40 has been very largely limited to some action in CFS2, made up between Just Flight's 'Pearl Harbour' add on and the user mod package 'In Defence of Australia:





My appetite for another crack with the P-40 was recently whetted in unusual circumstances. Having in my last mission report castigated the flying sequences in the movies 'Red Tails' and 'Pearl Harbour', I decided to watch that footage again, to see if I still thought it as contrived and inane as I did first time around. The answer was a resounding 'Hell, yes!' I mean, guys on the ground talking to pilots in 1941 on a 'walkie-talkie' to arrange an ambush for Zeros by placing rifles, MGs and a shotgun(!) on a tower? Not to mention that the same two intrepid P-40 pilots had just impossibly arranged a game of 'chicken' between opposing fighters...I mean, why not just jump out on the wing and knock them down with light sabres, which would have been as realistic?


But P-40s feature prominently in both films and you can't help but admire the planes, however silly are the things they're made to do by the total muppets who dream up this sort of nonsense, when the real thing could be just as cinematic.


IL-2 '46 has an outstanding selection of P-40s and includes a USAAF Pacific fighter pilot campaign featuring the type. So that was my sim of choice. The variants available in IL-2 include:



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With IL-2 - and presumably, this came originally with the 'Pacific Fighters' installment - you can opt to fly the PTO campaign I had in mind with the US Army Air Force, starting with Pearl Harbour in December 1941. I choose instead to start with the next segment of the campaign, during the following year. It was 30 July 1942, soon after Japanese fortunes had been spectacularly and decisively reversed at the aero-naval Battle of Midway. Still intent on isolating rather than invading Australia by seizing Port Moresby on eastern New Guinea, just across the Coral Sea from northern Australia, the Japanese attacked overland, along the Kokoda Trail. Such is the dramatic period in WW2 covered by this IL-2 campaign, with mainly US and Australian forces pitted against the Japanese drive to Moresby.


Here's the briefing for the campaign segment's first mission. And there's no time to lose - it's a 'scamble' to intercept an enemy raid, said to be coming in from the south-west!


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I was at the head of a flight of just four P-40Es; and here we are, lined up on the concrete at Port Moresby's main airfield. We're not alone, though; behind us are no less than six Army P-39 Airacobras.


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There were quite a few other aircraft parked around the airfield, including some B-25 Mitchell bombers and some more P-40s. But we four and those P-39s seemed to be the only available aircraft for this sortie. All the more reason to get off without further ado, and gain what height we could. As it turned out, that wouldn't be much.


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...to be continued!

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Into battle!


With throttle wide and flaps down two notches, I roared off, using differential braking and then rudder to keep her straight, but still grateful for the wide concrete runway.


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At first I climbed hard roughly eastwards, away from the incoming raid. I wanted to gain as much height as I could, before swinging around towards the enemy. The base fell away behind and below me. With its plentiful hangarage, storage tanks, barracks and parked aircraft, it was more than likely that our own base would be the object of the enemy attack. I didn't want to return to a smoking ruin! So maintaining my course to the east, I climbed hard.


This didn't last long. Behind me, the airfield AA sprang into life. That bl**dy raid must be coming in right behind us!


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Easing off my rate of climb I turned hard left, hoping my flight, clawing for height in my wake, would do a good job of keeping up but having no time to look for them. Likewise, as I rolled out of my turn, I had no time to admire the nice view I now had of Port Moresby itself, to my left. My attention was focused instead on the patch of sky above and now ahead of me, into which was soaring intermittent streams of tracer fire from the airfield's defenders. Where was the enemy?


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They weren't hard to spot. As I watched, a pair of specks wheeled around then fell from the sky. They looked too agile for dive bombers, so I took them to be enemy fighters of some description, likely going after either the AA guns or the parked planes.


But I wasn't watching them. Right ahead in serried ranks were two 'vics' of what looked like twin engined bombers, heading right for me. Plan made. The enemy fighters I had seen had dived down and were not offering combat; not right now, anyway. My priority was to hit these bombers while I could, preferably in time to disrupt their bombing of my own airfield, assuming - as seemed very likely - that this was their target.


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...to be continued!

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Battle of the Bettys


I climbed as steeply as I dared, trying to intercept or head off the six enemy bombers up ahead of me, which I judged - correctly as it turned out - to be Japanese G4M 'Bettys'.  These long-range and well-armed bombers, I knew, had a reputation for being rather vulnerable to enemy fire. This hypothesis I intended to put to the test, very soon.


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But not that soon. Caught at such a height disadvantage, there was no way I was going to be able to hit them in a climbing attack from ahead and below. Instead, I was forced to watch them sail past over my head, out of range. I had to reverse my course again and now found myself chasing the bombers. For whatever reason, they seemed not to have bombed our airfield, despite having passed more or less right over it. But this was not the time to ponder this deliverance. There was work to be done.


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One of the bombers seemed to be lagging, on the left rear of the small enemy formation. So I went for him, by now at last nearly up to the enemy's level. As I began to close on my intended victim, I remembered my flight, and gave the radio command for a general attack. There's no time for anything fancy, so let's all just get stuck into them now, I thought.


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The 'Betty' was quite fast and maintained a left-hand turn as I closed. Wary of the 20mm tail gun I seemed to recall these bombers had, I fired without getting too close, relying instead on putting a bigger shower of flying metal into the air from my six 50 calibre MGs than my foe could manage in return. Such tactics were not conducive to conserving ammunition but soon began to produce results. I saw hits flicker on his airframe, then a small orange fireball exploded somewhere in his rear fuselage. Trusting - or at least, hoping - that this damage might have put off his waist and tail gunners, I closed more confidently, continuing to snap out short bursts. Finally, a fuel tank in his starboard inner wing burst into flames. That ought to do it!


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Wisely, the burning Betty's crew decided the time had come to part company with their aircraft. I left them to it and pulled up and away. Scratch one enemy bomber!


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...to be continued!

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Betty bows out


Having clobbered one of the enemy bombers, I had a good look around. The formation of Bettys whose numbers I had just thinned out seemed still to be heading west, down the southern coast of New Guinea. Were they retreating, or heading on to bomb a target further into our territory? Neither of the above, as it happened.


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Looking back in the direction of our airfield, I could see that there were aircraft milling about all over the place. The airfield defence people were banging away into the middle of all this, so there was evidently still a raid of some description going on. At the time I didn't see any pattern, but this is roughly what was happening.


The Japanese 'top cover' seemed to consist of a pair of Army fighters; namely these two Ki-43 'Oscars'. They didn't seem to feel much affinity for their naval coIleagues because I never saw any evidence that they came down to intervene in the proceedings. Perhaps they were engaged with the Airacobras at some point but they didn't seem to bother my lot. 


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Meanwhile, lower down, were the Zeros. There were apparently four of these, including the pair I'd seen diving as the raid came in. Two were 'Hamps', the clipped-wing version; the other two were conventional model 'Zekes' of Pearl Harbour fame.


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The square-tipped 'Hamps' seemed to be doing most of the damage in this raid, including this strafing attack, which claimed a P-40 from a group parked on the grass.


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The really strange thing was the behaviour of the Bettys. There were more of them than the six I'd attacked, and they seemed to be doing most of the milling about. Perhaps from our attacks, their formations seemed to have broken up. Every so often, one or two of the bombers would fly over our airfield, or one of the other airstrips in the area. There seemed to be three - ours, the largest, another slightly smaller one to the north-west, and a smaller airfield to the east. Perhaps the Bettys - true to the characteristic commonly ascribed to their feminine counterparts - couldn't make up their minds.


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They seemed to make shallow diving attacks from different levels, every so often. But I never saw a bomb hit. I remember reading somewhere that when carrying bombs, the G4M's bomb-bay doors were removed. Later, watching the replay of the mission track I saved, I had a look at a couple, and this is what I saw - open (or missing) bomb bay doors and just two tiny bombs inside.


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At one point watching a Betty from above in the replay, I thought I heard the whistle of falling bombs, but there were no explosions. I believe that setting 'MaxBomberSkill=0' in you IL-2 configuration file is necessary to neuter the 'sniper' rear gunners - you know, the ones who, nearly every time, put a round straight through the armour glass windscreen of your Messerschmitt 109G and knock your reflector sight askew, without harming you. But I also gather this setting reduces the skill level of bombers across the board. Perhaps this was a factor in the Bettys' strange performance.


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Meanwhile, back at the war...the skies over our base being full of these Bettys milling about in ones and twos, and with no sign of enemy fighters, I thought I had better have another crack at one, with my remaining ammunition. So I re-joined the party, chasing after a pair of bombers which had started a shallow diving attack, as I approached.


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Again, the Betty I attacked proved to be fast and hard to catch. He eventually pulled up streaming a light trail of smoke from his port engine.


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At this point I caught up and fired off the rest of my ammo at him, breaking away under return fire from his dorsal gun position but not, thank goodness, from that nasty 20mm cannon in his tail.


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Meanwhile, his comrades continued their diving attacks, or attack-like diving manoeuvres, or whatever they were.


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With my own wingman still in tow but out of rounds myself, I climbed up and made a wide circuit around my airfield. My plan now was to assess the situation and if it seemed favourable, to cut loose my number two for an attack of his own, on a suitable target. I would follow him, reversing roles. With no ammo, I would be able to do little more that watch out for danger and if all else fails, see if the IL-2 AI pilots could be scared off by an unarmed enemy plane on their 'six'. Given that the AI often seem to break when you're closing in on them and are just about to open fire, I was optimistic on that score.


As I orbited at higher level, the skies seemed to be somewhat clearer. Our airfield's AA was still cutting loose at intervals so there were still some bad guys around. But none came our way. Deciding the time was right, as I arrived to the east of Port Moresby, I gave my wingman the command to 'attack all'. Off he went, first rolling over and diving, then pulling up and going into a climbing turn. I gamely followed, wondering what on earth he had in mind.


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This went on for a bit, until I lost patience and called him back.


At that point, I banked around and looked below. There, just inland, I could see a couple of pale-coloured single-engined aircraft, heading in opposite directions, quite low down. Zeros!


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...to be continued!

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The navy to the rescue!


From the Japanese raid on Port Moresby, I had definitely destroyed one G4M 'Betty' bomber and badly damaged a second. I hadn't heard or seen much from my flight's number three and four since cutting them loose at the start of the battle. But having spotted two Zeros low down to the east, I was glad to see my own wingman was back with me. With my own ammo long exhausted, I led him up in a climbing turn, away from the enemy fighters, who had shown no sign of having spotted us.


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However, seen us they had. P-40s were renowned for being able to leave a Japanese fighter in a dive. But a climb...well, that was a different matter. See what I mean?


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They say that a bad plan is better than no plan at all. And in an air fight, speed is vital - to quote the RAF's No.13 Group's 'Forget-me-nots for Fighters', 'Don't hang about thinking up something clever.' So I made a plan - fast. Enemy forces - one Zero closing up from below and behind, likely the second one close behind him. Friendly forces - me, unarmed, and my wingman closer behind me...and the Navy.


Earlier on, I'd noticed flashes of pretty vigorous AA fire from a friendly warship in Port Moresby's little harbour. In all the excitement, I was lucky not to have forgotten. But I hadn't and so here's the plan. Climbing away from the Zeros was definitely not working. So I would wing over and dive, calling my wingman to cover me. Hopefully, in the dive I'd gain some ground, while luring at least one of the Zeros after me, thus setting up a kill for my number two. 'Roping the dope', I think they call it, nowadays. Except that there were two of them, and neither might be dopes. So the second part of my plan was that, as I dived, I would swing towards the harbour, and draw the enemy into a nice little concentration of naval AA fire at low level. If my wingman didn't get them - or at least, drive them off - hopefully the boys behind the AA guns on that warship would manage it. My own rather more plausible version of the gambit in the Pearl Harbour movie, if you like.


So I winged over and dived hard for Mother Earth, with two Zeros snapping at my heels and my wingman roughly in the middle somwhere.


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Nearing the ground, I pulled up heading for the harbour. There, I could now see that the friendly warship appeared to be a USN destroyer; a modern Fletcher class job, by the look of it. So far, so good.


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The destroyer's 5 inch main guns were trained out and in action as well as the lighter stuff. It was quite scary, flying straight into the muzzles of that little lot and hoping that the gunners' aircraft recognition would be first class and their aim, even better.


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Head-on, one single-engined fighter isn't that easy to tell from another. But despite the fact that WW2 USN people will have been much more accustomed to seeing radial-engined friendly planes, the boys on this destroyer seemed to know a P-40 when they saw one. Unscathed, I flashed over them, just above mast-head height.


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One of the Zeros wasn't so lucky. One moment he was there, the next there was a flash, and flaming debris rained down, scattering across the port and into the water. Hooray for the Navy!


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One Zero down, one to go!


...to be continued!

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I remember flying this mission very well! I got a Zero and two Bettys and got sniped in the engine on a 90 degree deflection shot from a tail gunner. I just barely got it back on the ground.

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I remember flying this mission very well! I got a Zero and two Bettys and got sniped in the engine on a 90 degree deflection shot from a tail gunner. I just barely got it back on the ground.

Hi Dave


That must have been before somebody found out how to neuter those rear gunners! Did your Bettys mill about aimlessly, too? All I can think is that neutering the bomber skill level may have been the problem on my mission.


Anyway I'm off to get some kip, will finish the mission report tomorrow evening.



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Ivor, IIRC  it was just before the fix came to be. Indeed the Bettys did mill around without doing anything overly destructive. I thought they were heading to one of the other fields or we "interrupted" them. Maybe we were their trigger and got off too quickly? The only damage was from the strafers. I got the Zero when he was coming off the target and I had about 4 thousand feet on him. (I used to cheat the all knowing AI by opening up just before convergence so they wouldn't break at the magic moment). Getting sniped was one of those "Oh, bullshit" moments. I was 90 degrees off the tail of that Betty probably 200 yards, bang, bang, oil all over the windscreen. I was lucky in being almost lined up on final so I got it on the ground before it quit. Any further out and I'd have chucked it and gotten another one.


Anyway, please keep writing those AARs. They are always first rate and an excellent read!

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Awesome! I remember flying P-40s in IL-2 1946, I currently am playing this sim as well. One thing I learned to improve the climb of the P-40, or any fighter, is to set the elevator trim tabs, along with flaps. I've been able to gain altitude quickly with that adjustment made. Love you AAR by the way! Very great!

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The end of the line?


The other Zero - who as ahead of the one the Navy clobbered - had stayed low and right behind me. In doing so he escaped his comrade's fate and - unscathed, even as the second 'Zeke's's remains fell from the sky - the enemy fighter sped over the destroyer - and straight after me.


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Where was my wingman? Nowhere in sight! The IL-2 wingman commands are pretty comprehensive but the nested menus can make them slow and distracting to issue - especially when you have an angry Zero right behind you. If there were hotkeys for the more common or pressing wingman commands in IL-2 that I didn't know, this was not a good time to go looking for them! Tracers sped close past me at intervals as I jinked and swung around. My only consolation was that the enemy seemed to be out of rounds for his wing-mounted cannon, leaving him with just his rifle-calibre cowling MGs.


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At full throttle I fled over the water, as low as I dared. The Zero clung to me like a limpet. I tried to steer back towards the destroyer; all I could think of was having another go at luring the second Zero to destruction at the hands of its AA gunners, who seemed quite good at swatting low-flying enemy aircraft. I edged towards the harbour, but it was impossible to keep a straight course under fire and I ended up going wide and across the headland.


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As I crossed the headland, the Zero made a diving pass which took him below me. For a moment I hoped that he was not going to pull out in time...but no such luck. He recovered and using the speed built up in his dive he was soon behind and just above me and firing again. Out over the water again, I reversed course back towards the harbour, with the Zero still after me.


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Rounds spashed in the water to my right as I made the final dash towards the destrover.  Running in over the last hundred yards or so, I could see that the Navy was doing its level best. The muzzle flashes from the destroyer's 20mm and 40mm light AA weapons were the proof of that. I was now pretty well out of ideas. Would my gambit work a second time? I would soon find out.


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...to be continued!

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The Fat Lady sings!


I banked hard right to clear the masts of the cargo ships berthed next to the destroyer. The Zero banked too, but went slightly wide, perhaps in a last-minute effort to avoid the Navy tracers streaking towards him.


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Just when I thought he was going to get past unscathed, an AA round burst right on top of him.


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For a split second it looked like the Zero had got away with it. But then he staggered and burst into flames!


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The 'Zeke' seemed unable to recover from his bank, and nosing down, he sped at full tilt towards the ground, trailing a long banner of orange fire.


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At the last moment, the Japanese pilot made a desperate attempt to escape from his plunging fighter. The Zero's canopy flew off. But at that low altitude and at that airspeed, he didn't have a chance.


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The Zero smashed into the ground at a terrific speed and simply disintegrated. As I banked away, its firey fragments bounced and then scattered across the ground behind me. Phew! The Navy had done it again, God bless their cotton socks!


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Mightily relieved, I started gaining altitude. It now looked like I might be making it back to base after all. Naturally my first act - after gratefully kissing the Port Moresby concrete - would be to deliver a crate or two of cold beer to the Navy boys who had saved my bacon - twice!


I looked around. To my right, inland and above me, was a ragged group of single-engined aircraft, flying slowly west. They weren't atttacting any AA fire and in fact they were the P-39s who had accompanied us off the ground. They seemed to have come through the battle with perhaps a couple of losses.


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There was still some desultory AA fire going on but apart from the P-39s and the odd other aircraft here and there, the air fighting seemed to have died away. After orbiting in an ascending spiral, I throttled back and gave the flight the order to return to base. I could have recalled them and gone in search of any remaining enemies I could find but ammo was likely to be low all round - with the possible exception of my own wingman! - and I'd had enough for one day. Time to go home!


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The airfield defences were still firing nervously but thankfully, they left me alone. The last excitement of the day came on short finals. An aircraft which I could see was landing ahead of me - which turned out to be one of the two missing Airacobras - slowed unexpectedly quickly after touchdown and turned off the runway just past the threshold. Fortunately he kept going so I was spared the necessity of going around.


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Back on terra firma and taxying back to dispersal, I could see that a few fires were burning and that one of the B-25s, at the end of a row parked in front of some hangars, was looking a bit the worse for wear. But otherwise, our base seemed to have come through the raid quite lightly. Had those Bettys made a determined bombing attack in formation, it would have been a different matter.


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The debrief showed my flight had scored two kills, one of them my Betty. The other one was likely this fellow. He looks like the one I had damaged and left smoking, but he'd since taken more damage than I'd left him with so he was likely our flight's second kill.


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The raid had comprised 15-20 of these bombers, escorted by the two Oscars and the four Zeros. As for the raid's results, I had seen that at least two aircraft had been destroyed on the ground, a P-40 and a B-25. Considering the scale of the opposition, we had not done too badly, though next time I will be less wary of the rear gunners and make better use of my ammunition. Not a bad start though. Even though the Army now owed the Navy a favour or two!


Overall, this was a great mission, thoroughly enjoyable, despite those strangely indecisive and ineffectual Bettys. IL-2 still looks just great, with lovely environmental effects including very effective lighting, glistening, animated water and clouds complete with shadows on the ground. With successive editions and all the community input adding content, features and improvements, the sim has aged rather well and in the proceess has lost some things I for one disliked, such as the 'sniper' gunners, the awful droning external engine sounds and aircraft markings that looked like badly-applied kit decals. With the Eastern Front now just one of the many experiences available and looking fantastic on even a modest system, IL-2 '46 is one sim that will be keeping me happy for a very long time to come.

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Thanks Craig. Yes Il-2's worth revisiting. A great sim; never really caught my fancy while it was purely Eastern Front but it's a whole different ball game, now you can so this sort of stuff as well, and more besides:



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Actually I've got a now most likely outdated version of DBW installed already, still to mess with the WW1 side of things but that Panther got quite a thorough work out over Toko-Ri. The fleet sits quite far out so had the odd interesting fuel crisis on the way back, including one flight where I botched the first approach, went around trapped then ran out of gas while taxiing forward to park/shutdown.



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Do tell Craig, where did you get the stuff for Toko-Ri? Haven't come across much for Korea in IL-2,. Not that I've been looking hard, but having always loved the movie (flying and carrier sequences anyway; did they REALLY belly-land that Panther? It certainly didn't look like a model) I would quite like to have a shot at dropping that bridge and/or clobbering the triple-A.

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    • By 33LIMA
      Flying World War 1 from the start, with some new campaigns for Il-2's CUP mod!

      The recent Combined User Patch (CUP) for Il-2 1946 now has four modules: Dawn of Flight for World War 1, Golden Age for the inter-war period, Wings at War for WW2, and the Jet Age for the post-war era. For the first of these, SAS's Monty, of The Full Monty fame - the Il-2 mod, not the movie! - has just released a set of scripted-mission campaigns. And naturally, being long interested in the air war of that period, this was one that I wasted no time in trying out.
      So far, the first part of an eventual 32 'mission set campaigns' is available, and you can find the details over at the SAS forum, here. Most unusually for a WW1 sim, what this first part gives us is the ability to fly from the very start of the First World War, in August 1914. The first mission set - 'Demarcation' - kicks off in the Vosges, where the demarcation line ran between the French and German empires or that period.
      Up to now, the earliest WW1 flight sim missions have flown have been from the era of the Fokker Scourge in the summer of 1915. So while I knew not to expect too much in the way of air combat at a time when most aircraft were unarmed and those that were, generally relied on carbines or pistols carried aloft by their crew, I was keen to try out something new, with the option of jumping ahead any time I wanted; in particular, the 1916 Verdun campaign tickled my fancy, with the opportunity it seemed to fly as the famous Jean Navarre, whose Nieuport Bébé, painted red before von Richthofen copied him, was the terror of the Boches and the hero of the Poilus.
      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!

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