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33LIMA

CA-WW1 - Wind in the Wires

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Re-living a classic WW1 memoir in Wings Over Flanders Fields!
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The man and the book  
The SE5a, low down over enemy territory, pulled up to release its last two bombs onto a German gun battery. The bombs' release was accompanied by a blast directly below and behind the aircraft, possibly a premature detonation, which ripped off the tailplane on one side, leaving it trailing behind, held by an elevator control wire. The SE dived vertically, pulling out too late to prevent the undercarriage from being ripped off as she bounced drunkenly back into the sky. Now desperately headed west for friendly territory, the pilot saw German soldiers just below training a machine gun onto him, then simply stare open-mouthed, rather than shooting. Regaining the British side of the Lines, he force-landed heavily. 'Coming to' and finding himself alive, he was briskly saluted by an artillery subaltern whose men helped him from the wreckage. On being chided for his officiousness, the Gunner officer replied 'I thought you must be at least a wing commander. You had such a very big streamer on your machine.' 'Streamer be blowed', the pilot replied. 'That was my tail-plane.'
 
'Wind in the Wires' was first published in 1933 and is an entertaining and vivid account of the author's wartime service, including the dramatic events I've summarised above. His record was an unusual one, because it comprised two periods 'on ops' separated by two years in a German prisoner of war camp!
 
The book starts with an account of the author's flying training, after his secondment to the Royal Flying Corps from an infantry regiment. He trains on Caudrons and Maurice Farman 'longhorns', a 'pusher' type so named as its elevator was mounted on long booms out in front of the crew nacelle. Early on, there's a chilling account of a crash in which an experienced pilot makes an ill-advised turn to regain the airfield after an engine failure on take-off, resulting in an horrific crash right in front of the helpless students, instructors and ground-crew.
 
Gaining his wings despite this early shock, the author is posted to France in the autumn of 1915, where he finds himself with 16 Squadron based at Merville near Armentieres, home of the mademoiselle who, as the song had it, 'hasn't been kissed in forty years'. Two of the squadron's three flights were operating the BE2c two-seater general purpose biplane, said to be of the latest type, with the new (skid-less) undercarriage and 90 hp RAF engine. The author was posted to the third flight, operating Maurice Farman 'shorthorns', a slightly-updated cousin of the 'longhorn' on which he trained.  He offers amusing descriptions of the varied personalities in the unit, referring to them by the nicknames he gave them. His unfriendly and unhelpful flight commander is 'Growl'. Another flight commander - dubbed 'Foxy' - has a rather warped sense of humour: he titters at own his descriptions of unfortunate pilots burned in crashes being 'completmong carboneezey' ('completely carbonised' in his pidgin French). The highly-withdrawn Major commanding the squadron is 'the Starched Shirt', which a helpful list at the front of my revised 1971 edition confirms is no less than Hugh 'Stuffy' Dowding, who later commanded RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. Doubtless these nicknames saved his publishers more than one libel suit! Grinnell-Milne received absolutely none of the careful mentoring and instruction that more enlightened or professional leaders like Mick Mannock bestowed upon their own new pilots. A trip up to the lines with an experienced observer to get the lie of the land and a taste of 'Archie', then it was down to 'on-the-job-training'.
 
Until his flight's elderly pushers were replaced by BE2cs, the author soldiered on, flying mostly defensive patrols over the lines in a 'shorthorn' armed with a Lewis Gun for the observer. These patrols, left to the less experienced pilots, were designed mostly to deter any incursions by German aircraft, even though the author acknowledges that they were seldom going to be able to bring to battle the faster German two-seaters. His patrols were uneventful and they spent their time watching for German planes which never came and on their secondary function of observing and reporting enemy ground activity in or near the Lines. At the end of each uneventful flight, they dived and peppered the German trenches with gunfire. The highlight of this period was an ineffective but spirited attack on a German observation balloon.
 
Converting to BE2cs later in 1915, the author finds the type to be stable but highly manoeuvrable, fully capable of making vertically-banked turns and looping. Flying the BE, he ventures on recce and artillery observation missions but soon finds his yearning is for combat with enemy aeroplanes. In November, he shoots down what he describes as a 'big white Albatros' which will have been a two-seater machine-gun-armed C-type. Other highlights are his fight with the infamous 'Two Tails', an Ago C III pusher credited with almost mystical prowess and his participation in an attack on a railway junction, said to be the biggest bombing raid mounted by the RFC up to that time. In May 1916, when flying the dreaded 'Long Reconnaisance', his BE's engine fails on the return journey, possibly from flak damage, and he has to force land just a few miles short of friendly territory. Taken prisoner with his observer, Grinnell-Milne is much impressed by his sympathetic reception by German aviators from a nearby airfield.
 
Two years later, the author escapes from his captivity and joins the famous 56 Squadron, flying SE5a fighters, scoring several victories in the closing months of the war.
 
From one episode to the next, all of these experiences are described with humanity and a dry sense of humour, laced with many details which the enthusiast of this period will treasure. 'Wind in the Wires' appears to be back in print again, courtesy of publishers Grub Street, and is highly recommended:
 
 
 
The air war in autumn 1915
In this mission report, we'll be looking at the early period of the author's combat career. At this time, the concept of specialised fighter squadrons was still a little way off. Two-seater units might be allocated one or two faster machines more suited to air-to-air fighting - or less suited, in the case of the wildly-unsuitable BE 9 'pulpit' the author mentions that 16 Squadron trialled at one point. But in general, the two-seaters were expected to undertake all roles, including air fighting. Grinnell-Milne's account makes it clear that although under-powered and awkwardly-armed, the BE was not entirely incapable of effective air combat. However, the arrival from summer 1915 of Fokker monoplanes equipped with a machine gun which could safely fire ahead through the propeller arc signaled the start of a new, deadlier era in air warfare. On the ground, little had changed. Static trench warfare remained the order of the day, with the Battle of Loos, fought just to the south of 16 Squadron's sector of the front, failing to achieve the hoped-for breakthrough.
 
 
The Mission
As with the other mission reports planned for this series, the aim is to fly a campaign mission in Wings Over Flanders Fields which recreates as far as practicable the sort of experiences described in the book. 'Wind in the Wires' being one of comparatively few which cover the role of the 'working aeroplanes' rather than the 'fighting aeroplanes', I opted to fly a mission from the first part of the author's combat career, in the later part of 1915, when the squadron had ditched its 'shorthorns' and was equipped with the BE2c. Sure enough, No. 16 Squadron is in WOFF's order of battle in this period and I chose to start in October 1915 - WOFF gives you more freedom over start date than did OFF. Here's the 'Duty Room' for the Squadron. It describes our establishment in typically fulsome WOFF detail, including the names of both pilots and observers. We have the nimble Bristol Scout for the top-ranking pilots and for the rest, the BE2c. I'm Lieutenant Richard Growl, having decided to adopt the nickname given by Grinnell-Milne to his surly flight commander!
 
16 RFC duty room.JPG
 
Homing in on my own flight, I can find out something about my fellow-pilots. Obviously we are not the hottest outfit in the Flying Corps but we have a job to do and we will get on with it.
 
16 RFC B Flight.JPG
 
Looking at the intelligence report, I can find out more about what's going on at the front in this period (this one's actually dated a month later, from a career started previously, but you get the picture as to what's available here):
 
WiW - 16 RFC int.JPG
 
And so, to battle! Here's the briefing screen for the campaign's first mission. As usual, I have selected 'Always lead' in the WOFF 'Workshops', so I'm in charge of 'B' Flight on this sortie, which is to be a bombing raid on German front-line positions. The squadron's 'A' flight is said to be flying 'top cover', just as some of the BEs in the bombing raid described in 'Wind in the Wires' were assigned to escort the bomb-carrying machines.
 
16 RFC briefing.JPG
 
In this pic, you have a better view of the map, showing our dog-leg route out to the target and a straight leg back to our base at Merville. We are each carrying four 25-pound 'Cooper' bombs. It was common practice for BEs to leave behind the observer on bombing runs, at least if carrying the heavier 112-pound bombs, but I'm glad to say that won't be the case on this mission!
 
16 RFC briefing 2.JPG
 
And here we are on the grass at Merville, bombed up and good to go. Our BEs are in the clear doped linen scheme common at that time. The weather's quite good, although there's quite a bit of low-lying cloud around.
 
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Checking the controls, I started her up and took off, followed by the others. Turning right beyond the airfield boundary, I crossed what will have been the River Lys, said to have been canalised at this point. I didn't see the barge which Grinnell-Milne says was used for the officers' accommodation but the general lie of the land looks pretty authentic, with detail sufficient for basic visual navigation.
 
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At about five hundred feet, I throttled back and held her level to allow the flight to catch up. As they closed in on me, I opened her up again and began a long, slow climb for height, out along our plotted track to the north-east.
 
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The objective was not too far off, so instead of going to autopilot and running time compression, I opted to fly in real time and enjoy the view of WOFF's very pleasing new terrain.
 
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As we climbed, the superior WOFF formation-keeping was also much in evidence. What lay ahead I could not know. But we made a bold sight as we climbed away together, the aircraft rising and falling gently as we steadily gained height.
 
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Drawing close to the Lines, we passed to our left a large town, which a glance at the map showed must be Ypres - or 'Wipers' as the Tommies knew it.
 
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Some low-lying cloud towards the trenchlines indicated that target acquisition might be difficult, but I pressed on. I had decided to attack at whatever height I had managed to gain by the time I reached the area of our objective. This turned out to be just over four thousand feet; not very high but enough to be out of harm's way from rifle and machine-gun fire from the ground.
 
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At this point I turned on the Tactical Display or 'TAC', set to display ground targets. This shows up the front lines and in red and blue, the general locations of ground units on both sides. Given the limitations of 'MonitorVision' and the general mess of the 'shelled area' that now rolled out beneath us, I had few qualms about using this visual aid, which I expected I would soon have to use anyway, to get my flight to execute its attack.
 
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The difficulty now seemed to be, which target to attack? After dithering for a while, I tabbed to select an isolated red enemy blob, out behind the others in the big rectangular boxes along the front lines. The latter I took to be entrenched enemy troops. The isolated blobs to their rear seemed likely to be easier targets, out in the open perhaps. I gave the order to attack, then as my flight swung away, turned so as to make my own separate bombing run, throttling back and losing altitude as I did so.
 
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I failed to notice a convoy of motor transport on a nearby road running through the mud, which was actually the target I had selected; this would have been plain had I the sense to padlock it. Instead, I chose a small but prominent, dark, circular fieldwork, at the end of a trench running off the main positions. This looked important - possibly a command post or a supply dump. Whatever it was, it was about to be bombed.
 
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Letting go my load of four little Cooper bombs in two closely-spaced salvoes, disdaining a bombsight view and working from the external view looking down, I watched anxiously for the results. My expectations were, I admit, fairly low. I was much gratified to see my bombs bursting pretty well on target. That'll wake up those Huns, I thought to myself!
 
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As I banked around, my feelings were rather more mixed, as I saw the bombs from the rest of my flight explode right in the middle of the MT on the road. And noticed also that there was a second convoy just a little further down the road, which I could have attacked instead of my better-protected dugout.
 
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By now down to about three thousand feet, I turned for home, slowing down to allow my flight to close up, all the while unmolested by enemy AA fire. I must admit that in my anxiety to locate and clobber something worthwhile, I had neglected to keep a good lookout in the air around us. But there was no sign of any Hun aircraft. Perhaps 'A' Flight, somewhere up above and out of sight, had kept the Fokkers at bay, today.
 
Shot03-28-14-21-09-40.jpg
 
Thereafter, it was an uneventful flight back to Merville, this time with the assistance of autopilot and time compression, until the last few miles. Our airfield's proximity to the River Lys made finding it easy and we soon slipped gracefully down towards our base.
 
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Making my own landing ahead of the others, I swept across the path of a local freight train, put her down and ran up to the sheds, where I switched off and relaxed again. Job done!
 
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Here's the main and secondary debriefing screens, showing the level of detail you can get on how your mission went. Overall, not a bad day's work for 'B' Flight, although my own bombs would evidently have been better reserved for the enemy motor transport.
 
16 RFC debriefing.JPG
16 RFC debriefing 2.JPG
 
This was a fairly quiet mission but then, that's typical of the real missions recounted by Grinnel-Milne, flown when the air-to-air war was just taking a more deadly turn.
 
Many simmers will have had their interests inspired by the books they've read and I'm no exception. 'Wind in the Wires' is a great account of one man's WW1 air war and Wings Over Flanders Fields is a great way of bringing it to life. Both are highly recommended!
 
Mark 'Polovski' Rogers of ODB Software answers some likely 'readers questions'...

- can you tell us anything about the work that went into WOFF, that's relevant to this particular mission?

 

Not just the BE2c but across the board, all squadrons were revised to more accurately reflect the real squadrons duties at the time. It should apply to most squadrons and craft types.

 

A vast amount of the development time on WOFF was due to the work and testing of the AI that went on. Included in the large feature list for WW1, we also wanted the AI pilots to have human like traits and qualities.  One of those was a realistic formation keeping capability, including the problems of keeping up in turns, meeting up with Escorts, going to mission, and return, and rejoining sometimes after a mission.  Obviously there are many things that humans do without even thinking but actually defining that in terms of an artificial intelligence is a massive undertaking.  We also wanted to include faults and mistakes this adds to the human-like  behaviours.  Obviously we can always improve areas but we believe it's one of the best AI's out there in many areas.

 

- any pointers as to what the Fokker Scourge or skins packs include, which would enhance the experience?

 

The Fokker Scourge Expansion of course adds two more Eindecker types, and more squadrons using them to the appropriate theatres.  Although the BE2c 'early' version is included in WOFF, it's only flyable in the Fokker Scourge add-on.

 

The introduction of the flyable BE2c 'early,' was to allow the player to experience the earlier period fear of pilots and observers at that time of the Scourge trying to defend with just a rifle and to feel the threat more.

 

- any plans for the future that may impact here?.

 

We are of course hoping to add more craft across all periods so if we get good support we will of course be adding more early craft too. We hope to improve the BE2c model slightly too at some point (no promises but if time etc allows).

 

The competition

Fuller details of the competition, including the prize, will be announced soon. Current plans are that it will be a word search from this series of reports, which when combined will produce a famous air fighting maxim...watch this space!

 

Coming next in CombatAce-WW1 - 'Sagittarius Rising' by Cecil Lewis

 

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Awesome stuff LIMA.   You can tell a lot of work has gone into this.   Really great stuff.  Looking forward to more sir. 

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PS - as of Patch 1.24, the WOFF 3d models for the BE2c and BE2c 'early' have been improved, now featuring corrected rigging and other changes, resulting in a significantly more accurate appearance for this important type:

 

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Shot04-23-14-19-33-56.jpg

 

 

 

 

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