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CA-WW1 - the Roland Walfisch

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Spotting for the Gunners in the LFG Roland C II!
In an air war notable for the sheer variety of planes of all shapes and sizes that made it to the front, the LFG Roland C II must be one of the most distinctive, if not also one of the most attractive. 'Truely, this aircraft is a whale!' was the reaction of one of the German procurement people who came to see what they'd be getting for their reichsmarks, giving the Walfisch its enduring nick-name. But it was also one of the most advanced aircraft of its day, a compact, fast, streamlined single-bay two-seater general purpose aeroplane in a world where other such machines were bigger, slower or ungainlier…and mostly, all three.
'The best German aircraft now' was reportedly the verdict of RFC ace Albert Ball, who frequently came up against (and shot down) the type in the summer and early autumn of 1916. However, though sometimes encountered in sizeable formations in this its heyday, the Roland was produced in comparatively small numbers and its front-line service career was over by about mid-1917. Speedy in the air, it was slow and expensive to make. Its thin wings tended to warp in the harsh conditions of front-line airfields and visibility for landing was poor, resulting in many crashes or hard landings. But still, it was a notable performer for its time, whose capabilities generally matched its good looks.
Many of us will know the type from the 1960s Airfix 1/72 kit, helpfully moulded in light blue plastic in imitation of the distinctive finish initially carried by the Roland. It made up into a nice model, with decent crew figures instead of the dreaded 'goggled alien' of earlier Airfix WW1 kits.
One day, I will make this kit again, notwithstanding that newer versions are available. In the meantime, I can fly the Roland in simulators. I don't yet have the Rise of Flight Roland, seen here escorting my DFW C V in a recent mission...
...but I do have and like the First Eagles versions from the A Team Skunkworks. Though they have a 'Spandau' machine gun for the observer, instead of a 'Parabellum', there are a couple of interesting variants, including this one with a captured Lewis Gun fitted to fire ahead over the propeller arc, which was tried in real life:
But for this mission I chose Wings Over Flanders Fields. Having flown the Roland in Over Flanders Fields, I was keen to see how I made out with this machine in the latest incarnation of this sim, with Ankor's self-shadowing mod and the new AI and landscapes of WOFF.
The campaign
Creating a new pilot, I tabbed throught the available German 'Bomber/recce' squadrons flying in September 1916 till I found one that flew the Roland in the British sector - WOFF still provides a better representation of the RFC order of battle, and would benefit in particular from the addition of French two-seaters more suitable for either 1916 or 1918 than the Morane L (really a 1914-15 type) and the licence-built Strutter (gone from the front by mid-1918).
I ended up with Feldflieger Abteilung (Artillerie) 240, based at  in Flanders. I believe the 'Artillerie' indicates that we specialise in observing for the artillery and can correct their fire using radio transmitters, one of the major jobs for two-seaters in WW1, along with photo or visual reconnaisance and to a lesser extent, bombing. Here's our roster and our operational area.
Even without tabbing to the Intelligence summary, I knew that the deadliest foes we could expect to face in our sector would be DH-2 'pusher' fighters and the more modern French Nieuport scout, both types used by several RFC squadrons. With the British fighters apt to patrol up to ten to twelve miles on the German side of the Lines, I knew also that we must be prepared to meet them in the air, whatever our task would be.
The mission
It's 12 September 1916, and our assigned task for this morning is artillery observation. Down to the south west we must go, from our airfield at Houplin down to the trench-lines. There are no less of six of us on this operation, with myself leading the full flying strength of the staffel. When I draw an 'art obs' mission in OFF or WOFF, I generally fly to the front and orbit near any friendly artillery barrage in progress, as if I was directing the fire. It's not possible actually to call down fire onto ground targets (although after this mission I'm no longer so sure, of which, more later). If there's no artillery fire going on, I regard my radio transmitter (or the battery's receiver) as having 'gone dark' and do a bit of recce work, so that the taxpayers still get their money's worth.
We have an escort, but I wasn't going to put much faith in the two obsolete Fokker Eindekkers we'd been allocated. For all I knew they were the last ones at the Front, still able to beat up a BE2c but well outclassed by any fighter we were likely to meet. My own flight would serve as my escort. I would do the virtual artillery-spotting. Knowing that formation-keeping in WOFF was considerably improved over OFF, I knew my comrades would be able to keep up quite well as I circled over the front. Anyone trying to shoot down the spotter - me - would have to get through them, first. At least, that was the theory.
Here we are, lined up opposite the sheds and ready for the 'off'. I had chosen a camouflaged skin from those available in WOFF, but the rest of the flight are in the original, distinctive and rather racy light blue. I checked my controls and started up. Then I called up the Tactical Display (TAC), set its target type to 'aircraft', checked its range was suitably low (I left it at half a mile) and turned the TAC off again: it was now ready to padlock air targets, when turned on again. I didn't expect to do too much (if any) dog-fighting on this mission but if I had to break formation and fight individually, I decided I was going to make good use of my forward-firing MG, relying on the observer to cover my tail. Which is more or less how it came to pass.
But that lay in the furture. I roared off the airfield and tried some gentle turns before setting course for the Front and throttling back to allow my flight to catch up. I found the ailerons deceptively light and the rudder heavy. It was easy to under-bank and slip outwards, or worse still, over-bank and find yourself in a nasty side-slip, if you didn't give her plenty of top or bottom rudder. This was nearly to be my undoing.
But that, too, lay in the future. For now, I watched my flight catch up from astern. One of them took several minutes, during which time I saw two aircraft fly past overhead - the two Fokkers, I supposed. This was the only time I saw them, as it turned out.
At at last we were all in a nice diamond formation. I opened the throttle wide and I began to climb, maintaining forward pressure on the stick to stop my tail heavy plane's nose from rising too much. All around us, thin clouds loomed, slipped past below, beneath or beside us, then loomed ahead again.
I spent a little time admiring and exploring my plane, inside and out, between navigating and scanning the skies. Visibility downwards was, as expected, not good, but in every other direction, I had a superb view, unobstructed by the usual high-mounted biplane upper wing.
Looking behind, the sight of my flight tucked in behind me inspired confidence…to much, perhaps, I thought, remembering Albert Ball's opinion that such formations were easier to surprise as the aircrew tended to feel a false sense of security and relax.
On we went. Climb rate was less than stellar and we were not far above five thousand feet as we came up the the trench-lines. Our Fokker escorts were nowhere to be seen and I decided I wasn't going to hang about looking for them. I was at a respectable height for artillery observation and was now at the Front, where lay our targets. I leveled off and throttled back slightly. I had arrived at the war.

Approaching the area over the Lines where we were tasked with spotting for the Gunners, I turned on the Tactical Display to get a navigation check. Instead, I got a surprise. In fact, I got two surprises.




First, knowing that I was headed roughly in the direction of my target area, I was startled to notice that the pale blue line showing the path to my next waypoint, instead of pointing up, straight ahead, had slewed around to my left rear. If that wasn't strange enough, the text displayed beneath the TAC itself was telling me that it was high time to go home. In fact, not even home - to the nearest airfield. Had I inadvertently skipped a waypoint? No, I was fairly sure I had done no such thing. My true objective still lay ahead.  Who's leading this mission, anyway - me or the Tactical Display? Pilots in the German Air Service may often be mere NCOs but while I may have to take orders from my commissioned observer - my own alter ego, anyway - I'm certainly not at the beck and call of an on-screen visual aid. Sod that, I thought. On we go.


Actually, the TAC was trying to be helpful. Looking behind, the reason for the device's caution was not hard to see. An aircraft was slicing into our formation from our left rear. And though I didn't notice it at the time, three other aircraft were below and behind us to the right.




My initial reaction, seeing just the one presumed enemy attacking, was that I'm not going to break formation and get distracted from my objective for the sake of one aggressive Englishman. Unfortunately, those on the right of my formation didn't agree that staying together and meeting the enemy with massed fires was the best bet. That side of my formation broke up rapidly, as Rolands wheeled off and after the Nieuport. All very commendable perhaps and it certainly seemed to put off the foe-man, who turned away.




I now had a decision to make, and I needed to make it immediately, before the passage of time removed one of my options. I could hold my course to the objective, with what looked to be two remaining flight-mates. Or I could turn us back to join the battle, keeping my formation, if not intact, then together; and resuming my progress to the objective when the battle had been won.


Keeping to my present course seemed to comply with the Master Principle of War - Selection and Maintenance of the Aim...but at the expense of one nearly as important - Concentration of Force. Incidentally, contrary to what John Keegan said in 'The Face of Battle', these principles, far from being thought old-fashioned, were taught at Sandhurst in the late 1970s.


Anyhow I had read too many accounts - Trafalgar, for one - of forces that are (or get) split up, then being defeated in detail, even by numerically weaker enemies. So I turned back to join the fight. By this point I had realised there was more than one enemy aircraft. I picked up one who lay ahead and gave the attack order, so that the others would pick their own targets. Mine, I recognised as a Nieuport Scout. He was manouevring a few hundred feet below, to my half-right.




I made a series of swooping attacks on him, allowing my observer a crack as I whizzed past. While I kept up my speed and most of my height, the tightly-turning Nieuport was able to turn in under my attacks most of the time. He in his turn was prevented from having a determined go at me by the presence nearby of at least one other Roland.






After a few more passes I got behind him and stayed there long enough to get in several good bursts from not too far out. He stopped manoeuvring and settled into a steady glide earthwards, emitting a spluttering trail of grey smoke. I watched as he piled up into the mud behind me. Got him!






But the fight wasn't over yet!

...to be continued!

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In the air and on the ground...




Having knocked down one of the Nieuport Scouts that had diverted my formation from its assigned task of spotting for the Gunners, I was naturally elated. But I had lost a lot of what altitude I'd started with. Now of all times, I didn't want to be the next one for the chop! So I began a full-power climbing turn, in the general direction of our side of the Lines and comparative safety.


Looking around, I took stock. The air combat seemed to have petered out. Some distance behind me, I could see three or four planes slowly closing up on me - hopefully members of my six-aircraft flight. But while most of the aircraft seemed to be in the distinctive light blue Roland factory finish, one was not. An Englishmen had not given up and was hunting us again! I turned around and went for him, ordering my two flight-mates to attack as I did so. Individually our two-seaters might be pushed to handle a nimbler Nieuport. But as with the last combat, I hoped that one or the other of us would get in a good crack at him, while he was occupied with the rest of us.




And so it came to pass! The Nieuport was soon on the defensive, with our Rolands rolling and swooping all around him. And once again, it fell to me to finish the fight. A single and rather slow-firing fixed MG fired from a comparatively cumbersome two-seater is not the most effective killer of fighter planes. And with my Roland's comparatively effective ailerons, more than once I found myself over-banked, with the wings near the vertical and side-slipping rather than turning. Twice I barely managed to level her before hitting the ground, recovering at literally tree-top level.






But in the end I got into a good position on the Nieuport, who was again handicapped by having to deal with several Rolands who were all out to nail him. And down he went. Two kills! And in a single mission! I checked the time and my location - I wasn't going to let a sloppy combat report cost me confirmation of my double victory!






My next problem was that I was suddenly alone again. The other Rolands had disappeared, as if by magic. Looking to the south, I finally spotted a single distant aircraft hearing east, which might have been one of them. I circled for a while, gaining some height, in the hope some of my flight might rejoin me. In the end, still alone, I turned my machine to the west, determined to complete my mission, even if I had to do so on my own.




And that mission was artillery observation - using morse code and a radio transmitter to adjust the fire of friendly artillery batteries onto ground targets. WOFF doesn't simulate this process but happily - whether put there by the WOFF campaign system or not -  I could see that there was an artillery barrage already in progress in my objective area. So as I used to do in OFF when flying an 'art obs' mission, I headed that way, intending to loiter over the barrage and thereby simulate as best I could the task of spotting and correcting the fall of shot.




As far as I could make out, the barrage was falling into a beaten zone which was across and roughly diagonal to the line of the enemy trenches. I orbited the shelling, watching the bombardment hit home but also keeping a wary eye out for enemies in the air, not least any sign that my observer might be tracking one.




What I did see, was on the ground. A long track or narrow road ran roughly north to south, close behind the enemy trenches being bombarded. And on the road, I saw that there were two groups of enemy Motor Transport, trundling along. I watched them for a while, mentally urging the artillery to shift its fire onto these tempting new, soft-skinned targets. Of course, no such thing could happen, as even WOFF doesn't support telepathy.




Or perhaps it does! As I watched, artillery rounds suddenly bracketed the MT convoy. Some of the trucks stopped, while others continued along. Then more artillery fell, this time right amongst the northernmost group of vehicles. As the smoke cleared, I could see a column of dark smoke rising, as one of the trucks burned. Others seemed to have been immobilised!






Our Gunners were not done yet. Further salvos clobbered the southernmost group of vehicles, producing another column of smoke from a burning truck.






If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. I presume that telepathy can be ruled out here. So, maybe it was a complete co-incidence that there happened to be an artillery bombardment at approximately the position of my own objective. Perhaps it was just a further co-incidence, that there was MT on the move close by. And perhaps it was yet one more co-incidence, that soon after I noticed the trucks, our artillery engaged them. But however it happened, short of providing a fully functioning system for calling down and correcting artillery fire, WOFF could not have done a better job of creating a believable impression that I had completed my artillery-spotting mission in this most satisfactory fashion. It was a magical moment!




Mission well and truly accomplished, I thought to myself! Time to call it quits and go home. I swung around the nose of my trusty Roland until she was headed east once more. The skies around me looked to be empty and devoid of either succor or threat.  I suddenly felt rather alone and vulnerable. I very much wanted now to make it home, with our two aerial victories and a successful shoot under our proverbial belts.




I need not have worried. Soon, in a shallow full-power dive to pick up speed, our machine was back over friendly territory, with the Lines falling away behind us.




Not long after, we were joining the circuit over Houplin, still on our own and quite unmolested. Despite the Roland's reputation for cracking up on landing, I got her down without any particular drama and trundled happily up to the sheds.






In my excitement and my anxiety to find out what fates had befallen the others, I neglected to check the detailed debriefing screen. But the initial debrief and squadron information screen told the tale. Of our six machines, three had made it back to base. Two of the three Rolands which didn't, had been destroyed and their crews killed. The two victories and the successful shoot had been team successes; without the others, they would likely never have come my way. But the team had paid a high price. It was a sobering moment, set against the satisfaction of a job well done.






As missions go, this was one of the very best two-seater sorties I have flown in any WW1 sim. The air-to-air combat was dangerous and exciting. And even if it was a complete fluke which never happens again, the sight of that artillery fire, arriving just as it might have done, had I called it in by radio, smashing up that road convoy, was one of those classic moments of pure simming immersion and delight that I will not forget in a long time. Simply brilliant!



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Thanks Harry. Glad if I can convey some of the incredible fun and immersion available to us from PC simulation in all of its many guises, free of the real hazards of being shot down, knocked out or lost with all hands!

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Well, your mission reports were so compelling, and the screen captures for WOFF so impressive, that I went and bought the thing.  I'm loving the immersion and the beautiful experience of it all, but in a way, I wish it was more difficult to fly.  I've been playing RoF for about six months now, and although I'm still a noob, I have really enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment, especially battling with the earlier planes and getting them into the air and back down again in one piece.  Now that I'm flying missions and getting the occasional victory, it feels very satisfying :)


WOFF 2 and RoF morphed together would be perfect :)  Let's see what RoF comes up with in the single player department next year.


Cheers, and keep those mission reports coming!


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