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BE12 twosome - #1, First Eagles

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Into battle in one of WW1's least successful fighters!

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Perhaps only the much-maligned Royal Aircraft Factory could have imagined that they could make a fighter out of the BE2, a low-powered and badly-armed reconnaisance machine renowned for its inherent stability...and as 'Fokker Fodder', vulnerable to the little Eindekkers, let alone later German fighters.

 

In fact the Factory seems to have had no such illusions. The BE12 was designed originally for single seat longer-range reconnaisnce and light bombing. BE2s often left the observer behind when carrying bombs - and the pilot operated the camera on a recce - so a single-seater BE with a more powerful engine and more fuel doubtless seemed like the proverbial good idea at the time (mid-1915). The resultant BE12 had a more powerful engine but wasn't even intended to be armed, at first. By the time it was ready for service, though, the situation at the front had changed and - a forward-firing Vickers gun having been fitted in place of early efforts at synchronised and unsynchronised Lewis guns - the BE12 was pressed into service as a fighter, serving in the Royal Flying Corps with No.s 19 and 21 Squadrons on the Western Front from the summer of 1916. Within a few months their unsuitability as a fighter seems to have become obvious and they were back at their designed job as a (rather vulnerable) light bomber. Later, they moved onto rather less hazardous duties on Home Defence.

 

So, why would I want to chance my virtual life in such a machine? Well, what better reason than the fact that a BE12 is one of a series of new planes released for First Eagles and FE2, by prolific modder Stephen1918 http://combatace.com/files/file/15121-raf-be12/? Not only that, but the later BE12a version is also available: http://combatace.com/files/file/15124-raf-be12a/ ; note the different wings with shorter span below, as also fitted to the BE2e:

 

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And having checked out the BE12 in First Eagles, I was minded to savour the same experience in Wings Over Flanders Fields, which has featured the BE12 from release.

 

So that I could fly the BE12 in an FE2 campaign, after installing the aircraft, I hand-edited Ojcar's Armchair Aces Flanders month-by-month campaigns for the summer and autumn of 1916, substituting Stephen's BE12 for the previous mount of 19 Squadron, up to the time it moved onto SPAD VIIs. This is a simple Wordpad job, changing a single entry in two files for each campaign (FlandersFrontxx.ini and FlandersFrontxx_data.ini, starting at xx=12 and ending at xx=16).

 

That done, I created a new pilot and off we went! My chosen campaign based us as Cappy, starting on 1 September 1916. Our first mission was to escort some 2 Squadron BE2s to Marcoing, just over the Lines near the big town of Cambrai. Our assigned altitude was a mere 1700 feet. I chose two pilots from the bottom of the squadron roster to accompany me. Before launching the mission itself, I had a good look at the map, which is a zoomed-out but exact replica of what you can see in the 3d world. But I forgot to apply my usual practice of moving the last waypoint further back from our objective area. This is a good idea because it gives you a longer run-in and thus more time to suss out the situation, ahead.

 

The other thing I forgot to do had more serious consequences, later. Some modder-made FE planes have a very restricted horizontal field of vision for the virtual pilot from the cockpit, often giving you no view much aft of directlty sideways. Invariably, I hand-edit the relevant data file to increase this wherever I find it, so I can look over my shoulder and past my tailplane. A restricted rearward arc isn't too bad in most 2-seaters, where your observer, sitting right behind you, blocks your view in that direction. But in a fighter, it's potentially catastrophic. The padlock is also blocked, beyond this same arc. Unfortunately for me, the BE12 has one of these restricted arcs of rearward vision.

 

But such things were far from my mind as I left Cappy behind, pleased with the superior pulling power of my 150hp motor - superior, that is, to the bog-standard BE2 - and levelled off with the throttle back while my two flight-mates caught up. So far, so good...

 

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...to be continued!

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My luck runs out!

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Our base at Cappy fell slowly astern as I led our three BE12s northeast, towards our rendezvous with the BE2s of 2 Squadron. Referring to the inflight map, I oriented my track against the prominent landmark afforded by a small and then a large U-bend in the river north of our airfield.

 

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You may have noticed that I'm flying in my virtual shirt-sleeves. This is because of an install issue I need to correct with Geezer's excellent Martinsyde 'Elephant', whose desert pilot as a result has taken to flying all my British aircraft.

 

Meanwhile, back at the mission...I hadn't been told what our charges would be doing at the objective, Marcoing, but from the low altitude we were assigned, I guessed they must be tasked to bomb an important target. And so it proved!
 
One of the neat features of First Eagles, inherited from the base Strike Fighers sim, is the 'next encounter' key (Alt+N). It's a real time-saver and I use it often, especially, as in this case, where I have quite a long leg to fly, over friendly territory. As usually happens, when I hit the magic key combo on this mission, I was 'warped' to the last RV (Waypoint in modern terminology) before the objective. I'd neglected to drag this back in mission planning - and now I think of it, many waypoints are locked, when you fly an escort mission in FE.

 

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I 'came out of warp' and saw the area of the objective right away, maybe a mile off, straight ahead. Below and to my right, on the same heading as my own flight, were two BE2s, their clear doped linen finish standing out against the scenery below. Clearly, these must be the machines from 2 Squadron who were entrusted to my care.

 

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The bridge up ahead of us - or the supplies commonly stacked near these bridges, in FE - I judged to be the mission target. We were maybe one minute out, by my estimation. Archie burst around us. Looking ahead, I could see the gunflashes of at least one of the AA guns doing the shooting, as well as some yellow tracers zipping up from the same general area, near that prominent river bridge. It's another neat feature of FE that you can often spot the AA guns firing at you; they are actual weapons placed in the 3d world and they are destructible, if you care to get low enough and take a crack at them.

 

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Nervously scanning the skies again, I quickly realised that our little armada was not the only force in the air on this stretch of the front. Slightly ahead and above, also headed towards the bridge, was a pair of large 'pusher' biplanes, a type little used by the Huns and thus almost certainly friendly. Deeper into Hunland, I could see what looked like a small swarm of midges or similar insects, whirling around - an air fight in progress, for sure. Further away, a series of dark smudges in the sky marked German AA fire directed at what must be other friendly aircraft.
 

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There wasn't much I could do but press on after my charges. So that is what I did. I would have liked to have gained a bit more height but I quickly gave up the attempt, once I saw how much I fell behind the two BE2s, who were by now nearing the bridge. Instead I pushed my nose down and led my flight ahead of them, thinking that I might at least be able to draw off the Archie.
 
As we arrived over the bridge, the latter erupted into a clound of smoke and debris. But this wasn't the work of 2 Squadron; too soon for that.
 
At this point I decided to pause the action and invoke another of FE's excellent features - its view system, which enables you to 'tab' around the other aircraft in the sky. I don't like to do this in the middle of a mission, preferring not to have a magic eye in the sky and to remain with a more realistically limited view of what’s going on around me. But this being flown for a mission report - and because it wasn't going to change my tactics anyway - I gave it a go. And this is what I saw.
 
The bridge had been bombed by the two big 'pushers' I saw earlier. They were French Maurice Farman MF11s, known as 'Shorthorns' or 'Rumpeties'; rather out-of-place on operations in September 1916. In fact I thought I had hand-edited Ojcar's campaigns to replace these with Voisins; maybe I lost this loading a campaign update, tho the newer Caudron G.IV might be a better substitute now. But I digress. Obsolete they may be but the Farmans had done a good job on the bridge.

 

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Not too far away were some Huns in Halberstadts, probably the best German fighters, until the imminent arrival of the new Albatros D-types. Fortunately for us, they were being engaged by some very helpful people in FE2s.

 

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The dogfight I had seen was between some silver French Nieuport 17s and a bunch of Huns in the rather un-loved Fokker D-types which had replaced the Eindekkers, pending the availability of better types. The bad news here was that some of the Fokkers had apparently broken through and were making straight for us!

 

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These weren't the only aircraft in the area. Two other BE2c's, bombing targets amongst the trenches, were under attack by yet another Fokker while over the lines, two Aviatiks were receiving similar attention from a Nieuport.

 

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Un-pausing the action, I swung around to orbit the objective while the BE2s below ran in. It wasn't long before they had added their own bombs to those of the Farmans, producing a most satisfactory series of explosions on the far bank of the river adjacent to the bridge, hopefully obliterating anything Hun-like waiting to make the crossing towards the front.

 

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I levelled out of my turn facing roughly west, towards home, and looked down for the BE2s, whom I expected would now do the same. And sure enough, there they were, heading west, now somewhat further below. But they were not alone. One of the BEs was straggling slightly behind the other, and there were two Fokkers on his tail, seemingly vying to see who would get the first kill.

 

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Crikey! How did they get here so quickly and without my spotting them? Paying too much attention to the pyrotechnics, I was. But no time for self-recrimination now! I stuffed down my nose and went for the Huns, leaving my throttle wide open and doing my very best Bat out of Hell impression. As I dived down - without at the time noticing that the Archie had holed my wings - I signalled my two flight-mates to get stuck in also. Time we got busy!
 

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…to be continued!
 

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My luck really runs out!

 

Down we went at the Huns. Having drawn somewhat ahead of my other two BE12s but relying on them to follow suit, I padlocked the nearest Fokker and took a deflection shot at long-ish range. I had little expectation of doing any real damage but I was determined to distract him from the BE2 he was pursuing, even if that meant sacrificing the element of surprise.
 
This part of my plan worked quite well, for the Fokker broke off his attack. After that, not so good. As I whizzed past, carried on by the momentum from my power dive, my padlock hit the BE12's rearward view limit - not much past 45 degrees - and my situational awareness promptly went down the toilet. I pulled up from my dive and tried to convert speed for height, but my big, two-bay BE12, all struts and bracing wires, seemed to lose energy rather faster than I was used to.

 

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In no time at all, I was struggling badly, back in the virtual cockpit but blind behind, unable to padlock, unable even to see in that direction. Which, of course, is where the Huns were. I had a short crack at one of the Fokkers who carelessly crossed my path but within seconds, another one had popped me off from behind. Pilot kill! Mission over.

 

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For me anyway, but not for the others. No need to pause the action, my now-pilotless BE12 was doomed regardless. Again I tabbed through the nearby aircraft, now a mere spectator to the continuing action.
 
I followed one of the two surviving BE12's for a while, as he fought with another Fokker. Round and round they both went, with the Fokker slowly gaining ground.

 

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However, the BE cleverly put in a low yo-yo, pulling up just above the ground and causing the Fokker to break away. The BE now managed to get behind the Hun and get in some bursts before the faster German machine got away.

 

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Seconds later, there was a bang and the BE12 was falling in flaming pieces from the skies, seemingly a victim of a mid-air collision which appeared to have left the Fokker still flying.

 

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I didn't see the fate of the third BE12. The results screen afterwards told me that of the three of us, two were KIA and one wounded, so maybe he glided home.
 
The action wasn't over, though. The Fokkers had resumed their attacks on the BE2 bombers. For a while, it looked like my flight's sacrifice was going to be in vain.

 

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But the day was saved by one of the silver Nieuports, who swung in towards the Huns. As the Frenchman bored in, one of the Fokkers broke off from chasing the BEs and turned into the Nieuport for a head-on pass. The Frenchman didn't turn after the Hun but kept on, drawing off another Fokker. This time the two fought and the Fokker was the loser, going down with a dead motor, at first under control, then rolling into a vertical nose-dive, pulling out at the last moment to make a dead-stick landing in a field.

 

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At least I had the satisfaction of seeing my charges make it back, in part thanks to our own flight's costly intervention, but mostly thanks to the plucky Frenchman in that silver V-strutter.

 

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But for my own virtual pilot, the campaign was over. No kills and just one MG round hit, for three BE12s lost along with two of their pilots. Next time I venture into the skies in one of these machines in First Eagles, I will at least make sure I have restored my rearward vision, beforehand!

 

As usual, the combination of First Eagles (FE2 in this case), Ojcar's Armchair Aces campaign and planes & other mods by Stephen1918 and his fellow modders delivered an intense, immersive and convincing WW1 air combat experience.
 
Next up, I'll be flying a similar campaign mission in WOFF's BE12, to see if we can do any better, second time around!

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