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33LIMA

Stalingrad Stuka - new style!

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Flying the Ju 87 in Il-2: Battle of Stalingrad!

 

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Having flown a Stalingrad Stuka campaign mission in Il-2 '46, it's time to repeat the process, this time in the new sim devoted to the famous battle. My first time playing through the BoS Single Player campaign, I've been sticking to flying the Yak-1, in an approximation of a conventional pilot career. While BoS doesn't support multiple virtual pilots, each active with a given squadron, you can fly any aircraft you choose on any campaign mission. Rather than 'switching sides' as well as planes in mid-campaign, I decided to start over at the beginning of the first 'chapter' of BoS's Stalingrad campaign, 'Prelude to Counteroffensive'. This BoS allows the player to do, with the option to 'fast forward' to the current campaign 'Chapter', enabling me to resume my Yak career at any time I chose.

 

The only active German airfield at the start of the campaign is Gumrak, which became one of the two main active airfields within the Stalingrad pocket, after 6th Army was cut off there. Having chosen to fly the Ju 87 from Gumrak, I was offered a choice of mission type and from those available, chose 'Bombing'. As you can see, the other options are 'Ground attack' and 'Ground support'. Apparently the latter is a form of close air support or air cover for ground forces, but I'm not sure what the distinction is between 'Bombing' and 'Ground attack'...especially for a Stuka!

 

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And here's the mission I've been allocated. I am to bomb a supply dump well into Soviet-held territory, across the River Volga to the east of Stalingrad itself. At this stage, I have no other details of the mission.

 

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In the 'Plane setup' screen I reviewed my options. I haven't flown the Stuka much outside of single missions so havent 'unlocked' any skin or equipment options. Perhaps because I've chosen a bombing mission, I don't have the usual choiced of bombload, either. All I can carry is an SC 1000, which from memory is a 2000 pound thin-skinned HE bomb, no use for attacking targets that need any knd of penetration but with excellent blast effects. Just one bomb but a big load for a Stuka!

 

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And here's the full mission briefing screen. At the same time as choosing a bombing mission, I had also picked an air start ('Short' mission duration). I much prefer ground starts but the BoS AI just cannot reliably handle takeoffs in laden Stukas!

 

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As I mentioned in the previous Stuka mission report, most of the time, the AI crack up, shortly after takeoff. The dive bombing single mission that ships with BoS puts the player at the head of a flight of six Stukas and once when I flew it, four out of five AI planes managed to avoid a crash. But that seems to be exceptional, so I'm glad I got a screenshot or two, if only to prove to myself I didn't imagine it!

 

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As I usually do before a mission, I zoomed in on the map at the target area and planned my approach and 'action on the objective'. This being an air start, the mission would begin with my flight at the right altitude and lined up on the last leg to the target area. As for said target, I wasn't quite sure what a 'supply dump' might look like but at least this one was located in a spot which I thought should be easy to identify, even from my planned approach height of 3500 metres...weather permitting, or course. In BoS, thanks to cloud cover, the weather often isn't very permissive of target acquisition from altitude, and the mission brief's weather notes said nothing about this important factor. So I decided that I would fly direct to the target, bombing it straight off my line of approach if I managed to get 'eyes on'. If not, I would overfly the target, turn 180 degrees and try again. If that didn't work, I would descend below the cloudbase and attack from there, likely in a shallow dive.

 

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Plan made! Time to head off the the flight line and get cracking!

 

...to be continued!

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Ok, we're here...so where's the target?

 

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I started the mission and - it being an air start - found myself at the assigned height, at the start of the leg to our supply dump target, down to the south. Looking back, I could see I was at the head of a kette of three Stukas in echelon left, the others in worn winter camouflage, one of them wobbling a bit. No wonder, carrying such a very big bomb; that was enough to make anyone wobble.

 

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I knew that Stukas approaching a target often switched from vic to echelon and bombed individually from the latter, so our current formation was fine. Leaving my number three to sort himself out, I looked up and as expected, saw that we had an escort. Four Bf109s were weaving protectively above and behind us.

 

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BoS's air start missions seem to kick off with the player on autopilot, which I believe will fly the complete mission for you, if you let it! It certainly takes a significant deflection of your flight controls to get your machine answering (though just turning off autopilot would likely have the same effect).

 

I looked ahead to see if I could pick up the towns of Bahtiyarovka and Leninsk, knowing that these lay near to one another ahead of me, on the line of a river which ran left to right across my front. I also knew from the mission map (which you can call up, full screen, in flight, much more usefully than Il-2 '46's mini-map only) that our target was somewhere near the river, on the left-hand edge of the right-hand town, so to speak - namely, Bahtiyarovka. Easy to find, in clear conditions. Unfortunately, conditions were not clear.

 

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Ahead, there was extensive cloud cover, perhaps three tenths or more and at about 1000 to 1500 metres, by the look of it. Clearly it was going to be a matter of luck, whether or not I would be able to spot and attack the target straight off my approach flight, which was my 'Plan A'. 

 

As we drew nearer, there was some desultory and inaccurate flak, seen in the form of some dark bursts in the sky, high and right. As it happened, this came from a battery of Soviet 85mm AA guns sited in and near the northern environs of one of the towns ahead of us. The cloud cover seemed to be affecting their aim, much as it seemed likely to affect mine, in the not-too-distant future.

 

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From what I've seen leading Stukas in BoS, even if I stay at or below 75% throttle and make gentle turns, it seems my flight easily loses ground and often straggles, catching up very slowly. Today was no exception and every so often I'd throttle further back, while trying to maintain altitude and heading, to let my two flight-mates catch up. Tidy, our formation-keeping wasn't. Evidently I'd need to have a quiet word in some people's ears, back at Gumrak

 

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Before long, looking through a fortuitous gap in the clouds, I reckoned we were nearly on top of our target. I opened the little sighting window in the cockpit floor and was relieved to see that the nose of my big bomb didn't completely block my downward view.

 

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But like the bear that went over the mountain to see what he could see, all that I could see, if not the other side of the mountain, was some nondescript buildings, on the eastern edge of Bahtiyarovka. Where was the supply dump? I didn't expect a big neon 'Bomb me!' sign but perhaps some parked motor transport, prominent sheds or tentage?

 

I activated the on-screen aids and saw instead a sort of yellow marker appear below, which seemed to hang in space just ahead of me, drifting forward as I moved. My aiming point? I wasn't sure but if so, a graphic representation of some sort of pyrotechnic target marker would have been better, for ground targets anyway. In any case, it didn't seem to mark anything worth attacking, just those nondescript buildings. Was that it?

 

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My uncertain musings were brought to a halt when the gap in the clouds closed beneath me. I flew on, without having positively identified the target, let alone attacked it. To make matters worse, in the course of my manoeuvring to catch sight of the supply dump, our formation-keeping seemed to have gone down the toilet... again.

 

 

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As all this was happening, I'd heard a radio message to the effect that I was in the target area and should proceed with my mission. This seems to be a BoS convention - if and when you reach the objective ('Action point'), there or thereabouts, BoS simulates ground control or a forward observer - or ground control relaying from a forward observer - giving you this instruction. Incidentally, BoS radio messages are in German or Russian so if like me, you have the on-screen aids turned off most of the time, you have to turn them on briefly, if you want to see the text of the spoken message.

 

Several players including myself have found it difficult to get AI flight-mates to attack or bomb ground targets. Often they don't seem to bother, even if you issue the command to 'Attack nearest ground target'. For Stukas, BoS dev team member Zak has told me that no orders are best. It seems that if you lead your flight to the target -  perhaps, to the point where you hear that 'Go get 'em!' message from the ground, or maybe just to where they can see the target - they will attack of their own accord. Counter-intuitively, ordering them to attack can disrupt this, and may even result in no attack at all being made. It seems we may have the tools to enable effective flight attacks to be made, if only we fully understood how best to use them…though wingmen should really operate on cue from you their leader, not some bloke on the ground, bypassing the chain of command, or on their own initiative.

 

And so it came to pass on this occasion, at least in part. Looking back to pick up the target for a second attempt, I saw a large, dark crater where I judged the supply dump must be. I instantly realised that one of my Stukas had made an attack, in the process neatly marking the target for me. Sure enough, the supply dump was that series of big but nondescript buildings on the edge of town, with little to indicate that it was worth demolishing the neighbourhood.

 

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With that object now firmly in mind, I turned back to the target and stayed above cloud level, hoping for one more chance to make a proper, steep diving attack. Only one of my Stukas had bombed on the way across. I suspect the other one was too far from the 'sweet spot' or trigger point, or more realistically, had simply failed to spot the target, like myself.

 

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So I now gave the command to attack ground targets. This produced no result that I could see while I was there, leaving me to complete the destruction of the supply dump on my own. No pressure!

 

...to be continued!

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Bombs away...or bomb away, actually...

 

As I came up to the point where I would begin my dive, the verdammter clouds once more obscured the target! I decided to take a chance and dive in blind, aiming for the spot where I'd last seen the cratered supply dump and trusting with my virtual life my 1000 metre cloud ceiling estimate.
 
I'm not sure where these descriptions originated, that describe Stukas rolling inverted to begin their dive. I don't doubt that Stukas were strong and fully aerobatic and their crews well-trained. But this was a big, heavily-laden, not especially powerful aircraft. My sources - which I'll mention at the end of this report - say that Stukas either just bunted forwards into a dive from level flight, or peeled off left or right into the dive, perhaps after pulling up slightly. Rolling inverted seems to me an extravagant manouevre to put a bombed-up Stuka through, not least as any turbulence, disorientation or imprecise handling could see the aircraft barrel-rolling into the path of other attacking aircraft. Banking or bunting onto a target isn't going to break your line of sight much (if any) worse than rolling upside down and takes you quickly and safely down and directly out of formation.

 

So that's how I dive bomb. I chopped the throttle, held the nose level and then as the speed dropped off, popped out the dive brakes. Unlike Il-2 '46 - which seems to expect you to start your dive bombing from level flight - extending my dive brakes did not automatically initiate the dive. So I pushed the stick smartly forward and put her nose hard down.

 

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Fairly quickly, my Stuka was enveloped in whiteness as I dropped into the clouds. Even in a sim, diving steeply earthwards with the ground filling your field of view is a bit scary. Now, I was diving into cloud and couldn’t even see the ground. I remembered the flight of Stukas practicing before WW2 which had dived to destruction in what turned out to be a layer of ground mist. Would I come out of cloud high enough to pull out? If so, would I be near enough to the target to complete the attack? Fortunately, the answer to both questions was 'Yes', just about.
 
I came out of cloud at over 1000 meters but to one side of the crater which marked my target - or so I hoped, for I was assuming my flight-mate had bombed accurately. I had to roll around and ease off my dive angle, to get my nose onto the target.

 

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As I came up to the supply dump, I let go my bomb, for whose fuse, during setup, I had wisely selected a 5-second delay. Bomb gone, I pulled up, closed my dive brakes and opened my throttle.

 

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As I soared up and away, there was a satisfyingly large explosion behind as my 1000 kilogram weapon went off, pretty well on target! Small fires flared briefly around the point of impact.

 

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If cloud had prevented me from dive-bombing off my line of approach, I had planned to come around and try again from the opposite direction. And that's exactly what I had done! Although the cloud cover had rather messed up my dive, I had recovered sufficiently to be able to place my weapon pretty well right where I wanted it. And as planned, I was now heading back north, to relative safety.
 
Passing the northern edge of town, I was about to order my flight to reform when I saw a train below. Conscious of the chance I was taking, I decided to strafe him; just one run, I promised myself.

 

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I banked around in a 180 degree turn and and came in west to east, along the line of the tracks. The clag from the locomotive acted as a rather good smoke screen but I cut loose into the middle of it and was rewarded by the sight of some splinters flying. You can't expect too much from a pair of rifle-calibre machine guns.

 

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Pulling up and away, it was my turn to be hit - Soviet trains in these here parts seem rather well defended by flatcars with MGs and light flak. Suddenly, my Stuka was making almost as much smoke as that loco! Worse, one of my flight-mates staggered over the railway line and cracked up in the snow near the train!

 

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I gathered my bearings and turned west, climbing gently and then leveling off just at the cloudbase. Here, I throttled back, determined to coax as much life as I could from my engine, which was running well enough but likely losing oil and/or coolant. I ordered my last flight-mate - wherever he now was - to return to base but heard no acknowledgement. If he had survived, there was no point in him tagging along with my crippled bird. Better that he took his chances separately. As it happened, his chances were not looking terribly good.

 

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Coming under fire from some light and medium flak, I decided to climb to just above the cloud level, giving me some cover from the ground as well as something I could dive into, if attacked from the air.

 

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I flitted into and out of the higher stretches of cloud. Suddenly, over the radio, came a cacophony of calls from friendly fighters, reporting an air combat. At least two kills were claimed. As it happened, our escort was making short work of a pair of Yaks that had evidently attempted an interception, somewhere out of sight.

 

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Plodding slowly on, I expected my motor to seize up and stop at any moment, so I had headed due west, to get as close as I could to the Volga and friendly ground forces. But my temperatures stayed off the wrong end of the scales and so I steered around, coming onto a course further south, towards our assigned exit waypoint.

 

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Partly this was for the 'gamey' reason that hitting this waypoint was a mission success criterion and/or linked to earning more 'experience points', but also because, well, that was the plan, and it was more likely that my escort and/or wingman would be heading that way, too. Safety in numbers they say and I was feeling rather isolated and vulnerable. If attacked, all I could do now was duck into the nearest clouds. I scanned anxiously left and right, looking for landmarks in the frozen landscape and alert for any threats.

 

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After what seemed an eternity I saw the Volga ahead and soon recognised the Stalingrad suburb of Krasnoarmeysk, where lay my exit waypoint. To the west, the cloud cover seemed a little thinner but behind me, it had served its purpose in helping me get this far. I crossed the river and turned right, north towards Gumrak, much relieved to be over friendly territory and into somewhat clearer - and much safer - skies.

 

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Still my trusty motor rumbled on and still, wonder of wonders, my temperature gauges behaved themselves. I steered slightly west of my base and soon, saw its dark paved runway, ahead and half right.

 

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I slowly dropped to a thousand feet and then turned east into my approach, forgetting about the wind direction. Flaps down, I drifted in to land. As often happens I bounced, but the Stuka is a tough old bird and after a second, smaller bounce I got her down, catching her just before she slid off the right-hand edge of the runway. Now at last, I could relax.

 

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Here's my main mission results screen. BoS doesn't tell you anything about your wingmen, before or after the mission; but I think neither of mine survived the sortie. However, contrary to what I thought I'd seen before, I now believe that your wingmen do contribute to mission success, which is good.

 

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As you can see, I have acquired a modest stash of experience points. I have also advanced a pilot 'level' and unlocked some kit: a siren, to be precise, so that my Stuka can sound the Trumpet of Jericho on its next outing! The Il-2 '46 Ju 87D has one of these mounted atop each undercarriage leg as standard, complete with their squat little paddle blades, which took a few MPH off the Stuka's speed and were often seen faired over, later in the war.
 
The BoS Stuka is wonderful to behold and a lot of fun to fly and fight in. And the BoS Stalingrad 'map' brings beautifully to life the battlefield you're operating over and the skies you're flying in, weather and cloud effects being truly outstanding. In this Stuka campaign mission, I'd have preferred to be operating at something closer to staffel strength, a realistic minimum for a sortie I think. And I'd have liked to be clearer about how best to put down where they're needed the bombs of my whole flight (and be better able to control that process). And of course AI Stuka takeoff really needs fixed, so we can have proper 'ground start' missions. However, with those caveats and within BoS's distinctive approach to the Single Player campaign, this mission provided a most interesting and vivid recreation of the sort of experiences and tactical challenges I'd have expected a Stuka leader to face, operating over the Eastern Front in the frozen winter of 1942-43.
 

To conclude, my sources for doubting that a  'roll inverted and dive' was normal practice for Stukas is based on three main sources (in the absence, somewhere along the way, of my copy of Rudel's 'Stuka pilot'). Firstly, an article in an edition of the old partwork 'War Monthly' contained a reasonably good description of Stuka tactics and described peeling off and bunting as the methods of initiating a dive. Secondly, Eric Brown in 'Wings of the Luftwaffe' in describing his dive bombing practice in a Ju 87D in 1945 - a man whose knowledge of flying many Luftwaffe types was extensive and, post-war, gleaned also from Luftwaffe ground and aircrew - says nothing of rolling inverted, describing only bunting into a dive. Finally, Dr Alfred Price in 'Luftwaffe Handbook 1939-1945' - also I think the author of the aforementioned 'War Monthly' article - describes Stuka dive-bombing tactics as follows:

 

'When approaching their target the Ju 87s would, typically, fly in three-aircraft Vics (Ketten) at about 15,000 feet, cruising at 150 mph...prior to entering his dive the Ju 87 pilot switched on his reflector sight, trimmed the aircraft for a dive, set the pull-out altitude on the contact altimeter, closed the radiator flaps, throttled back the engine and opened the ventilation air supply to the windscreen (to prevent possible misting as the aircraft entered the moist air lower down [now you know what that trunking next to the gunsight is for!]). Finally he switched on the wind-driven 'Screamer' (if required) and opened the dive brakes; the hydraulic operation of the brakes automatically lowered an elevator trim tab, to counter the severe nose-up trim change which would otherwise result. The signal to attack was given by the formation-leader starting his dive [1C to note, please!!!]. For strikes on smaller targets the aircraft would move into echelon during the approach, and peel off and attack in line astern. Against larger targets (for example, harbours or marshalling yards), the dive-bombers would bunt over and attack by Vics; the pilot was able to see directly beneath his aircaft through a small window set in the floor, and so was able to judge when to begin his bunt.'

 

An accompanying diagram of a typical dive attack profile shows no roll inverted, and in fact the annotation for point A, the start of the dive, says 'A -aircraft entered the dive in a bunt.'

 

I'm not saying that Stukas never rolled inverted to initiate a dive attack; it just seems unlikely to me to have been standard procedure and its use is not supported in the above-mentioned sources.

 

However you tackle it, good luck and good hunting with your own forays into dive-bombing in the famous Stuka!

 

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    • By 33LIMA
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      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!
    • By 33LIMA
      Flying a vanilla campaign in the classic WW2 sim's latest mod!

       
      You can say what you like about the newest addition to the Il-2 line, Battle of Stalingrad (BoS) - and many of us do just that! But one thing it has done for me, is stimulate my interest in its predecessor's original, Eastern Front campaigns. No mean achievement, that, for until relatively recently, I'd regarded Il-2 as mainly offering planes I didn't especially want to fly, in places I didn't especially want to fly them, to adapt another simmer's comment.
       
      At the moment, I have two installs of Il-2 1946 - one for Dark Blue World (DBW), the other for the new Community User Patch (CUP). Due to different files, units and other factors, it seems likely to take a while, before many campaigns that work in DBW or other versions of Il-2, also work in CUP, though some already do and the list is growing steadily.
       
      Both to check out the compatibility of some stock Il-2 campaigns with CUP and to indulge my new-found interest in the Eastern Front variety, over the last month or two I've been running, on and off, a standard Soviet fighter campaign, flying one of the aircraft available in BoS - the rather sleek but not especially high-performing LaGG-3. Like other aircraft before and after, this seems to have been a basically decent design which needed a more powerful engine to turn it into a competitive fighter - which it got, when its inline engine was replaced by a radial, creating the Lavochkin La-5.
       
      From this campaign's timeframe, though, the La-5 is about a year away. It's July 1941, just weeks into Operation Barbarossa, and I'm flying a LaGG-3, defending our dearly-beloved Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics against the fascist hordes of Nazi Germany. And an interesting challenge it's been, keeping my virtual neck intact, up against superior numbers of superior planes and - historically, anyway - superior aircrew.
       

       
      So far, courtesy it seems of some Soviet Socialistic miracle, I have not only survived, but knocked down some enemy aircraft. I'm on my fifth mission, no less...but wondering how much longer my good fortune can possibly continue.
       
      Here's the latest briefing. As you can see, it's a fairly straightforward escort job, with a hint that we might want to shoot up some stuff on the ground at some point, too. Maybe it's a difficulty setting I applied when I created the campaign, but the usual Il-2 red and blue front lines aren't shown on the map. But I'll be able to gauge the whereabouts of the enemy from the front-line target the bombers we're to escort will hit. Happily, the target's not too far off, so I can fly the mission in real time with no need to use 'warp'...which as just as well, as Il-2's never had that, relying on autopilot and time acceleration.
       

       
      The briefing doesn't tell me how many are in our flight, or the type and strength of the bombers. Nor do we get their or our altitudes. I put this down to a level of uncertainty, even confusion, in an air force with its back against the wall...or perhaps, against a Commisar with a small-calibre pistol and a willingness to employ it, in stiffening our resolve, should that become necessary.
       
      At the flight line, I find that there are in fact three of us on this hop. Having chosen a high enough rank to avoid the (to me) hateful chore of formation-flying - and to enjoy the extra challenge of flight leadership - I'm at the head of the queue. This being a stock mission, there's none of the newer formation takeoffs. Happily, the default Il-2 conga line is a short one, today.
       

       
      The current LaGG-3 I find is a nicely-rendered bird. More rounded contours in some places, inside and out, would be nice but I'm not complaining. Her authentic, subtly-weathered camouflage and national markings are convincingly-applied. There's no sign of the original opaque Il-2 markings, which looked like the over-thick waterslide transfers you used to get on plastic kits, guaranteed to blot out all but the crudest surface detail. And the cockpit, though clearly well behind the latest self-shadowed, finely-curved marvels, is still quite serviceable.
       

       

       
      One new feature the LaGG does enjoy are more rounded wheels, and very welcome they are, too. Soon, I was aloft and retracting the gear. After the crazily finnicky ground handling of BoS, takeoffs in '46 are...well, whether more realistic or not, more what I'm used to.
       

       
      Another, older improvement to Il-2 that the modders have wrought is the engine sounds. I absolutely loathed the dreadful external engine drone of the original sim. That's a distant memory now, so I can admire my bird in the external view without feeling that I need to turn down the sound.
       

       
      In fact, so much was I enjoying the external aspect of my LaGG sweeping over the Steppes, that I decided to let the autopilot fly, for a bit. There was now sign of the bombers and I thought, rightly as it turned out, that my alter ego would have a better idea than I, were they were and at what height we should be.
       
      My number three lagged (sic!) for a bit but my number two wasn't long in catching up. We perhaps tend to take for granted these days such Il-2 wonders as different planes having different individual numbers but even now, not all sims have this and it's still a fine thing to behold.
       

       
      Three of us had left our airfield. How many would return, and would I be amongst them? The answers would not be long in coming.
       
      ...to be continued!
    • By 33LIMA
      To war in the China-Burma-India theatre with the American Volunteer Group!

       
      There can be few more famous flying units in the Second World War than the group of volunteer fighter pilots recruited in 1941 by retired US Army Captain Claire L. Chennault to help China turn the tables in the beleagured country's air war against the Japanese. Flying Curtiss P-40B Tomahawks diverted from planned deliveries to the RAF, the three squadrons of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) soon found themselves pitched alongside RAF and Dutch comrades into a desperate, losing battle against the post-Pearl Harbour Japanese flood tide, notably in Burma. The AVG and RAF initially mounted a spirited air defence of the capital Rangoon. But as enemy ground forces swept towards them, capturing airfields closer and closer to the city, their task became increasingly hopeless and in the end, abortive.
       
      Nicknamed 'Flying Tigers' from the insignia devised from them by Disney, the unit was of course famous for a different marking - the gaudy 'Sharkmouth' on the noses of their P-40s, inspired it is said by a similar marking seen on a photo of a 112 Squadron RAF Tomahawk, itself supposedly inspired in turn by the 'Haifisch' marking carried by Bf 110 heavy fighters of ZG 76.
       
      Fame came early to the Flying Tigers, not least thanks to the 1942 film starring John Wayne, no less, that many of us will remember from later screenings on TV. The characterisations appear but crude stereotypes today, but at the time, the desperate and destructive war in the Far East was at its height.
       

       
      Thanks to Chennault's experience in theatre, the Flying Tigers were early pioneers of the sort of 'hit and run', 'boom and zoom' tactics that soon became widely adopted, for combating the more nimble but less powerful Japanese fighters. The AVG fought shoulder to shoulder with British and Commonwealth comrades in Burma and after the latter's fall, to defend China's vital lifeline of supplies flown over the 'hump' from India. But those battles and others against Japanese offensives in China, were fought mainly by the AVG's USAAF successors, who inherited the nickname and the fighting reputation of the original group, which was disbanded in July 1942.
       
      The campaign
      There have been several AVG campaigns for IL-2 over the years but the one I'm flying here is SAS_Monty's, which was designed for the modified 4.12 version of the sim, which is what I'm mostly flying at the moment, since the arrival of the Combined User Patch (CUP) mod. You can find the download link, a campaign video and some more info, here. Another attraction for me is that the campaign features the defence of Burma, which I had read about in the detailed and generally excellent first volume of Grub Street's aptly-named South-East Asia air war history, 'Bloody Shambles'. Fans of Kipling will relish the opportunity to fight (altogether now) 'On the road to Mandalay/Where the flying fishes play/And the sun comes up like thunder/Out'a China, cross the bay'. It ain't half hot, mum!
       
      But enough of references to now politically-incorrect writer-poets and BBC TV comedies about the vital role of Concert Parties in the war in the Far East.
       
      If you are expecting to be pitched straight into desperate dogfights against Nates, Oscars and Sallys - to use the Allied reporting names for the Imperial Japanese Army's Ki-27 and Ki-43 fighters and Ki-21 bombers - well, steady there, (flying) tiger. Battleship Row at Pearl still lies undisturbed and the war in the Pacific, unstarted. Your first job - after watching the neat black & white opening video 'track' which accompanies a narrative intro to the AVG -  is a ferry flight in a C-47, from Rangoon up to the AVG's real-life training base further north, at Toungoo.
       

       
      This starts well enough, with time to admire the plentiful scenery at busy Mingaladon airfield, just north of capital Rangoon.
       

       
      Like the P-40s you'll be flying later, the two C-47s on this flight - we should probably call them DC-3s, in keeping with the secrecy necessarily surrounding this surrogate US intervention - may be ex-USAAF; but for now, they're the property of the Government of nationalist Chiang Kai Shek's Republic of China. And marked accordingly. The USA isn't in this war, officially...not just yet, anyway.
       

       
      I'm not a big fan of civvy flight sims but I must admit I got a certain amount of fun out of flying my Dakota, as the C-47 is generally better known in the UK. It took a lot of key tapping - no fancy HOTAS setups here - but in the end I was able to trim her nicely to climb 'hands off', although what I expect was a bit of a crosswind, or maybe a bit of aileron trim she needed, made occasional corrections necessary to keep wings level.
       

       

       
      The flight up north in a heavily-laden transport was actually like one of those civilian flying challenges in FSX. The tricky bit was...well, not my pet hate, formation flying, since you don't especialy have to fly in close company with the other aircraft on this trip, though he will tell you off on the radio if you become too independent. It's first, (slowly) climbing through the clouds - a good idea, to avoid colliding with the Pegu Yomas which rise across your fligth path.
       

       

       
      You get radio becaon fixes displayed every so often but if like me, you generally 'cheat' by leaving switched on the minimap path and your aircraft's icon, such things aren't really needed.
       
      Having got above the darkening clouds, all was well, for a while. I tried to listen in to radio stations duing the flight, as the mission brief recommends, but though I tuned into both BBC World Service and Radio Honolulu, reception seemed basically non-exstent. So much for listening to Vera Lynn's latest number, to while away the dull bit of the flight.
       
      The next fun comes when it's time to descend through the cloudbase. At first all looked well, with the tree-covered foothills falling away beneath usand paddy fields appearing ahead. There's a great new Burma map included with CUP and I'm assuming this is it.
       

       
      The cloud ceiling was quite low and when I got to that level, the weather was suddenly awful, with visibility to match and lightning flashing, in and below the clouds, as the rain lashed down all the while.
       
       

       
      Then, in the deteriorating weather, there's the challenge of finding my destination. Finally, I actually had to land there, which was going to be tricky enough in the pouring rain, not least because the layout of Toungoo airfield was unknown to me and was going to be invisible in the murk, until i was pretty well on top of it.
       

       
      in the circumstances, I decided to let the autopilot handle the last leg and I'm glad that I did, because two interesting things happened, that I might otherwise have missed. First, during a spell of slightly clearer weather, we suddenly did a supply drop, which I hadnt been expecting.
       

       
      Next, I had a great view of Toungoo itself, the town not the airfield. At first, I thought this was Fort Dufferin, famous for a 14th Army battle to evict the Japanese in 1945. But that's in a different part of Burma. It was quite a sight, nevertheless, worth seeing, if not worth going to see, as the famous diarist Dr Johnston once said of the Giant's Causeway (sorry, to anyone from the Burmese or Northern Ireland tourist boards, who might happen to be reading this).
       

       
      Happily, the AI co-pilot to whom I had turned over our aeroplane seemed to know the area well enough, for despite the murk he made a faultless, if somewhat unorthodox, partial, circuit, followed by a fine landing which I would have struggled to match, at the best of times.
       

       
      His ground handling was pretty good, too, and we were soon stopped next to the other C-47/DC-3/Dakota.
       

       
      Now, perhaps, we could get down to business! But, as in real life, Claire Chennault had other plans for his newly-arrived tiger cubs.
       
      ...to be continued!
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