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33LIMA

Rise of Flight - a red letter day

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33LIMA    762

Richard Stachel's quest for glory continues, apace!

 

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It's been a long time since I kept up with the mission reports all the way through a campaign. But I think I'll make an exception and follow my PWCG/RoF career flying as Richard Stachel for Jasta Boelcke; in between such other reports that take my fancy.

 

Will Richard beat his more famous brother Bruno to the Blue Max? If you want to find out, read on - and watch out for further installments!

 

Here's the PWCG briefing for my third mission, the date having advanced to 7th April. I have been tasked with leading a patrol up to the lines near Foncquevillers. Although we don't know it, we are a couple of days away from the start of the big British push that will become known as the Battle of Arras. You can see the town of that name just west of the lines, somewhat north of our patrol route.

 

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I don't know if PWCG/RoF will reflect the battle in any way, for example in terms of levels of ground or air activity. I have but an early Core 2 Quad PC and a 1Gb GTS 250 which nevertheless enables me to have graphics settings quite high, but so as not to push it, I keep ground object density (in PWCG) set to low. Nor have I activated the 'moving front' option. Wings over Flanders Fields has several variants of the lines to suit different phases of the war, but like First Eagles, I think the trenchlines are visually static in Rise of Flight, with the 'moving front' changing the territory occupied by each side, not the in-game visual or map representation of the front.

 

I decided to go with the five aircraft allocated, and didn't need to swap pilots to get to lead, as I am the senior officer detailed for the patrol. One of the neat features of the First Eagles campaigns is that replacements can be slow to arrive and in picking pilots for each mission, you need to strike the right balance between having a strong enough force in the air and conserving staffel strength.At any rate, German staffels were smaller than RFC/RAF squadrons and in PWCG/RoF, it's probably realistic enough that we are putting one patrol into the air, at any point in time.

 

Here we are, lined up and ready to start engines. Once my motor's running, my pilot will automatically wave his hand above his head and the others will then start up, too. You can see to my right is no less than Verner Voss in his colourfully-marked machine. This should probably be an earlier model built by the parent firm rather than OAW, with the straight rudder. You can see that the white swastika/hakenkreuz marking has been 'Bowdlerised', for obvious reasons. The reason the lighting is dull is because we're under the moving shadow of a cloud.

 

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This time, I make a greater effort not to drift to the left on takeoff and succeed, possibly as there's less of a crosswind. I'm also beginning to learn that I can allow my machine to fly itself off the ground, if I avoid flying like 'heavy-handed Hans'. 2

 

I begin a left hand circuit to let the others catch up, with the little of village of Pronville, from our base which takes its name, a short distance away.

 

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I have settled for an echelon right formation, in part because this gives me more space to turn hard to the left, if need should arise. In that sense, I am following the pattern noted by WW2 USAAF P-47 ace Robert S. Johnston, who observed that enemy fighters he suprised from behind usually broke left, perhaps because that was more natural to right-handed pilots 1.

 

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One of the nice things about this campaign is that flight time to the front is quite short, enabling everything to be flown comfortably in real time, with no resort to time acceleration. It also helps that by default, our patrol altitudes are quite low - in the order of 2,000 metres.

 

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We have hardly reached the front when I observe a line of aircraft heading our way, somewhat higher up. I turn anxiously towards them, climbing hard. If they are enemy scouts, this is going to be a rather dangerous start to the mission. I try to padlock the nearest and fail, realising why as they pass over and I get a good look at them from below. They are five Albatrosses, like our own.

 

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I use the RoF view system to lock onto one and get a screenshot. I don't recognise the yellow markings; Jasta 10 was known for this colour on its Albatrosses and Pfalzes so perhaps it's them. As you will have gathered, I neglected to check in PWCG which other units were operating in our area!

 

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We don't have to wait too long for the real enemy to show up, however, and this time, I padlock him just fine. He's coming right at us and it's only as we close that another one, hidden by my upper wing, comes into view - there are two of them.

 

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I get off a few rounds head on and then come hard around after my chosen target. The two Englishmen are in Sopwith Pups. Our formation breaks up to attack them and I stay above the scrap. Three of my comrades go for one of the Sopwiths, the last one for the other, the one I'm watching now. After some twisting and turning, the Sopwith goes one way, the Albatross the other, so now it's my turn. I drop onto the enemy's tail and begin shooting.

 

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He can turn inside me easily enough, but I stay above and behind him, until I can make another pass, with a wary eye behind - not so much for anothe enemy, but for flight-mates attacking recklessly, as is their wont. Instead of the slow-firing 'pop-pop-pop gun' described by Pup pilot Arthur Gould Lee 3, I have two faster-firing MGs and their fire soon takes effect. The Sopwith's prop spins to a halt, then his right-hand wing strtcture collapses and tears away.

 

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I look around for the other enemy and see him well below, still fighting against three Albatrosses. Suddenly, it's two Albatrosses; one of my flight makes an unusual movement then falls away, trailing white smoke. I can only hope that my comrade will get down in one piece and, if he force-lands between the trenches, make it back to our side of the lines.

 

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The others waste no more time in exacting retribution, and soon the Sopwith is shot down, too.

 

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As usual after a fight, I begin a spiral climb to clear my tail and assess the situation. I throttle back as I see my flight-mates begin to spiral up after me.

 

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They seem a bit slow to rejoin formation so I give the recall order, firing a green flare which bursts astern, lighting up my machine. Almost certainly that was superfluous, but they can't fail to get the message now!

 

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However, instead of rejoining, my flight-mates seem even more hesitant. Now what?

 

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I know instinctively what the answer must be and look behind, where it must surely lie. And there they are - two pusher-type fighters, known by the Germans as Vickers but in this case, DH2s, are falling like a pair of hawks onto my comrades below.

 

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Naturally, I bank around after them. You can see what I mean, about how much farther away planes can look from the cockpit view. They are three against two but the sooner I get over there and into action against those impertinent Englishmen, the happier I will be!

 

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...to be continued!

 

1. Recounted by Martin Caidin in Me 109, Purnell, 1969

 

2. Heavy-handed Hans flies Halberstadts

    In handy Halberstadters, for a flight our Hans does start

    His CO says 'Oh dash it! For I fear that he will crash it!'

    See how heavy-handed Hans ham-handles handy Halberstadts!

              Royal Flying Corps song, c.1917

 

3. No Parachute and Open Cockpit

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33LIMA    762

V-strutters versus 'prehistoric packing cases'

 

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'The Englishman sat in a prehistoric packing case', Manfred von Richthofen is quoted as saying of one encounter with a 'Vickers', as the Germans called different types of 'pusher' aircraft like the DH.2s we are now fighting. The Lewis Gun-armed Vickers FB.5 'gunbus' must have made something of an impression. But this is the spring of 1917. The time when machines such as the DH.2 and FE.2 played their part in ending the Fokker Scourge is long over. Prehistoric the pushers are, by this point in the war. Now, all we need to do is...prove it!

 

We start well. By the time I arrive over the air fight, one of the enemy has already gone down, shedding his wings as he dropps like a stone, trailing a faint wisp of pale grey smoke.

 

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The other pusher tries hard to get away, which gives me a chance to join the combat. Naturally enough, this is exactly what I do.

 

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As with the superior Sopwiths, my usual tactic with a more agile foe is to avoid getting sucked into his kind of fight by staying long with an enemy who's making a tight turn. Instead, I make slashing attacks, keeping my speed up and my own turns, short.

 

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My twin MGs are soon shredding the enemy machine, who wings over and falls into a steep dive.

 

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I watch him go but don't follow, wary of a trick - and of colliding with a flight-mate. But the de Havilland doesn't pull out.

 

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Job done. Back up I go in my usual spiral and this time, my flight-mates are happy to follow. The 'pusher' fighter had its day, but that day is over. And we have succeeded in proving that it is so.

 

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In doing so, we have drifted back east, into the skies over No Man's Land. So I lead our formation back to the west, to pick up our original patrol route. I haven't fired off too many rounds and though I'm tempted to get out while ahead and avoid further losses amongst my flight, I decide that duty requires us to continue, at least for a little while longer. So on we go.

 

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...to be continued!

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33LIMA    762

The last leg...

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Back at altitude, we continue our patrol to the south, above the line of the enemy trenches beneath us. Despite being only 2,000 metres up, we are not shelled by enemy flak. There is still not enough AA fire in PWCG/RoF, so I will look at some settings which may increase this – there are plenty of options in PWCG. I noticed recently that I had left ground MG fire turned off, a surprising default; perhaps they are overly deadly. RoF has a horrible ‘ambient flak’ visual effect which produces random bursts in the skies, like the random ground shellfire you also see. In WW1, seeing white flak bursts was a common indicator of German aircraft, black bursts denoting Germans firing at Entente planes. It’s bad enough that you see this important target indication quite rarely in RoF, but it’s in the ‘What WERE they thinking?’ category that much of the flak you DO see, is these random bursts, aimed at nothing. Fortunately, a mod to turn off this nonsense has long existed. But the ‘real’ flak bursts are still seen too rarely.

Be that as it may…

With a certain amount of ammo expended and probably four kills against one loss for the flight, I am not too disappointed to see no sign of the enemy, as we approach the southern limit of our patrol route. I decide that rather than pressing our good fortune today, we will go straight home, after the last waypoint. Just before we reach it, I decide to take one of my infrequent stabs at the padlock button, to see if there are any enemies in visual range. My view immediately locks onto something I can’t yet make out, to my right rear and lower down. In less than a second, I can see them - a line of tiny specks moving so as to cross diagonally beneath us.

 

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While you can’t see planes as far away as you should be able to from the default cockpit view, when you can see them, I find they can at least be identified at a reasonable enough range. I soon see these machines are R.E.8 s, RFC two-seaters most commonly employed for reconnaissance and artillery observation. Not this time, probably, because there are five of them, in single file; it occurs to me that these boys are possibly on a ground attack mission.

I’ll need to do something about this, I know, but odds of four against five are not to my liking. I tend to agree with British ace and VC holder James McCudden, who thought a well-handled two-seater a match for a single scout. The enemy formation is not conducive to mutual support, however. So I decide to play ‘Devil take the hindmost’ and start spiralling down.  Still, I hesitate, because unless I order my flight to stay out of it, I’ll drag them in, too. My indecision is ended for me by the tail-end R.E.8, which turns out of formation for some reason. It's now or never.

 

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I steepen my dive, exchanging bursts of fire with his observer on the way down...

 

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...and then come up behind and below him. I fire into him from under his tail, where the observer’s Lewis Gun can’t reach me. But though I chopped my throttle as I dived, my excess of speed carries me up behind him again. He turns back towards the other R.E.8s and I cut inside him, firing as I come. I'm asking for trouble and I know it, sitting in this exposed position, just trading rounds with the enemy, but my blood is up!

 

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I find it quite hard to keep my sights on an enemy in RoF, tending to over-correct because of the degree of forward stick pressure needed to correct tail heaviness – pulling back on the stick seems to produce an exaggerated response. And I don’t actually use the gunsights, just aiming along the nose and pressing the trigger when the sight picture looks right.

in this fashion, I fire a short burst from dead astern at rather long range as I manoeuvre to regain a better position, I am pleasantly surprised - and not a little relieved - to see the enemy observer slump down out of sight in his seat, even as his last tracer round flashes past me.

 

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Throttle wide open again, I surge up behind the R.E.8, snapping out short bursts which I can see are chewing up the big two-seater. His rudder is hit and flies off, falling below me somewhere.

 

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Finally, he rears up, wings over and plunges for the ground. Got him!

 

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As he falls, his right-hand wings break off and more through luck than judgement, I narrowly avoid flying into them.

 

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While all this is going on, three of the enemy have closed up and are racing for our lines, apparently unmolested. Their bomb loads are certainly intended for our troops, who may be seconds away from being bombed, unless we can stop this.

 

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My comrades are already pitching in, but Voss and one of the others seem to prefer to go for the same straggler, rather than tackle the rest of the formation.

 

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I waste no time and select another opponent, who is flying in a steep turn at the same level. You'll do, I tell myself sternly.

 

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In my haste to get at him, I’m hit again, but several bursts strip off the enemy's wings and down he goes. Somehow, I manage a second time to avoid running headlong into the detached wings, which fly up in my face. I pull hard back on the stick and they are gone. The fuselage of the R.E.8 drops like a bomb, the doomed observer rattling off a futile final burst as he races to his destruction in the shell-swept mud below.

 

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I have no time to watch. I continue to rise in a shallow spiral, looking around as I go. Down below, I can see Voss, with the distinctive white stripes on his upper wing, apparently tackling an R.E.8 head on.

 

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I spot another R.E.8, on his own, unmolested, lower down and seemingly headed for our territory. Oh no you don't! I nose down and around after him, but I have already noticed that something is wrong with my machine. The motor is running but not pulling as strongly as she should at full throttle. And my upper wing is somewhat the worse for battle damage. For a moment I hesitate, then I grit my teeth and press on.

 

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The Englishmen wheel around in a circle beneath me and come out of it heading back west, towards their own side of the lines. Too late, boys, I’m committed and I'm coming for you! But even in a dive I seem unable to gain much ground. By the time I’m at their level, I am just about in range, but we’re now heading into enemy territory, where my faltering engine could give up at any moment. I do not want to dally here, so I fire off my remaining ammunition at the retreating R.E.8, my rate of fire reduced by the low revs my motor is now producing. The enemy machine wobbles and begins a gentle but descending turn to the right as my first gun goes dry. The other one fires a few more rounds due to stoppages earlier, but then it, too, packs up.

 

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I can do no more, and turn for home.

 

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I wait for the engine up ahead of me to splutter to a stop but my trusty Mercedes doesn’t let me down, despite the damage. Though it takes longer than usual, I am finally back over our own front lines. The air battle is ended. And two other Albatrosses are closing up behind me. I know one went down in the fight against the Sopwiths; the second must have fallen fighting the R.E.8s (though at the time, I mistakenly thought he’d been shot down fighting the ‘Vickers’). Whatever successes we have achieved, bringing back three out of five is a bitter enough blow.

 

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Soon after crossing the lines, I end the mission – I’m not flying home to have my remaining comrades perform RoF-style landing crack-ups!

The first surprise is that the basic RoF mission result screen credits me with five victories – one more than I was confident off.

 

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Back in PWCG to make my own report and watch the map replay, I submit a claim for a Sopwith, a DH.2 ‘Vickers’ and three R.E.8s. I assume that the last one I fired at must have gone down, though I didn't think so, at the time. Things get really strange when the PWCG replay and overall mission result credit me with four R.E.8 s shot down, not three. I don’t recall shooting at, let alone down, four individual two-seaters, but this is the number that goes into my official tally. Six victories in one mission! This takes my score to ten, from just three missions.

Below is my combat report, written immediately after the mission, when I became confused about when the second Albatros went down – it was in the battle against the R.E.8s, not the DH.2s. You can't see the first part of the report, but the tabs above which enable me to view my two previous reports are visible.

 

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I recall that I paused the mission for screenshots while knocking down the first R.E.8, and I wonder if that could have messed up whatever log file PWCG used to record the results. In truth, I think I really got just two R.E.8s, just maybe a third at a long stretch, though not the four I’m credited with! But if the ground observers got mixed up and confirmed kills I didn’t make, I’ll not argue…tomorrow, they could err in the opposite direction!

 

PWCG also informs me that Verner Voss has transferred (or gone on leave, or both) and amongst other news, lets me view a captured newspaper, hot off the press, announcing the start of the British offensive at Arras. I should not be surprised that news travels so fast; a British war diary from Normandy in 1944 recorded sardonically that one day, the unit had the rare privilege of capturing a town ahead of the BBC!

 

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I still have the impression that in RoF, my shooting is somewhat more effective than I’m accustomed to, from other WW1 sims. It’s like my hits are too damaging, or too frequent, or a bit of both. I think there’s a mod which reduces the structural damage effects – wings do seem to come away rather frequently – so I may try that.

I do know that PWCG lets you tweak AI pilot quality, by changing the probability of your meeting novice, veteran or expert enemies, and I may try some adjustments there, too, although I don’t want to be fighting with, or alongside, AI supermen, every time. I tried the similar option in First Eagles, and that made enemies much scarier overall, but too much so for my liking. A bit less lethality all round, but especially from my own guns, would probably keep me happy. I’ll not rush into making adjustments, though, in case this mission was a fluke.

Otherwise, my main concern in the campaign so far is aircraft visibility – they are too rarely revealed by flak bursts and are not visible at long enough range from the cockpit view (despite AI enemies apparently being able to see and home in on me, from a point I still can't see them).

 

I will try to find a setting which increases flak levels; I vaguely recall that increasing ground object density (now set at ‘low’) may do this, hopefully without nobbling performance. And I’ll find out if anything can be done to increase the default zoom level, while in cockpit, without magnifying the airframe around me; I’m certainly not going to get into manually zooming in and out while scanning. For now, however, I can compensate on both fronts for by occasionally tapping the padlock button, simulating me (or a flight-mate) picking up on targets during scanning – though it would be better if I could ‘padlock nearest air’ not ‘…nearest enemy air’ so it acts only for spotting, and not as instant IFF.

Anyway, I’m definitely enjoying this campaign, which is proving happily eventful, without straying into ‘air quake’. Today, Richard has not only survived being somewhat shot about by the two-seaters, he’s still in hot pursuit of his Pour le Mérite. He’s somewhat disappointed that his big score – taking him up to the ten victories said to be needed in the German air service to ‘make ace’ – hasn’t yet earned him another ‘gong’ to hang next to his EK2. But he now feels he’s earned his place in the jagdstaffel which bears the name of the great Oswald Boelcke; more welcome than brother Bruno seems to feel in his unit, by all accounts. Ten victories in three missions, an enemy bombing attack smashed almost single-handed…surely, great things must lie ahead for Oberleutnant Richard Stachel…

 

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jeanba    754

 

 

I still have the impression that in RoF, my shooting is somewhat more effective than I’m accustomed to, from other WW1 sims. It’s like my hits are too damaging, or too frequent, or a bit of both. I think there’s a mod which reduces the structural damage effects – wings do seem to come away rather frequently – so I may try that.

I am also impressed with the number of planes you flame.

In RoF, when I shoot down a plane, it actually means that the mass of lead it recieved from me exceeeds the aircraft's maximum payload !

Anyway, there is a mod by gavagai in the list I gave you called "reduced lethality"

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33LIMA    762

I am also impressed with the number of planes you flame.

In RoF, when I shoot down a plane, it actually means that the mass of lead it recieved from me exceeeds the aircraft's maximum payload !

Anyway, there is a mod by gavagai in the list I gave you called "reduced lethality"

 

Thanks Jeanba, I will try out that damage mod.

 

I was pleased to see the flak was back, in the 4th mission, after I noticed my ground obect density was low and increased this to medium.

 

I may try out the Checksix BE.2 also, even if it is a 'Frankenplane'. A BE.2c or 2e and a French 1916-17 two-seater like a Farman F.40 (which as you have said elsewhere, would have been a better choice for WoFF than a parasol or a Nieuport 12) would make a really big difference to the RoF planeset - though it is now quite good for most of 1917 and 1918, with the addition of the Strutter and the DH.4.

 

S!

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