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33LIMA

Stachel -vs- the SPADs...

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More incidents and accidents in my current Rise of Flight career

 

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Stachel’s next two missions follow what’s becoming a familiar pattern – first, a patrol west to the front, turning south to fly down the trenchlines. Then another interception in the airspace a short distance to the south-east.

Both times, I used PWCG’s pilot selection screen to ensure I was leading a flight of four aircraft, with pilots I had led before. I appreciate the ability to do this in First Eagles 2 and prefer it to the random, changing flight allocations of Wings over Flanders Fields. It means I’m flying with people I can begin to identify with...and care about. I’ve chosen to bring along two inexperienced pilots and to balance that, I’m taking Hermann Fromherz in his distinctive Blaue Maus.

 

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Despite being badly injured in the crash on Friday the 13th – saved only by a pilot injury limit set inadvertently in Pat Wilson's Campaign Generator – I’ve been off duty only a couple of days, till April 15th! Evidently, Richard Stachel has the constitution of a particularly indestructible ox.

 

By this time, the real-life Battle of Arras was in full swing, though the only sign of this in Rise of Flight is some scattered shellfire and a mantle of smoke and dust low over No-Man’s Land.

The line patrol was uneventful…for a while. The first bit of excitement came when I spotted another group of aircraft to our north, as we approached the lines. I watched this lot carefully for a while, before deciding that were friendly, probably another patrol of Albatrosses like our own.

 

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The next excitement came when I saw my three flight-mates nosing up and slightly right. This was serious, the real thing. They’d spotted something, obviously! I do wish WW1 sims could come up with some way – other than on-screen aids – of letting you know a flight-mate had made a sighting. I don’t expect them to dive in front, waggle their wings and point, as per real life, but even a flash of red to simulate a warning flare, anything but just breaking formation without audible or visible warning! As I have said before, I prefer the First Eagles 2 way, where your flight won’t break formation unless attacked or ordered to.

 

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Looking up and ahead in the direction my boys were climbing, I saw three aircraft above us, on a nearly reciprocal course. As they flew overhead, I identified them as tan-coloured SPADs, a type I haven’t met before in this campaign.

 

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I gave the attack order and turned in under them, expecting them to drop onto us. But no! They just flew straight on. Perhaps they hadn’t seen us under their noses, or were put off their stride by our reaction. Anyway, around we came and went for them. One turned right, pursued by at least one Albatros; the other two banked left, moving fast, and I cut in after this pair.

 

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I slipped in behind and below the nearest SPAD but could get no closer. Speedy little devils, these SPADs. And this fellow had enough sense to hold onto his height.

 

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So, I had to go up to his level, which of course extended the range. This is where the firepower of two machine-guns can come in handy. I let the revs build up again after my climb - Rise of Flight is I think the only WW1 sim which links your rate of fire to your revolutions per minite - and cut loose. I hoped either to hit, damage and slow him, or to cause him to make a turn which I could cut across.

 

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He opted to make the turn, so I opted to cut inside it.

 

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A few more bursts did the trick. The Englishman rolled over and fell earthwards in a steep dive, trailing light grey smoke. I didn't dally to watch him crash, but something about the fixed, inexorable way he was going down told me that this was the end for him.

 

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Behind and below me, the party was still in full swing. And our flak had joined in, just to make it that bit more interesting for all concerned.

 

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I was wary of joining in a general melée for fear of a collision, so, as is my wont, I orbited above, waiting for an opportunity. This duly presented itself in the most common form: an enemy broke away from the fight. So I rolled over...

 

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...and came down after him at full power...

 

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The speed built up in my dive enabled me to catch him up quickly. He was probably damaged, for he was flying straight and level. But this was no time for restraint or any misplaced sense of chivalry.

 

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I closed right in and blasted him, throttling back to stay in position. He just kept going so I just kept blasting him. He wasn’t taking any evasive action at all, but he wasn’t going down, either. He just sat there in front and soaked up my bullets. This was taking much too long. A look behind confirmed my tail was clear so I resumed shooting, shaking my head at my expenditure of ammunition on this one target, but unable to think of anything cleverer to do.

 

At long last, the SPAD's prop spun to a stop. That'll do, I decided, more from a desire to preseve what rounds I had left, than from any finer feelings for my foe. I last saw him gliding west, slowly losing height...very slowly. It occurred to me that he might well reach his own side of the lines, but for now, I was more concerned to see how my flight was getting on.

 

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'Quite well, thank you very much', was the answer to that. If anyone was annoyed at me (probably) finishing off the SPAD that someone else had damaged in the earlier scrap, they didn't show it. They were too busy chasing the last SPAD back over the lines. As I watched, one of them had a crack at him from astern, then pulled up leaving the SPAD trailing black smoke as well as white - but still flying, wings level, and apaprently maintaining height.

 

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I was pretty confident that Englishman wasnt going to make it home either, but I still gave him a long burst for good measure, before breaking off too. By now, we were well into No-Man's Land so rather than risk straying onto the enemy's side of the lines, I turned back east and ordered a recall. The others were soon wheeling around after me.

 

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And they were all there! I love bringing back all my people at the end of the mission. If we have managed to knock down some of the other side, so much the better.

 

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The RoF mission end screen credited me with two victories, so that is what I claimed in PWCG. However, the map debriefing gave me all three SPADs shot down!

 

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They must have been from either 19 or 23 Squadrons, which were the only RFC units in France to operate this type.

 

Meanwhile, the news was bad for the French Army...

 

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...but rather good for Richard Stachel, who is now the second highest scorer in Jasta Boelcke; although in private, even Satchel isn't convinced that his real score should be quite so high.

 

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Anyhow, to cap it all, Stachel now has another 'gong' to add to his collection. No, not the Blue Max, not yet, but the Order of the House of Hohenzollern.

 

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But as Richard is about to be reminded, you have to watch these aggressive English fliers; just when you think you have their measure, you learn that life isn't always so simple...

 

...to be continued!

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Stachel -vs- the scenery

 

The next mission was an interception, and like the last such sortie, we had to catch unspecified enemy aircraft reported to be operating in the airspace over a large wood to the south east.

 

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Again leading four aircraft...

 

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...I was soon up, up...

 

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...and away, doubling back over Pronville as I went.

 

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I still find take-offs in Rise of Flight to be rather challenging, more than they should be in real life, I'm inclined to think. Swing in particular seems overdone; roll-axis wobble is possibly somewhat overdone, too. Still, if you're not worried about whether or not you leave the ground pointing close to the direction you started in, it's not too bad.

 

I was still short of our assigned zone when a routine glance back at my formation revealed it was no longer there – it had dissolved into a dogfight, accompanied by some black German flak bursts. None of this could be heard above the noise of slipstream and motor. But having learned that this is how Rise of Flight (like Wings over Flanders Fields) works, I know to look back and check my flight regularly, since their actions can often be the first sign that the enemy has showed up.

 

As I turned, one of the enemy raced in behind me. I had to convert my right turn into a hard break, to avoid being shot down! He was a dark-coloured RFC Nieuport, flown with a lot more verve and aggression than the SPADs we had met in the last mission. I had to use the vertical to stay out of his sights and try to get mine onto him. In so doing, I managed to get in several bursts, with results that were unobserved, as the saying goes.

 

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During one such attack I was hit from astern by rounds from another Nieuport, forcing me to break again. At least, I hope it was a Nieuport. I don’t know how many Englishmen there were altogether, but there were aircraft diving and rolling all around and I was more worried about a collision than being shot down, as the dogfight rapidly descended towards ground level. Another Nieuport flashed across my nose and disappeared, pursued by a burst I managed to squeeze off. Again, results were unobserved.

 

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I stayed above the melée as it descended and as I watched, saw a Nieuport which was engaged with two comrades break up and crash into a field.

 

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I then rolled down onto another Englishman who had slipped out to one side, determined to get in a shot before pulling back up. He twisted around underneath me and I rolled hard around after him, nose down and throttle wide.

 

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Suddenly, there was a crashing, cracking sound and I eased off on the controls, to which I instantly realised my machine was reacting sloppily. Aborting my attack, I pulled up and away from the Nieuport. Fortunately, the speed I had built up on the way down carried me away from him before he could get in a shot at me.

 

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The cause of my troubles wasn’t hard to see – my left aileron was gone and the upper wing damaged, with the flying wires missing on that side. Structural failure after battle damage, I suspected. Regardless, it was time to go home. Struggling to level my wings and keep them there, I rolled out into a shallow climb and then crabbed around to the north, and home.

 

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An anxious glance behind revealed the turning fight still in full swing, but nobody coming after me – thank goodness!

Looking up, I could see a pair of evidently enemy aircraft high above, sailing across the blue sky. Two-seaters on a recce mission, probably. I was very tempted to try to climb up after them, but in my present circumstances, I decided instead that today, discretion was the better part of valour.

 

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I had another scary moment when first one, then a second aircraft could be seen, closing slowly on me from astern. I soon recognised then as Albatrosses and without waiting to see if the third comrade was also rejoining, I returned my attention to my own predicament.

 

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By now I was quite low, and with that large wood directly underneath me, not close to a suitable site for a forced landing. At least the wing didn’t seem minded to collapse altogether. But I decided I had better come down. I remembered, on the way here, noticing a friendly airfield nestling against this wood, and I looked around for it, rather than come down in a field. But I could see no sign of the base.

I finally spotted the airfield over to my right front, from this height looking further away from the wood than I remembered it to be.

 

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As it passed, I started a wide, gently-banked turn, calculated to bring me in on an approach from the north-west.


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Settling back down and working the controls to keep the wings level, I began a long, flat and rather fast approach.

 

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As I came in, I was rather disconcerted to see a fellow manning an AA machine gun right in the middle of the airfield. As if it's not bad enough, that they have this nasty habit of stacking stores in front of the hangars!

 

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I was even more put off when the gunner swung the MG my direction. It was only for a second, but thus distracted, I landed rather long and fast, avoiding the fellow by a whisker.

 

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I knew immediately this wasn’t an especially clever way to land, but I was more afraid of screwing up a go around. So, choosing the lesser of two evils as we must, I just put her down. Rolling fast toward the treeline beyond the landing field, I tried to push the tailskid onto the grass for braking. But so fast was I still moving that pulling the nose up just caused my machine to lift back off the ground, before touching earth again. A crash was now inevitable and with a short crunching sound, I duly piled into the trees and jerked to a halt.

 

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That's two machines cracked up, now. At this rate, Satchel will soon be an ace in the enemy air force, as well!

 

The map debriefing spoke of a rather confused encounter, with flak and a stray Sopwith Strutter getting in on the act...

 

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Once again, the Pat Wilson's Campaign Generator mission debrief credited me with one more victory than I had noticed in the RoF mission completion screen, even though I only claimed one Nieuport in PWCG (before seeing the PWCG map debrief). Another positive is that we have lost no pilots – or machines, apart from my own.

 

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The net result is that Stachel, rightly or wrongly, is now credited with 18 victories, tantalisingly close to the 20 reputedly needed for the award of the coveted Pour le Mérite.

 

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So far as Bloody April itself is going, 'bloody' it is certainly proving. But the RFC’s fighting aeroplanes are doing a good job of keeping our own machines heavily occupied, even though they are paying a high price. It’s their working aeroplanes we need to be shooting down - the ones that are taking the photographs, directing the artillery fire, or attacking our troops. Like the two machines I had seen slipping past above us, while we were occupied with the Nieuports down below. But the aggressive patrolling of the Englishmen isn’t giving us much of an opportunity to be choosy about our targets.

 

Stachel is beginning to realise that there is more to winning an air battle than shooting down the enemy in single combat, and more to being a successful fighting pilot than winning the 'Blue Max'…

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