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Sopwiths over Flanders Fields 5

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'Superiority with the Snipe'




The title of this mission report is from the chapter on the featured aircraft in 'Sopwith - the Man and his Aircraft' by Bruce Robertson, one of a famous series of comprehensive aviation histories by British publishers Harleyford, this one dating from 1970. Quoting from that chapter:


'It is said that when No.4 (A.F.C.) Squadron after the Armistice took its Snipes to Cologne and showed their manoeuvring powers to some German airmen, they expressed first their astonishment and then their gratification that they personally had not met them in action...from performance figures and test reports the Martinsyde F.4 Buzzard it is often quoted as the best fighter of the 1914-1918 War period...however, the Martinsyde Buzzard did not enter squadron service and thereby few can dispute the statement that the Snipe was the finest fighter, from any country, to operate in the 1914-18 War.'


Whether or not the Sopwith Snipe truly merited that accolade can be debated, of course. However, with a significantly more powerful engine conferring higher speed and better altitude performance, a better view for the pilot, greater fuel and ammo capacity and less tricky flying characteristics, the Snipe was certainly an improvement over the aircraft from which it was developed, the redoubtable Camel. So it is a worthy machine on which to finish this set of mission reports.


That said, I can't help but feel that the Sopwith Dolphin would have been a better choice for inclusion in Wings over Flanders Fields. The Snipe saw combat only during the last six weeks of World War One. By war's end, just three squadrons had them - 4 (Australian), 43, and 208, compared to the Dolphin's four (19, 23, 79 and 87). Despite its engine troubles, the Dolphin was a fine fighter, said to have the agility of a Camel and the performance of an S.E.5. And it saw action for a much longer period, from February to November 1918. It also has the distinction of being the RFC and RAF's first multi-gun single seat fighter. Happily, I can fly the Dolphin in First Eagles 2 (thanks to moders at the A Team Skunkworks...who also provide a Snipe)...




...and of course in Rise of Flight - having just purchased the Strutter in the Halloween 2016 sale, I now have all the RoF Sopwiths, including the Dolphin, again seen here without the two extra Lewis guns it could carry...




The Snipe was an effort to improve the Camel, while the Dolphin could be said to have been an effort to improve on the Camel. The Dolphin was a very different design, notably adopting an in-line engine, a 200 hp geared Hispano Suiza. The Snipe stuck with a rotary engine, the Bentley B.R.2, at 230 hp, significantly more powerful than the B.R.1s and Clergets of the Camel. The Snipe prototypes were almost identical to the Camel, except they replaced the latters's straight top wing with one whose dihedral matched the lower wing. Combined with a large open panel in the centre, this lowered wing significantly improved upward visibility from the cockpit. Later, longer-span wings were fitted, with four rather than two bays of interplane struts. And a round-section fuselage was adopted, producing an aircraft which seemed to owe little to its famous predecessor. Having put in a reasonable amount of stick time into WoFF's Camel, I'm keen to see how I get on in its Snipe.




The campaign


With such a short combat career, this was going to be a short campaign one way or another. And having chosen to fly with the Australians, it was going to be shorter still. For WoFF's No. 4 (Austrialian Flying Corps) Squadron gets its Snipes just in time for the Armistice - my new pilot, Robert Digger from Brisbane, kicks off his operational career on 1st November 1918. So I'll have to survive less than two weeks, to see the end of the War to End All Wars. A bigger worry is whether my modest PC will be able to handle a campaign in WoFF's CPU-intensive later war skies. There is, of couse, one way to find out...


I find myself stationed at the airfield of Auchel, quite a way from the front. However, I won't have to worry about tedious trips to the lines, because my first 'mission' is actually a transit flight - the squadron is relocating to Avelin, to the east and much closer to the scene of the action. Historically, this reflects the fact that the German armies were at that point in hostilities finally near collapse, being driven back all along the front, with revolution in the air back home and the abdication of the Kaiser just days away.


For the flight, I'm given just one companion, and after a while following on the heels of the others, I strike out direct for Avelin, noting that my machine is faster than any Camel I've flown, but like most of WoFF's aircraft, needs generous amounts of rudder in the turn.




Despite the briefing warning us to be on the lookout for the enemy, the flight is uneventful, and I have plenty of time to admire the cockpit and the scenery, the weather being cloudy, but fine.






About half-way there, we pass the town of Loos, the eastern side of which is much damaged by shellfire. Just beyond, we cross the former front lines, now abandoned but still churned up by the pounding it has taken from the guns of both sides over the many months of static trench warfare, now at last come to an end.




Soon, we are back over unravaged countryside, and the shelled ground falls behind...




...and not long after that, I'm coming into land at out new home, presumably a former German airfield but now very much in our hands. Thiis is signified by a pair of S.E.5s sitting on the airfield and some Snipes parked in front of the sheds, whose undamaged state indicates that their erstwhile occupants have left in a hurry.




Signs of enemy collapse and rumours of an Armistice notwithstanding, I have no reason to believe that the pace of operations will slacken off - the reverse if anything, given the need to keep the retreating enemy on the hop. I expect that this will be the last little cross country flight I'll be doing for a while, and that I'm about to find out just how good my new Snipe really is, where it matters most - in combat.


...to be continued!

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Meet the Fokkers!




Sure enough, though I don't yet know it, my first real mission with my fellow virtual 'diggers' of 4 (AFC) Squadron is to be an eventful one, with a surprise ending, to boot. The preliminaries are auspicious enough. Having managed not to get lost on my transit flight from Auchel to Avelin, the C.O. has decided to trust me with the full strength of 'B' Flight - seven pilots, leaving just four in 'A' Flight. I'm quite glad of this, because this is late 1918, a busier period of the air war than I'm used to, and a time when the majority of front-line Hun fighter units are equipped with the rather dangerous Fokker D.VII.


woff snipe 2.jpg


On this show, six of us will be flying a patrol down to the front, to the south-east. It looks like 'A' flight is being rested today!


woff snipe 3.jpg


I decide that a 75% fuel load will be enough, and make the necessary adjustments. If we do run into Fokkers, we don't want to be weighed down by petrol we don't need, on ths relatively short hop. We should have more than enough.


woff snipe 4.jpg


We're soon under way, and I bank around onto a course for the front, leaving Avelin behind. Motor transport rumbles along the road next to the aerodrome as we settle onto our new course. Unfortunately, the weather has taken a turn for the worse, with low could and rain, about what one would expect for November in north-west Europe.




I level out and, throttled back, wait for the others to catch up and get into formation, two on either flank and the fifth, behind. It's early evening and the sun - what we can see of it - is already settling down towards the dull horizon, to the west.




Throttle wide open again, we climb through several layers of cloud, on the way to our assigned patrol height of just under nine thousand feet.




When we get there, I level off and ease back on the revs. Looking behind, I can see that the chaps are keeping up nicely.




Above the clouds, our Snipes catch the warm amber glow of the evening sunlight, although the air temperature will be anything but cosy.




I'm happy to note that the coulds are broken, giving intermittent and hazy but nevertheless welcome views of the countryside below us.




This is convenient navigationally as well as reassuring, for I am able to confirm that we are close to the patrol area when I see a river cutting across our track, just ahead.




Reaching the assigned location, I begin to come around in wide circles. Open warfare having replaced the entrenched variety, there's little sign of fighting down below; gone is the muddy scar of No-Man's Land, there's just the open countryside of northern France...




...though what might be going on the air is of more immediate interest on this trip. So I keep my eyes well peeled, and make regular changes in our course to avoid being snuck up on. I want all my boys to get back to Oz alive, when this war's finally over...hopefully in the not-too-distant future.




The first sign that we're not done with the fighting just yet is when my number five, bringing up the rear, suddenly wheels up and away. Luckily, I've been keeping an eye on the boys, expecting this sort of thing because I know they are liable to chase any Hun they spot witout asking first. Evidently, they are firm believers in the dictum that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.




I waste no time and turn the rest of the flight around to the right, after him. I can see that he is already a good distance back and in danger of disappearing into those bloody clouds!




My errant flight-mate pulls up into a steep climb. Try as I might, I can't see what he evidently can. He's not doing this for the joy of flying, I'm fairly sure, so I pull my nose up towards whatever it is, not too steeply, so as to avoid bleeding off too much airspeed.




Finally, looking up and back, I see what it is that has occupied my number five's attention. It's a yellow-tailed Fokker, and he has obviously spotted me first, for he's diving straight at me! Strewth!




...to be continued!

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Twists, turns and an unexpected ending...


One of the usual counters to being dived upon is to turn in underneath the enemy, which forces him to steepen his dive to the point he’s going too fast and/or too steeply to get and keep a decent bead on you.  So that’s what I do, and it works. There follows a longish combat. The Fokker pulls out and turns, but goes below me in the process, and from then on, he stays below me and it’s only a matter of time. My Snipe is powerful enough for me to stay above him and manoeuvre to keep him in view, biding my time. More than once, the Fokker turns in underneath me, too, but I keep my height and wait for the right moment to swoop down and make my firing passes, from different aspects.








I’m also watching out for other Huns, as it seems unlikely that even a enemy ace, on his own, would willingly seek combat with the six of us…although it seems that’s what Werner Voss did, over a year ago…and got killed doing it. But the skies are clear…apart from some Archie bursts, and the rest of ‘B’ Flight, who take turns to make passes at the twisting and turning Fokker, sometimes two at a time. I’m quite happy for one of them to knock him down, for as Boelcke said, it’s the staffel that fights and must win the battle, not the individuals. As one of my flight breaks off his attack, leaving the way clear...




...I swoop down and make another pass of my own, noticing that the Fokker – like Voss’s triplane in the closing stages of his epic battle with 56 Squadron - has stopped manoeuvring and is going down, wings level, in a shallow dive.


At the last moment, I see that his prop has stopped turning. But I’m loath to have come all this way for nothing, so I let him have a burst, feeling just a little guilty. Especially after the Fokker rolls over and then spins into the ground, by now much closer than it was at the start of the fight.




I pull up and begin a full-power spiral climb, to clear my tail and assess the situation. My last attack has taken me below a thousand feet, not a particularly healthy place to be over enemy territory – even though I’m only just over.




The others seem to have disappeared; then I see one Snipe behind, slowly closing up. I continue to spiral upwards, hoping more will follow, but none do so.




Looking around for them rather fearfully in the fast-fading light, I see only that I am very close to an airfield which is just inside enemy territory; I’m surprised not to have come under MG fire from it, already. I toy with the thought of making a strafing run on the sheds and any parked aircraft, but decide not to risk it, on this, my first combat outing.




Instead, I bank away and turn on the Tactical Display, to orient myself. This reveals several scattered enemy aircraft which I hadn’t noticed (I have somehow switched off ‘dot mode’ aircraft visibility), as well as my flight mate, still struggling to catch up, behind. Are the Huns in the circuit for the nearby airfield? This seems likely, and so I decide to see if I can pop off one or more of these Huns, as they appear oblivious to my presence. I turn after the nearest, ordering an attack for the benefit of my sole companion. We’re not done here yet!


The second Fokker – for that’s what he is – seems indeed to be intent on landing. He seems to be something of an ace, for his tail and fuselage are prominently marked in black and white geometric patterns, and he has an unusual green upper wing, instead of the usual lozenge fabric. A lot of good it does him! for he doesn’t alter course till my tracers are whipping around his ears. By then it’s too late.




Bits fly off him, and though he turns first this way and that, he seems more sluggish than the first Fokker and soon, down he goes, too. Nobody comes to his aid.




I’ve lost track of my companion but pick up on another Fokker, who like the last one seems not to be paying too much attention to what’s going on around him. Like the last fellow, he wakes up only when I start shooting. I'm now down low again and decide it's time to find out how a Snipe turns with a Fokker.




'Rather well, is the answer. for although he is fast and nimble, I'm faster and, seemingly, just as nimble.




After a last burst, he noses down suddenly, drops a wing, and then dives to the ground. He catches himself and seems to be heading for a decent forced landing...




...but somehow messes it up and disappeares in a cloud of dust. Three down, one to go!


The skies are still clear, apart from the last Fokker. Again, he’s flying straight and level, making no effort to defend himself until I’ve started shooting. This one has an unusual pain green top wing with some small dark markings I can’t make out, not the usual lozenge printed fabric, so possibly he’s another one who fancies himself. He twists and turns like the others but I don’t feel threatened at any stage. I’m more worried about Archie, who is now shooting at me, and I get a bigger fright when the MG gunners on the airfield send some rounds whacking into my kite, my having strayed over the airfield.


The Hun, almost certainly damaged in the early stages, takes this opportunity to try to escape, but he doesn’t make it.




I overhaul him rapidly and though he starts turning again, this time the wind seems to have left his sails and I’m all over him. Fokker number four is soon the proverbial smokin’ hole in the ground.


I re-orient myself and then turn west towards the sunset, where lies friendly territory, being careful to avoid that Hun airfield. His Archie is still firing furiously at me and I jink slightly to throw off his aim. The fire soon dies away and I throttle back, settling onto a steady course. I’m at under a thousand feet, maybe a mile into our lines – it’s hard to be sure from the landscape, as the old, static, shell-pocked front lines lie some way further west – and I’m on my own. Where my companions are, I have no idea, but I’m not going back to find out. Yes, I want them all to get home, but I’m not their nursemaid, and I’m not going swanning about back in Hunland to look for them. If they can’t be bothered to make a better effort to stick to their leader, they needn’t expect him to go chasing after them, at considerable additional risk to his own skin.




Thus resolved, I decide to land at the nearest airfield, because of the unknown damage to my machine inflicted by the MGs at the Hun airfield. A look at the map shows me there’s one a few miles almost due west, so that’s where I go. All the while, the light has been fading and by now, the detail of the landscape is becoming lost in the grey gloom of the advancing darkness. If I don’t get down soon, I’ll be landing in rather less than ideal visibility!


My hand is forced when my engine starts to stutter. A glance at the tachometer shows the revs falling off rapidly. My airspeed falls off too, and I begin to settle earthwards. Within a few seconds, the engine has seized completely and the prop has spun to a stop.




I peer ahead anxiously, into the gloom, heading for a suitable field more or less directly ahead. I manage to squeeze above and between a small wood on the right and a row of trees on the left. Just when I think I’ve made it, a sizeable fence looms up in front. It’s too late for any avoiding action but I’m just high enough to flash over it. Then my wheels bump on the grass, bounce, and bump again. I’m down! After my tailskid touches, my Snipe comes to a rather sudden halt, almost like I’ve caught a wire in a carrier landing. At any rate, I’m down…


…and out! For the debriefing tells me I’m dead, killed by ‘direct enemy action’! Must have been wounds from the ground MG fire, though I didn’t see any of the usual ‘blood spatter’ – I must check if that has somehow got disabled. I’m quite miffed that such a successful mission has ended thus, even though I know I was taking a chance. ‘Fortune favours the bold’, they say, but in this case, only up to a point.


woff snipe 5.jpg


Dead though I am, I’m credited with the four victories, and my flight all got back safely, although without any further kills between them. I was somehow able to fill in a combat report to claim the victories, which were confirmed. The page below from ly log book shows the text of my post mortem claim for victim number one, which I have rather generously decided to note should be treated as shared with the flight.


woff snipe 8.jpg


And I got a posthumous ‘gong’.


woff snipe 6.jpg


Well, that’s certainly one way to end Sopwiths over Flanders Fields, marking as it does my 101st Mission Report for CombatAce. Interestingly, my very modest PC wasn’t troubled by any FPS hit from higher late-war air activity – perhaps the bad weather helped!


Brief though it has been, this campaign was certainly a good advertisement for the powerful Snipe, and indeed for the sim which features it, which, in my book, continues to justify the praise heaped upon it (by me and many others!) since WoFF burst, star-like, onto the combat flightsim scene over two years ago. As many will already know, now available (October 2016) is Wings over Flanders Fields Ultimate Edition, which combines with the original release the subsequent WoFF expansions with further enhancements and French 2-seaters - the Caudron G.V and Breguet XIV - which nicely fill the major planeset gap. No doubt about it – Wings over Flanders Fields remains at the forefront of air combat simulation and is highly recommended.

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