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56 Sqn - moment of truth

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The 'anti-Richthofen squadron' is tested in battle!




My first show with No. 56 Squadron in France, flown in the superlative Wings over Flanders Fields, saw me wounded and hospitalised for nearly two weeks. My recovery complete, it's now 13th May 1917 ('Lucky for some', as they say) and I'm once again leading 'B' Flight. This time, there's three of us - my companions are Dixie and Prince, names it will help to remember if I need to identify witnesses to any victories I may manage (I have WoFF's victory claim form option turned on again). I'm glad to see the weather is once again cloudy but fine, though disappointed that our mission is a patrol behind our own lines, down to the town of Albert a short distance to the south east.




Albert was famous during World War 1 for the statue of the Virgin Mary atop the town's basilica. Knocked askew into a gravity-defying angle by shellfire in 1915, the legend grew that the statue's fall would signal the end of the war. It didn't, but the statue was still hanging on for dear life at the time of this mission, in mid-May 1917





I waste no time in leaving Vert Galand behind and as soon as the three of us are in formation, I begin to climb. I'm following the route indicated on the Tactical Display, which generally throws in some extra waypoints that are not indicated on the in-flight map, seemingly designed to enable you to gain height in a wide spiral before you settle onto your course for the patrol area.




This also helps stay reasonably close - for a while, anyway - to any supporting flight. Which we have on this show, as 'A' Flight is said to be flying top cover. For a while, I see them below and ahead of us, but our paths soon diverge and I'm not sure if we'll see them again. You can just about make out the four S.E.s of 'A' Flight at about eleven o'clock of my nose, in the pic below.




I'm soon turning onto the the last leg of our course down towards Albert, still climbing to the ten thousand feet I want to be at. This will give us a decent chance of spotting any Huns trying to slip in below us, but should be just about high enough to see, and hopefully intercept, any higher-flying customers, like the DFWs I ran into on the last show. In fact I'm rather hoping to renew my acquaintance with these gentlemen, two-seaters on a recce being the most likely trade I will get behind our own lines.




A few minutes more and I see a town ahead and left, which a glance at my map tells me is Doullens. It will be a useful landmark on the way home, too.




Visibility is rather hazy towards the horizon, but not too bad at altitude. Except for the longest hops, I enjoy flying my WoFF missions in real time - none of the WW1 air combat sims I have flown do such a good job of creating the sights, sounds and general ambience of WW1 in the air and the flight to and WoFF, for me, manages to make what in other sims is something I'd prefer to fast-forward through, an experience to savour rather than skip.




My reverie is cut short as I see a small group of specks in the sky ahead, slightly right and at about the same height. I have 'dot mode' turned on, set to 4,000 metres if I recall right. The specks are moving left to right, deeper into our territory. They aren't being shelled, so they could be friendlies, though the ample cloud cover may be the explanation for that.




I turn right and settle onto an intercepting course, keeping them just left of my nose and gaining a little height. It occurs to me that this could be the same five DFWs I met yesterday; if so, this time they'll have the three of us to reckon with, not just yours truly.


As I watch, something odd happens. One of the specks detaches itself from the rest and falls away. I can't work this out. Is it a member of a frindly formation, going down to land? Or an EA ('Enemy Aircraft') making a solo attack of some description?




The other specks hold their course, leaving me a bit worried about what it is the one who dived away is up to. I bank left to watch him but can't pick him out against the ground.




After A second or two I give ip, and look ahead again. Not a moment too soon, for the other specks are specks no more; they are four Albatros Scouts heading straight at us! Crikey!




...to be continued!

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In at the deep end!


If there's one thing I have learned to hate in combat flightsims more than a head-on pass against another fighter, it's a head-on pass against multiple other figthers. I especially hated it in another WW1 sim, Rowan's Flying Corps Gold...which I liked a lot, nearly as much as Red Baron 3d...except that the AI nailed you nearly every time, in a head-on pass. As if the risk of collision wasn't bad enough.


I am well aware that the Dicta of Biggles includes the one about never turning away from a Hun coming at you head on. And that Boelcke and others said much the same. And I understand why. But it's not quite the same in a combat flight sim. If it's Flying Corps Gold, hold your course and the AI will kill you (or clobber your motor, if you're lucky). In other sims, I am not prepared to bet my virtual life that an AI pilot's sense of self-preservation is sufficiently highly-tuned for him to blink at the last moment, if I don't.


Soon this occasion, as is my wont,  I line up my opposite number in the centre of the rapidly-oncoming enemy formation, crack off a quick burst when the sight picture looks as good as it's going to get, then break. To avoid getting a burst in the belly, I do this in two stages - first, just enough displacement to avoid a head-on, then immediately I'm clear, a hard turn, to come around after my chosen enemy. As I start my turn, I briefly switch on the Tactical Display to padlock one of the Huns - hopefully the one I've been shooting at - and give the order to attack. Looking behind, this is what I see. Notice that the text under the TAC - you can cycle through variants of this - is telling me something I don't especially want to know. Which is to say, that we're up against some of Germany's finest - specifically Jasta Boelcke, with my very own target being no less than famous ace Werner Voss. The fact that the real Voss was killed in a famous single-handed dogfight with my very own 56 Squadron in September 1917, isn't much consolation.




As I come about, the party begins. All over the sky are aircraft, twisting and turning like snipe.




But one aircraft isn't twisting, or turning. The V-stutter I attacked is flying away from the flight, lower down and wings level. I must have winged him! I clear my tail and dive after him.




I catch up quickly and hold my fire until the range winds right down. He makes no move, and this lulls me into a false sense of security. Instead of keeping up my speed, I throttle back so as not to overshoot, closing right in  for a final burst at point-blank range.


Voss has other ideas, though, and as soon as I start firing, he turns left, causing me to miss with all but my first few rounds, and what is worse, to overshoot.




In my carelessness, I've dumped so much speed that it would be fatal to attempt to climb up and away - I haven't used enough 'boom' to get a decent 'zoom'. In something of a panic, I roll over and split-arse for the deck, desperate to get away quickly.




My luck holds. Voss doesn't follow and as I pull up and around after picking up speed again, I see that he has resumed his attempt to get away. He's not going too fast and I slant up at him, to cut him off.




Reaching his level, I roll in from behind and above him, but stop shooting when I see his propellor wind to a halt. Got him! There's no chance that he will regain his own lines, from this distance.




As I sail past Voss, I get a good look at his Albatros D.III's distinctive personal markings.




I could shout for joy! One up, for Fifty-Six! It's only my second show with the Squadron, and I've knocked down one of Germany's top aces!




Like the Lothar von Richthofen character in the awful Red Baron movie, I pull up my map to check the location of my victory. This is one 'kill' I most certainly want to see confirmed, and a decent location on my claim form will help. Let's see...on the south-western outskirts of Albert...yes, that'll do nicely.




So far, so good. But the battle's not over yet!


...to be continued!

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Next, please!


Behind me, the dogfight between the rest of my flight and the other Huns is still in full swing. In fact, there seem to be two distinct air fights, one a bit higher, the other lower down. The former is one-a-side, but below me, two Huns are fighting with a single S.E. I'm reluctant to lose height but clearly, I'm needed down below. 




I roll over and pick a target. This turns out to be another ace!




I catch him by surprise - always a good idea, when up against a skilled foe-man - and get in a decent burst, before he turns inside me.




This time, I have taken care to retain the speed built up in my dive, and I pull up to stay above him.




Looking around for the second Albatros before having another crack at the fellow with the pretty red and white fuselage, I see that there are in fact two other V-strutters. They are curving in aggressively, so I decide to switch my attention to them.




I slot in behind the two Huns and find that I'm at the end of a rapidly-developing conga line. The S.E. which I dropped by to help is on the tail of the red and white V-strutter. The latter's two friends have fallen in behind the S.E.. And I'm behind the two Huns. I'm closing with the hindmost Albatros, ready to shoot first, him and then the other fellow, off my man's tail. But at that moment, the S.E. nails the leading Albatros, which rolls over and falls like a rock. The S.E. breaks up and right. Now, it's my turn.




I let the last Hun have it. Taken completely by surprise, he rolls right and breaks downwards.




I come around in a tight turn to the right and get behind him again. Smoke and pieces fly off him as my rounds hit home.




The Hun suddenly noses down and to the right, then falls away. Down he goes in a vertical dive. There's a plume of orange fire from him as something takes light...




...then his wings collapse and flutter down behind the fuselage, which falls earthward like a giant dart, down towards the northern bank of the River Somme. No doubt about that one!




I turn my attention to the third Albatros. I finally pick him out, lower down, still close to Albert, evidently making for the front lines. He's yet another ace!




I'm not sure how much ammo I have left - as far as my wing-mounted Lewis Gun is concerned, there are no reloads in WoFF; you just get your full load in one drum as it were, which makes it harder to keep track. But in for a penny, in for a pound - this fellow may be an ace, but he seems to be meat on the table just now, especially if I can knock him down in one pass from behind.


Which is precisely what I do...




...and down he goes!




Like my previous victim, the vertical plunge tears off the Hun's wings. Would you believe it - I've scored a hat-trick, in fairly spectacular fashion, including not one, but two aces! Howzat!




I believe that in WoFF, historical aces die only when they really did, so perhaps today, their aircraft were being flown by someone else, whose luck ran out. No matter!


I gain height and fly north-westwards, roughly on a course for home. I throttle back and look around. The fight seems to be over and I hope some of my flight-mates will rejoin. They often make their own way home after a fight - which often happened, in real life - but it would be re-assuring to see at least one of them now. My pleasure at my victories will be gone, if it has come at the cost of the lives of my virtual men.


All I see is a speck crossing to my right rear, down near the river.




I have no idea who he is, so I swing around cautiously, to help him link up if he's one of mine, or to knock him down if he's one of theirs. But I lose sight of him in my turn. All I can see is an aircraft burning on the ground, on the outskirts of Albert...possibly one of my earlier victims.




Then I spot another aircraft, higher up and on a reciprocal course. I pull up and come around after him.




The unidentified aircraft flies steadily northwards, ignoring me. This is roughly in the direction of Vert Galand, so perhaps it's Prince or Dixie, and he just hasn't seen me.




I trail him, cautiously. Even with my virtual binos, I can't make out what type of machine he is, except that he's not an S.E., because his wings lack dihedral.


Suddenly, he breaks to the right, and I begin to think he's a Hun who has just spotted me.




But I needn't have worried. He doesn't come at me, but instead, slips below and to my right. I can see that he's a tan-coloured SPAD with RFC roundels, so he must be from either 19 or 23 Squadrons, the two British outfits which operated this type on the Western Front.




The SPAD slips away, behind and below. Quite possibly, he's landing at the airfield I can see down there, on the north-western outskirts of Albert.




I carry on, beginning to relax. Before long, the town of Doullens is slipping past, over to my right.




And soon after that, I'm back at Vert Galand, switching off just in front of the sheds. There's no sign of my two flight-mates, so I'm quite keen to hear what news there may be of them.




The news is good! Both Dixie and Prince made it home intact. Dixie has claimed a victory - evidently, it was he whom I saw despatch the Hun with the red and white fuselage.


56 Sqdn debrief 2.jpg


I quickly fill in a claim for my three victories, naming Dixie as my witness and giving time, location and details of the fight as best I can remember them I get some times mixed up and I confuse my first victim (Voss) with Dixie's, but I am delighted to find that all three claims are confirmed next day!


56 Sqdn logbook.jpg


I'm perhaps even more delighted to get a gong for my troubles - the MC in fact. not a bad day's work!


56 Sqdn medal.jpg


Apart from the fact that German fighters very rarely operated so far over the lines, this was a classic mission in a classic combat flight sim. The trip to the front, with my flight-mates on either flank and towering clouds all around under 'the blue dome of the heavens', could have come from scenes in a classic war movie like Aces High or Hell's Angels. It was like aviation art brought to life. The fighting, when it came, developed unexpectedly and was alternately scary and thrilling. If there's a combat flight sim which brings its subject matter to life better than Wings over Flanders Fields, I've not played it...and I don't ever expect to!



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Thanks Silberpfeil, and yes, I'd definitely recommend WoFF UE to anyone with a latent or actual interest in combat flight sims in general and the pre-jet age or WW1 genre, in particular.


Whether it's busting balloons...




...beating up enemy airfields...




...knocking them out of the sky...




...or strutting your gaudily-painted stuff while knocking them out of the sky...




...it's all there!

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