Back-to-back missions in Sopwith's trend-setter!
For most non-multiplayer combat flight simmers, can anything be more frustrating than losing the pilot you have been carefully guiding through the perils of a single player campaign? The answer, of course, is 'Yes' - losing two campaign pilots, one after the other.
It happened to me in Wings over Flanders Fields, yesterday. First to get the chop was my current German fighter pilot, who was flying an Albatros D.III with Jasta 5 in May 1917. The mission started normally, but soon after this picture was taken, shortly after take-off...
...I noticed friendly flak bursts behind, in the direction of the airfield we had just left. Their target was a marauding flight of S.E.5s, and although I got one of them after a tough dogfight, when I turned back in search of the rest of my own flight, all I found was two more S.E.s. I did not survive the wounds which resulted, despite managing a forced landing.
Turning for succor to my concurrent Roland C.II two-seater campaign, things went rather better...for a while.
We soon ran into a flight of our opposite numbers, in the form of some Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters, and although they started with a height advantage...
...we seemed to be getting the better of them. I forced down one with hits from my forward-firing gun, but then allowed myself to become distracted, watching while my observer had a crack as the Sopwith went down...
This lack of attention to where I was going caused me to commit a cardinal sin in the WoFF Roland, which is to say, I let the nose come up too high, in a turn. I only noticed and recovered from the resulting loss of height in time to clip some trees with a lower wingtip. The crash in a field which followed robbed me of my second campaign pilot in the space of an hour!
They say when you fall off a horse, the best thing to do is get straight back on, so that's what I did. Except this time, I was in the mood to fight for King and Country, rather than Kaiser and Fatherland. And replaced both pilots by parallel ones - one each in Rise of Flight and Wings over Flanders Fields.
For a mount, I chose the Sopwith Triplane. I recall that my first serious knowledge of this machine came with one of the very first books I ever bought, the little Hippo Books Aircraft of World War 1, by well-known aviation writer JWR Taylor.This informed its readers that '...Triplanes were flown operationally only by Naval squadrons, who gained complete supremacy over the enemy in the spring and summer of 1917.' That's as may be, but the Triplane seems to have been a modest improvement over the delightful Pup and was soon overshadowed by the Camel. And it's not the most attractive of aircraft, to my eye - when RFC ace James McCudden wrote that he thought the reported Fokker Triplane was a rather quaint thing and expected that seeing one shot down would remind him of a Venetian blind collapsing, I suspect it was the earlier Sopwith Triplane he was picturing in his minds eye. Neverthess, the Germans were sufficiently impressed by the 'Tripehound' to embark on a serious bout of immitation, with many planemakers churning out triplanes, only Fokker's being particularly successful.
For both RoF and WoFF careers, I named my pilot Richard Collishaw, potentially a sibling of famous Triplane exponent Raymond Collishaw. Would the name bring me luck? Let's find out, starting with Rise of Flight!
...to be continued!
More incidents and accidents in my current Rise of Flight career
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He opted to make the turn, so I opted to cut inside it.
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.
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.
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...
...and came down after him at full power...
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.
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.
'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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
...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.
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.
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!
Has Stachel's luck deserted him, on his fifth mission?
I'm not superstitious, but when I saw in PWCG that the date for my next mission had advanced to April 13th, I hesitated briefly. Should I ask for a spot of leave? But no, I decided to press on. I might have thought again, if I had realised that this day in 1917 was Friday the Thirteenth!
Happily ignorant of this, I drew a patrol up to the lines to the north-west of our base at Pronville, and swapped out the appointed flight leader so that this would be my show. I accepted Karlstadt and Veidt, who had flown with me before, and selected replacement pilot Fischbein to make up the foursome. These would be the men I'd try to bring through the war with me.
The northern end of our patrol down the lines was marked by a village who's name I've forgotten. It was a good landmark, though, lying astride our reserve trenches, close to the shelled area. It was probably abandoned, if its occupants had any sense!
Swinging around to the south as we passed over the village, I noticed a formation of aircraft, higher up and on a reciprocal course which took them over our heads. Enemies would likely be diving on us by now, but I watched them closely, until I could see that they were Albatrosses, like our own.
I watched them too closely in fact, for I nearly missed two other aircraft that were coming up on our right, at the same level. From their stubby noses, I realised they were almost certainly enemies, Sopwiths perhaps.
I turned around after them, while they did the same, apaprently intending to come in behind my flight, which - as bad luck or carelessness would have it - I had allowed to straggle a little, at that very time. Our flak opened up, the bursts falling so far below the two enemy aircraft that I took a little while to confirm there weren't additional enemies down there.
I gave the 'Attack!' order, but it was probably redundant. My flight broke up as the two RFC Nieuports - for that is what they turned out to be - tore into them.
Then it happened! As I came around to join the fight, two Albatrosses came together, then seemed to stagger appart. A collision! The victims fell away below, both seemingly in one piece but out of control. The best I could hope for was that one or both managed to force land and save their lives. But clearly, they were out of the fight and it was now two against two.
I wasted no time in latching onto one of the Nieuports, before they could gang up on my surviving comrade. As usual, the more agile enemy machine could turn in under me, but by staying above him, I was able to bide my time until the opportunity presented itself to make diving attacks onto his tail.
In one of these attacks, I think I managed to hit the pilot - I now have Gavagai's reduced damage mod enabled, which lessens the frequency of wings being shot off - for he seemed to be slumped forward in his cockpit.
However, the Nieuport continued to turn, so I throttled back and stayed behind him, firing again. He fell into a sideslip...
...and sensing victory, I kept after him, firing again. Suddenly his rudder came off and his nose rose up. If I hadn't been so sure I'd got him, I would have worried that he was still under control and trying to force me out in front.
But no, his nose dropped and now I could clearly see that the Englishman was slumped forward, lifeless, in his cockpit.
He spiralled down, and as I watched, I saw that his propeller had spun to a stop.
My comrade all the while had been engaged with the other Nieuport and I climbed in the direction of the fight, ready to join in if needed. The opportunity to do so came when the two machines turned in diffrernt directions. In a flash, I dropped onto the Nieuport's tail and let him have it. His left aileron came off under my fire and I was lucky it didn't hit me. I didn't notice at the time, but in the picture below, you can see that there seems to be a fight going on up ahead, perhaps involving that other flight of Albatrosses.
My target stopped turning, levelled off and flew to the south west, as if to escape. Checking that my flight-mate wasn't about to drop in us - one collision was more than enough! - I raced up behind him, cursing the friendly flak which had chosen this very moment to find the range.
I slotted in close behind the enemy aircraft and basically shot him full of holes. It took more rounds than I expected but he suddenly nosed down and spiralled earthwards, crashing in open country just behind our lines. The score had been evened, in the face of some pretty foul luck!
My wingman was behind me as I made a climbing turn to the south, back onto our patrol route. I contemplated going home - reduced to two aircraft with a fair bit of ammo expended, I believed I could defend the decision to the CO - but I felt duty bound to complete the patrol. I would, however, be more cautious about accepting combat...if I had a choice.
And more combat seemed to be a distinct possibility. Looking up, I saw a flight of four aircraft, a good deal higher up, also flying south. Out flak wasn't engaging them, but from their square-cut appearance, they didn't look like German machines. Evidently, we weren't quite done here.
...to be continued!