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Flying a sortie in the RAF campaign

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This is my second mission report from my new (or at least, new-found) toy - A2A's Battle of Britain II - Wings of Victory. In case anyone's wondering, I didn't set out for them all to be called 'A bad day for...' - that's just how it's working out, so far. A bit of a give-away, or spoiler if you like, but I trust it won't last, and that future mission report titles will be a tad more cheerful.

Anyhow now that I've made a start with a BoB2 campaign, I'm wondering why I didn't take to it years ago, when I first got Rowan's original, or A2A's remake. Especially since both are so much better with the BDG updates. Now, you can even play a more conventional campaign, as described in the comprehensive BoB2/BDG manual, which enables you to have a log book-carrying, squadron-based pilot persona. This uses the underlying dynamic campaign 'wargame' to generate your missions. But for now I'm doing a conventional BoB2 'commander' (not 'pilot') campaign. The main difference is that the commander version allows you to act as any and all of the Air Vice-Marshals commanding 10, 11 and 12 Groups, Fighter Command, plus jump in and fly any squadron scrambled or tasked to patrol, either on takeoff or on meeting the enemy. Also at other points but the latter is the most interesting, and enables the player to jump in just before the start of any air fight, in any of the aircraft in the squadron about to engage.   

I opted to start at the beginning of the first phase into which the Battle is conventionally divided - the channel convoy phase, starting 10 July 1940, just after the fall of France. Among the many options, you can set things so that the AI Luftwaffe you will be facing starts the battle mainly by attacking British coastal convoys ('historical' tactics), or using 'optimal' ones - which likely involves going for more beneficial targets earlier, like your airfields or aircraft factories. I opted for 'historical' and as expected, ended up with the RAF campaign AI flying standing patrols to protect convoys, plus scrambling squadrons to intercept raids as they come in. This campaign AI presents you with 'directives' which set rules your deployed forces will follow, and allows you both to vary these or create your own. It also takes decisions on what and when to scramble, abiding by these directives. The BDG manual gives excellent, detailed and illustrated advice on how to do all this, but the AI is quite good for the RAF anyway. I opted to accept all the defaults and let the AI fight the Battle, so that all I had to do was wait for something to happen and then dive in to any action that developed. As each campaign day accelerates and decelerates time as needed, you are not kept waiting staring at the map for long. And even while you are, it's a not uninteresting experience; you can watch convoys moving, patrols orbiting, raids developing and squadrons scrambling, while listening to reports as they come in. 'Hostile seven zero one is now a hundred plus' sounds positively sinister, even though spoken softly in the polite tones of an invisible but obviously efficient and very possibly pretty virtual 1940s WAAF at the plotting table.

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Above is my campaign map near the end of the first of three sections the campaign day is broken into - morning, afternoon and early evening. The aforementioned raid Hostile 701 is near bottom right, returning to base after attacking Convoy Jaunty (authentic convoy and squadron reporting names are a feature), which is the grey ship marker in the Channel between the headlands at Beachy Head to the west and Dungeness to the east. The blue and white markers are RAF fighter squadrons, either the convoy's standing patrols or those scrambled as the raid came in and now heading home. During this raid I jumped in with 79 Squadron as the leader (the top right blue/white marker) when it intercepted Hostile 701. Here I am contemplating the incoming raid, from a not-terribly favourable position...

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...and here I am dealing with a Messerschmitt 110 which objected to our presence...

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But this mission report is about a sortie I flew the following day, 11th July. A convoy had left the dangers of the channel behind and sought safety off the North Sea port of Felixstowe. Not so safe, as it turned out, for Luftflotte 2 decided to have a go at them. Once again, we were up against a raid reported as 'a hundred plus'. Being keen, I accepted the first offer of combat that the campaign AI offered me, for the first squadron to sight the enemy in the air. This was no less than 242 (Canadian) Squadron, commanded by no less than Squadron Leader Douglas Bader. BoB2 being the stickler for unit-level historical detail that it is, it was no surprise when I therefore found myself in the cockpit not only of a Hurricane, and not only of one bearing authentic squadron codes ('LE') with each aircraft in the squadron with its own unique individual aircraft letter; but my mount was no less than the boss's own machine, LE-D, with my blue and red leader's flash below my starboard cockpit and the unofficial unit emblem, Adolph getting a kicking, adorning the nose. My Corgi diecast 1/72 has the leader's flash on the opposite side, the mirror image A (camouflage) Scheme,  and is serial V7467 not P1966, but such minor details apart, BoB2's version is a pretty good replica.

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  Would I do the illustrious pilot justice, whose flying boots this sortie had found me filling? Well, yes and no...

...to be continued!

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Tally Ho!

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Here we are, on a vector to the bandits. When I say 'we', I realise that I mean both 242 Squadron which I'm leading in LE-D, but also the chaps down below and to our right. The eagle-eyed will have noticed that these Hurricanes carry larger fin flashes and fuselage roundels - and different squadron codes: GN, indicating they are from 249 Squadron. I had thought from the campaign map when I took over 242 that we were on our own, ahead of the pack of three or so squadrons scrambled to intercept the raid on the convoy off Folkestone. Must pay a bit more attention to that map in future, I told myself, like pausing and zooming in (to uncover markers hidden beneath other markers). Before I jump into the hot seat. The BDG manual does recommend that when taking over a flight about to hit contact, you pause the game once in the 3d to re-orient yourself. In fact there's a setting that does that by default. As with any new sim, I have a lot to learn, perhaps more than most as, like Steel Armour - Blaze of War, BoB2's sim-within-a-wargame approach repays taking time to learn the greater number of ropes. Not jumping straight in, like me.

My first inkling that this very lesson was going to be mercilessly drummed into me came when I got my first clear view of the raid, coming up from the south. Gave me a right good sense of what Dowding's boys felt like, that did; scrambled in individual squadrons to intercept raids of a hundred or more. Yes there were almost certainly others on their way but the sense of being outnumbered was brought home with a bit of a shock, when I saw that little lot up there.

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OK I've got a fully functional rear view mirror, but do I miss the dynamic shadows or higher-res cockpit textures of more modern sims? They're nice to have, but no, not really. As in IL2 '46, you have much more pressing things to be aware of and indeed, appreciate. Not least the 'Now, THAT'S what I call a raid!' moments, coupled with the sense that you are not fighting in the Minor Skirmish of Britain. Much more important. 

For a while, I flew dumbly on. There was Jerry, and there was I, wondering what the Hell to do about it. 

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For a while, I couldn't think of anything better to do, than take some more screenshots. So that's what I did. While I climbed hard and watched this armada go sailing past on a reciprocal course, up above us. Wisely, 249 seemed to have decided to do something different, for they were gone. Straight home, if they had any sense.

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I was fearful of being bounced of course, but I recalled enough of my WW2 air combat tactics to know that turning in under a higher enemy to force him to make a head on-steeply diving pass was a defence in this situation. Here, I didn't even need to turn.

But no attack came. Perhaps wisely, Jerry resisted the temptation and ploughed on. Feeling a bit less scared, and still climbing, I began to lead 242 around and after them.

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Soon, we were coming up behind the beggars, still with a bit of catching up to do. The Huns looked like single seaters, possibly Stukas, but likely also with 109s for escort. Very likely, since I could see some contrails peeling off to the left of the main formation. Probably snappers (fighters) turning to come in on us from abeam or astern.

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It was at this point that I finally had to admit to myself that I had not practiced nearly enough squadron-leading using the BoB2 radio command system. This is different but quite sophisticated, coupled as it is with what they call an 'auto vectoring' AI which aids control - after giving certain combat orders, you can actually hear yourself on the R/T translating that into some sort of drill or tactical response, which might be 'Pick your own targets - there's dozens of them!' Or something a bit more sophisticated. But of course I had read and dabbled, but not practiced sufficiently. So I basically ordered a free for all, and that's what I got.

...to be continued!

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Now you see them, now you don't...

Unfamiliar with how to get the best from BoB2’s radio command menus, I had ordered everybody to get stuck in, of their own accord. As by that time our four vics - three Hurricanes each - was closing with the German raid from behind, I sort of expected they might open out a bit. But – the shortest distance between two points being the straight line I was flying – that the boys would stay more or less with me. My plan, such as it was, being that we would all wade into the enemy formations ahead, more or less together, just not in rigid formation.

Alas, a quick look behind revealed that this plan had pretty well evaporated.

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I was alone. The rest of 242 had spread out behind me, the dispersed specks and white contrails indicating that the escorting 109s had arrived and that a general melée was in full swing. The airwaves had already begun to fill with the usual excited chatter.

What to do? I don’t think there’s a way of recalling just your own section (3-plane vic), BoB2 not having the nested commands enabling you to choose whether the order you want to give is to your wingman/section. to a particular flight, or to the whole squadron. And anyhow, it looked a bit late to recall anybody. Either I rejoined them, and pitched into the air fight behind, or I took the opportunity to carry on and come in behind the now possibly unescorted bombers. I considered briefly, then chose to carry on. Keeping a wary eye on my tail.

I edged out towards the right of the mass of contrailing enemy aircraft, picking out the right-hand Stuka for my attack, from below and behind out of his gunner’s field of fire. As I closed in, I noticed that my chosen Stuka had neither fixed undercarriage nor cranked wings. I was closing in on a bunch of snappers – Me 109s to be precise. All on my own.

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Well they hadn’t seen me, so I decided I’d press on and try to clobber one of them before the rest woke up to what was going on.  My target first knew I was behind and below him only when I pressed the t*t and let fly with a short burst at eight times a thousand rounds a minute. Evidently somewhat put out by this, the 109 broke down and right towards some clouds, with me hard on his heels.

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The cloud cover didn’t save him but it may have saved me from his friends, whose reaction I could not see. After some more hits, the 109 went down towards the North Sea minus a significant part of his outer right wing. No need to follow that one down, he’s out of the fight if not doomed. In the circumstances, it’s more important that I avoid target fixation.

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That need was sharply brought home when, looking around, I suddenly saw a falling Spitfire, just above and to my right,  emitting gouts of burning fuel as down he went. I hadn’t seen any Spits to that point, nor did I see his attacker. Not wanting to be the next victim, I pulled up and broke hard right and towards the nearest clouds.

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Finding myself alone again, I pulled clear of the clouds. Heading south again, I saw ahead of me that the rest of 242 was still hotly engaged, about where I last saw them. I could still hear their radio calls, including a few reporting that they were pretty well out of fuel. They must have been my boys, as I think that in BoB2, as in Fighter Command at that period, it’s one squadron per radio net. But how could they possibly be low on fuel? Damaged, perhaps? Either way, hopefully they tried to get down onto terra firma somewhere, while they could.

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Catching a call for help, I raced over to the scene of the action; but broke hard when sharp plinking sounds indicated hits on my airframe, from an unseen 109 behind me. He must have been moving a lot faster because he promptly overshot me and turned left. With me now after him. I got a couple of good bursts into him before he drew out of range and saw what might have been his canopy fly off, before he too went down somewhere below. Again, on my own in a dangerous place, I had better things to do that try to confirm his fate.

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Soon after, I spotted a second lone 109 over on my left, headed towards the coast, and again tried to catch him. He was too far away and going too fast -  I could not gain any ground. I don’t have manual engine control active, but nevertheless I was trying to keep my engine boost gauge in the red only for short periods, concerned at seeing my oil temps up near that gauge’s limit.

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Eventually the 109, now just a speck, joined up with three or four others headed south. Together, they disappeared into the upper reaches of a cloudbank and I grabbed this opportunity to take my leave of them.

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I levelled off and came back onto a northerly course, just out to sea, now much lower of course from where I’d started. Where was everybody? The airwaves seemed to have gone quiet, no more cries of ‘Shoot him!’ or calls for help.

At this lower level, all this bloody cloud very much limited one’s field of view. Where indeed was everybody? After a bit, I spotted a bunch of distant specks, which looked to be the raid making its way back down to the south, perhaps a little diminished in numbers and with one machine trailing smoke.

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No point going after them, I was low on ammo and my concern now was for my boys. Time to order a recall, which I did. I orbited, but no-one showed up. A request to report in produced a response from Blue 2…then silence. ‘Go home’ I ordered, and then set my own course back to Coltishall, up to the north-west.It wasn’t a long flight but it gave me plenty of time to wonder what I had done with the rest of the Squadron. I made a careful half-circuit on arrival...

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... and, as if in mockery of my recent, lamentable performance as a squadron leader, I made the best landing I had ever managed in BoB or BoB2, in which getting down without lots of rattling, bouncing and maybe even a nose-over is much more difficult than in about any other sim I have played. On the ground as I came in, I could see Blue 2, rolling very slowly towards the hangars amidst a cloud of smoke, with no help from the fire truck or blood wagon. So that was it, just two out of twelve had got back. Crikey! And all I’d got in return was a couple of Probables.

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The debrief confirmed we had lost ten aircraft and nine pilots, all for claims of three Destroyed and another three Damaged, all 109s. BoB2 provides other status reports and I consulted the Squadron Diary for 242, which added the shocking detail that we reckoned we'd been up against over a hundred 109s, more than seventy 110s (which I for one never even identified) and thirty Stukas. That’s a really big fighter escort, especially for such an early phase of the Battle – equal numbers of fighters and bombers might be more usual in July. No wonder we got hammered! Goodness knows what happened to the convoy.

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Worse still, a look at the overall summary of claims and losses (‘Review’) indicated that in the first three days – it was actually July 12th, not the 11th as I mentioned originally – we had lost over 120 fighters, nearly four times what we’d claimed shot down! Such extremes seem to indicate I had messed up more than merely running the campaign or a squadron. It’s as if I have invoked hidden AI skill settings so the Luftwaffe are all set to ‘Nazi Superman’, while the RAF are all at ‘English Nanny’ – a bad illustration perhaps since though unable to speak from experience, by repute one English nanny is a match for any number of supermen, Nazi or otherwise J

Apparently older versions of BoB2 had a bug whereby 2d (campaign) results might not match what was experienced in 3d (flying), but that was fixed and seems not the issue here anyway. Odd things can happen if you load a campaign from an old version of Bob2 into a more recent one, which I don’t think I did, although I confess to restarting the campaign at least once, not following the manual’s advice on naming conventions when saving, and loading saves indiscriminately between the two default names offered (BoB and Savegame). Anyhow, disaster after days via massively lopsided losses not being commonly reported from players, there’s something amiss here which I will need to troubleshoot and fix. Perhaps deleting my saved campaign files and starting one afresh would be worth trying. I’ll make some enquiries over at A2A, before I resume campaigning. In the meantime, there is plenty for me to do flying BoB2’s historical and training missions. And as experienced players have advised, that’s really the best way to build up before you pitch into the deep end, actually flying the Battle itself.

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Yes, that's what I'm worried about! They'll be 'marching up Whitehall' any day now, and it'll be all my fault!!!

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Fun thread! I've done some campaigns with this sim and if becoming squadron leader in a day is a bit overwhelming you can always fly as a wingman.  I always fly as Green3, AKA tail end Charlie, then just follow the pack. When a fight develops I try and stay with my Vic for awhile but eventually have to look out for myself. For survival reasons [playing "dead is dead"] I tend to stay on the outskirts of the battles and engage the EA on a selective basis. When attacking bomber formations I also try and stay away from the middle of the formation, picking targets on the formation edge to reduce the concentration of fire from the Luftwaffe gunners.

It is a very good sim but can take awhile to get the graphic and game play options set up and working well.

Edited by baffmeister
sic

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Yeah, I've been thinking I should fly as someone on the outside of a formation to start with. Anyway I've cleaned out my saved campaigns and started a fresh one, and after the morning of the first day, odds are a bit more even. 

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My own part in the air fighting was not particularly illustrious. I am claiming two Stukas as Probables, but after my second attack they got me and I had to run for home, throttled back and trailing smoke. Happily I managed to avoid bending my kite when I put down at the nearest airfield, Tangmere I think. Anyhow no major disparities in losses so far but this time, I'll keep an eye on the stats as I go, and possibly drop the Luftwaffe skill modifier a notch, as recommended in the manual for playing RAF, if things start nose-diving again.

 

 

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