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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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    • By 33LIMA
      The prologue
      My second planned visit to an historical Battle of Britain site was to the Battle of Britain Bunker at Uxbridge, in London's western suburbs. This was the site of the Operations Room for Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park’s 11 Group, which bore the brunt of the Battle. The bunker was used for other purposes after the war but is now restored, close to its 1940 appearance, as the centrepiece of a museum run by the local council, Hillingdon. You can find the museum’s website here and background on the history of the bunker on Wikipedia, here. The Ops Room ‘played itself’ in the Battle of Britain film, in 1969. So as with Bentley Priory, my trip to Uxbridge ticked three boxes – seeing the movie location, visiting an important historical site from the Battle, and seeing the museum exhibits.
      Uxbridge, like Stanmore for Bentley Priory, is at the end of a Tube line, two in fact. I walked from the hotel to Leicester Square and took the Piccadilly Line out to Uxbridge, the last half or so running in the open. It’s a walk of maybe 20 minutes to the bunker, though the route is a little convoluted. I was even more pressed for time that day, so I hopped on a black cab at the taxi rank in front of the station for a c.5 minute door-to-door ride. I turned up shortly before opening, which is ten till four-thirty, with last admission an hour before. This gave me an opportunity to photograph the two ‘gate guardian’ replicas and the museum exterior.
       
      The visit
      This Spitfire IX, finished as 5R-E of 33, Squadron with ‘D-Day stripes’, is near the bunker entrance.
       
      This squadron has no particular connection with the Battle of Britain, having served in the Middle East until returning to operate with the 2nd Tactical Air Force supporting D-Day and later operations in NW Europe, ending up with Tempests. But it's a nice replica!
       
      By contrast, the Hurricane is very much at home here, being a Mk I, RF-E, in the colours of 303 (Polish) Squadron, which operated with great distinction during the Battle, from nearby RAF Northolt.

      Behind it, in a brick wall and just out of sight to the right in the photo below, is a green door leading to the back garden of the house in which 11 Group's Air Officer Commanding Keith Park lived during the Battle.

      The inexpensive tickets were purchased at the shop/reception area just inside the bright, modern exhibition centre.

      There is another building next to this which looks like a large blockhouse, partly camouflage-painted, whose function apparently was, and is likely still, to house and protect the generators used to provide power to the bunker. 

      Sadly, I didn’t have time, after my bunker tour, to see much of the exhibition centre, though I did get to take this picture while waiting for the tour to start. If you arrive between bunker tours, the exhibition, as well as the museum shop, provide plenty to do and see while waiting.

      I think my only company for the tour was a school group of well-behaved teenagers, Polish I think. The guide was a smartly turned out ex-NCO type, Ray, who started us off with the inevitable safety briefing, which included the fact that access was via 72 steps, down the original wartime stairway, to what was known to those who worked there as ‘the Hole’, sixty feet underground.
      The tour proper started, in front of the site’s small but imposing memorial to the role of the bunker, with a short history of the location. Apparently, these were the grounds of a ‘big house’ bought by the government and turned over to the Royal Flying Corps in WW1, after the locals had objected to its original intended use as a PoW camp. The bunker itself was built in the run-up to WW2 to replace the previous above ground one, to reduce vulnerability to air attack.

      This is the concrete-shrouded bunker entrance. Behind the blastproof steel door is a small guardroom complete with an RAF-uniformed mannequin guard, who looked rather bored.

      This is the view looking back the upper flight of steps from the landing onto the second flight, which leads on down at about right-angles.

      And here are some views of the Ops Room from ground level. With Ray delivering his informative spiel. One of the snippets of information from this relates to the map – the GSM, or General Situation Map. Apparently this was rolled up and stored somewhere else in the bunker when it was converted to other uses – a comms centre I think – for the Cold War. When eventually found for the restoration, it has deteriorated a bit and some trimming was required. However its general shape and appearance seem to be much as it was during the Battle. There are some wartime pics taken of it which show more location names, so perhaps there were different versions, even then.

      Here's some of the plot markers in close-up. The ones with one or two yellow flags denote friendly fighter squadrons, those without having the 'H' prefix which denotes them as a hostile raid. Apparently there were different styles of markers used at different periods.

      Similarly with the map, comparison with wartime photos suggests that there were also some detail differences with ‘the tote’ on the back wall – where a column using a row of coloured lights displayed the status of each squadron in each of 11 Group’s geographical Sectors. This was named after the UK’s former national horseracing betting shop chain, presumably from the resemblance to the typical ‘bookies’ display boards listing horses, courses, races and odds. Also on the tote, below the squadron status display, were separate ones for each sector indicating cloudbase height, cloud cover level and information on local balloon deployment. Along with the map, all the information is placed so as to be visible to the personnel looking down from the control dias.

      The map – covered in a transparent overlay which the British Army used to call ‘talc’, or perhaps it is glass or perspex - had some markings from D-Day, presumably because of the 75th anniversary. Usually, the aircraft markers on the table are laid out to show the tactical situation at the height of what became Battle of Britain Day, 15th September 1940.
      Ray’s talk described the operation of ‘the Dowding system’ (which seems to be a modern term, unused until recently) whereby ‘tellers’ would receive details by land line of friendly and enemy or unidentified formations from the Filter Room at Bentley Priory, passed on from the radar/RDF chain, the Observer Corps, and other sources, including the ‘Pip Squeak’ IFF system. ‘Plotters’ around the table would then place markers on the GSM and update them as more information came in, using trays of markers stored below the table edges and moving their ‘plots’ with (ideally) billiards cue-like rods with electromagnets on the end. As enthusiastically demonstrated by one of the other visitors!

      The Sector stations listed on the tote (which generally also had additional ‘satellite’ airfields to which one or more of their squadrons could be deployed) had their own control rooms, usually built on the actual airfield. The Group control room ran the battle, deciding which Sectors would intercept which raids and passing these instructions to the relevant Sector control room, which scrambled their fighters and directed them to the target.
      Looking backwards from the ground floor map, there’s a row of desks which were manned amongst others by (I believe) the ‘tellers’ who received plot details by land line before passing them onto the 'plotters' at the map table. Above their desks are the curved glass panels designed to give the Controller and his assistants, sitting at the upper level, a clear view of the map, regardless of lighting – if you take a flash picture from up there, Ray told us, you’ll see it doesn’t reflect on the glass and interfere with your view. I left my flash off throughout so as not to be a nuisance. The angled section of the upper level, to the left, is where you may remember Winston and Lady Churchill sat during their visit on Battle of Britain Day, as portrayed in the film, when Churchill asked Park what reserves he had, to be told 'None!'

      These are their desks viewed from the upper level; you can more clearly see the D-Day markings on the map from this angle.

      In describing fighter armament, Ray passed around three .303 rounds in a belt. I ended up with them last (before handing them back naturally!) and was surprised to see they were in non-disintegrating metal links. But I suppose these are less likely to come apart and get lost than the real disintegrating Prideaux links!
      The talk lasted for about three-quarters of an hour, after which we were ushered up to the upper level. I didn’t have much time left by this point, so what I had, I concentrated on the 11 Group controller’s area.
      In the upper right wall, next to the tote, is a rectangular glass panel that was installed after the Battle of Britain, to give VIP visitors ‘a room with a view’, not least King George VI who used it twice, apparently. In the foreground is the Duty Controller's station...

      …and this is the view while I was sitting in his chair. I managed to resist picking up one of the ‘phones and in a suitably authoritative voice, calling ’This is the 11 Group Controller. Ninety-two Squadron, intercept Hostile One Zero!’ But here I was, sitting exactly where many such an order was given, looking down at the GSM and the tote, just as the real Duty Controller did. A feeling to be savoured!

      In developing their justly-famous and long-lived sim, Rowan decided not quite to replicate the precise mechanics, but the feeling is uncannily similar. As I sat there looking down, I could almost hear the Rowan WAAFs, much as the real ones would have done, announcing politely but firmly ‘New raid detected…!’. Simulation and history met in my mind.
      But I had a date with a Premier Tours bus at Victoria (which I only just met). So I had to go back up those 76 steps without waiting for the rest of the party and without touring the exhibition area. The two gate guardians were of course waiting for me up there.


      My taxi driver had given me his card and was there within minutes to whisk me back to Uxbridge station for a train and tube ride back into central London. I’d had no time to peruse the museum shop so failed to pick up a copy of the book I was after there – the Haynes ‘workshop’ manual ‘Battle of Britain – RAF Fighter Command’ which ‘does what it says on the tin’ and has both wartime and modern photos of the bunker I’d just visited. Which I know, because I got a copy of the book the next day at the Imperial War Museum Lambeth, at a much reduced price to boot, on my last museum visit of my brief London break. So I’ll close these two museum visit reports with a photo of the real Spitfire on display at the IWM - despite the later-war camouflage and markings, R6915 is a real Mk Ia which flew and fought during the Battle of Britain.

      But there are more than ever Battle of Britain-related museums and sites to visit, and I fully intend to work my way through some more of them on future trips. It’s all rather wonderful that so many people have worked (and still work) so very hard, some as unpaid volunteers, to keep alive the history of the Battle. It's all the more vivid for being on display where it was actually fought. If you can make it to Uxbridge or Bentley Priory, they’re highly recommended. If you can't, well I hope these reports and the links in them will give you an idea of what you're missing!
      You can find more information about the Battle of Britain Bunker museum here:
      Website: http://battleofbritainbunker.co.uk/
      Friends (supporters) site: http://friendsof11group.co.uk/
    • By 33LIMA

      The prologue
      'Not really a mission report', you might say, but I was 'a man on a mission' in this case, and there is a strong combat sim connection!
      Like reading up on the subject, a museum visit can be a great way of deepening your ‘feel’ for the historical background of a sim you’re playing...thereby enhancing that semi-mystical quality called 'immersion'. I’ve been playing A2A’s most excellent Battle of Britain II solidly now for about six months, which has spurred me to expand my stock of books on the subject. And I enthusiastically grabbed the chance proffered by a short break in London last week to pick and plan some related museums to visit. Online research soon identified the two I most wanted to see and this report records and illustrates the first of my visits. I hope it and the one to follow will be of interest to anyone contemplating doing likewise, or those too far away to do so, and a useful supplement to the museums' own sites - which for Bentley Priory, you can find here.
      The 1969 film Battle of Britain has many memorable moments. For me, one of those moments is right at the end. Lawrence Olivier, playing Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding - head of RAF Fighter Command and architect of the defensive system that nowadays bears his name – walks out of his office at Fighter Command HQ and onto the veranda. The tide has turned and he can sense his battle has finally been won. He looks out across the beautiful gardens, south towards London, like his own command bombed but not broken. The camera follows his gaze, up into the blue sky, as Ron Goodwin’s majestic main theme wells up. Churchill’s famous tribute to ‘the Few’ is displayed, and the credits begin to roll, starting with the Battle’s real participants and their casualties.
      The scene was of course filmed at the real HQ at Bentley Priory. Finding that it was now a museum, open to the public, I was quietly thrilled to think that  I might see Dowding’s office, stand on that veranda and savour that same view – walking in the footsteps not only of ‘Sir Larry’, but also of Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, the great man himself.
      I’ll try to avoid duplicating here what you can readily find in the museum’s own website, and concentrate on what I saw when I went there.
      I had three nights at the St Giles Hotel at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road, a few yards from the junction with Oxford Street with the Centre Point block just across the road and the Post Office Tower behind the hotel on the other side. Bentley Priory was open ten till five (four, October to February) but only on one of the days of my stay – the Monday – so it was then, or never. I took the London Underground aka ‘Tube’ from Bond Street station a short walk away. Bentley Priory is in Stanmore, right out in ‘the leafy suburbs’, and the last station on the Tube’s Jubilee Line. You can walk the last mile or so, mostly uphill, but I jumped on a number 142 double-decker London bus at the stop immediately outside Stanmore station. The whole journey took over an hour each way, with about the last half of the Tube part out in the open, which is a bit less wearing, and more interesting, than being whirled along noisily in a tunnel. As a sop to any railway fans reading this, this is Stanmore station looking north.

      The station is used by conventional ‘overground’ trains as well as the Tube, all third rail electrified and operated by London Transport – or Transport for London aka TfL, somebody having decided such a rebrand was worth the cost and effort. Marketing and design companies must have seen them coming, as the saying goes. Those bright red buses can be seen a long way off.
       
      The visit - outside in
      The 142 service bus’s PA announces the museum stop, so I had no worries about when to hop off. The problem came when I turned left onto the drive leading to the museum, for it was sealed behind closed and apparently locked black iron gates. A carload of visitors prompted the (civilian) security chappie to emerge from the nearby gatehouse, letting me in too and allaying my fears that I had got the opening days wrong.
      The drive curved off to the left, and coming around the corner I stopped to savour my first real-life view of the former Headquarters of RAF Fighter Command.

      The building is surrounded, mostly at a respectful distance, by upmarket housing built or clad in similar fashion (sandstone?) to the Priory, and you can’t wander off too far before seeing signs saying ‘Residents only’. Apparently, like many such buildings, the Priory was camouflaged dark green and dark earth on the outbreak of World War 2, but this wasn’t reproduced in the film and the museum has sensibly chosen not to deface the fine building for the sake of turning the clock back.
      Of course, my first stop was the two aircraft prominently displayed outside.

      There seems to be a significant market for fiberglass replica Spitfire and Hurricane ‘gate guardians’ these days, and my first few minutes were spent photographing these two at Bentley Priory. The Spit apparently replaced a real one, of a later mark, since restored to flying condition. The replica looks well, although purists might find minor faults here or there. I wasn’t interested in rivet-counting or nit-picking. Those over-wing Type B roundels do look a tad small, though...


      Having built the Revell 1/32 Spit in the 1970s, I naturally recognised the squadron codes as belonging to 610 ‘County of Chester’ Squadron. There’s a plaque in front telling you the replica represents the aircraft flown by Cyril Bamberger.

      On the other side of the big pine tree is the replica Hurricane. 


      As the plaque says, this one is in the markings of a machine flown during the Battle by Pete Brothers of 32 Squadron, complete with that unit's oversized code letters.

      Even though I knew these weren’t real aircraft, they made a suitable impression and of course I could not resist getting plenty of pics, despite the overcast skies.
      Stepping into the museum, this is the impressive sight that greeted me.

      Helpful staff on a desk ahead and right took my modest fee, gave me a site map and suggested I start by viewing the c.10 minute introductory film, run as required as visitors arrived. The staff immediately understood me when I described wanting to walk the scene at the end of the Battle of Britain film and I accepted their suggestion to ‘fly a holding pattern’ in one of the fine adjacent display rooms while waiting the few minutes for the next showing.
      The intro film is projected onto a wall just in front of you and is conventional – until it cuts to describing the role of Dowding. Suddenly, camera obscura style, the light goes on in the previously blacked-out room on the other side of the wall-screen. Behind the projected images, you can now see Dowding’s actual office, complete with his desk, green desk lamp and other fittings of the time, as featured in the BoB movie. A uniformed actor speaks to some of Dowding’s pronouncements as the story continues, ending with the Battle won and the great man being bidden ‘Goodbye, sir’ as his silhouette leaves the office for the last time in his career. It avoids the controversy over how Dowding was let go with little recognition at the time, but it’s still ‘lump in the throat’ stuff and not to be missed.
      After that you’re on your own, and can wander inside and outside at your leisure. Which is what I did, taking pictures as I went.
      This statue is of Dowding, just outside the door into the screening room and his office next door.

      A little further on is this group of typical RAF fighter pilots and the obligatory dog.

       
      In a room beyond is a mock-up Spitfire cockpit, complete with leather flying helmet and goggles, primarily for selfies. Yes I did get in, to find that the flying controls don’t operate realistically. So I quickly abandoned any notion of dismantling, smuggling out 'one piece at a time' and shipping home for re-assembly as a simming cockpit.

      And yes, as nobody was looking, I did don the gear and take the selfie, but I’ll need to be suitably bribed or have drink taken, to post that one!
      On a mantelpiece dominated by a fine portrait of King George VI, next to a silver or pewter Spitfire - a Mk XIV by the look of it - is a trophy, engraved 'Air Defence of Great Britain' and 'Kenley Inter Flight Cup.' Note the framed 1930s cigarette cards, to the right - I still have a couple of mostly-filled albums of these from the 1970s, as distributed with Typhoo Tea when it was sold loose-leaf, inside those little folded paper 'bricks'.

      Nearby is a wall display of squadron crests from the Battle, complete with their (mostly) Latin mottoes. I was soon to regret not paying the latter more attention.

      Other items on display here include a glass table-encased model of the Operations Room...

      ...and an actual RAF Ops Room clock, whose coloured triangular divisions tied into the colour codes of the arrows used on the Ops Room's plotting table to indicate how up-to-date the raid's plots were, as well as their direction.

      There's also a display of the Observer Corps, justly granted the 'Royal' prefix later, without whom enemy aircraft crossing the coast could not readily have been tracked, the RDF/radar stations of the time looking only out to sea - notwithstanding the Battle of Barking Creek when it all went a bit skew-whiff.

      The next room is a circular one adorned with many modern air combat paintings of the Battle.
      In this room there are also small consoles which invite you to take a quiz. I selected the ‘Expert’ version and only got 9 out of 14, earning me a ‘Wing Commander’ rating. If you want to do better, you will need to brush up on two topics – the meanings of the Latin squadron mottoes, and the phonetic alphabet used pre-1942. There are rather a lot of questions on these two things in the 'Expert' quiz, compared to what I would have expected would really represent expert knowledge of the Battle, if you will excuse my sour grapes!
      The museum map showed the next room to be the Operations Room. But I knew this had been moved underground before the Battle (to a bunker nearby, replaced during the Cold War with a deeper, nuclear-hardened one, no longer accessible). The museum’s Ops Room is actually a recreation of the first operational Filter Room which was in this building before the move underground. The display comes with a lot of supporting and fresh-looking carpentry and some cast or sculpted figures of the operators at their own particular type of plotting table.

      The Filter Room was where the actual reports from radar and other sources were first received and then compiled from the relatively raw data into usable information, before being passed on to the co-located Fighter Command Ops Room, and to those lower down the chain of command at Group and Sector level. There’s much good stuff on Wikipedia and other places online, but best single-source illustrated description I’ve seen of how ‘the Dowding system’ worked is in the Haynes 'Workshop Manual' title ‘Battle of Britain - RAF Operations Manual'.
      The museum Filter Room display includes informative panels - visible on the right, in the picture above - illustrating the roles of the personnel involved, and the tools they used. One of these panels is pictured below.

      Downstairs, there’s a corridor adorned with amusing, ‘gentle caricature’ portraits of RAF commanders from the Battle onwards. This opens out into another room displaying more aircraft paintings, like this one, which if a touch whimsical, I particularly liked and would consider buying as a print, if obtainable.

      Retracing my steps, I passed through the pleasant tea room in a ground floor conservatory. Had I not been up against the clock, I’d have loved to sit there a while and sup a cuppa - two sugars, please! - but it was time to go outside and retrace those famous footsteps…
      …to be continued!
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