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    • By 33LIMA
      Defending the convoys again, on Day 2 of the Battle of Britain

      This was my first mission on 11th July 1940, the day after the RAF traditionally considers that the Battle began. At this stage in the BoB2 RAF campaign, as in the real one, the Navy is still insisting - in the face of some German-supplied evidence to the contrary - that Britannia rules the waves. And that this being so, coastal convoys should carry on, rather than shifting everything they're lugging about onto the already-busy railways. So the principal commitment of Fighter Command at this stage is flying standing patrols to provide air cover, with additional fighter squadrons on standby, ready to scramble if an incoming raid is detected by the Chain Home radar network.
      This is the balance sheet as of early that morning. From flying 252 sorties, many of which never saw a Hun, we have claimed eleven kills, all of them bombers, against seven Spitfires and one Hurricane definitely lost. Hopefully our over-claim rate is not high, as this is not a great exchange rate. However, having re-started my RAF campaign afresh, I am not so far seeing the very high and hugely imbalanced losses from first time around, possibly down to me messing up saves or something.
       
      You can see patrols 'changing shifts' over Convoy Bosom out to the west, while an incoming raid, marked up as Hostile seven zero one, strength sixty plus, has been detected over the French coast. As it happens, this raid's target is Convoy Whiskey, whose circular grey marker you can just about see to the centre right edge of the Review box, in the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary. Following the default Directives which I accepted, controllers soon scrambled four squadrons, a mix of Spits and Hurris, to join the one on patrol over Whiskey. Seventy-Nine Squadron - flying Hurricanes out of Biggin Hill south of London, squadron code NV - was the first to sight the enemy. So when offered, I accepted the chance to fly with them, opting to be Red 2 on the right of the squadron leader. This is me seen from his machine, in NV-B, as we climb gently in four, tight three-plane vics, going north over the coast near a town which might be Allhallows on Sea. I had hoped to be on the edge of the formation but mis-read the layout and ended up smack bang in the middle. Combined with the cloudy conditions, this was to have interesting consequences later.

      ...to be continued!
    • By 33LIMA
      I finally come to grips with a classic, and realise what all the fuss is about!


      For some reason, train simulators do not make good subjects for combat reports.  Though getting into them at last has been a lot of fun, which together with stuff outside of sim-land have kept me from doing more than very casual air combat simming...until now. Hence the long gap in mission reports here at CombatAce.
      For World War 1, I'm back with First Eagles 2, not least for its combination of good looks, very wide scope when modded, many very good features, and being fast to get back into, thanks to some of those aformentioned good features.
      For World War 2, it was time for something I hadn't seriously tried before...which applies to more than it should of the titles I've accumulated over the years, the good, the not-so-good and the relatively awful - anyone else remember Nations - Fighter Command? Nice planeset, pity about the flight models...and a few other details.
      The recent launch of OBD's follow-on to Wings over Flanders Fields, namely the first installment of Wings over the Reich, got me interested anew in one of my pet subjects of many years, the Battle of Britain. But not sadly in WotR, due to issues like very small German raids, limited comms including little or nothing from ground controllers (big raids and ground control should really be de rigeur for any self-respecting simulation of the Battle) and various lesser niggles, like some unmilitary scripting of what R/T traffic there is.
      I still have European Air War on my system but while it covers the Battle, it's only fired up for very occasional nostalgia trips, these days. I actually moderately enjoyed the Warbirds-based History Channel Battle of Britain - ok it's not one of the greats, but as well as flying a reasonably historical mission-set campaign in many BoB types, you can shoot at the ones with crosses from a destroyer's Oerlikon Gun....

      And of course, I have played some missions from the Battle in modded Il-2 '46, this one being from the Spitfire Scramble campaign...

      But I have so far not invested in IL-2 Cliffs of Dover, with its strange planeset, strange-looking landscapes and most of all, limited single player content - coupled with high system requirements for what there is
      So I decided it was time to make a serious effort to get into Rowan's Battle of Britain (I still have the original boxed version, printed manuals and all). Or rather its more recent incarnation, A2A formerly Shockwave's Battle of Britain II - Wings of Victory, or BoB2 to its friends - who naturally include the Battle (of Britain) Development Group, who have done a great job ironing out wrinkles and adding features in a series of patches.
      Despite making my own map-based Battle of Britain wargame in the 1970s, I never more than dabbled in BoB or BoB2. Not so much because of niggles like planes in close formation sort of jiggling at times, more because I wanted a conventional pilot career, not a combat sim within a wargame. Having since tried that approach with tanks in Steel Armour Blaze of War and found it not unrewarding, I decided it was time to give BoB2-WoV a serious go.
      And so I discovered two things. First that all the good things they say about BoB2 are true, notably that it captures the Battle like no other sim before or since. In other sims, a German raid might be a staffel, so you're fighting the Minor Skirmish of Brtiain. In BoB2, a raid is typically and realistically at least a gruppe in strength - 20-30 bombers, like these boys from I Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 54, on their way to knock the spots off Portland Naval Dockyard, with II Gruppe for company and a large close escort of Bf110s. The latter about to be hit from behind by the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF.


      My second, less welcome discovery was  that I'd chosen a bad time to make the first discovery - having just got a replacement PC with Windows 10, which is fine with about every other sim I've tried it with, but with which BoB2 suffers CTDs when ending a mission, and sometimes earlier.
      However, I have been able to play many training, historical and campaign missions up to the end, and so pleased am I with the experience that I plan a dual boot drive with Win 7. So that I can get proper debriefings and not have to re-start crashed campaign games every time I take to the air in one. And spend more time enjoying the authentic 1940s southern England landscapes and scenery, recreated with extreme attention to detail. For example the first time I saw Brighton Pier on a test flight in a Hurricane, I thought the 3d model had a problem, the pier head being unconnected with the coast. Then I remembered...they disconnected pier head from land during the invasion scare of 1940, so as not to provide the expected visitors with convenient ad hoc jetties.

      The graphics aren't stellar - there are no dynamic shadows for example - but they are still pretty good. What still sets BoB2's visuals apart is more of that attention to detail. For example, aircraft not only carry accurate camouflage patterns, and the proper squadron codes (JX seen above is No.1 Squadron), but Spits and Hurris have realistic variations, including different fin flashes and undersurface treatments. And the weathered Dark Earth and Dark Green 'shadow shading' RAF day fighter camouflage is to my eye more authentic than the efforts of the flashier competitors. I'm not sure how, but the rather blurry aircraft textures I recall from the first time I installed BoB2-WoV are now sharp and satisfying, complete with readable stencils. Notably, the air-to-air AI is the best (most human-like) I have ever encountered, the flight models feel good (including controls becoming heavier at high speeds). The radio traffic is simply best of breed, complete with the use of authentic radio codes and, it seems, also realistic radio voice procedure, for both sides. Planes rattle like they should when near the stall (I have in front of me a Spit Mk1 Pilot's Notes facsimilie and it describes just that '...there is a violent shudder and clattering noise throughout the aeroplane'), there are clickable cockpits if you like to fiddle with knobs, and as well as flying the four major fighters, you can also go dive-bombing in a Stuka or man and switch between nose, dorsal and ventral gun positions on the three types of German twin-engine bombers. 
      Which is what I'm doing in the mission featured in this report - one of the included historical missions, the major Luftwaffe raid on the Filton aircraft factory near Bristol, on 25th September 1940. This caught out Fighter Command's 10 Group, who had deployed their interceptors to defend the Westland works at Yeovil, instead. As the mission intro describes, this let the attackers in unmolested and probably doomed many of the 200-plus victims who died when the raid hit its real target (my parents-to-be were in a city badly bombed by Goering's boys, and I well remember the 'bomb sites' in the streets where I was brought up, where gaps in rows of houses still marked the effects of the raids; so I don't say any of that lightly, lest anyone think otherwise).
      I could have opted to fly on any plane making, escorting or belatedly trying to catch the raid. But I opted to fly as an air gunner on the lead He111 of the second attacking gruppe, I/KG55. We had about fifteen aircraft - by mid September, some bomber gruppen were well below strength: the morning raid on London on Battle of Britain Day, 15th September, consisted of just 25 Dorniers which it took two gruppen to put up, an incredibly small number even allowing they were essentially lockvogel, bait to lure up 'the last fifty Spitfires'.
      Anyhow, here we are approaching Bristol, having just flown through a noisy but for now, ineffective flak barrage. As I was soon to find out, enjoying the ride, taking pics like a good war correspondent and actually defending my aircraft, did not mix terribly well.

      ...to be continued!
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