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The famous aviation pioneer's aircraft come to life in Wings over Flanders Fields! In between reporting on my current career in a certain other WW1 sim, I decided I would add a bit of variety within the same wire-and-fabric theme. So this is the first of what will be a series of reports on single player campaign missions flown in Wings over Flanders Fields in the aircraft of T.O.M. Sopwith. Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith was one of the shining stars of early British aviation. Nearly everyone has heard of the Sopwith Camel, but as most aviation-minded people know, this was just one of the many great designs he's associated with. Many of these were mainstays of the British war effort in WW1, and consequently feature in most air combat simulators of that period. As well as the One-and-a-half Strutter illustrated at the start of this thread, WoFF features the following Sopwith aircraft: Single seat Strutter bomber: Pup: Triplane (including a non-standard, two-gun version): Camel: Snipe: ...and a Snipe the right way up: So, we have a good deal of ground - or should that be, air? - to cover. Let's make a start with the Sopwith One-and-a-half Strutter, so called apparently because each set of centre-section struts consisted of one short and one long strut. The campaign This first report features two missions in what turned out to be a brief campaign flying two-seat Strutters with 45 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. This is the unit featured in Norman Macmillan's war memoir Into the Blue, which was the inspiration for parallel Strutter campaigns flown in First Eagles 2 and WoFF's predecessor Over Flanders Fields, which you can read about here. The Strutter is now also available in Rise of Flight, but that's a plane I don't yet have, in that sim. I elected to start in April 1917, at the time of the lowest period in the RFC's fortunes. The previous year, it had been very different. The Strutter had helped to cement the air superiority gained, in time for the famous Battle of the Somme, after the Fokker Scourge had been weathered then countered. Even allowing for the use of crude speaking tubes, the Strutter's pilot and observer sat rather far apart for effective co-ordination. But they had a machine gun each, including a Vickers synchronised to fire through the propeller arc. And the observer sat in the rear, where his Lewis Gun had a much better field of fire than in the Royal Aircraft Factory's BE.2. WW1 British aircraft procurement policy is worth a book or two in its own right, but the Sopwith design seems so much more effective as a combat aeroplane that it's hard to understand why the RFC persevered with the BE types. Some say there was an antipathy against private companies rather than the state-owned Factory, others that it was more a case of ordering whatever could be built in sufficient numbers, or a failure to understand, anticipate or react quickly enough to front-line requirements. The Admiralty seemed to have had less difficulties or hang-ups in this field and it was the Royal Naval Air Service that really saw the benefits of Sopwiths designs and placed its orders accordingly. The Army's RFC also got Strutters, though by the time of this campaign, they were - if still superior to the BEs - highly vulnerable to the new, powerful, twin-gunned German scouts. Despite this, Strutter sqaudrons were still expected to escort their own reconnaisance missions, and often flew the same sort of patrols as the single seat fighters, then called 'scouts'. It is into these difficult and dangerous times that I have plunged my virtual crew for this campaign. The first mission At this point in the war, 45 Squadron is based at St Marie Cappel, well north of the Battle of Arras but not immune to the same dangers faced down there. We are quite a way behind the lines. Checking the squadron orders for the day, I find that my first mission is to be a patrol up to the lines near Ypres, or 'Wipers' as the Tommies called it. I'm in 'B' Flight and there's just us and one other crew on this show. Four machines in 'A' Flight are said to be flying 'top cover' but in the cloudy conditions, maintaining touch will be next to impossible. I feel anxious about this but there's nothing I can do but start up, check my controls and take off; if I sit here any longer I will just 'get the wind up'. The chaps in 'A' Flight seem less bothered and get off ahead of us. I'm soon off after them and climbing up. One nice thing about the Strutter is that she's got a decent set of instruments, though I won't be spending too much time looking at them on this flight. As you can see, our aircraft are in clear doped linen finish, apart from khaki PC10 on the upper wings and rather colourful tailplanes, the latter excellent for mutual identification but compromising our camouflage rather badly. You can also see that our Lewis Guns are fitted onto French-designed Etevé mounts, rather than the more common and later universal Scarff gun rings. Here's the in-flight map, with the little green aircraft icon showing our position on the first leg of our route up to the front, to the east. Our assigned altitude is, if I recall right, about 11,000 feet but I am reserving the right to vary that according to the conditions, most notably the weather. The second Strutter is keeping formation nicely as we make the long climb to the east. Up ahead and all around, there are impressive banks of cloud, and between this and the general gloom, visibility of the ground doesn't extend very far in any direction, even at this low level. If my trusty observer is bothered by this, or by the force of the slipstream against his back, he keeps it to himself. We may have worse things to worry about, soon enough. ...to be continued!
Recreating a classic WW1 pilot's tale flying Sopwiths in France! This mission report was inspired by my reading material on a recent short holiday. I had last read Norman Macmillan's 'Into the Blue' back in the early 1970s along with other classics then available from the local public library, such as my favourites, Arthur Gould Lee's 'No Parachute' and 'Open Cockpit'. While the latter two are back in print, I had to go to eBay to get a copy of 'Into the Blue', and I much enjoyed re-reading it, after all those years. The book comprises segments originally written for publication at or about the time, expanded to book format in 1929, then expanded again for the 1969 edition to include recent research by the author and with real names replacing some pseudonyms used in the earlier edition. This composite origin makes it hard sometimes to distinguish what is or isn't genuine contemporary observation or terminology; but the work is not just a good read, it's a mine of many useful snippets of information on RFC and RAF operations and training, as experienced by the author. The book The story starts with initial training at Netherhaven and Upavon in England, 1916-17, flying first Maurice Farman MF17 'shorthorns' - also known as 'the Rumpety' - then moving on to Avro 504As and Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters, the latter as the type on which the author would expect to fly operationally on posting to France. The main impression is that even by early 1917, flying training was very rudimentary, lacking not just combat training but even basics like spin recovery. This part of the story is brought to life with many experiences and anecdotes. The one I like best is told of one of the COs at Central Flying School, Upavon, the dapper Major Gordon Bell, who had a bad strutter. One day, the story goes, after having been shot down while on operations, he crashed into a tree: "As he shinned down the tree to the ground, a resplendent staff officer rode up to him and said, 'Have you crashed? 'N-n-n-n-no,' replied G.B., 'I a-a-a-a-always l-l-l-l-land like that.' " From training, the author was posted to 45 Squadron RFC, at St Marie Cappel on the northern part of the British sector, not far south of the English Channel coast. He arrived at the end of March 1917 and flew Strutters right through 'Bloody April' and beyond, regretfully finding that the 2-seater Sopwiths, though fine flying machines, were long past their best as fighters. Despite that, they had to soldier on, flying the same types of patrol as the single seater 'scouts', with the added hazard of also flying longer-range reconnaisance missions. For the latter, being fighters, they were expected to escort their own photographic machines, and though they rarely failed to get their pictures, a particularly heavy price was often paid on these missions. For some reason the author records that fellow-Strutter outfit 70 Squadron did sometimes get escorts, but never 45, who had to rely on help from whatever friendly patrols might be operating along their route. In that regard the author is fairly scathing about the failure to make any serious attempt to co-ordinate with or even inform patrols, though he also accepts that such efforts would have been prone to all kinds of difficulties. Among the many interesting details is of course the experience of flying Strutters. They were apparently prone to 'float' on landing, making it too easy to overshoot landings on small operational airfields. The airbrakes fitted to Strutters may have been designed specifically to help with this. But the author records they were too close inboard to have much effect and instead, disrupted airflow over the tail so badly that pilots generally used them once and then never again! Macmillan also records the replacement of the original Ross synchronisation gear for the front-firing Vickers with the more reliable and faster-firing Sopwith Kauper system, though he also notes that the former system left the standard gun trigger in place and this was sometimes used to engage a fleeting target, regardless of the holed propellers which resulted. Macmillan also records the arrival of 130HP Clerget engines which offered little improvement over the previous 110hp versions. Despite this, the squadron performed solidly and even generated some aces, especially those who learned to fight their Strutters as crews later learned to fight the Bristol F2B Fighter, using the front gun as well as the observer's Lewis. The squadron re-equipped with Camels, in the field, only during August 1917. Late in the year, they transferred to the Italian Front after the disaster at Caporetto. However, Macmillan suffered burns in a non-flying accident and when fit again back in England, was posted as an instructor. Here, his accounts of the training regime make a fine contrast to his description of his own initiation, thanks to the improvements made by then Lt Col Smith-Barry whose approach to flying training is often credited with setting the foundation for the modern syllabus, as we know it today. Macmillan primarily trained Camel pilots, and he records that no pilot he was instructing was killed or injured in a Camel crash. Interestingly, he attributes this partly to his insistence that all heavy landings must be reported so that centre-section rigging could be checked and tightened. Apparently the Camel's centre-section struts were not firmly fixed to the upper wing, but set into sockets, where they were held by the tension of the centre-section rigging. The latter could become loose, especially after a heavy landing and the author reports that after the war, the famous Hawker designer Sir Sydney Camm, confided his own belief that this was a cause of many Camel crashes. The mission - Over Flanders Fields Keen to see how well I could re-create for myself the author's experiences of combat in Strutters, I decided to start with OFF (not yet having acquired its recent successor, WOFF). There were two reasons for this. First, in my experience of WW1 sims, OFF is perhaps the best at the 2-seater experience. Second, I was sure that, with OFF's particularly faithful recreation of WW1's air war orders of battle, I would be able to choose a career in 'Forty-Five'. I was not to be disappointed as regards the second point; though with the first, I would be less happy with the results. I started by creating a new pilot and his unit. I found 45 Squadron listed as a fighter squadron ('bomber' being the alternative, under which most two-seater units are listed in OFF, though it is not a very satisfactory term for WW1). I gave my character Macmillan's surname and wanted to start about the same time as he did, just before 'Bloody April'. As potential OFF careers seem to have start dates associated with a change of base or aircraft, this wasn't possible and I started instead on 28 April; near enough! In the briefing screen, I was pleased to see that although I was the only Macmillan on the squadron roster, this included, as historical aces, several of those named as such in the book. Good stuff and typical OFF attention to detail! Kicking off my first mission, came more typical OFF stuff, though not so good this time. Our first mission was a 'scramble', to intercept incoming enemy aircraft. In OFF there are far too many such missions and your own airfield is often the target of strafing fighters, including German ones which generally operated on their own side of the Lines and just did not undertake this kind of mission, not in early 1917 anyway and not much if at all, after that. Unable to change to a different type of mission, I had to start it up, then cancel the mission, after it had loaded. Then start another mission. This wasn't much better - a railyard attack. At this point in the war this would have been a common enough target for a bombing raid, but for BE2s or the like, not our squadron or other fighters. The RNAS operated Strutters in the bomber role but these were I think generally the single-seater version. Besides, 45 Squadron was listed in OFF as a fighter squadron and as Norman Macmillan's book makes clear, that's how they operated, along with southern neighbours and fellow Strutter unit 70 Squadron - as fighters who sometimes also flew longer-range recce missions. Third time lucky, my next effort generated a more realistic mission - a reconnaisance. This was only up to the trenchlines, and thus not really the sort of mission commonly flown by RFC Strutters by Macmillan's account, but it would do nicely. Unusually for the period, we had an escort - four RNAS Sopwith Pups. Here's the mission briefing screen: OFF sometimes assigns rather large numbers to a mission but the five squadron machines on this show was pretty representative of the period. Here we we are at St Marie Cappel - naturally, OFF has the squadron operating from the correct airfield, even though these are now generic layouts not the accurate airfields commonly featured in the previous release, Phase 2. Oddly I think for late April 1917, the default 'skin' for the squadron has PC10 brown wings but clear doped linen fuselages and red and white tailplanes - more accurate I'd think for the squadron's early days, in late 1916. Macmillan several times refers to their planes as being brown and both the operational Strutters pictured in 'Into the Blue' have dark fuselages as well as upper wings. For my own machine, I opted to use a different skin, that for the aircraft of the man who became better known as Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. He's noted as an efficient flight commander in Macmillan's book and it's a nice OFF touch that I can fly in a plane flown by someone featured in the book. The overall PC10 uppers, with the forward fin in a lighter colour, white fuselage band behind the roundel and white number ahead, nicely matches a 45 Sqdn Strutter pictured in flight in the book, numbered '2' and said to be flown by Garratt and Carey. I don't know how I did it but in fiddling about unsuccessfully to get Ankor's DX mod (which adds self-shadowing to WOFF planes, and has been got to work in OFF and CFS3 by MajorMagee over at Sim OutHouse, but caused my missions not to load) I seemed to have messed up many of my OFF settings. For one thing my 'Always lead' option was not working on this mission. I didn't notice this in the briefing nor did I twig when one of the flight - the real leader - took off ahead of me. Anyway, getting over my irritation at one of the chaps taking off (as I believed) in front of the boss, I checked controls, started up and roared off down the runway and into the air. I say 'roared' but the OFF engine sound is rather muted. Turning to orbit the aerodrome, I found that, although not tail-heavy and stable enough in level flight, she needed a great deal of bottom rudder to avoid her tail drooping badly in a turn. The OFF Strutter is a good-looking bird, with a nicely-appointed cockpit, complete with reproductions of brass manufacturer's plaques and a padded windshield. I suspect many pilots removed the latter for better visibility and hoped not to regret its inclusion in OFF, later! Wing ribs are enhanced by what appears to be bump-mapped textures. Another nice OFF touch is the rendition of the transparent material on the centre section. She has the French Etevée Lewis gun mount for the observer, which was probably something of an antique by Spring 1917, in the RFC anyway. It may better suit the French Strutters; but tho the Aviation Militaire ended up a bigger user of the Strutter than the British, they were late adopters and I suspect most French machines would have had the British Scarff ring mount. I don't know if the WOFF Strutter changes this but I'm sure its textures are much improved. I duly orbited the airfield in a climbing spiral, still not having realised that I was not leading the flight. This may be why I wasn't able to select 'Next waypoint' on the Tactical Display and get my blue route line to skip to the heading of the objective. Or it might be down to my lost settings, which included my joystick key assignments and my lower-visibility tactical display and labels (an Olham mod). So I ended up following all the many waypoints before the leg to the Lines. As I did so, I used the padlock and 'player-target view' to have a look at our escort, the RNAS Pups. OFF uses the limited CFS3 view system which is much less satisfactory for this sort of thing than, say, FE2 or RoF; but I gather WOFF has made some improvements in this direction. Finally, the current route line switched to the direction of the objective and I settled down into a steady climb towards the Lines, still thinking myself the leader and watching to see if I needed to throttle back to let 'my' flight catch me up. ...to be continued!