Though a long time fan of the Battle of Britain, I’d never played one of its all-time classic games: The Burning Blue, from Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and GMT. It’s a fun, tense, immersive experience that both left me overwhelmed with the task of directing Britain’s air defense -- and wanting to play more!
It’s incredibly hard to convey the game’s tension as raids slowly develop, the German knowing he can do nothing to alter the pre-raid plan and the British hoping he’s assessed the plots properly. And MAN can this game tell a story! Here’s ours:
Mid August, 1940, Britain. Fighter Group Operations Command
First day as a Controller in the Bunker. It’s nearly 1100 and nothing’s happened so far, but knowing how big Jerry’s been coming on leaves me in a sweat. Can’t let on, must stay cool.
1100 hours on the dot.
Forward Chain Home stations report two contacts, both coming from Channel East. One 100+ aircraft, the second farther east 30+. Ordered 602 Squadron to scramble from Tangmere-Westhampnett. Already have 43 Squadron orbiting over Tauleigh, about 30 miles east. That won’t be enough, but don’t want to react too fast – he might be trying to get us to commit too much too early, with the really big raids later.
They’re real contacts all right, and with current atmospherics we’re getting better than usual signal. Tracking shows a straight line inbound…but can’t assume, might be changing course. Will radio 43 squadron to gain altitude, be ready for fighter cover.
Now up to FOUR contacts, with two more also coming Channel East. Chain Home estimates Hostile 3 at 30+ contacts and Hostile 4 at 20+. Both are fairly high at Angels 16, or 16,000 feet.
I’m scrambling two more squadrons, 501 and 609. Hope I’m not sending too many too fast, hope I don’t regret it three hours from now!
43 Squadron hasn’t moved – they must not have received the signal. Resent…and since the raids are coming in straight and true, I’ll have 43 move to where the easternmost raid will make landfall. On the other hand, that line comes right between two possible targets, so I’ll have them orbit mid between so they’ll have a chance to Tally Ho either way.
Meanwhile, 602 Squadron has reached their ordered altitude of Angels 16 over Ventnor, the Chain Home station on Isle of Wight. Hostile Contact 2 is heading right for them – so far, so good!
And Jerry’s coming on strong: TWO MORE contacts! I’m getting worried about committing all the southwestern squadrons too early, so I’m going to scramble 332 and 32 Squadrons. They’ll have farther to fly but they have time to get there before the newest contacts would arrive….I think…
TALLY HO! 602 Squadron has definite visual on Hostile 2 over Ventnor, and they are engaging. They’re identifying the contact as pure fighters. Honestly, glad the 602 fellows managed to sight and intercept rather than getting bounced themselves; they’re green as grass and still using the Vic formation. We won’t know much for a few minutes, but I hope the lads hang in as that was a BIG group of 109s!
Hostile 4 identified coming from Caen is now at Angels 10. Scramble 601 Squadron. Tote Board shows EVERYTHING from Tangmere is aloft, which may prove doubly good should Tangmere be a target. Middle Wallop is 50% committed, but 249 Squadron isn’t Ready as yet. Hopefully we’ll hear they’re good to go momentarily.
602 Squadron is still engaged, and from the radio chatter it sounds like they’re putting on a good show…at least good enough. They’ve tagged a couple from Jerry while losing a couple themselves, but they’re still showing good cohesion. It’s turning into a tangled dogfight and we won’t know anything more for a bit.
A second hostile formation has been identified, also a fighter sweep. This one’s all Me110s, and we managed to position 43 Squadron 4000 feet above them. The Hurricanes didn’t get a Bounce, but their maneuverability outclasses the Zerstorer so I’m having them engage. Don’t want those Huns to get through and disrupt other intercepts!
Well, now it’s getting interesting. Two more contacts, these to the extreme east coming from Calais, and each 30+. With everything getting pulled westward towards Portsmouth it makes sense that Jerry would send in later raids to the east, so I can’t minimize this no matter how busy things are. At the same time it looks like we’re close to covering the Portsmouth area raids so I’m going to redirect 32 Squadron back towards their home in the East. No doubt tonight their pubs will be filled with complaints about the stupidity of Command, sending them hither and yon, but from here each step made sense. Oh well, I can take the abuse since they take the risk of life and limb.
And then Disaster. It appears I should have scrambled just a few minutes earlier, because although 609 and 234 Squadrons arrived over Portsmouth before the Ju88s (TWO Gruppe, damn them!) the defenders couldn’t jump the bombers before they dropped their loads. There will be extensive damage, and though the bombs landed on the people of Portsmouth the damage should be tallied MY ledger.
We got what revenge we could as the bombers left. The lads of 234 Squadron, it turns out, were intercepted by escorting 110s before the bombers were reached and shot down 1 fighter against the loss of one of their own. (Our pilot will fly again tomorrow, but theirs will spend the rest of the war as a POW!) Meanwhile, 602 Squadron reached the bombers and shot down two before having to return to base. Small consolation, but we did what we could.
Meanwhile over Ventnor 602 Squadron’s dogfight resulted in a total of two fighters downed on each side before both sides were spent. Pancake on the way. At least those Me109s were prevented from interfering with other squadrons’ interceptions, as was likely the original plan.
The next hour was a blur, but it didn’t go well for me or my squadrons. A second raid toward Ventnor that I thought was going to be at Portsmouth turned out to be a group of dive bombing Ju88s targeting Ventnor’s Chain Home station itself. Once again my reaction was just barely off, and the intercepting fighters were over the station as the bombs were falling. They managed to kill a covering Me110 but did no other damage before having to pancake themselves.
Back to the east, the initial orbiting dispositions were good – the map showed an interlocking line of squadrons in defense – but once again it was ever so slightly off, not helped when once again radio message failure cost a few minutes response time. 74 Squadron successfully intercepted a bomber group but were intercepted themselves by covering fighters, so the bombs fell on another target. Even when a second squadron Tally Ho’d the heavies it was a little too late, and that Tally Ho pulled the defense away from a second target. And when I scrambled another squadron to fill the gap they were hit by a fighter sweep that the wily Kraut managed to sneak past our radar.
It was about then that Ian, my supervisor, pulled me aside and told me that my day was done. He took over what was left of the defense while I left the room in disgrace. All day my efforts were just a shade too late, but “close” was not good enough. The final tally shows a day of convincing victory for Jerry.
So ended my first play as the British. Without a doubt, my opponent Lee (No, not THAT Lee!!!) kept a solid step ahead of me the entire time though I was just close enough that it stayed in doubt for both of us.
*Orbit on the Coast, even if you need to reposition later
*Don't assume orders will be received promptly - don't wait till the last minute!
*It's better to scramble too many squadrons even at a VP cost than it is to let a mission or two get through unintercepted.
Looking forward to the next play!
Robert L Howard (Medal of Honor recipient)
one of my favorite games.
Ok, so I am the ‘not THAT Lee!!!’ of the game we played last weekend (1-10-15).
I own the game and Dave does not (shame, shame on him!) and since Dave is new to the game I ran the Luftwaffe raid. For the record we played Scenario 2 and I pulled raid chits D,F,G with a Channel patrol of 1g/3s. My targets were Portsmouth, Ventnor, Lympne and Manston – a nice split between Luftwaffe 3 and 2. The VP = 46 and the Response level =9 (using the optional rules). Prior to our game I rolled for weather and form up times and all that stuff…so when we got together we could jump right into the action.
The week prior Dave and I played the Quick Start A: First Game (July 10, 1940 attack on convoy ‘Bread’). So with that small experience under his belt we got our game on.
Now, Dave is an air war aficionado and is well informed on the Battle of Britain. I have to say he learned the game very quickly. Too quickly for my taste. Also, he took a few phone-photos as we played, but I had no idea he was going to post a detailed session report. I mean, he took no notes during the game and yet his report is very accurate. Damn smart if you ask me. Cheeky, even. Well, my one advantage is that I am waaay stupider than he is, and I used that advantage to great effect.
You see, all my bombing raids went straight to their targets! Ok, I used a couple of Freie Jagd (including Me-110s from L3 and a Me-109g from the Channel patrol) to confuse the issue. At one point Dave was faked out because he thought my Portsmouth raid was going to veer to Southampton or Tangmere. Wrong! It continued straight to Portsmouth and 2 Ju-88 Gruppe bombed without raid matching. The Ventnor boys got in too. And later the Lympne and Manston raids spit his defenders and scored good results.
The dice favored the Luftwaffe. The RAF had altitude advantage most of the time they engaged and yet the Me-110 close escort gave as good as they got. We had 2 dogfights with Freie Jagd, which is very unusual. Also, 2 critical RAF orders were delayed due to failed vector orders (optional rule). All in all a dream day for the Luftwaffe. My one moment of terror was early in the battle when 1JG53 of L3 (the only Me-109 unit of L3 this day) met green Spitfires over Ventnor and both sides entered a dogfight and both ended up heading back to base – the stubborn green Spits were too dumb to quit and they nearly foiled everything. I thought the L3 raids were doomed at that point…but it was my day!
-As Dave said, raid matching is critical, and it is better to trade 3 vp (for over committing) than taking +10 vp or more for not raid-matching. I am mostly to blame for over-emphasizing to Dave the raid matching limit. Next time I think Dave will scramble first and ask questions later.
- It is not trivial to play the RAF. In Scenario 2 it is important to ‘play the net’ as they say in tennis and to intercept at the coast or before. Defending the straights of Dover is not easy at all.
All said, I am so glad to have found someone to play The Burning Blue face-to-face. Wow. Great time! I dread going up against Dave again, but at the same time I can’t wait!
Actually did take quick notes, once I realized what a good time this game was going to be. Managed to get the session report pretty much right using those few notes, the photos, and especially the RAF scramble log.
Also looking forward to playing again! It's one of those games that absolutely NEEDS two players to shine.