One Minute of Hell
17 Combat Game Turns on the Way to Berlin
– an anonymous crew member’s perspective.
It had all been going fairly smoothly, no sign of the Luftwaffe in almost three hours. The bomber formation droned steadily forward, marking time toward Berlin, which was not much farther away. But then, a belt of heavy flak had struck the group, setting one bomber on fire. It drifted out of formation under control, fuel tanks blazing. The crew bailed out and a short time later it exploded while diving earthward. One of the Thunderbolt escorts trailed mist after the attack, perhaps leaking fuel.
Then the German fighters arrived. We had expected them much earlier. We had expected that they would tap us at the coast to get the Mustang and Thunderbolt escort to drop tanks early, but they hadn’t. Must be a new strategy. There were a lot of Germans, single engine and twin engine, all in a tight group. The bombers, all twenty-two of us tried to tighten up, but we had stragglers, some pretty far back. Luckily, our fighters were still with us. On this mission they had loaded up with some big drop tanks, flying in deeper than the Germans expected. Four Thunderbolts and Four of the new P-51Bs, were close overhead. They were disciplined, they watched as the Germans set up.
The Germans split up, seven of them moved around to the front for a head on attack. Five
were Focke Wulfs and two were 109s with wing cannons. They formed a wedge and drove straight at the leading squadron. My squadron. To the rear of us, four Me 410 heavy fighters, and four 109s with something under their wings approached. On top of them, were five 109s. Our gunners got ready. Then the attack started. The Mustangs peeled upwards, going after the high 109s and got slow. They fell behind somewhat as they scissored with the Messerschmitts. The Thunderbolts put their noses down and tried to fend off the head on attack but the timing was poor. Instead of meeting them head on, they had to split-ess onto their tails and the Thunderbolts and Fock Wulfs all disappeared to our rear, a few shots being fired.
The head on attack was the one that hit us first – The Germans were coming in real fast and their shots weren’t too effective. Two of our bombers took some hits, and one of the group leader’s wingmen had an engine set on fire. Our nose turrets and top turrets sprayed back. One Fw 190 was hit and his gear popped out, and he nosed over trailing flames from his engine and dove away. The rest went swooshing by. For a couple of seconds we had a breather but the tail gunners reported that the enemy was closing in fast from the rear. Our rearmost straggling bomber was right in their path, but he turned and dove out of the way, ess-turning back. It was a smart move, as the Germans flew right past him. We didn’t understand this, or their tight formation until we realized that they were carrying rockets. A few seconds later, all hell started breaking loose.
The four Me 410s and four 109s all in a tight formation, fired heavy 210mm rockets into our formation. We got creamed! Four of our bombers in the leading and center squadrons took direct hits and either blew up or folded up. Just like that - gone. Debris was everywhere and there were almost no survivors. Then the enemy heavy fighters closed in from the rear, blasting away with their cannons. Our tail guns and belly guns fired back as best we could! A couple of Mustangs mixed in with the enemy – chasing the twin engine 410s, who seemed to have telephone poles sticking out of their noses, belching huge gouts of flame at us. I later learned that these were 50mm cannons. Jeezus! Those twin-engine fighters were terrifying – they just chopped their targets to pieces. Two more bombers went down in short order, one in flames, and others took big hits, with chunks of planes spinning off to the rear. Our gunners fired at everyone in range, including the occasional Mustang. He it looks like a 109 from the front. I think we shot down two of the Me 410s, but the other two went by and dove away, one Mustang sitting on their tails blazing away. The four 109s came in as well but they sheared off a bit earlier and dove out after inflicting minor damage.
After the gun attack we only suffered a few more passes from isolated fighters. We were pretty riled by then, and mostly in shock. The surviving bombers, sixteen in number, were tightening up and licking our wounds. Two 109s, with cannons under their wings, made solo passes and we chased them away with heavy fire. One went down smoking. Finally, a Focke Wulf came in at high speed, unwavering, right into the middle of the low squadron. A Mustang was in hot pursuit but turned away once the gunners opened up! The low squadron was pretty much intact and let the bastard have it, shooting its wing off. It made us feel better to see that one spin away with only one wing. Within a moment or two of the last attack, three Mustangs could still be seen with the formation. The P-47s were all gone, we heard they were low on fuel and heading home. One of the Mustangs was seen to stall with a 109 on its tail and it was shot down. Someone said a Mustang got one of the 109s up high. It was hard to tell though – it all happened so fast. All in about one minute.
Mission to Berlin – Combat AAR part I
About a dozen players are or have been involved in this on-line playing of the “Ramrod to Berlin” mission scenario from OTR. The rules in use are the WD 2d edition fighting wings rules with some third edition playtest modifications. The American team put together a rather elaborate escort scheme to keep the bombers covered all the way to the target and back. The Germans have a number of starting airfields they could have used, from the coast of Holland to Berlin. They chose to station all their fighters back from the front to strike the Americans a single big blow. Time will tell if this worked. What has happened so far is that the short range Spitfires did the first part of the escorting and saw no action. A sweep of four P-38 Lightnings went ahead of the bombers and strafed some of the forward fields which were empty of aircraft. This AAR encompasses only the first major air battle. The sides were composed of the following aircraft.
22 x Boeing B-17G bombers
04 x P-51B Mustangs
04 x P-47D Razorback Thunderbolts
04 x Rocket and 50mm armed Me-410s
04 x Rocket armed 109G-6
06 x 109G-6s boosted with GM-1 (top cover)
02 x 109G-6s with wing cannon pods (gun boats)
02 x Fw 190A-7s with twin 20mm underwing pods.
04 x Fw 190A-7s standard.
The Battle lasted 17 game turns before the last Germans broke off.
Summary of Performance:
Luftwaffe Head on attackers
Heavy cannon podded Fw 190A-7s – The pair were launched around Op-turn 18, but the green wingman crashed on take-off, being lost. The leader became the center of the head on attack wedge, having his six 20mm cannons to work with. Two standard 190s were on each wing, and the two gunboat 109s were just behind the vee of five 190s. The attack did not go well for the heavy A-7. The pilot missed his head on determination roll in the initial pass and failed to fire. He then did a split-ess falling behind and below the formation. As he tried to climb back up in his over-loaded fighter, he caught the eye of two P-47s, which pointed his way, so he ended up diving out. He escaped undamaged, but never took a shot. He will have to explain that to higher headquarters later.
Summary: One crashed, one returned – no damage or shots at enemy.
Standard Fw190A-7s – The Four 190s managed some shots in the head on pass, inflicting a total of 8 hits and three criticals against a couple of bombers, but in return, defensive fire inflicted 8 hits and 2 crits against the #1 Fw190 causing its gear to trail, and starting a minor engine fire. This pilot eventually diving out and disengaging on turn 4 as the Thunderbolts approached. However, the fire progressed after the fight to a major fire and the pilot bailed out rather than attempting to return to base. Fw 190-2 was also slightly damaged by defensive fire. As the four 190s passed through the bombers, they found enemy P-47s in hot pursuit. They all split up in different directions to shake the P-47s, and, as a result, drew them out of the battle. Fw 190-3 got in a tense maneuvering tussle with P-47-4 eventually shaking it off with a cleverly timed stall and forcing it to overshoot, but the threat of another P-47 coming in to help forced this 190 to disengage at the end of the fight. Fw 190-4 was chased out of the fight by Mustangs and Thunderbolts and eventually disengaged, unable to safely reenter the fight. It never got another shot off. Only Fw 190-2 got clear of the American fighters and turned to pursue the bombers catching up at the very end of the fight. A Mustang dropped in on its tail as it closed with the bombers but the Mustang couldn’t close in time to stop the pass. He attacked the low bomber squadron, closing in to point blank range, but, a massive volley of defensive fire chopped his wing off. The pilot was unable to bail out due to the resulting spin and died.
Summary: Two shot down by defensive fire, two chased off by escorting fighters, minor damage inflicted to bomber formation.
Gunboat Bf 109G-6s – These two trailed the Fw 190s in, trying to use them for cover. The leading gunboat missed his B-17 target and took light damage in return. He reversed out to the right, climbing and initiated a second pass at the bombers from the rear. Enemy fighters were not a factor, those being engaged by the escort 109s that came in from behind the bombers. Due to his slow closure, he come under sustained defensive fire, which severely damaged his plane and caused his engine to seize. He still managed one attack, which damaged a bomber. Engineless, he dove out, and opted to bail out of the severely damaged fighter rather than try a tricky belly landing. The other gunboat was more successful, striking a low squadron B-17 in the first pass, then cutting across the rear of the formation to shoot up a high squadron B-17 from below and then diving out with empty cannons. He was not touched by defensive fire, nor harassed by enemy fighters.
Summary: One 109 gunboat lost to defensive fire, three Bombers damaged.
Luftwaffe Stern Attack Group
Messerscmitt Escort Fighters: These six 109s, having boosted engines, were tasked with fending off the American escort fighters and keeping them away from the vulnerable, loaded rocket armed fighters. They were largely successful in this, although, they inflicted little damage to the Americans. The escorts entered the battle and immediately climbed. The four American Mustangs turned toward them and also climbed while the Thunderbolts dove after the 190s in the Head on attack group. The initial merge between the Mustangs and 109s was largely bloodless, the high altitudes making maneuvering difficult. When two Mustangs dove past them onto the tails of Me 410s below, 109s 1 and 2 followed. These two, along with the Mustangs, and the 410s all merged with the bomber formation at the same time. The leader hit one Mustang that was firing at a 410. The hits causing the P-51s engine to smoke, but was surprised and raked by another Mustang, and then, ironically, a German 410 gunner also mistook the leading Bf 109 for a Mustang and hit it in the engine, starting a fire, which quickly progressed to a major fire. The burning lead 109 pulled up, only to be hit by Thunderbolt that suddenly appeared from below and shot it down. The Mustang that was damaged pulled up also, but the #2 109 got on its tail and shot it down, avenging the loss of his leader. The other four 109s chased two of the P-47s around keeping them occupied and off the tails of the 190s but getting no shots in. Toward the end of the fight, as two Mustangs raced back toward the bombers, the #4 109 tried to pull down to converge on an intercept course with these Mustangs and ended up doing a momentary turn stall and dipping down out-of-control just in front of the leading Mustang which obliged it with two bursts at point blank range, causing the 109 to blow up, killing its pilot. The no. 3 109 climbed out of danger at this point, and seeing few Germans left on the map, disengaged.
Summary: Two 109s shot down by fighters, one P-51 shot down. Several P-47s and P-51s chased and occupied.
Bf 109 Rocket Schwarm: Ably led by its stoic and focused flight leader, this group of four did a text book, formation rocket shoot at near point blank range, instantly blasting two bombers out of the middle of the enemy formation. They then closed in for a brief exchange of gunfire with some tail gunners, before diving away as a flight and disengaging to go land and rearm. Defensive fire wounded the flight leader as he turned away and slightly damaged three of the 109s but otherwise, the unit returned intact. Thanks to the escort 109s, this schwarm never had to worry about American escort fighters.
Summary: Two bombers blown up by Rockets, two others damaged by gunfire, three 109s damaged by return fire, with the flight leader being wounded.
Me 410 Heavy Fighter Schwarm: These were the Luftwaffe’s main bomber maiming machines and they resolutely and without fear sailed right into the middle of the bomber formation, firing rockets first and then going in with concentrated 50mm and 20mm fire at close range. Naturally they attracted the attention of some escort fighters with two Mustangs latching on to their tails. The initial rocket attacks blasted one of the bombers out of the formation and damaged two others. The follow up gun attacks finished off one burning bomber, shot down another, and damaged three others fairly heavily, one of which soon had uncontrollable fires and was abandoned. Return fire was hot and heavy from the gunners and a pair of Mustangs that got mixed in with the fighting. Between Me 410 defensive fire and the aid of two escort 109s, one of the Mustangs was driven off and shot down, but the other was persistent. The Number 1 Me 410 destroyed one bomber with rocket fire, and another with gunfire, before diving out with both engines damaged by defensive gunfire. His wingman, the #2 Me 410 shared in the rocket kill and finished off a burning B-17 but was shot up by a Mustang, from which he escaped by diving away, though with sluggish controls. The rockets of the #3 Me 410 missed but he closed in under fire from both defensive guns and a Mustang on his tail. He damaged one B-17 heavily and set another on fire (which was finished off by 410 #2), but the Mustang shot the wing off the 410 sending it down out of control. Both crewmen bailed out. The Number 4 Me 410 also missed with rockets and was shot up by the Mustang that was eventually shot down, but managed to damage one B-17 with its heavy cannon, before being riddled to pieces by heavy gunfire from the low B-17 squadron. Again both crew members escaped their falling fighter.
Summary: One bomber destroyed by Rockets, three by gunfire, and others heavily damaged. Two Me 410s lost to defensive fire and Mustang attack, and two moderately damaged by gunfire.
Mustang Escorts: The four Mustangs spent the first half of the fight evading the attention of the German high 109s. Seeing an opening, Mustangs 3 and 4 dove after the Me-410s but picked up two of the escort 109s. A daisy chain formed with Mustang 4 blasting an Me 410, 109-1 shooting the Mustang, and Mustang 3 shooting the 109 leader. Me 410 defensive fire was very effective, knocking out Mustang 4’s engine and setting the 109 leader on fire right after that (fratricide is a third edition playtest rule). A Thunderbolt finished off the burning 109 as the engineless Mustang pulled up while under sustained gunfire from a second 109. This Mustang was shot down, its pilot bailing out. The Number 3 Mustang, after damaging the leading 109, switched fire to the number three Me 410 and shot it down, and then chased the other two Me 410s riddling one, before breaking off to go after a lone 190 that was approaching the bombers for a late in the game second pass. Gunners shot this FW 190 down before the Mustang could intervene. The Leading pair of Mustangs, dodged the initial 109 escorts efforts and then realizing they were falling behind the bombers, turned back to rejoin. The number two Mustang took a passing shot at a 190 that went by and missed, while the leading Mustang had the luck to see a 109 stalling out just in front of it. Two quick bursts and this 109 exploded. The explosion damaged the Mustang slightly. The three surviving Mustangs were rejoining the bombers as the fight ended.
Summary: One P-51B shot down by 109s, one Me 410 and one Me 109 shot down in return, and another Me 410 shot up. Escorts still in place at the end of the fight.
Thunderbolt Escorts: The P-47s were somewhat less effective in destroying the enemy, but did contribute greatly in dissuading most of the Focke Wulfs from returning for a second pass on the bombers. At least three FWs were forced to disengage due to the threat of Thunderbolt attacks. The P-47s took only two shots, one by P-47-2 which missed a gunboat 109, and the other by P-47-3 that finished off the burning 109 escort leader. Following the fight, the P-47s all disengaged due to fuel concerns. While the Mustangs kept their pairs together, the P-47s in pursuing the Fw 190s all became separated.
Summary: One 109 shot down, many enemy fighters chased, no damage inflicted on Thunderbolts by the Luftwaffe, though one P-47 was damaged earlier in the mission by heavy AAA fire.
Bombers & Gunners: At the start of the battle, a number of stragglers were present and these caught some of the attention of the marauding Me 410s. Gunners fought valiantly against the swift enemy attacks, causing damage that resulted in the eventual loss of the 190 leader, and the 109 gunboat leader, while shooting down 190 dash two outright at the very end of the fight. Me 410-4 was also a victim of sustained defensive fire. In addition to these four kills, All the surviving Me 410s and three of the rocket firing 109s suffered damage from defensive gunfire. Unfortunately, in such toe-to-toe fighting, it was the Me 410s that did the most damage. In all, 83 hits and 17 crits were inflicted by gunners on the Luftwaffe, much of that, just against Me 410s. However, the Me 410s alone, with gunfire, inflicted 101 hits on bombers and 45 critical hits. Rockets added another 55 hits and 27 critical hits on the bombers, all just from the Me 410s.
Summary: The bomber formation started the fight with 22 relatively intact bombers. Three were blasted out of the air by rockets, and two others heavily damaged by rockets. One of these was finished off by gunfire, and three others were brought down by gunfire. Of the sixteen surviving bombers, five have suffered moderate damage, and three others slight damage. Several have damaged engines and are trailing smoke or fuel fumes. All in all, this was a bloody – fight. And an interesting one. The gunners did account for four enemy fighters and damaged several others. This would translate into about twenty to thirty enemy fighters claimed shot down, looking at all the cross-firing that occurred, and the number of individual gunners firing during the bloody Me 410 attack. Note that the Me 410s only made one pass, which lasted for only 5 game turns (20 seconds). That’s a lot of carnage in 20 seconds. In fact this whole battle only lasted slightly over one minute between opening attacks and last Luftwaffe disengagement.
The mission is continuing and another Luftwaffe attack is imminent, this time by two rocket and cannon armed Bf 110s escorted by four more Bf 109s.
AAR – by J.D. Webster
Acting referee of the game.