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Subject: Schlachtflieger!, Air interdiction at Menin road, September 1917 rss

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Gimle Larsen
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This AAR is the third, in the 3rd quarter, of our on-going 1917-1918 ICOG campaign.

The July dogfight mission had the allied side hanging on with their fingernails, but managing to concede a tie:

The August mission ended the dominance of the German top-scorer Von Glück and resulted in a massive allied victory as the recon planes successfully reported back the forward positions of the allied advance:

The summer of 1917 saw the first effective and overall planned use of aircraft for air interdiction of enemy ground forces and tactical close air support. The Germans used their Schustas, short for Schutzstaffeln - protective squadrons, normally used for escorting their two-seater recon planes in this role. The Germans used an assortment of all-purpose two-seaters until the introduction of the specialized CL class two-seater ground attack fighters (early fighter bombers) in July 1917.

In this mission two Schusta 26b attack planes, accompanied by fighter cover, tries to attack a tightly packed column of British troops and lorries moving along the important Menin road. Suddenly allied fighters appear.

The German side:

The SchuSta 26b attack planes. In the foreground a DFW C.V flown by Hptm. Gerzel and his gunner/observer behind it, the red tailed Halberstadt CL.II flown by Uffz. Kohl and his gunner Gefr. Heinz Pfaff. The C.V is armed with six 10kilo bombs and the CL.II is armed with a mix of mortar shells and handgrenade clusters thrown by hand. Above the two seaters, Richstadt is banking away towards the oncoming allied planes.

The German escort group consisted of 4 Albatros figthers:
Adler – Alb. D.III - White wing stripes and heart on fuselage sides
Schneider – Alb. D.III – Red fuselage stripe
Heber – Alb. D.III – Checkers on fuselage, mauve and green camo on wings
Richstadt – Alb. D.V – Shooting star on fuselage striped front fuselage.

Of these Richstadt is by far the best with two kills (in the horrible March mission) and good stats in Gunnery and Reaction (awareness) while the other three is of very average quality, despite Adler being a veteran from several combats. Crucially, the gunner in the Halberstadt, Gefreiter Pfaff, was known as “Adlerauge”, for his ability to hit difficult targets (+5 to hit when bombing and bonuses for critical hits with his MG).

The allied side:

The supply column moving along Menin road. The column consists of:
4 Lewis MG sections.
8 Rifle units
5 Supply lorries
1 AA lorry with a 37mm revolver canon (Flaming Onion).

For each infantry unit it is resolved whether the unit will shoot at attacking planes or run for cover.
For each lorry (apart from the AA lorry) it is resolved whether the lorry speeds up or is abandoned at the roadside.
Units in cover or abandoned lorries are marked with a green pin.

Scenario special rules:
Due to ground fog, the exact location of the convoy is unknown at game start, but will be revealed at the end of all movement on the turn, when the first German plane has crossed the middle of board #2. The convoy will start at one of three possible positions, on the right, centre or left of the game board, with one movement unit between troop stands and vehicles. Which of the three positions will be determined randomly. The convoy will be travelling towards the centre of the game board, at a rate of 2 movement units per turn.

The allied air units:

From the left: Veteran Fl.Lt Markham in an old Sopwith Pup and the elite Captain Undertaker and elite Gunnery sergeant Marksman in the Bristol Fighter. Rear-gunner Marksman killed the very able Uffz. Schmiel in the July mission.

The RFC:
Markham – Sopwith Pup
Undertaker and Marksman – Bristol F.2b Fighter
Smith and Hawkeye – Sopwith 1 ½ strutter

Note that the British Strutter and Bristol both are two-seater figthers with rear gunners.

From the top: Capitaine Montrachét in his Nieuport 24 and lieutenants Morbier and the noble Bleu de Bresse in SPAD S.VIIs

The Aéronautique Militaire
Montrachét – Nieuport 24
Morbier – Spad S.VII (150hp) - “12”
Bleu de Bresse – Spad S.VII (150hp) - “7”

All the French pilots are of good quality led by the excellent Montrachét now leading the campaign scoreboard alongside the German Richstadt with two kills each.

The action

Round 1
The initial setup had the Germans set up in a line abreast at height '20', with bombers on the right-hand side. This was an attempt to cover two of the possible positions (2 and 3) of the convoy in one sweeping turn, with the option to keep going across the board for position 1. The Halberstadt was to go first, attempting to suppress the flak and possibly scoring some hits, before the DFW would arrive with the heavier stuff, but initially the two attack planes would stick together, to provide interlocking covering fire. Richstadt stayed close to the attack planes, in order to tie up allied fighters, at least until the merge, where, hopefully, the attackers could break free, for their bombing runs.

The Allied fighters started out with a height advantage of '5', and would thus have the advantage of gaining speed in a shallow dive towards the Germans. Conversely the Germans couldn't climb too much towards their foes, or they would be too slow at the merge. One of the experiments of the day was starting the sides closer to each other, with the result that the merge would potentially happen already on turn 2, rather than turn 3 (the current norm), which made the positioning in turn 1 all the more important. The Germans played it conservative, keeping the bombers together at the slower DFW's cruising speed of 150 km/t, and the fighters ranging ahead, climbing '1' or '2' towards their counterparts. On the allied side, the Strutter and the Bristol Fighter positioned themselves for at cut across the board in a left-hand slice, to attempt to gain tailing positions on the attack planes by the end of turn 2 or turn 3. The French machines reached for the perch, to swoop down on the fight as it developed... Everything was set for the clash.

Round 2
On the second turn, the lines clashed - one turn earlier than normal. From a game point of view, this was a good thing, as normally turn 1 or turn 2 could be of lesser importance. This time it was right into the fray at once!

The Germans got the better of the initiative at this crucial point, leaving much of the allied effort to concentrate on positioning for future events, instead of actively attacking. The german bombers droned on at 150 km/t, and the only actual fire was from Richstadt, who pulled off diving turn, to get a low-odds shot in the face of Morbier in the '12' SPAD. Unsurprisingly, it missed (but this had proven a good tactic on my last visit, where this had forced another french flyer to use both his re-rolls to stay in the fight, after he was wounded). The fight naturally gravitated towards the bombers, but Gerzel's high initiative in the DFW, along with Adler and Scheine in the Albatrosses kept the hounds from coming too close to heel, essentially setting the bombers up for a clear attack run.

As Richstadt had crossed the middle of the second game board after his move was completed, the German hunch proved right, and the convoy was on the right hand side of the board, moving towards the centre – a nice juicy target was lining itself up, with much of the infantry and some of the trucks panicking, meaning a lessened risk of ground fire. The flak-truck with the flaming onion was quite another worry, though.

Round 3
On turn 3 things turned nasty! Again the germans got the best of the initiative (though as always with Montrachet as the top dog) Richstadt found himself in the middle of the order, but with a big juicy target, in the shape of the 1½ Strutter, lining itself up, as it dove towards the attack planes.
Yanking his albatross around in a tight turn, Richstadt ended up right where he wanted to be, with a head-on shot on the Strutter, which would have no return shot – possibly a kill, to make it three on record! Alas, it was not to be. Undertaker would prove to be all to aptly named.

Seeing his comrade Smith in dire straits, Undertaker threw all caution to the wind, and aggressively hurtled just past Smith, to end up right in the face of Richstadt.
Such reckless flying naturally carries the risk of collisions, in this case both with his comrade, as well as with his enemy, and Undertaker and Marksman were all out of luck. Undertaker used his only reroll to avoid Smith, and Richstadt was also all out of luck.

The Bristol plowed straight into the Albatross, and both English airmen were killed instantly, as their plane disintegrated. Richstadt was only slightly better off: His plane took 10 points of structural damage (out of 17), and manoeuvrability was reduced by 3 classes. His plane immediately entered a spin at 150 km/t, heading straight towards the earth, from a height of less than 18 units, leaving him very little, if any, chance of recovering.

Pic: Crash! The D.III and the Bristol collides.

Kohl and Genzel in the attack planes were sizing up their targets, screaming down towards the panicking troops, trading altitude for speed and lining up their targets

Pic: Round 3 - The ever aggressive Montrachét firing at Adler, missing his mark.

Round 4
This was the turn that saw the true birth of aerial interdiction. It also saw the demise of Richstadt: Failing his flying check, the albatross impacted the ground, causing massive impact trauma to its pilot, who died instantly (13 points of damage, vs 5 hitpoints). Kohl with gunner Pfaff in the Halberstadt swooped across the tail end of the convoy at the speed of heat (a blistering 210 km/t), dropping 2 clusters of handgrenades on the troops and the flak-truck. Pfaff's superior eyesight came him in good stead, with a perfect drop. With no scatter 6 units were covered by the barrage, and Pfaff came away with 3 kills, including the flak truck and a damaged MG section, which Genzel cleaned up (double coverage) for a total of 2 VP.

Pic: “Granaten ab!” Pfaff showers the AA truck with handgrenades and mortar fragmentation bombs, hitting the crew and silencing the gun.

Pic: Markham shooting at Heber. Markham honours tradition by not hitting at close range and low deflection angles. This is however just the beginning of Hebers troubles, being low on altitude, speed and ideas and with a more manoeuvrable plane on the tail.

Pic: Round 4 - Morbier hits Adlers plane causing structural damage but the German plane holds together. In the background the French nobleman, Bleu de Bresse is seen diving away.

Round 5
This round evolved into a general melée with the Germans trying to make the last part of their attack run on the column and the Albatrosses were trying to intervene. As it turned out, it was difficult for the allied fighters to get close to the two-seaters, but at the same time he German fighters presented themselves as beautiful targets.

Schneider were encircled and took a difficult decision to make a slow horizontal wingover in order to outmanoeuvre the three French fighters close by. By doing so he bled his speed and Smith in the Sopwith 1 ½ strutter saw his chance to present a good target to his gunner. The two seater followed Scneiders sow manouver at close range and ended up were close. As the gunner, Hawkeye opened up the Albatros D.III instantly caught fire, to everyone’s surprise. A kill, and two points for he allied side!

Pic: Schneider on fire.

Kohl and Genzel continued their streak across the convoy, lining up against different parts of the target, to maximize their remaining ammunition. Again this was with telling effect. Pfaff dropped his remaining grenades in to separate drops, again right on the money with no appreciable scatter, hitting more troops, killing one truck, and damaging another. Genzel's rearseater dropped his eggs on the centre of the remaining units, hiding out in a part of the road lined by trees. The bombs were right on target, and one of the targets hit was an ammunition truck, which blew itself sky-high, with near troops taking additional damage, bringing the Germans up to 10 ground kills, for 5 VP.

Pic: Genzels target area.

Round 5: After his attack run Kohl was met by a frontal attack from both SPAD S.VIIs (Morbier and de Bresse) but both missed the closing shot.

Round 6
With all bombs gone and fat on victory points, the attack planes turned tail and everyone agreed that it was high time to get back behind own lines, PDQ.
Adler, however, was in deep trouble. He was caught low by Morbier and Bleu de Bresse, and both tried to get in behind him. Bleu de Bresse in the SPAD VII “7” was too impatient, and overperformed his aircraft (missing his pilot-check) and had to spend the remainder of his turn recovering his plane, just above the ground.

Spad VII “7” dives to recover speed. Morbier in SPAD “12” gets on the tail of Adler (double stripes on top wing, just above the town.). Adlers fuel lines are hit and he can look forward to POW camp.

Kohl and Genzel both attempted to take covering positions on Adler, and Heber wanted to get as close to Montrachet as possible to guard against attack, but misjudged his attempt and stalled out, but recovered. Montrachet, ever the superb pilot, pulled his plane into a deliberate stall, and handsomely recovered to rake Heber from above in a stunning display of airmanship, leaving the German with 5 structural point (out of 17), but otherwise unharmed.
Pic: Montrachet making a stall turn and hitting Heber. Montrachéts guns must be red hot after attacking Adler twice and Heber once in the course of 4 rounds.

Round 7

Morbier (beige SPAD just above the church) continues his chase after Adler, both blasting past the old church, Morbier hits Adler again, this time hitting both MGs. Adlers D.III is now weapon-less and soon also fuel-less. The very astute Hptm. Gerzel in the two-seater DFW intervenes and latches onto the tail of Morbier, but he misses his shot. Behind, Smith in the Strutter tries to get on the tail of the DFW but lacks speed to catch up and get into firing range.

The DFW gunner suddenly had a chance for a long range, parallel shot at Montrachét flying higth above the two seater. Despite low odds, he hit the talented French pilots Nieuport and ruptured the fuel lines. Fortunately for the allies, no fire broke out but Montrachét was left with only 3 rounds of flying time. The result also forced a Macho check for Montrachét to stay in the combat, which he made - Having the cool to deal with the coming emergency landing after the fuel ran out.

Close-up: Morbier firing at Adler

Round 8
This round saw Morbier being forced to break up his pursuit of Adler as he was being tailed by the DFW. The Sopwith Strutter flown by Smith gave up catching up with the DFW and dived straight ahead through the middle to gain speed and to be in a position to catch the feeing planes if they should evade to one of the sides. Montrachét at the same time took a long side deflection shot at the DFW, missing the mark but at the same time getting punished with a ruptured fuel tank by the rear gunner. Montrachét chose to stay and fight it out and find a suitable landing spot when the fuel ran out.

Schneider surprisingly lands his burning plane and gets out unharmed, despite massive negative modifiers.

This round saw the Heber in a desperate situation; his plane had sustained massive damage, he was low on the deck, low on speed and enemy fighters were surrounding him. The only option now was to take the least undesirable option. Heber took a tight turn to the right thus throwing off a frontal shot from Morbier and avoiding a rear aspect shot from the Strutter, but instead allowing Markham in the Pup to get on his tail and the Strutter rear gunner, Hawkeye to get a close range shot.

Left we see Heber in the D.III..First his plane is getting shot up by Hawkeye in the passing Sopwith Strutter, so only 1 (1!) structure point remains. Immediately after poor Heber is wounded by Markham in the chasing Sopwith Pup. The Strutter pilot and the rear gunner in the fleeing DFW (green camo - hard to spot on the pic!) at the same time exchanging long range fire with no effect.

Round 9

It did not end well for Heber, the very maneuverable Pup on his tail were in a perfect tailing position and could deliver a devastating sustained fire salvo if it could stay in the tail. Heber decided to climb vertically, deliberately stalling and put his plane into a spin. Thomas, playing Heber, rolled a 19 on the flying check d20 and fumbled the maneuver. The plane duly spun, but Heber strained the airframe by doing so and was forced to make a structural integrity check (d20) against the remaining score of 1. The wings collapsed and Heber fell to his death in the wreckage. Markham claimed the kill:“Fired at EA which was then seen to climb vertically and break up in the air.” This scored 2 points more for the allied side.

Round 10
As no planes were able to get in a chasing position at the end of turn 10, the game ended here.

The game again ended in a tie 5-5,5 in German favour. The tightly packed supply column had been ravaged by the attacking two seaters and both attack planes returned safely, but in the process the Germans lost all their 4 escort fighters against 1 RFC machine lost. Two of the Albatros had been shot down, Adler had to land on the allied side and was now a POW. And Richstadt, Ztilettos very good pilot had been killed in that stupid collision with Undertaker/Marksman in the Bristol, killing all involved.

Broken Albatrosses. To the left; Schneiders burning plane, alongside the wreckage of Hebers D.III. The DFW still flying defensively circled by Markham, Smith and Morbier.

Schneider who had landed his burning Albatros again turned lucky and rolled very, very lucky dice on the “down behind enemy lines” table and escaped captivity by clinging onto a Red Cross liason truck going through the lines with POW letters.

As the RFC player I (GilmoreDK) was very lucky to get two kills among my pilots – Andreas playing the French had done most of the hard work, Montranchét firing of most his ammo and hitting both Adler and Heber hard and the two SPAD pilots had done very decent work as well. But I ended up with all the kills by flaming Schneider and forcing Heber to break his wings off. As a reward I got two new SE5a´s to replace old pups.

This campaign quarter ended with a victory to the allied side. With the demise of Von Glück, Best, Richstadt and Undertaker, all the good pilots, save the French Montrachét and German Juncker, has died during the last two missions. The campaign now seems to be entering a new phase with good allied aircraft and a lot less of the German kanonen.

The next mission, October 1917, will mark the end of the lone wolf aces with at series of 1-1 dogfight’s with selected pilots and planes. For this we will introduce a more tactical system for defining initiative bonuses for having a position advantage over the opponent.

Thanks to our regular campaign visitor LeZerp for co-writing this AAR.

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Morten Lund
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Yes, Beware the Geek bringing gifts!
Almost like being there in person - oh, wait - I was!

It was a very fun mission to fly (I flew Richstadt and Kohl/Pfaff initially, and later on Heber, as Ztiletto had to leave early).

Moving mud proved to be very effective - possibly too effective, with a gunnner with Adler-augen. The grenades carried by the Halberstadt might have been an early type of tactical nuke for all the damage they caused (3D10 per cluster to each target under the blast template, and some decidedly above-average rolling). Bugging out and getting home proved less of an success, what a slaughter!

Again, cudos to Montrachet and Andreas for the superb maneuver against Heber!

Starting the planes closer to each other really sped up the action, too
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Gimle Larsen
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Regarding the effectiveness of the grenades - The German hit everything. Targets were very close so Bombs that missed their initial targets scattered right onto the next target. And apart from above average rolls on the damage tables the targets were in the open. Had they been in trenches it would have been another deal.. I think the late 1918 attack on an German aerodrome described in another of these AARs better describes the effectiveness.

- G
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Thomas Loefgren
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Awesome AAR. Great work. Sounds like I missed one hell of a match.

Sounds like the Allied side was a bit lucky, to win on a failed integrity check in round 10, but I guess the well placed grenades make up from that luck.

BTW I calculated the odds of spotting all 5 troops in the last campaign match - which the allied side managed to do with an increadible streak of rolls - to under 1% (5 of 5 successes - 3 at 40% and 2 at 30% chance each) so I guess you're still up
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