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The Battle of Britain in WarBirds III

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Feature
Article Date: September 04, 2001

WarBirds Eagle Day

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, 'What is our policy?' I will say; 'It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime.' That is our policy.

You ask, 'What is our aim?' I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.

…We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills.

—Sir Winston Churchill,
from his speech to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940.
Click HERE to hear Churchill on RAF fighter pilots.

I Entertainment Network's WarBirds has for years hosted special historical battles that re-create famous air battles. This month the focus is the Battle of Britain. This August you can sign up for a free account and fly in the Battle of Britain almost any evening you choose. (Visit their site for more information).

The critical phases of the original battle were these:
  • July 10th: beginning of the Battle;
  • August 13th, Adler Tag, the first big Luftwaffe attack;
  • September 9th, the beginning of the British reaction.

Forming Up the Ju 88s

A few nights ago, I flew in the Relaxed Realism arena in Adler Tag, or "Eagle Day". Participating aircraft in the WarBirds re-creation are the Supermarine Spitfire IA, Hawker Hurricane MK I, and the Bristol Blenheim. The Luftwaffe fly the Junkers Ju 88, Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, and the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E4.

The actual German plan for the aerial assault on Britain called for an all-out attack by the Luftwafe on the RAF fighter airfields.

This operation was to have two phases. First, an attack would be made on targets along the coast, including the radar stations. German intelligence had underestimated how much the RAF relied on these stations, but the head of the Luftwaffe Signals Service, Generaloberst Wolfgang Martini, knew about radar and insisted that these stations be knocked out. The outcome of these preliminary raids would prove or disprove the usefulness of the RDF system.

The second phase of attacks would come on the following day, Eagle Day. Luftflotten 2 and 3 were to launch a large-scale bombing attack on RAF airfields, which would destroy RAF fighters on the ground. Aircraft production factories, armaments factories, cargo and naval ships, harbors, and port facilities were also to be hit on Eagle Day, and over the succeeding three days. Since the two Luftflotten needed about a week to prepare for Eagle Day, Goering decided that it would take place on August 10, when a stretch of good weather was predicted. However, bad weather forced the postponement of Eagle Day until August 13.

The Aircraft of Eagle Day in WarBirds 3

Bf 109E-4 in WarBirds

The Bf 109 was powered by a 1,150 hp Daimler Benz twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine and had a top speed of 357 mph. It was armed with two 7.9mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon.

The WarBirds scenarios for relaxed realism mean that you don’t have to be an ace pilot to have some fun. The flight model is less demanding and spins are less common. Drag is reduced and aircraft maintain energy better. Outside views are not allowed for fighters, however.

On the German side the fighter is the Bf 109E-4. This aircraft has a sustained turn rate slightly better than the F-2 model, though it is a bit slower. The real beauty of the E-4 is its twin 20mm cannons, for a total of four forward firing guns. The hitting power of twin 20s is far greater than the single 15mm cannon mounted in the later F-2.

On the RAF side the player has a choice of the Spitfire or the Hurricane. While both these aircraft are fairly maneuverable, they barely match the E-4 and their hitting power is considerably less.

Of the flyable bombers in the Eagle Day scenario, the Ju 88 is the best choice. The Ju 88 was called the Wonder Bomber in 1938 when it set a world speed record just under 300 mph. It could carry two tons of bombs. Eventually over 16,000 would be built, though the Battle of Britain was to expose their weaknesses.

The Ju 88 mounts at least four gun positions, but the player can simply fly and bomb and let the AI handle the guns. The AI gunners are quite accurate from close range.

Flying in Eagle Day

Flying in a lite scenario in WarBirds is amazingly simple. Once you have downloaded and installed the 81 MB software (see "Files" section below) you go online to create an account. Then you simply log in and choose your aircraft.

The CM (community moderator) will welcome you to the scenario, and then you sit and wait while other pilots join up.

We had about fourteen players per side in the event on Tuesday evening. This meant some challenges in distributing player resources on the Luftwaffe side; not everyone wants to fly bombers!

Initially I had hoped to fly the Bf 109, but with a shortage of bomber pilots I ended up as a Schwarmfuehrer, commanding a flight of five (I know, a Schwarm is supposed to be four bombers).

As we waited for the scenario to launch, we organized for the attack. Our plan was simple. We would launch and find ourselves in the air at 2500m. We would join in formation and then turn East from our position about fifteen miles south of the French coast.

Bombardier Position in Ju 88

Next, we would begin our climb to 4000m. When we reached 3500m we would turn north toward our rendezvous point with the bombers.

As Schwarmfuehrer I had first to connect with the fighter commander to arrange for our escort. We agreed that the fighters would meet us above their airbase at 4000 meters and then we would proceed together across the channel.

We created our own radio channel for bomber communications. This is really easy to do with a dot command in the text comms interface and it simplifies communications, since we don’t have to "listen" to all the radio calls of the fighters. Naturally, the RAF has its own frequency, and we don’t have access to it.

Once all the details have been worked out the CO gives the word and all the players hit the FLY button. We find ourselves in our bombers at 2500 meters, and then we join up. We had decided on a modified diamond formation, and we all carried 60 percent fuel and a load of 250kg bombs. We were able to maintain an airspeed of just over 200 knots at 3500 meters.

The rendezvous with the Bf 109 escort was perfect, though they were growing impatient by the time we arrived!

The fighters took their position high and slightly behind us. We had an escort of six or seven. Two other players took off in Ju 87s from a base further to the west along the Normandy coast.

The trip across the channel was uneventful. In truth, I believe the RAF expected a raid more central, and had to race to catch us once their radar picked up our bombers. I’ll switch to first person narration to describe our raid:

Navigation in the Ju 88

The ocean is sparkling far below us. Up here the puffy clouds are beautiful, giving the lie to the deadly skies we inhabit. The mission has been routine so far, but we know we are now within the range of the Hurricanes and Spitfires. With five heavily laden bombers in the air and an equal number of fighters, we are confident but edgy.

Now the leader calls for a turn, and the aircraft leans heavily to the port side. She rights again and the engines return to their steady hum.

We are just over 3500 meters when the RAF airbase heaves into view far below us. The Schwarmfuehrer calls that he has spotted the target, and the Schwarm begins a turn. In the distance, parallel to the coast and at the same altitude we fly, I see the flash from a canopy. I am doubtful that these are 109s since they should be above us.

A moment later another pilot calls out that he has spotted a bandit, and we see two specks in the distance, rapidly closing on our formation. We watch the 109 escort detach to intercept the incoming fighters.

We see the flash of guns as the enemies pass each other, and a moment later the guns from the Spitfires are flashing as they pass through our formation. No one has taken serious damage as I line up for my bomb run.

Now our escort has engaged the fighters and one of our Schwarm is having trouble keeping up. He must have taken engine damage.

A moment later one of the RAF fighters breaks free from his fight and begins picking at our weakened member. He begins a desperate dive and manages to pull away from the Spitfire.

Now we are on target and releasing our bombs over the airfield. Puffs of deadly flak flower around our Schwarm.

We close our bomb doors and the aircraft is a thousand kilograms lighter. Tons of German iron is dropping to earth below us, to churn into bunkers, runways, fuel stores and radar. We rapidly gain speed as we begin a turn toward the east and then toward home.

One of the nice variants in flying a bomber in WarBirds is the ability to fight from any of the gun positions in the bomber. In the Ju88 this means a choice of top turret or bottom turret positions.

Firing on Spitfires

In the end four of our bombers returned home, and two of our fighters. Eagle Day had only begun.

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