Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lightning tour - Venosa and Limone (long post)

I flew only one long sortie tonight, about an hour and a half in a P38 lightning, loaded up with a dozen wing mounted rockets. Server time was early arvo, bright sun but hazy and turbulent beneath the scattered clouds at 1500 m. There were no other pilots online over Italy.

I took off from my squadron's base at Tripadi. The spitfires formerly also based here have moved North to near Mesina, a small coastal village twenty miles to the east of Palermo harbour. The front line has moved since last I flew over Italy. Then, there had been german fighters based at Mesina. I suspect they are now based near Limone. This is the Dynamic Campaign Generator at work.

Venosa: Having visited recent pilot logs (available on server) I knew that the red team (allies) hadn't hit many ground targets on the current map. So I obtained a list of target locations and flew towards the nearest - reported transport assets near the village of Venosa, a few miles inland of the the Bay of Naples' most easterly coast.

I used roads, railways and the occasional village to check on my navigation. Took awhile, the patchwork of fields beneath often serving to conceal the landmarks I was looking for. Eventually I located the target area, in a pass between coastal range and the high barren mountains which form Italy's spine.

Circling in at about 1800 feet, I knew there was opposition because there was the occasional burst of heavy AA guns nearby. I, however, couldn't see either the gun(s) or what it/they were protecting. Beneath me was a gentle rural scene, with a small village (Venosa) and many fields. I had about a 10 sqare mile area in which the target was supposedly located. I quartered the valley looking for my prey. To no avail.

On about my third pass over the village, nestled into the western slopes of the coastal range, I spotted what I thought looked like an 88mm AA gun set up near what looked like a school. I loosed off two pairs of rockets from under my wings on my fourth pass. Missing the gun, I rubbled the buildings to either side. Shame,' I thought to myself, and immediately began calculating my next attack run. I realised then how 'disconnected' an act is that of bombing from the air. On my fifth pass I destroyed the gun.

By this time, there was a growing amount of AA bursts and tracer filling the sky around. I made one more diving pass, failing again to spot any targets despite their firing at me. This area was too hot for me now, so I left. Maybe I'll return some day. Waving farewell to Venosa, I flew towards the bay to my west.

Limone: Following the coastline at maybe 2000 feet, its sandy beaches curving towards the Northwest, I observed the occasional village or river mouth pass beneath. Checking these against my map, I eventually turned out over the bay to prepare for an attack run on the port city of Limone.

I still had half my load of rockets. As a secondary target, if necessary, I knew there was a german airstrip to the north of the city. I suspected that Limones might be heavily defended, so I didn't plan to tarry as long as I had over Venosa.

I came in over the ocean at something around 350 mph at 500 feet, finding it relatively easy to study the harbour facilities and look for likely targets. I couldn't see any ships in harbour. Before long, the odd black burst of AA exploded nearby. I watched them impassively, clinically realising that if one hit me that would be my end, and even a close miss would probably irretrievably damage my plane, miles over hostile territory.

I sighted the flash of one of the heavy AA guns by its muzzle flash. It was almost at harbour edge. It looked like its landward aspect was concealed by the large industrial complex behind it.

I sent four rockets into the industrial backdrop, causing a satisfying explosion as I swooped over the still firing gun at high speed. Rubble from the factory was still in the air around as I jinked my plane (to make me a difficult shot to the AA) towards the secondary target.

A couple minutes later I swooped low over the airfield, identifying no assets worth my final rocket munitions. The field appeared abandoned. So I gained a bit of altiuted in a climbing turn back towards Limone. I reached about 2000 feet as I brought my nose onto a bearing towards the 88mm at the distant wharf.

I dived in at high speed, loosing my rockets whilst still at a 45 degree angle to target. I had a clear shot because the factory was no longer shielding the gun from this landward direction. I was bang on target, and was already pouring on the the power in a steep turning climb to get me away from the harbour and on course for home when my rockets destroyed the gun and all around.

I noted that my plane had been more stable aerodynamically at high speed close to sea level than it had been thousands of feet up. But that accords with what I know of compressibility, as the speed of sound is greater at sea level than at altitude (due the greater density of air). Big tick to the Flight Model of IL46.

The return journey over the sea was uneventful. I crossed the south coast of the bay to the west of Palermo, where I had planned, and was able to come in for a three point landing on my initial approach. I switched my engines off about an hour and a half after I'd turned them on.

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