Friday, August 03, 2007

The smell of cordite in the cockpit

This evening I've flown online over the south norwegian coastline in my beaufighter for several hours. I flew five sorties, starting from almost totally dark, with only moon and very small glow on Eastern horizon, and finishing when the mist was just starting to rise through the clear still morn.

Night: Torpedo armed, went out towards Norwegian coast and coasted up seaward of the isle of Oygarden. Spotting a freighter in the channel between Oygarden and Haldra I dropped from my cruise height of about 2000 ft, but didn't have time to level up properly at altitude, and dropped the tin fish late and wide. Resisting the urge to take out my frustration by finding the source of the light AA which was coming my way and destroy it with my cannons, I returned to base - navigating sure and landing firm.

Stupid: Rearmed, I return to my freighter in the channel. Taking a better (less hurried) look from a distance, I notice that there are actually two freighters there, maybe a mile or two apart. I circle in and attack the first, come in low over the island, drop to sea level and release the torp a nice safe mile or two from the target ship. I give it a few rounds with my cannon just before rising above it, loop around in a tight curve to catch the nearby freighter with cannon. My torpedo looks to be bang on target.

Then, in the space of a few seconds, a lot of things happen. I open fire, pointing my ship at the target. On high magnification I rake it with fire and it sprouts flames. I notice the ship's rigging is higher than I thought, and that I am lower than I thought. A couple lucky AA rounds puncture a fuel tank from the rear. I belly graze the ocean to avoid the stream of shells passing over me. I plummet into the target ship, bouncing off of its rigging in a flaming wreck in the ocean. Almost simultaneously, my torpedo strikes home nearby. The ship I collided with remains afloat. The harbour is lit up briefly by all the flames.

Strike 1: Reloading, I venture out for the third time in the predawn, navigating direct to where the unsunk ship was last seen. It hasn't moved far (if at all). I line myself up by steering a particular visual bearing once I have passed my Initial Point (a particularly distinctive island formation). I drop in low over the island, and again drop further once I reach the coast. With loads of time to steady myself, I release the torp from a couple miles' distance. I circle up and away without drawing fire, observe my missile strike. Deciding to take the opportunity to see if there are any more boats in the channel I follow it south for about thirty miles. Eventually spotting another freighter, I fix its location and return to base.

Strike 2: I return, once rearmed, to the steamer I had recently located. The light is now clear enough that I don't need to have my cockpit light on. I again come in low and fast over the island, this time using a small town as my visual IP from which to set final bearing to target. Releasing the torpedo from about a mile's range, I follow the chain of islands back to the North to get another look at Herdla airfield approach decide what I'll use as my visual IP (the junction of two outer islands). Satisfied that there's time for one more mission before the fog comes in, I return to base.

Strike 3 and Out: Arming myself with rockets, I approach my target (Herdla airfield), crossing IP at 3000 feet and diving to target. Don't see anything on airflield because dazzled by lights, but unloose 8 rockets into a ship in a harbour in the town. It explodes and sinks. Before I realise this, I am being pounded by AA fire from all around. I dodge and weave, believing I might have come across a u-boat facility, when I have my elevators shot out and my engine gushing smoke. Flying too low to bail, I can't get my nose up in time to crash land in the sea and, instead, I explode on the shore.

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