Friday, March 23, 2007

Over the Owen Stanleys

My gaming urges are still presently being fully taken up with playing 'Pacific Fighters'. Since last posting I have flown an average of a mission a night, all of them involving a longish approach run from Port Morsesby over the Owen Stanley mountain range followed by a rocket attack on an airfield (either the 'New Strip' at Buna on the North coast or a newly constructed one which is just North of where the mountains descend to the coastal plain). There's minimal fighter protection usually, but the flack is pretty intense (especially over the inland target). The mountains usually have patchy cloud, and once I had to take off just after dawn, before the ground mist had cleared over the coastal plains.

The most noteable incident was my first air combat victory. Flying out of the mountains, about to begin descent to inland airfield target, observed two black dots at 12 o'clock, slightly below my altitude. Our fighter escort was busy several miles to the East, engaging four bandits. I turned my nose into the approaching enemy, slightly dived, and opened up from about 500 m (we were closing on each other at about 800kph). One long burst. Hit his engine and it flames briefly. A couple bullets hit my plane, but no real damage. His plane streaming smoke crashes into the jungle a couple minutes later, after an ultimately futile attempt to regain control. I am the only beaufighter of my flight to return to base (having opportunity to both shoot at, and be shot at by, enemy planes on return journey. I am awarded the 'Defence Medal'.

I remember thinking as I accelerated towards the closing enemy 'Oscar' - I have more guns, bigger guns, two engines to his one, if I hold my nerve the odds are my way. It worked. My comrades kept at altitude and concentrated on maintaining course. That allowed the second bandit to come in from underneath. I think that's where my flight lost its first casualty. Haven't had any similar encounters since.

The missions have so far been all ground attack types. I have destroyed something like 8 planes on the ground, 6 AA guns and 3 vehicles in around 10 missions. I have had rudder shot off once and made it back. I have had around 5 occasions of being shot down (meaning that I had to refly the mission), generally from AA on the attack run. Have accumulated 3250 points in 24 missions. Getting better.

The scary thing in a campaign sense is that each mission, the front line moves further south over the mountains, and currently lies along the last ridges before the coastal plain, port moresby and my airfield. I hope my fairly successful ground attacks are helping hinder the invader as his troops on the ground grind down against bitter aussie opposition along the Kokoda track.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Flying from Singapore to Milne Bay

The adventure continues, with nightly flights over the virtual terrain of 'Pacific Fighters' being standard fare when I've been home. The Singapore campaign, where I was flying a Hurricane IIB, ended sadly for me when wounded on about my sixteenth mission - another scramble to intercept overwhelming numbers of 'Betty' bombers accompanied by a swarm of 'Zeke' and 'Oscar' fighters, the first against which wing mounted machine guns don't seem to have much impact and the second having skilled pilots and swift aircraft. I managed to crashland the plane, but that was the end of the Singapore map for me.

The next mission was six months later, and the action had moved onto Milne Bay, at the Eastern tip of New Guinea. Based an hour's flight time away at Port Moresby, the squadron now flies Beaufighters - fast and powerful twin engined fighter bombers, each with a rearward facing navigator/observer. On our first mission, I successfully rocketed 3 AA guns guarding the Japanese landing site, allowing the rest of my flight a free run at the vehicles and stores parked inland. I believe the next flight's a bomb run against Japanese invasion buildup at Lae, on the North coast over the Owen Stanley Mountains.

The Battle of Malaya/Singapore unfolded over several days. By the time I was evacuated the front line had moved South, with Japanese forces advancing primarily down both coasts, leaving a thin strip of allied controlled land in the centre of the peninsula. As far as I could see, the airstrips which were made possible by the perimeter were vulnerable to sudden attack, and all the ground infrastructure was vulnerable to being cut off and surrounded by a Japanese advance across the peninsula at any single point to the South.

Perhaps I was lucky to be evacuated, as that meant I was evacuated before the fall of Singapore and the enslavement of the thousands who were thereby forced to surrender.

As a historical note, I don't think the RAAF flew hurricanes at Singapore. The few hurricanes were in RAF squadrons. The RAAF flew american brewster buffalos and fairley battles. The arms procurement politics which led to them flying such substandard planes is covered in a great book by David Day - when I recall the name of it I'll post it here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flying Hours

The past week has continued to see me struggle with the life:gaming equation. My generally busy worklife has accelerated to a pace which I can only just sustain, and is now drawing upon my mental and physical reserves to a degree that it threatens the very experience of an evening flight over the Pacific. But, like all great pilots, I have continued to fly the missions required of me.

I am playing the RAAF Singapore campaign in 'Pacific Fighters'. Flying Hurricane IIB, I have completed 12 missions and chocked up 1070 points. I haven't shot down any jap planes, but have destroyed two ground targets (armoured cars) in separate missions. In attaining this tally there have been something like five missions I had to refly because I had either been shot down (1), crash landed (2), gone missing by bailing out over enemy territory (1) or been seriously wounded before bailing out over friendly territory (1). I have managed to land most times, and have kept my undercarriage intact only once.

I've chalked up about another 12-15 hours flight time in the process. It has been interesting watching the evolution of my skills. Initially I had trouble even staying with my formation, let alone effectively contributing to the squadron's mission. Once I managed to stay close to friends, I found that I was doing my best just to avoid being shot down. After about five missions, I was able to start occasionally putting gun sights onto opponents. Most recently, I was able to jump a zero who was stalking a friend.

I have now evolved to using 'trim' controls to maintain flight in all but dogfight situations (when I revert to the radical maneuvers of the joystick). In the last couple missions, I haven't overheated my engine.

So, progress.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What do you know?

You may recall that in a recent post I mentioned (half jokingly) that it might be a good time for my household to upgrade computers so that I'd be able to fly online with 'IL-46', the latest addition to the series of WWII combat flight simulators which began with 'IL-2'. I made the comment in the belief it would take several months for first the decision and then accumulation of money (we're not a house that lives on credit).

Well what do you know? In the past week we were made an offer we couldn't refuse, and are now proud possessors of a fairly new Pentium 4 machine with attached accessories! It makes flying Pacific Fighters a smoother operation (not that that's helped my success ratio very much) and has eased up the load on our workhorse computer.

So now the push is on to get the skills up to standard quicker, then time the online arrival to be either very soon, or when the next game in the series is released (believe it will focus on Battle of Britain).

Saddest thing generally at present which affects my gaming existence? Fact that I have been extremely under the pump at work and will now have a couple hours extra travelling time each day for a few months. Equals less time or energy for gaming...