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Thread: Formation Flying - The Bet

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    Default Formation Flying - The Bet

    Formation Flying and the Bet

    The Bet was famous on the Somme for a short while before dissolving into the mists of time and flying history. We didnít know it then but for 10 days or so it gave the chaps in the trenches a view of a theatre in the sky and we were the players.
    Perhaps I should start from the beginning, well not the beginning because that goes back to Jan 16 when I joined C flight and thereís a lot happened since then. There were three of us arrived on the same day, Flynn is dead, KIA, Berry is in hospital and me, Vagabond, 2nd Lt John Vagabond. For some inexplicable reason I am considered an Ace having shot down 6 enemy aircraft, which is not strictly true, I flew straight into one, he crashed and I didnít, Uncle put the claim in and it was granted. The citation read something about ďthe man must be mad to do such a thingĒ.

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    Anyway I digress, back to the Bet, it started when a new German light bomber squadron took up residence across the trenches from us and started conducting their raids, flying in formation. We considered this jolly unsporting of them, because they were using techniques like interlocking fields of fire, mutual support and a strict adherence to staying in the formation, we were used to them flying in a loose clump that we could break up quite easily and attack individual planes as we chose.

    Anstruther-Brown, from C Flight was having a drink with two friends Wilkinson of 287 squadron and Bigglesworth of 266 and one thing led to another and one of them said their Flight could stop The Formation and someone else said they couldnít and eventually a case of Champagne was the prize and the bet was that whichever Flight stopped The Formation would win it and the losers would have to stump up Ĺ a case each.

    A strict rota was agreed for the attacks, we lost and came last, Wilkes and Biggles both had a chance before it was our turn, they failed, - quite miserably I might add and then we had our go. The full report of our attempt is logged on the Cocky Young Men section but suffice to say it was not very successful, we shot down 1 of the German Tandems but 2 of our flight were shot down in return, myself including, that was a hairy one and no mistake.

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    We claimed the victory of course but Wilkes and Biggles just laughed at that and they were right, the remaining 3 Tandems had just flown on serenely and we couldnít stop them and a 2 to 1 loss is hardly a victory.
    That meant we had to wait with baited breath as 287 and the 266 had another go at the task, both failing and so that is why we are up here at 7:45 waiting for The Formation to arrive.

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    With true Teutonic precision the 4 Tandems came over their lines at 08:00 every morning, same altitude, same heading and in the same formation, On our first attempt we had tried to take them from behind, a well known Public School technique but this had failed for a number of reasons that are discussed in the previous report.
    We needed to try something different, but it had to be effective because we were out for blood.

    I didnít mention the insult, did I. Two days ago we had a small parcel delivered to us, A German 2 seat machine flew over the drome, quite low and threw an object over the side as they passed. This slowly dropped to earth supported by what looked like a white handkerchief but was actually a small parachute. It was 6 bottles of schnapps well protected and a note. The note said ďOur commiserations to the gallant losers, it wonít be better next time and so maybe we can help you drown your sorrowsĒ

    Head on attacks had failed, running battles had failed, chasing had failed, side attacks had failed, what to try next, I suggested another side attack but no one was in favour of that until Taki said, what about trying a side attack but in echelon. What the hell do you mean I asked, well itís simple was his answer. They come over, moving right to left, we attack from the south side with our right hand man first, aiming for the chap nearest us in the diamond formation they are using. As they pass our right hand man will then attack the rear plane and our 2nd right plane will attack the one nearest us and so on. We all looked blank!!!!
    Give me those empty bottles and Iíll show you. Comprehension slowly dawned as he laid out the bottles to show us his intentions, that might just work muttered Biff.

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    This should give you some idea of how we attacked. Biff our Flight Commander attacked first, followed by Ichiro Takahashi the son of a Japanese Samurai, (itís a bit of a long story) their objective was to hit the nearest plane first but concentrate their attack on the last plane in the formation. Two on one Ė no we didnít want to give them a sporting chance.
    Rory MacNair Ex French Foreign Legion and one of our French Liaison Officers, son of a Scots Laird, (a longer story) and me John Vagabond son of a farmer, you might notice the armoured suit Iím wearing but thatís the longest story of all. Rory and I were to concentrate on the plane nearest to us and when it went down then we would then attack the lead plane as Biff and Taki would attack the plane farthest from us once they had downed the rear plane.

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    Biff timed his attack perfectly and the Albatros canít get either of its guns to fire, unfortunately the lead Rumpler can, but his rear gun jams without doing any damage. Biffs opening burst hits the Observer and causes quite a lot of damage. From my position at the rear of the echelon I can see this perfectly and think this is a far more promising opening to the fight than the last time we took on these planes.

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    Biff puts himself in the same position against the rear Rumpler, but after a short burst of fire his gun jams which is not so good. Taki replaces Biff attacking the Albatros and sets it on fire. Now Iím thinking ďThis is going to be easy, that case of Champagne is going to taste so goodĒ

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    Biff turns in fast behind the rear Rumpler and is obviously too busy trying to un-jam his Lewis gun that he flies straight into it, miraculously neither plane takes any damage from the collision. Taki and the Albatros on the far side of the formation exchange bullets and the Albatros catches fire. I start worrying that Taki doesnít know about the Geneva Conventions and is using incendiary bullets before realizing they werenít in use yet.
    Rory lines up the first Albatros that has been taking the brunt of our attacks and it explodes in a ball of flame. 1 down 3 to go.

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    With our first target down, Rory and I attack the lead plane and this is where Rory becomes the meat in a lead sandwich taking fire from both Rumplers.
    Biff has emerged from the collision and is still trying to clear his jammed gun and Taki is a bit slow turning in so fortunately didnít collide with either Biff or the Rumpler.

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    Rory is still taking fire from the 2 planes and this is too much for the fragile Nieuport and it spirals down to earth but not without causing massive damage to the lead Rumpler, between us we hit the pilot and the engine, either of this is enough to cause the plane to return to base.
    Biff takes a long burst at close range from the rear Rumpler which must have hit an oil line or something because his plane starts to smoke like a chimney.

    1 all and 1 going home, weíre still ahead but only just.

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    I was getting really excited at this point in the game, which is a bit of a worry when youíre playing with yourself, but I took a few moody shots of the planes.

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    I was still pouring lead into the lead Rumpler when I drew 2 gun jams this was enough to send it down and I was going to consider 2 jams made the gun inoperable, that became academic when the rear Rumpler pumped lead into my plane and it exploded. Iím now writing this report from a higher place than I was before.

    Taki was firing into the rear Rumpler who was firing back to little effect when its gun jammed.

    2 to 2 weíre even, the Champagne is not tasting so good now.

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    Biff pours more lead into the Albatros and the fire that was dying down burst into life again.

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    The running battle at the rear of the fight.

    With a number of unopposed shots we caused very little damage, lots of 0ís drawn and all those +1ís went to waste. This should have been the point that we won, our planes are all in a perfect position, I should like to claim this was down to my excellent flying skills but these 2 were controlled by Flashís D8 AI tables.

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    Biff and Taki were able to hit the enemy without any return fire due to their gun jams, which is the way I like it, but now Takiís gun also jams so Iím not so happy.

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    The remaining Albatros takes more fire damage but these are tough planes and itís still flying.

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    Biff has been hit and his plane goes down, Taki is still in contact but with a jammed gun is just taking damage. The remaining Albatros has taken too much damage and itís pilot is pulling round to return to base but the Rumpler is still flying onward, but only just.

    3 to 2, we are loosing our grip on the champagne.

    At this point I moved all the planes back the equivalent of 1 board to continue the running game, you might need to read the original brief to understand this.

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    Mean time Takiís engine has started to smoke but the Albatros is in dire straights, it was hit with a second fire card before the first one was out and this will be itís death knell.


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    Sure enough, the next time it draws for fire damage there is a loud explosion and thatís the end of it.

    3 all, will we get the champagne?

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    Blinded by the smoke Taki turns to chase the last Tandem flying.

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    With a sigh of relief his plane stops smoking and he gets a clear shot at the Rumpler, but misses.

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    Closing the gap very quickly he is too close to fire and wastes a perfect opportunity. Mind you it means they canít shoot at him either.

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    There is some jinking about, shots are exchanged and the total damage to the Rumpler is now sufficient to cause the pilot to return to base. Takiís plane starts to smoke again as the Rumpler Observer makes a mess of the Nieuport.

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    The Observer is pretty hot stuff because even as the Rumpler turns hard, to head back home he is still causing damage to the Nieuport, this is sufficient to cause Taki to head for home as well.

    3 all but we forced their last plane to abort itís mission. We claimed the Champagne and with some grumbling Wilkes and Biggles presented us with some very acceptable bubbly.

    As for the German squadron, well they wonít be sending any more presents of Schnapps and maybe we might send them a bottle of Champagne, although only an empty one.


    I made a bit of a mess of my attack in the game for the CYM Campaign and was sure I could do better, this is better but an impartial viewer might not think so.
    If you got this far, thanks for reading.

  2. #2

    Default

    Nicely redone, John.
    Enjoy the bubbly.


    Still no rep available for dispatch, unfortunately.


    We need more posts.

  3. #3

    Thumbs up

    Ahh! A much better result John but still a close run thing.
    well done for winning the Bubbly!

    "Its a fine line indeed between going out in a Blaze of Glory or having Crashed & Burnt!"
    Member Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians

  4. #4

    Default

    Great Balls of Fire. Good job, John. Never mind impartial observers.


  5. #5

    Default

    A pyrrhic victory John - very exciting coverage though.

    "He is wise who watches"

  6. #6



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