The day’s first encounter looked to be between B Flight of 8 Naval (3x Sopwith Triplanes) and Jasta 30 (4x Albatros DIII and 1x DII), but after the minis were on the table things fizzled out. The Germans had taken off from Phalempin and were climbing to the west when they spotted (and were spotted by) the British who were around 2-1/12 miles to the south on the northwest leg of their offensive patrol. The Tripes were cruising at 11,000′ and the Albatros formation was just climbing through 10,500′ – so the British had a speed and height advantage at the start, though being outnumbered (almost 2:1 in planes and more than 3:1 in guns) probably more than offsets that. It would have been nice for them if 43 Squadron‘s line patrol had noticed them and joined the fight, but such was not to be and the Strutters turned south.
Both sides turned towards each other. Charles, the British leader, led his flight in a climb in the hope of luring the Germans even higher, but Oskar (his opposing counterpart) was familiar with the Sopwith’s abilities and knew better than to get into a low-speed tangle at altitude with the light and agile Triplane so he kept his troops at their current height (ending up 1000′ below the British). The British leader was a veteran who knew when to start a fight and when to avoid one. As long as he kept the Germans away from the reconnaissance work over the lines -and presented a real threat to them if they chose to dive away- he was fulfilling his mission brief. He kept the Triplanes above the Jasta aircraft to ensure that any attempt by the Germans to engage would cost them precious energy.
The cautious circling continued for a few minutes until Oskar dove away in the hope of losing the British in the lower deck of broken clouds (at around 5000′). The Triplanes managed to stay with their prey and continued their shadowing as the Albatros turned south along the lines. Oskar had spotted a Be2 (doing artillery spotting) and was about to send Wilhelm down to deal with it while he kept the Triplanes busy (if they chose to try to interfere). Luckily for Oskar the Quirk turned and dove for home (its job done) before the plan could be executed, because the line patrol from 43 Squadron had spotted the Germans and were in the process of setting up their own attack. Now outnumbered by the two Sopwith flights Jasta 30 looked to be in trouble, but a flight from Jasta 11 -climbing towards the lines to check on a reported group of British aircraft patrolling at 10,000′ (the 43 Sq flight)- came on the scene. They hadn’t spotted anything yet but their numbers (and height advantage) may swing things to the Hun’s favor.
A few turns were spent using 1200′ hexes / 12-second turns as the four groups maneuvered for position.
Jasta 11 soon spotted 43 Squadron, but as they came behind Jasta 30 (which had turned / climbed to face the Strutters) they saw the Triplanes (which had noticed the arrival of the new group of Albatros) moving in and so have turned their attention to dealing with the climbing RNAS group. The board will now be reset to 600′ hexes (and the pretty colors will be shelved – back to good old grey lines).
The formations begin to unravel a bit. Charles decides to lead the Triplanes in a dive on his original prey from Jasta 30 in the hope of overwhelming them before the newcomers from Jasta 11 can interfere. Unfortunately for the 8(N) flight leader the Clerget motors of his wingmen didn’t answer the call to duty required of the earlier power climb as well as his own, and he ends up in a formation of one as he starts his dive. Trouble of a different sort strikes Jasta 11 as they level off and slow a bit: The DII on leader Theo’s right wing cuts the air a tad cleaner and it’s pilot, Albert (who is as slightly ‘keen’ as he is inexperienced), pays too much attention to the distant Triplanes, fails to keep an eye on his place in the formation, and finds himself out on his own. Oskar, leading Jasta 30, has the most trouble, though, as he chooses to continue the climb right up into the face of the 43 Squadron flight without noticing that his formation is barely that, becoming more and more ragged as the performance of the other Mercedes (and that of the pilots) don’t all match his own. Instead of leading a fist in a strong blow, only Berthold in the DII has enough energy to match his leader’s level of maneuvering. Wilhelm and Gottfreid manage to keep up but can’t really do much besides be there and Walter can’t get his Albatros within effective range, remaining outside the engagement area (represented on the table with a separate, larger hex to hold the models in a more pleasing visual).
The British are more than willing to accept battle and use their greater speed and height to maneuver into superior positions within the melee and use the fact that they have a gun in the rear to good effect. Leslie counters Oskar’s attack but doesn’t manage to create a significant advantage, though Reggie in the back seat draws a bead and puts a few bothersome holes in the Albatros of Gottfreid. Oskar suffers a similar fate from Cecil who gets in some shooting while his pilot, Frederick, does a fair amount of structural damage to Wilhelm’s plane. Thomas joins Reggie in making Gottfreid’s life uncomfortable and is happy to see his rounds go into the engine which begins to smoke. Edgar in the back seat of Thomas’ Strutter can’t quite get his bearings amongst the chaos, which leaves Berthold free to close in and put some bullets into the Sopwith’s engine – there will be two smoke trails in the sky next turn.
The cluster of aircraft separates and Walter ends up alone in the previously crowded airspace – he’s set his sights on Leslie who tries to find his bearings after a near collision with Thomas. Oskar ends up by himself as does Gottfreid who dives away to (hopefully) nurse his wounded plane back to base. Others wish they were alone: Thomas compounded his smoking engine troubles with a spin resulting from frantic maneuvering to avoid the collision with Leslie and still has Berthold peppering him with bullets. Wilhelm is also in trouble as his attempt to climb away has not given Frederick the slip and he is badly wounded.
Thomas manages to recover from the spin but still has Berthold’s attention – though the German’s continued shooting has done little further of significance the Strutter’s damaged/smoking engine is enough worry to go on with. Oskar moves over to see Walter and Leslie counter each’s maneuvering to line the other up as neither gains a significant advantage – but the Sopwith has a ‘sting in its tail’ in the form of observer Reggie who reminds the German of this fact with a few hits from his Lewis gun. Frederick has no need for help from his observer as he continues to pour rounds into the wounded Wilhelm whose outlook continues to diminish as his engine has been hit and is now smoking.
The Jasta 11 flight -led, it appears, by eager Albert- continues pursuit of the 8 Naval Triplanes who have managed to get back together and are now close enough to the lower engagement to pick out targets and prepare to attack ( -hopefully before being bounced by the pursuing Albatros…).
Wilhelm’s day goes from bad to worse (in the upper-left of the photo) as his attempts to escape danger are hampered by his wounds and lack of speed/power. His efforts lead only to him stalling in front of Frederick who pours continuous fire into the stricken Albatros and ‘worse’ becomes ‘worst’ as flames begin to lick along the sides. Wilhelm’s only hope now is to join Gottfreid in a glide to a safe crash landing but such is a slim chance to (literally) bet one’s life on. Jasta 11 is still well out of range and the design quirk of the newer Albatros’ single-spar lower wing is causing trouble in the speedy dive as Jacob in the DIII on leader Theo’s left feels a shudder and notices the fabric rippling in a decidedly disconcerting manner. Ahead, the 8 Naval Triplanes dive into the fray (and the big hexboard is back…)
Walter and Leslie continue to dance around each other and Reggie pops away at the German as opportunity arises – the damage done so far isn’t critical but has passed the point of being merely annoying and Walter knows that continuation of the fight on these terms isn’t going to lead to anything good. Oskar has circled in and is now in a position to engage Leslie and tip things in the Hun’s favor but the diving Triplanes may ensure that the balance of power remains with the British. Of the three Tripes, rookie Albert can’t make any sense of the chaos in front of him, but Charles and Douglas perch above Oskar and Walter, respectively, ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting Germans. Everything isn’t going the Brit’s way, however: Poor Thomas fails to get any power from his damaged engine and can do nothing to avoid the persistent fire from Berthold that brings the Strutter’s classification as an aircraft capable of controlled flight into serious doubt while Edgar, its observer, is still out of the fight, having yet to get himself sorted after the spin.
Poor luck strikes both sides. Thomas’ struggles continue as he falls back into a spin – though it at least spoils Berthold’s aim. Walter spotted Oskar coming to help and maneuvered to keep Leslie busy but ends up stalling. Leslie, though, is surprised by Oskar’s duel with Reggie and thrown off the fight. Albert (the Brit) dives through the furball and forces Douglas into wild gyrations to avoid a collision which saves Walter from a surprise attack. Charles puts his Triplane on Oskar’s tail but his shots go wide while Albert (the Hun) moves in to perch above him. The rest of Jasta 11 is now close enough to catch its share of bad luck: Theo is distracted by rippling in his lower wing just like Jacob, and Jacob now notices tears as well. Rookie Kurt can make no sense of the chaos ahead, but Konrad has his eyes on the meteoric Triplane of Albert. Out of frame, the fire spreads on poor Wilhelm’s Albatros as Frederick puts in a few more rounds.
The photos for the rest of the game are posted below. I’ll get around to writing up the action someday…