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14

The Flare Path: Hello Kittyhawk

More Desert Wings diary excerpts

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Last week’s FP ended mid-way through a ten-sortie Desert Wings – Tobruk campaign. Picking up where I left off…*

Meet Edwina’s replacement, Evelyn. A Kittyhawk rather than a Tomahawk, she has six hundred additional pegasi stabled under her engine cowling and all her firepower (6 x .50 Brownings) embedded in her wings. While she couldn’t be described as a Bf 109’s worst nightmare, any Messerschmitt pilot that sees her scarlet spinner and gaping chin scoop looming in his rear-view mirror is likely to wish pretty ardently that he was somewhere else.

* Partly because my long-in-the-tooth PC failed the MS Flight Simulator medical :-(

 

Date: 5/12/1941. Time: 0730 hours. Wind speed: 6 ft/s from 42 degrees. Weather: clear.

The rumour is the Jerries are going to have another bash at Tobruk today. Any Luftwaffe kites that want to aid the assault will need to go through us first.

One Bf 109 almost does quite literally that early in sortie #6. Shaken and somewhat surprised to find my pedals and flight stick still connected to rudder and elevators after an awfully close encounter, I vow never to play chicken with 3000 kg of hurtling aluminium again.

The dogfight that follows the merge is as tangled and tense as it is aerobatic and hotly contested.

Although none of the shells I sling amputate or ignite, at times I see evidence that my (mostly) inexpert gunnery is making a difference.

Sadly, not all of the squadron’s Kittyhawks are enjoying quite such happy baptisms. As I set about drawing a second reluctant bandit into the orange halo of my reflector gunsight, I catch sight of a nearby P-40 rolling onto its back and shedding its canopy. If the occupant jumps he takes his sweet time about it. The doomed machine is still tenanted when it disappears from view.

When I realise that I’m alone, low on ammo, short on altitude, and playing Pied Piper to two bobbing Messerschmitts I decide to beat a hasty retreat. Back at base news of my two victories fails to lighten the funereal mood. 3 Squadron lost three Kittyhawks to Bf 109s and four Tomahawks to extra-martial prangs* in a little over an hour this morning. The toll in fathers, sons, and brothers goes unrecorded – Cliffs of Dover isn’t interested in sentimental irrelevancies like these.

* Desert Wings’ terrain avoidance AI definitely needs work

By my calculation, my latest kills make me a bona fide ace. As the nearest cold beer is a good 400 miles away and all my mess mates are pushing up whatever passes for daisies in Cyrenaica, I celebrate by asking an obliging erk to add a little something to Evelyn’s lantern jaw.

The paint is barely dry when Evie takes to the air again. Somehow 3 Squadron has managed to rustle up sufficient airframes and airmen for an afternoon sortie. A truck convoy needs guardian angels and we’ve drawn the short (?) straw.

We arrive in the nick of time. A Bf 110 about to commence its run finds itself entwined in my tracer and dumps its brace of SC250s in fright.

The spooked Jagdbomber evades with such vigour and inventiveness that I’m almost tempted to let it escape.

Almost.

When I do eventually disengage, the twin-engined machine is losing height ominously and dangling a dislodged Dunlop.

Evie’s next victim falls to earth like a V-2 after absorbing an uncharacteristically accurate burst of medium-range MG fire. Judging by the lack of cockpit activity during the dive, the Browning slugs found a way through or past the Messerschmitt’s armoured seat.

Another accidental airman slaying paves the way for my first campaign hat-trick. The chap pictured above abandons his MG 15 when he realises that he’s sharing a greenhouse with a blood-spattered corpse. My uneasy conscience breathes a small sigh of relief when the sky diver’s parachute opens successfully a few seconds later.

On the way home I reflect ruefully on the fact that Cliffs of Dover, like so many of its peers, refuses to record campaign scalps on cockpit flanks or tailplanes. Sod gongs and promotions (which CloD also ignores) I want rows of neatly painted swastikas on my warbird.

Sortie #8 is far from my finest hour and a half. Playing nursemaid to nine Blenheim bombers bound for the faraway Luftwaffe strip at Gazala, we get the job done despite my mistakes.

After overshooting one there-for-the-taking Folgore…

And almost getting bushwhacked by another (fortunately, my wide-awake wingman chased him off)…

I managed to spin while attempting an ambitious vertical interception…

Then steam past a second sitting duck.

This, the most spectacular kill of the jaunt, was the work of another Kitty.

The debrief screen fails to mention how the Blenheims got on but the hasty, flak-flecked inspection of the target I make shortly after they’ve delivered their HE suggests scorpions and jerboas bore the brunt of the raid not Heinkels and Bf 109s.

Another day, another departure from an airfield devoid of moving vehicles, visible erks, and functioning windsocks.

Eager Evie ensures the nine improbably disciplined Cicognas that are 3 Squadron’s quarry in sortie #9 are soon eight improbably disciplined Cicognas. Our victim dishes it out as well as takes it, unfortunately. We emerge from the high-speed stern attack trailing a two-tone smoke streamer…

And dogged by an MC.202 which sticks to us like gum arabic as I try every trick in my rather slim book of evasion techniques.

With help from an unplanned spin, I eventually turn the table on my pursuer…

Only to have my attack interrupted by two more Macchis.

Describing the next three minutes without recourse to Cartesian coordinates and dozens of screenshots would be bally difficult. All you really need to know is that I gained a nickname (‘Houdini’) and Evie lost her lump in the frantic final moments of sortie #9.

Sortie #10. The fleshpots antiquities of Cairo beckon! Myself and the miraculously rebuilt E for Evelyn just need to escort a gang of Hurribombers to a congested highway west of Bir el Gubi (the Afrika Korps are retreating!) then get back in one piece and, for a few days at least, we’ll be able to sleep under ceiling fans and get water from chromed taps rather than battered jerrycans.

As usual I struggle to stay awake during the flight to the objective. Number of LRDG patrols, arab camps, and dust devils/storms sighted en route? Zero.

On arrival the Hurricanes set about savaging trucks while we do our darnedest to keep the Bf 109s off their backs.

I scarify and scatter a Luftwaffe threesome with a classic boom-and-zoom attack before latching onto a Bf 109 that dives temptingly across my path.

Although my adversary clearly loves life and knows a thing or two about aerobatics, I have the edge when it comes to energy and position.

When I see his prop start windmilling I lift my thumb. He looks like he’s intending to crash-land next to the road. A sensible move. I hope he makes it.

Damn. Fate had other plans for him.

Noticing that a few nearby vehicles have escaped the Hurricane onslaught, I align Evelyn for a strafing run. Two towed 88mm Flak guns find themselves on the receiving end of particularly ferocious fusillades. They won’t be beheading any more Queens of the Desert, that’s for sure.

I think we’re done here, Evie. All right with you if I dab ‘A’ and grab forty winks while you take us home? Wake me up if there’s any sign of trouble.

 

Fifteen minutes later…

That’ll teach me.

* * *

 

To the foxer

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