Close Air Support
Close Air Support
The ground-pounders best friend - and worst nightmare.
The majority of WWIIOL:BE air missions are conducted in the framework of Close Air Support, that is, with the intent to directly influence the ground war by adding bombs and bullets to the equation. Because aircraft have a relatively short time to combat (TTC) and pack a powerful punch in addition to near-perfect intelligence and excellent observation capacity, CAS has an extremely high combat efficiency potential.
CAS is however not a particularly healthy proposition for the pilot, especially if the air superiority situation is undecided or hostile, and particularly if enemy AA is strongly in attendance. To be effective, CAS requires CAP for protection, and better still, BARCAP too. Only if your side has complete mastery of the air (air supremacy) is the CAS mission entirely untroubled. This happy state of affairs is usually only in evidence if the ground objective is right next to your airfield, or if a concerted effort is expended to isolate the battlefield – which is usually only in effect for the briefest of moments.
As all air missions CAS is only really effective when the sortie rate is high, that is, when there are sufficient pilots participating in the task. In other words, going alone in the face of stiff opposition is a losing proposition.
Pure CAS is a persistent mission not to be confused with CAP fighters who abandon their air superiority mission to dish it out against ground targets or regular ground attack missions that operate on a “get in, get out” basis.
In its true form the CAS force orbits overhead the ground battle in readiness to pounce at targets identified by dedicated spotters on the ground known as Forward Air Controllers (FAC) or by the airborne mission leader. This level of organization is rare in the game however and you will most likely find yourself doing most of your observation and engagement decisions on your own without central direction.
- The organized CAS force orbiting in “cabrank” style maximizes its efficiency by keeping part of its force in reserve. Thus, when a proportion of the fighters have expended its stores and ammunition, a second echelon remain on station when the first return to base to replenish.
- The disorganized CAS force arrives intermittently to the target and expend its energy in penny packets, usually in the face of enemy opposition that further lowers its efficacy. Avoid such practice but make certain to team up instead!
In lieu of a FAC the typical WWIIOL:BE CAS fighter must rely on scattered reports from ground troops: read the chatter in the text buffer on the “Target” channel (F2 by default) if your mission objective coincides with the ground objective (this is not always the case). Targets are also usually marked on the overhead map, though the accuracy of these markers is a matter of debate.
Targets are rather easily spotted:
- Find the active Forward Base (enemy or friendly) and search between the FB and the town. You will find 90% of your targets in a small arc at 500 meters distance to the town and/or the FB.
- Watch the road between FB and town for enemy traffic. A large proportion of targets will be speeding to their objective on the road. Feast on them.
- Watch for tracers and explosions, and trace them back to their origin.
- If the objective is contested, your targets will be close to depot structures and in or close to the army base.
- Watch for AA tracers, either to avoid concentrations or to bomb them to smithereens when they are not watching.
- Look for tanks and guns near prominent features and elevated terrain.
- Watch the flanks and rear of the ground objective out to 1,500 meters distance for enterprising tanks and guns.
- Watch wooded areas and small clumps of trees for trucks and tank concentrations.
The Ground Attack mission differs from CAS inasmuch the former has a “hit and run” character in comparison to the more persistent CAS mission. A ground attack mission is leveraged against known or suspected enemy positions; bridges; buildings and other structures such as port facilities which may or may not be involved in the tactical ground war.
- The point of the ground attack mission is that its target (its exact location and nature) is known beforehand and can be scientifically engaged with a high degree of success because little further reconnaissance is necessary prior to delivering the attack.
- The ground attack mission can be executed from any altitude and need only rise to medium or high altitude if enemy interception and/or defensive AA is expected or suspected.
- Like all air missions, the ground attack mission is best executed in strength of at least four fighter-bombers or attack bombers, although this happenstance is the exception rather than the rule in the WWIIOL:BE world.
- Ideally the ground attack force should be escorted by unladen fighters, who besides conveying the attack force safely to and from the target may draw the defensive attention to themselves shortly before the attack element engages.
Strafing – engaging ground targets with your forward-firing armament – is a regular pastime that requires little expertise, though a fair amount of prudence is beneficial.
- Be certain to strafe undisturbed by enemy air: check the surrounding airspace and deal with possible threats before going to the deck, or you will soon be a dead duck.
- Do not slow down while strafing but always fly with the throttle firewalled. The slower you go the more vulnerable you become to return fire. Never use flaps while strafing.
- If AA is a factor, either go for very low or very steep attack angles – attacking in straight lines at 30-45 degrees off the horizontal is a recipe for disaster when looking down the barrels of active defences.
- When attacking at 45 degrees or greater angle against active AA defenses, do not make a straight run but use an inverted parabolic approach instead. E.g. aim well below the target during the initial dive, pull gently yet decisively in mid-dive to bring the target into your gunsight and only straighten out fully shortly before drawing into effective range. During the final phase you should be in a low angle dive (5-15 degrees) to make your recovery easier. This makes for an extremely tricky shot for the AA gunner and you will be happy to see his fire pass harmlessly well overhead.
- Strafe in pairs or more from different directions to split the defensive attention.
- Break off your attacks in due time to avoid suffering target fixation and an embarrassing contact with unyielding nature and structures.
- Be certain to be trimmed correctly so as to deliver concentrated bursts.
- If your rudder control is overly sensitive, avoid the use of rudders to correct your guns solution as this may send you flopping into the ground.
- Do not overstay your welcome. An enemy under sustained attack will deploy AA in increasing numbers, and if that is insufficient as to deter you, enemy fighters are soon likely to appear.
Dive and glide bombing
The difference between Dive bombing and Glide bombing lies chiefly in the attack angle: dive bombing is launched at 90 to 60 degrees off the horizontal, glide bombing describes an attack at any angle below 60 degrees.
There is but one purpose-built dive-bomber currently represented in WWIIOL:BE, the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka. The difference between the Stuka and any old fighter used in the dive-bombing role is that the former is endowed with highly effective air brakes (S), allowing it to hold a constant and manageable throttle-on speed in the dive, whereas a fighter-bomber is prone to over speeding despite the use of flaps if held for too long in a near-vertical dive.
- The advantage of the vertical attack as delivered by the true dive-bomber is the ease of aiming: coming down with the target fully centered in the gunsight, the pilot need not compute and add (vertical) deflection to place his bombs accurately. This assumes that the attack is fully vertical – even the slightest angle will require a certain amount of windage (deflection): the lower the angle, the greater the lead required.
- Airspeed is also a factor in computing deflection. A low and relatively slow approach requires more deflection than a high and fast approach. Further to this, the target may be moving and thus requiring additional deflection both vertical and lateral. Extensive offline practice is recommended.
- Key to accurate dive bombing is to be trimmed correctly for the speed at which weapons delivery is intended. E.g. if you are trimmed for a steady climb and then launch into a high-speed dive, you will be fighting the aircraft’s tendency to nose up when all you want is a steady well-aimed run at the target.
- The ideal dive-bombing attack starts at about 3 km (9,000 ft) or higher, with the pilot approaching the target either straight on for a Split-S entry to the dive, or with the target quite close and visible in the half-forward low view for a simple wingover into the dive. Deploy air brakes (S) shortly after entering the dive and watch your attitude indicator – or look out over your wing to gauge your dive angle. Press the attack down to 1,000 meters (absolute minimum 300-500 meters), release bombs, un-deploy air brakes (S) and gently recover from the attack run. Keep your throttle firewalled and correct elevator trim as appropriate – the air brake tends to tuck your nose in the dive.
- It is generally wise to make no more than a single attack against a defended target, as you will be both low and slow on your subsequent attack. If you attack from lower than 1,000 meters, do not bother with the air brake – you will need every knot of airspeed to stay out of harm’s way. For added immersion, deploy the Stuka siren (right shift) in the dive after you have deployed the air brakes. The siren does however alert ground troops to take cover and to start hosing AA fire your way, so you might want to reserve the siren for occasions when you sortie in strength.
- The benefit of the high vertical attack is that you get plenty of time in the gunsight. It is also considerably harder for enemy fighters to intercept you in the dive, and AA gunners face a particularly tricky shot as well, as the lateral drift as seen from the ground is quite hard to compute. The drawback is that even the slightest yaw or lateral offset will cause your bomb to impact well away from the intended spot. Practice!
- Glide bombing is eminently simple. Pass the target to the side and wing into a dive at a 30-60 degree angle. Cut throttle if the attack starts above 2 km/6,000 ft lest you enter compressibility and lose elevator control for your recovery. Aim slightly high of the target, pickle bombs at none too low altitude (500 m/1500 ft is good but the absolute minimum is very much lower) and begone without staying to watch the fireworks. Practice offline to find a working lowest altitude without augering in or blowing yourself up with your own bomb.
Low altitude bombing
Low altitude bombing, defined as aimed weapons delivery below 200 meters (600 feet), can be performed by all bombcarriers under specific conditions mainly predicated by the weight and explosive power of onboard stores.
- Common practice for low altitude bombing is to ingress on the deck (NOE, Nap Of Earth), i.e. to fly a ground-hugging path at treetop altitude or lower, at maximum speed. The benefit of a NOE approach is that ground defenses have little time and opportunity to spot, aim and fire effectively before the aircraft draws out of the shot window.
- If the AA gunner is expecting the attack and is trained in the proper direction however, and if the aircraft is flying slowly and well above the treetops, the NOE approach is decidedly unhealthy. The lower and faster you go, the better. Also make sure to come in from behind or from a flank of the expected direction to increase your odds of survival.
- Shortly before the target, at about 1500-2000 m distance, “pop up” to gain visual contact with the target and proceed to close to the weapons delivery point. Best results are obtained by keeping the target slightly offset to the side as you pop up, then to move in by rolling down into a dive. This is better by far than attempting to push the nose forward into a dive.
- Following bombs away, make a hard break turn and return to the deck without looking back to observe the effects of your attack. Most pilots elect to make a lazy climbing turn after dropping their goods however – thereby providing AA gunners with an excellent and highly predictable target.
- In the NOE attack, fighter-bombers need to close to about 300-400 meters range and aim with the gunsight held slightly high for a level or slightly diving bomb delivery. Practice offline with lining up a conspicuous target with the bottom of your gunsight ring.
Level Bomber Practice
- Level bombers (Blenheim Mk IV, Havoc/DB7 and He-111) may also employ a low-level attack run without using the bombsight. Due to their comparably low airspeed level bombers must however draw closer to the target and perforce suffer greater damage from their own bomb-blast and aimed ground fire. This in turn requires the level bomber to fly somewhat higher to escape the bomb blast effect: the minimum safe altitude is about 250 feet/100 m AGL. The puny 40 lb bombs of the Blenheim Mk I and IV (secondary armament, press backspace to select) can be thrown from 100 ft altitude, i.e. just above treetop altitude, with little ill effect.
- Bomb delivery for medium bombers can be reasonably accurate without using the bombsight. You will need to be flying level at maximum speed, either on autopilot or trimmed for level flight, and occupying the bombardier position (2) during the final phase of the attack.
- Start in the pilot’s seat and fly a direct course toward the target by lining it up with the pilot’s gunsight (or a reference point in the He-111 cockpit) at approximately 200 ft/100 m. When lined up, switch to the bombardier position, find the aiming point in the plexiglass canopy framework and pickle your bombs as the target draws into this point, then quickly return to the pilot seat and initiate evasive action. The aiming point references shown below pertain to a maximum speed level bomb delivery at 200 ft/100 m.
Blenheim IV bombardier view: Drop the bomb(s) when the target crosses over the canopy strut. Minimum safe altitude is approximately 300 ft AGL due to the Blenheim's low airspeed.
He-111 pilot view: Line up the target with the vertical reference shown. You may also correct your lineup in position 3 by zooming and slewing the gun to full left.
He-111 bombardier view: The low airspeed of the He-111 requires you to drop "blind" with the target obstructed by the floor panel. Use Kentucky Windage and drop more than a single bomb if uncertain.
Havoc bombardier view: Use the top struts as shown for a rough indication of an imaginary release point. The high speed of the Havoc makes accurate delivery a split-second issue - drop several bombs to make sure.
DB7 bombardier view: Use the top struts as shown for a rough indication of an imaginary release point, just like in the Havoc.
- Medium and light bombers can also be employed for glide bombing, i.e. in shallow dives directly toward the target. Do not exceed a dive angle of approximately 30 degrees as a steeper dive will prohibit bomb release and anyway cause you to crash horribly due to the difficulties of recovery at low altitude. In a glide bombing attack, aim with the pilot’s gunsight and keep the target at the bottom of the reticle as you close to effective range. Remember to trim the aircraft for a steady hands-off-stick attitude – if you are not correctly trimmed the aircraft will tend to climb off the straight path and your bombs will land well beyond the target. Glide bombing is best effected from low to medium altitude (2000-6000 ft/800-2000 m), and if you dive in from the higher altitude band you will need to throttle down to avoid over speeding and subsequent loss of control.
- As you approach the bomb delivery point, quickly switch to bombardier position and salvo all or parts of your stores (remember to open bomb-bay doors in the Havoc/DB7 beforehand), then immediately switch back to the pilot seat and recover from the dive. Initiate evasive maneuvers by quarter-rolling and pulling until you are at least 45 degrees offset from the target, continue the dive down to the deck and gently flatten out to make a ground-hugging getaway.
- If your speed is excessive and your altitude too low to afford multiple bomb release, throw only one or two bombs and recover. Regain altitude and preferably surprise by extending well beyond the target before returning to throw your remaining luggage.
- Realize that prolonged loitering around a heavily contested ground objective is detrimental to your health, at any altitude. Make your attacks a “get in, get out” affair – most of the time you only get one shot before ground and air defenses zero in on your presence and move to interfere.
Ground Support Bombardment
Individual bombers, either employing level bombing or glide bombing techniques for tactical purposes, are essentially conducting CAS missions against identified or strongly suspected enemy positions. The concept of ground support bombardment – also known as area bombardment - is quite different inasmuch it relies on the use of coordinated mass and largely un-aimed bomb delivery in formation strength.
The idea of ground support bombardment is to deliver an overwhelming volume of fire against a tightly packed target area, usually an armybase, a Forward Base or an entire town perimeter.
The mission profile incorporates the following parameters:
- A flight comprising a minimum of four bombers.
- A flight leader, preferably multicrewed with pilot and bombardier.
- A close flight formation with individual aircraft spaced in line abreast or V formation on the flight leader. A dense formation, flying wingtip to wingtip, will reap the greatest dividends.
- A low to medium altitude level bombing run.
- Simultaneous bomb release on lead bombardier signal (or bomb release).
The ground support bombardment force benefits materially from having dedicated escort and/or a strong CAP presence at the target (TARCAP). Still better, friendly CAS assets should concentrate on subduing enemy AA positions shortly before the main bomber force makes a showing.
- The immediate benefit of the massed bomber raid is that only the lead bombardier needs to have prior experience in lining up a target correctly: the other bombers need merely concern themselves with holding a tight formation and of dropping their cargo when the lead ship bombs. The natural drawback is of course that the lead bombardier may fail to reach the target due to enemy intervention – in this case an executive leader must take over and fulfill the mission.
- In the case of your mission fielding more than eight bombers, it is highly recommended to attack in waves at intervals of 30-60 seconds, as victims of the first wave will then be comfortably located close to the spawn points and ready for a second helping of “teh pwn”. Alternatively you may want to salvo half of your load on the first pass and chuck the rest after reversing and setting up anew – this is of course depending on the situation both on the ground and in the air.
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