Strategic bombardment overview
Strategic bombardment is a single-purpose mission with the objective of laying waste to the enemy Research, Development and Production facilities, hence the acronym RDP bombing, by the use of multi-engine bomber aircraft. These targets are found deep in the enemies rear territory, in the form of factories.
Because the factories are highly valuable assets, enemy fighters are very likely to rise to their defense. Therefore RDP bombing missions are best projected by groups of bombers, preferably with a host of friendly fighters as escort. A single bomber may get lucky and sneak through unchallenged, and a small force of 3-4 bombers may succeed too once in a blue moon, but for a lasting effect and added security the strategic bombing mission requires a great number of players working in concert. Know this before setting out on your mission!
In the current version (1.33) damage to factories reduces the rate of production corresponding to the amount of damage sustained, slowing the resupply of material to front line brigades up to 18 hours when normal resupply is 9 hours (Example: when a plane is shot down that plane normally takes 9 hours to rebuild, but with 100% of the factories down that plane would now take 18 hours to resupply). While this delay may seem slight it may nevertheless be a crucial factor in a sustained battle where troops use up material at an accelerated pace. In the past Research & Development was also effected by factory bombing, but that feature has been suspended. Each factory percent adds to the enemies supply, thus a sustained effort is required to slow down Production as factories rebuild in between attacks.
The governing factor for factory destruction is joules of explosive delivered within the factory square (that is, inside the four walls of the factory “tile”). You need not hit the actual factory building to generate damage. To this end it is appropriate to throw the heaviest and most explosive-packed bombs at the factories. Explosive content differs greatly between bombs – know your megajoules. Consult the bomb weight table for clues in this regard.
Strategic bombardment is normally effected by level bombing, where the bomber employs the purpose-built bombsight to deliver its cargo with pin-point accuracy from medium to high altitude. Level bombing is a rather technical business with many fine points to consider: selection of initial point, flying a straight and level course on the bomb run, opening and closing of bomb-bay doors, centering of bombsight, bombsight setting for correct target altitude and such like. It is a fulfilling yet challenging mission that require a certain amount of practice – attempting it without intimate knowledge of its pitfalls is certain to end in disappointment.
Bombers vs fighters
Bomber aircraft are big and somewhat slower machines in comparison to fighter aircraft, but still require special tactics and arrangements to enhance their survivability. Vulnerability is a factor of general durability, airspeed and defensive armament, and differs materially between specific aircraft types. In general terms the least durable aircraft in the WWIIOL:BE world are the Blenheim bombers (which lack any armor and self-sealing fuel tanks), whereas the most survivable bomber is the DB7/Havoc attack aircraft due to its relatively small profile, excellent maneuverability and good turn of speed. The He-111 is somewhere in between, being resistant to light MG damage and has very good defensive coverage. Even so, any bomber or formation of bombers is highly vulnerable to determined fighter attack.
Without the benefit of dedicated fighter escort, bombers must protect themselves against fighter attack through direct and indirect counter-measures, described below.
When to set out and when to arrive at the target is a major factor in ensuring a relatively uneventful flight. In general, strategic bombing activity is high during the first few RDP cycles of a campaign and especially high at the very start of a campaign and towards the end of a RDP cycle. Strategic bombing activity is considerably lower during off-peak hours, chiefly because players are either sound asleep or otherwise engaged with more pressing matters. Enemy fighter activity is also considerably lower during the short interval of darkness which marks the transition of each game day (there is a small window of approximately 30 minutes of night every 8 hours) – most pilots tend to spend the “night” on the ground or away drinking hot beverages at this time, a fact which the enterprising bomber may wish to exploit. Darkness is a weak ally however since aircraft icons stand out exceptionally well against the night sky, and because ground targets are consequently harder to spot. It is also auspicious to send out a strong bomber force when the enemy is heavily engaged with CAP and CAS in the frontline, and to send out several strong bombing parties with sequentially timed arrival times to overwhelm the defensive force.
Creative flight planning
With the advent of Air Warning System bomber formations are easy enough to track and intercept on the overhead map. Nevertheless, the odds of survival increase exponentially by planning a route that avoids enemy airfields and known enemy concentrations as much as possible: the more time interceptors must spend in transit, the better. It goes without saying that unescorted bombers flying a straight line through the middle of the map will meet with massive fighter opposition. However, by cruising at extreme altitude through a corridor of already active AWS a certain amount of surprise can be achieved, particularly if the bulk of combats are occurring at very low level (as is the norm). And by introducing dog-legged flight routes and "spoof" raids, the bomber force can keep enemy interceptors in the dark as to the real target...
A bomber force increases its survivability by cruising at higher than normal altitudes, for obvious reasons. While it takes time to climb up to 20-25,000 ft (7-8 km), a good turn of speed at high altitude is the bombers’ best insurance against effective interception. Fighters perform worse at high altitude and must spend far more time in setting up their attacks, particularly repeated attacks, than if the bombers are encountered at a more leisurely altitude of 12-15,000 ft (4-5 km). At high altitude fighters can therefore be combated more effectively with additional counter-measures such as defensive turns and defensive armament.
Whereas a completely stealthy approach is impossible on account of accurate AWS, it is however still possible to steal a march on the enemy by employing a very low ingress altitude if the route takes you across a largely barren landscape – especially if the enemy is expecting a medium to high approach. As always, your mileage with a low flight profile will vary. Another form of stealth is to "hide" the bomber force in already active AWS sectors (preferably where friendly air superiority is in effect) and to split the bomber force into several smaller groups that "blank out" a wide swathe of the AWS network by flying parallel headings.
Keep enemy interceptors guessing by flying a zig-zagging course. AWS will show your general location, offset by a small delay, so this tactic will only reap marginal benefits – but it is nevertheless slightly better than plodding along on a set heading. When spotted and pursued by interceptors on the other hand, a zig-zagging course forces the enemy to reciprocate and causes him to constantly shift his method of attack. By zig-zagging, fighters will be fooled into attacking prematurely and under less than optimal conditions. Consider a standard high-sides attack: a formation flying straight and level offers the interceptor a predictable target, allowing him to plan, set up and attack at his leisure. A zig-zagging formation on the other hand, may turn away from or turn into an attack to offer a smaller or more fleeting target and thus increase its survivability – at the very least the formation will keep the attacking fighter occupied long enough to reach its destination with less casualties than had it kept flying straight and level.
Numbers and formation
Greater numbers in the strike force quite naturally yields greater destructive power and more effective use of defensive armament. Four to eight bombers flying in close formation causes the interceptor to attack with far greater prudence and such a formation is more likely to fend off attacks that would otherwise be lethal. Although numbers are intimidating, the drawback is that they do also tend to draw a heavier response.
So, which formation should you employ? Most ad-hoc groups tend to fly in line astern and in ragged gaggles. The line astern formation is especially easy to fly – all you have to do is follow the guy in front – and especially ineffective from a defensive point of view. Against a formation in line astern, a lone fighter can pick off any plane in the group with little fear, as the volume of defensive fire is limited to what a single ship can put up. A ragged gaggle with some aircraft in pure line astern and some echeloned in the leader’s rear hemisphere is slightly better but only marginally so, as the gaggle is usually so spread out as to render its defensive power erratic and scattered at best.
The best formation that even most beginners can be expected to maintain is the double column – two groups in line astern flying a parallel course. This keeps the aircraft reasonably well together and offers mutual protection by overwatching and interlocking fields of fire. All you need is two leaders flying roughly beside each other at about 3-400 meters range. Rank beginners need only follow the guy ahead and will thus fly in line abreast by default, instantly doubling formation defensive output and making a sloppily delivered attack a dangerous proposition.
For the He-111, the arrangement and arc of its defense guns mean a different formation is more ideal. It is harder to manage then the above, but can be quickly learned and benefit from the overlapping cover fire.
The bulk of fighter attacks against bombers are delivered from astern and usually with a considerable amount of closure (overtaking speed). Against high-speed attacks, either from directly astern or from the more appropriate high side, bombers are largely defenseless but for turning to present a more difficult shot. This again requires early sighting of the attacking fighter, a swift decision and prompt action, something that only a well-coordinated and tight formation can hope to accomplish. If the fighter is closing only slowly from below and behind on the other hand, the bomber formation has a better shot at surviving by turning into the attack than were it to keep cruising steadily on.
The idea is to maneuver so as to present only high-deflection shots, or particularly tricky head-on shots – this will eventually force the fighter to commit to sloppy attacks at close range where the formation’s defensive armament can be brought to bear. If the bomber force is large enough (8+ bombers), it is auspicious to deploy two discrete groups of 4+ bombers in line abreast with about 500 meters separation. This precludes a single attacking fighter from attacking the group as a whole: by dividing his attention the “free” group can deliver covering fire as the fighter closes to attack the “engaged” group, or even cut in to engage the fighter with forward-firing guns (such as carried by DB7/Havoc bombers). This tactic works best when under attack by a fighter who matches speed with the bomber formation, and less well against high-speed attacks.
The bomber’s defensive armament is a weak deterrent against a determined attacker, but a tight formation of 8+ bombers can produce sufficient volume of fire to defeat sloppy and slow attacks. The most important aspect is to hold your fire until the bandit is inside 350 meters range (see the Range circle), then to fire heavily – if you start firing too soon you will be reloading when the enemy is in effective range. Make sure to have a fresh clip loaded for subsequent attacks.
Defensive firepower is magnified by maintaining a close formation – close meaning less than 100 meters between ships. A close formation is considerably easier to maintain by the simple expedient of reduced throttle: the leader should be cruising at about 75-85% throttle. The overhead of power is used by the rest of the formation in formatting. Thus you will reduce the advent of “Tail-end Charlies” who are invariably the first to buy the farm because they could not keep up with the main force.
Since bombers are notoriously slow and vulnerable, and because bombers attracts enemy fighters like nothing else, the survival-minded bomber force makes sure to bring friendly fighters to the party. Bomber escort is not for the impatient and kill-hungry however – it is a long and especially taxing mission which promises either too little action or too much!
Bomber escort is an incredibly complex mission and one must realize that simply sticking a few fighters among the bombers is NOT the way to do it. In actual fact “escorts” who fly too close or even in formation with the bombers are completely worthless and may just as well stay on the ground.
Adequate bomber escort, or rather bomber support, comprises several discrete forces each with their own particular mission, each force comprising anything from four to forty fighters depending on the anticipated opposition. These components are known as:
- (Fighter) Sweep
- Remote escort
- Detached escort
- Close escort
- Reception escort
The fighter sweep is a free-ranging force of at least four fighters that precede the main force by some 5-10 minutes along its general course with the intent of breaking up and deflecting assembling enemy forces. The sweep should, ideally, stay mobile and not commit to largely stationary dogfights: its role is to suppress and scatter the enemy; to push the enemy below a profitable altitude, and pull the enemy away from the main force. Several groups can be employed to blanket an area and establish a general state of air superiority independently from the bomber force. A word of warning however: such presence may well attract more rather than less opposition, and should normally only be contemplated when the enemy force is out in force in anticipation of a major attack.
The remote escort is similar to the fighter sweep inasmuch it cruises beyond visual range to the strike force. Whereas the fighter sweep operates independently and over a wide area, the remote escort should match pace with the bombers and stay within easy reach of the strike force at no more than a few minutes worth of flight time away. The remote escort deploys ahead and on the forward flanks of the strike force and, numbers allowing, high and well behind the bombers as a ready reserve. The remote escort acts as a tripwire for the detached escort (see below), providing early warning and suppression of inbound enemy. As the strike force draws close to their target, the remote escort should assume blocking positions by running CAP tracks between enemy airfields and the bombing objective.
The detached escort is the main escort package and bears the brunt of fighting, hence this group of fighters should be the numerically strongest. If fighter numbers are low, all available fighters should be assigned to this task. The detached escort operates just inside visual range to the bombers, typically along the high flanks of the strike force where they are free to develop attacks against any threat. A key factor in the engagement is to fight towards the bombers, never away, and for this reason the escort needs nerves of steel and platinum-clad discipline. When a threat develops it is usually first noticed outside the escort perimeter and in this instance the urge to launch an immediate headon attack is overpowering. In the unfolding event the escort must delay their attack until the enemy commits to the attack and moves inside the escort perimeter, heading towards the bombers. If an attack is prosecuted away from the bombers, the escort must perforce spend time, energy and space in a reversal to get behind the enemy – because the enemy will, nine times out of ten, blaze right past the escorts and go guns hot for the bombers.
Following an enemy pass at the bombers the escort must break off pursuit before drawing too far away from the “box”. The enemy will likely reverse for a second go, and when he does so the escort must again occupy a high position in between the enemy and the bombers. The most common secondary and consecutive attacks are launched from the bombers low or level astern. Once the enemy is in this position he must commit to a time-consuming and predictable pursuit – and if the escort maintain a high position on the flanks of the bombers it is an easy matter to cut in and dissuade the enemy from bothering the bombers any further.
The minimum force required to safeguard a bomber force of any size is twelve to sixteen fighters deployed in flights of four. If such numbers are not available the absolute minimum is six to eight fighters deployed in elements (wing pairs). One flight should be high up front, one flight high on the left flank, another flight high on the right flank and one flight high in reserve well behind the bomber force. These positions are important to maintain for several reasons:
- fixed positions ensure complete coverage of the defensive perimeter.
- with fixed positions, bogeys are easily identified as such, thus false reports and disruptive scrambles are minimized.
- when any station engages it can easily be reinforced by the ready reserve.
- with fixed positions, contact with the bomber box and escort flights are easier to maintain.
A high position on the flanks allows the escorts to cruise at a reduced power setting, saving gas and matching pace with the bombers’ progress. Stay at least 3000 ft (1 km) higher than the bombers. This altitude advantage is easily converted to speed required to defeat or deflect enemy attacks developing behind or below the bombers. If the fighters’ lowest cruising speed is too high relative to the bombers or if a high turn of speed is essential to meet an impending attack at the escorts’ level, the escort should run racetracks along the flanks to maintain position, or fly a zig-zag course along the flanks using consecutive 90 degree turns.
A close escort, flying herd on the bombers at no more than one full turn radius distance, is for all intents and purposes a complete waste. Such an escort cannot profitably engage any enemy except the most slow and pitiful by anything other than head-on attacks. And as you probably know, the headon attack is a 50-50 proposition at best and will in any case require a time- and energy consuming reversal that puts the escort at a continued disadvantage. A close escort should only, repeat only, be contemplated if the enemy is 100% guaranteed to appear well below and well behind the bomber force, which is a most unlikely event. Read the detached escort section again!
It would seem that attacking bombers is as easy as stealing candy from kids, however, given a reasonably well deployed bomber force and a smattering of escorts, attacking bombers is an art in itself. The challenge of closing with the enemy and landing concentrated fire is difficult enough as it is, particularly when taking fast and durable aircraft like the DB7 and Havoc into consideration. Attacking bombers, with or without escorts, can be broken up in two distinct phases: interception and actual attack.
The first task is to gain visual contact with the enemy. Use the AWS system and vector information from friendly pilots to plot the progress of a suspected enemy formation, and steer toward a point high and well ahead of the enemy. Look for tell-tale signs of combat: tracer, AA bursts and plumes of smoke. In most cases you will be closing from behind and below the bombers: do not fall for the temptation of steering a bee line toward them as this will make you insanely predictable and put you in the worst possible attack position: slow and low to level six o’clock to the bombers. During the minute or two that you are closing on the hapless bomber, your attention locked squarely ahead in anticipation of a golden moment, you are completely at the mercy of enterprising escorts – who will gun you down before you can say “wtf?”.
When closing from the side or astern you should instead motor up to a high flanking position and slightly ahead of the bombers on a parallel track, well outside the range of guns and escorts. Keep a sharp lookout in all directions as you maneuver for position – never assume that you are alone in the sky. If you chance upon the bombers with considerable altitude advantage already, defer your attack until you establish their heading and the location of escorts (if any), and move up to a high flanking position with the bombers low to your side and astern. While climbing to your attack position, radio for additional assets and keep reporting the progress of the bombers. Resist the urge to launch an immediate attack but wait until more fighters are at hand to split their attention.
In any attack against bombers of whatever size or strength it is vital to deliver a series of high and fast attacks. Most interceptors tend to park behind the bombers at matching speeds, and pay the penalty for their folly – especially against sizable bomber formations and in the face of active escorts. You will usually need several passes to down a bomber and it is therefore vital to keep your speed up so that you may recover high on the sides, parallel to the bombers and pointed in their general heading rather than opposite to it, following each attack. The lateral distance should be approximately two turn radii to allow time enough to turn in and stabilize on your attack run.
So, there you are: high and to the side. Make a wing over to a diving attack at right angles to the bomber heading, correct your course so that you draw deflection and unload your airframe so as to deliver a concentrated volume of fire at convergence range. Aim for the cockpit, engines and wingroot of the bomber and press the attack to minimum range. Break off the attack by letting the bomber slip through your gunsight, recover just below and make a gentle zoom up to the opposite flank where you again assume a parallel course before heading down to repeat the performance.
If, while you are at the parallel perch, the bombers display exemplary tactical acumen and turn their tails at you, simply cross over to the other flank and prosecute your attack from there – do not fall for the tempation of attacking from high astern, for you will slide into an easy (for the bombers) level six o’clock position in so doing.
The bombers may also make a turn into you while you are sitting at your perch, crossing perpendicularly below. In this instance it is auspicious to make an immediate and potentially quite profitable attack from directly overhead – but be advised that you will lose a lot of altitude in recovering from your attack and that the bombers may give you the slip while your SA is depreciated.
Dealing with escorts
It is unwise to try and attack a bomber force if an escort force is in attendance and positioned with a considerable energy advantage. You must first deny the escorts the opportunity to influence your attack, and this can only be accomplished by first climbing to superior altitude. Next you must force the escort to commit to pursuit outward from the bombers, i.e. you fly so as to put the escorts between yourself and the bombers and subsequently induce them to turn toward you. Once that is accomplished you can blaze right past the escorts and target the bombers. Any escort fighter worth his salt will now be turning for your tail and pedaling hard to beat you to the punch. Reverse to make another attack only if you enjoy a considerable energy advantage, or if you see the escorts abandon chase. Ideally you should try and tie up the escorts with part of your force so that other friendly fighters can deal with the bombers at their leisure.