• Your mission for today

September eleven is about as far back in history now as World War Two was when, as a kid, I began to understand the stories I heard from my Dad about heroism in the skies of the Pacific and Europe.

Imprinted with tales of low level missions in the Pacific and images of 1000 plane raids over aircraft plants in Germany, I'm still thrilled by moments captured on film of fighters slicing through formations, just as I'm horrified by bombers (and those same fighters) going down in flames as crewmen, mere specks, tumble out to parachute into an uncertain future.

Movies such as Twelve O'Clock High and Memphis Belle allowed me to fly along, at least vicariously, on those missions and understand, in a small way, the human toll of such events. I always wondered what it was like to be part of the action. I now know, at least in a virtual way.

Thanks to modern personal computers and an amazing piece of software called IL2 1946 I now appreciate, at least a little, the feeling when someone calls, "Flak ahead boys," or "Fighters, two o'clock!"

Its 1943 and the US Army Air Forces bombing campaigns over Germany are at a peak. Large formations of bombers attack targets inside Germany almost daily in broad daylight. My mission was as the pilot (I could have been a bombardier or gunner) of a B-25, part of a 36 plane formation at 15,000 feet on the way to attack a factory in Berlin.

I could also have chosen to fly an Me-109 or FW-190 and try to prevent the inevitable.

The mission started with a long period of nervous boredom and concentration trying to stay in formation. Droning along I watched checkpoints--a road here, a bridge there--pass under us. Checked against the chart, it seemed we'd never get there; but, knowing what was ahead, getting there quicker wasn't necessarily better. Then we heard the fighter call, and our escorts peeled off to attack the first wave of Luftwaffe planes.

Early Mustangs, P-51Bs, they stayed with us as long as they could before, low on fuel, they had to return to England. After that, we were on our own till our little friends rejoined us on the way back. And the Luftwaffe knew it. Soon more enemy fighters were on us, and we started to lose bombers.

"Blue six is going down. We're bailing out. Tell my wife I love her, willya Joey?"

Then suddenly the fighters are gone, and we knew what that meant. As if by magic, gray lethal cotton balls appear in the sky. When one materializes close to our right, the aircraft bucks, the controls shake, and I hear shrapnel hitting the aircraft. Check the gauges. Oil pressure is going down and oil temp is going up on #2. Throttle to idle, mixture to cut-off, prop feather. With our load of fuel and four 500 pound bombs we start to lose altitude.

Press on, or salvo them now and head home? We're here to do a job, and we didn't get the worst of it, so we press on.

Hit a function key and the scene switches to a factory in Berlin. As we survey the quiet neighborhood from the ramp of a Messerschmidt factory, air raid sirens begin to blare. Hit the key again and we switch scenes to an anti-aircraft crew as it swings into action. Look up, and through breaks in the clouds tiny specs in formation pass over. In a disorienting moment I realize I'm looking at myself, their target, fly over.

The emotional swing is real . . . bomb the bastards or shoot down the murderers. It just depends which side your on. Suspension of disbelief is easy. It's exciting, interesting, and disturbing to experience both sides of the action--to have an inkling of what it must have been like for those heroes from both sides that put their lives on the line in the 1940s.

1 comment:

  1. Were you flying a co-op, or on an online server? if so, was it Spits vs. 109s?

    The Warbirds of Prey servers are hands-down the best 2 of them all.