Taking to the skies in the last great bi-plane fighter, this flight journal features the Fiat Cr.42 and the dusty skies of IL-2: Sturmovik Desert Wings – Tobruk. Team Fusion Simulations was nice enough to hook me up with a pre-release version of the forthcoming release and I wanted to share some of my experiences with you. Let’s have a look!
This is a pre-release version of Desert Wings – Tobruk so I won’t be commenting on anything outside of the mission itself. Consider this an after-action report and a look at the first mission of the Cr.42 campaign.
Setting the historical stage
It is December 1940 in North Africa and the British and Italian armies are fighting in the western deserts of North Africa. The British have launched Operation Compass, the first large British military operation of the Western Desert Campaign. Combined British, Indian, Commonwealth and other Allied forces arrayed in the desert launched an assault on the 10th Italian Army. At this point in the battle, there are intense battles happening along the coast centered around Sidi Barrani and inland from there.
The first mission has us set out in a group of nine Cr.42’s heading north east towards the frontlines. Our target is a concentration of British troops and vehicles located just south of Sidi Barrani. Once we’ve dropped our bombs we’re to continue to strafe the target and then return to base once the mission is complete.
Time to go
Sitting in the cockpit of the Cr.42 you immediately appreciate the mix of World War I and World War II era technologies that this, the last of the great bi-plane fighters, represents. Reflector gunsight, modern (by 1940 standards) steam gauges, and the bracing and design of a biplane fighter reminiscent of the last war.
With the engines started we taxied out to the runway. In this case a flat patch of desert prepared for flight operations. With a call over the radio we were off and on our way. Once airborne our flight circled the runway until the rest of the nine Cr.42’s were aloft and then we were on our way!
Approaching the target
On approach to the target area it was clear that there was a considerable conflict going on. Towering clouds of smoke rose in the distance obscured only by the how hanging clouds in the area. The smoke acted as a kind of beacon into the target area. Our flight loosened formation and began a shallow dive towards the target.
Flight flak rose up almost immediately as British gunners opened fire on the attacking bi-planes. Swinging my aircraft left and then right to avoid the fire I stayed close in with my group. Suddenly we were over the troop concentration, a cluster of vehicles, and with a slight ‘rumble’ the bombs were away and as I looked over my shoulder, I could see the bombs going off.
Success! The target had been hit. Now it was time to finish it off and the flight swing around for a strafing run.
Suddenly the RAF Gladiator’s were on to us. Just beneath me over my starboard wing, a Cr.42 low to the ground was being chased by a Gladiator. I half rolled and found myself on the Gladiator’s six.
The Cr.42’s two 12.7mm Breda SAFAT machine guns clattered away and tracers flew towards the enemy bi-plane. Unfortunately, the Gladiators guns had already hit their mark on the fellow Cr.42 and it crashed and scattered across the desert floor. Going too fast now I pulled up high, rolled around, and came back down on the Gladiator again with the Breda machine guns firing away again. Then, hits, and the Gladiator rolled and crashed to the ground as well.
Scanning the skies, I saw another cluster of aircraft. Two Gladiators and two Cr.42’s involved in a tight dogfight. Time to increase the odds. I latched on to one of the Gladiators that had a Cr.42 in his sights and fired away. A miss and the Gladiator flashed past me.
Now we were exceptionally low and nearly scraping the desert. The Gladiator made a tight turn and I went up and above to roll back in and dive on him again. Too much deflection angle again! Machine gun rounds passed harmlessly wide of the target.
I found myself almost right next to the Gladiator, low to the ground and maneuvering to find out who would have the advantage. His roll took him out ahead and in front of me and now it was time. Heavy machine gun shots ripped up his elevator and I flashed past the Gladiator for the last time as he went straight into the ground.
Final strafing run and time to go home
With a few machine gun rounds still in the belt, I decided to make another run at the ground targets. I picked the nearest target in the objective zone and fired several shots. At first it seemed as if nothing had happened but then, suddenly, a huge fireball. Clearly this was a fuel truck or an ammunition cache! As I flew through the dramatic fireball, I pulled the throttle lever back towards my pilot (the lever in Italian aircraft moves in the opposite direction to American, British, German and Russian aircraft) and pulled the Cr.42 through.
Singed but no worse for wear!
We countered our numbers and set course for home. Of the nine that set out, just three of us were returning. A sobering thought. We headed back to our dusty airstrip. Our return trip took us along the escarpment that serves as a critical landmark in the area before turning for landing.
Remember how I’ve been talking about how dusty this strip is? I was impatient and decided to land right behind my fellow pilots and that was not a good idea as the dust kicked up made spotting anything ahead of me nearly impossible.
I broke off and came around for my own landing. This time I managed to get the aircraft on the ground! Parked and engines off. Phew!
This is the first mission of the ‘Tempesta sull’Africa’ campaign which is a six mission story that stretches from December 1940 through to April 1941. Your virtual pilot will fly against the British Army’s Operation Compass offensive I mentioned earlier before ultimately flying missions that are part of the Axis’ attack on Tobruk in April 1941.
I hope you enjoyed this taste of one of the six campaigns that are coming from Team Fusion Simulations IL-2: Sturmovik Desert Wings – Tobruk. You can pre-order Desert Wings now from il2sturmovik.com with a pre-order discount of $59.49 USD or from the Steam Store starting on the August 6th release date.
I hope to have a couple more ‘Flight Journal’ after action reports for this sim before release so stay tuned for that!