The lesser known stories of WWII have always interested me. The exploits of fighter groups in the 8th Air Force dominate the history books and the role of the P-47 in keeping the Luftwaffe at bay is a well covered subject. Less well known is the role of the 9th Air Force whose efforts to provide tactical support to the advancing Allied armies in Europe are unsung. That’s why the subject of Gambit21’s new IL-2 Battle of Bodenplatte campaign, titled “Hell Hawks Over the Bulge’ is so compelling to me. Let’s have a look at this new campaign!
I worked closely with Gambit21 and Jason Williams from the IL-2: Great Battles team to produce the promotional trailer for this campaign. As always, I like to acknowledge and be up front about any connections I have to something I’m reviewing.
A bit of history
The exploits of the 9th Air Force seem to be overshadowed by those of the high flying 8th Air Force. Although their contribution to the effort in the drive across Europe was a consequential one, the typical stories told about WWII’s air war in the west are less often about the tactical flying that the units in the 9th undertook. These low level missions supported the drive across Europe directly with the P-47 being one of the key types used by the 9th in the air to ground attack role. Hell Hawks Over the Bulge puts you in the cockpit of the P-47D-28 and flying with the 365th Fighter Group on the frontlines of the war.
Although the P-47 remained a potent fighter to the end of the war, the Thunderbolt had a second life as a tactical fighter attacking targets at low altitudes all across Europe. That second life is what this campaign is all about! It’s use, flying low, dropping bombs, firing rockets, and strafing with the aircraft’s eight .50cal machine guns, was polar opposite from it’s use earlier in the war as a high flying fighter.
Varied, challenging and involved missions
The campaigns’ 16 missions start in the late summer of 1944 and take you into early 1945 showing both the movement and then eventual stagnation of the Allied armies during this time. The campaign culminates in the wrap-up to the Battle of the Bulge and one of the last several missions brings you face to face with Operation Bodenplatte itself.
From ground attack and strike missions to enemy interdiction and close air support, there’s a wide variety of missions included in this campaign. Even when successive missions appear to be similar in purpose and plan, there’s plenty of variety in what actually happens. Several missions see you flying low, in bad weather, in support of troops fighting the Battle of the Bulge but while the setup sounds similar in each of these, don’t be fooled or lulled into a false sense of security.
The information on the campaign store page suggests that most missions are 40-80 minutes long and that would be an accurate representation in my experience. These are longer and more challenging missions than the average IL-2 campaign and a lot of that is reflected in just how dangerous these missions were in real life. Gambit21 hasn’t gone out of his way to make the missions hard, however, they are difficult by their very nature. Flying at low altitudes and dropping bombs, rockets, and strafing targets while facing off against flak and the occasional appearance of the Luftwaffe (increasingly scarce during this time with a few notable exceptions) all offer a challenge.
On the other hand, this campaign has made me fully appreciate the robust nature of the P-47 in the IL-2: Great Battles Series (since the damage model update anyways). It’s possible to take a hit and still fly the 20-minutes that might be needed to get home.
The long missions may be a challenge to some as there are periods of time where you’re just flying formation with the group and not much is happening. Then those moments of waiting are replaced by sharp action and things really kick into gear.
This campaign also delivers quite expertly on scale. For example, a fighter sweep mission was a significant effort with four flights of P-47’s sent to intercept German aircraft. The group crashed headlong into a large swarm of German fighters with a chaotic dogfight that followed.
In another mission we were flying low level near Bastonge in poor weather. Then, out of the haze and fog, emerge the friendly and enemy positions trading fire near the town. Tanks and support vehicles moving down the roads into the battle. This campaign gets both the little details and the big ones right and I really appreciate that.
If you’re looking for quick action, this campaign might not be for you, however, if you want to really dig in and be immersed by each mission experience I think Hell Hawks delivers.
Bringing the experience to life
Hell Hawks Over the Bulge is the first IL-2 campaign to be sold on the store with voice-overs included as part of the package. Gambit21, the campaign’s author, spent a considerable amount of time together with the voice actors to create a more believable and immersive experience and its all thanks to having these custom voice lines.
Over the course of the campaign you’ll hear from your flight leader frequently but also from ground controllers and forward air controllers calling in an air strike – sometimes urgently.
The voice acting itself is decent enough for an IL-2 campaign, the voice-over levels were never a problem for me and were easily heard over the other sounds in the sim, and they add so much more to the experience. Doing this wasn’t something that was expected as no other campaign does it so this definitely drives the gold standard further forward than any other campaign before it.
The campaign also features custom 365th Fighter Group skins by 361st_Bugs which is a separate download – and one that I highly recommend you download before getting started. You can download the skin pack here.
Hell Hawks Over the Bulge delivers on a wide range of points. The missions are historically researched and well thought out, the briefings are good, the voice overs add a layer of atmosphere not present in other IL-2 campaigns at the moment, and the overall experience comes together in an impressive tapestry. This campaign delivers the goods for fans of tactical air combat missions and for people who really like to dig into each individual mission. You may have only enough time to fly a single mission in a session but this campaign was intended to immerse you in that experience over that hour and that makes this one a worthwhile buy for anyone who wants that kind of single player experience.
If this campaign sounds like it’s for you, it’s available for $9.99 on the IL-2 Sturmovik website store.