The 387th Bomb Group is back in business

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1 month 1 day ago - 1 month 20 hours ago #17200 by Westcoast
After a summer off to recover from FSSDFS (flight sim scenery development frustration syndrome) I am happy to report that I am back in my Group Commander's Office at Station 126.  In fact I flew my first (nearly) successful mission against the Luftwaffe fighter base at St. Omer airfield just this afternoon.  I will be publishing a complete mission report along with photos in the appropriate section of this forum soon.

First I thought I should report on the general state of development of the 387th BG project.  I undertook this project over a year ago with the ambitious objective of recreating on the FSX/P3D platform the history and exploits of a WWII B-26 Medium Bomb Group in which my uncle served.  I set a up a series of phases which follow the actual history of the Group, with no idea whatsoever if it would be possible for me to implement any of them.  Along the way I have encountered a number of obstacles and frustrations, and solved some of them.  The principal problems have been the absence of any way to simulate the resistance posed by Luftwaffe fighters and the second is the paucity of realistic French and German scenery in FSX, even with the inclusion of pay-ware scenery add-ons(e.g. Orbx).  The first problem limits the realism of the simulation, but the second greatly increases the difficulty of finding and bombing the targets assigned to the 387th BG. The 387th had one advantage that we don't have.  They bombed as a group.  Usually 36 aircraft flying in a very tight formation.  This conferred two advantages: (1) interlocking fields of defensive fire, which along with the B-26's high speed made the B-26 Group an uninviting target for Luftwaffe fighters and giving the B-26 the best loss ratio of any bomber in the USAAF inventory and, (2) A Group bomb footprint of substantial area, greatly increasing the likelihood that some bombs would find the target.  The first advantage isn't relevant to us as we are not facing any fighters, but the second would help, if there were a way to simulate it.

I have spent  lot of time and effort trying to solve the scenery problem.  I have had a little success in acquiring the ability to modify the native FSX scenery to make targets more visible and realistic.  Unlike most of the rest of the development projects which I have encountered, I have not particularly enjoyed this work, and more work lies ahead if I am to organize what I have done and make it available to you.  During my summer stint in the mental hospital (located largely on my road bike) I have come to realize that the scenery developments I have managed to do will probably not add that much to the realism and enjoyability of flying these missions and that I need to chill out a bit.  So, we'll see what I manage to package for your use.  Meanwhile, these enhancements will be visible in screenshots I take of missions I fly and you can judge for yourself how much difference they will make.

However, I am continuing to learn every day from the work I am doing on this project.  The principal lesson is how difficult and dangerous the missions of the USAAF were.  You will see this for yourself as you start flying the missions in Phase 4 of this project.  Losses were high and the apparent impact, particularly in the first couple of years, was low.  Winston Churchill kept telling the Americans that the daylight bombing being done by the Eighth Air Force was expensive, puny and pointless and that they ought to be absorbed into the RAF night bombing effort under "Bomber Harris".  This was during 1942, when the Eighth Air Force consisted of a paltry four Groups of B-17s being cut to shreds by the Germans.  This is the period of time memorialized by the movie "Twelve O'Clock High".  This is the film that so impressed me as a fourth grader.  I watched it again last night and was struck by what a serious, high quality film it is, particularly having been made so soon after the end of the war.  The actual combat scenes consist of no more than 15 minutes in a 2 hour and 10 minute film.  There is no triumphalism, no spiking the ball.  Instead, it dramatizes the gruesome realities of the effort and the agonies of leadership sending boys out to die every day in an apparently pointless exercise.  I can't quite imagine how it so captivated a nine year old boy.  Even postwar USAAF analysis concluded that "daylight precision strategic bombing" was largely a failure, or at least not worth the costs.  The passage of seventy years have radically revised this view, as evidenced by books like The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell and Masters of the Air by Donald Miller.

Returning to the task at hand.  We are flying for the Ninth Air Force, starting in the summer of 1943.  It's a full year after the period memorialized by Twelve O'Clock High.  The Eighth Air Force is now much larger and flying B-17s and B-24s into Germany on mass raids which are attacking what USAAF planners believe to be vital strategic targets in Germany.  Losses are high due both Bf-109 and FW-190 interceptors (many of which are based in northern France) and heavy German antiaircraft fire called Flak.  The first assignment of our Group is to attack the bases from which these fighters originate in an attempt to suppress these interceptors.  The 387th will go again and again to places with names like St. Omer (4 times), Lille Nord (6 times), etc.  That's Phase 4 of the project, about the first three months of 387th operations.  We will experiment with mission assigned altitude and other variables.  I have this part of the war roughly built-out in my scenery development, for what that may be worth..  In some cases, the original Luftwaffe fields are now small commercial airports and thus show up in FSX scenery.  Others are not to be found in FSX and I have decided not to expend the effort to put them there. As we move into the Winter of 43-44 (Phase 5), German V-1 "buzzbombs",  primitive, air breathing, untargeted cruise missiles based in Northern France, are terrorizing the English civilian population and the 387th is sent out to find and destroy their launch sites.  I've started this part .  Some of these sights can still be found in Goggle Earth, but not in FSX.  I know where these sites were, but, so far, I cannot find them, or any identifiable target from the air in FSX.  You get the idea.  Phase 6 represents the most important part of the 387th history and the reason so many B-26 Groups were sent to England - to prepare for the Normandy landing of June 6th 1944 and to provide tactical support for the campaign behind the beachheads..  The B-26s were the last thing the German defenders saw before British, Canadian and American troops started wading ashore.  Who knows if we'll ever get to any of this.

The development flights I have flown so far have convinced me that we will never get any bombs on target if we have the same limitations that the 387th had:  bad weather, no electronic navaids, no B-26 autopilot, enemy fighter interference, effective flak, target camouflage, finding your way back to base after the bomb run, etc.  So, I have decided to introduce a certain amount of cheating to make the mission assignments possible.  I didn't say easy, possible.  I will introduce these aids, and tricks in the mission descriptions.  See you in the briefing room. 
Last edit: 1 month 20 hours ago by Westcoast. Reason: grammar/vocabulary
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