Sunday, 12 January 2020

Target for Tonight, Op Five - Hannover

The amazing digital artwork by Piotr Forkasiewicz, captures dramatically the devastating impact of an attack with Schrage Musik, upward firing cannon.

The months of September and October 1943 saw Bomber Command take a two month break from its initial heavy attacks against Berlin as replicated in our first four ops of this mini-campaign using Target for Tonight.

Op 1 - Berlin
Op 2 - Nuremberg
Op 3 - Berlin
Op 4 - Mannheim

In the first half of this eight op series of games Bomber Command set up an imposing position with a Major British Victory in the offing that over the course of the last four games has seen that victory point total gradually pegged back , culminating in our last game in November last year that saw the Nachtjagd cause havoc among the veteran and elite bomber crews as a successful bombing pattern over Mannheim was marred by the loss of large number of very experienced crews.

The balance of the campaign had shifted to just two points keeping Bomber Command in the victory side of a drawn campaign and with the 711 plane attack on the relatively close target of Hannover that was attacked on the 22nd-23rd September 1943, as the next op to be played, there was a great opportunity for Bomber Command to regain its lead.

The historical raid plan for Bomber Command during the Battle of Berlin Campaign. We are playing some of the first eight largest attacks in that campaign to test our campaign system for Target for Tonight

The historical attack on Hannover is described quite succinctly in the Bomber Command War Diaries, stating;

'Visibility in the target area was good but stronger winds than forecast caused the marking and the bombing to be concentrated 2 and 5 miles south-south-east of the city centre. It had not been possible to obtain a German report but it is unlikely that serious damage was caused.'

As our game was to demonstrate Target for Tonight has an often unerring way of replicating the history book.

The campaign map indicating ops completed so far and on which targets together with the victory point threshold

The campaign we are playing is all about results obtained from the area bombing brought against the various city targets our bomber groups are ordered to attack, with the players at this stage of Ops planning looking carefully at the bomb loads to be carried against the fuel load and how to set up their waves to attack in sequence to allow the right mix of bombs to be dropped in the right area; with 'cookie', 4,000lb HE block-buster bombs needed to deal with industrial and transport targets to be followed up by other attacks dropping a mix of general high explosive and incendiary bombs.

The idea is to cause as many large fires as possible with the right mix of bombs on particular target areas in the city attacked, creating the victory point total for Bomber Command, topped up with any nightfighters shot down in the process.

A near full turn out by Bomber Command with just 20% of the force stood down for this attack

The Nachtjagd's mission is to destroy as many British bombers as they can, and preferably gain the added bonus of taking down the veteran and elite crews that gain them extra bonus victory points whilst hoping that a combination of bombing error and weather complications will add to their efforts and reduce the effect of the attacks on the target.

The number of bombers selected for our game ops and the quality of their crews is randomised for each game as is the quality of nightfighters they may run into together with British intruder nightfighters operating in support of them.

Likewise the weather and wind conditions at home airfields (this can affect take-off and landings) and the target (affecting which type of marker is used and any likely drift)is also randomised, forcing the players to make decisions on bomb load out and target marking positioning in the absence of certainty, but withing a margin of error.

The target map for Hannover, with wind direction indicated from the east and, because of predicted cloud over the target,
Paramata flare markers being used to mark the target, yet to be placed. The players select where this marker will be placed
to guide their bombing attacks on the key targets within the city, with the assumption that it is roughly where they have placed it.

As the campaign has developed the players are starting to get more sophisticated with their planning, looking to bomb up their Lancasters and the other Mainforce heavies in a particular load out to suit the target and sending in the waves conscious of crew experience and getting the first drops on target for the less experienced crews to attempt to follow up on.

This is adding another decision level to the basic game of Target for Tonight without taking anything away from the original design and something I was keen to include with the idea behind the campaign module.

The route to the target and back, with enemy and friendly nightfighters set up in each of the legs of the flight in enemy territory and with their ability indicated 2 worst, five best.

Likewise the inclusion of nightfighters with their own skill set, rated one to another, adds another level of granularity to the game when the bomber stream moves through a zone covered by an 'experten' or not as the case may be.

The intelligence briefing for players showing that the Germans have started to make improvements to their capabilities since the Mannheim op.

The game flowed along very quickly and seamlessly as the majority of players are regular and, knowing how this game runs, set up and start very quickly in comparison to when we first started.

Schrage Musik attacks are becoming a common method in the campaign with the ability to spot a nightfighter before it attacks greatly reduced often leaving a surviving bomber badly damaged whilst many others are shot down in the first attack.

The takeoff leg was reasonably drama free with all aircraft getting off safely despite a near miss on the taxiway between a couple of Stirlings from 3 Group and the stream set course for Germany with no mishaps until the enemy coast hove into view as the crews tested their guns and made navigation checks to confirm the time of crossing and headings taken.

No.1 Group with a full turn out of six Lancasters and a strong core of veteran crews led the attack with their cookie load outs. The rest of the groups were not so well prepared with a lot more Novice crews taking part, with two on their very first op.

With a warning to all players that experten from I/NJG3 were operating in the area using JU88's with upfiring Schrage Musik, the crew of Lancaster R-Roger of 5 Group, only on this their fourth op, fell to their guns, unable to corkscrew due to the heavy bomb load, even had they spotted the attacker coming up under their fuselage, they survived the first pass ditching their cookie only to be shot down at the second attempt.

Only the flight engineer, navigator and mid-upper gunner managed to bail out with just the former being picked up alive and the other two recorded as missing presumed lost.

The ops planning is put together on the Cyberboard module and the results are recorded on it through the game with the players handing back their aircraft record sheets on which details of damage, losses and bail outs are recorded and used in the records of each attack posted here on the blog.

The next drama occurred immediately afterwards as the stream crossed the Khamhuber Line with Stirling K-King of 3 Group, the crew on their third op, fell to a II/NJG3, JU88 that again managed to avoid detection to deliver a devastating blast of fire into the bomb bay of the British plane causing a massive explosion and lit up the night sky around, there were of course no survivors.

All the players are getting very used to the system and have the bomb/fuel load outs and bombing plan put together very quickly so that aircraft are taking off and assembling on the route in next to no time.

The most dangerous part of the flight was over the next two legs as the heavily laden bombers, unable to corkscrew immediately should they be attacked, needing to first dump some of their load out, passed through the night sky with German nightfighters readily aware of their presence.

In the end it was only Lancaster T-Tommy from 5 Group, with its crew on their first op, that was intercepted just before the stream went over the Hannover flak belt by another II/NJG3 Ju88 that managed to knock out two of the Lancaster's engines and riddle the wings and tailplane with multiple hits only to be driven off, itself heavily damaged by return fire from the tail and mid-upper gunner, as the inexperienced bomber crew got away with dueling it out with the enemy fighter.

A complete bomber stream assembled over the UK with no aircraft lost on take off, prepares to head out over the North Sea bound for Hannover, carrying a very heavy bomb load and a light quantity of fuel ready to grab back Bomber Command's lead.

As the stream turned over the target, buffeted by flak all but two of the stream were ready to make their bomb runs, with 1 Group Lancaster, A-Apple and its veteran crew on their 20th Op taking flak on the approach that damaged the hydraulics that would leave the aircraft unable to close the bomb bay doors after their pass over the target.

As the groups turned to make their approach to the target the losses and dumped cookies from veteran pilots looking to gain extra altitude over Germany had reduced the bomb lift by six bomb counters as the run-ins commenced.

Interestingly this bomb run would turn out to be one of the most dramatic in the campaign so far, with several novice and jumpy bomb aimers dumping their loads wide of the target and the stream coming under multiple attacks from free-jagd single engined fighters that, in one case, caused the loss of the next casualty, Halifax U-Uncle from 6 Group, its crew also on their first op.

The Halifax took hits in the port wing causing the port outer engine to catch fire, which, with the pilot unable to extinguish it, caused the aircraft to go out of control. All but the rear gunner were lost as the aircraft crashed on the eastern suburbs of Hannover.

The Stirlings of No.3 Group followed the Lancasters of No.1 Group in over the target with a useful bombing pattern starting to develop, as the first drop markers are indicating in relation to the yellow Target Indicator, placed over Hannover city centre. The Stirling is seen over the southern row (bottom) of boxes shown on the target map above

The Nachtjagd were not having things all their own way however, as the alert veteran crew of 4 Group Halifax, P-Popsie on their 19th op spotted an FW-190 trying to make a head on pass at the bomber only to fall to the fire from the nose gunner on the run up, the position taken over by the radio operator as the bomb aimer took his position in the nose

The players were distinctly aware of the potential drift issues associated with Paramatta target marking and, attempting to take into account any likely shift of the target marker eastward, started to create their bomb pattern in a way to allow for that movement whilst trying to get bombs on important target areas.

All in all, as the last Halifax's of 6 Group left the target, the crews felt reasonably confident with the mix and concentration of bombing as they prepared to get home.

With players calling out 'left,left, steady and right a bit Skip' to another player as they guess whether the next playing card turned will be higher or lower and watching for picture cards that determine if a 'jumpy' bomb aimer has released early, or an Ace has appeared declaring the arrival of a freejagd nightfighter ready to deliver a fast raking attack on the bomber, all creates a game of real drama following all the hazards of just getting to the target in the first place and for survivors getting ready for the return flight managing any damage received on the way in.

The final casualty of the night occurred as the enemy coast came into sight, with a spoof raid by Mosquitos on Bremerhaven and the inward route of the stream having drawn the fighters from NJG2 away to the north, the Me110's of NJG1 caught up with the badly damaged Lancaster T-Tommy which losing the other two engines in the attack that followed crashed into the sea with only the rear gunner bailing out and being picked up by the Germans.

The bomber track shows the first group of Lacasters passing over the target having bombed and with the first Stirling of No.3 Group moved in behind with the waves of the other groups on the flak zone behind waiting to make their bomb runs.

We had the most freejagd attacks by single engined nightfighters of any of the ops so far, well replicating the change in over the target tactics developed by the Luftwaffe defenders in the immediate wake of Bomber Command deploying 'Window'.
Most of the attacks inflicted light damage, with one bomber shot down to them and one nightfighter destroyed in return. In this case P-Popsie, 4 Group Halifax disposes of an FW-190 head on attack.

With no more drama the returning groups all landed safely and crews were assembled for the debrief and summary of the raid.

The expectation was that Hannover was well and truly bombed, but, despite the drift over the target being minimal, the Pathfinders ended up placing their markers in the cloudy conditions well off target, to the point that the bulk of the bombing ended up to the south and south east in open countryside, leaving just the bomb concentrations shown on the southern half of the city that resulted in four major fires that destroyed half of the city centre and the central railway station and yards.

The target map and the results of the night's bombing shown to some rather disappointed bomber crews after a long night.
The Pathfinder target marking error captured well the historical result with a roll of six minus two resulting in the marker shifting four boxes south to just off the map in the countryside. All the bomb drops were correspondingly shifted south leaving just the concentrations shown and a vastly reduced victory point total. It looks like you will be going back to Hannover again chaps!

In the the final tally for the night Bomber Command netted 22 victory points for the target value, fires caused and nightfighters destroyed, but with four novice crews lost saw that tally reduced to just 14 points.

The result is not as damaging as it could have been, as the lost crews, all being novices, reduced the tally for the Nachtjagd and ensured the result is 70 points for the five games played thus maintaining the British victory point tally at 14 points with three games to play.

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