B-17, Queen of the Skies Mission #1: Abbeville Airfield
B-17 Queen of the Skies is a solitaire created by Avalon Hill back in the early 1980’s. In the game, you are part of the 8th Air Force based in England, flying bombing missions over France and Germany. The goal, and it is a very difficult goal to achieve, is to fly 25 missions and survive. This was historically a very rare feat, the most famous of which was, perhaps, the Memphis Belle.
The way the game works, and what makes it such an emotional roller coaster, is that you assign names to each of your crewmembers, and name your bomber. You’ll find yourself, more often than not, using the names of people that you know. There are 10 positions that have to be named: Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, right and left waist gunners, belly gunner, and tailgunner.
I tend to use the names of people I know, fictional characters, historical figures, or other celebrity. You may recognize a name from time to time. It saves me from having to strain my brain coming up with name combinations.
I also like to name my bomber Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Don’t ask me why, that’s just a name I like.
Here’s the list of names for the initial crew of the B-17, using the names of people I’ve known (and one fictional character).
Pilot: Colonel Robert Hogan
Co-pilot: Lieutenant Tony Shields
Engineer: Master Sergeant Ken Shike
Navigator: Lieutenant Brian McAllister
Bombardier: Lieutenant Chris Miller
Radio operator: Sergeant Dan Anderson
Port waist gunner: Sergeant Steve Miles
Starboard waist gunner: Sergeant Tim Denker
Belly gunner: Sergeant Rick Cerulli
Tail Gunner: Sergeant Steve Wright
Now that we’ve named the bomber and the crew, we’re ready to fly our first mission.
For our first official mission, we have been assigned to bomb an airfield in Abbeville, France. Abbeville is right across the English Channel, south of Pas de Calais, near the channel itself.
We have been assigned to the (relatively) safe middle squadron. Position within the squadron is not in effect for the first 5 missions, meaning that we are not the lead or tail end Charlie in the squadron for the first five missions.
As our mission heads out of England, we see our escorts with us over the English Channel. If I remember correctly, the first five missions are all under the fighter cover umbrella.
Any planes that may have intercepted the bomber wave over the English Channel have either been driven off by our fighter cover, or other planes in the formation.
Ah, being in the middle is so cushy.
As we cross the coastline and move over the target, several of our escorts turn back, leaving our escort coverage at only “fair”. Good weather abounds over the airfield.
Once over the target, we are intercepted by 3 waves of fighters, all Me-109s, coming in at 12:00 level, 3:00 high, 1:30 High, 6:00 High and one coming out of the sun in a vertical dive. The plane in the vertical dive cannot be fired at or driven off by fighter cover.
The crew locks and loads, and opens fire on the first wave of incoming fighters.
12:00 level: Nose and Top Turret guns miss
1:30 high: miss
3:00 high: miss
6:00 high: The radio room guns miss, but the twin tail guns score a hit, but the fighter continues to attack, but at a -1 DRM.
It’s the crew’s first mission, so I am sure there are a lot of nerves involved.
The Germans fire at Rocky the Flying Squirrel.
Only the 109 at 3:00 high and the vertical dive achieve hits; the plane from 3:00 scoring 3 hits, and the diving 109 scoring a single hit.
The shells from the 3:00 high 109 hits the bomb bay (always dangerous), the pilot compartment and the port wing. The diving 109 scores a hit in the bomb bay.
Now we look for more detail.
Fortunately, both hits to the bomb bay was merely superficial. We now have a new hole in the doors. A shell struck the window in the pilot compartment, scaring the crap out of the pilots, but otherwise doing no damage. The port wind suffered superficial damage.
Both 109s turn to come in for another attack, one at 9:00 high, and the other at 12:00 level. Fighter cover drives off the fighter coming in from 12:00, leaving just the 9:00 level fighter, being trained on by the top turret (Engineer) and port waist gunners.
The top turret (having twin guns) hits, but the port waist misses. The fighter is sent plummeting to the earth below, giving Ken Shike his first kill.
The second wave comes in, this time an FW-190 at 10:30 high, and an Me-110 in a vertical climb. Fighter cover drives off the Me-110, but leaves the FW-190 for us to deal with (M. Sgt. Shike, Lt. McAllister and Sgt. Miles). All three miss as the 190 rapidly approaches and opens up, and hits the bomber. Fortunately, only a single shell did any damage, and that was to the tail. Again, only superficial damage was achieved.
The 190 turned to come at us again, this time from our six, level position. Sergeant Underwood opened fire on the approaching 190, hitting the target but only doing slight damage (to hit roll at -1). Even though he has a clear shot, he misses and flies away.
Which was followed by a third wave coming in.
This time we had a pair of 109s approaching from 1:30 and 3:00 level, while a 190 came in at 12:00 high. Our escorts chased the 109 coming from 1:30 away, leaving us to focus most of our guns on other targets.
Mst. Sgt. Ken Shike hit the 190 coming in from above, while Sgt. Tim Denker nailed the 109 coming in from our starboard side. Sergeant Shike’s 190 went down in a ball of flames (his second kill of the day), while Sgt. Denker severely damaged his (-2 to hit, no successive attack).
Because of the damage to his plane, the fire of the 109 was erratic, and he bugged out to return to base.
Everything grows quiet as we awaited the sound of antiaircraft guns below us. Abbeville has medium flak, and opens fire. Fortunately, no flak comes near our plane, and we fly through undamaged.
The pilot opens the bomb bay doors and turns it all over to the bombardier. The bombs fall away, but only 30% are considered “on target”, that is, falling within 1000 feet of the aiming point. Must have been those two hits to the bomb bay that we suffered. No bombs were off target. Thirty percent of bombs hitting the target area is considered “excellent” precision bombing.
With the bombs away, we turn and head home. Fighter cover is still only fair. We are fortunate that we face no interceptors on the way back from the mission. All attackers that did come were driven off by either other B-17s or our fighter cover. We fly back over the English Channel. Fighter cover is still only “fair”, but the Germans elect not to pursue us so close to England.
As we approach our airfield, just north of London, we put our gear down and proceed to land. Colonel Hogan gently puts the plane down, and we are back on the ground. Mission #1 complete.
Prior to doing this, I had done a test run/walkthrough of this same mission so I could get back into the swing. The plane was jumped over the English Channel by five FW-190s, and hilarity ensued. The plane took all sorts of damage, including bullets hitting the bombs themselves, electrical heating units being made inoperable, and the radio being knocked out. In addition, a shot to the starboard wing hit the outboard fuel tank (that’s the outermost tank in the right wing for you landlubbers out there), setting it afire. The entire crew had to bail out.
But since the radio didn’t work, and we were over water, the entire crew drowned.
How’s that for morbid?
This mission was relatively easy. Minimal damage to the plane, she’ll be ready to fly again in a few days. Not every mission will be this easy, especially when we don’t have fighter cover to drive some of these planes away for us.