July 2021: Ground War

Exactly 77 years ago this month, a pitched battle was raging in Normandy. The Allied forces, having made it ashore, tenaciously held on to their precious landing grounds, fighting desperately to establish their foothold on the continent and set in place the needed logistics basis, from where they could begin the long advance towards Berlin.

As June rolled into July, the newly-landed forces had secured their grip on the Normandy shores, acquired the harbours and were pouring in men and matériel. The advances started, and a month of even more brutal fighting began, as they pushed into the deep defences beyond the Atlantik Wall.

There is a mantra, that you can’t win a war from the air, and that ultimately boots are needed on the ground. Yes, we have a flight simulator and we are flying aircraft, but we are fighting in the context of a virtual war.

Although we take off, fly sorties, engage in aerial combat and (sometimes!) return to land, Storm of War is specifically about the Normandy Campaign of June, July and August for 1944. And that is a battle on the ground.

Each month, Storm of War awards campaign ribbons to the best results of those pilots who fly the minimum number hours. The results are reckoned per “pilot career”, thus rewarding those who can achieve victory for minimal loss. There are three separate categories: victories against maritime, ground and air targets. The same number of ribbons are awarded for each category.

Victories against land targets already have some contest but, this month, 77 years after those historic events, we are focusing on this ground war. This is a tough and challenging mission set. And it is actually a lot harder to accomplish it without loss. So here are some tips to help you get started.

Finding targets

Unlike roving air targets, or sailing ships on a vast expanse of water, the ground targets present a different challenge in finding them. They are small, often hidden amongst trees or behind buildings. They are also scattered over a wider area, so tracking them down can be difficult and sometimes the first indication you get is the stream of anti-aircraft fire rising from the green to meet you.

However, the briefings are clear for the majority of the ground targets. The coordinates are rather precise. This lets you carefully find the exact location where the enemy is likely to be. So take the time to carefully find and plot those coordinates. Mark them on the map. Make a note of the surrounding terrain and landmarks that you will use to guide you in. And, if needed, fly a reconnaissance flight first.

Avoiding friendly fire

A common problem for ground attack is avoiding hitting your own forces. Pay attention to exactly where the enemy will be. And bear in mind that enemy forces will generally have advanced to the front line, so there will be your own troops in close proximity. Be careful.

Avoiding being shot down

Ground forces will not be shot up without a return fight. From small arms fire to heavy flak, you can always expect some retaliation (if not, then refer to the bit about friendly fire, above). But here are some tips to help keep you alive.

  1. Come in fast. Yes, you are slower from ordnance and ammunition, but come in at as high a velocity as you can manage; use altitude to your advantage. Reduce your fuel load if you have to. And remember that turning slowly onto your goal after lazily zig-zagging at low altitude, searching for the target, is a recipe for disaster.
  2. If possible, attack from out of the sun. We have tested this extensively, and it makes a BIG difference. Ground forces will be late to react if they cannot see you in the glare. And, but the time they’ve reacted, you are gone.
  3. Make a single pass and clear out completely before returning (if at all). A very common mistake is to attack and then climb (and slow down) and turn back all while still in range of the enemy guns. This makes for a very easy target for them. So get right out of range and re-acquire your speed before considering a second pass. Better still is to clear out completely.
  4. Single-pass attacks are the best when it comes to survival. Don’t forget that your attack is marking your position to all enemy aircraft in the area. And if you are turning and making repeat passes, then you will be easy to find and have low-energy. That makes for an easy kill for defending fighters.
  5. Don’t go alone. Take a wingman, take a squadron. Saturate their defences and dilute the enemy firepower. Take an escort with you to provide a more general surveillance of the area, while you concentrate on your target. Top cover fighters can call out approaching trouble if needed and then intercept it to keep you safe.
  6. Plan your attack. Work out a flight route, note your landmarks, decide in advance your compass heading for egress. If necessary fly an unarmed recon flight in advance to determine the location.

Effective attacks

Unfortunately, many pilots assume ground attack is merely pointing their aircraft at the ground and firing guns or releasing bombs at the last second. You will sometimes here the term “ground pounding” used. This was originally a slur leveled at infantry or non-flying officers, but it seems to have crept into virtual-fighter-pilot parlance. Then, failed fighter pilots think that if they can’t hit aircraft, then fixed units on the ground should be easy and they bring that term – and their lack of success – with them.

Effectively attacking ground units with high accuracy and low loss is difficult. Are they are in an aeroplane, moving at 500+ km/h with the pinnacle of technology and yet they cannot lay waste to their prey (without splattering themselves and their airframe across the landscape somewhere nearby)?

So, in addition to the above planning, use the right weapons and use them well. Do you have appropriate belt-ammunition sequences? Do you have the right bomb type? The correct fuse? Are you allowing for the problematic state of DCS dropped-ordnance and other bugs? Are you dropping it from the right altitude? At the right speed? With no side-slip? … so you actually hit? The flight planning should include weapon planning, and a checklist for ensuring that fuses, arming and sequences are all correct, so that you are not fiddling about over the enemy, or squandering the element of surprise and perfect line-up… because some circuit-breaker was not engaged.

The July Campaign

As mentioned above, this month, 77 years after those historic events, we are focusing on the ground war. Statistics will be sorted by ground victories, additional notable achievements will be up for grabs, and the fierce contest of the storm of war, will descend to ground level.

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