The Airpower Assessment Chronicles, Part II – Late War

D-Day & Fortress Europe… now with added Bagration! 

The great defense against the air menace is to attack the enemy’s aircraft as near as possible to their point of departure.

Winston Churchill

In this series of articles, I’m going to be dipping my toe into the sometimes seldom seen area of airpower in Flames of War; looking at the units available, what role that they can fulfil and how viable they are as an asset for their points.

This is the second article in the series and will focus on the air support available in the D-Day American, D-Day British and the German and Soviet support from Fortress Europe. Once other Late War books make an appearance I’ll circle back around and make sure I cover off anything new that might appear… I’m looking at you ME262!

D-Day British – The Typhoon

A common theme in the Late War books so far is the single inclusion of one ground attack aircraft in the arsenal and for the British that is the brilliant RAF Typhoon.

No bombs but plenty of guns and rockets to go round! In Mid-War the British players suffered because they had to choose between the guns and bombs of the Kittyhawk and the tank-busting kick of the Vickers S 40mm guns of the Hurricane – no more tough choices in Late War as the Typhoon is packing a punch all around.

Pros

Rate of Fire – ROF3 20mm guns are a big deal when trying to clean up light armour, infantry and pesky, pesky Marders and AT 5 on the RP-3 Rockets is that magic number where Top Armour 2 vehicles really begin to sweat.

Firepower – Those rockets are also stocking Firepower 3+ which means that they are not only more consistently threaten armoured targets once through the Top Armour, but they are useful at digging out dug-in gun teams and infantry too.

Cost – Including these in a British list is not a massive sacrifice in terms of the cost for what you get.

Cons

Trained – Being only Trained is a bit of a blow for the use of the rockets – again with the template you almost always will clip some form of terrain and suffer the additional +1 to Range In and that is a big deal when they are your main tank hunting threat. Against targets like half-tracks more often than not you will be better off just blasting away with 20mm fire than trying to land the perfect barrage.

Red vs. Blue Games

The Typhoon gives you a mobile platform to threaten high-value targets like Tigers without committing resources just to that job, like the 17pdr. It’s this usefulness that I think really lets them shine in a British force.

Blue vs. Blue Games

The rockets of the Typhoon are as much of a threat to the big bulks of the Soviet army as they are to the Tiger, and clusterings of Shermans or T-34 will live to regret their close proximity if those rockets find their targets. The AT 6 of the 20mm guns also means that you can go hunting those armoured support units against US forces.

Verdict: B

I really like the Typhoon as a support choice for British lists. It has the great flexibility, which I really rate when it comes to air power, and the Firepower 3+ and AT 5 rockets give you a viable way of tackling German armoured assets. A 5+ range in is not great when trying to range in, taking into account terrain, but they are a threat and that has to be taken into account. I was sorely tempted to give the Typhoon a B+ rating but the Trained status just made me pause and bring it down just a notch.

D-Day American – The P-47 Thunderbolt

Next, up is the superb P-47 Thunderbolt supporting your American forces in Normandy. 

The Thunderbolt is like the Typhoon but dialled all the way up to 11.

Pros

Machine Guns: *tick*
Bombs: *tick*
Rockets: *tick*

Flying Arsenal – So, for one point more than a Typhoon, the US has access to the full gamut of weapons options on the Thunderbolt. Those HVAR rockets are the magic AT 5 again and, in my opinion, the Rate of Fire 4 MGs are even better than the 20mm cannons. Access to the 500lb bomb also means that you don’t need to rely on the rocket attack when taking on dug-in gun getting the much better 2+ Firepower.

Cons

Trained – Well, like the British crews the US Thunderbolt crews are only Trained which is not great but is mitigated a little, and I do mean a very little, by the option to drop bombs on softer targets.

Cost – The points cost is also pushing things a little – nearly 10% of a standard list on something that is only going to turn up 3 – maybe 4 times – in a normal game is getting a little pricey and does need to be considered.

Nota Bene – Command Cards

The US Command Cards give some options for the Thunderbolt in terms of rearmament with different weapons systems. There are two options and both have their Pros and Cons:

  • Napalm Bombs
  • 2000lb Bomb Load

Napalm is very expensive – 25% of the Thunderbolt flight again – and give you a one-off attack that is very good against gun in infantry and gun teams.  The downside is that it is a one time deal. 

The 2000lb Bomb Load is a single point addition which, as you can see, means you lose your HVAR rockets but gain an AT 4 artillery template attack. I’m not convinced that this is a great exchange as it makes the unit slightly more specialised and costs you a point to do it. Had it been a free exchange… well… that might have been a different story.

Red vs. Blue Games

I’m taking a Thunderbolt flight if I am a US player against a German force from their D-Day book. The rockets are a deterrent against heavy and medium armour, the MGs shred light armour, infantry and guns that are not dug in and the bomb load means that I can be flexible in my approach to dug-in targets. 

Blue vs. Blue Games

This is a little trickier but I still think that the Thunderbolts are a valid inclusion in any cross-national format. Soviet IS series vehicles still have to be concerned by the HVAR rockets and if anything having access to 2+ Firepower bombs means that you can go hunting artillery and other support units more effectively.

The AT 5 MGs aren’t really going to cut it against anything significant but self-propelled artillery and recce still need to be concerned and the Rate of Fire 4 for each model means even having to hit on a 4+ or 5+ is not much of a deterrent. 

Verdict: B+ 

This was oh so nearly creeping into the heights of the “A” level – the addition of the option of bombs is excellent but they are still only Trained. I think Veteran Thunderbolts get into that elite bracket as they really are a Swiss Army knife of support options all rolled into one.

If you can’t find something useful for them to do each turn you’ve either won already or you are playing the wrong game. 

D-Day Germany – 

Please see the introduction and quotation by Sir Winston Churchill…

Fortress Europe – Germany

Ok, this is going to be interesting… I pooh-poohed the German airpower in Mid-War but Fortress Europe essential moves the Mid-War options into Late War and adjust the points cost DOWN.  

Stuka Dive Bomber 

The JU-87 Dive Bomber comes in at a measly one point cheaper than in its Mid-War guise and I’m still not convinced.

Pros

Veteran – It is still a Veteran skilled flying artillery barrage; it still has a purpose. I think that, in Late War, the fact that it is still attacking a Top Armour value of 2 means that it actually becomes more useful as heavier opposition tanks appear. Weirdly I think that is what it’s role becomes; pinning infantry and fishing for 1s on Top Armour 2 high-value targets.

As I move out of my packed deployment zone the Stukas strike.

Cons

Limited Flexibility – It is still a Veteran skilled flying artillery barrage! The point reduction in cost is not going to make me run out and include this icon in the Late War period; it’s still too expensive and three Wespes are about the same cost, do pretty much the same job except they can do it every turn and can at least contest objectives!

Red vs. Blue Games

Against British forces, my primary target would be the M10C Achilles that seem so pervasive. With a Top Armour value of 0 (zero, nada, nothing, zilch) bullying these heavy armour bully-boys is a real asset. Also attacking dug-in infantry and 17pdrs is useful if nothing more than forcing them to rally – halving the number of 17pdr shots flying at your armour is always useful.

Against Soviets, I expect that Stuka will be useful against IS-2 and IS chassis tanks simply because of the Top Armour 2 ceiling. Pinning the hordes of Soviet infantry is handy but unlikely to make them pause too long. Squidgy support assets, however, like 120mm mortars and Katyushas and 76mm or 122mm guns are all valid targets.

Like the British, there are no amazing targets to hone in on for the wily Stuka ace against a US force. The M10 remains a good option and any annoying support assets like the M4 81mm mortar carriers are still good options. 

Blue vs. Blue Games

German gun teams and infantry teams tend to be expensive and small(er) so pound them with your 2+ Firepower bombs. Tigers are going to be prevalent so there are worse things to do that just go fishing for 1s on some big cats.
However, be aware FlaK36 AA guns will also be prevalent and that could be problematic, to say the least, if you opponent chooses to open up on your ageing dive bombers.

Verdict: C- 

So the Stuka Dive Bomber Flight goes from a D- to a C- in Late War… why? Well, for me at least, the fact that the increased Front Armour of tanks and self-propelled guns that are going to start popping up in Late War means that the Top Armour becomes a viable target again.

Yes, you have 8.8cm guns and Tigers and Panthers, but those things are, in turn, vulnerable to the targets that they are hunting. The Stuka means that that platoon of 76mm Shermans or IS-2s or M10C tank-destroyers are potentially under threat from turn one.

I still don’t think it is a great choice but I do think that it offers something in Late War – where other units are also cheaper – that gives it some viability. 

Stuka Tank Hunter

The 3.7cm armed JU-87G is also back – will it too rise up the consideration rankings with a Late War change in points?

A 5 point reduction in points brings the 3.7cm armed JU variant almost in line with its dive-bomber sibling and that is a hefty saving! 

Pros

Medium Armour Shredder – Well, with that kind of points shaving going on, the JU-87G becomes an interesting option for a German player. The AT 9 guns have the same role as they would’ve had in Mid-War; taking out medium and light armour. The difference is in Late War that German players have easier and cheaper access to the heavy AT that will threaten heavy armour, which alters the dynamic.

My fear, if I have Tigers, is being swarmed by Shermans and T-34s because, no matter how big and scary my AT 14 gun is, I only have a limited number of shots in a game. The Stuka Tank Hunters help out here tremendously thinning out those massed ranks at long range and irrespective of the line of sight.

Cons

Unreliability – To maximise that lawn-mower effect on your opponents’ medium armour, you need the Stukas turning up turn after turn after turn; chipping away. The 4+ Firepower is still an issue when you run the averages on hitting Aggressive Side Armour 4 targets you are only killing about one for every attack run you make.

Red vs. Blue Games

Against the Western Allies, there are plenty of Sherman chassis armoured vehicles to go after and armoured support too. I think against the US forces you will probably have more success as their high AT tanks can’t hide amongst the regular 75mm Shermans. 

Against the Soviets, it’s going to be a little tougher. If your opponent is bringing lots of T-34s then, ok, you have a target-rich environment.  But getting to those 85mm hulls is not going to be straight forward. You will be able to prey on SU series vehicles and other lightly armoured or unarmoured support vehicles but if they bring tonnes of IS series vehicles or hordes of infantry you will struggle to make an impact.

Blue vs. Blue Games. 

Panzers IVs and Sd Kfz half-tracks are going to cry getting harried all day long by 3.7mm cannon fire; even Panthers (if you ever see them on the table) will be severely worried by these tank hunters.

I think that the issue is you won’t see a lot of these units always on the table and even if you do it won’t be in the troubling numbers that Shermans and T-34 might appear in. 

Verdict: D+ 

So close to hitting the middling ground of that elusive C bracket the Stuka Tank Buster has jumped quite a bit in Mid-War. The main reason for this is the 35% points reduction makes it a lot more palatable an inclusion to make but it is still specialising in a role that can be covered by other units and it’s inflexibility still counts against it. 

HS-129 

The HS-129 comes swooping in at a massive 11pts cheaper than Mid-War!
E-L-E-V-E-N. But is it still a dud? 

Last time around when we looked at the 30mm toting HS-129 I described it as “Overpriced and under-gunned…” well an 11pts reduction in cost will address one of those issues. 

Pros

Cost – The HS-129 is now actually fulfilling a role. That’s a definite pro. The cheap cost and the Rate of Fire 3 AT 7 mean that you can do the job that the Stuka Tank Buster is looking to employ itself but even better.

Rate of Fire – ROF 3 is a big deal. Couple it with being 33% cheaper than the Stuka and you now have a unit that is going to go hunting all the lightly armoured support units with relative impunity.

Cons

Unpredictability – It is still only turning up 50% of the time but given the reduction in cost, I think that is a compromise worth making.

Undergunned – The AT restricts it uses slightly compared to the AT 9 of the Stuka but not overly so and the 5+ Firepower is, frankly still a bit lacklustre.

Red vs. Blue Games

Against the US, with lots of little armoured units that still count as part of the formation, these should be your primary focus. Targets like the ubiquitous M4 (81mm mortar), the M8 Scott, any M3 half-tracks, the M10 tank destroyer and M7 Priest are all valid. Even if you don’t destroy them even bailing one or two teams and affect your opponents game plan for the following turn.

The British will be similar but I would definitely focus in on any M10C Achilles tank destroyers that might be about. Also, don’t be afraid of strafing 25pdr batteries. Rate of Fire 3 is massive and that 5+ is still a threat for a dug-in gun and killing one or two of those is massive in terms of the effect it has on their impact on the game.

Against the Soviets Side Armour 5 is going to be an issue – it leaves you fishing for ones a best against most front line tanks and the lack, at the moment, of armoured support assets might mean you are relegated to strafing gun teams as a priority

Blue vs. Blue Games

Against other German forces, the 2+ Save gives you some level of assured protection against 8.8cm Flak – in fact, I think it deters most players from shooting at you. Armoured artillery and tank destroyers are a priority, if they are on the tabletop with Sd Kfz 250/251 chassis vehicles and a big AT guns as secondary concerns.

Verdict: B

The HS-129 goes from the butt of the joke in Mid-War to, in my opinion, the leader of the pack in Late War. What you can do with it for the ridiculously cheap cost makes it a real asset and could be a real surprise to your opponent if they don’t think that your airpower is not going to be a factor at all.

Bagration – Soviet

IL-2 Shturmovik

The final entry in our little stroll through Late War so far is the IL-2 – how has that adapted itself from its Mid-War incarnation?

Well, unlike its German counterparts it does not get any points modification from its appearance in Red Banner which is a little strange.

Pros

Tank Hunter – It still does something that the other Soviet entries in Fortress Europe don’t and that is threatening the Top Armour of heavy tanks – it’s rockets and bombs hitting that magic AT5.

Trained – The lack of points modification, I believe, comes mostly from its Skill rating shifting from Green 5+ to Trained 4+ which is a pretty big deal for the forces in Fortress Europe.

Cons

Undergunned – The 23mm cannons were lacklustre in Mid-War and probably shift even more so towards obsolescence in Late War. Neither Rate of Fire, AT or Firepower is enough to cope with much of value. They are at least an option but I think the majority of the time with the enhanced Skill rating you are opting to use your rockets and bombs

Red vs. Blue Games

The IL-2 still gives you a way to continually threaten big cats and the boost in Skill rating just makes that more of a viable threat.

The enhanced Skill rating just helps out all over and means you are able to use those AT5 Firepower 4+ weapons against pretty much whatever target piques your interest. 

Blue vs. Blue Games

I think if you 100% know that you are playing a Western Allied force or another Soviet force I think that the IL-2 become less of a must-have tool in the toolbox. AT12 copes with much of the armoured threats out there and you should have plenty of artillery options to hand if you need to bombard something into the ground.

That is not to say it is a waste and to avoid taking it – absolutely not – more that I think you can cope more easily without taking them. 

Verdict: C

Steady Eddie for the IL-2 still good, not overcosted, not undervalued. Take it is you like but there are more tools available to mean that it is not quite as valuable as in Mid-War

IL-2 Shturmovik (37mm)

The bigger, badder, up-gunned brother of the IL-2 Shturmovik armed with 37mm cannons rather than the paltry 23mm guns of the IL-2 we have from Mid-War. 

So, exactly the same chassis but with some more boom in the arsenal.

Pros

Light Armour Shredder – the increase of your AT to an impressive 8 and more importantly, in my opinion, your Firepower to 4+ means that light or medium armour is going to get chewed up. Pushing to AT8 opens up other targets of opportunity over AT6 and the Firepower means that what you hit has a greater chance of exploding rather than just becoming inoperational. 

Cons

Costly? So, this is where it gets interesting… the cons to the 23mm IL-2 revolved around it being undergunned so the 37mm cannons definitely address that but in doing so increase the cost of the IL-2 by around 50% and that is quite a hike. The other question to consider is as a Soviet player are you struggling now with options to take out medium armour? I don’t think you are and sure it’s nice to remove any potential armour save from an halftrack and kill it on a 4+ but do you have the points to take this in your list? That is going to be the big question. 

Red vs. Blue Games

The IL-2 (37mm) still gives you the option of striking heavily armoured targets but the new Bagration book opens up more high AT so you are not as dependant on flanking AT12 or the IL-2 to threaten Tigers and other high armour assets.

This means that the IL-2 can focus on killing off all the tasty little support units that a German player might be bringing. Wespes would be a prime target for example and with your 4 shots, you can expect to kill one and bail another every time you attack them which is much better than the 23mm armed version.

Blue vs. Blue

In the mirror match against another Soviet player, you will be able to target that T-34/85 hordes that are bound to appear on masse and efficiently begin to whittle them down from the turn you appear. Those rockets and bombs will still make a mess of clustered target, armoured or otherwise, so it should be a target-rich environment. This will make target prioritisation vital to get the most out of your 37mm gun.

Against the other Allies then your medium/light armour killing potential should really shine. Focussing in on anything with a 76mm or 17pdr gun and just start killing them down. You can also threaten those Churchill Crocodiles too and keep them honest – unfortunately, the closer they get the safer they will be – but that is where those high end AT assets you have access to now will really support you.

Verdict: B-

I’ve changed my opinion regarding the worth of the 37mm cannon-armed variant since the release of Bagration; the more I think about it the more I think you try to include the 37mm option and only compromise down if you really need to. The option to negate the save of anything with Side Armour 1 and threaten medium armour is really handy – more so in a competitive environment where threatening M10-c and 76mm Sherman and M10s will really help you. 

Post Script

So that brings us to the end of the current Late War options – it will be interesting to see what the much anticipated Late War Eastern Front book will throw into the mix. As caveated previously I’m by no means an expert so if you think I’ve made a glaring omission then please let me know in the comments.

I’ll be back next time with Chapter 3; Fate of a Nation… sometime soon… 
– Dunc

Category: Flames of WarLate WarV4

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Article by: Duncan Gosling