Chapter 1 – Mid-War
Successful offence brings victory.General Curtis LeMay
Successful defence can now only lessen defeat.
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.
The first thing I would like to say is that I am no expert in using aircraft in games but I have been thinking about them a lot and these articles will just be my view on how I think they can be used in your games to strength your list – there will be other valid viewpoints but this will be mine for all the pros and cons that entails.
As the longest-serving, 4 star General Curtis LeMay said “Offence brings victory… ” and in Flames of War the airpower you bring to your list only operates on the offensive giving you a weapon that can reach any target on the tabletop. I’m going to look at each nation, their airpower options, look at their pros and cons and score them overall in a completely arbitrary fashion and I will avoid the repetition of shared issues like only turning up every other turn on average as I don’t think that would add much to the discussion.
Avanti – Regia Aeronautica
The Italians in Mid-War have but one choice when it comes to air support and that is in the form of the CR42 Fiat Falco.
This plucky little aircraft gives you some solids options but like a lot of Italian units, the real selling point is the cost. It’s cheap. Not incredibly, “why would you leave home without it” cheap but for what you get it is a really reasonable investment in points.
I’m always surprised that more Italian players don’t find the points to fit in a Falco flight given that in a Blue vs. Blue environment Marders and Lancias exist and Red vs. Blue in Mid-War there are plenty of softer targets that you can prosecute; Universal Carriers, Half-Tracks and armour cars all spring to mind.
Bombs are always useful and a 3+ firepower is pretty handy if you can range in on infantry or artillery targets.
The Falco doesn’t really answer the main issues that an Italian army has – namely effectively and efficiently taking out opposing armour. The main asset the Italians have in this field is static guns, or guns that cannot move and fire.
The RoF 2 and AT 4 of the 12.7mm MGs is not going to scare many opponents and should be reserved for pinging away on units with SA 1 or less. Whilst the bombs are handy AT 3 means that, unless you are desperate, they’re not really going to be useful opposed to enemy armour and with at Trained Skill rating you are going to be a push to consistently get those bombs on target.
In the arbitrary assessment scale, the Fiat gives us our baseline with a solid C; unspectacular but universally useful and at a reasonable price point. If I was composing an Italian army for Mid-War I think I would start by always trying to include these biplanes in the knowledge that if points became tight that dropping them would not be a big deal at all.
Armoured Fist – Royal Air Force
Unlike their Early War foes, the British have two options for air support in Armoured Fist; the Kittyhawk and the Hurricane.
First up is the Hurricane Tank-Busting Flight, it’s subtle naming convention hides the true purpose of this aerial predator so well! This unit really is a Ronseal entry – it does what it says on the tin!
AT 7. There. A pretty big positive in the Mid-War arena with most armoured units clocking in at SA 3 or 4 on a good set of rolls you are really going to get some palms sweating.
In Red vs. Blue, the Panzer IIIs and IVs of the Afrika Korps are not going to decimate them unless your dice run really hot but you can harry the goodness out of them. Timing is everything with the Germans and having Hurricanes buzzing you repeatedly bailing a tank here, destroying a tank there is going to whittle your nerves to a thread; it’s going to force you into an error unless you are a patient, patient player.
In Blue vs. Blue you might fair a little better hitting on 2s and 3s means more saves that your opponent has to make against US forces but Soviets are by and large going to laugh at your guns and hitting the British on 4+ is not going to thin out the ranks of those marauding Crusaders and Honeys fast enough.
Well for every up, there is a down and the downside of the Hurricanes is that tasty AT7 main armament is your only weapon. If someone has gone infantry heavy or is packing a SA of 6 or more then your RoF 2 is just not really going to cut it. The other issue is that with the pervasiveness of the 6pdr and it’s hefty AT10 means that your role of preying on medium armour might be accused of answering a question not many British players are asking.
Depending on whatever else is in your list then the Hurricane might have a role. It is uncomplicated in what it needs to do to be effective but there are other units in the British arsenal that do the job as well, if not better.
Next up the Kittyhawk; the ying to the Hurricanes yang. The Kittyhawk is the same cost as the aforementioned Hurricane but it is not looking to take on medium armour, no the Kittyhawk is after infantry and light vehicles.
Strangely you would think that this makes the Kittyhawk less useful that the Hurricane but in my eyes the opposite is true. As mentioned above there is reasonable access to AT10 from a variety of source to take on medium armour head-on, the Kittyhawk has higher RoF guns and a 2+ Firepower bomb load making it perfect for chewing up lighter targets or bombarding guns etc. that your 25pdrs can’t see.
For Red vs. Blue games and in the world of Mid-War Marders the Kittyhawk is bringing the tools to make your opponent think again about how they deployed and how they are committed. Soft(er) targets like Marders and armoured artillery and excellent targets for your guns and the bombs are useful at keeping infantry and towed guns suppressed – assisting your own artillery.
In Blue vs. Blue games again the Kittyhawk is universally useful. Towed 25pdrs, 17/25pdrs and 6pdrs gunshields become redundant so you opponent better have them dug in and even the buzzing them with you MGs might be better than dropping a bomb on them. Universal Carriers and even your Cruiser tanks can be chipped away at by the high RoF MG fire.
Like the Hurricane the Kittyhawk is not quite cheap enough just to plop into your list – you will likely have to choose between them and the ubiquitous 25pdrs and most of the time I think that the 25pdrs win that coin toss. The MG is solid, if unspectacular but should you come up against a Tiger, Ferdinand or similar then you are back to fishing for ones on an intermittent barrage.
I give the Kittyhawk a solid B as I feel like there will always be something for it to do in a game and it will be a constant thorn in your opponent’s side. The only issue I see is finding the points to include the Kittyhawk in a list and it could well fall foul of being the first thing cut if points are tight.
Ghost Panzers – The Luftwaffe
The first thing to say is that with 3 Mid-War books the Germans have the most forces on the most fronts with the most options across this period. This is reflected in their options and I’ve chosen to look at their choices in Ghost Panzers but these comments hold true across their other Mid-War publications; Iron Cross and Afrika Korps.
The original close artillery support for the German commander the JU-87 Stuka. Packing a 500kg punch this aircraft is what always springs to my mind when someone talks about the German Blitzkrieg.
Well… it is uncomplicated in its usage; you bombard things with them. That’s it. AT 4 is nice on the barrage, as is a 2+ Firepower but it is not unique or really above the curve of its peers in either regard; the Skill rating of 3+ is. This is the first aircraft we’ve looked at that has a 50/50 chance of ranging in first time at that target skulking around in cover.
In Red vs. Blue engagements, the light tank horde of the British Mid-War forces will make a target that you will be straining at the bit to turn down but I think helping take out British or Soviet static guns is probably where you should focus your attention initially. If your opponent is big on Soviet infantry then another barrage template is certainly no bad thing.
In Blue vs. Blue matchups, I think that you will struggle to find a really tasty target for the JU-87s – infantry and armour tend not to be congested and therefore can spread out. Maybe the best bet is taking hunting those lone, high-value targets like single tank HQ tanks or Tigers and Ferdinands. The beauty of hitting your targets top armour means that any roll of a 1 is a virtual death sentence so you may as well pour on the pressure and make your opponent roll those dice.
In an army that has precious points left unallocated at the end of army selection spending around 10% of you points on a barrage that turns up half the time is a hard sell; and one that I’m not buying. There are better options, that are more consistent that add more to your army. Unless there is a real reason to include these for a historical scenario or through personal choice then I just don’t see these making the cut in the vast majority of lists.
As much as it pains me the JU-87 is just answering a question that no one is asking in Mid-War
Next up we have the JU-87 Ds gun-toting younger brother the JU-87 G with its pair of 37mm cannons.
Whereas the JU-87 Dive Bomber Flight deals with softer targets the JU-87 Tank Hunter flight does exactly as its name suggests. The 4 dice of AT 9 are nasty when the majority of the time the most side armour you are likely to see is around 4 and preying on medium armour is where you want to be with this sky hunter. The 8″ range and no Danger Close weapon does mean that your positioning becomes easier too.
In the historical matchups, any medium tank should be worried about these boys turning up. The issue will be rolling up against an opponent with little or no decent value targets. The irony is that against the western allies you are likely to find more success as their armour tends to be lighter – if you can kill a Sherman at SA4 then the world is pretty much your oyster. You are going to struggle against the big heavies of the KV-1 and the Churchill but then historically the Germans did.
In Blue vs. Blue games, the 37mm cannons will be the bane of Panzer IIIs and IVs which you should see quite a few of. The issue will be when you come up against the forces comprised of infantry formations with support – using your expensive AT aerial assets to plink away at dug-in guns or shooting SdKfz 222 is depressing, to say the least.
The JU-87 Tank Busters just don’t pack enough punch to get through those side armour 7s or 8s that you are looking for and because they are a dedicated AT asset your target window is extremely narrow. They lack the versatility to be universally useful and the punch to be a true specialist.
Once again for the Germans, the cost is a major factor. The AT9 guns of the JU-87 G come at a price and that is 50% more than the already expensive JU-87 Dive Bombers. I cannot see these being used outside of large (over 100pts). The Germans desperately need something to crack the tougher nuts in Mid-War and the JU-87 G just doesn’t quite get there. If it’s bomb armed brother is answering a question no one is asking then the JU-87 Tank Hunter is answering a question you already have ample, cheaper answers for.
Bigger and badder than the JU-87 Tank Hunter Flight is the HS 129 Battle Flight – these monsters bring another option to taking out tanks for German forces
The HS 129 is bringing the 30mm MK 101 or 103 cannon to the tabletop giving you a superior Rate of Fire but inferior AT and Firepower to the JU-87 Gs. The increase in Rate of Fire means that those Mid-War tank hordes better lookout but more often than not you will only be bailing them out not brewing them up. The survivability of the HS 129 is quite impressive with it’s 2+ save.
Against British forces bring lots of Crusaders and Honeys or US forces with M3 Stuarts, you will be operating in a target-rich environment anything else is going to see you really struggle. In Soviet forces, T-34s and Valentines with their SA5 are going to shrug off your shots more often than not and that 5+ Firepower means even when you do get lucky you will need to ride that luck again to kill anything.
Against other Axis forces, you might stand a better chance of doing some damage with their lighter tanks and smaller infantry formations but you are still going to have to have lady luck on your side to get some decent payback.
Pretty much everything. That may sound harsh but when you consider that the HS 129 is one point shy of being double, yes double, the points of the JU-87 Dive Bombers I think you can see where I am heading. The gun is underpowered and the lack of Firepower is a real issue. The survivability is good but in my experience, no one is really taking serious amounts of AA in Mid-War so that is a moot point and I’m not actually convinced that a Is Hit On of 4+ with a 2+ Save is substantially better than a Is Hit On of 5+ and a 3+ Save.
3x DShK AA MG kills about 1/4 of an HS 129 each time it fires whilst stationary. The same Soviet AA kills 1/3 of a Stuka.
Overpriced and under-gunned – there is not really much more I can say here.
Red Banner – The Russian Airforce
Over to the other protagonist of the Eastern Front now and the mighty Soviet IL-2 Shturmovik.
This is an interesting choice and I think in the right hands would really shine. The 23mm guns are ok – RoF 2 is a bit lacklustre and the Firepower 5+ is a bit underwhelming too but they are handy to have and AT6 still make light armour nervous and medium armour at least have to give it some pause for thought. The rockets and bombs are very good but getting them on target is going to be a bit tricky. Like the German HS 129 it’s a flying tank so any AA coming your way is going to have a tough time taking you out.
Versus its traditional opponents, the IL-2 does something that no other part of the Soviet arsenal does – it keeps high-value targets honest. Tigers and Ferdinands usually have a certain amount of impunity to the rest of the Soviet army – SA 8 does that for you – but the AT5 of the bombs and rockets is a real threat if you can get them on target. The other thing that they can do is hamper the use and deployment of Marders and Diane’s.
In an Allied competitive game, the IL-2s can again harry your opponent killing or bailing lightly armed half-tracks, self-propelled artillery and Anti-Tank and finally light tanks. The bombs and rockets add another template to help you deal with bit infantry formations and if the right target appears the hitting 3 or 4 gun teams or medium tanks can be devastating if your dice hit a hot streak.
The biggest single issue is that Green Skill rating. If your opponent is smart then you are going to need a 6 to range those handy rockets and bombs in. You guns AT 6 and RoF is really mediocre – neither truly a threat to armour or with enough volume of fire to hound light vehicles, guns and infantry.
As I said early on the IL-2 gives you access, albeit unreliable access, to some tools to help the rest of your army. It is a threat and therefore must be taken into account – 6 to range in are rolled! It is cheap and versatile and therefore I see it being an option for a Soviet commander more often than not.
Fighting First – US Army Air Forces
Finally, it is the Fighting First entry and a return to the P-40 for some air support.
See the British Kitty Hawk entry above as they are practically the same – the difference is that the Warhawk is cheaper! Only by a point but for what this aircraft brings to US forces it is the first thing that goes into my list now. The ability to reach out and eliminate German and Italian self-propelled support for the US is vital. Dispatching those Marders, Dianes and Lancia makes your armour feel a whole lot safer.
Against Axis opponents kill their Hummels and Wespes, kill their Marders and Dianes, kill their Lancias and Hornisses. These are all high-value targets to a US player who has access to mobile AT12 in the form of the M10s and AT10 in the form of Shermans. Make your opponent have to misuse his support in order to avoid getting machine-gunned and they have done their job.
Against other Allied players, the utility of the Warhawk means you should always have something to do. You aren’t paying a premium for AT 7+ guns or 2+ Save values so if you kill a single M10, or two SU-76, or two 25pdrs you have earnt your points back. You can earn your keep whittling away at your opponent’s forces and being a general nuisance when you turn up.
Being rated as Green for Skill hurts – if I had the option to pay the extra point and become Trained like the Kitty Hawk I think I would opt to do that 9 times out of 10 – but it is not the end of the world.
For me, the cost-effectiveness of the P-40 Warhawk and the options it delivers to the US forces makes it an asset I think every Mid-War US general should consider wholeheartedly.
Well… that was more extensive than I first imagined but hopefully, it gives you some insight into what is worth considering and what is not when it comes to Mid-War airpower. I’m by no means an expert so if you think I’ve made a glaring omission then let me know in the comments.
I’ll be back next time with Chapter 2; Late War… so until then