Many of us eagerly awaited a new Spitfire in the IL2 upcoming Battle of Bodenplatte map which will represent the situation in Northern Europe when the Luftwaffe attacked allied airbases in France, Belgium and Holland on 1st January 1945. The date is important as the aircraft set should be historically correct for this period.
Several virtual pilots expected the Griffon engined Spitfire MkXIV in the plane set and while around 11 of the 40+ RAF squadrons operating on the continent with 2nd Tactical Air Force (2TAF) had been equipped with this version at some time during 1944, it had mainly used when they were with Air Defense Great Britain (ADGB) and most of the units on the continent in December 1944 had converted to MkIX’s and LF MkXVIe’s.
The main fighter variants of Spitfire used by 2TAF started with the MkIX from the D-Day landings in June 44. These were progressively replaced by the MkXVIe which started to enter squadron service in November 44. The MkXVI is a standard MkIX airframe fitted with a Packard built Merlin 66 engine. The first squadrons to be equipped with the Mk XVI being n°s 66, 127 & 322 from 132 Wing which was based at Woensdrecht (B79) at the time of the Bodenplatte attack. Early MkXVI production units had the high back and standard rudder, the low back version arriving in squadrons in February 1945 had the broad chord rudder as standard. I guess that the game editors took some liberty on this point in order to create an easy visual difference with their MkV.
So the historically correct versions of the Spitfire on the continent for this period should be a mix of MkIXc, MkIXe and LF MkXVIe. The “c” wing has the 2 x 20mm Hispano canons and 4 x Browning .303 machine guns. The “e” wing has the 2 x 20mm Hispano canons and 2 x .50 Browning machine guns. Putting the “e” wing armement as standard in the game will be a help even if many of the aircraft represented should have the “c” wing version.
What is a pity is that by changing the exhaust stacks to the round tube shape as opposed to the “fishtail”, the offered MkIX could easily be converted to a MkXVI.
Engine wise, most of the Spitfires are correctly fitted with the Merlin 66 as most aircraft were used for low altitude work. A few pure fighter versions may have been around with the M61 & M63, which are not available in the game. The difference between the two aside from the altitude rating being the interconnected pitch & throttle controls on the M66. The game editors have made the Merlin 70 available as an option. This engine was optimized for high altitude work and logically 2TAF did not use this type, being tasked with ground support.
It is great that the “clipped” wing tips are an option, as on the real aircraft. The only regret is that HF MkIX’s fitted with the M70 often had extended wingtips fitted and this option is not available in the game.
The rocket offering is a bit limited even if historically inaccurate : The game options offer 2 x RP-3 HE with 86 Kg (190 lb) warheads or 2 x RP-3 AP with 55kg (120 lb) warheads, both on rails. The HE rockets look like 3.5 inch 100 lb RPs (See photo below)
In reality trials were made on the MkXVI with two pairs of 60lb RP’s under each wing and photos show MkIX’s fitted with both 2 and 3 x 100 lb RPs under each wing. A pair of “Triplex” rockets comprising of 3 x 3 inch rocket motors combined behind a 7.2 inch Howitzer shell were also flight tested on a MkXVI. All these installations were on zero length supports. A trial installation of an American 3-tube cluster launchers for 4.5 in rockets under each wing of a MkIX was also made. However it is said that the RAF did not use rockets in action during WWII !
In the initial markings offered by the editors a lot of “licence” has been used on some of the aircraft, whose exterior aspect is that of a late production MkIX fitted with the “e” wing and a broad chord rudder :
Berg PV181 RAB : First flew 5-9-44 and probably had standard rudder and “c” wing
Dygala MH712 WX-D : This had an M66 fitted and the broad chord rudder is correct. The Polish Wing was based at Ghent Sint-Denijs-Westrem airfield (B61) and was attacked by JG1 during Bodenplatte. This particular aircraft was damaged by enemy action on that day and was struck off charge on 20th June.
Boudard MJ966 GW-B : This is an LF MkIXc and should have standard rudder & “c” wing.
Glaser A58-379 FZ-Z : This is ex JG270 an LF MkVIIIc shipped to Australia and not a MkIX. Mk VIII’s have a retractable tail wheel, reduced span ailerons and inboard leading edge wing tanks. Not sure why this is in the Bodenplatte set in Europe.
Caption : This wrongly decorated MkIX shows the 2 x RP-3 HE on rails
Helton EN354 WD-W : This was a MkIX fitted with the “c” wing. Photos show it with a standard rudder. It was used by USAAF in Tunisia, so not consistent with Bodenplatte scenario.
Gibbes A58-497 RG-V : Again another MkVIIIc ex MT607 in Australia.
Savoy MJ897 : Was an LF MkIX fitted with the Merlin 66 and a “c” wing. No trace of this French AF unit being present in the north for Bodenplatte.
Plagis ML214 5J-K : Again an LF MkIX with M66 which joined 126 Sqdn on 7-5-44 making it almost certainly a “c” wing and standard rudder. I have no trace of this squadron operating in 2TAF at the time of Bodenplatte.
Johnson MK392 JE-J : An LF MkIX with M66. This aircraft had a standard rudder and a “c” type wing. The Canadian wings were based at Heesch (B88) and Eindhoven (B78) during Bodenplatte.
Clostermann MJ586 LO-D : Another LF MkIX which had a standard rudder and “c” wing, certainly present in June for D-Day, less sure about Bodenplatte because Clostermann switched to Tempests around the end of 44.
With so many unusual aircraft markings for the Bodenplatte scenario, one can only guess that the editors are looking ahead for maps covering North Africa & Italy or even the Far East. Perhaps with the Bodenplatte map we can play out some post D-Day scenarios which justify some of the markings offered.
My main gripes with IL2 Battle of …. series is that a) one cannot assign sliders to the Spitfire elevator and rudder trim controls and b) one cannot assign squadron codes and individual aircraft letters without making specific skins.
From a flight handling point of view me and my squadron mates find this MkIX Spitfire easier to fly than the DCS MkIX and it seems to climb and turn particularly well.
In conclusion I fail to understand why the effort that went into researching did not match the aircraft type so beautifully developed for the game, specifically the “e” wing and the broad chord rudder, which are probably only correct on one of the aircraft paint schemes offered.
The gross error of adding Australian MkVIII’s to the set is also very strange as no MkIX’s were shipped to Australia. Desert paint schemes are also a big no-no for North Western Europe map.
The standard RAF scheme offered will allow players to design skins for historically present RAF units. With a lot of RCAF (Canadian) units in the area during Bodenplatte it is a shame that only one aircraft from Canadian Wings is represented, JE-J. The M70 engine is another mystery as it would have been more likely in the scenario for pure fighter MkIXs to be fitted with the M61/63 or 63A.
So for those not happy about not getting the MkXIV with the Griffon engine at least we get a beautifully rendered & performing Spitfire with some punch both for dogfighting and for ground support missions.
Those who want real muscle will have to wait for the Tempest even though the Typhoon Ib was the most prevalent type at the time of Bodenplatte.