Ground attack warfare is an important gameplay part of World of Warplanes. In real life, ground attacks are an air force’s only direct means of establishing superiority over land or sea battle via destruction of ground forces or machinery. Fighters, on the other hand, are primarily tasked with providing cover and escort for Attack Aircraft, as well as intercepting enemy planes.
Prior to Update 1.7, the only true Attack Aircraft in the game were heavily armored Soviet machines – effectively “flying tanks” that are capable of destroying ground targets with their variety of onboard armament to help fill the superiority meter for their team. The upcoming update will now introduce German Attack Aircraft to the game, expanding the variety of available aircraft for ground attacking.
So what is different about these German Attack Aircraft? To answer this question, we need to take a look at some historical records.
Wolfram von Richthofen, brother to famed ace Red Baron, ideologist and creator of attack aviation in Germany
In 30ies and 40ies of the 20th century, the German Luftwaffe was following the Blitzkrieg approach, with a main focus on actively supporting its nation’s soldiers in the field. Within this context, aviation development concentrated on aircraft capable of carrying out tactical missions with a precise striking force. In the end, it was decided that dive bombers would be best-adapt for this purpose, because of their ability to precisely drop a heavy bomb load while at the same time staying relatively safe from anti-aircraft fire. These aircraft were able to destroy artillery- and machinegun positions, bunkers and other fortifications, facilitating the breakthrough for following ground forces. Dive bombers were also effective at sea, because they could equally hit even on small and manoeuvrable targets like destroyers.
This close cooperation of tactical aviation and ground force advancements was put to test during the Spanish campaign, and became crucial later on in the Blitz operations against Poland and France in 1939-1940s. However, the Blitzkrieg phase ended around autumn 1942, and with it ended the prime of the dive bombers. They became increasingly vulnerable to Allied Fighter attacks, which constituted their main weakness. The warfare approach needed to be changed. The new method foresaw the use of high-speed Fighter-Bombers and specialised anti-tank aircraft which, in theory, were capable of inflicting heavy damage on enemy armour with their high calibre guns. New planes (and variants thereof) like the Ju 87 G, Ju 88 P and special concepts like Hs 129 were thus reconfigured according to the new design.
As Germany began switching to defence more and more over the course of the war, forced to fight off constant massive raids of English and American heavy bombers, the Luftwaffe couldn’t afford anymore to keep developing its tactical aviation. The focus shifted into development of more advanced Fighters, while previous ground attack plane construction turned into adapting already produced Fighters into Fighter-Bombers (like Fw 190 F/G) or multi-purpose aircraft (heavy hunters or Schnellbomber). However, by the time the Third Reich came to an end, most of these projects remained unfinished, never leaving the blueprint phase.
The German Attack Aircraft branch that we’re introducing with Update 1.7 will start from the first German Zerstörer, the Focke-Wulf Fw 57 which is great for both hunting enemy aircraft and destroying ground targets. Let’s take a look at all the planes that this new branch will be comprised of.
Focke-Wulf Fw 189C
This aircraft was conceived according to findings the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtsministerium aka German Aviation Ministry) made during the Civil war in Spain. The design for a close air support aircraft (Schlachtflugzeug) was to have two engines, strong cockpit armor as well as protection for important parts of the plane and powerful armament. The companies Henschel Flugzeugwerke GmbH, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH, Blohm + Voss GmbH all participated in a contest to come up with the best design according to these specifications. Focke-Wulf presented an adapted version of their prototype reconnaissance plane – the Fw 189 V 1. Initially the machine was not too great – the first prototype even crashed during landing. Later it was heavily modified and finally became Fw 189 V-6, which in turn was renamed as Fw 189 C. The spacious cockpit was replaced by an armored capsule. The airframe now housed two MG 151/20 20 mm cannons and 4 7.92 MG-17 machineguns. The rear gunner received two linked MG-81Z machineguns in a moveable pod.
The plane was tested extensively, and the military experts came to conclusion that the Fw 189C had low visibility from the cockpit and low weight-to-thrust ratio. The machine also had low potential for further modernization. As a result the RLM stopped the development and chose Hs 129 for the task.
In World of Warplanes, the Fw 189C possesses a low speed, but shows a good manoeuvrability and survivability for its class. Nice armament and outboard-mounted bombs make it capable of destroying ground targets effectively. At the same time, it is manoeuvrable enough to contend with heavy fighters in a dogfight.
Junkers Ju 87G
Ernst Kupfer, renowned Stuka pilot and commander of the 2nd Dive-Bomber Wing
Development of the legendary Stuka (short for Sturzkampfbomber or dive attack bomber) started in 1934 after RLM placed an order for a dive bomber. The Ju 87 design won a competition over three other prototypes: Arado Flugzeugwerke GmbH Ar 81, Heinkel Flugzeugwerke He 118, Hamburger Flugzeugbau GmbH Ha 137. Mass production started in 1936. The aircraft performed splendidly in Spain, in the Polish campaign of 1939 and Western campaign of 1940, becoming the mainstay of German air support of its time. However, as WWII continued, the Stuka as a dive bomber became increasingly obsolete. The Allied armor regiments were growing in both quantity and quality, so Germany needed a machine capable of destroying it successfully. The modification best suitable for this task was the Ju 87 G anti-tank version based on the Ju 87 D. Its main feature were 37 mm cannons (modified Flak-18 anti-air guns) mounted in the underwing pods. They were located right behind the landing gear along with magazines containing 12 shells. The container version of the Flak-18 was called BK 3.7 (3.7 cm Bordkanone). This long-barrel cannon strutted 1170 m/s muzzle velocity using sub-calibre rounds and was capable to penetrate tup to 52 mm of tank armor at 0o angle from 400 meters. That was more than enough not only for American and British tanks, but for the Soviet T-34 as well.
Ju 87 G participated in the Battle of Kursk and assaults on Ukraine in autumn of 1934 until spring of 1944. Yet heavy anti-air fire and air defence fighter support over those battlefields resulted in heavy losses and weak results of the attacks. The main flaws of the Ju 87 G were the same as with other German aircraft of its class – low survivability and weak defensive capabilities. Also, it was very hard to shoot the high calibre cannons accurately on such a lightweight aircraft, and only 12 shells per cannon obviously didn’t help to increase effectiveness.
For the game, though, we have beefed up the Ju 87 G’s high calibre cannons, giving them good accuracy to deliver powerful “alpha strikes” on ground targets. Its low optimum airspeed allows pilots to increase the attack approach time and deal more damage in the process. In terms of defence, the Ju 87G can rely on relatively good manoeuvrability characteristics (for an attack aircraft) and, of course, its trusted rear gunner.
Henschel Hs 129B
As we’ve mentioned before, the Hs 129 won the competition from Fw 189 C. Yet its history is also not a story full of success. First prototypes named Hs 129 Ashowed such lackluster flight characteristics and uncomfortable pilot positioning (due to small cockpit) that RLM didn’t accept it for production. However, when Germany captured French “Gnome-Rhône 14M” engines everything changed. Equipped with two of those motors, the aircraft handled much better due to a higher power-to-weight ratio. Production started in autumn 1941. One of the main features of the Hs 129 was a possibility to install a wide variety of interchangeable weapon kits – so called Rüstsatz – which could be done by the airfield personnel.
Hs 129 was engaged in warfare over almost all the battlefronts and even took part in actions over Africa and Normandy.However, just as with the Stukas, their fate was ultimately sealed due to their low efficiency because of strong air defence. Allied fighter regiments grew more and more numerous, and their pilots more and more skilled. They considered the slow, sluggish and “half-blind” Henschel an easy prey. Hs 129 B production was stopped in September 1944.
In-game, the Henshel Hs 129 B is an Attack Aircraft that utilises its good firepower and accuracy to destroy ground targets quickly. Its speed parameters are lower than those of its rival, the IL-2, but the Henschel is slightly more durable and has a higher manoeuvrability.
In the second part of this story we’ll move on to medium and high Tier aircraft, many of which were unique innovative projects that didn’t reach production. Stay tuned!