Playing EPIC in 28mm.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Air War Over Devos IV

The Separatist Devos IV PDF’s air battalions were configured to fight a defensive delaying war; one designed to harass and disrupt an invader pending an Imperial relief mission.  There was categorically never any intent to take on an invading airforce in open battle.

The separatist’s air effort included T-65 strike fighters; these were fast and stable at low altitudes with the wings deployed in attack formation.  Quad las cannons and an internal missile bay were designed to take apart invader’s armour.  The T-65 is, when used for this role, a good aircraft.  It is not maneuverable enough to dogfight and lacks the wing surface to make for a stable weapon platform at anything above 1000m.  

Voss pattern lightenings were tasked with intercepting and disrupting bomber flights.  Their SOPs included measures such as fleeing enemy fighters and not chasing bombers out of their TAOR.  Both measures designed to preserve the lightening force for a long campaign.

Later in the war, the lightening would hurtle through formations of Devastator strategic bombers without firing a shot.  The bombers would jettison bombloads and fuel and begin to evade the agile and potentially well-armed short range interceptors.  Their job done already, the lightenings would quickly scurry back to their bases before the Thunderbolt escorts could respond.   This would never work with the invader’s Marauders, who flew low and fast and whose crews tended to have a more aggressive outlook.

Separatist Marauder tactical bombers were included to run interdiction missions in the invader’s rear echelons.  Once again, these are not winning strategies, but disrupting measures designed to rob the enemy of initiative or stall their plans by denial of valuable stores or resources.   It was these bombers who crossed the ocean to destroy the 72AGs communication hub at Bruboxville (publicly ‘an accident’ in territory controlled by the invaders).

Unsurprisingly, both sides lost Marauders to friendly fire.  After the Cudlip Defence Line was breached 72AG issued a blanket ban on AAA engaging Marauders, It was thought that the Separatist Marauder fleet was down to the low tens in terms of serviceable air-frames and that the fighters were better placed to correctly identify (IFF) Marauders and make the call to engage them or not.  Invaders losses were by this time being adequately made good by the conveyance of material to Devos IV, including replacement air-frames and crews. 

The Devos IV PDFs preparations included using many remote radar stations instead of airborne EW assets.  The lower quality data was indeed sufficient to inform the missions that they planned on running.  Scattered, camouflaged, hardened and designed for only short term occupation, the PDF air battalions had dispersed to their wartime locations (as practiced on exercise many times) and once the resources at one location were used, they would fall back to their next location, in line with the pre-war plan.  Some locations were only resourced for one mission, others for many as six; most only held sub-units.

Often sub units would take off, rendezvous, fly their mission and disperse back to a scattering of hidden bases, serviced by a local network of EW assets. Their pre-war orders told them where to fall 'back' to in each case and included simple caveats based on the actions of the invaders, These were carefully matriculated to avoid unwanted conflicts of interest between PDF assets.  Essentially, the defenders were autonomous, hidden, dispersed and consequently extremely hard for the invaders to pin down.

The Invaders.

Orbital Commander Amodis (Imperial Navy) enjoyed air superiority on a day to day basis.   This may have been threatened or overturned locally for brief periods, but generally speaking, the skies above 72AG belonged to the Imperial Navy. 

Lord General Zukhov would have liked to re-embark one of his three Corps (it would have been 38 Corps) and land it beyond Xyphonica, opening up a second front.  However, the navy would not countenance exposing its landers un-necessarily.  Given that the war was proceeding according to plan and the defeat of the separatists assured, the tactical advantage was deemed superfluous.  The Imperial Guard could batter its way through on a carpet of its own dead soldiers, it did not require the Navy to give it an easy victory.   The Orbital Landers went elsewhere with the fleet as it left the system, leaving 72AG to prosecute the war.

38 Corps would include a significant air mobile element, which would come with integral close air support, but in the main the invaders relied on Thunderbolts kitted out for ground attack either with bombs or unguided rockets.  The long nose of the Thunderbolt made it imperative that the airframe made it attack runs at the correct angle.  Too shallow and the pilot would not get a good look at the target and miss, too steep and there was a very real risk of getting mud in the cockpit.

"Getting mud in the cockpit" first appeared in one Thunderbolt pilot's log book and quickly spread throughout this theatre of war as a euphemism for an unplanned terrestrial interface.  

Having a pair of Thunderbolts ‘in the cab rank’ was nonetheless a reassurance to commanders on the ground and there was a widespread perception amongst separatist soldiers that these ground attack ‘planes were more lethal than they actually were.   As with a lot things, experienced pilots could be battle winners and life savers.  Inexperienced pilots could make things worse.

One issue with the Thunderbolt fighter bombers was of course that they all wanted to be fighter aces.  If a separatist aircraft was spotted within reach, the fighter-bombers would jettison their stores and chase after their target.  Whilst the 72AG could deal with the loss of munitions well enough, on occasion these bombs or rockets were salvaged by the separatists for use on their own aircraft or as raw materials for booby traps.

In the air to air role, one marked success came when a Thunderbolt wing (44 airframes, two squadrons of 22) flew towards Xyphonica at the same speed, altitude and formation as a Devastator raid, using Devastator call-signs.  The cellular nature of the separatists, which meant that they were hard to cripple, having no central C3 hub, meant that each lightening formation that the Thunderbolts overflew took off to intercept ‘the Devastators’ and was taken apart by the Imperial Navy’s best (on this world) fighter wing.  As the separatist interceptors did not communicate with each other, this tactic worked on more than one occasion.

Combat Air Patrols by the hard working Thunderbolt wings, effective control and early warning by specialist Devastator and Marauders, kept on station over the FLOT meant that separatist air power was never allowed to be more than a nuisance to 72AG.  Many missions were deliberately launched to seek and destroy separatist air assets - numerical superiority and the vigilance of the hidden watchers in the sky meant that a lot of the time, battlefield airspace was something that 72AG on the ground did not have to worry about. 


  1. "unplanned terrestrial interface"

    I hold you completely responsible for my partner giving me "that look" while I struggle to restrain giggles. Actual giggles.

  2. Great read, I really enjoyed this. Any chance you've got a picture to show what units are all in your army? Something like an organization chart?