I don't normally go in for broadcasting tactical tips for players for various rule sets, but recently several of my gaming chums asked for some
help and tips in playing Algy. They kindly suggested the information I sent them to be so useful that they encouraged and convinced me that
I really should post them on this site.
First off, a look at what actual pilots of the First World War were told, if they were lucky that is. Much of this information was learned on the
job through trial and error, which often had fatal consequences if ignored.
It's amazing how true some of these dictum's are even today in air combat. One of the problems with air combat gaming is that it obviously
by its nature very abstract. However if you try to remember at least some of the following, readily available on the internet, you'll find your
skills in Algy will improve. It also serves to illustrate that, though abstract, both 'Algernon Pulls It Off' and 'Bag The Hun' feel right.
RFC Ace Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock was highly regarded as a tactician, patrol leader and combat pilot and his oft-quoted cardinal rule was "Always above, seldom on
the same level, never underneath," by which he meant never engage the enemy without holding the advantage, and the greatest advantage in air fighting was
height. According to Mannock, tactics should be adjusted according to the situation. However the main principle remained:
The enemy must be surprised and attacked at a disadvantage, if possible with superior numbers so the initiative was with the patrol. ... The combat must continue
until the enemy has admitted his inferiority, by being shot down or running away.
Mannock formulated a set of practical rules for air fighting on the Western Front that, like Oswald Boelcke's Dicta, were passed on to new pilots.
1. Pilots must dive to attack with zest, and must hold their fire until they get within one hundred yards of their target.
2. Achieve surprise by approaching from the East. (From the German side of the front.)
3. Utilise the sun's glare and clouds to achieve surprise.
4. Pilots must keep physically fit by exercise and the moderate use of stimulants.
5. Pilots must sight their guns and practise as much as possible as targets are normally fleeting.
6. Pilots must practise spotting machines in the air and recognising them at long range, and every aeroplane is to be treated as an enemy until it is certain it is
7. Pilots must learn where the enemy's blind spots are.
8. Scouts must be attacked from above and two-seaters from beneath their tails.
9. Pilots must practise quick turns, as this manoeuvre is more used than any other in a fight.
10. Pilots must practise judging distances in the air as these are very deceptive.
11. Decoys must be guarded against — a single enemy is often a decoy — therefore the air above should be searched before attacking.
12. If the day is sunny, machines should be turned with as little bank as possible, otherwise the sun glistening on the wings will give away their presence at a
13. Pilots must keep turning in a dog fight and never fly straight except when firing.
14. Pilots must never, under any circumstances, dive away from an enemy, as he gives his opponent a non-deflection shot — bullets are faster than aeroplanes.
15. Pilots must keep their eye on their watches during patrols, and on the direction and strength of the wind.
Second World War aces, such as Bader and Johnson, acknowledge that Mannock's tactics served as inspiration to them.
Oswald Boelcke was a German flying ace of the First World War and one of the most influential patrol leaders and tacticians of the early years of air combat.
Boelcke is considered the father of the German fighter air force as well as the "Father of Air Fighting Tactics” He was the first to formalize rules of air fighting, which
he presented as the Dicta Boelcke. While he promulgated rules for the individual pilot, his main concern was the use of formation fighting rather than single effort.
Germany's premier ace, Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron), had been taught by Boelcke and continued to idolize his late mentor long after he had
surpassed Boelcke's tally of victories.
1. Try to secure the upper hand before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you
Advantages for World War I aircraft included speed, altitude, surprise, performance and numerical superiority.
• Speed: the pilot with the faster of two machines has control over the combat. He has the choice to break off combat and retire. The slower machine cannot
catch him. The pilot of a slower machine must stay on the defense. He cannot run to safety. A fast moving aircraft can perform elaborate maneuvers, giving its pilot
many options. A machine flying close to its stall speed can do little beyond wallowing in a more or less straight line. Aircraft engines available in 1914 and 1915
provided just enough thrust to keep machines airborne at 150 km/h (93 mph), and not much more. Level flight was fine, but climbing to a higher altitude took
several minutes and cut air speed nearly in half. Diving, on the other hand, could add half again to a plane's top speed. By 1916, engine power and speed
increased. By the end of the war, aircraft were operating regularly at speeds over 200 km/h (124 mph). Speed was critical.
• Altitude: From the advantage of flying above his opponent, a pilot had more control over how and where the fight takes place. He could dive upon his
opponent, gaining a sizable speed advantage for a hit and run attack. Or, if the enemy had too many advantages- numbers for instance- a pilot could fly away with a
good head start. At best, World War I aircraft climbed very slowly compared with later types. Altitude was a hard earned 'potential energy' store not to be given
• Surprise: getting the first shot before one's opponent is prepared to return fire was the 'safest' and preferred method for attack. Most air victories were
achieved in the first pass. Without all-seeing devices like radar, a pilot could approach his foe stealthily, using clouds, haze or even using the enemy aircraft's own
wings or tail to conceal his approach. The glare of the sun, especially, provided an effective hiding spot.
• Performance: Knowing the strengths, weakness and capabilities of your own aircraft, and that of your foe, was also critical. Who was faster, who could turn
tighter, how many were there, etc. He argued against foolish acts of 'heroism.' If he could not 'secure advantages,' he would not attack. One of Boelcke's pupils,
Manfred von Richthofen, learned this rule very well and became the war's top scoring ace.
A documented example of Boelcke 'securing advantages' took place on 17 September 1916. Boelcke and his pilots intercepted a flight of bombers and fighters
crossing the lines. He chose not to attack right away, but had his Jasta climb higher above the bombers, keeping themselves between the bombers and the sun.
There they circled and waited. When the bomber pilots, observers and fighter escort pilots were preoccupied with the destruction they were causing on the
ground, Boelcke signaled for his pilots to attack. Several enemy aircraft went down and Jasta 2 lost no one.
2. Always continue with an attack you have begun
Rookie pilots would start a fight, but instinct (fear) would convince them to break it off and run. This inevitably presented the rookie's tail to his opponent's guns,
making the rookie an easy victory for his enemy. Boelcke learned that it was far better to stay and continue mixing it up — waiting for his opponent to make
mistakes or flee — than to break and run. To turn tail and run was to surrender most, if not all, of the advantages a pilot might have had. As an example, when
Manfred von Richthofen met British ace Lanoe Hawker in November 1916, each persisted in trying to get on the other's tail. Both stuck to Boelcke's second dictum.
When their endless circling had brought them down near the ground behind German lines, Hawker had to choose between landing and capture or fleeing. He
chose to flee. Richthofen was then able to get behind him and shoot him down.
3. Open fire only at close range, and then only when the opponent is squarely in your sights
A common rookie's urge was to start blasting away upon sighting his first enemy machine. Shots taken at ranges of 1000 m (3280 ft) stood little chance of hitting
their mark. The rattle of machine gun fire would alert the intended target and gave them time to react.
The machine guns available for aircraft during the First World War were not highly accurate at longer ranges. Add to that the difficulty of aiming from a moving,
bouncing gun platform at a fast moving target and it is a marvel that anyone ever hit anything. Boelcke preferred to fly to within 100 m (330 ft) or less before firing, to
ensure hitting what he aimed at with his opening burst. Once the rattle of his guns was heard, the advantage of surprise was gone, so it was best to make that first
shot most effective.
Another aspect of making each shot count was the limited supply of ammunition carried in World War I aircraft — usually only a few hundred rounds. This could
amount to less than 60 seconds of sustained fire. Reloading in the air varied from dangerous to impossible. Spraying the sky with lead in hopes of hitting
something, eventually, was not an option. Shots had to be chosen carefully. Early in the war, when a sense of chivalry still held sway, some men allowed their
opponents to depart if they were out of ammunition or had jammed guns. Total war did not allow such courtesies to last for long.
4. You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses
The first part, 'keeping your eye on your opponent,' sounds obvious enough, but it needed to be stated. In the hustle and bustle of an air fight it was easy to lose
sight of your adversary. A restatement of this rule might be: never assume you know where your opponent is or will be. If a pilot 'lost' his foe, the advantage shifted
to the foe. A successful pilot did not allow himself to be distracted from his opponent. As far as ruses go, it was not an uncommon practice for a pilot to feign being
hit, going into a supposedly uncontrolled spin or dive, in order to exit a fight that was not going well. This practice traded on the chivalry of their opponents. To
continue hammering a man who was already going down, was thought unsportsmanlike. Boelcke recognized that too many enemies were being allowed to escape
and return to fight another day. War for national survival was not sport. He taught against the accepted notion that once a machine began to spin down, that one
could move on. If it were a ruse, the enemy pilot would pull out at the last moment and either escape or return to attack, perhaps now having gained the advantage
of surprise. Boelcke wanted his pupils to follow their opponent down, and make sure they were out of the fight or resume the fight if necessary.
5. In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind
Firing at a machine flying across one's path required 'leading' the shot—aiming ahead of a moving target to compensate for its speed. While a few pilots were adept
at the mental calculations necessary and good aerial marksmen, most were much less adept. The velocity of a moving gun platform, the speed of bullets plus the
speed and direction of a moving target could be a lot to consider in the heat of battle. Furthermore, in deflection firing, the target could cross the stream of fire
whose bullets were 50 m (165 ft) or more apart. Such crossing gave less exposure to the bullets.
Head-on attacks or head-to-tail attacks required little or no calculated deflection in aim. A head-on attack, however, exposed one directly to the enemy's guns. It
was far safer and more effective to have one's target and bullet stream all traveling in more or less the same direction. This required little or no 'leading,' and
exposed the target to a greater concentration of fire.
Because of the prevalence of attacks from the rear, aircraft design adapted to allow for rear firing guns in two-seaters and larger bombers.
6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it
This rule is related to dictum #5 above. The instinctive reaction of many rookies was to turn and flee from an approaching attacker—especially a diving one. This
simply presented their tail to the attacker, usually with disastrous results. Boelcke taught that a pilot had to conquer that instinct. Turning to face the attack could
force the attacker onto the defensive, or at least keep the situation unsettled, which was far better than presenting your tail. Even though climbing to meet an attack
would reduce speed, it was better to try to bring one's own guns to bear than to flee, and approaching the enemy still increases the relative velocity between the
two fighters and thus reduces the time during which the enemy can fire. Furthermore, if both fighters miss, the diving attacker must now pull out of his dive, while
the defender is now in position to circle around and counter-attack with his own dive.
7. When over the enemy's lines, always remember your own line of retreat
If a pilot chose to flee a superior force, or was coming down with a damaged machine, it was critical to spend what little time he might have going in the right
direction. This rule sounds as though it is stating the obvious, but Boelcke found it necessary to include. More than a few pilots came down behind enemy lines
because they got confused and lost their way. In World War I, aerial navigation was done mostly by sight. Taking regular note of landmarks helped a pilot get his
bearings quickly, perhaps making the difference between safety and captivity.
8. Tip for Squadrons: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. Avoid two aircraft attacking the same opponent
In the first year or so of World War I, air combat was more of a one-on-one affair. The early aces, like Pegoud, Garros, Boelcke and Immelmann, hunted the skies
alone. As the war progressed, the sheer number of machines in the sky increased. Several reconnaissance machines traveled together for mutual protection,
further protected by escorting fighters. Boelcke recognized that the days of the lone hunter were over. Many young pilots, however, still came to the front expecting
to dash valiantly into battle as an errant knight, alone, but in reality they would be quickly overwhelmed by multiple enemies. Boelcke tirelessly lectured his pupils
on the need for teamwork—sometimes scolding them for acting too independently. Attacking in a group allowed the leader to concentrate his attention exclusively
on his target, while his wingmen protected his tail.
Air battles later in the war could involve dozens of aircraft from each side at the same time. The sky could become a swirling tangle of machines. When your side
was at a numerical disadvantage, it was especially important not to double up on one opponent. The concentrated fire was of dubious value, since you were just as
likely to get in each other's way as to hit the enemy. Doubling up also left an enemy machine somewhere unbothered and free to tail one of your side's machines.
Later in the war, teamwork became the primary key to success and survival.
OK so much for theories chaps. Lets try and apply some of that theory into practice in Algy, taking into account rules mechanisms and both
aircraft and pilot performance.
Basically, Algy pushes planes to their limits in a way that ‘Bag The Hun’ perhaps doesn't. I like to tinker with aircraft performance by adding modifiers for good or
poor visibility and structural flaws in the designs, both real and anecdotal. This means that most plane types are very different in what they can or cannot do, safely.
Comparing to BTH, altitude is the main difference, there being 12 bands instead of 6. It can take an age to climb with the slow ROC of some types. Also you can
climb without moving forward one hex so that you can hang on your prop to lose speed, then dive onto targets.
One of the great tactics, if you are being tailed, and your climb rate is better, is to climb to your maximum ROC, assuming you have the PIPs (hence faster = better),
forcing your opponent to fail and fly straight on. You then descend onto their tail in the same move. Damned effective. Aces have a huge advantage in that they
have better throttle control and can therefore ensure they have plenty of PIPs. Outstanding climbers when compared to the usual planes about were the Nieuport
17, Fokker Dr.I Triplane, Fokker D.VII, Sopwith Triplane and Camel, and SE5a. Of these the Nieuport and both triplanes are Speed 6, so you'll need maximum
throttle and need to be finish below altitude 6 to actually manage it (altitude being 4 pips to climb one level at altitude six and above).
You can also dive up to five bands though there is risk of structural failure. I use some house rule modifiers to further distinguish one plane type from another and
reflecting their designs inherant strengths and weaknesses. Hence, some planes can't do such steep dives without significant risk of structural failure. These are
mostly sesquiplane (smaller lower wing) types (All Nieuports, Albatros D.III and D.V/Va but also planes with some structural weakness such as Fokker Dr.I and
Albatros D.I and D.II) and some pilots are of such low ability that they can't risk doing this (Regulars and Sprogs) unless they pass manoeuvre tests. If they fail they
will go into an uncontrolled spin which can be very difficult to pull out of, and may result in structural failures.
Another way of losing the tailing plane is to dive to the maximum. This is best conducted from altitude six and ending at one. This was often what pilots were told
to do if attacked, as diving increases speed an allows you to put distance between your plane and the enemy's. If the tailing plane is of lower performance, it
usually can't live with you in a steep dive without risking structural failures.
SPAD's and SE5a's are able to dive without risk, other than if they've got a crap pilot. A great manoeuvre for both planes, along with other good divers, enabling
them to lose a tail, is to conduct a voluntary spin. These were a very common way to evade a pursuer, assuming the pilot was capable enough (Veteran or above in
Algy). The plane descends three levels immediately and then pulls out. The manoeuvre is rated as 'Hard' and costs only 3 hexes of movement. This means a
tailing plane has to be able to descend three levels AND pass a staying on the tail test. Again planes susceptible to structural failure ( e.g. sesquiplanes) might need
to check for this. A 'staying on the tail test' is then required. If the tailing plane fails this it flies straight and level. Even though the spinning plane dices randomly
for its direction on the pull out the move is a very useful one.
The cost of the spin manoeuvre is low at 3 hexes and fast planes, with full throttle, will find they have enough pips to either target the tailing plane if it failed to stay
on the tail, or conduct another manoeuvre to force another staying on the tail test to be undertaken if its pursuer passed the first one.
SE5a's can climb really well to altitude 12, and so the SE5a is a cracking plane at climbing and diving out of trouble, though not as manoeuvrable per se as a Camel.
Rotary engined types can snap turn which is another way of losing a tail, especially if it is an in-line or radially engined pursuer. Camels and Fokker Triplanes can
snap turn twice, making them deadly in a turning dogfight. But Triplanes can't dive steeply without risk of their top wing folding and Camels are a bugger to get out
of an uncontrolled spin in my house rules.
Another useful manoeuvre to learn is the ‘Loop’. If the tailed pilot is a Veteran, or above, all the good. If he is a Regular or Sprog, he will need to successfully pass
a manoeuvre test first. If the tailed pilot successfully performs a loop, then a plane on his tail, which fails to pass the ‘stay on the tail’ test, will be forced to fly
straight and level. The previously tailed plane will now find itself behind the enemy plane, who will be subsequently be subject to an ‘On the tail test’.
The Albatros Scouts's big advantage is their speed and armament. Until the Camel, all British planes were underarmed. Many mid-war onward German planes will
have two forward firing Spandaus, whilst most RFC aircraft feature only one Vickers. Often a good close range burst from a Hun will do for a Brit, whereas Brits
tend to damage Huns first.
German two-seaters tend to be much harder to shoot down than their British counterparts, with the notable exception of the F2 Bristol Fighter. Although perhaps
not as robust as RFC ones, German two-seaters tend to be more manoeuvrable which means more saving rolls. In addition the ring mounting of the German
observer/gunners allows firing to left and right as well as to the rear.
Whilst basic speed is important in allowing a plane to climb and manoeuvre, sometimes having a slow plane is actually quite advantageous. Really slow planes are
hard to tail as there is a risk of overshooting the target for a faster tailing plane. This may then allow the tailed plane to then fire into its attacker as it overshoots.
This can be particularly nasty if the enemy plane has a front observer/gunner such as in a Gotha or FE 2 ‘Fee’. Rear deflection shots delivered from close range are
probably a safer bet.
To shoot down the enemy to quote Hun Ace Oswald Boelcke “Open fire only at close range, and then only when the opponent is squarely in your sights”. In other
words, get on the tail of the enemy in an adjacent hex and give them a full burst. However, getting onto the tail of an enemy plane is more difficult than in ‘Bag The
Hun’ due to the need to be in the line of hexes immediately behind the enemy plane. One key thing to remember about tailing is that you are ‘locked’ onto the tailed
enemy. You can only break away on your own pilot’s card, character card or on an Ace card if applicable, and are not allowed to choose not to follow as in ‘Bag
The Hun’. This is an important difference. It allows a tailed plane with a clever pilot to drag its pursuer into situations where it is suddenly vulnerable, such as into
the sights of a friendly plane.
'Archie' (Ack-Ack, AA etc) in Algy can be devastating and largely indiscriminate. When designing scenarios its best not to have the whole table as liable to its
foreboding attentions. Obviously if you're fighting over No Man's Land, between the trench lines, a significant swathe should indeed be covered by 'Archie'. A
good benchmark is to stipulate that any plane within X amount of hexes can be potentially affected by 'Archie'. The actual amount of hexes can be tailored to
scenario and taste but six hexes is a good start point. I tend to include an 'Archie Bonus' chip which is used if the mission is one of Balloon Busting. Enemy
observation balloons were deadly to the poor bloody infantry in the trenches, providing much more accurate artillery effects than from ground spotters. Enemy
balloons of both sides tended to be heavily protected by concentrations of Archie so frequently I'll stipulate in a scenario that any plane within X hexes of a balloon
is vulnerable to Archie Bonus. Certain altitudes in Algy are a really bad idea to fly at through zones of Archie. This is due to the overlapping of Archie bands. Alt 3
(2,000 to 3,999 ft) is susceptible to both Light AND Medium Archie whereas Alt 5 (6,000 to 7,999 ft) will secure the attention of Medium AND Heavy Archie.
Finally a word on Sprogs. Sprogs are truly awful in Algy. They're bad enough in BTH, but in Algy they're lambs waiting to be slaughtered. All you can do as a
Sprog in Algy is try to keep out of trouble. If someone gets on their tail they're dead meat. Any trick flying will see them go into an uncontrolled spin from which
they'll have trouble getting out of. A Sprog pilot in a Camel or a Morane-Saulnier Type I ‘Bullet’ can't risk any mistakes as they were famous for being tough to fly
and get out of an uncontrolled spin. Sprogs also tend to not be able to hit a proverbial barn door and have virtually no hope of getting into a tailing position, so are
really just gun fodder.
Algy makes you really respect what WW1 airmen had to live through.
Well, although I don't profess to be an expert by any means, I hope that all proves to be of some interest.
Kev's Performance Modifiers
Several players on the TFL group, and others who PM'd me have asked me to post my house rules for plane performance. Here they are.
Some have good evidence for, others are more arbitrary and subjective, and some are anecdotal. Most were gleaned from the excellent
Osprey Publishing Duel series. They all add real flavour though and are by no means exhaustive. Chop and change as you will. We like
them because it suddenly makes planes like the Pfalz D.III useful because of its diving ability for example.
The important thing is not to add too much unless it is really warranted, as even minor things can make a huge difference in the swirling
dogfight. If anyone else has any more ideas for other planes let me know and we'll add them to the list and try them out.
ROYAL FLYING CORPS
Airco DH2 - We've always used Mike Brian's idea to swap the pilot hit / engine damage results on the (C) column of the Critical Damage Table
for attacks from Rear / Rear Deflection. Furthermore I add +1 for all spotting due to the excellent visibility of having no engine in front of the
pilot. Single seat planes can't spot behind anyway so the presence of a ruddy great engine behind has no effect.
BE2 - Notoriously stable and easy to fly. +1 Luck when trying to recover from an uncontrolled spin.
FE2 'Fee' - Again swap the pilot hit / engine damage results on the (C) column of the Critical Damage Table for attacks from Rear / Rear
Deflection. Furthermore reduce the rear arc burst limit to 3 seconds. If firing in the front arc then suggest a 2 seconds burst limit for any
opponent attacking head on and 4 seconds for anything else.
In addition easy manoeuvres only in the turn an observer fired at a target behind. In addition, if the FE2 goes into a spin on the turn that an
observer fired behind him then on a D6 roll of 1-3 (adjusted for luck) the observer falls to his death. Also add +1 for Spotting in front but
ensure that FE2's have no ability to spot behind due to the pusher engine.
Morane-Saulnier Type N 'Bullet' - Add +1 for spotting above as the pilot has an unrestricted view. However apply a -1 modifier for spotting
below as the single wing's position restricts the pilots view below him.
Morane-Saulnier Type I 'Bullet' - As above but in addition the up-engined version of the Type I was positively dangerous to fly being nose
heavy and unresponsive. One pilot claimed in his career that it was the only plane he felt was actively trying to kill him. Therefore -1 Luck
when trying to recover from any be it voluntary or uncontrolled.
Nieuport 17 - A sesquiplane which suffered from wing failures. Must test for structural failure for a Hard Dive if descending three or more
altitude bands. Furthermore -1 in any structural failure tests. However visibility below is improved so add +1 when spotting below.
RE8 - Quite difficult to pull out of a spin. -1 Luck when trying to recover from an uncontrolled spin.
Sopwith Camel - This was incredibly manoeuvrable but temperamental. It was said that the Camel would give a pilot the choice of a
"Wooden cross, red cross, and Victoria Cross." Hence -1 Luck when trying to recover from an uncontrolled spin.
Sopwith Triplane - Strength issues with wings. Must test for structural failure for Hard Dive if descending four or more bands.
SPAD S.VII and SPAD S.XIII - Modifier of -1 when spotting below due to its poor visibility.
Albatros D.I - High wing loading. Must test for structural failure for Hard Dive if descending four or more bands. Wings proved to be badly
placed restricting pilots visibility above and below. Counts -1 when spotting.
Albatros D.II - Still with high wing loading. Must test for structural failure for Hard Dive if descending four or more bands. Upper wing
staggered and moved closer to the pilot. Also cabane struts redesigned in all which improved forward and upward visibility. Counts -1 when
spotting below however due to the large lower wing.
Albatros D.III & Albatros D.V/D.Va - Persistent wing failures due to overloading of top wing. Must test for structural failure for Hard Dive if
descending three or more bands. Furthermore -1 in any structural failure tests. Being a sesquiplane the lower wing allowed much better
downward visibility so +1 for spotting below.
Fokker Dr.I Triplane - Throughout its career it suffered from wing failures despite several attempts to rectify it. Must test for structural failure
for Hard Dive if descending three or more bands. Furthermore -1 in any structural failure tests.
Fokker D.VII - Superb climber. Only expends 3 hexes to climb at all altitudes. Must test for structural failure for Hard Dive if descending four
or more bands. Easy to fly. +1 Luck when trying to recover from an uncontrolled spin
Fokker E.III 'Eindecker' - Visibility: Add +1 for spotting above as the pilot has an unrestricted view. However apply a -1 modifier for spotting
below as the single wing's position restricts the pilots view below him. Difficult to fly due to wing warping: -1 luck when trying to recover
from an uncontrolled spin.
LFG Roland C.II - Appalling downward visibility: -2 when spotting below. However the placement of the top wing gave an unrestricted view to
the pilot forward and upwards. Therefore +1 to spotting above.