Skinners Sweep Red Baron Fight XXXI
Experience was not the deciding factor in the 31st annual Indy Squadron Red Baron Fight, held at the Meister's home outside of Thorntown, Indiana on May 25th. It was the gun jams of his opponents and a dash of luck at just the right moment gave Stephen Skinner his 10th Silver Goblet.
The sides on this year's six-player event were as follows:
A. J. Meister Fokker DrI (Edmund Meister, 4/0)
Ethan Skinner Fokker DrI (red) (UNT Ludwig Vogal, 2/0)
Rick Lacy Fokker DrI (VZFW Sasha Diederich, 6/1)
Stephen Dale Skinner Camel 150 (LT James Sadler, 10/2)
Bob Meister Camel 150 (2LT Jonny Wilson, 10/0)
Stephen Daniel Skinner Camel 150 (2LT Demetrius Hall, 7/4)
Oddly enough, the entire British roster was filled with successful Red Baron Fight pilots. Bob finished 3rd in the 2019 event with 2LT Jonny Wilson while Stephen Daniel won while flying 2LT Demetrius Hall. Stephen Dale's pilot, LT James Sadler, won RBF XXV. Yet this year's event was the first Red Baron Fight since 2012 to feature no aces.
The Camels of Stephen and Stephen Dale moved first in Turn 1, and Stephen Dale dove from 4,000 feet altitude down to 2500 feet, moving the fight toward Allied lines. Gunfire was exchanged with Stephen's Camel taking hits from both Rick and Ethan, while A. J. fired on Stephen Dale. The Brits had lost initiative, suffered a smattering of hits, scored very little damage on their opponents and were convinced they had lost the turn when in fact they had won it emphatically.
The game hovered around 2000 to 2500 feet for the next seven turns but the real story was still hidden from the Allies. The Fokker Triplanes of both Rick and A. J. had suffered one gun jam each on the game's first turn. From Turns 1 through 7, they remained severely handicapped. Just when things were looking bad for the Germans, they got even worse.
On Turn 8, the Camels of Stephen and Stephen Dale managed a double attack on A. J.'s Fokker, which Stephen Dale had already softened up with several good bursts. The German plane was rocked by a volley of hits but the real damage came when Stephen scored a critical wound on the DrI pilot, instantly taking him out of the fight. Worse yet, the second gun on Rick's Fokker jammed and he climbed away to the outskirts of the fight, now completely disarmed and helpless. And... worse yet... while Ethan was on the tail of Stephen's Camel, Bob flew his Sopwith to the rescue and put a light wound in Ethan's pilot.
Bob jammed both his guns moments later, but nevertheless, the situation for the Germans at the game's midpoint was dire. A. J.'s Fokker pilot lost consciousness, crashed and died from the wound Stephen inflicted. Both of Rick's guns were locked up, he had taken 7 left wing hits courtesy of Stephen Dale and was forced to fly away from the main fight to clear his jams. Ethan's Fokker pilot was lightly wounded and now outnumbered three to one.
Bob positioned himself to attack Ethan as soon as he could clear one of his guns. Rather than leave his wingman to an ugly fate, Rick turned back into the fight and drew the attention of the two nearest Camels (Stephen and Stephen Dale). With poor initiative numbers and losing altitude against the fast-climbing Fokkers, the Brits tried to respond and chase Rick's DrI only to watch him climb away again. This was a deliberate and effective tactic used by Rick to tie up two of the Camels and allow Ethan's wounded Triplane pilot to engage in a fair fight against Bob's Sopwith.
Unlike Rick, Bob was able to quickly clear both of his Camel's guns. He tailed Ethan's all-red Triplane for several turns until Ethan made a clever move, using "Turn Right" as his primary card and "Turn Left" as his secondary tailing defense maneuver card (automatically awarded in RBF to the player flying the Red Baron's Fokker). Bob was caught off guard and Ethan finally lost him. But by this time, Ethan's Fokker had suffered eight hits to his left wing in addition to his wound. (continued below)
While Rick kept the Camels of Stephen and Stephen Dale tied up in a useless game of cat-and-mouse to allow Ethan an escape opportunity, Ethan instead turned the tables on Bob's Camel and returned fire. He scored six hits. Ethan then won the initiative roll and - knowing that his luck was bound to run out soon - he chose to escaped Bob's clutches to make a successful landing on a road far behind the safety of German lines. Bob's long-shot roll for confirmation failed.
Although Stephen finished fourth in total hits scored, his solo kill over A. J. gave him his tenth Red Baron Fight championship.
Stephen Skinner (Camel 150) 77 points
Stephen Dale Skinner (Camel 150) 71
Ethan Skinner (red Fokker DrI) 65
Bob Meister (Camel 150) 51
Rick Lacy (Fokker DrI) 41
A. J. Meister (Fokker DrI) 10
Stephen's points total was the lowest winning score since 2013 (Rick Lacy, 73) and the second-lowest since the event began in 1990. This is the first time that a single family has earned all three top positions in Red Baron Fight, although the Richesons, Odas and Skinners have all earned two of the top three spots in past games.
At least three players were in contention until the last turn. If A. J. had not passed out from Stephen's wound, Stephen Dale would have won. Stephen Dale would also have won if he could have scored just three hits in Rick's Fokker at the end of the game. Ethan needed only to score a six-hit burst on Bob's Camel on the game's final turn to earn a share of the title as well.
On the other hand, Bob, Rick and A. J. were all taken out of contention with repeated gun jams regardless of how well they flew or how hard they fought.
With extreme altitude changes (from 4,500 feet down to less than 500 at one point) and repeated regrouping, this was an interesting and well fought battle on both sides. And despite having two younger players on the German side, inexperience was not a factor in the outcome. The game was universally considered a well played event on both sides and great fun for all.
The "Balloon at Beffu" mission was published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Aerodrome as part of its continuing "Pages of the Past" series of historical Dawn Patrol games. This scenario was based on the October 10, 1918 balloon attack by the US 93rd Aero Squadron. The scenario followed the instructions from the issue precisely, including the special rules section and the random altitude roll of 800 feet for the German observation balloon. Here are the rosters with M/K records at the end of the mission:
American SPAD 13's
Rick Lacy (2LT William Murphy, 3/1)
Stephen Skinner, (LT Marlo Sandifer, 8/0)
Ethan Skinner (2LT Flint Wagner, 3/0)
German 185 hp Fokker DVII's
Stephen Dale Skinner (LTN Milan Sova, 13/3)
Bob Meister (LTN Peter Wagner, 4/2)
The Indy Squadron's rendition of "Balloon at Beffu" was brief and torrid, with two kills scored in the game's only two turns.
Ethan's American SPAD pilot had the misfortune of moving first and was also abandoned by his wingmen, albeit unintentionally. Rather than going after the balloon, he flew off to a flank to see what developed. He was attacked by one German and then both of the remaining Americans dove on the balloon. The second Fokker then opted for the best shot available, which was also on Ethan's SPAD.
Both Fokkers hit their mark, with two of Stephen Dale's bullets scoring pilot hits and killing Ethan's pilot instantly. Under Indy Squadron limited intelligence rules, Bob's Fokker pilot won the card cut for the kill (all pilots who hit the airplane on the turn it goes down are eligible for a cut).
Meanwhile, 1600 feet below, both Stephen and Rick fired on the balloon. Stephen missed from 200 feet but Rick hit and the balloon went down in flames. With the mission accomplished, their numerical advantage gone and at a severe altitude deficit, the surviving Americans successfully escaped.
The results of the game were - one American SPAD down and KIA (Ethan, credit to Bob), the balloon down in flames (to Rick) and all four remaining planes landed safely at their home fields.
The reviews of the scenario were generally positive. As with most balloon missions, the high starting altitude of the attackers relative to the balloon made it impossible for the defenders to make any real effort at intervening in the attack. Rick said, "You probably need to have the balloon more than 25 squares away to start, because that made it too easy. Or just put it (the balloon) down on the deck."
The Indy Squadron traditionally has balloon attackers roll 3d6x100 for starting altitude with the fight starting at the opposite end of the game board from the balloon. This permits the defenders to actually engage and possibly deter the attackers rather than merely wait to employ the predictable "vulture" tactics against the attacking plane that suffers the most ground fire. This necessitates that the offensive team fight its way through the defensive screen and allows defenders to actually... well... defend. Occasionally the attacking flight is even turned back by a tenacious defense and no balloon attack is possible.
However, it is understandable that a historical mission may need to use altitude imbalances to reflect the historic nature of the mission so in this instance, we flew the mission exactly as listed in The Aerodrome and had great fun doing so.
Two other games were flown on May 25 at the Meister's house featuring some very successful pilots.
Set on the Italian Front in October 1917, the three Skinners (Stephen, Stephen Dale and Ethan) flew Italian Nieuport 17's against two Austro-Hungarian Berg DI's flown by Bob and Rick. Stephen's Italian ace (SGT Melchoire Giovanni, 20/13) got on the tail of Rick's Berg and scored a light wound on its pilot. Rick made a forced landing and Stephen was awarded credit for the kill using the Society's kill confirmation chart.
And in February 1917 a strong Albatros flight met a pair of SPADs. The Albatri were flown by Ethan (LTN Dolf Meinhart, 12/5), Stephen (LTN Johannes Kahl, 15/4) and Rick (LTN Johann Schoffler, 33/4) with Bob and Stephen Dale flying opposition in SPAD 7 150's. On paper the SPADs should have been swept from the sky, but German marksmanship was remarkably poor. The courage and ability of the French SPADs was superb and they actually fought the Germans to a draw with no kills scored on either side.
The St. Mihiel Offensive by Maarten Otte
Pen & Sword
We usually don't rave about books here at ISD, but this is an exception. I was so anxious to read it that I skipped the publisher's usual press release and dove straight into the first chapter.
Author Maarten Otte's latest effort is part of Pen & Sword's ongoing “Battleground” series that offers a brief history of a battleground and then assembles several methods of touring the area either on foot or by car. Make no mistake, this is a self-guided battleground tour book.
Perhaps I loved this book because I have a special interest in the American offensives late in World War I, or maybe it's just that good. Either way, “St. Mihiel Offensive” has earned my highest recommendation because it offers everything I enjoy about studying history. Here's what you need for a bucket list vacation and a lifetime memory... purchase this book, get a GPS device and then show up in Verdun, France. This book does everything else. And I mean everything.
“St. Mihiel Offensive” offers six car tours and three walking tours, each focusing on a different area of American action in the second week of September 1918. Let's briefly examine my favorite of the bunch, the “Trenches of Hauts de Mad Woods” walking tour. These trenches were held by the Germans on the morning of September 12, 1918 and it was the objective of the US Army's 42nd Division to take them, which they did against only light resistance.
Each tour in the book, whether walking or driving, gives you distance and time estimates. For instance, the aforementioned trench tour says to allow half a day to explore all eight points of interest along the 2.5-kilometer wooded trail, which includes observation posts, underground shelters, the trench system itself and much more. Each of the eight points of interest are then detailed in the text, along with photos of the sites along the way and a thorough description of each.
A complete map accompanies the tour along with GPS coordinates to help you locate all eight points of interest. It even has a GPS locator to help you find the proper place to park your vehicle.
Bring your copy of “St. Mihiel Offensive” with you on the trail. Throw it in a backpack with some water and a few snacks and off you go. Be sure to compare what you see along the trail with the multitude of photos in the book, which represent both the modern appearance of each site along with historical photos for a then-and-now comparison. You won't get lost. Detailed directions keep you on track every step of the way.
This is not a history book. This is a tour guide book. It is an exceptional example of learning history by first-hand experience. Don't keep your copy clean. This is not for library use. This book was designed to get dirty, dog-eared and well used while accompanying you out into the fields where the St. Mihiel Offensive was actually fought. We are pleased to award it with the highest possible recommendation from ISD. Now go buy this book and experience history!