OR: The Fighter Commander’s Guide to Air Combat
By Alan Emrich
You initiate Air-to-Air Combat in Frank Chadwick’s ETO when a player’s Fighter units conduct an Intercept Mission. The intercepting player is always in control of when and where Air Battles occur and, better still, makes those decisions after appraising all of the opponent’s Missions. So, from the smorgasbord of interception possibilities, you must determine from among them which are the most existentially vital to thwart and which offer the best chances to punish the enemy’s Air Force. Usually, it is hard to find these two priorities together, as the opponent’s most vital Missions are the best protected by Escorts and employ Fighter-Bombers, while a less-vital Mission presents better Intercept opportunities to really inflict punishment in Air Combat. Although Airdrop Missions often qualify as both great threats on the map and easy targets in the air.
Correctly prioritizing which enemy Missions to target and assessing your chances in Air-to-Air Combat before launching your Intercept Packets is the key to gaining an air advantage.
Two versus One
Usually, Fighter units conduct Intercept Missions in Packets of two units to bring maximum strength to the ensuing Dogfight. Since Escort Missions can only have one Fighter unit protecting their Mission Packet, the intercepting player usually musters an initial strength advantage (or at least parity) on the Dogfight table and has a real chance to do some harm. Interception forces are always striving to achieve at least a +1 on the Dogfight Table since it allows them to roll a lucky ‘6’ puts an enemy Air unit in the Destroyed box.
For example, during their Winter Counteroffensive the Soviets need a Close Air Support Mission flown to a crucial Battle hex: they fly a Mission Packet with an Il-2 and a Pe-2, escorted by one (the maximum allowed) Yak-1 Fighter unit.
The Axis Intercept with a Packet including the German Bf-109E and Romanian PZL.P-11 Fighter units.
The Axis have a combined Air-to-Air Strength of 5 versus the Soviets’ defense of 4 (2 for the Yak-1, +1 each from the two Fighter-Bomber units in the Mission Group; with one Tough and one Vulnerable symbol on their side cancelling each other out for Defense Strength modification). Thus, the Axis will attack on the +1 column of the Dogfight table with a very good chance to disrupt the enemy’s Air Group and, on a lucky roll, will Kill one the Pe-2 Mission Air unit (because it is the Vulnerable one of the pair)!
One versus One (or Two)
Should the Escorting Fighter unit survive the initial bounce from the Intercepting Packet, it gets to return fire. This means a decision whether to engage both Interceptors (when two Fighter units are in the Intercept Packet, which is typical) or selecting one from the pair and only targeting it. Usually, your chances are best of punishing the Interceptors if you engage only the weakest of the pair, but be mindful of circumstance that might dictate otherwise (such as finding a strong but Vulnerable Fighter unit among the Interceptors, or one sticks around for the Dogfight after Damaging itself inflicting a P result because if you can inflict a second Hit on it that unit is Destroyed).
Continuing with our example above, the Axis roll a ‘5’ on the +1 column for a DA result (i.e., 1 Damaged and 1 Aborted). The Soviet’s choose their losses, but one Mission Air (i.e., Soviet Fighter-Bomber) unit must suffer a result, and a Vulnerable Air unit must take preference to one that is not Vulnerable when assigning casualties. The Soviet player selects their Pe-2 Fighter-Bomber unit (which fulfills all loss obligations being both a Mission Air unit and Vulnerable), flipping it to show its Damaged side (meaning it still presses on to conduct its Mission). The Soviet player could apply the Abort result to either of the other two Soviet Air units at that Dogfight. The Soviet player decides, perhaps unwisely, that returning fire in this Air Combat is more important than the Close Air Support (not being that concerned with the Ground Battle’s outcome), and so immediately Aborts the Il-2, Damaged + Suppressed back to the Air Display mat (before it can conduct its Mission).
Firing back, the Yak-1’s Strength of 2 could match itself against: A) both interceptors on the -2 or less column; B) the Bf-109E unit alone on the -1 column, or C) the Romanian Fighter unit alone on the 0 column – and this latter option is what the Soviet player chooses. On a die roll of 3 or 6, that Romanian Fighter unit returns to the Air Display mat Damaged, and on a roll of 4 or 5 it returns Damaged + Suppressed.
Of Shields and 8-Balls
Air units designated as Tough (with a Shield icon) or Vulnerable (with an 8-ball icon) apply those designations when they are targets of enemy attacks against them on the Dogfight Table (i.e., when Intercepted). In a Dogfight, each Shield icon increases and each 8-ball icon decreases the collective Defense Strength of the attacked unit, Packet, or Group. Think of each Shield icon as a +1 Defense Strength and each 8-ball icon as a -1 Defense Strength symbol. Thus, when you select a group to Intercept, avoid those with Shields in preference to those with 8-balls if you want to inflict the most harm possible. One juicy target to look for are Air Transport Missions conducting an Paratroop Airdrop as most of the Transport Air units that can drop them onto the map are Vulnerable.
Tough and Vulnerable symbols do not modify attacking Air unit’s Strengths, only defending Air units!
Remember that Vulnerable symbols do matter when you are selecting your Air unit losses. When you have more than one target Air unit that could suffer a loss, the first loss must always go to a Vulnerable target in preference to one that is not Vulnerable. For this reason, Axis Stuka units are “bullet magnets” because they are always the first suffer (being both Mission Air units and Vulnerable).
A Sweep is as Lucky as Lucky can be…
New to TITE players from ETO's evolution as a series is a Fighter “Sweep” Mission. This “Loose Escort” Packet may counterattack (by itself or in conjunction with a counterattacking Escort unit) versus an enemy Intercept Packet within 3 hexes of its placement hex (i.e., its “Bounce” radius). Naturally, the attacking player will position Sweeps within their radius of several attacking Mission Groups as a threat protecting them all.
However, there can be only one (unescorted) Fighter unit in a Sweep, and it can be intercepted directly by up to a pair of enemy Intercept Fighter units.
The advantage of Sweeps is that they deter and distract enemy Fighters from harassing your carefully planned Air Missions. They deter by becoming a second fighter (along with a counterattacking Escort) to “double up” against a single Interceptor and shoot at it mercilessly, and they detract by drawing (sometimes only one but usually) a pair of enemy Interceptors to them (and away from their nearby Bombing Groups).
Either way, the player whose turn it is needs a surplus Fighter unit available to Sweep with, and it better be a good one that can take care of itself!
Picking your Air-to-Air Battles
The lesson is that when you send out an Intercept Packet, you get to pick the Air Battle that ensues. The Intercepting player selects the terms for most Air-to-Air combat (unless the phasing player has a Sweep Fighter nearby). Your Intercepting Fighters will always get in the first shot so carefully arrange matters to make sure this advantage counts. Always having Fighter units in the Available box during your opponent’s turn is one thing (and it is what Rush Recovery and Fuel Points are made for), but carefully choosing your Air Battles is another. With sufficient consideration given to your choice of aerial targets (in light of both the long- and short-term situation presented), you must wisely allocate your Fighter resources to bounce the enemy from the skies.