Thanh Hoa Bridge

Thanh Hoa, Vietnam: While this tutorial mission featured the infamous "Dragon's Jaw" bridge that chewed up and spit out so many American pilots and aircraft during the course of the war, the Thanh Hoa Bridge scenario is the first instance of the famous target in the regular game.

Your flight starts (as in apparently most if not all of these scenarios) near the objective already in an attack profile with several waypoints already plotted out for you. Also as with any mission, you are free to override any of these suggestions and plot your own attack.

The game presents you with the following strike package: 2 RF-101C Reconnaissance planes in 2 separate flights, 21 F-100D "Super Sabres" in 6 separate flights serving in either a fighter role (AIM-9B's) or a bomber role (LAU-3 FFAR V's), and 50 F-105D "Thunderchiefs" in 13 separate flights serving either in a fighter role (AIM-9B's), or a bomber role (AGM-12 A's or MK-117's).

The AIM-9B's are obviously air-to-air weapons (and their inherent weakness is shown as you almost always lose at least one escort flight) while the other weapons are air-to-ground of varying quality. The AGM-12A "Bullpup's" are a freaking joke and barely ding the bridge. The LAU-3 FFAR V's are marginally better and can cause some damage to the heavy AAA sites, while the mainstay, the MK-117 General Purpose Bomb is what wields devastation.

While this is a very formidable force that can take down the bridge with one or two passes before having to RTB to refuel and rearm, the game will not give you anything more than an American Major Defeat unless you also pound the dink out of the two heavy AAA batteries that are positioned on either side of the primary objective (which usually takes another pass as the AGM's and LAU's are marginally effective at the task with only one sortie).

This happens primarily due to the fact that on the first pass over the target, you are bound to lose several aircraft. The first couple tries of this mission I would lose 12 to 16 aircraft and suffer a Major Defeat even though the bridge was reduced to 0%. Only when I increased the altitude of each aircraft in the strike package did my losses drop significantly, however neutralizing the heavy AAA sites was still needed to seal the deal.

The first pass of the strike package took the bridge down to 8%; however it was still a win for the enemy. While the planes were RTB, the F-100D's that I had loitering over the area began to take shots on the heavy AAA sites to turn the tide, so before even the first ten minutes of the two hour mission were over I had at least a Draw building into a Minor Victory.

With approximately an hour left, I launched everything I had from Udorn and Nakhon Phanom regardless of their weapon load out and brought them out to the border of Laos. Once the majority formed there, I gave a second waypoint southeast of the bridge to stage the forces for a final strike.

The final pass occurred in a two prong fashion with four flights of F-105D's coming west to east to target one of the heavy AAA sites, and a massive group of F-100D's and F-105D's coming from the southeast to attack both the bridge and that same AAA platform. I did lose one aircraft in this sortie, but it put me over the top for the Major Victory outcome.

Other thoughts: The 3 KC-135 20,000 gallon tankers were eye candy for the mission and not needed at all. You can land the strike package at Udorn and Nakhon Phanom, get a partial load of weapons and set back out for the target to make a final pass before the mission ends.

Yet again the scenario starts you out on target with little or no planning required on your part. I am not sure if all of the remaining missions are like this, but that is kind of a letdown. It would be nice to have one stock mission where you actually have to launch the strike package from the friendly airbases, plot the route in and out and essentially manage all the tasks that a mission coordinator would be required to account for within the limits of the game engine itself.

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