IL-2: Why Kuban?

I have seen on the discussion forums some players questioning why the Battle of Kuban is the next battle for IL-2. Why not Kursk? Or Lenningrad? Let’s explore why Kuban makes the most sense and why Kursk or Lenningrad aren’t yet features for the series.

Planning for change

In many ways, IL-2: Battle of Kuban is an inflection point for the IL-2 series. Change in the form of a major theatre switch is on its way and with that change comes a number of technical challenges that need to be developed and overcome.

When IL-2: Battle of Midway comes out, we’ll be flying Japanese and American carrier based aircraft over islands, oceans and landing on aircraft carriers. Depending on how far 1CGS takes development, Midway will be bringing in some pretty serious naval operations and the introduction of the aircraft carrier is not just a new object on the field but a major point of interaction for pilots.

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VT-6 readies for takeoff on-board USS Enterprise (CV-6) 

A World War II aircraft carrier means a tiny moving airfield with a yawing and pitching deck, aircraft elevators, a landing signal officer, potentially complex AI routines running the carrier deck and maybe even some sophisticated ship AI that actively avoids air attacks. Carriers compress the entire ground experience from one that is a large open grass or concrete field in to a much more active environment. Modeling all of these things to the kind of detail level that sim pilots expect will take time.

The Battle of Kuban was one of the few eastern front battles that featured some naval operations (along with Lenningrad) and if we get what I think we’ll be getting with Kuban… we’ll see the first iterations of destroyers, gunboats, torpedo boats, transports and other types of seafaring ships enter into the scenario for the first time. These will be larger and more complex than the ships that travel the Volga river in the summer and autumn months of the Stalingrad campaign.

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Soviet Project 7 destroyer built in the late 1930s and 1940s

Western planes for a western audience

Though IL-2 has been a successful eastern front based series over two generations of game, it has always done so by splitting its interests between those of east and west. The original IL-2 successfully introduced the eastern front of World War II to generations of gamers who may have known little of the battles or the aircraft that flew there previously. I certainly did not.

Despite that eastern focus, both the original IL-2 and the new generation have tried to entice a western audience by throwing some familiar aircraft in the mix. Far from being a-historical, the Soviet Union accepted and used many thousands of lend-lease aircraft and vehicles as part of the wartime effort.

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P-39L-1BE enroute to Russia (by way of Alaska)

Aircraft like the P-39 Airacobra became legends in their own right to Russian fliers and the P-39 was not the only Western type to see heavy use. The Hurricane, Spitfire and P-40 made their way into the ranks along with the P-47, the A-20, and the B-25. Some were used more than others but both the P-39 and the A-20 were prominent features on the Eastern front and none more than at the Battle of the Kuban. The Spitfire, a Collector Plane, was also used in battle with several units.

Adding two well known American types to the mix along with the Spitfire, a legendary British fighter that has never needed introduction in the West, is a potential draw for a lot of players. I have certainly seen the comments on the forums that help prove that point.

A little diversity

The aircraft are already pretty diverse but lets look at the Kuban battle itself. Fought from the spring to the fall of 1943, the Kuban battle draws a straight line from the end of the Stalingrad battle to the beginnings of major operations in the Kuban. Both sides fought over the same basic area for months at a time in some of the largest air operations up to that point. What Kuban has over other battles is diverse terrain.

The Black Sea dominates the south, the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range rises dramatically out of the sea and flat planes and gentle valleys make up the areas northwards near Krasnodar and elsewhere on the map. The Sea of Azov on the west along with the Kerch straight are all interesting areas to fly over.

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The area covered by the Battle of Kuban map

After two maps featuring the flatland around Moscow and Stalingrad, some mountains and two seas sounds like a welcome change.

Why not Kursk or Lenningrad?

Many players have said that Kursk or Lenningrad would be great battles – why not simulate them? Personally, I think both are immensely interesting and will hopefully be subjects of future additions.

Kursk is an interesting battle both from history sake as well as from an equipment standpoint. Some newer Russian types (like the Yak-9 and La-5FN) join the battle over some very flat grasslands. There is no naval combat here whatsoever.

Lenningrad is interesting too and it has more elements that could have made it a pick. It suffers from a different problem than Kursk. It’s a long battle stretched over a number of years and that makes picking a time (say 1943) and sticking with that without trying to model the rest of it. It has interesting terrain with the Finnish Gulf as the backdrop to major operations. It has the sea component too. What it lacks is more in the aircraft set – Though many Lend Lease types did operate over Leningrad (the Buffalo, Hurricane and P-40 for example)… they aren’t the ones that carry the most appeal or are anywhere close to being the stars of the show. Especially in 1943.

Conclusion

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An early look at the terrain on the Kuban map

Kursk and Leningrad are both interesting battles that I hope will get their own feature at some point. That said, Kuban makes the most sense to me and given the plan to move towards the Pacific after – is the ideal choice. It is a battle that offers the kinds of aircraft and scenery that you cannot find in as much abundance in other scenarios and that makes it a great choice for the IL-2 series to jump to both as something interesting in its own right but also as a stepping off point that will launch the series headlong into the Pacific theatre.

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