WW II Aerial Combat
Fast Play Rules for Students

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by Mic McGoldrick and Matt Fritz

Historical Background: At the start of World War II some pilots were still flying obsolete bi-planes. By the end of the war Germany had entered the jet age. The Luftwaffe was an essential element in the early success of the German blitzkrieg. The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies. The Allies had to gain air superiority before they could launch the D-Day invasion. German targets were bombed night and day. Eventually the threat of attack from the air was a major obstacle to German operations. In the Pacific the Japanese aircraft carriers dominated the seas. Only after four Japanese carriers (and many veteran pilots) were destroyed at the Battle of Midway did the United States turn the tables. Thereafter each island captured meant a new airfield to extend the range of US air power. The desperate Japanese resorted to kamikaze attacks. In the end, the war was ended with atomic bombs delivered by bombers.

Design Note: The rules for WW II air combat were developed by Mic McGoldrick. This game is a variant of the WW I air combat rules. I made some Pilot Licenses and paper plane models to go with Mic's maneuver cards. The only difference between the WW II rules and the WW I rules are the maneuver cards, so if you are already familiar with the old rules you can skip to that section and start playing. Mic has also developed some optional rules that model the different attributes of the fighters. They add flavor to the game.

Battle 1: The combat was fierce as British and American pilots tried to take control of the skies from their German enemies. The Germans managed to get the better of the fight (22 - 18). Only one German pilot managed to reach 5 victories. The top allied pilot (4 victories) was an American with a habit of flying his P-51 Mustang directly at his opponents, blazing away with his guns at point blank range. It was a dangerous tactic that terrified the Germans and often left his own plane a smoking, bullet riddled ruin.

Battle 2: The Japanese had controlled the skies over the Pacific for so long that they had begun to take it for granted. Things changed quickly. Flying their P-38 Lightnings with reckless abandon the American pilots took an early lead and never looked back. When the dust settled they had scored an impressive victory (31-23), and three pilots had become aces.


The models: Plastic model planes are readily available in 1/72 and 1/144 scale. The 1/144 models are cheap, and just the right size. They are also very easy for the students to build. You can find die-cast planes from manufacturers like Corgi and Model Power. Here are some simple paper airplane models you and print and use. Additional free paper airplanes are available from a lot of web sites, just look around. Paperworlds.com and FreePaperToys.com is a good place to start a search. You can also purchase origami airplane models for at Fiddler's Green and Papertigerarmaments.com.

Each Student gets:

The Board: I made a mat by taking a 4' x 4' piece of blue chart paper and covering it with a 5" hex pattern. The hex pattern was drawn quickly and easily by tracing a cardboard hexagon. A 4' x 4' mat can handle eight pilots. With a larger group it's better to have a few separate mats rather than combing them into one big battlefield.

Maneuver Cards: Each student gets a deck of maneuver cards from which he can choose his moves for the turn. I designed the cards in MS Word so they can be printed on business cards. Each card names the maneuver, illustrates how to move the plane, and describes it in words. The maneuver deck Mic developed contains the following moves: 3 Right Turns, 3 Left Turns, 3 Straight aheads, 3 Right Slips, 3 Left Slips, 1 Straight Fast, 1 Immelman Turn, 2 Hard Right turns, and 2 Hard Left turns. This is the same deck as the WW I air combat game with the following changes: Remove the stall maneuvers, add 2 Hard Right turns, and 2 Hard Left turns. There is also a Straight Fast move three hexes card which may be used (see optional rules). You can download the maneuver cards as a MS Word file ww2mancards.doc (117 kb) or as separate gif files page1.gif and page2.gif (print this page if you already have the WW I cards) , page 3.gif (Immelman Turn and Straight Fast 3 hexes for optional rules), page 4.gif (card backs). I suggest you write a different letter on the back of each deck so that when the kids drop or lose cards they can be returned to the right deck.

Pilot Licenses: The pilot license is a sheet, about the size of an index card, where the students can record the damage to their planes and record their victories. They were designed to resemble baseball cards, with the name and picture of a WW II ace, his victory total, and a brief biographical blurb. The sites used in creating the licenses are listed in the resources section at the end of this page. The two most useful sites were Aces of WW II and WW II Ace Stories. I laminated the pilot licenses so they could be marked with dry erase markers. They should be printed in landscape mode. You can download the pilot license cards as MS Word files: USpilots.doc (214 kb), Germanpilots.doc (192 kb), Sovietpilots.doc (126 kb), Japanpilots.doc (64 kb), RAFpilots.doc (188 kb) or as separate GIF files

US Page 1: Gabreski, Johnson, MacDonald, Foss
US Page 2: Bong, McGuire, McCampbell, Boyington
US Page 3: Preddy, Hanson, Wade, Harris
US Page 4: Meyer, Archer
German Page 1: Hartmann, Barkhorn, Rall, Kittel
German Page 2: Nowotny, Batz, Rudorffer, Bar
German Page 3: Graf, Juutilainen, Marseille, Galland
Japan Page 1: Nishizawa, Iwanoto, Sugita, Shinohara
Japan Page 2: Okumura, Anabuki, Sakai, Sasaki
Soviet Page 1: Gulaev, Pokryshikin, Kozhedub, Rechkalov
Soviet Page 2: Glinka, Golubev, Popkov, Budanova
RAF page 1: Tuck, Lacey, Pattle, Malan
RAF page 2: Beurling, Caldwell, Closterman, Johnson
RAF page 3: Finucane, Vale

Deployment: The opposing sides start on any whole hex on opposite sides of the mat. You should line up the hex grain so the hexes run straight across from the opposites sides, not at an angle. Planes should be positioned so the arrow on their base (and the nose of the plane) point at a hex side, NOT a hex corner.

Sequence of Play:
1. Choose cards
2. Play first card and move planes
3. Resolve shooting
4. Play second card and move planes
5. Resolve shooting
6. Play third card and move planes
7. Resolve shooting

Choose Cards: At the start of the turn each pilot must select three maneuvers from his deck of maneuver cards. Note that there is only one card for some maneuvers so these may not be used more than once per turn. The pilot should try to anticipate the maneuvers of his opponents and plan accordingly. The three cards selected should be placed face down in a stack in the order they will be used, the rest of the cards should be set aside. At the start of each new turn the three cards that were used are returned to the deck and may be selected again for the new turn. Normally everyone gest a deck with the same cards, but see the optional rules for a different method you can try.

Play Card and Move Planes: Each turn has three rounds of movement. When all players are ready everyone reveals their first maneuver card. Each player then moves his plane as indicated on their card. It may be helpful at the start to place the card next to the plane, and turn it to match the orientation of the plane. All moves take place at the same time. Planes should always end their move facing a hex side. This procedure is repeated for the second and third cards after shooting is resolved.

Planes in the Same Hex: Sometimes two planes will end up in the same hex. Planes in the same hex MAY NOT shoot at each other, they are assumed to be flying at different altitudes. Do your best to put both planes in the hex without losing track of their facing. The problem will resolve itself when the planes make their next move.

Resolve Shooting: Planes may ONLY fire at enemy planes that are in the line of hexes directly in front of their nose, they may not fire off to the sides or at an angle. Pilots must fire at the nearest enemy plane, and may ignore any friendly planes that are in the line of fire. If the target is one hex away the pilot rolls five dice, two hexes away roll four dice, and so on. Targets six or more hexes away are out of range. Hits are scored on rolls of 4-6. The target crosses of one circle on their pilot license for each hit received. When a plane has taken six hits it is shot down and removed from play, until then it may be flown normally. All firing is assumed to take place at the same time.

Range 1 2 3 4 5 6+ Hits on roll of 4-6
Dice 5 4 3 2 1 0

Crash Landings: When a plane is shot down the pilot may be able to survive by landing the plane safely or bailing out with a parachute. Roll one die - on a roll of 1-4 the pilot survives, on a roll of 5 or 6 the pilot is put out of action (either killed, captured, or seriously wounded). If a student's pilot is put out of action they of course lose all their victories and must start over again with a new pilot license and airplane.

Victories: The pilot that shoots down an enemy plane is credited with a victory. If two planes hit a target on the turn it is shot down the victory is awarded to the player doing the most damage. If both players inflicted equal damage they each roll a die, high roll gets the victory (re-roll ties).

Aces: When a pilot gets 5 victories they become an ace. Ten victories is a double ace. When a pilot becomes an ace they get to throw one extra die each time they fire at an enemy plane.

Leaving the Board: If a pilot's plane has received 4 or more damage points he may escape combat by flying off the mat. If he succeeds in getting off the mat all his damage points are restored and he may return to combat at the start of the next turn.

Returning to Combat: A pilot that has survived being shot down or left the mat voluntarily may return to combat at the start of the next turn. Their plane will start the turn undamaged. They must place their plane on any whole hex on any edge of the mat that is at least six hexes from the nearest enemy plane. This is to prevent them from flying in right behind an opponent. The hex where they start should be indicated to the other pilots before they select their maneuver cards for that turn.

Duels: Occasionally two pilots will want to fight a one on one duel to settle a grudge, or determine which is the better pilot. Two players may declare that they are fighting a duel if they enter the mat on the same turn and both players agree. The two pilots will ignore the movements of all other planes on the mat, and may only fire at each other. Likewise, the other players must ignore the two dueling pilots, and may not shoot at them. The duel continues until one or both planes are shot down. The winning pilot must then fly off the mat before rejoining the dogfight.

Optional Rules: Fighter planes of WW II varied widely in terms of speed, maneuverability, durability, and firepower. You can use these optional rules to model these differences.

Aircraft Data Table (Optional)

Remove Cards

Add Cards

To Hit

Damage Points
Me-109 *  * * 6
Me-109A * * 3-6 @ 1Hex 6
Me-110 1xHR, 1xHL * 3-6 7
Fw-190D * 3ST 3-6 @ 1Hex 6
Me-262 1xHR, 1xHL 3ST 3-6 @ 1Hex 7
Me-163 1xHR, 1xHL 3ST 3-6 @ 1Hex 7
Spitfire * 3ST * 6
Hurricane 1xHR, 1xHL * * 6
Mosquito 1xHR, 1xHL * * 6
Mustang 1xHR, 1xHL 3ST * 6
Thunderbolt 1xHR, 1xHL * * 6
Lightning 2xHR, 2xHL, R, L 2x3ST 3-6 @ 1-3 Hexes 8
Corsair 1xHR, 1xHL * * 6
Zero * * 5-6 @ 3-5 Hexes 5
 Key: * = no change, HR= Hard Right Turn, HL = Hard Left Turn, R = Right Turn, L = Left Turn, 3ST = Straight Fast three hexes

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Resources: Here are some useful resources for WW II dogfights