War Thunder: Messerschmitt Bf 109 versus Polikarpov I-16
In this new series of articles titled “Versus” we will be focusing on a historical match-up between a pair of aircraft or tanks. We will touch upon the background behind these vehicles briefly and will focus primarily on the strengths and weaknesses of the vehicles using historical data and references as well as taking firsthand accounts and strategies that pilots and crew used, with the intention to help both veteran and new players alike.
Our first pair of vehicles came from the turning point in air combat, both in aircraft design as well as how air combat was evolving into a more modern era. During the mid to late 1930’s the Spanish Civil War was in full swing, with multiple countries supporting both sides of the conflict. Two major contributors to the war efforts were the Soviet Union and Germany. On one side was the German Luftwaffe’s new monoplane; the Messerschmitt Bf-109B-1. On the other side the Soviet Union’s new monoplane; the Polikarpov I-16 Type 5. These two aircraft would be the first monoplane series of aircraft to see combat in the conflict and their designs, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, couldn’t be any more different.
When we look at both of these vehicles for in game capabilities, performance wise they are equally matched at altitudes of 10,000 feet or lower. Each of these fighters also has two light machine guns, the Bf-109’s were cowling mounted compared to the I-16’s which were wing mounted leaving both aircraft equally matched. However, the Bf-109B-1 does have a higher service ceiling than that of the I-16, so try to stay high. While looking into the historical references of the Bf-109B-1 from the Spanish Civil War it is very clear that during this conflict the Condor Legion discovered that this particular aircraft series was very effective at energy fighting - what is now referred to by some as the boom and zoom technique. It would be wise to utilize this same tactic in War Thunder as well.
The technique is simple: climb above your target and then dive at high speed, fire your guns and then use the speed and energy you obtained in the dive in order to start gaining separation and altitude so you’ll be able to start the attack again. However, you must be wary of enemy aircraft that may be above you or at the same altitude as you. An enemy aircraft that is at the same altitude can sometimes prove to be difficult to engage when flying a Bf-109B-1 since its speed and turning abilities are average at best.
Now looking into the tactics of the I-16, their pilots would typically fly at lower altitudes and would attempt to bait German pilots into turn fights where the I-16 could even the odds. The I-16 does have one clear advantage over the Bf-109B-1 and that is its roll rate. At medium to high speed the I-16’s roll rate is so great that it can be used to disengage from a would be attacker by rolling quickly and entering a sharp banking turn which in some cases, can even turn the tables on the enemy.
In some references it is said a common tactic used by I-16 pilots was actually to force head on attacks with Bf-109B-1 pilots since the I-16 has such a big nose, meaning the pilot was relatively better protected than that of the Bf-109B-1 pilots. It should be stated that this tactic is not recommended in War Thunder. The I-16 is slower than the Bf-109B-1 but not by much, however speed can at times win a dogfight, so it is crucial that when you are piloting an I-16 that you prioritise enemies who are slower than you. A good strategy would be to look for an enemy aircraft that is alone and in a situation where you can dictate the engagement and attack as necessary.
This concludes our first edition of “Versus”. We hope this helps improve your chances of survival the next time you choose to pilot one of these aircraft in game. As always, watch your six!
Discuss on the Forums