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Review

You are in a plane flying across the Channel to Germany. It's nighttime and in front of you, cones of searchlights cut through the dark sky, looking for planes like yours to shoot down. It's hard not to lose your nerve, how does the pilot do it? All around the plane you see projectiles shooting up and exploding. You look ahead, in the brief...

1943 Berlin Blitz

  • Greg Burn
  • Jun 15, 2021

You are in a plane flying across the Channel to Germany. It's nighttime and in front of you, cones of searchlights cut through the dark sky, looking for planes like yours to shoot down. It's hard not to lose your nerve, how does the pilot do it? All around the plane you see projectiles shooting up and exploding. You look ahead, in the brief flashes of light you can make out the silhouettes of other bombers in front of and beside you. Close behind you there is a crash and it becomes glaringly bright - has the plane been hit? You turn your head back... No, it looks fine.

The virtual reality application 1943 Berlin Blitz gives you a sense of what night missions felt like for the bomber crews of the British Royal Air Force. The red glowing sky at the latest, and then the burning city of Berlin.

In 1943, the British Royal Air Force approached the BBC and offered to take two staff members on a trip to Berlin. They were to record the in-flight conversations, comment on the events, and report on everything in a radio show upon their return. Of course, it was no normal excursion, but a night flight in a British bomber formation to drop bombs over Berlin and kill as many civilians as possible. That the bomber crews had a short survival time in WW2 was well known, because a large part of all planes was shot down by German anti-aircraft guns or agile fighters.

And yet, reporter Wynford Vaughan-Thomas agreed and, along with sound technician Reginald Pidsley, joined the seven-man crew of Lancaster bomber F for Freddy for one night. That's why we have an original recording of one such flight, in which we not only hear the crew talking among themselves and the Lancaster's engines humming - the reporter also reports what happens and what he sees. And so we hear "live" from searchlights on the Channel coast, from enemy fighters, from bombs released over Berlin.

1943 Berlin Blitz is neither a game nor a movie - but most likely an experience. You are put on board the Lancaster F like Freddy together with the two BBC reporters and take part in the flight as an invisible black passenger. They lasted about 8 hours in September 1943, although only about 6.5 minutes of it were later broadcast during the BBC report. The VR application is essentially limited to this original report from the flight and also lasts only 15 minutes in total.

Each flight begins with takeoff: you find yourself in a dome on the bomber, which is just at the beginning of the runway. To your right, the sun is setting - and if you were there now, you wouldn't know if you'd see it again. Vaughan-Thomas introduces the crew during takeoff.

Soon after, the bomber squadron enters German airspace over the Netherlands - Vaughan-Thomas comments as searchlights scan the sky. 

As an invisible companion, you watch everything from various places in the very detailed (and faithfully recreated) plane - sometimes directly behind the pilot, sometimes down by the Bombardier, where you have a particularly breathtaking view of burning Berlin, sometimes in the gunner's station. Sometimes you see quite well, but it also becomes clear that the pilots and the navigator, for example, have only a very limited view of the area in front of the plane themselves. You have to feel like you're in a nutshell on a rough sea.

The fact that we are only invisible companions with no function (flying, shooting, releasing bombs) is also fitting, I think. The application is not designed to be "playful" - after all, a game is always about winning or at least getting ahead. And that would be out of place here in every respect.

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