I'm a relatively new player, and I picked up surface ships before airplanes. Now that I have a few carriers and some carrier based planes, I have fought a few battles involving fighters escorting bombers of one sort or another. If I send my bombers after an enemy surface ship, the opponent generally sends fighters after my bombers. I can then use Elite Zeros to escort them. I realize this reduces the effectiveness of the enemy fighters by giving them successes only on fives and sixes. When I attack the enemy fighter with my escorting fighter, though, it's pretty uncommon to knock the whole squadron out of the sky (this is understandable). But it's very common to abort them. What purpose does it serve, though, to abort an enemy fighter? They still perform their entire function, so why is there an abort value on fighters? What purpose does aborting a fighter even serve? I guess he can't strafe... but that's the only result I can think of.
I suppose that's more of a theoretical question than a rules interpretation. But maybe some of you more seasoned players can help me understand what the purpose is of having an armor value on Zeros or Wildcats.
The abort is only really valuable if the fighter is strafing or has some kind of attack value against surface units (at which point, its often not treated as a fighter). If the fighter isn't strafing, its likely kind of pointless. I think there might be a few rare cases where you could find a fighter that can do something like spot or attack in a later phase that wouldn't work if the plane is aborted.
One funky example is the Beaufighter TF Mk.X from Set 2. Its a fighter with a torpedo value and no SAs like Mission Selection. You basically can decide to either attack as a fighter in the AA phase or strafe/torpedo in the air attack phase. So, one possible scenario. You place a Beaufighter over an enemy ship. Then your opponent sends a fighter in to that sector. Your opponent lost initiative, so he does AA first. The Beau gets aborted. Now that you know you can't drop torpedoes, you could decide you might as well attack in the AA phase with the admittedly weak 6 AA value. Kinda cool flexibility. Kinda. The Beaufighter TF Mk.X doesn't get a lot of play these days because its really a bad fighter and, because it can't be treated as a bomber, it can't be escorted to make a torpedo attack, making it a bad bomber. Once upon a time, back in the early days of the game, it was kind of a thing, but sadly not any more.
All that said, most of the time, you're right. The abort is kind of meaningless. In fact, most of the time I literally call it a, "Meaningless Abort." It most often matters in strafing.
Thanks for the verification, SWO. That is kind of strange about the Beaufighter Mk X. The carrier-based Corsair and the Beaufighter Mk 21 both have SAs that specifically state that you have to declare whether they are fighters or bombers for this turn's mission during the Air Mission phase. I think in my house, it would make more realistic sense to make the Beaufighter Mark X declare that as well, unless they were historically able to be sent out on missions equipped to do both.
I think the absence of the SA is really just a by-product of being in one of the first sets - in this case Task Force (set 2). I'm pretty sure the Beaufighter was the first fighter in the game to have a bomb or torpedo value. Mission Selection did appear on the Barracuda in Task Force, letting it switch between dive bomber and torpedo bomber, but we didn't get a fighter with Mission Selection until Set 3 - the Re.2001CB. Now days Mission Selection or Fighter-Bomber are pretty common and almost viewed as a necessity on those kinds of planes.
My personal theory: The Beaufighter was the designer's first swing at a fighter bomber and it ended up missing the mark once it was out there in the hands of players. He learned from the error and fixed it on future Fighter Bombers, but he never got back to fixing the Beaufighter. Maybe if we had gotten a Set 7?
That said, back in the days of Set 1, several nationalities didn't have fighters with Escort either, so it wasn't that unusual to see bombers go unescorted. Set 1 we got the Sea Hurricane Mk.IB, A6M2 "Zeke", and F4F Wildcat, all with Escort. The game was originally balanced to be played "Red vs. Blue", so both sides technically had Escort available to them, but it wasn't that unusual to see a player opt for 4 unescorted bombers in a sector rather than 3+ and Escort fighter, particularly if they were playing a single nation in a Historical Limits game. 4 unescorted Beafighters in that environment, facing say, the Italians, made for a pretty respectable attack group.
Set 2 added the BF-109, C.202 Folgore and, most significantly, the F6F-3 Hellcat. The Hellcat, ships like Yorktown (w/Expert Dogfighter 2), the Interceptor SA and a few other things really pushed up the value of Escort fighters, and the importance of not leaving bombers unescorted. An attack group of 4 unescorted bombers became pretty rare. In that environment the Beaufighter suffered even more, because as a Fighter that couldn't change its type, it could really get hammered by SAs like Advanced Fighter AND it couldn't be escorted. Not to mention 6 AA was far from awesome vs. Escorted bombers. The unique ability to do AA or attack with torps "on the fly" was "interesting", but not enough to overcome the other drawbacks. By Set 3, I very rarely ever remember seeing folks use the Beaufighter, which was pretty unfortunate.
As you point out, an easy fix would be to simply treat the plane as having Mission Selection. In my opinion, its still costed about right with that ability added. Not official of course, but as House Rules go, pretty reasonable.
In a lot of ways, that's even more odd. It's actually to your advantage NOT to abort an enemy fighter if you have other anti-air remaining. If you don't abort it, you'll at least have another chance to destroy it later. So it still gets to do its job, at a reduced risk.
Just like shooting at attack planes, when you shoot at fighters, you should take your best shot first, to minimize the likelihood of that happening. But yeah, I have seen a couple of occasions where multiple fighters got a crack at a single fighter escorting bombers and the first roll aborted the escort. A second fighter might have killed it, but the opportunity is lost. Once aborted, planes can't be fired at again unless they have an SA like Press the Attack.
I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way. - Captain John Paul Jones