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Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Supermarine Walrus

Beyond Courage (Book Cover, Grub St)
The rescue of W/C W. G. G. Duncan Smith DSO DFC by a Walrus of 284 Squadron, 2 September 1943, off the Italian coast, whilst being attacked by Me109s of JG 52 (Barry Weekly)

The Supermarine Walrus owes its existence to R.J. Mitchell, the same aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire in its early stages.

In the early days of the Second World War in the Mediterranean, the Royal Air Force’s air-sea rescue (ASR) capabilities were small. The air fighting above Malta was serviced by motor launches, while most of the air fighting in the Western Desert occurred over land. That all changed with Operation Torch and Operation Husky.

In February 1943, No. 283 Squadron became the first RAF ASR squadron in the western Mediterranean. In anticipation of the invasion of Sicily, No. 284 Squadron formed in the United Kingdom and transited to Malta just in time for the assault. Both units flew the Walrus. With Allied aircraft flying to targets in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy from North Africa, Malta, and Pantelleria, these ASR crews would be busy during the campaign.

In fact, according to Beyond Courage, aviation historian Norman Franks’s book on Walrus squadrons in the Mediterranean, these squadrons made 36 rescues (of Allied and Axis aircrews) between the end of fighting in North African and the end of fighting in Sicily. It must have given Allied aircrews some confidence to know that if they went down over water there was a chance of rescue.


Specifications

Type: 3-4 seat amphibious reconnaissance aircraft

Powerplant: one 510kW (680hp) Bristol Pegasus VI radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 215km/h (135mph) at 1450m (4750ft); range 965km (600 miles); service ceiling 5650m (18,500ft); rate of climb 318 meters per minute (1050ft per minute)

Weights: empty 2220kg (4900lb); maximum take-off 3650kg (8050lb)

Wingspan: 14m (45ft 10in)

Length: 11.45m (36ft 7in)

Height: 4.6m (15ft 3in)

Armament: two or three 7.7mm (0.303in) Vickers K machine guns, plus 600lbs of wing-mounted equipment.


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The following Northwest African Coastal Air Force units used the Supermarine Walrus in the invasion of Sicily:

  • No. 283 Squadron RAF
  • No. 284 Squadron RAF

 

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Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Reggiane Re.2002 Ram

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The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt had yet to deploy to the Mediterranean in mid-1943, but its Italian doppelganger had. First flown in October 1940, and introduced to combat squadrons in March 1942, the Re.2002’s Piaggio engine proved unreliable. Consequently, the Regia Aeronautica employed the Reggiane Re.2002 as a fighter-bomber during the defence of Sicily. Re.2002 attack squadrons suffered heavy losses to RAF Spitfires while attempting to attack Allied shipping off the invasion beaches, losing 14 in four days. They were also heavily bombed on their aerodromes in southern Italy.


Specifications (Re.2002)

Type: single-seat fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 877kW (1,175hp) Piaggio P.XIX RC 45 Turbine radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 530km/h (329mph); range 1100km (680 miles); service ceiling 10,500m (34,450ft)

Weights: empty 2400kg (5280lb); maximum take-off 3240kg (7128lb)

Wingspan: 11m (36ft 1in)

Length: 8.16m (26ft 9in)

Height: 3.15m (10ft 4in)

Armament: Two 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns and two 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns with an external bomb load of 650kg (1430lb) on three hardpoints


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The following Regia Aeronautica units flew Re.2002s in defence of Sicily:

  • 101 Gruppo Tuffatori
  • 102 Gruppo Tuffatori
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Martin B-26 Marauder

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The Martin B-26 Marauder was introduced to the Mediterranean Theatre by No. 14 Squadron RAF in mid-1942. No. 14 Squadron used these aircraft in the long-range maritime reconnaissance, minelaying, and anti-shipping roles. In March 1943, as the end in North Africa neared, the squadron began using their aircraft in the anti-submarine role. They also had a role in the slaughter of German and Italian air transports desperately trying to resupply the Tunisian bridgehead.

The USAAF first deployed the B-26 in the Mediterranean during Operation Torch. For the campaign in North Africa, these medium bombers deployed in low-level attacks against heavily defended targets. Heavy losses forced their reorientation as a medium-level bomber.

For Operation Husky, the bulk of Martin B-26 Marauders served in the Strategic Air Force under Major General James Doolittle. These B-26s were part of the 2686th Medium Bombardment Wing (Provincial), established from 6 June to 3 September 1943. Flying missions from North Africa, these aircraft struck enemy aerodromes, war industry, and lines of communication in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy.


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Specifications (B-26A)

Type: seven-seat medium bomber

Powerplant: two 1379kW (1850hp) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-5 18-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 507km/h (315mph) at 4570m (15,000ft); climb to 4570m (15,000ft) in 12 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 7620m (25,000ft); range 1609km (1000 miles)

Weights: empty 9696kg (21,375lb); maximum take-off 14,515kg (32,000lb)

Wingspan: 18.81m (65ft)

Length: 17.07m (56ft)

Height: 6.05m (19ft 10in)

Armament: one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable forward-firing machine gun in the nose position, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the dorsal turret and one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable rearward-firing machine gun in the tail position, plus an internal and external bomb load of 4800lb (2177kg)


The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Martin B-26 during Operation HUSKY:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. 14 Squadron RAF

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 34th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 37th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 95th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 432nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 437th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 438th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 439th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 440th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 441st Bombardment Squadron
  • US 442nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 443rd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 444th Bombardment Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Dornier Do 217

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A Fritz X bomb fired from a Do 217 speeds toward the Italian battleship Roma

The Dornier Do 217 was a development of the pre-war Do 17, commonly known as the fliegender bleistift or “flying pencil”.  

In response to their ejection from the continent of Africa, the Luftwaffe established a new bomber command (Fernkampffuehrer Luftflotte 2) to control all long-range bombers based in Sicily, Italy, and southern France. The bulk of these aircraft were Ju 88s, although Dornier Do 217s and Heinkel He 111s rounded out the order of battle. Allied strikes on airfields in close proximity to the front line meant that these units were largely unable to concentrate for decisive effect during the Battle of Sicily.  

In summer 1943, the Germans deployed a new weapon that would make concentration a mute point. Flying from bases in southern France, Do 217s from III Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 100 ushered in the age of precision aircraft-fired munitions. They deployed the Fritz X glide bomb over Sicily in July, but the first successful strike with the weapon did not occur until September.  In the wake of the armistice with the Allies, the Italian battleship Roma was sailing for Allied ports. Six III/KG 100 Dorniers attacked and sunk the battleship using Fritz X glide bombs. They flew the K-2 model, featuring an extended wingspan with Kehl radio gear (for guiding the bombs) to carry Fritz X bombs on underwing racks.


Specifications (Do 217M-1)

Type: four-seat heavy bomber

Powerplant: two 1287kW (1726hp) Daimler-Benz DB 603A 12-cylinder inverted-vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 557km/h (347mph); climb rate 210m (688ft) per minute; ceiling 7370m (24,180ft); range 2145km (1332 miles)

Weights: empty 9100kg (20,062lb); maximum take-off 16,700kg (36,817lb)

Wingspan: 19m (62ft 4in)

Length: 17m (55ft 9in)

Height: 4.96m (16ft 4in)

Armament: four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81 machine guns in nose and lateral positions;
two 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131 machine guns in dorsal and ventral positions; max bomb load 4000kg (8800lb) internally & externally; max internal load 3000kg (6600 lb)


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Dornier Do 217 during Operation HUSKY:

Bombers (Ju 88, Do 117 & He 111)

  • Part of I/Lehrgeschwader (LG) 1
  • Kampfgeschwader (KG) 1
    • Gruppenstab KG 1
    • I/KG 1
    • II/KG 1
  • KG 6
    • Gruppenstab KG 6
    • I/KG 6
    • III/KG 6
  • KG 26
    • Gruppenstab KG 26
    • I/KG 26
    • III/KG 26
  • KG 30
    • III/KG 30
  • KG 54
    • III/KG 54
  • KG 76
    • Gruppenstab KG 76
    • I/KG 76
    • II/KG 76
  • KG 77
    • II/KG 77
  • KG 100
    • Gruppenstab KG 100
    • II/KG 100
    • III/KG 100
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk / Kittyhawk

After surviving the German pass, Charles “Seabuster” Hall spotted what he identified as a pair of Fw 190s angling in on the egressing bombers. He positioned his P-40 on the tail of the trailing fighter and loosed a long burst from his .50 caliber machine guns. This time the Tuskegee airman was able to follow his victim as the machine dove abruptly toward the ground. The Fw 190 hit the ground in a “big cloud of dust.”

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

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The Vintage Wings of Canada “Stocky” Edwards Kittyhawk in No. 260 Squadron RAF colours

The Curtiss P-40 was the workhorse of the Allied air forces in the middle years of the Second World War. For Operation Husky, most US fighter squadrons flew the Warhawk, the code-name for the P-40F/L/K/M and N variants. Squadrons like the 99th Fighter Squadron — the famous Tuskegee originals — flew combat air patrols over the beaches and escorted bombers of the Tactical and Strategic Air Forces on missions around Sicily and Sardinia.

The British code-named these variants the Kittyhawk. They saw extensive use with the Desert Air Force as both fighters and fighter-bombers. By mid-1943, the Desert Air Force had received large stocks of Supermarine Spitfires, relegating Kittyhawks to the fighter-bomber role. These ‘Kittybombers’ provided close air support to Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Sicily. Some French units also flew Kittyhawks on local air defence missions with the Coastal Air Force.  


Specifications (P-40M)

Type: single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 895kW (1200hp) Allison V-1710-81 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 552km/h (343 mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 8 minutes 48 seconds; service ceiling 9450m (31,000ft); range 1207km (750 miles)

Weights: empty 2812kg (6200lb); maximum take-off 5171kg (11,400lb)

Wingspan: 11.37m (37ft 4in)

Length: 10.16m (33ft 4in)

Height: 3.23m (10ft 7in)

Armament: six 12.7mm (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, plus an external bomb load of 680kg (1500lb)


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The following Mediterranean Air Command units used the Curtiss P-40 / Kittyhawk in the invasion of Sicily:

Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • No. II/5 (French) Squadron
  • No. II/7 (French) Squadron

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 317th Fighter Squadron
  • US 318th Fighter Squadron
  • US 319th Fighter Squadron

Norwest African Tactical Air Force

  • Desert Air Force
    • No. 3 Squadron RAAF
    • No. 5 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 112 Squadron RAF
    • No. 250 Squadron RAF
    • No. 260 Squadron RAF
    • No. 450 Squadron RAAF
    • US 64th Fighter Squadron
    • US 65th Fighter Squadron
    • US 66th Fighter Squadron
    • US 85th Fighter Squadron
    • US 86th Fighter Squadron
    • US 87th Fighter Squadron
  • XII Air Support Command
    • US 58th Fighter Squadron
    • US 59th Fighter Squadron
    • US 60th Fighter Squadron
    • US 99th Fighter Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Dewoitine D.520

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A Dewoitine D.520 tangles with a Messerschmitt Bf 109E during the Battle of France (Image: QuentinR.deviantart.com on @DeviantArt)

This French fighter was one of few aircraft to serve on both sides during the Second World War. The Dewoitine D.520 first entered service in early 1940, before the German Blitzkrieg rampaged across France. After the fall of France, the fighter served both the Vichy French and Free French air forces. When Vichy French forces in North Africa sided with the Allies in late 1942, a number of these aircraft served briefly in Tunisia. The Allies quickly phased these out in favour of types like the Spitfire and P-39 Aircobra.

The Regia Aeronautica also employed some captured D.520s in the defence of Italy. Its 20mm cannon made it a decent gun platform to take on large American daylight bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. Unfortunately, the French-built cannons were not compatible with Italian-built ammunition, meaning the Italians were dependent on French depots for their supply. After the 8 September 1943 Italian armistice, both the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and the German-backed Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana used the type.   


Specifications (D.520C.1)

Type: single-seat fighter

Powerplant: one 930hp (693kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-45 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 540km/h (336mph); climb to 4000m (13,125ft) in 5 minutes 49 seconds; service ceiling 11,000m (36,090ft); range 1540km (957 miles)

Weights: empty 2125kg (4685lb); maximum take-off 2790kg (6151lb)

Wingspan: 10.2m (33ft 6in)

Length: 8.76m (28ft 9in)

Height: 2.57m (8ft 5in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon in the nose, and four 7.5mm (0.29in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing


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The following Regia Aeronautica units used the Dewoitine D.520 in the defence of Sicily and southern Italy:

  • 161 Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre
    • 162 Squadriglia
    • 164 Squadriglia
    • 371 Squadriglia
Rants

Lazy History: Operation Husky in Call of Duty: WWII

Ragusa, Sicily
12 July 1943

Artillery thundered in the distance as the Sicilian town of Ragusa awoke. A salvo of shells screamed overhead and began crashing to earth around the town’s major intersections. Operation Husky – the Allied invasion of Sicily – had started mere days before. The shells were from a battery of the Royal Devon Yeomanry, a British artillery regiment supporting the advance of Captain Dick Dillon’s Bren Gun Carriers from the Royal Canadian Regiment’s support company. In hopes of securing the quick surrender of a suspected Italian garrison, the Canadians entered the town under the protection of a white flag. They were surprised to find a company from the 45th US Infantry Division emerging from the protection of improvised shelters. The town had already fallen. There was no ‘Battle of Ragusa’ in 1943. [1]

Now, 75 years later, the developers behind Call of Duty: WWII, a first-person shooter video game, have devised their own Battle of Ragusa. It’s part of the game’s second expansion pack, The War Machine. The pack includes a new War Mode map called Operation Husky (see the video below to watch the gameplay). In War Mode opposing teams – one on offence and one on defence – vie for control over various objectives in a linear narrative:

As an Allied participant in Operation Husky in Call of Duty: WWII, you’re a soldier in the town of Ragusa, Sicily. Your mission is to retrieve key intel to initiate a bombing of enemy forces.

Or you might find yourself on the flipside of that equation as an Axis soldier, trying to stop the Allied advance, as they try to complete their mission. [2]

There is a series of objectives for the Allied forces to complete. They must first retrieve the intel at one location, transmit it at another, and then take to the skies to defend a fleet of B-17 Flying Fortresses as they make for objectives in Palermo and Naples.

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There’s a problem, though. The aircraft the game has players fly in this latter phase are not accurate to Operation Husky. Allied pilots find themselves in the radial-engine P-47 Thunderbolt complete with Normandy invasion stripes. In the summer of 1943, the Allied air forces in the Mediterranean had yet to operate the P-47. More likely escorts for American heavy bombers would be Spitfires, P-40 Warhawks, or P-38 Lightnings.

The markings on these aircraft are also wrong. The Allies did not use the white and black invasion stripes closely associated with D-Day in Normandy during the invasion of Sicily. Rather, lessons learned in Sicily and in subsequent amphibious landings led to the adoption of these recognition stripes. Furthermore, the US Army Air Forces roundel on the P-47s in the game is not the same roundel used by American aircraft in mid-1943. For Operation Husky, US aircraft roundels consisted of a white star with a blue background all within a yellow circle.

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The Axis fighter force consists of historically accurate Messerschmitt Bf 109s, albeit in camouflage that looks more at home in northern Europe. The problem is that the game developers got lazy. Call of Duty: WWII’s single-player campaign focused on the war in Europe from D-Day onward. They’ve simply ported these skins over rather than make a reasonable effort to reflect historical accuracy.

Does any of this matter? Or is Call of Duty: WWII just software coated in a historically-themed coat of paint?

I think it matters. It matters because the developers made a commitment to honour the past. They did so in this promotional video (which I’ve embedded below) that talks up the developers’ focus on authenticity. I’ve taken the liberty to pull a few quotes:

“There is this respect and honour you have to pay to – not only the people – but to the places.”

“This isn’t a fictional war, so it’s really important that we communicate to the player to have a strong understanding of what happened and what the time was like.”

“Recreating that for the player so that they have some understanding of the sacrifices that were made.”

“We’re delivering an experience that’s as powerful as it can be, but it’s also respectful of the sacrifice that real people made in saving the world.”

If this is the commitment they’ve made, why are players flying P-47s in Operation Husky?

The answer is lazy history. It isn’t hard to get things right. Call of Duty: WWII isn’t a film project in which there may be a limited budget to hire one of the few P-38s or P-40s that still fly. Game developers can create whatever they want. This is especially true when the game they are working on brought in over $1 billion in revenue last year.

If game developers and their publishers are just applying a historically-themed coat of paint, they could at least use the right colours.

Rant over.


Notes

[1] Mark Zuehlke, Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10-August 7, 1943 (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2008), p.165.

[2] Kevin Kelly (ed.), “New Intel on Operation Husky, Call of Duty: WWII’s New War Mode Map,” Playstation.Blog, April 3, 2018, https://blog.us.playstation.com/2018/04/03/new-intel-on-operation-husky-call-of-duty-wwiis-new-war-mode-map/.