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/.

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