Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

“[F]ighters were raising hell. On several occasions I would be safe in saying that every plane [B-17] was sending bullets at fighters – most vivid 4th of July I’ve ever seen, with tracers all over the sky, a formation of bombers, fighters darting in and out and black puffs all around. The fighters followed for 40 minutes, then it ended rather abruptly.”

– Technical Sergeant Robert S. Lash, quoted in Eagles over Husky

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The Collings Foundation B-17G “Nine-O-Nine”

The Luftwaffe inspector of fighters, General Adolf Galland, singled out American four-engine bombers for the defence of Sicily. These efforts were unsuccessful. Unlike the situation over the Reich in 1943, long-range fighter escorts were available to the Allies. P-38 Lightnings would fly with the bombers from bases in North Africa, while Spitfires based in Malta often escorted the bombers in the vicinity of Sicily.  

The B-17 Flying Fortress was one of two heavy bombers serving with the Allied air forces during Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 (the other was the B-24 Liberator; the RAF had Halifaxes in theater, but they were used as transports). These aircraft focused their efforts on Axis aerodromes, lines of communication, and industry in Sicily, Sardinia, and mainland Italy. Nearly all B-17s in the Mediterranean were under the command of Major-General James H. Doolittle and the Northwest African Strategic Air Force.

The lone exceptions were the B-17s of the US 15th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. These specialist crews were under the command of Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, one of the US president’s sons. As part of the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing, these modified bombers (F-9s) had their bombarding equipment replaced by photographic equipment and flew with a reduced defensive armament. They flew crucial missions, gathering intelligence for future strikes, damage assessments, cartographers, and army and navy planners.


Specifications (B-17F)

Type: 10-seat heavy bomber

Powerplant: four 895kW (1200hp) Wright R-1820-97 nine-cylinder single-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 523km/h (325mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 25 minutes 42 seconds; ceiling 11,430m (37,500ft); range 7113km (4420 miles)

Weights: empty 16,206kg (35,728lb); maximum take-off 32,659kg (72,000lb)

Wingspan: 31.63m (103ft 9in)

Length: 22.78m (74ft 9in)

Height: 5.85m (19ft 3in)

Armament: two 7.92mm (0.3in) trainable forward-firing machine guns in cheek positions, three 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in dorsal positions, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the ventral position and one 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable lateral-firing machine gun in each of the two waist positions, plus an internal bomb load of 4761kg (10,496lb)


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The following Northwest African Air Force units flew the Boeing B-17 during Operation Husky:

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 340th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 341st Bombardment Squadron
  • US 342nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 414th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 20th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 49th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 96th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 429th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 346th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 347th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 348th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 416th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 32nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 352nd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 353rd Bombardment Squadron
  • US 419th Bombardment Squadron

Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing

  • US 15th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
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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/.

Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Lockheed P-38 Lightning

I was closing quickly on a single Fw 190 that was climbing, and again came up close behind and inside him. Behind me was another P-38 with a Focke-Wulf on his tail, and a P-38 on the Fw 190’s tail. We were all playing follow-the-leader. I was very close to the Fw 190 in front of me and hit him with three quick bursts. He went over on one wing and then fell into a spin, before crashing in Sicily.

– Flight Officer Frank D. Hurlbut, quoted in Eagles over Husky

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USAAF 82nd Fighter Group ace Col. Ernest “Hawk” Osher rises over the skies of Sicily in his regular mount “Sad Sack”. Osher is thought to have claimed all of his aerial victories in this particular P-38 Lightning throughout mid-1943. “Sad Sack” was considered to be the most decorated of its type, with 11 victories, 86 missions and 280 combat hours amassed by the various pilots who flew it. (Image: “Best of the Breed” by Mark Donoghue @Hangar7Art)

The P-38 Lightning was the only American fighter in mass production from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war. It was particularly popular as a long-range fighter. Its two engines improved the chances that a pilot would make it home in a damaged plane. For Operation Husky, the Lightning provided long-range escort to American medium and heavy bombers targeting Axis airfields and lines of communication in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy. The Allies also used them in the fighter-bomber role, trolling behind enemy lines in search of Axis motor transport. Finally, the Americans flew a photo-reconnaissance version, the F-5, with the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing.


Specifications (P-38L)

Type: single-seat long-range fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: two 1193kW (1600hp) Allison V-1710-111/113 (F30) 12-cylinder Vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 666km/h (414mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 7 minutes; service ceiling 13,410m (44,000ft); range 4184km (2600 miles)

Weights: empty 5806kg (12,800lb); maximum take-off 9798kg (21,600lb)

Wingspan: 15.85m (52ft)

Length: 11.53m (37ft 10in)

Height: 3.91m (12ft 10in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon and four 12.7in (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the nose, plus an external bomb load of 1814kg (4000lb)


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The following units in the Northwest African Air Forces flew the P-38 Lightning during Operation Husky:

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 1st Fighter Group
    • 27th Fighter Squadron
    • 71st Fighter Squadron
    • 94th Fighter Squadron
  • US 14th Fighter Group
    • 37th Fighter Squadron
    • 48th Fighter Squadron
    • 49th Fighter Squadron
  • US 82nd Fighter Group
    • 95th Fighter Squadron
    • 96th Fighter Squadron
    • 97th Fighter Squadron

Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing

  • US 3rd Photo Reconnaissance Group (F-5 Lightning)
    • 5th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
    • 12th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Macchi MC200 Lightning

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The Macchi MC200 Saetta (Lightning) was the Regia Aeronautica’s primary monoplane fighter early in the Second World War. The Italians introduced the aircraft in small numbers before entering the war in June 1940. By 1942-1943, the MC200 was obsolete. They replaced it in the fighter interceptor role with the newer MC202 and MC205. It proved a decent fighter-bomber, supporting the defence of the islands of Pantelleria and Sicily. Only 33 of the type remained serviceable when Italy withdrew from the Axis on 8 September 1943. The Italians used them as training aircraft into the early post-war period.  


Specifications (MC200CB)

Type: single-seat fighter/fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 649kW (870hp) Fiat A.74 RC.38 14-cylinder two-row radial engine

Performance: maximum speed 503km/h (312mph); climb to 5000m (16,405ft) in 5 minutes 51 seconds; service ceiling 8900m (29,200ft); range 870km (541 miles)

Weights: empty 2019kg (4451lb); normal take-off 2339kg (5597lb)

Wingspan: 10.58m (34ft 9in)

Length: 8.19m (26ft 10in)

Height: 3.51m (11ft 6in)

Armament: two 12.7mm (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the upper part of the forward fuselage, plus an external bomb load of 320kg (705lb)


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The following Regia Aeronautica units flew the MC200 in the defence of Sicily:

  • 157 Gruppo Caccia Terrestre
    • 163 Squadriglia
    • 357 Squadriglia
    • 371 Squadriglia