Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant

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A Führer conference in May discussed the heavy air attacks and noted the loss of a pair of Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant transports near Alghero, Sardinia.

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

A development of the Messerschmitt Me 321 heavy glider, the Me 323 Gigant (Giant) was the largest transport aircraft of the war. They were first deployed in the Mediterranean, where they helped establish German and Italian forces in Tunisia in the wake of Allied victories in Operation TORCH and at El Alamein. These aircraft took on even greater importance as the Italian merchant fleet dwindled in the face of Allied naval superiority in the central Mediterranean.  

Months later, when the Allied navies sealed the Sicilian Strait, these same transport aircraft attempted to maintain an air bridge between Europe and Tunis. They paid a dear price for their efforts. On 22 April 1943, a formation of 27 fully-loaded Me 323s was nearly wiped out when its Bf 109 escort was overwhelmed by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. Twenty-one of the transports were lost at a cost of just three P-40s.

The German transport fleet (Ju 52s and Me 323s) played an important role during Operation Husky. They airlanded the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily just in time to thwart General Montgomery’s push to Catania and Messina. The transport crews took another thrashing for their efforts and the Germans withdrew them after losing 10 percent of the force to RAF Spitfires on 25 July 1943. By the end of 1943, the Allies had decimated the German transport force and air mobility ceased to be a meaningful Luftwaffe capability.


Specifications (Me 323 D-6)

Type: five-seat heavy transport with accommodation for 130 troops or 10 to 12 tonnes of equipment

Powerplant: six 868kW (1180hp) Gnome-Rhône 14N-48/49 14-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 285km/h (177mph); ceiling 4,000m (13,123ft); range 800km (500 miles)

Weights: empty 27,330kg (60,260lb); maximum take-off 43,000kg (94,815lb)

Wingspan: 55.2m (181ft 0in)

Length: 28.2m (92ft 4in)

Height: 10.5m (33ft 3.5in)

Armament: multiple 7.92mm (0.30in) MG 15, MG 81, or 13mm (0.51in) MG 131 machine guns


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The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Me 323 Gigant during Operation HUSKY:

  • Transportgeschwader (TG) 1
    • III/TG 1
  • TG 2
    • III/TG 2
  • TG 3
    • IV/TG 3
  • TG 5
    • I/TG 5
  • II Fliegerkorps Transportstaffel
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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
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.

COD-WWII-War-Machine_-War-Mode_OpHusky

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/.