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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Anniversaries, The Commanders

The Best Air Force in the World

The room was thick with pipe smoke as the men sat around the dinner table at a villa in Algiers. Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz was hosting the commanders of the Allied air forces in the Mediterranean as they put the final touches on a new command structure for the theatre. As staff removed empty dishes and refilled glasses, the senior officer present and the overall commander of Mediterranean Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, addressed his officers:

You know, we British are intensely proud of our Air Force. We think it is the very best in the world, and that it saved England and the world–all of us. We have our own ways of doing things and I suppose we feel we are justified in keeping these ways. But we also know that you Americans are equally proud of your splendid Air Force, of your magnificent aeroplanes and as well you are. However, it will be the fusion of us, the British, with you, the Americans, that is going to make the very best Air Force in the world. (Arthur Tedder, With Prejudice, 398)

The Mediterranean Air Command was the combined result of Operation TORCH and the westward advance of the Desert Air Force after the Second Battle of El Alamein in autumn 1942. The United States Army Twelfth Air Force supported the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa and established bases in Morocco and Algeria. Commanders needed to coordinate the operations of these two air forces. Spaatz’s Northwest African Air Force combined three major combat commands: the Coastal Air Force, the Strategic Air Force, and the Tactical Air Force. The Northwest African Air Force (NAAF) also included an Air Service Command (NAASC), a Training Command (NATC), a Troop Carrier Command (NATCC), and a Photographic Reconnaissance Wing (NAPRW).

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Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd (National Portrait Gallery)

The Northwest African Coastal Air Force (NACAF) included a mix of day fighters, night fighters, antisubmarine warfare bombers, and maritime reconnaissance and strike aircraft. Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd, former Air Officer Commanding in Malta between 1941 and 1942, led NACAF.

The Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) included the fighters and fighter-bombers of the Desert Air Force and US XII Air Support Command. It also included a Tactical Bomber Force combining American and British light and medium bombers. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, the former commander of the Desert Air Force, led NATAF. He later went on to command the RAF Second Tactical Air Force for the victory campaign in Northwest Europe. His deputy (at least until the end of the Tunisian Campaign) was Brigadier General Laurence S. Kuter, whose career made him one of the key architects of American air power in its formative years.

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Major General James H. Doolittle (Biography.com)

The Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF) included American medium and heavy day bombers in addition to British medium night bombers. The force also contained P-38s, the only long-range Allied escort fighter in the theatre. Major General James H. Doolittle, of Tokyo raid fame, led NASAF. He later went on to command the US Army Eighth Air Force out of the United Kingdom in 1944 and 1945.

Each of these formations reported to Spaatz, who later commanded the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe in 1944 and 1945. In turn, Spaatz reported to Tedder at Mediterranean Air Command, streamlining communications. Tedder commanded all Allied air forces resources in the Mediterranean. This included the remaining commands in the region (Air Headquarters Malta, Middle East Command, and RAF Gibraltar). The idea was to have one command to coordinate all Allied air power in the Mediterranean. Tedder reported to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. The pair later went on to become Deputy Supreme Allied Commander and Supreme Allied Commander respectively for the victory campaign in Northwest Europe.

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The Mediterranean Air Command stood up on 18 February 1943. These command relationships served the Allies for the remainder of the Tunisian Campaign, Operation HUSKY in Sicily, Operation BAYTOWN in Calabria, Operation AVALANCHE at Salerno, and Operation SLAPSTICK at Taranto. Although Mediterranean Air Command was renamed the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces in December 1943, the functional tri-force model of tactical, strategic, and coastal commands remained.

Tedder, Spaatz, and their senior airmen fleshed out all these details. It would not be a perfect marriage. There would be stumbles along the way. Sometime later, in an effort to formalize the organization, Tedder ruffled Spaatz’s feathers. Drawing up a detailed structure led to questions about ranks, seniority, and a return to national prejudices. Tedder told Spaatz bluntly:

If you want a divorce, you can have one here and now, repeat now! (Tedder, 399)

The pair agreed to cancel all attempts to formalize the organization and the marriage remained healthy.

Back in Spaatz’s villa, Tedder completed his speech:

And now, gentlemen, this is the last time I shall ever speak of “us”, the British, and “you”, the Americans. From now on it is “we” together who will function as Allies, even better than either of us alone. (Tedder, 398)

© IWM (CNA 408)
Senior Allied Air Commanders at Ain Beida, Algeria. Left to right: Air Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Mary’ Coningham, Air Officer Commanding, NATAF, Major General Carl A. Spaatz, Commanding General, North-west African Air Forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Mediterranean Air Command, and Brigadier General Laurence S. Kuter, Deputy Commander, NATAF. (© IWM (CNA 408))
Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: North American B-25 Mitchell

When the Canadians were working their way towards Adrano from Regalbuto after 2 August B-25s knocked out a battery of 8.8cm guns which were slowing the Canadian advance.

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

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North American B-25 Mitchell during International Air Show Góraszka 2007

Famous for launching from carriers in the 1942 strike on Tokyo known as the Doolittle Raid, the North American B-25 Mitchell was a medium bomber. During Operation Husky, it saw service both in Major General James Doolittle’s Strategic Air Force and the Tactical Bomber Force. These aircraft could strike anything from enemy gun positions to Italian airfields and lines of communication.


Specifications (B-25C/D)

Type: five-seat medium bomber

Powerplant: two 1267.5kW (1700hp) Wright R-2600-13 14-cylinder two-row radial engines

Performance: maximum speed 457km/h (284mph); climb to 4570m (15000ft) in 16 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 6460m (21200ft); range 2454km (1525 miles) with a 1452kg (3200lb) bomb load

Weights: empty 9208kg (20300lb); maximum take-off 18960kg (41800lb)

Wingspan: 20.6m (67ft 7in)

Length: 16.12m (52ft 11in)

Height: 4.82m (15ft 10in)

Armament: two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable forward-firing machine guns in the nose position, two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the dorsal turret, one 12.7mm (0.5in) machine gun in each beam position, and two 12.7mm (0.5in) trainable machine guns in the ventral turret, plus an internal and external bomb and torpedo load of 1361kg (3000lb)


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The B-25 Mitchell served in the following units during Operation Husky:

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 310th Bombardment Group
    • 379th Bombardment Squadron
    • 380th Bombardment Squadron
    • 381st Bombardment Squadron
    • 428th Bombardment Squadron
  • US 321st Bombardment Group
    • 445th Bombardment Squadron
    • 446th Bombardment Squadron
    • 447th Bombardment Squadron
    • 448th Bombardment Squadron

Northwest African Tactical Air Force    

  • US 12th Bombardment Group
    • 81st Bombardment Squadron
    • 82nd Bombardment Squadron
    • 83rd Bombardment Squadron
    • 434th Bombardment Squadron

 

Anniversaries

SYMBOL to Victory: The Casablanca Conference

Seventy-five years ago this week Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and their staffs met in Casablanca, French Morocco. This conference, codenamed SYMBOL, would decide the course the Second World War would take in 1943.

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill seated in the garden of the villa where the conference was held. Grouped behind them are British and American Chiefs of Staff.

The British had been fighting Nazi Germany for over three years, having declared war in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Their goal at Casablanca was to focus Allied military efforts against Germany and Italy. The well-crafted British argument was for Allied troops to finish operations in North Africa. Then these resources should continue operations to remove Italy from the war.

The Americans were relatively new to the war, at least officially. While the US Navy had been fighting the Battle of the Atlantic alongside the Royal Navy since mid-1941, America was not formally at war until the Japanese offensive of December 1941. Their vision was foggier. The US Navy desired an increased focus on the Pacific War against Japan while the US Army envisioned an invasion of France in 1943.

Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin declined an invitation to attend. His country had suffered heavily since the German invasion in June 1941. The Battle of Stalingrad had his full attention as the titanic struggle between dictators continued in the east.

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The Anfa Hotel. Headquarters of the Conference. © IWM (A 14085)

The Allies chose Casablanca as the site for the conference mainly out of convenience. American troops under Major General George S. Patton had taken the city from Vichy French forces in November 1942. Since there were American troops nearby, Roosevelt could visit them. Incidentally, the Anfa Hotel, located in a well-to-do Casablanca suburb, would be relatively easy to secure with a tight perimeter. It became Patton’s task to organize the conference.

Over 11 days, the Allied warlords met to discuss the war’s hot topics. The British argument for exploiting gains in the Mediterranean won out easily against the relatively unprepared American delegation. Sicily was to be the next Allied objective; the target of an invasion codenamed Operation HUSKY.

Even more critically, the Western Allies agreed on their overarching priorities when it came to the Combined Bomber Offensive. Anglo-American bomber formations – RAF Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force – would focus on supporting the Battle of the Atlantic. This would occur through the heavy bombardment of submarine construction facilities. A second priority was the destruction of the German aircraft industry. This order of priorities became known as the Casablanca Directive.

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French propaganda poster published in Algeria, World War II, 1943

Another goal of Churchill and Roosevelt’s was to bring together the leaders of France’s liberation. Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle failed to come to an agreement to unify Free French forces. Instead, they managed to share an awkward handshake for photographers. It was an important propaganda image to have Free France unified against the Axis.

Giraud and de Gaulle left, leaving Roosevelt and Churchill with a gathering of war correspondents and reporters. Then Roosevelt dropped a bombshell. He announced that the Allies would accept nothing less than “unconditional surrender” from the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Known as the Casablanca Declaration, historians have argued over the effects of this announcement ever since the war ended.

Did the declaration prolong the war with Germany? Ian Kershaw’s study of the final months of the Third Reich indicates that it did not. The same cannot be said for Italy, however:

“As the Allied generals at Casablanca constructed a strategy aimed at removing Italy from the war in 1943, the American president set a policy that made that removal more difficult.”

– Excerpt from Eagles over Husky

Yet the Allied military strategy was sound. Remove Italy from the war and the Germans would have to compensate for the loss of some 54 divisions, 2,000 aircraft, and the Italian fleet. Operation HUSKY would make this possible. Defending Festung Europa’s southern shore would become a lonely task.

Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Supermarine Spitfire

“I reckon that woke him up!” That was the thought running through Flying Officer Irving F. “Hap” Kennedy’s mind as he pulled his Spitfire out of a run against the port engine of a Junkers Ju 52. The aircraft’s gunner had been napping just before Hap had let loose his burst of fire. Moments later, the Ju 52 and its cargo and crew crashed into the sea.

– Excerpt from Canada’s Eagles over Husky

Hurricane Mark II & Spitfire over Blackpool.
Spitfire AB910 of the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which is based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire.

Known for its unique elliptical wings, this classic warplane became the workhorse of the Commonwealth air forces in the middle and late years of the Second World War. During the Battle of Sicily, most of the RAF tactical daylight fighter squadrons flew the Supermarine Spitfire. Typical missions included fighter sweeps, combat air patrols above the Operation Husky beachheads, and escorting tactical and strategic bombers to their targets in Sicily. Malta-based Spitfires also saw some fighter-bomber activity before Desert Air Force fighter-bombers moved into the island for the invasion. The Spitfire Mk VC, Spitfire MK VIII, and Spitfire Mk IX all saw action. Two squadrons flew a photo-reconnaissance variant.


Specifications (F Mk VIII)

Type: single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: one 1230kW (1650hp) Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 12-cylinder Vee engine

Performance: maximum speed 657km/h (408mph) at 25,000ft; service ceiling 43000ft; range 1060km (660 miles) or 1900km (1180 miles) with a 90 gallon drop tank

Weights: empty 2545kg (5610lb); maximum take-off 4309kg (9500lb)

Wingspan: 11.23m (36ft 10in)

Length: 9.46m (31ft)

Height: 3.85m (12ft 8in)

Armament: two 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon and four 7.7mm (0.303in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, plus an external bomb load of 454kg (1000lb)


The following units in Mediterranean Air Command flew Spitfires in Operation Husky. As you can see, some American and French fighter units also flew these aircraft.

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Northwest African Coastal Air Force

  • US 52nd Fighter Group
    • US 2nd Fighter Squadron
    • US 4th Fighter Squadron
    • US 5th Fighter Squadron
  • No. 232 Wing RAF
    • 73 Squadron RAF
    • II/7 (French)

Northwest African Tactical Air Force

  • Desert Air Force
    • No. 2 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 4 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 1 Squadron SAAF
    • No. 92 Squadron RAF
    • No. 145 Squadron RAF
    • No. 417 Squadron RCAF
    • No. 601 Squadron RAF
    • No. 81 Squadron RAF
    • No. 152 Squadron RAF
    • No. 154 Squadron RAF
    • No. 232 Squadron RAF
    • No. 242 Squadron RAF
    • No. 43 Squadron RAF
    • No. 72 Squadron RAF
    • No. 93 Squadron RAF
    • No. 111 Squadron RAF
    • No. 243 Squadron RAF
  • US 31st Fighter Group
    • US 307th Fighter Squadron
    • US 308th Fighter Squadron
    • US 309th Fighter Squadron
  • Tactical Bomber Force
    • No. 225 Squadron RAF

Northwest African Photo Reconnaissance Wing

  • No. 680 Squadron RAF

Air Headquarters Malta

  • No. 40 Squadron SAAF
  • No. 126 Squadron RAF
  • No. 185 Squadron RAF
  • No. 229 Squadron RAF
  • No. 249 Squadron RAF
  • No. 1435 Flight
  • 683 Squadron RAF (Reconnaissance)