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The Battle of Britain

A classic game in British pizza parlours

In the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany was on a roll.  Surprised that Britain was not seeking an armistice against his seemingly-invincible war machine, Hitler ordered plans for a cross-Channel invasion.  His generals advised him that the powerful British navy meant that any successful invasion would require air superiority.  Thus began Hitler’s attempt to destroy the Royal Air Force, known widely as the Battle of Britain (re-released in 2005 in Japan as “Unstoppable Strike Be-Bop Force Go!”).

The Battle of Britain lasted from July 10th, 1940 until October 1940, when the German attacks subsided.  The showdown between the Royal Air Force (“RAF”) and the Nazi Luftwaffe (“Luftwaffe”) progressed through several stages.  Initially the Luftwaffe targeted British air defenses and air fields, trying to whittle down the RAF’s strength.  That strategy transformed into bombing raids against British infrastructure.  In September, motivated by desperation, the Luftwaffe targeted civilians.  The excitement and nonstop action of the Battle of Britain induced young boys all over Europe to skip school and soccer practice to come watch.

The backbone of the British defense was the communication network known as the “Dowding System,” after its chief architect, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding.  The Dowding System was a complicated but efficient network for tracking incoming German sorties, determining their makeup and potential targets, and organizing a defense.  Radar, radios, telephones and human observation fed an informational grid updated constantly with weather, RAF plane and pilot status, and other relevant circumstances.  Decision-making rooms scattered around England coordinated four RAF Groups responsible for a zone defense of the Island.  Dowding tried to conserve his fighters by focusing on German bombing runs and avoiding, whenever possible, strict fighter-on-fighter aerial combat (as cool as those were).  Exceptions included going after power-up and extra-life bonus sorties.

Fighter pilots with high kill counts, like TSG, AAA and ASS, became heroes

The German Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF in both pilots and aircraft.  The Nazis continuously revised their bomber protection schemes and sortie makeups in an attempt to thwart British defenses.  The most common German attack involved long lines of ships engaged in the “increase speed, drop down, reverse direction” maneuver (see above).  The Luftwaffe flew at least five different kinds of ships, and also used tactics like the box, X-formation, and fly-up-and-back.  Yet the Nazis set themselves the near-impossible task of destroying the RAF while preserving the Luftwaffe for the subsequent invasion.  This hampered their ability to engage British fighters.  To limit losses, Luftwaffe pilots were told to engage enemy fighters only when the odds were favorable, or when they were flying a Boss Ship.

Secret of the British air defense

Both sides suffered from poor evaluation of their opponent’s capabilities.  However, this poor estimation favored the British.  The complexities and confusion of three-dimensional aerial combat meant that kill counts were usually overstated (even before score-multiplier bonuses were factored in).  The British overestimated the Luftwaffe’s strength, and thus prepared for a stronger assault than the Nazis were capable of sustaining.  The Luftwaffe underestimated England’s manufacturing capacity, the importance of the Dowding System, and the number of quarters Britain brought to the fight.  Therefore, the Luftwaffe became convinced that they were causing much more damage to the RAF than they were, and that the RAF was much weaker than it actually was.  To experienced Nazi pilots, it must have seemed like the British had freaking unlimited continues, or were cheating somehow.

As the battle continued into August and September, it became increasingly clear that the RAF was far from destroyed.  In response to this and Britain’s bombing of Berlin, Hitler rescinded his ban on civilian bombing in early September.  Hitler hoped civilian casualties would demoralize the British, perhaps to the point that the RAF pilots’ mothers would get mad and order their sons home to do their homework.  But it did not work.  Smooth-talkin’ British Prime Minister Winston “WLC” Churchill applied health crates to his nation’s psyche with emotional cut scenes.  Most famous was his “The Few” speech on August 20th, 1940.  The German attacks peaked on “The Greatest Day,” August 15th.  By mid-September, with increasing Luftwaffe casualties, Hitler indefinitely postponed the invasion plan.

Britain was not able to completely stop German bombing raids against its cities, and the British suffered 23,000 dead and 32,000 wounded civilians between July and December 1940.  Nevertheless, the Battle of Britain was a huge psychological boost for the Allies.  It was the first clear defeat of the Nazi military, and showed a skeptical United States that Britain would survive and should be supported.  The RAF’s heroism made pilots like HTF and ASS into national heroes, and September 15th is now recognized in the United Kingdom as Battle of Britain Day.

Drink: The Blitz

[ingredients:]

  • Jagermeister
  • Worcestershire sauce

[preparation:]

  1. Pour a shot of Jagermeister and add a splash of Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Shoot it!
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The Battle of Chapultepec

From the halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We will fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
-The Marines’ Hymn

If you’re trying to be taken seriously as a military branch, you don’t want your keynote hymn to start, “There once was a man from Nantucket…” You need some gravitas, son! And nothing provides 3x the gravitas points like decisive military victories on the grounds of another nation’s symbolic military fortifications. It’s the military equivalent of a touchdown dance on the enemy’s logo. The US Marine Corps won such a victory at the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.

The Mexican-American War was fought between 1846 and 1848. President James Polk, riding high on Manifest Destiny, sought a war as a means for a southwestern land grab. So he consulted the Big Playbook of Starting Wars, and went with excuse #1A: the old border dispute.

In 1845, Texas, having claimed independence from Mexico, agreed to annex itself to the United States. (The existing states said that they agreed to accept Texas’s annexation, which led to some big hats being tipped back and some squinty-eyed evaluatin’ across the room.) The United States offered to buy parts of Mexico, the Mexican government stopped its turmoil long enough to be offended, and shootin’ started.

Okay boys, let's make ourselves an anthem!

Okay boys, let's make ourselves an anthem!

The Battle of Mexico City occurred in September 1847, and marked the last major battle of the war. The Battle of Chapultepec refers to the American capturing of the symbolically and strategically important Chapultepec Castle. The Castle, or ‘CC’ for short, housed Mexico’s national military academy, sat upon a sacred spot for prior tenants (the Aztecs), and was a strategic point in General Santa Anna’s defense of the Mexican Capital.

In the face of vastly superior forces, the Mexican defense was spirited. Some of its defenders were cadets as young as 13, who were evidently moody and prone to overly dramatic displays of angst. The last Mexican cadet remaining in the castle achieved national immortality by wrapping himself in the Mexican flag and leaping off the high castle walls, saving the flag from disgrace by an invader’s touch. (Historians gloss over the thrash metal song lyrics the cadet had written on the flag before jumping).

Unfortunately for Santa Anna but fortunately for future Marine Corps hymn writers , the US attacked with overwhelming numbers and a highly-coordinated assault. The US forces featured an all-star lineup of future Confederate generals (maybe there was something rebellious in the air). Stonewall Jackson, Joseph Johnston, Pierre Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, George Pickett, and Ulysses S. Grant (the one notable Yankee) all took part in the battle.

A spirited battle for a location symbolic to both sides (or at least to the US retroactively) should be commemorated with a shot. Something you can lift like a flag over the ramparts.

The Union?  Well...let me get back to you on that.

The Union? Well...let me get back to you on that.

Drink: The Halls of Montezuma

[Ingredients:]

  • bourbon
  • Kahlua

[Preparation:]

  1. Pour half shot of bourbon into shot glass to represent the American Southern military tradition.
  2. Fill the rest of the shot glass with Kahlua to represent the weaker but spirited Mexican defense.
  3. Toast “Manifest Destiny” and the opportunistic nature of American foreign policy, and take shot.

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