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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Franco-Prussian War

Progressive emperor, progressive cape

Sadly, veterans of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War have (likely) passed away.  But it was not so long ago that French newspapers would run occasional mentions of an ‘incident’ involving a grizzled French military vet throwing his Merlot at a middle manager from an international conglomerate.  Those irrepressible old coots came to their loathing of MBAs honestly, as the last survivors of a war which helped turn the world into the dull, competence-worshipping boot factory we find ourselves in today.

In the middle years of the 19th century, the European balance of power was shifting (as was its wont).  France found itself with another Napoleon as Emperor, albeit one pursuing liberal economic policies and looking after the French reputation for classy living.  Just as one great album can make a band’s reputation, so too did the recent memory of Napoleon Bonaparte kicking everybody’s ass linger in European minds.  Or at least in French minds.  Napoleon III felt this strongly enough, in fact, that he took the time to declare, “The Empire means peace,” as if everybody was still worried.

Moltke spent years looking for a young boy named Andrew Wiggin

To the Northeast, meanwhile,  Prussia was on the rise.  The 1866 Austro-Prussian War had made Prussia the dominant German state, and now they were busy constructing a modern military.  Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke turned Prussia’s General Staff (already unique in Europe) into its most formidable weapon of war.  His intense and superb officer training created highly skilled and motivated officers who could be trusted to ably and quickly maneuver the armies placed under their command.  While France maintained the European tradition of an officer corps concerned with carefully sculpted facial hair and chic winter tunics, the Prussian General Staff was an unparalleled war-mongering think tank, devoting all their time to applying science, industry, and history to military advantage.

In addition to a superior, if somewhat less entertaining, army structure, the Prussian state also benefited from the leadership of the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck.  This aristocrat spent a rather unimpressive spell in the Prussian army among the bosoms of buxom beerwenches.  As he aged and the wenches’ affections waned, Bismarck turned his attention to the other great pastime of the aristocratic class: political machinations.  Armed with the forward-thinking notion that the great questions of the day are decided “through iron and blood,” Bismarck set out to unify the German states.  Goaded by tension relations and Bismarck’s cagey diplomacy (or lack thereof), France declared war on Prussia on July 19th, 1870.  Seen as the victims of French aggression, the other Germanic states came to Prussia’s defense.

France’s war mobilization effort was hampered by paperwork, confusion, and fur-trimmed parade gaiters which did not match the regimental livery.  By contrast, the Prussian General Staff used the dense Prussian railroad system to mobilize nearly half a million troops in three weeks.  The well-equipped and well-trained Prussian forces won a series of victories over the French in August 1870.  As the Prussians moved into France (the beginning of that habit), Napoleon III and his top general Marshal MacMahon decided it was a good time to tackle the pressing issue of prison reform.  They formed an army out of 130,000 pressed-in prisoners from Parisian jails.  Surprisingly, this army lacked discipline.

The hardened criminals of 1870 Paris jails report for military duty

In a last-ditch attempt to stop the Prussian advance, Napoleon and MacMahon fortified their forces on high ground around the city of Sedan in Northern France.  Sadly, they did not occupy the highest ground (a reoccurring problem: see Dien Bien Phu).  The Prussians surrounded Napoleon’s army, set up their best-in-class artillery on the higher ground, and fired down upon the French troops.  On September 1st, after a few days of shelling and some disastrous charges, Napoleon III surrendered.  The Prussians captured the French Emperor, over 100,000 French soldiers, and several thousand monogrammed silver cigarette cases.  While fighting continued until 1871, the war was essentially over.

So if you find yourself at work, frustrated by a mirthless Wharton graduate unimpressed by your sharp tie and demanding that you attend a conference titled Dynamic Deliverable Solutions for Bi-Cameral Production Trees, try throwing your Merlot at him.  Or just blame the French.

Drink: Iron and Blood

[ingredients:]

  • German apple cider
  • Goldschlager
  • Jagermeister
  • Bierstiefel (aka the German beer boot)
  • iron shot glass
  • red food coloring

[preparation:]

  1. Lay the groundwork for a unified drink by placing the ingredients together on a table.
  2. Prepare a hearty shot of 60/40 Goldschlager to Jager.
  3. Pour yourself a Bierstiefel of warm apple cider.
  4. At the opportune moment, drop the shot into the cider, unifying the German ingredients.
  5. Add red food coloring to taste (depending on your views on the necessity of blood in solving the questions of the day).
  6. Drink victoriously and salute a brilliant future!

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French and Indian War

The Siege of Quebec was a pivotal 1759 battle in the North American theatre of the Seven Years War.  In the battle, British General James Wolfe’s derring-do defeated an undisciplined French and Indian force, striking a blow against the French colonial presence in North America.  The eventually-victorious British allowed some French colonials to remain in North America, paving the way for Canada’s peculiar cultural makeup and marking the end of the NHL’s “Original Two” era.

—–

In the 17th and 18th centuries, France and Great Britain held a series of “exhibition wars” in North America.  The purpose was to introduce European colonialism to a new market, and get developing soldiers more playing time.  These wars had all the good parts of European play (glory, death, spoils) without the bad parts (unruly peasants, despoiled fox-hunting grounds).  Everybody also got to say “North American theatre” a lot, which is really fun.

The fourth war took place between 1754 and 1763.  Sadly, poor branding resulted in way too many names: The French and Indian War, aka The War of the Conquest, aka The Seven Years’ War (note that 1754 to 1763 is nine years).  This list doesn’t even include names the Native Americans gave to this latest round of colonial fisticuffs.

Boras kept the top 2 fur trappers out of the draft

The backstory was familiar.  The French and British were trying to outmaneuver each other for economic and military opportunities, and for the rights to the best Native Americans in the amateur draft.  In 1754, tensions in both North America and Europe caused the two nations to throw down their sticks, pull off their gloves, and go at it.  Both sides brought starters over from the Old World, and the play was spirited.  The hearty French “Les Habs” (as their fans called them), with their entertaining coalition of stocky fur trappers, Iroquois Confederacy warriors and French soldiers, scored major victories at Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry.

In June of 1758, British coach King George pulled the goalie and instructed General Wolfe to take Quebec before the horn.  The British sailed twenty-two ships up the hazardous St. Lawrence River right into the heart of French Canada, much to the surprise of the Habs capitaine the Marquis de Montcalm.  The British hoped to bombard Quebec into submission, but Montcalm’s “stay at home D” and Habs rookie keeper Patrick Roy made it clear that wasn’t going to happen.

thanks for reading the alt-text!

Is it "Roy" or "Wah"? Let the War decide.

After three months of plotting, General Wolfe decided to attempt a risky upstream troop landing.  The British sailed up the river, past the French D line, who apparently missed the conspicuous British whispering and even-louder “sssshhh, lads!” from the officers.  Wolfe managed to land 3,300 first-string troops on the outskirts of Quebec during the night of September 12th, 1758.  Montcalm had almost 14,000 troops in the area, and had he waited for them to amass, he could have attacked the British from two sides.  Instead, he hastily attacked the British line on September 13th with only 3,500 troops, a motley O-line of French soldiers, Native Americans, and French militia.

The “Siege of Quebec” ended within the regulation three 20-minute periods.*  The British troops’ mastery of musket fire and the neutral zone trap, combined with Montcalm’s poor field generalship and puck control, led to a British rout.  The first British volley sent the French line into a retreat, although Wolfe was killed almost immediately by a brutal Iroquois enforcer’s cross-check.  Brigadier-General George Townshend organized two battalions to turn and face French reinforcements approaching from the rear (the reinforcements Montcalm had failed to wait for).  Those French also retreated, allowing the remainder of Montcalm’s army to complete their retreat into Quebec.  This is the first known use of the famous French military tactic called Two French Armies Retreating In Opposite Directions.

Montcalm's enforcers spent the entire siege in the penalty box.

Montcalm, who was not required to wear a helmet (having been in the league prior to the 1747 helmet rule) was struck by a stray puck and died the following day.  Most of the French forces abandoned Quebec and the remaining garrison signed over the city to the British on September 18th.  The British won a resounding naval victory in November 1759 which ended French hopes of reinforcing their colonies.  By 1760 most of the fighting had ended, and the Treaty of Paris formally ended the exhibition season on February 10, 1763.  The British allowed French colonists remaining in Canada to keep their property and Roman Catholic religion, resulting in the bilingual problems Canada experiences today.

Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic approved of the off-season trades.

The following off-season was a busy one.  Britain offered France the choice of keeping either its North American possessions or the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (all of which Britain had invaded).  French chose to cede Canada.  That same season Spain traded Florida to Britain for Cuba and five navigational sextants, then spun those sextants off to obtain Louisiana from France (a move Don Cherry called outstanding).  France was unperturbed by the loss of Nouvelle France; French hockey blogger Voltaire declared that the Treaty of Paris cost France only “a few acres of snow; France ftw!”  No one anticipated, however, that the Spain-Britain trade would eventually result, two centuries later, in that most unholy of apparitions, ice hockey in Florida.

*Another example of poor branding.  A siege that lasts an hour is no siege at all.

Drink: The Siege of Quebec

[ingredients:]

  • 1 recently-emptied (not cleaned) 16 oz maple syrup jug
  • 2 oz French Brandy (cognac/Armagnac)
  • 1 oz Canadian Ice Wine
  • 1 tsp Drambuie

[preparation:]

  1. Pour ingredients into jug
  2. Shake or swirl to mix.
  3. Garnish with a maple leaf.

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