Tag Archives: World War II

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 Soviet-Finnish War

Three months after Germany began World War II by invading Poland, the Soviet Union invaded Finland. Beginning on November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union’s initial invasion force of 630,000 troops and thousands of tanks rumbled across Finland, crushing the meager defenses and capturing Helsinki within two weeks.

Right? After all, the Soviet Union brought more than a million men, over 6,500 tanks, and more than 3,800 aircraft to bear against a Finnish army of only 250,00 men, 30 tanks, and 130 aircraft. Sure, it was one of the worst winters in the 20th century. But the Soviets were bolstered by the ideological contact high that was the Bolshevik Revolution. Surely it was a walk in a frozen park.

Um, no. Unfortunately for Stalin, but fortunately for fans of the underdog worldwide, the Finns ran circles (or, more accurately skied circles) around the darkly-clad-against-the-snow Soviet troops. The Russian Army was completely unprepared for fighting in the brutal cold and dense forests of Eastern Finland. The Finns, by contrast, were masters of their landscape, spirited in defending their homeland, and really damn hard to spot against the snow.

A colum of Soviet tanks

A colum of Soviet tanks, post-cocktail party

An examination of Finnish and Soviet tactics suggests proper strategies to employ in snowy forests with temperatures as low as negative-40 degrees Fahrenheit:

Finnish Tactics:

  • Wear white.
  • Travel by skis.
  • Fight in the forests you grew up in.
  • Use mobile units and double-envelopment techniques to divide up enemy columns for easier picking.
  • Attack field kitchens, destroying enemy food and fuel supplies.

Soviet Tactics:

  • Wear dark colors.
  • Drive vulnerable tanks and trucks along forest roads with no escape routes.
  • Use troops not experienced in cold or forests.
  • Establish a military tradition of killing soldiers who retreat.
  • Remove all your experienced officers in pre-war political purges.
A platoon of Finnish ski patrol soldiers

A platoon of Finnish ski patrol soldiers

Of course, the Finnish military had ethanol, storm matches, skis and white snow pants at their disposal, so perhaps it was never a fair fight. At the outset of their illegal invasion, the Soviet propaganda machine asserted that they were dropping food, not bombs, on the Finns. The Finnish people, finding the shells filling but not nourishing, called the bombs “Molotov Bread Baskets” after Soviet diplomat and cheerleader Vyacheslav Molotov. To combat Soviet tanks, the Finns adapted a crude incendiary devise from the Spanish Civil War and called them “Molotov Cocktails”, or “a drink to go with the food.” The Finnish alcohol distributor Alko mass produced them for Soviet consumption: an ethanol, tar and gasoline mixture in a glass bottle, with two storm matches stuck to the side. Simply light matches and throw. The burning mixture stuck to vehicles, and the name stuck to the devise (the Soviet-coined name, “Improvised Proletariat Incendiary Device for the Unjust Opposition of Inevitable Glorious Bolshevik Soviet People’s Progress Device,” never really caught on).

The Finns held off the massive Red Army for five months despite being completely outnumbered and outgunned. They did so with some spectacularly one-sided snowy showdowns. In the Battle of Raate Road in January 1940, 3,600 Finnish troops decimated 25,000 Soviet soldiers. The Finns captured 43 tanks (more than Finland’s entire supply of tanks at the start of fighting), 71 heavy guns, 260 trucks, 6,000 rifles, and more horses, rifles, armored cars, ammunition, medical equipment, and volleyball nets than they knew what to do with. The Soviet commander who survived the battle was executed upon returning to Soviet lines. The Finns played a riotous game of sardines, with the stockpile of Soviet booty as home base.

Tactical comparisons of the two sides reveal just how far knowing-what-you’re-doing can take you. Finnish snipers would set up dummies to draw out Soviet snipers. Once the Soviet sniper had been located by shooting at the dummy (“Hey Yuri, watch me shoot this idiot Finn sticking his head out”), they would kill the sniper with a large anti-tank gun (“boom”).

Pystykorva rifle, $120 by Finnish manufacturing; winter coat, $400 by Patagonia

Pystykorva rifle, $120 by Finnish manufacturing; winter coat, $400 by Patagonia

Perhaps the biggest Finnish advantage was a 5′ 3″ wrecking crew named Simo Hayha. Given the nickname “White Death” by the Soviets(!!!), the sniper killed somewhere between 505 and 800 Soviet soldiers in less than 100 days. Shot in the head on March 6, 1940, he picked up his gun and killed his attacker. Surviving his wound, Hayha was promoted straight from corporal to second lieutenant after the war, and from there to Finland National Bad-Ass, First Class.

The fighting was a terrible embarrassment for the Soviets. Their losses have been estimated at nearly 2,260 tanks and 400,000 men killed, wounded or captured. Finnish loses were 26,000 dead and 43,000 wounded. Eventually the Finnish forces’ supplies of ammunition, spunk, and snow forts began to run low, and a peace treaty was signed on March 12, 1940. The terms were harsh (the Soviets were pissed), but the Finns’ successes had made the Red Army appear weak, and may have contributed to Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union the following year.

Drink: Molotov’s Cocktail

[Ingredients:]

  • one glass coke bottle
  • Finnish or Russian vodka
  • celery stalk
  • sugar (optional)

[Preparation:]

  1. Fill bottle with vodka.  Add sugar if desired for better sticking to tank iron.
  2. Insert celery stalk into bottle and let sit until celery is saturated with vodka.
  3. Eat celery and give bottle to party “tank” to drink.

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