Books and Brawls : With Wings Like Eagles
A few years ago I picked up a read for a brief vacation, “With Wings Like Eagles” by Michael Korda. My knowledge of the Battle of Britain was pretty basic, a general idea of the smackdown, but never a deep dive. Michael Korda’s book lays it all out and really pins how unwinnable the Battle of Britain was for Germany. About the same time my Matrix Anniversary coupon arrived, and well, I ended up getting Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich… and didn’t play it for a few years. Until…
A gentleman on the ComputerWargames subreddit came in looking for a Battle of Britain game. I mentioned Eagle Day and someone commented that it just had a patch. A game originally released in 1999, re-released in 2009, and just patched again in 2021? I had to check it out again.
First off, at $50, it’s way over priced. Hands down this should be less money. Yes, it’s a niche game, but c’mon guys, use that back catalog to fill up your front catalog. Think long tail marketing here.
The game itself has two scenarios. Eagle Day and Bombing the Reich. We’ll focus on Eagle Day as it is a really quick playthrough and lets you handle the critical bits without becoming overwhelmed by minutiae. It’s interesting how a title from 1999 tried to use the CPU to prevent micro-managing instead of heaping on more work for you the player.
Eventually the game loads, rather like eventually the ME-110’s get intercepted.
Our options are pretty sparse. I like the one week Eagle Day campaign as you can try out your different strategies and watch them unfold. The longer campaigns just give you more time to juggle with diminished capacity. In all its glory you get to play out Dowding’s vision.
Probably one of the most interesting parts of the book is the lead up to the war. Britain didn’t just wake up one day and fight back the Germans. It was nearly a decade of planning, prioritizing, and stubbornly sticking to the plan. Dowding makes for a very unique character who I probably would not have enjoyed working for. Singular in purpose, and devoted to his cause.
Rather like the interface we have here. Word to the wise, be sure to run it in Windows 8 compatibility mode and Run as Administrator. Missing these will make for a very slow game, or at least it did for me.
We can zoom down and inspect radar ranges and scan about to our various facilities. Radar, AAA sites, cities, production, and of course air fields.
Drilling down further on a primary airfield we find not only our aircraft, in this case a Hurricane with the woefully inadequate .303, but all of our pilots.
The game itself can be played a few ways, one is to set the high level decisions and then let the AI do it all. Or, CMO style, you can plan each mission, altitudes, targets and alternates. It’s fairly amazing how detailed one can get. There is absolutely hints of War in the Pacific and even War in the East in the way this plays out.
On top of the rivalry between nations we learn of two very unique characters, Willy Messerschmitt and Reginald Mitchell. But beyond just designing amazing aircraft Messerschmitt had one major advantage, his planes were battle tested where the Mitchell’s Spitfire was not.
Mitchell succumbed to colon cancer in 1937, three years before the battle that his creation would win.
Once our patrol is airborne they fly to the area at the target altitude and, well, patrol. The flight lead here, John L Ellis, became an RAF ace and eventually a POW in Stalag Luft III. This level of detail in a game is always amazing.
The first time these forces squared off was Dunkirk.
Our patrol from 610 Squadron diverts and has a slight altitude advantage. Now to see if they can bounce the cover.
As the Luftwaffe forces move over Southern England the RAF forces rise up and engage. By 0930 the initial aircraft are headed for fuel and refit. A few crash on landing, while more Luftwaffe forces are detected from Calais.
Dowding’s goal was rather ingenious. He knew his strengths and played to them while encouraging the enemy to think the RAF was almost out of planes.
As our day goes on a batch of Dorniers thoroughly pastes Diggin Hill, but luckily the secondary airfields are untouched.
But more importantly, we are knocking out German fighters and with them, German pilots.
One of the more interesting failures in history was that of the German intelligence wing and their inability to perform even rudimentary analysis of the situation. Cronyism ran rampant and Beppo was more interested in pleasing his superiors than speaking the truth.
By 1030 on my first day the Luftwaffe bombers have smacked a few of my airfields hard. My fighters are performing admirably but it’s a tough go. I tried to reduce the radius that they needed to cover in order to increase flight time over the target area. On the downside we can’t get in the air quick enough once they are in the target zone.
You can individually send out interceptions or even patrols. I rather prefer watching it unfold like I’m in some RAF bunker.
Or we could try a competing theory to Dowding, the Big Wing theory where there would be a Trafalgar or Nile type battle where everything would be on the line in one massive battle. History has proven Dowdings method, but it would be interesting to see how Bader’s might have played out.
Our first day ends on a sour note. Multiple Squadron Leads didn’t make it back and the RAF lost 22 Hurricane’s, 13 Spitfires, a single Gladiator, to a total of 45 Luftwaffe bombers and Fighters. The JU-88A took a particular whopping. The day wasn’t a total loss, but is it good enough?
The 2nd day finds 13 losses for the RAF compared to 21 for the Luftwaffe. The bombers are suffering, the BG-109’s not so much.
The book really paints an amazing picture of one of the greatest conflicts of the 20th century. Be it the characters on the German side ranging from Goering to Galland to the ultra macho Bader and spiritualist Dowding. Churchill is prominent but Michael Korda is careful to note that Churchills thoughts come 8 years after the wars end when he was not only padding his reputation but glossing over potential doubts at the time.
The book is great, pick it up. It’s approachable and very enjoyable. The game is also good, but the age is shining through. Pick it up if you are really a nut for this era or, like me, have a Matrix Coupon burning a hole in your pocket.