Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain
Background and Setup
Sea Lion. The invasion that never was.
The summer of 1940 found the British army in a very bad position, protected only by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. If the Germans had launched Sea Lion, would they have been able to knock the British out of the war, or would they have faced disaster?
I have to be honest for a moment. Their Finest Hour is archaic compared to more modern Europa games, and its results are not necessarily definitive. As with anything else, Europa has evolved and grown over time. It is much more complex today than it was when these first came out.
It begins with the maps. Looking at the old maps, there is a dearth of defensive terrain: rough, a few woods here and there, and rivers. Other than that, the entire map is pretty much clear and flat. No cliffs on the coasts, no marshes or other soft areas. Nothing. There are no barriers, other than the British military to prevent the Germans from getting ashore.
Compared to the Second Front maps, it is almost like someone drew an outline of the British Isles and called it good. The Second Front maps (even the southern English coast extension map from the Europa magazine) have cliffs and bocage, making an invasion more complicated. London is more sprawled out (as opposed to three full hex city hexes in TFH), and Portsmouth has become a major city (it is a dot city in TFH). Even though the one section is in black and white (from The Europa Magazine), you can see that bocage and cliffs have been added to large portions the southern coast.
Lightning War, the update to Fall of France and Their Finest Hour would be nice, but at this point, we don’t know if, or when it will ever be released. Hopefully, someday it will.
There are also some strange things that have been discovered in the rules along the way. For example, Scapa Flow (Kirkwall), the Shetland Islands, and even Iceland are out of supply, by the rules given in the game. There is no elimination due to lack of supply, but units in those areas are out of supply because they cannot trace a supply line across prohibited terrain, the all-sea hexes and hexsides. There are no naval supply lines in this game. I’m not sure this was intended, but it is what it is.
Reference cities have an airbase capacity of 3, not 1 as in most of the other games.
On the Sep I and Nov I turns, the British receive a Blen-4 reinforcement. However, the order of battle does not mention if this aircraft is of the bomber, night bomber or night fighter flavor.
The Germans have to be fast. The window to get the invasion launched is not open very wide, and is closing quickly. As September comes to an end and October begins, the likelihood of seas turning rough increases, ultimately making invasion impossible.
I had mentioned the British radar sites in another post. While we know their value today, in game terms, they really don’t have that big an effect (in my opinion). I don’t know the damage values each radar site has (that is a closely guarded secret of AT-5 Security Services), but I am wondering if it is really worth the trouble to try to knock them out.
TFH uses the concept of Air Zones of Control (AZOC). Once 4 or more radar sites are taken out, the British AZOC is reduced from 1/2 printed movement to a single hex; but what does this mean, exactly?
It means that the patrol zone is reduced, not interception range. This is one of those games where an air unit can patrol attack and intercept an air mission in the same turn. Reducing the AZOC means, more than likely, the British can’t pull double duty.
As long as the Germans don’t try to penetrate too far inland, this may not be that big a problem.
Just like in Narvik, the Ju-88s have a range of 40 hexes. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the range was reduced to 26 hexes.
Because the window of opportunity is continually shrinking for the Germans, every air mission must serve the purpose of getting the Germans ashore with minimal loss, and keeping them ashore.
I am not in agreement with the idea that the RAF needs to be destroyed. This was probably the greatest weakness of Sea Lion. It was dependent on the Luftwaffe destroying the RAF and having absolute supremacy of the air. This was in large part due to Admiral Raeder’s fear of the Royal Navy. I think that this fear was so intense, that he deliberately sabotaged the Sea Lion whenever he could, constantly rejecting landing sites, and continually saying there was not enough transport. Transport was never really the issue. Landing craft was. This invasion is not going to be like Norway, where ships and transports pulled up to the docks and unloaded before the Norwegians realized what was happening.
Studying the British dispositions from the setup, it is clear where the British are expecting the hammer to fall, SE England; Dover and Ramsgate. This makes sense because that point is the shortest distance between the continent and England.
What surprises me, however, is the lack of fighter support in the area. I’m not saying that there is no fighter cover at all. There is, but it is not as heavy as I was expecting.
Of course, not all available fighters can be used on the front lines. Some fighters have to be held back for rear area defense. I have had to do the same thing as the Germans, at least to the extent that some Me-109s are being held back at rear area airfields to guard against British air raids.
The bombing campaign has to be systematic in its approach. The coast has to be softened up enough to make a landing feasible. Coastal artillery must be eliminated, or effectively neutralized, airbases damaged (they can be repaired), rail lines broken up, and the Royal Navy put to the bottom.
As we can see, the British have a large number of submarines patrolling the Channel. These have to be eliminated. Right now, in order to facilitate an invasion, they are priority number one. Each submarine counter in the Channel represents two submarines. The two counters north of the Channel are a single sub.
The main components of the Home Fleet are positioned where they can reach Zone 12 at about the same time, although the Irish Sea squadron faces greater danger to reach that point. The squadron in the Irish Sea, which includes the BB Nelson and the BC Repulse, is not exactly out of the reach of the Luftwaffe.
The Luftwaffe has been set up with this in mind. It is important that bombers and their escorts can reach the majority of the southern hexes that denote naval patrol areas. As you look at the pictures, you will see several red markers with white stars (borrowed from FitE/SE) that show where the hexes are that the Luftwaffe has to be able to reach in order to patrol a sea zone. I put these on the map mostly for my visual cues. I also sprinkled other markers like this around the map on land hexes, to further denote the edges of the sea zones in question.
Zones 10, 11, 12 and 13, the areas around the English Channel, are very dangerous for the Kriegsmarine, but they are also be dangerous to any vessel of the Home Fleet that enters.
The game has been started, but it may become very involved due to the nature of the naval sequencing (including air-naval interaction). I will post the results as soon as I am able, after the turn has been completed.
Stay tuned. I think this is going to be exciting.