HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDThe surrender of France in spring 1940 left Hitler in undisputed control of Western Europe. England, under the resolute leadership of Winston Churchill, was now left without allies in its war against Germany, and had only the Royal Navy, the RAF, and the English Channel to protect it from a German invasion. The English Channel and the Royal Navy, however, were no protection against the planes of Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe. And for a few months during the summer and fall of 1940, the full responsibility for England’s defense would rest almost exclusively on the skill and gallantry of the pilots of the Royal Air Force.
On July 10, 1940 the Luftwaffe began attacks on Channel ports and shipping in preparation for Operation “Sea Lion,” the German amphibious cross-Channel invasion of England. German air attacks continued without interruption or abatement; then, on August 10, a massive Luftwaffe bombing assault against British radar installations, RAF airfields, and aircraft factories, suddenly erupted all across southern England. This enormous one-day bombing effort, code-named Adlertag (Eagle Day) by the German High Command, was intended to be the first major blow in a Luftwaffe offensive aimed at destroying or at least severely crippling the RAF. Hitler and the Oberkommando Des Herres (OKH) were confident that if the Royal Air Force could be annihilated or driven away from the Channel Coast, then the Sea Lion invasion plan would be able to go forward. But Hitler and the OKH were also adamant: no invasion would be authorized until the Luftwaffe had achieved complete mastery of the skies over the Channel. Reich Marshal Goering promised his Führer just that. With Eagle Day, the Battle of Britain had well and truly begun. It would continue until 12 October 1940. On that date, Hitler finally ordered that the air offensive be broken off so that the Luftwaffe could begin preparations for Operation "Barbarossa:" the coming German invasion of Russia.
Thus, in spite of nearly insurmountable odds, the Battle of Britain ended in the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Goering’s airmen, despite suffering terrible losses, had been unable to drive the RAF from the skies over Britain. England, thanks to a few hundred intrepid pilots, had won a resounding victory — it had turned back the German aerial onslaught, and because of that victory, England had survived to fight on against Hitler's Third Reich.
THEIR FINEST HOUR is GDW’s simulation of the life-and-death struggle between England and Germany in the summer and fall of 1940, when Britain stood alone. More than that, it is, as noted previously, actually a collection of three different conflict games: THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, a detailed squadron-level simulation of the air war between Germany and Britain in the months immediately following the defeat of France; a EUROPA level air Campaign Game that requires a smaller number of counters and fewer game turns than THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN; and SEA LION, a hypothetical air-land-sea treatment of the planned — but never executed — German invasion of Great Britain in the summer of 1940. Besides being a set of complete games, THEIR FINEST HOUR is also an installment in the EUROPA Project: GDW’s comprehensive simulation of all of World War II in Europe, the Balkans, the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the Middle East.
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN is the feature title in the THEIR FINEST HOUR game collection. It is a squadron level simulation of the desperate air war between England and Germany during the summer of 1940. The German player wins by accumulating victory points. To accomplish this, the Luftwaffe commander directs his forces to eliminate or damage Royal Air Force units, airfields, radar stations, and aircraft factories in an effort to defeat the RAF and drive it from the skies above southern England and the Channel Coast. Historically, the Luftwaffe failed because its operational planners could not hit upon the optimal mix of air missions to satisfy all of these different goals. Needless-to-say, to win in the game, the German player must do significantly better than his historical counterpart. He must succeed, however, without suffering prohibitive losses of his own. The Luftwaffe can afford more casualties than the RAF, but German reserves of aircraft and pilots are not limitless. The British player wins by avoiding a German victory. THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN offers two scenarios: the standard Battle of Britain scenario, July 1 to September 27 (23 game turns long); and the Adlertag scenario, August 10 to September 23, 1940 (12 turns long).
As a less time-consuming and detailed alternative to THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, the EUROPA Campaign game allows players to fight the air war over England using the standard EUROPA air combat system and standard two-week game turns. It is also a simpler, shorter game than THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, even though the two simulations both use the same game maps and counters. The Campaign game offers only one scenario: the Combined Campaign game, July 1 to November 5, 1940 (10 game turns).
The invasion game, SEA LION, combines the air combat system of THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN with a variation (shorter game turn and smaller hex size) on the standard EUROPA ground and naval rules. For this reason, SEA LION uses its own special (one-third scale) game map. Despite the difference in scale, however, players exploring the EUROPA Game System for the first time will quickly discover that the various combat subroutines — whether in a standard EUROPA installment, or as they are presented in SEA LION — are almost independent games in their own right. This is one reason why SEA LION is a particularly good candidate for team play. Bluntly speaking, SEA LION is not an easy game either to learn or to play, much less to master; so the more help that players can round up, the better. Also, the complex, and often unpredictable interactions between the ground, air, and naval elements in this simulation, makes planning and executing the invasion of Britain — whether in July or September — an extremely difficult and nerve-racking process. And that holds true for both sides; not just for the Germans. There is a great deal of interesting historical detail contained in this title, but it does take some work to get at it; moreover, getting the game’s different subroutines to smoothly mesh together is a real challenge. This game is clearly not a good choice for the beginning or casual gamer. SEA LION offers two scenarios: the July scenario, July 1 to August 14 (12 turns); and the September scenario, September 23 to October 29 (10 game turns).
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The many different games that make up the EUROPA World War II game system are each in their own way, unique. Whether looking at an early design like NARVIK (974) or a later installment like THE FALL OF FRANCE (1981), GDW invariably brings something fresh and interesting to the design process when it examines each new historical situation. This factor, as much as sheer size, makes the EUROPA game series one of the great simulation design projects of all time. THEIR FINEST HOUR presents a fascinating look at a unique military situation: the first major campaign in World War II fought predominantly by the air forces of the belligerent nations. This feature alone makes the game interesting. But, of course, there are the other game situations contained in the title to consider, as well. Despite the complexity of its several different games, THEIR FINEST HOUR offers — to those who are really interested in the greatest war in history — a richly textured, and very challenging game system for simulating virtually all aspects of World War II combat in the European Theater.
- Time Scale: 2 weeks (one fortnight) per game turn (EUROPA); 4 days per game turn (THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN/SEA LION)
- Map Scale: 16 miles per hex (EUROPA/THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN); 5.33 miles per hex (SEA LION)
- Unit Size (all games): division/brigade/regiment/battle group/battalion, individual capital ship, flotillas, and squadrons or air groups (approximately 50 aircraft)
- Unit Types (all games): armor/panzer, assault gun, light tank/reconnaissance, support group (combined arms),motorized infantry, motorized machinegun, motorized engineer, infantry, mountain infantry, parachute, air landing, light reconnaissance, Infantry gun, machinegun, marine (naval garrison), static (county), engineer, Bau (construction engineer), artillery, division headquarters, naval units (assorted ship types), air units (assorted aircraft types), radar station, factory, naval mine, attack supply, bases, and information counters
- Number of Players: two (SEA LION is a particularly good candidate for team play)
- Complexity: high
- Solitaire Suitability: below average (besides, who wants to push around 1,100+ unit counters)
- Average Playing Time: 6-? hours (depending on which game, the players’ experience, and whether or not individuals or teams are playing)
- Two 20” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (EUROPA Maps 11 and 12)
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (EUROPA Supplement SEA LION Game Map)
- 1,386 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” loose-leaf style Rules Booklet for THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
- One 8½” x 11” loose-leaf style Rules Booklet for SEA LION
- One 8½” x 11” loose-leaf style Rules Booklet for EUROPA: V, THEIR FINEST HOUR
- One 8½” x 11” BATTLE OF BRITAIN: British Air Order of Battle Chart (with Victory Conditions and Point Value Charts incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” BATTLE OF BRITAIN: German Air order of Battle Chart (with Victory Conditions and Point Value Charts incorporated)
- One 8½“ x 11” British Aircraft Replacement Chart
- One 8½“ x 11” German Aircraft Replacement Chart
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed BATTLE OF BRITAIN/EUROPA Combat Results and Bombing Tables
- One 8½” x 11” combined Time Record Chart (with Campaign Game Victory Points Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Counter Format Chart (with Unit ID Chart and Basic Unit Symbols Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed SEA LION: British Order of Battle (with Campaign Game Reinforcements Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed SEA LION: German Order of Battle
- One 8½” x 11” German Invasion Planning Chart
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed SEA LION/EUROPA Naval Charts and Tables Sheet
- One 8½” x 11” SEA LION/EUROPA combined British and German Ship Status Sheet (Master)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed SEA LION/EUROPA combined British and German Ship Status Sheet
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed EUROPA Terrain Effects Chart with miscellaneous Combat Results Tables
- One 8½” x 11” EUROPA British Air Order of Appearance Chart
- One 8½” x 11” EUROPA German Air order of Appearance Chart
- One 8½” x 11” GDW Counter Sheet Substitution Errata (April, 1976)
- One 12” x 18” heavy-stock GDW Game Title Folio
- One 12” x 15” Zip-lock Plastic Bag (original packaging)