Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Empress Augusta Bay played

Having drawn up the outlines of a history-based scenario for War at Sea, I thought it would be interesting to play it out and see if it was viable straight up or if the scenario would need tweaking.

Right off the top, I had to come to terms with the inability of War at Sea to replicate the historical outcome -- which was a very confused affair that resulted in relatively light losses for the intensity of the fighting and was an American victory. In game terms the Japanese lost one light cruiser and one destroyer, although the destroyer was doomed because of a collision, which WAS makes no provision for. One US destroyer was a mission kill (stern blown off) but didn't sink due to heroic damage control efforts. Wargames have an inherent tendency to be bloodier than real-life fighting and War at Sea is on the bloodier end of the spectrum as far as wargames go. There's no game benefit for force preservation and indeed, a standard battle can't end until some significant portion of at least one fleet is sunk.

Instead I would be satisfied to replicate the general strategy each side followed and have an interesting fight.

The total value of the Japanese force was 145 points and the US force weighed in at 128 points, so I set it up as a 100-point game with three 50-point objective markers. Because no landforms figured in the historic fight, I used the sea map with no islands.

One notable aspect of the historical fight was that it was fought in darkness on a moonless night, so I used the official "darkness" rules from the Oct. 6, 2009 revisions and clarifications document on the Axis & Allies Web page.

Because of the OB and the darkness conditions, a number of the special abilities were inapplicable in this scenario, making the point values somewhat suspect in any case. Special abilities such as Chase the Salvoes, Antiair Specialist and Extended Range 4 were not possible to use, and quite a few others which might have been used, such as Lucky Escape and Lay Smoke Screen, didn't come up.

As a matter of fact, there were just a half-dozen special abilities that played a role, but they ended up being very important. They were:

Flotilla Leader (Yahagi) and Flagship 1 (Yahagi, Myoko, Jinstu). These basically guaranteed the Japanese would have the initiative and in the actual 4-turn battle the Japanese never lost initiative.

Long-Lance Torpedoes (All 10 Japanese ships) This meant that any torpdeo hit on a US ship was an instant kill, and while not part of the SA, all LL-equipped have a torpedo range of 3 which means they cannot be out-ranged by guns in a night scenario.

Night Fighter (Myoko, Jintsu, Yukikaze) The reroll didn't come into play because the scenario didn't last long enough, but the Night Fighter ability cancelled the darkness gunnery penalty, which was vital. The Japanese suffered because only three ships had this SA.

Radar Fire Control (Clevelands and Kidds). This also cancelled the darkness penalty and provided an extra die for gunnery to boot. This was very important, especially because two-thirds of the US fleet had the SA.

Rapid Fire (Hoels). Only used once, but it made the difference in a shot, sinking a Japanese destroyer.

Both sides were set up roughly historically.

The four US Clevelands (representing Cruiser Division 12) were set up in the center of their deployment area. Destroyer Division 46 was set up to the left, with two Fletchers and two Hoels, while Destroyer Division 45 (historically led by the dashing Arliegh Burke) was represented by four Kidds on the right. All the US ships were set up two per square with like ships together.

The Japanese deployment also resembled the historical formation. In the center were the Myoko and the Nachi (representing the Haguro). On the Japanese left was Destroyer Squadron 3 with the Jintsu (representing Sendai) and three Shigure-class destroyers. On the Japansese right was an ad hoc destroyer squadron with the light cruiser Yahagi (representing Agano), and the three destroyers Yukikaze, Isokaze and Akitsuki representing sister ships or near sisters.

Initially I wondered if this would be a fair matchup, as the Japanese force out-pointed the US force significantly (23 points or more than a cruiser's worth), but events proved that the points didn't tell the whole story in this matchup. For one thing, some of the Japanese ships are notoriously miscosted (Myoko and Jintsu) . For another, the special "darkness" conditions and OB meant quite a few SAs were useless and others (notably Night Fighter and Radar Fire Control) enhanced in importance.

Finally, the US ships had a small, but significant edge in toughness, that was of increased importance under the darkness rules. All the US destroyers had an armor value of 3 compared to 2 for the Japanese DDs, which meant that most US shots (often radar directed) would cause damage while much of the Japanese return fire (darkness-hobbled) missed. The same thing happened between the dueling cruisers. The Japanese armor values of 3 and 4 were too low to stop 8-die radar-directed shots from causing damage while the Japanese return fire often couldn't quite match the Cleveland's 5, especially if the darkness penalty applied.

The biggest wild card was the Long Lance torpedoes. These were unaffected by darkness and were big-enough to sink any US ship with a single hit and too long-ranged to avoid. A lot would come down to how lucky the Japanese rolled.

The Japanese battle plan mirrored the historical plan, which was to send all three squadron forward towards the objectives. The US plan also resembled history, with the two destroyer squadrons moving out to contest objectives and flank the Japanese while the cruisers hung back a little.

Like the historical battle, the fight turned into three separate engagements. On the US left, Japanese right, the American 46th DesDiv was defeated by the Ad Hoc Japanese squadron, with three US DDs sunk and one crippled. Concentrated US fire managed to sink the one Night Fighter Japanese DD, but the Japanese seized the objective. They ignored the crippled US Fletcher in order to try to help the embattled Japanese center.

On the other end of the line, the radar-equipped US DesDiv 45 chewed up Japanese Destroyer Squadron 3, wiping it out although not without loss. One Kidd was sunk and two were crippled before it was over, but the US got the objective.

In the center the two Japanese heavies were no match for the radar-quipped Clevelands. They had no luck with their Long Lances until reinforced by the Yahagi group, which sunk a Cleveland with one. The only other damage to the Clevelands was a single damage point caused by a shot from the Myoko. Meanwhile the Clevelands thoroughly shot-up the Japanese CAs and then the Yahagi and its two surviving DDs when the showed up.

The final score was 184 points for the US (134 in sunk IJN ships, plus one Objective) and just 91 for the Japanese (41 in ships -- CL, 3xDD -- and one Objective). One Objective was unclaimed. The surviving Japanese DD was a cripple, as were three US DDs. One US CL had a damage point.

Overall I think this demonstrates that it's a surprisingly even fight in War at Sea terms. Because I followed the historical deployment and general orders, I wouldn't say that either side's play was optimal, but it does appear that the Japanese point advantage is more apparent than real.

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