Thursday, February 17, 2011

More evidence caution might have been in order ...

For a battle that never happened the incident involving Convoy HX-106 is actually pretty well represented in naval games.

It's Battle Scenario Two in Second World War at Sea: Bismarck, which Game Store Tony and I had already fought on the anniversary of the battle on Feb. 8 using Mongoose Publishing's Victory at Sea rules. In that battle the Germans were not able to turn their advantage in speed and gun range into a winning edge when the Scharnhorst misjudged its approach and got within range of the HMS Ramillies larger, although shorter-ranged guns.

In the SWWAS system the Germans ships' range advantage disappears, as all primary guns have the same range of 6 hexes on the tactical map. Perhaps in compensation, the victory conditions for the Germans are considerably relaxed. In order to win the British have to eliminate all the primary gun hit boxes on one of the battlecruisers, which is quite a bit more damage than the 10% required in the previous scenario.

As I noted last time, the convoy escort historically did not include the four destroyers shown in the Atlantic Navies version of the scenario. The printed Bismarck scenario does not include the destroyers, but it does include an armed merchant cruiser which also was not present on Feb. 8. While there had been an AMC with the convoy, it had left a few days before. Historically the sole escort for the convoy was the battleship. As before, I went ahead and left in the ahistorical addition to the outnumbered British OB. The historical convoy comprised 41 ships. This scenario has 40 "large" transports (2 hull hit boxes each), with the AMC counting as the 41st for victory conditions.

For the Germans to win they had to avoid the crippling damage noted above while sinking the British battleship and at least 10 merchants within four "rounds" (88 impulses). In SWWAS ships move in only some impulses depending upon speed and initiative status but get to fire in every impulse. What that meant in this scenario was that the slow British battleship was not going to get too many opportunities to adjust its position during the battle while the speedy German warships would move on most impulses.

The British were required to set up all their ships in the center hexes of the tactical map with five of the hexes having 8 transports each. I put the AMC in the lead hex while the Ramillies brought up the rear. My plan largely constrained by the scenario special rules, which required each British warship to close on an enemy ship. There's little reason to do otherwise. I planned to let the AMC harass the battlecruiser in front while the Ramillies would try to take out the one to the rear. I planned to have all the transports rush to the rear as well, hoping that the German ship in that sector would be too busy with the battleship to shoot at them.

As per the scenario instructions the German ships started on opposite sides of the map, with the Gneisenau to the front and the Scharnhorst to the rear.

As per the plan, the AMC bravely rushed forward and yapped at the heels of the Gneisenau, while the Gneisenau resolutely ignored it. The AMC picked off both tertiary hit boxes on the battlecruiser but after that could do no damage. Eventually the German ship fired some secondaries at the AMC and knocked out one gun but otherwise the AMC was unhurt at the end of the scenario. The Gneisenau concentrated its main battery on the Ramillies and secondaries at merchants, sinking several.

Meanwhile the Scharnhorst and Ramillies engaged in a knock-down, drag-out slugfest that brought the British to a scenario win as the Ramillies completely demolished the topsides of the German ship, knocking out all the primary (6) secondary (4) and tertiary (2) boxes as well as nine of its 14 hull boxes. Oh, and it's speed was reduced to 2 as well.

It was a near-run thing, though, as the final hit box on the German ship was KOd during the same fire phase that the Ramillies lost its last hull box! At this point the Germans could not win the scenario and the game was called. At that point, besides the Ramillies, the British had lost 9 transports so the Germans were also close to a win.

Still, the outcome of the battle once again suggested that the German naval high command's reluctance to allow its heavy ships to take any risks fighting British battleships, no matter how elderly, was not so cowardly as it seems. There can be little doubt that such heavy damage to the Scharnhorst as depicted would send it home immediately, with some risk of not making it. It's likely that the Gneisenau would not stay out on its raiding mission alone and so the sacrifice of the Ramillies would not only save most of its own convoy, but would also save all the other potential targets of the German raiding force.

The Second World War at Sea tactical system is a crude tool to use for drawing any conclusions, but it did in this case confirm the result of the Victory at Sea battle. Next week I hope to revisit the engagement one more time, this time using Atlantic Navies for what could be the definitive refight.

The battle ended on the fourth or fifth impulse of the second round and took around 40 minutes to play out.

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