Saturday, March 31, 2012

Midway cruiser action at Havoc XXVIII

The defenses of Midway

I've been wanting to do this particular scenario for a long time -- years as a matter of fact.

It was inspired by scenario article from the Naval SITREP in 2002, which postulated that admiral Kurita's cruiser task force (the four Mogami-class cruisers familiar to any player of Avalon Hill's Midway) was NOT recalled at the last minute but pressed on to bombard Midway at dawn on June 5th.

I gathered the necessary miniatures over the years, has a custom map prepared and got some LITKO plane markers. The rules, naturally, were the Fourth Edition of Command at Sea, Larry Bond's World War II entry in his Admiralty Trilogy of 20th-century naval wargaming rules -- which in turn is descended from his Harpoon rules set. The Admiralty trilogy is very detailed and backed by voluminous research. Indeed, the data annexes alone are worth getting for the information alone.

In this case I made mostly minor changes from the published scenario and had three players take part. Two players commanded the Japanese force, which was comprised of the four Mogami-class heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 7.

A single player commanded the American forces, which were comprised of a mixed squadron of Vindicator and Dauntless dive bombers with 12 planes; an 8-strong PT-boat squadron; the shore batteries of Midway, comprised of two 7-inch batteries, three 5-inch batteries and a pair of 3-inch batteries, each of two guns; and an anti-aircraft group of 8 batteries.

The Japanese force entered the playing area from the southwest in darkness, while the PT boats cruised back towards Midway from the northwest.

The Americans decided to launch a dawn search pattern with four 3-plane flights of bombers searching from southwest to southeast. Meanwhile, the Japanese launched a pair of float planes to search to the north. Two more float planes were launched to form a close-in anti-submarine patrol.

Within a few minutes one of the float planes discovered the PT squadron and shadowed it from above AA range. Knowing they had been discovered the PT boats adjusted their course more towards the south in the direction the Japanese plane had approached.

A few minutes later the cruisers were spotted by one of the three-plane bomber elements, which proceeded to shadow them and call for reinforcements.

As so often happens, things started to happen quickly at this point. While the first element of dive bombers waited over head, the PT boats spotted the cruisers and were soon spotted themselves. As they closed the range a hit from one of the cruiser secondaries took out one boat, causing the rest to shy away and begin evasive maneuvers. The Japanese pressed on towards Midway.

A second element of bombers showed up and the Americans decided not to wait any longer. The two elements of Vindicators targeted the lead two ships in the Japanese column. Faced with the airborne threat, the Japanese secondary batteries moved to AA mode while their main batteries blasted way at the elusive PT boats.

The first two elements of attacking planes were Vindicators, whose pilots were not trained in dive-bombing techniques and therefore made a glide-bombing attack. The Japanese AA fire was reasonably effective, bringing down three planes, but the Marine pilots were also accurate and landed a couple of hits, causing damage to both Japanese cruisers, including the flagship Kumano.

Another element, this time of Dauntlesses, now arrived overhead and also picked on the Kumano. Trained in dive-bombing tactics they planted several more nits on the leading cruiser, while losing one of their own. These hits caused severe damage, including a critical engineering casualty, that slowed the cruiser and forced it to haul out of line. The Japanese ship, interestingly, chose to turn port, towards the PT boats, instead of the safer starboard.

As the fourth, and final, element of Dauntless dive bombers appeared and made their attack runs the PT boats made a sudden dash at the Japanese line. With the Japanese secondaries fully engaged with the dive bombers the main batteries were not enough to hit any of the nimble torpedo boats, which launched a full 28-torpedo salvo at the Japanese cruiser line.

The dive bombers were able to get another hit on one of the cruisers still in line, but at the cost of two planes. The retiring PT boats also lost a boat to an 8-inch shell as they departed. During this portion of the action the Japanese launched two more float planes, with the intention of using them to spot for cruiser fire against Midway.

One torpedo hit the already heavily damaged Kumano, leaving it dead in the water, while the Japanese cruiser line turned away from the torpedo spreads and began firing on the airfield.

The first hapless Japanese float plane was blasted from the sky by an intense barrage from the island's AA batteries -- and the second plane decided against trying its luck. Unspotted and at long-range, the Japanese shells did minimal damage to the airfield or facilities, while suffering occasional hits form the 7-inch shore guns in return. Around this time one of the PT boat torpedoes hit one of the undamaged cruisers. While having little immediate effect on the Japanese ship's fighting ability, it seemed to be one of the last straws for Japanese morale.

After a few more minutes of exchanging fire with the 7-inch battery the surviving Japanese ships turned away. An attack by the three hastily re-armed Vindicators came to a bad end as all three planes were shot down, but this success did not hearten the Japanese enough as they continued to head away at full speed.

The re-armed Dauntless element tried to finish off the crippled Japanese cruiser, but lost two planes to its desperate defensive fire. Still, dead in the water and within range of a 7-inch shore battery, the ultimate fate of the cruiser was not in doubt.

So a resounding American victory. For the loss of 11 planes and 2 PT boats the Americans sunk one heavy cruiser and damaged two of the remaining three cruisers. Damage to the airfield was minimal -- a couple of cuts and some buildings damaged.

Overall an interesting an instructive scenario. Despite the powerful cruise force, the Japanese appear to have a tough job, as it takes considerable nerve to bring the cruisers in close enough to be able to engage the camouflaged shore batteries. The American commander was quick to take advantage of the fortuitous accidental arrival of the dive bombers to make a coordinated attack by PT boats and bombers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cry 'HAVOC' and who let the dogs out? No, that's not right. Anyway, Havoc 28 was fun

One of the three American brigades sets up

I had to overcome a few obstacles to make it this year, but I did get to drop in for a few hours at the premier wargame convention in New England, Havoc XXVIII. Sponsored by Battlegroup Boston, the con was held, as it is every year, at Maironis Park in Shrewsbury, just across the river from Worcester, Mass.

This year I ran two games, took part in none. The morning session was a naval game that I'll detail in a future post, but the afternoon session was an American Revolution scenario called No school Like Old School which was a straight up slugfest among six similarly sized brigades -- three to a side, with Random setups.

Each brigade was similar in size, with a battalion of regular line infantry, a section of guns and in 5 of the 6 cases, a troop of dragoons. The sixth brigade (the Hessian) substituted a small battalion of grenadiers for the horse for the very good reason that I don't have any Hessian horse troops.

Each of the six players was given the option to draft one additional unit from among those available. For the British side the additional units amounted to a British grenadier battalion, a light infantry battalion and some Indians. For the Colonials the additional units were a battalion of light infantry, a battalion of roundball riflemen and a regiment of militia.

These 4-unit brigades seemed to work very well with players not otherwise familiar with the rules. They had enough to do, and had a chance to handle all arms (line, horse, artillery and special troops) and the game went briskly.

The American side edged out a win, holding 3 of the five buildings set as victory conditions -- with victory conceded on Turn 8. Losses were reasonably even, although the small cavalry troops took very heavy losses. By game end there were just two shot-up, broken troops remaining from the five starters. One gun section was overrun. Among the six line units, the Hessains were routed form the field and one of the two British was shaken, while two American line units were broken/shaken as well. On the other hand, all the special units were still active and in good order at game end, including the militia. Despite all being in the thick of things, only one of the six brigadiers had a horse shot out from under him.

I think I'll plan on sticking with the smaller brigades in future convention games. As tempting as it is to give the brigadiers a hefty army to play with (a standard brigade under the rules tends to have 5-6 units and an artillery battery) the smaller brigades seem to work better in practice with players unfamiliar with the rules.

As usual, there was a lot of good stuff going on at Havoc, with a lot of great scenario and awesome scenery. And it wasn't all wargames, either, as this photo of a car race game shows.

Talk at the con was that attendance seemed a bit off this year, but nearly all the games were well-stocked with players and overall there seemed to be an adequate crowd on Saturday. I can't speak to the Friday and Sunday events, however.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Palambang or Palam "dud"? AAM session

Things were already pretty grim for the Japanese by this point on Turn 3.

Every so often you just have an off day and turn in an especially awful performance. You're not really an idiot -- or so you tell yourself.

Played the offciial Axis & Allies Miniatures scenario DI-1, Hell Furnaces of Sumatra, set in Palambang, Sumatra on Feb. 14, 1942. My redoubtable opponent was Game Store Tony.

Can't say I had a good plan, the dice were not in the mood to save me from having a bad plan and Tony's not the sort of player who's going to blunder and have a really bad plan himself to salvage your bad plan.

Unlike many of the AAM sceanrios, there's no need to revise the OB in any way to account for the later sets. AAM never got around to the Dutch, so the British proxies will have to remain and the Japanese troops are all basic units.

The scenario opens with a Dutch force of two machine gun teams and three rifle squads defending a 5-hex refinery with an engineer squad busy trying to set demo charges.

The Japanese start with one machine gun team, a mortar team, two Imperial Sergeant leaders and seven squads of SNLF paratroopers. One leader and two squads can start on the same map as the refinery defenders while the rest of the force starts on an adjacent map.

On the fourth turn a couple of squads of jeep-mounted reinforcements arrive for the Dutch from the North.

Well, my thoughts were to rush the defenders with about half the SNLF force, supported by the mortar and machine gun teams while a few squads tried to bushwack the reinforcements. Did I mention I had a bad plan?

Well, the plan started to unravel right from the first as I proceeded to lose the initiative and and Dutch began mowing down nearby paratroopers, including the ill-deployed mortar squad. before long the Japanese were on the ropes and were unable to even successfully ambush the reinforcements. Japanese fire was largely ineffective and the only Dutch casualties were one squad that unwisely didn't dismount from its Jeep and were killed when their trasnpoort was destroyed by the Japanese machine gun. That MG team was also the sole survivor of the Japanese force when the game ended on Turn 7 (of 8 possible). The industrious engineers were able to set demo charges for the entire refinery, although they porbably could have saved themeslves the trouble because the refinery was in little danger.

All-in-all a miserable little bit of generalship by your truly. Hopefully I'll recover and make the next fight a bit more competitive!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Session of revised In Harm's Way scenario

Last turn position

The other day I played a session of my revised In Harm's Way WAS-2 scenario.

I took the Allied fleet, as it seems they have the harder task. The Japanese player was a denizen of the game shop who has played War at Sea before, although he is, like most of the game shop crowd, primarily a Magic: The Gathering player.

As we shall see, he handled the Japanese fleet competently.

A couple of solitaire play throughs while I developed the revised scenario revealed that it was a very poor strategy for the Allies to come in with guns a-blazing as it just freed up the Japanese sooner, so my plan with the USS Houston and the HMAS Perth was to ignore the Japanese pickets and make a beeline for the transports. My analysis of the victory conditions indicated that it was vital to take out all three Transports because they represented a 20-point swing each (8VP for being sunk and 12VP the Japanese DIDN'T get for having the undamaged at the end.)

The Allies got a little luck as the Japanese lost two of the Fubuki-class DD's (proxied by Kagero's) due to the set-up die rolls.

The first turn saw the Allied cruisers slip through a gap in the Japanese line without being within range due to the Night Surprise rule. This couldn't continue, of course, and on the second turn the Japanese got close enough to shoot -- but did no damage. A return shot from the Perth crippled one DD while a maximum range shot by the USS Houston sunk a transport outright.

The loss of 2 ships was more than enough to let the Japanese shock wear off and also brought in the reinforcement group as well -- so the time pressure was on the Allies!

The next turn the Allied cruiser split up, with the Houston taking the more shoreward path while the Perth was towards the center of the channel to draw fire. I wanted to have at least 2 shots on the next turn -- which the Houston's secondary would provide.

The Perth was, of course, buried under a deluge of Japanese fire, but it was mostly ineffective as only one point of damage was caused by gunfire. A long Lance from one of the IJN heavies was all it took, though, to dispatch Perth. The Allied fire was able to damage the Natori, sink another transport and damage the third one, though.

The fourth and final turn saw the Houston continue its "death ride" into the transport area. As it turned out, friendly fire from one of the IJN ships took out the last transport! The Houston, of course, stood little chance of surviving under the IJN fire and was sunk. It's return fire took out one DD.

The final score was 28 VP for the Japanese for the two Allied cruisers (14 VP each) while the Allies earned 30 VP (24 VP for three sunk transports, 2VP for the crippled Natori and 4 VPs for the sunk DD).

The Eversten did not make an appearance as I figured it was very unlikely it would do as much damage as the Japanese would earn for sinking her.

So it ended up being a very close-fought contest. The point total for the Allied force on the revised OB is significantly less than the original scenario (30 VP is all three ships are used instead of 41 VP). The Japanese force is also somewhat reduced in point value but only the cruisers are worth their full VP value for the Allies if sunk. In the original scenario the Allies really have to sink the Natori as well as the three transports while in the revised scenario the transports are enough so long as some damage is also done to the CL/DD covering force.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Revised 6-set OB for WAS-2 In Harm's Way scenario

Continuing the updates for original War at Sea scenarios now that we have 6 sets to choose from, here is a revised OB for WAS-2 In Harm's Way about the Battle of Sunda Strait:

Revised 6-set OB for WAS-2 In Harm’s Way scenario

Allied Task Force

USS Houston CA
HMAS Sydney CL (HMAS Perth)
Witte de With DD (Evertsen)

Japanese Transport Force

Kinai Maru x 3
Jintsu CL (Natori)
Yukikaze DD x1 (Hatakaze)
Muresame DD x3 (Fubuki, Hatsuyuki, Shirayuki)
Nagatsuki DD x 1 (Asakaze) (card’s SA do not apply – no Long Lance, Tokyo Express)

Japanese Escort Force

Mogami CA x 1
Suzuya CA x 1 (Mikuma)
Shigure DD x 1 (Shikinami)


The official scenarios were published when War at Sea was brand new, as part of the marketing effort, Being so early, they required a crazy amount of proxies and some pretty extreme ones as well. This second official scenario, like most, had to use proxies for most of the units. With five more sets many of the gaps can be filled, but some proxies are still needed.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit and revise those scenarios now that we have six sets worth of units to choose from In the case of scenario WAS-2, The Battle of Sunda Strait, we see some of the key units from the historical battle now appearing as themselves, including the USS Houston and the Mogami.

Notes and rationales
Allied task force
USS Houston CA – we now have the actual ship, so it is used. The special rule doesn’t apply because the Houston doesn’t have extended range anyway. I considered reducing the Houston’s firepower because of its damaged third turret, but the Allies already have a challenging situation. Optionally reduce the Houston’s main battery firepower by 1 die.
HMAS Sydney CL –stands in for sister Perth.
Witt de With DD – stands in for near sister Evertsen.

Japanese Transport Force
Kinai Maru x 3 – no change
Jintsu CL – No change, proxy for similar Natori
Yukikaze DD x 1 – Stands in for sister Hatakaze.
Muresame DD x 3 – One of the biggest gaps in the War at Sea line is the Fubuki class destroyer. The later Kagero-class is the closest proxy. Stands in for Fubuki, Hatsuyuki and Shirayuki.
Nagatsuki DD x 1 – This stands in for the older Asakaze, which was a pre-Long Lance design, so it doesn’t get the special ability
Japanese Escort Force
Mogami CA x 1 – the actual ship is available, so it is used.
Suzuya CA x 1 – Stands in for sister ship Mikuma.
Shigure DD x 1 – Another Kagero stands in for the Fubuki-class Shikinami.

Original scenario:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This looks promising

Mongoose Publishing reports on a reboot of its Victory at Sea naval miniatures rules, possibly for later this year. this looks to be a much bigger book than the original set.

The tentative index includes:

Basic Rules
The Turn
The Movement Phase
The Attack Phase
The End Phase
Special Actions
Special Traits

So far, so familiar for those who are currently playing the existing edition, though there are already many, many differences between the basic rules fo the two games. For example, Critical Hits are now mainly progressive, as in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet and Noble Armada, but they also have the ‘sudden death’ potential as well, allowing for rudders to be knocked askew on an otherwise relatively undamaged ship, or to allow for the ‘Hood effect.’

Advanced Rules
Advanced Rules: This is a catch-all chapter for all the advanced stuff that does not deserve its own chapter – things such as bad weather, radar, evading torpedoes, and so forth.
Aircraft: Born again hard in this edition, along with rules for (possibly) keeping carriers away from the front line in a ‘deep deployment’ rule. ‘Aircraft only’ forces will be permitted, allowing you to play out the likes of Taranto and Pearl Harbour.
Coastal Forces: PT Boats and the like will this time be fully integrated into the main rules, and will include harbours and coastal defences.
Submersibles: No longer allowed within the ‘core’ fleet engagements, games involving submersibles will form their own scenarios as they harry convoys and ambush forces steaming towards a battle over the horizon.

Battles at Sea: This is the ‘scenario’ section of the book.
Scenarios: A primer on how to read and use the subsequent scenarios.
Victory at Sea: This is the ‘default’ and perhaps tournament scenario for the game, but it is now much more than just ‘basic deployment, set up your fleet and go!’ You may now have to contend with bad weather and night-fights, and there is now a scouting phase before the battle where you can detach aircraft and ships to watch for the approach of the enemy. Effective scouting will allow you to have a more advanced deployment area, to ‘deep deploy’ your carriers, and also gain benefits such as initiative bonuses.
Tactical Challenges: General/generic scenarios that will allow you to use any fleet in a variety of tactical situations, both based on real engagements and hypothetical confrontations of your own devising.
Battle of the River Plate: The first of the historical scenarios. Each of these is treated with an in-depth commentary on how the battle came about and how it was fought, before presenting you with the relevant forces and any special scenario rules. Think you can defeat the Royal Navy in this engagement? Think you can sink the Graf Spee before it reaches port (difficult!)? This is your chance to prove it!
Battle of Calabria
Attack on Taranto
Battle of Matapan
The German Battleships at War: A medley of battles, charting the history of the great German battleships of the war, and each of their major engagements, from the Attack on the Northern Patrol (the Allied player must try to survive for as long as possible with the HMS Rawalpindi) to the death of the Bismarck.

Though we have concentrated on the Atlantic and Mediterranean up to now, we will also have plenty of battles from other theatres (just starting work on Pearl Harbour right now!), allowing you to wage the war across the oceans during any period.

The War at Sea: This section looks at the history of the war in naval terms, what factors affected the fighting, how technology came into play, and so forth. The following lists what we have done thus far, but there is much, much more to come.
The Washington Treaty
Ruling the Waves: The Royal Navy: We have done a chapter on every major fleet that took part in the war, looking at their tactics and philosophies, and the obstacles they struggled to over come. There is also, for want of a better term, a ‘card file index’ in each chapter, detailing the statistics and history of what we are hoping will become every military ship that floated during the war, along with some ‘hypotheticals’ (such as the N3).
Commerce Raiders: The Kreigsmarine
A New Empire: The Regia Marina
The Sleeping Giant: The US Navy
Banzai: The Imperial Japanese Navy: Yes, we really need a better title than that!
Fight for Freedom: The Marine Nationale
What Might Have been: The Military Maritime Fleet of the USSR
A Thankless Task: Civilian Shipping
Where Were the French?
War in the Mediterranean
The Atlantic Convoys
The Submarine War
Carrier Operations

Fleet Lists
The Royal Navy
The Kreigsmarine
The Regia Marina
The US Navy
The Imperial Japanese Navy
The Marine Nationale
The Military Maritime Fleet of the USSR
Civilian Shipping

The Royal Navy Order of Battle
The Kreigsmarine Order of Battle
The Regia Marina Order of Battle
The US Navy Order of Battle
The Imperial Japanese Navy Order of Battle
The Marine Nationale Order of Battle
The Military Maritime Fleet of the USSR Order of Battle
Historical Carrier Complements