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.

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