Last Sunday I played a wargame with my young friend Benjamin.
We decided to play a WW2 naval game as the scenery would be simple and it could be set up (and put away for the Memsahib’s satisfaction*) reasonably quickly.
I have a set of rules adapted from the game Axis and Allies – War at Sea, previously mentioned on this site.
*Actually Mrs. GeneralWhiskers said she was impressed with the layout.
The adaptations are to allow play on a hexagon grid rather than the rather more basic sea area maps provided with the game.
My adaptations therefore involve actually steering the ships and include arcs of fire from the various guns and torpedoes.
The table available is 270cm x 900cm (9ft x 3ft), i.e. long and narrow. Searching for a suitable battle I decided on something based on the Royal Navy attacks on Narvik. The game would involve a British task force steaming into the Fjord, wreaking havoc and getting out again.
The location was Ingenstedsfjord, south of Narvik, known to be a haven and refuelling depot for the Kriegsmarine. The date was 31st April 1940. (Yes, I know, but I got the idea from Len Deighton’s excellent book “Bomber”). The location translates as “nowhere inlet”
The forces were determined by dealing the first 12 cards of ships available in early 1940 from the deck (no pun intended) for each side. Unfortunately this resulted in the following very unequal balance:
*actually a flower class corvette was dealt, but turned out not to have been built yet. The next card was HMS Warspite!
“Oh dear, ‘ow sad, never mind” as BSM Williams[#] might have said.
2 Auxiliary supply ships
2 Commerce raiders
As it happens, the German force would not be unusual to be sheltering in a Norwegian Fjord, but a Graf Spee, Prinz Eugen or Bismarck might have been useful! I did flirt with the idea of one of these three turning up half way through the game, but decided to play what fate had dealt.
I topped up the German defences with a minefield across the Fjord entrance which proved more effective than expected, even though I ensured that there was a path through it with careful seamanship.
I placed MDF hexagons from another game around three edges of the table to indicate the limits of the Fjord and created a small town at the north-east corner. I added a couple of islands for good measure (of which more later).
And so, with a mixed bag of 1:1800 ships, 1:900 aircraft, 1:1200 houses and 1:600 forests on a sea scale of 1:360000 we were ready to play.
One German destroyer and one submarine were on patrol. All other ships were moored and would take 1 average dice of turns to get up steam.
The British approached from the west end of the table. The minefield was about one turn in from the edge.
HMS Halcyon, the minesweeper, darted in and failed for three turns to clear a single mine, even though there were only five, a 2/3 chance of each being removed, and arranged so that she could attack two at a time. Cries of “mine, mine” as performed by the seagulls in “Finding Nemo” echoed around the room. The German destroyer Diether von Roeder failed equally to cause any damage to the Halcyon during this part of the operation.
Then the big boys arrived. HMS Illustrious and HMS Victorious, each with two flights of Swordfish biplanes, entered the Fjord and sent the ‘planes to do the dirty work. They were the nemesis of the German fleet.
The rules allow all aircraft to fly a mission every turn and so each turn four flights attacked a single ship. The best defence a destroyer could offer would be for one flight to be chased off before attacking, and so it would still be subject to six torpedo attacks, with a roll of 6 being sufficient for a deadly strike.
Rules have been rewritten for the next battle. (See below)
Both sides of necessity fed in their ships piecemeal, but the Swordfish just picked off the Germans in a most unsatisfactory way.
The hardest thing for Ben as British commander was manoeuvring his larger ships between the numerous wrecks that began to litter the fjord. It also appeared that one of the islands was too close to the northern shore for any ship to sail through the gap.
He did lose most of his destroyers to submarine attack or from the guns of the Altmark, and I thought it most cowardly when he started to hide his destroyer screen behind his carrier, behind an island,
but we called it a day when it was clear that the Germans could not run, nor beat off those deadly Swordfish.
After the battle we sat and discussed how the rules could be bettered.
We thought the submerged submarines would be better if each had a couple of dummies for the enemy to chase.
The existing rule was that a submerged submarine would actually be in any one of the seven hexes containing or around the actual model. This resulted in one of my subs accidentally running aground when I was not paying attention.
The biggest amendments were to the operation of carrier aircraft.
First, a mission would not be restricted to one turn only, so a longer range attack over several turns would be possible.
Second, after landing, one complete turn would be spent refuelling and rearming.
Third, Only one flight could target a single ship in any one turn.
Fourth, no carrier would be able to launch aircraft and receive returning aircraft in the same turn.
In total there are 12 new rule amendments.
If anyone wishes to see my rule set, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.
(But please give me time to rewrite including the revisions).
Our next foray on the foaming seas will probably be the hunting of the Bismarck next year.
[#]A character in the BBC sitcom “It ain’t half hot Mum”, played by Windsor Davies.