Matapan: phase 1

The Battle of Matapan – phase 1

Today I fought the opening stages of the Battle of Matapan 1941 with my young neighbour Luke.

This was his introduction to naval gaming, at his request.  He is hoping to join the Royal Navy when old enough.

The scenario was the opening stags of the battle of Matapan.  At 09:00 the Italian flotilla of 3 cruisers (Bolzano, Trento and Trieste), with three destroyers (Ascari, Carabiniere and Corazziere) were pursued by the British cruisers Gloucester, Perth, Ajax and Orion with the destroyers Hereward, Hasty and Ilex.

After one turn it was clear that the Italian cruisers would outpace their British counterparts and no battle would ensue so I obligingly turned them to fight.  I ran down the line of British cruisers, expecting to lose, but I knew that on turn 10 (2 hours in) if I could hold out that long, the battleship Vittorio Veneto would arrive and save us.

As it happened, after the two flotillas circled each other for an hour and a half the Italians had rolled the better combat dice and by turn 8 (10:50 am) the British were down to one destroyer while the Italians still had the cruiser Trento (severely damaged) and two destroyers.

At this point Luke conceded defeat. He then spent another hour playing with my toy ships before asking if we can play a major tank battle next time.

I am thinking that with the toys in my collection, Arras 1940 is probably the most likely. That might be an eye-opener for a young lad of about 10, who is expecting Tigers vs T34s.

Battle of Cape Matapan: phase 1

Following on from yesterday’s “convoy” battle, another long-outstanding battle which turned up in my “to do” tray.  This was the battle of Cape Matapan, which I was intending to fight as a full scale game, but may be better fought as separate actions.

Whatever the final decision is, today I played the first action: the engagement off the island of Gavdos.

The account of the original action, taken from Wikipedia, reads thus (edited to remove hyperlinks):

“Action off Gavdos

On 28 March, an aircraft launched by Vittorio Veneto spotted the British cruiser squadron at 06:35. At 07:55, the Trento group encountered Admiral Pridham-Wippell’s cruiser group south of the Greek island of Gavdos The British squadron was heading to the south-east. Thinking they were attempting to run from their larger ships, the Italians gave chase, opening fire at 08:12 from 24,000 yards (22,000 m). The three heavy cruisers fired repeatedly until 08:55, with Trieste firing 132 armour piercing rounds, Trento firing 204 armour-piercing and 10 explosive shells and Bolzano firing another 189 armour piercing shells, but the Italians experienced trouble with their range finding equipment and scored no significant hits. HMS Gloucester fired three salvos in return. These fell short but did cause the Italians to make a course change.

As the distance had not been reduced after an hour of pursuit, the Italian cruisers broke off the chase, turning to the north-west on a course to rejoin Vittorio Veneto. The Allied ships changed course in turn, following the Italian cruisers at extreme range. Iachino let them come on in hopes of luring the British cruisers into the range of Vittorio Venetos guns.”

And with that in mind, how did the wargame progress?

At 08:00 the Italian squadron came within range of the British squadron, both heading to the south-east.  The Italian cruiser Trento opened fire at long range (10 hexagons), scoring one hit on HMS Orion.  Orion returned fire with her stern guns.  The range was good and four hits were registered, giving the Trento one point of damage.  The Trento fired again with her forward guns and damaged the Orion.  Trento’s secondary guns also fired but to no effect.

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The British squadron, aware that they could not outrun the faster Italian ships, turned to fight, planning to bring their broadsides to bear on the enemy.  Anticipating this manoeuvre the Italians turned to starboard and crossed the British front line.

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From this position the Italian ships were able to fire broadsides at the British, who had turned to inflict this upon the Italians.

HMS Gloucester fired her forward guns on the Trento, scoring 4 hits with the main guns for 1 point of damage, and a further hit with the secondary guns.  HMAS Perth added her fire with 5 hits and a further damage point.  Trento, with 2 damage points against a hull value of 3, was now “crippled”.  This means -1 to armour, vital armour and speed.

HMS Ajax fired a long range broadside at the Bolzano, scoring 3 hits but no damage.  HMS Orion also fired at the Bolzano, but failed to register any hits.

The Italians returned fire.  The Trento fired a devastating broadside at the HMS Gloucester with 11 hits from her main guns and a further 3 from her secondary armament.  The Gloucester began to sink.

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The Bolzano fired at HMS Ajax and scored 4 hits, inflicting 1 damage point. Trieste fired at HMS Orion with her forward guns.  2 hits were registered.

The head of the Italian squadron now turned to the south-east after crossing the British front.  On the British side, HMS Ajax made an emergency turn to starboard to avoid the sinking Gloucester, followed by HMAS Perth.  HMS Orion continued to the south-west to cross the new enemy front.  The destroyer HMS Ilex passed directly in front of the Italian destroyer Ascari, risking being rammed.

The Bolzano fired her main and secondary guns at HMAS Perth, inflicting two points of damage and a crippling effect.  The Trento fired at the destroyer Ilex and sank her before she could inflict any damage on the Ascari.

HMS Ajax fired at the Trieste and inflicted 1 damage point.  HMAS Perth and HMS Orion both fired at the Bolzano, scoring 3 and 2 hits respectively but no serious damage.  The destroyer HMS Hereward scored a hit on the Trento, but again no serious damage.

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Note: Although it looks like these ships are at very close quarters, the actual model at 1:1800 scale represents its “sea room” required for operation.  A cruiser occupying two hexagons is actually using an area of about 400 x 200 yards and the opposing ships are about half a mile apart.

By 08:25 the battle had broken down into individual engagements with each ship operating to its best advantage.

The Ascari, with no room to manoeuvre, struck the sinking HMS Ilex and took severe damage to her bow.  She too began to sink.  HMS Orion fired at the destroyer Corraziere, inflicting one damage point.   HMS Hereward damaged the destroyer Carabiniere.

HMS Hasty launched torpedoes against the Bolzano, but they failed to strike home.

HMAS Perth scored five more hits on the Trieste, crippling her.  HMS Ajax destroyed the destroyer Carabiniere with an overwhelming barrage, scoring 9 direct hits.

At 08:30 the Corraziere attacked HMAS Perth but with no significant damage.  The Trento sank HMS Hasty.  Trieste fired a broadside at HMAS Perth, scoring five more crucial hits and crippling her.  The Bolzano joined in and with 11 more hits sank the Australian cruiser.

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In the next five minutes the Italians completed their destruction of the British squadron.  The Bolzano hit the Orion six more times, and the Trieste added five more hits to the stricken cruiser.  The destroyer Corraziere sank HMS Hereward and the Trento scored eight telling hits on HMAS Perth.  Three British ships began to sink and the battle was over.

A decisive victory for the Italian navy.   From the British squadron of four cruisers and three destroyers all had been sunk except the cruiser HMS Orion, which was severely damaged but able to escape.  The Italians had two cruisers and one destroyer severely damaged by enemy fire,  one destroyer sunk and a second destroyer sunk after a collision.

The turning point in the battle was literally just that.  The British squadron turned to attack but the Italians seized the initiative and crossed their line in Nelsonian fashion, and were thus able to bring all their guns to bear at short range.

Rules: tweaks and clarifications

Each salvo is to be adjudicated independently.  If a ship is firing both main and secondary (or even tertiary) guns, the damage effect is registered for each set of guns independently.  Likewise, if two ships attack one, the damage from each is registered separately, not cumulatively.

No ship may fire guns and launch torpedoes in the same turn, because the effect of firing would disrupt the balance of the ship and thus the aim of the torpedoes.

Depth charges may only be used if no other weapons are in use, it being deemed that if main guns or AA guns are in use there are higher priorities on the surface or in the air!

 

 

 

 

Atlantic Convoy

A test game using my Axis & Allies* naval, adapted for hexagons, rules.

It’s a lovely day, so I decided to play a short wargame in the garden.  I have three lightweight trestle tables, each 60 x 100cm and 95cm tall, so I took them from the Shedquarters and set them up on the patio area. I covered them with my somewhat bright blue hexagon cloth, clipped it to the table edges and set to.

Situation.  A convoy of merchant ships, escorted by two British destroyers, is approaching a screen of German submarines in the North Atlantic.

The submarines submerged.  Each is replaced by one real submerged token and 1d6/2 dummies (rounding down).  They all look the same, but the real subs are marked with a number on the bottom and the dummies with a small ‘x’.

Both destroyers have the “Sub Hunter” special rule, so after each German turn, they turn and move 3 hexagons towards the nearest German submarine.  This turn is deducted from their next maximum move.  I decided to change the operation of this rule, see below.

The two destroyers went after the nearest contacts and the convoy was ordered to make best speed, so some of the larger ships increased to maximum speed of 4 hexagons. (around 22 knots)

The entire convoy of 16 merchant ships was now spread over a length of 15 hexagons, or around 3000 yards.

Two submarines closed on HMS Hasty.  One was a dummy, and after declaring its attack was removed from the table.  The other fired a torpedo at the destroyer’s port bow at 1 hex (around 200 yards) range.

Two dice were rolled: 5 and 2.  One hit was scored for the 5.  (4 and 5 score 1 hit, 6 scores 2 hits).  One point of hull damage was caused, and with only one hull point remaining the ship was marked as “crippled”, losing one point from armour, vital armour and speed.

Hasty swung to port and depth-charged the sub, with five dice scoring 6,6,5,4,3 for six hits.  With hull points of 1 and vital armour of 5 the submarine sank immediately.  I decided to adjust the depth charge rule as well (see below).

HMS Herward also depth-charged and sank a submarine with two hits.

Meanwhile Penguin and Countryman, two of the faster ships, both swung to starboard to avoid the destroyers operating in their paths.

The other ships ploughed on at about 12 knots.  One of the cargo ships on the edge of the convoy was struck and began to sink immediately.

The destroyers chased another two targets, both of which turned out to be false contacts.

Three more submarines lined up to attack the convoy but two, on declaring their attack, were revealed as dummies.  The third failed to hit the Atlantic, a large tanker.

Hereward depth-charged another dummy U-boat.  With several wrecks in the process of sinking, ships were now having to take avoiding action to avoid collisions.

Another cargo ship was struck by a torpedo near the centre of the convoy.  She continued, crippled.  Hereward steamed for the location and sank the last of the German submarines.  The convoy proceeded towards Liverpool.

Losses.  One cargo ship lost and one crippled.  HMS Hasty crippled.  Three U-boats sunk.  A good day for the Royal Navy.

Rule changes to be applied.

Depth charges.  Rather than rolling 5 dice for hits on any submarine adjacent to the rear half of the destroyer, I will apply the same system of splitting the dice as I do for gunnery.   Thus the depth charges are thrown in a pattern into the three adjacent hexagons to starboard rear, starboard port and directly astern.  Up to 1/3 of the dice available, rounding up, may be used for each hex, provided that the total number is not exceeded.  

Targeting 5 dice at 1 hex is overkill, because it only needs 1 hit to sink most submarines.  With 1 die there is a 50% chance, with 2 dice a 75% chance and with 5 dice almost 97% chance of rolling 4,5 or 6 on at least one of them.  

Sub Hunter.  Rather than arbitrarily moving the ship at the end of the enemy move, I decided that a destroyer with this special rule must at the start of its turn roll a die and immediately head for the nearest enemy submarine within 1D6 hexagons, notwithstanding any search pattern she is working to.

Summary

All in all a fun little test game, and I think with the rule tweaks the submarines might have a better chance of surviving more than one destroyer sweep.

* “Axis and Allies” and “War at Sea” are copyright to Wizards of the Coast, and the use of their original rule concepts is acknowledged.

Battle of the Denmark Strait – 1

Step 1. Preparation.

For this game we only need four large/extra large ships.

The ships come from the “Axis & Allies – War at Sea” collection and are 1:1800 scale.  This is about 20 times the sea scale for the game (6cm hexagon = 200m)

The ship bases are printed and painted.  Using translucent PLA for the printing I sprayed the underside blue and only painted the ship names, the ship’s wake and arc of fire lines on the top.

The ships are glued to the bases, and clipped to maintain rigidity until the glue dries.

The first “sinking battleship” token is designed, printed and painted.  More are in preparation, either awaiting printing or painting.

The ship data is printed on label paper and must now be transferred to the actual cards (search Amazon for “blank playing cards” to buy 1000 for £10).

When all is dry I need to run a solo rules check playtest before exposing the game to my friends.

An expedition to Norway

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:

British:
1 Battleship*
2 Carriers
2 Cruisers
6 Destroyers
1 Minesweeper
*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.

Germans:
3 Submarines
5 Destroyers
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).

DSCF0009And 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.

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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.

DSCF0015The 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, DSCF0014.JPG

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 paul.wisken@btinternet.com 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.