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.

Matapan03

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.

Matapan04

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.

Matapan06

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.

Matapan07

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.

Matapan08

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.

Light Gardening and Light Wargaming

Life has been rather quiet for the past few days.
I have not felt particularly able to do much, but I have been keeping the garden somewhat under control.

Whenever I work in the garden I am reminded of an old “Punch” cartoon dating from about 100 years ago.
Scene: An old man working in his garden. The local vicar looks over the hedge.
Vicar: “Isn’t it amazing what man can achieve with the aid of the Almighty?”
Gardener: “Aye Vicar, but you should’ve seen it when the Almighty ‘ad it to ‘Isself!”

On the wargaming front I have been designing, printing and sticking to blocks more labels for my “Memoir ’44” games.
Yesterday I produced reinforcements for the 1944 US Parachute Infantry and two forces for Poland in 1939.

 


These graphics (produced pixel by pixel using MS Paint) are printed onto A4 sticky labels, then cut out and attached to 13mm square (19mm for aircraft) plastic blocks. They are much easier to handle than cardboard counters and using tactical map signs lends a greater sense of authenticity to the game when playing on what is essentially a map view of the battlefield.

They lack the visual appeal of real painted toys on a modelled terrain, but I do get the games played sooner! Today, for example I played out a campaign scenario involving 13 companies of US Paras assaulting and defeating 2 companies of German Landsers. Not worth a full-blown battlefield set-up, and the whole thing was set up, played, documented and put away within 90 minutes.

Unintended Consequences part 2. The best laid plans…

South-east of Nijmegen

18th September 1944 13:30

Played to Memoir ‘44 rules, with local scenario special rules.

In this report I will elaborate the game mechanisms, followed by a creditable narrative of the battle action. Extract from it what you will…

Situation

406 Landesshützen Regiment, now reduced to three companies, is facing an estimated two companies of US parachute infantry holding a crossroads near their observed supply drop zone.

With no definite orders from Corps HQ, I rolled a die for the local commander’s decision. A 6 showed that, with odds of 3:2 in his favour, he would order an attack.

Unfortunately for the Germans, when I rolled for the detailed force make-up, one of their company units was no more than a battalion HQ, which can be useful if there are a lot of units under command, but possibly not so useful in this case. The rest of the force was made up of six rifle platoons, one mortar platoon and one platoon armed with Panzerfausts.

The second potential problem was that there turned out to be three American companies rather than the expected two; two with mortar platoons and all elite forces. I use the US Marines “Gung-Ho!” rules for US parachute infantry, which is effectively about the same as giving them a free HQ unit, allowing one more unit to be activated than the number allowed on the command card.

The picture above is looking from the south (US) side. Rough heathland to the left, flooded polder to the right with a farm near the crossroads.

The Germans, with 9 platoons, start with 3 command cards. The Americans, with 12 platoons, start with 4 command cards.

Victory points. Side with the lowest units, with number of units divided by two, rounding down. Both sides have 3 units, so 1 VP ends the battle.

Both sides win 1 VP for eliminating an enemy unit. The Germans will win 1VP by exiting the field at the crossroads.

13:30

The German player, with orders to attack, must make at least one aggressive move. But with no useable cards, he must surrender one card from his hand and take another. The initiative is lost.

The American player has only one playable card: Recon with 1 unit. “Gung-Ho!” rule increases this to 2 units.

The left flank company advanced half-left and opened fire on the enemy, supported by the mortars of the 2nd company. 1 hit and 1 retreat.

Narrative

Observing the strength of the enemy, the attack stalled.

The Americans initially opened fire with mortars, then advanced a rifle company on the left flank which drove the Germans back with light casualties.

13:40

The German player was still not able to use any of the cards in his hand. Nor was the US player.

13:50

Still no useful cards for either player.

Narrative

After the initial engagement there was a lull for 20 minutes before…

14:00

The German player still had no playable cards.

The US player used “Direct from HQ”, allowing orders to any four units.

I use this in the campaign to include off-table reinforcements within one map square, so the four companies of 3rd Bn 508th PIR arrived on the left flank.

This brought the US strength up to 25 units, and thus 8 command cards, so 4 more were drawn from the pack.

Narrative

At around 14:00 US reinforcements arrived from the south-west in the form of 3rd Bn 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment: HQ, 10 Rifle platoons and 2 mortar platoons.

14:10

Finally the Germans had a useable card. Attack Center. The right flank company advanced to fire on the US left flank company, supported by the mortars of the other company. 1 hit and 1 retreat.

The US played Attack Center. 3 units. The mortar platoon attacked the enemy to the left with 1 hit. The two rifle companies advanced and fired. 2 hits and 2 hit respectively. One German company eliminated. 1 VP. End of game.

Narrative.

The Americans advanced both rifle companies, supported by mortar fire. One of the enemy companies broke and ran. The remainder began to fall back.

Result. US victory.

Casualties.

2/508 PIR. 1/12 = 8%

406 LS Rgt. 5/9 = 56%

Unexpected Consequences

It is very easy when playing a wargame to lose sight of the objectives.  When playing a campaign it is easier to focus on what needs to be acheived rather than the obvious quick results.  When playing a game within a campaign to other people’s instructions it focuses the mind even more.  When the game involves a card-based order system this complicates the situation.

This was my latest challenge, west of Arnhem on 18th September 1944.

Orders:

The British troops [green tokens] from 1st Airborne Division have an overall objective to push through the town towards the Arnhem road bridge in support of the troops holding the bridge.  They were also tasked with doing maximum damage to enemy armour.

The Polish battalion [yellow tokens] was in defensive mode, protecting the southern end of the railway bridge across the Rhine.

The Germans [black tokens] were initially on the defensive.  Their objective was to destroy as many allied units as possible, and to retake the railway bridge.

Allied forces:

2nd Bn South Staffordshires (Glider Infantry):

     1 HQ Platoon, 3 rifle platoons, 1 MG Platoon.

10th Bn Parachute Regiment:

     1 HQ Platoon

7th Bn King’s Own Scottish Borderers (Glider Infantry)

     9 rifle platoons, 3 mortar platoons

1st Battalion Polish Independent Parachute Brigade

     11 rifle platoons, 1 MG platoon.

Off-table artillery support from two batteries of 75mm Howitzers of 1st Air-Landed Light Battery Royal Artillery.

German forces:

9th SS Armoured Recce Bn.

     3 platoons SdKfz222 scout cars.

2nd PanzerGrenadier Bn, 9th SS Panzer Div.

     9 rifle platoons, 2 mortar platoons, 1 panzerfaust platoon.

3rd PanzerGrenadier Bn, 9th SS Panzer Div.

     1 HQ platoon, 11 rifle platoons, 1 MG platoon.

I use the Memoir ‘44 game system, with some house rules for equipment types not covered in the game.  For example, light armoured cars move like supply trucks but fight like half-tracks. Off-table artillery is activated by “barrage” cards, and if appropriate by artillery order cards.

Game set up

For campaign games I allocate command cards by dividing the number of platoon elements by three.  As casualties are suffered or reinforcements arrived, the hand of cards is recalculated.   This reproduces the friction of battle: as casualties are suffered the number of command choices is reduced.

Victory points are calculated by the number of company units of the smaller force divided by two.  But points are won by achieving goals for the battle or campaign as set by the remote generals.For this battle, Victory points were set at 4.  Allies win 1 VP if the enemy armoured unit is destroyed, and 1 VP for each company that leaves the board by the eastern edge, towards the Arnhem road bridge.  Germans win 1 VP for every allied company destroyed and 1 VP for possession of the rail bridge.

Battle Report

The South Staffordhire’s opened the action with a surprise assault against about a dozen light armoured cars (SdKfz222) in the yard of the Arnhem railway station.  Leaving three or four ablaze they then moved on into the town itself, heading for the road bridge.

South of the river the 3rd PzGren Bn charged the Polish paras south of the bridge.  The Poles fell back with light casualties.  They called in artillery support which pounded the Germans and caused heavy casualties.  The Germans attacked again at close range, this time inflicting heavier casualties, and the Poles retreated, followed up by the victorious Germans.  One Polish platoon counterattacked, inflicting light casualties on the Germans and halting their chase.

Back to the north of the Rhine 2nd Bn commenced mortar fire on the KOSBs. Light casualties were inflicted.  The KOSB mortars replied, and the Germans lost about one third of their number.

The Germans’ answer was to advance to closer range and use the rifle platoons against the KOSBs.  One British company fell back with light casualties and another took several hits.

South of the river the 3rd Bn kept up the pressure on the Poles, effectively wiping out two of the three companies defending the bridge.

\With the situation south of the river getting desperate the KOSBs pressed on with their objective.  The mortars fired again causing very heavy casualties on the enemy and opening up the possibility of breaking through.

In the Polish sector the Germans attacked again and drove the remaining Polish paras away from the bridge, taking control of the railway line.

The KOSBs pushed eastwards and fired at the defending Germans with minimal result.

The Poles charged the Germans on the railway line and retook the south end of the bridge.

The Germans now launched an all-out assault, wiping out the last of the Polish defenders and driving the KOSBs back.  The KOSBs began to dig in where they stood.

In the final act the Germans moved their last remaining company south of the river onto the railway bridge, achieving their objective.

Summary

A battle which the British initiated, with the idea of pushing forwards north of the Rhine, but which was ultimately lost to the south of the river.  Each player started with a wide range of options from the command cards (10 and 9 respectively), but the Germans managed to play aggressively on the south flank, forcing the Allied player to respond to his moves.  When the allied player had a chance, his cards were used well to break down the enemy force, but that, in this battle, did not score him any points.  It may help for the future, but we shall see…

Eventually both sides were reduced to only 4 command cards.

Casualties:

Allies 18/30 = 60%

Germans 16/28 = 57%

Not good news for the newspapers on either side!

More about toys and serendipity

LEGO has a very clever marketing department.

I recently ordered some parts from their “pick a brick” service with the idea of using them to make model aircraft stands.  I have previously used this service to source the bricks for the dam in my “Dambusters” playtest game.

Every online order gets a free gift set.  As it happens, my free gift arrived today before the main order, but that’s another tale.

In the gift set you will find some unusual and unorthodox bricks that you never knew existed.  My set was a vase of tulips, illustrated here with the quirkier bricks used in the construction.

Having seen these I have revised my ideas for how to build better aircraft stands, so another order may well be sent, and yet more unusual bricks will be revealed…

6th Donald Featherstone weekend

I spent a very enjoyable weekend at the Wargames Holiday Centre near Basingstoke where Mark hosted the  6th annual Donald Featherstone tribute weekend.

This year we took a trip up the Nile in an effort to rescue Lady Kitchener (I believe) and to relieve a town at the far end of the 24ft (around 7.5m) long table.    We had a strong force of horse, foot and guns along with two paddle steamers and a small gunboat.

long view

Our camp at the other end of the table also had to be protected, as did the baggage waggons accompanying the main force.  I had the unenviable task of commanding the baggage train.  Twice during the game I had to issue the order “Convoy is to scatter”, or otherwise “Every man for himself”!

Baggage
The Baggage Train

Just to add to the fun a railway train passed across the table at one point, and that too had to be assured of a safe passage.

The objective was for each officer to gain the maximum recognition by destroying Mahdist warriors, and achieving personal objectives unknown to the other players.  The Mahdists were generated in random strength at 20 random points around the table edge, or at half a dozen ambush points.

The Nile was also swarming with crocodiles, but luckily their event card never turned up.

Croc.
“Keep a sharp look out, man. We’ve had enough surprises today.”

On Saturday evening we held at the dinner an auction of our unwanted wargaming items and books, raising over £600 for Combat Stress.  In addition Mark donates £25 each of our gaming fee, so the charity will be £1000 better off.  John won the “dandy” prize for best dressed gamer at dinner, resplendent in top hat and tails.

A huge thank you to Steve Thompson for creating the game, making the models, painting thousands of figures and writing the rules.  Thanks also to Mark for hosting, Henry for being, with Mark and Ron, instrumental in the whole Featherstone Weekend concept and to the other players Ben, David, Eddie, John, John, Melvyn, Sid, Steve, Steve, Tony and Tony for a superb weekend full of laughter. 

Here you can see two days of gaming condensed into one minute.  Thanks to Ben for this.

https://youtu.be/gXbRYGHqjoM