Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Simply Messing About in Boats - Really Big Killer Boats

I really love that quote from The Wind and the Willows and it often applies to me.  In my line of work and play, I am often found "simply messing about in boats."  Not long ago, a fit of boredom hit me and I decided to break out some of the ships in my Axis and Allies War at Sea collection and mess about.  Not content with just "looking" at them, I decided I'd play a quick knock down, drag out battle between Japan and the United States.

The fleets eye the control of the straits.

I must confess that the battle had no real goals other than sinking as many ships as possible and watching the carnage.  As such, there were no objectives to hold or point totals to reach.  More than anything, I simply wanted to run a few builds through the paces.  Think of it as fleet exercises.  To help with the decisions I would need to make as a solo player, I did add the vague goal of controlling the straits and passages through the islands.  By focusing on this achievement, I would be forced to think a bit strategically for both sides rather than gleefully placing models in the sights of opponents.

Round one began with both navies moving assets towards the islands and pilots probing the defenses of each task force.  Despite heavy protection around the flat tops, air power proved to be a deadly force upon the high seas.  USN Avengers destroyed both IJN carriers during the initial attack while the Princeton was crippled by several flights of Bettys.  Unlucky die rolls by air defenses and lots of 6's by dive bombers would be the norm for much of the game.

The Japanese carriers are hit hard.

The first round would belong to the US Navy with two carriers destroyed along with a Yukikaze-class destroyer for a total of 59 points.  In return, the Japanese were only able to sink a Hoel-class destroyers with submarine action.

USN: 59
IJN: 18

The second round would see little damage from the Japanese navy due to their inability to rearm and refuel on the carriers.  The fliers of the USN would continue their rampage however.  With no fighter cover over the Japanese ships, many of the bombs and torpedoes found their mark and the mighty Kongo was crippled.

Despite the early losses, the IJN assault was just beginning.  Her heavy cruisers sent the Richmond and the San Francisco to the bottom with massive salvos.  And though the Kongo was crippled, she was not out of the fight.  More critical to the American operation was the flanking maneuver being conducted by the Yamato and her escorts.  The wily task force had managed to elude PBY patrols and was passing the southern tip of the islands to close in on the unsuspecting USN.  Still, round two was a solid American victory with 67 points destroyed compared to 41 by the opponent.

The situation after the second round.

Round three would change the course of the battle and place the IJN firmly in control.  Judging from the air phase however, one would not have suspected such change in the fortunes of war.  The entire Japanese air squadron was either destroyed or aborted before they could attack.  Cheers were heard from the deck of the crippled Princeton as the San Diego fended off one Kate after another.  Perhaps the damaged light carrier might survive after all.

Though many of the USN pilots were forced to abort their attack runs as well, others managed to elude air cover and anti-aircraft fire to score hits.  A squadron of Avengers aided by a Catalina managed to send a torpedo into the monstrous hull of the Musashi while Helldivers damaged the Nagato.  High command was elated to hear that a flight of Mitchells were able to spot the flaming wreckage of the Kongo as she withdrew from the fray and finally finish her off.

Furious ship to ship fighting then took place.  The Americans hit first with her destroyers charging the enemy ships.  A Kidd-class destroyer along with the Samuel B. Robers and the John C. Butler landed hits and sent two Shiratsuya-class vessels to the depths followed quickly by the Akitsuki.  The mighty battleship Iowa finally let loose her mains and the 16 inch guns erupted in a fury of steel and cordite.  The Musashi, still fighting the fires from the air attack, received the brunt of the Iowa's gunnery and was crippled in the process.

Further to the south, the Japanese flanking maneuver was finally discovered but only a small group of heavy cruisers could respond.  The Salt Lake City altered course to intercept the new threat and engaged one of Yamato's escorting ships to hopefully lessen the odds and stall the attack.  Through bravery and excellent gunnery she was able to cripple the Tone (but not before taking heavy damage from her target) and slow her down to allow the Montpelier to finish off the Japanese ship.  Bringing her secondaries to bear, the Montpelier also wounded the approaching Yahagi.  Seeing the smoke rising from the cruiser, the Cleveland fired another salvo at the Yahagi and watched as it slipped beneath the waves. 

The American success was soon to be overshadowed by tragedy.  In the fight to the south, the Aoba, another Yamato escort ship, took revenge on the Salt Lake City and destroyed the vessel with her mains.  Whatever cheers taking place on the Aoba was soon drowned out by the massive thunder of the Yamato's 18 inch guns.  The gigantic Japanese battleship had arrived and her fury was immediately felt by the stunned Americans.  Her salvos were able to hit and damage the unsuspecting North Carolina even at long range while her secondary guns blazed away and utterly destroyed the valiant Montpelier and a Phelps-class destroyer.

Despite the incredible damage caused by the southern task force, the most shocking defeat occurred in the northern battle.  Despite taking minor hits from enemy vessels, the USS Iowa was giving more than she took.  However, a badly damaged but defiant Musashi delivered a devastating salvo to the American flagship and all stood aghast as the pride of the fleet disappeared below the sea.  Having just watched the Iowa blown to bits, her last remaining escort, the USS Baltimore, steamed into a nearby squall to regroup.  Shells from the charging Myoko and Nagato fell all around the heavy cruiser but fate spared the vessel.

The USS Iowa is destroyed.

Round three belonged to the Japanese with 169 points of enemy vessels destroyed for a total of 228.  The American fleet only managed 106 points for a total of 232.

The situation after round three.

Stunned by the loss of their flagship, the Americans began a general withdrawal.  Her pilots continued to harry the enemy during the process but with little success.  The Japanese, elated with their recent victories, were content to allow the fleet to retire from the fray.  Though the mighty Yamato was more than a match for any remaining USN vessel, the IJN had lost air superiority and dared not risk further loss.  Her planes would have one final act of redemption however.  During the enemy withdrawal, Japanese pilots were able to relocate the crippled carrier Princeton and finally sink the stubborn ship and severely damage the fleeing Intrepid.

While the battle started out as a way to mess about with my boats, it turned into quite the engagement.  I was more than surprised by the outcome even though I had padded the Japanese fleet by almost 100 extra points.  US air power, the bane of many Axis players, was an important aspect of the Allied strategy but was unable to stem the tide of the Japanese capital ships.  The Americans still had several assets on the board but I decided to end the game and withdraw for two reasons.  One, even though this was not even close to a historical engagement (which I usually play), I think the Navy would have been reluctant to risk the North Carolina and the Intrepid since they had already severally reduced enemy air power in the region.  Also, I think the outcome would have been moot had I continued.  The Americans had only lost a few planes during the course of the battle and could have kept attacking and possibly eventually sink several more ships.  However, between air phases, the Japanese would have completely destroyed the remaining Allied surface fleet.

Surprised by the engagement and completely not satisfied with the outcome, I am looking forward to replaying this scenario soon.  I will post the results when the smoke from the battle clears.

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