Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Operation Menace - An Existing Wargame Scenario

As with many things in life, nothing I blog about is very original.   A quick google of "operation Menace wargame scenario" or reasonable facsimile pulls up a "what if" scenario of HMS Renown engaging a Vichy cruiser force as it passes Gibraltar.  It can be found at the Naval Wargames Society page in one of the All Guns Blazing issues here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

WWII Naval - Scenario Ideas

I managed to find a copy of Operation Menace by Arthur J. Marder at the University Library this week.  It's a very interesting and well written account of the failed British and Free French invasion of the Vichy French colony at Dakar, Senegal.  This was one of Mr. Churchill's pet projects and the theory was that the French would welcome De Gaulle with open arms (unfortunately no one seems to bother checking with the French on this one).

Churchill's productions like those of Shakespeare tend to be either tragedies or farces, and luckily for the Allies Dakar was much more of the farce variety being a comedies of errors and falls from Day 1.  It had many of the elements of the Shakespearean farce - assumed identities (at one point it was intended to dress the Royal Marines in french uniforms), mistaken identities, wild goose chases and mislaid messages (costing a British Admiral to be sacked as a scapegoat).  Unfortunately it didn't have the denouement of having the entire cast meet up by accident in the town square and working out all their difficulties!

The main event was a shore bombardment resisted by naval forces, shore batteries and land based air.  Unlike the attack at Mers-El-Klebir the Vichy (which is rather like shooting fish in a barrel), the Vichy were ready and gave a good account of themselves.  After several days the affair was called off when it became clear that it was going to take a full scale invasion which De Gaulle didn't want.  The most serious damage were likely the bruised egos, reputations and prestige of the British and De Gaulle.  However, HMS Resolution was damaged by a Vichy submarine and about half the air fleet was lost.

Here's a quick run down of the forces available

Royal Navy

  • 2 battleships HMS Barham and HMS Resolution
  • 1 carrier HMS Ark Royal
  • 4 county class cruisers
  • 2 WWI vintage D-class light cruisers
  • 9+ destroyers

  • 1 battleship Richelieu incomplete, damaged and immobile
  • 3 modern 6" gunned cruisers
  • 3 super-destroyers plus one regular destroyer
  • 3 submarines
  • coast defence batteries

In the air the Ark flew 30 Swordfish and (wait for it) 21 Skuas the goofiest airplanes flown by the FAA during WW2.  Opposing them were about 20 P-40 Warhawks and the same number of Marylands.
I'm sure that Tim Gow can supply the air power in correct markings, and the naval toys are readily available from GQ.

Land forces were Royal Marines and Foreign Legionnaires vs Senegalese troops.  The allies had no artillery other than naval support, but apparently had French tanks on the transports.  As an aside I've always been amused by the term Free French.  Given that most of their soldiers were either FFL or colonial units, it seems to be that they were neither particularly free nor French!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

GQIII - Game Aid Lesson Learned

During last weekends naval game, I found the the rules worked fine, the game aids I had used did not.  So lessons learned:

  1. Tape measures and rulers.  I pulled an unintended fast one on my players and went with the half scaled version of GQ, 1cm=2000 yds versus the normal 1cm=1000 yds.  I don't think any one moved twice as fast as they should have , but it would be easier and cleaner to have scaled rulers.  Luckily these are available as PDFs from GQ and I've printed off a set of 12 on cardstock.
  2. Turn gauges.  I used the original scale turn gauges instead of the correct scaled one.  The rulers from GQ include a cm=200 turn gauge, so that's what I'll used next time round. 
  3. Ship Cards.  This is where I really messed up.  I tried to make some spiffy reusable ship cards using the Deluxe ship stats from GQ, a photo of the ship, file cards and those plastic sleeves that game stores sell for card games.  However, the combination of the size of card I chose, the printing and the cut and pasting from the GQ document to the card file resulted in Cards that looked great at first glance but only semi-readable.  I'm back to the mouse pad on this one.   I think I'll go back to Angus K's site to admire his cards.
  4. Markers.  The sticky tab arrows I brought for torpedoes worked very well I thought.  Same for the plastic hit and fire makers provided by Curt (he of no childers and thus bigger war-games budget), but I'll stick to the homemade (and cheaper) versions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tarigo Convoy Part 3

With destroyers in melee at short range, it all happened pretty quickly.  Stacy's J-class DDs had some critical hits (fires, leaks and engineering hits) but superior damage control fixed them in fast order.  In return they shot up the convoy and two of the escorts Saetta and Dardo, once again evading torpedoes this time from the Dardo.  Chad's tribal class hit both the convoy and the Nicolo Zeno.  However, the Zeno got off a torpedo salvo that sank HMS Mohawk.

Jervis (far side) and Janus (near side)  shoot up the convoy.

HMS Mohawk goes down!

Long range shot for perspective.  Tribals at the top, escort to the right and J class hunting on the left.  Curt's plastic flames are very effective in these shots!

Zeno and Dardo pick up survivors from the tail end freighters.

We called it a wrap at this point.  The convoy escort had launched all their torpedoes and had lost almost all of their guns.  The raiders were down one ship, but had all their guns and Nubian still had full tubes.  We agreed that the escorts would high tail it and leave the convoy to its fate.  The British would stick to their objective (the convoy) and elect not to pursue.  It was a fun game, with a realistic outcome and Curt definitely did better than the historical result.  However, it was still a British strategic victory given that Rommel would have to make due without the reinforcements for the 15th Panzer Division.

In the "War of the Memoirs" the British would focus on the fact that the Italian fleet scampered off and left the convoy to their mercy.  The Italians would note that they fought until they had almost no weaponry left, and blame the fact that the convoy was intercepted on traitors (until ULTRA became declassified).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tarigo Convoy - Thoughts on GQIII

The Tarigo convoy refight was the first GQ game I'd played (at least on a table with other players) in 20 years.  Since the third edition feature a lot of new material and my memory works like a sieve, I'd thought I put some thoughts down on virtual paper.

  1. The rules work well.  The basic mechanisms are easy to use and teach to newbies.  It produced a fast paced game to a conclusion with a reasonable amount of rule checking and page flipping on my part (this will only get better with more games under my belt).  Reading the rules I had a lot of "yeah that's about I'd handling it if I was writing a set of rules" moments.
  2. The new GQ features are an improvement.  The biggest change was in gunfire, which now features a D12 roll for every pair of barrels rather than the abstract gun: defense factors used in earlier GQ versions.
  3. I definitely like the way the rules are structured with a simple set of common rules that work but abstract details, and the ability to bolt on more complex rules for torpedoes, aircraft etc.  My tendency would be to stick to the basic set for the most part since I favour a KISS approach.  For one thing, I like the admirals to focus on the big picture and let the torpedo and aircraft specialists work out the details on their end (the impact being abstracted into the results).  I'm also skeptical of additional complexity since I find in many places this leads to "spurious accuracy" - i.e. an implied level of precision in the estimates or rules that is much higher than what is actually possible.
  4. I halved the game scale to 1"=200yds, which meant that we kept the action all on one table.  In the end, we probably could have used 1"=100 yes given the 10' table top but for larger actions I'd like to return to the halved scale.
  5. We used the rules plotted movement system, common to many naval rules and personal bug bear of mine.   I personally like initiative based systems (like this used in David Manley's rules) or a sequential system (like the one in GWH Trafalgar or my own WWI naval rules).  However, I had to say that the plotted movement worked well and that GQIII had enough checks in place to prevent the truly unfortunate results that sometimes occur.
  6. I need to make some improvements to the games aids I used.  More on this on another post.
Conclusion - it's a good set of rules that can be played right out off of the shelf with no need for mods or changes.

Tarigo Convoy Part 2

Once the Saetta got its first shot off, in the next turn just about everyone got firm spots.  Life got hairy for the next couple of turns and Curt and I forgot to take pictures!  The Saetta got up close and personal with HMS Jervis and HMS Janus.  Collisions were avoided, guns were fired at close range and torpedoes were launch.  The Saetta was very out matched in terms of gunnery, but had the edge in torpedoes once she knocked out the Jervis' tubes.  The British spit into two groups of 2 DDs each, the J class taking the left side (foreground in the pictures) and the Tribals taking the far side.

All photos came from Curt's camera.

The sticky tab arrows mark torpedo tracks.  All the initial fish missed due to successful but not before some anxious evasion roles from the Jervis and Janus.  Gunnery took a tole especially on the convoy with the rear two freighters stopped, on fire and abandoned (AFVs plus petrol and ammo burn well apparently)!

One of the freighters explodes!  That's the Saetta in the bottom right corner having passed between the British ships.  Nubian and Mohawk had to be careful to avoid Janus' torpedoes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

AAR - Tarigo Convoy

Last night at Curt's I GMed a General Quarters 3 (GQIII) game based on the night action of Sfax (or the Battle of the Tarigo Convoy.   Curt was an GQ old hand, but the other two players (Stacy and Chad) were not and Chad was pure press gang sweepings (having never played a naval game before).  GQ suggests having the inexperienced players take the Italian side (for historical reasons) but Curt volunteered in their place.  After all he could hardly do worse than the historical outcome with the Italians losing all 5 freighters and their escort of 3 destroyers while sinking the tribal HMS Mohawk.

My last post gave the situation with the Axis sending a convoy to Tunisia carrying troops for Rommel and the British sending out 4 destroyers to intercept.  Historically, the Brits found the convoy by radar and came up on them unseen from astern on a moonless night.  It was a quick, bloody and confused action.

In game terms it was my first table top game with GQIII and it gave us a chance to use most of the surface action rules including radar and visual detection, movement, gunfire, torpedoes and collision avoidance!  Also since we started before either side had detected the other, the first couple of turns gave the landsmen a chance to get used to game mechanisms and movement.  Prior to detection each side had movement pre-plotted - 8 knts ahead for the convoy and escort, a 20 knt zig-zag for the Brits.

Once the Brits picked up the convoy on the radar, they were able speed up and change from their pre-scenario movement plot and close on the convoy.  They chose to close directly from astern, where as hindsight might suggest an arced course to approach from abeam and allow for full broadsides.  In addition, despite the radar reading it was the Italian look outs who got spied the enemy first.

The British (on the right) close on the convoy from astern.

The destroyer Saetta gets the first shot off and hits HMS Jervis (Curt had all the nifty markers).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

SITREP April, 1941 The Middle Sea

As for most of the period from 1940-2, in Spring 1941 the War in The Mediterranean was in the balance.  The Royal Navy had damaged but not eliminated the Regina Marina at Taranto.  The Luftwaffe arrived earlier in 1941 and its presence was felt immediately with the heavy damage inflicted on the carrier HMS Illustrious, but now its focus has been redirected to Greece (and then Russia).

Both sides ran convoys.   The British reinforced Greece from Egypt and Malta from both Gibraltar and Egypt.  The Axis ran supplies and troops from Italy to Tunis, a shorter distance but under threats from air, surface, submarine and mine attacks.  Ashore, Wavell's British army was depleted to garrison Greece and Rommel began an offensive in March leading to the siege of Tobruk.

I'm not sure exactly which convoy action we will fight on Friday, as it will depend on the number of players involved.  However, one options is as follows:

Royal Navy (4 destroyers)

Ultra decrypts have revealed that elements of the 15th Panzer Division are about to embark for Tripoli.  Correspondingly you have been ordered to Malta with your powerful destroyer flotilla to intercept this movement. At 1430 on 15th April Sqn Ldr E.A.Whitley and Flt Lt Potter in a Maryland reconnaissance plane report sighting a troop and ammunition convoy. Covered by rain and low cloud you duly sail from Grand Harbour to make the interception.  You reach the interception point off Sfax just after midnight. As you approach the coast you slow to 20 knots and  start zig zagging searching for the convoy.

Regina Marina (3 destroyers and 5 transports)

You are escorting a troop and ammunition convoy carrying elements of the 15th Panzer Division from Naples to
Tripoli. It's two days into your journey, and for much of it you have been shadowed by RAF reconnaissance planes.  You have requested air support but have seen no friendly planes in the skies above you, and consequently expect the worst so have ordered your escorts to action stations. You are now at a point just off Sfax on the North African coast when at 0220 the convoy is suddenly taken under fire from behind...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Excuse the Momentary Political Rant

I'll be attending the Regina Death of Evidence Rally to protest Mr. Harper's policy towards science research (you have no idea how much restraint I've shown in this sentence).  Of particular concern to actuaries like me are
  1. The cancellation of the mandatory long form census form, which invalidated the entire long form census.  This was nothing short of petty ideology aimed at satisfying a very small minority of right wing conservative faithful (check Stats Can's figures on how many complains have been received on the long form).  I am a member of no less than 3 groups who wrote to the Harper government decrying this move - the CIA (The Canadian Institute of Actuaries no black helicopters), CAUT (national Uni teacher's union) and the U of R.
  2. Budget cuts (more precisely a gutting) of Stats Canada.
For those of you non-Canucks see the following links for more information:
I don't have a US media link because it's all too biased to waste time on.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Please Support Conrad

I thought that I should put a plug in for Conrad Kinch's walk for charity, in aid of a NeoNatal car unit in his locale.  Conrad and one of his regular gaming buddies are walking the 50km from Dublin to the River Boyne in memory of a friend's daughter who passed away after a very short lifetime.

He's hit a soft spot for me with this fund raiser. My daughter spent her first few weeks in the Neonatal intensive care having arrived 10 weeks early and weighing in at under 4 pounds.  The staff at the NICU gave her wonderful care and she's now a healthy 16 year old.  However, it costs a lot to run a NICU and there is a lot of expensive equipment needed.  Also even with the best staff and equipment (in our case the Hospital was rated the best in North America for new borns), there are still some very sad outcomes.  My wife and I appreciate how very lucky we were.

I particularly like the fact that Conrad and Dave are taking the "Portable Wargame" concept to heart and packing the troops, terrain and game aids for a renactment of the Battle of the Boyne upon arrival.  This brings new meaning to the wargames terms of fatigue and attrition.  Remember Conrad - 20mm plastic figures good, 54mm lead figures bad.

Mr. Kinch of course tells it all must better (and in more detail) at his blog:

Joy and Forgetfulness

Oh yes it's an Irish Charity but they take North American charge cards.