Tuesday, December 27, 2016

DANG 2016 - The Big Stick

This year’s DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) was The Big Stick – The 1903 Venezuela Crisis. The game covered a hypothetical war between the United States and Germany over the Venezuela debt crisis in 1903.
A nice colorized photo of pre-dreadnought American ships
In the game the Germans have refused to accept arbitration to resolve the issue. They are continuing their blockade of major Venezuelan ports and have attacked Venezuelan forts at Puerto Cabello. President Roosevelt, adding his own corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, has dispatched most of the American Atlantic fleet to the Caribbean to remove the blockade and prevent the Germans from occupying any Venezuelan ports.

Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:00 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning, and munching on some breakfast snacks.

After a short review of all the rules (I came up with some basic operational rules for moving fleets and we used David Manley's Fire When Ready rules for the tactical game), we split up sides for the game, with Scott, Dale, and Charlie playing the Germans, while David S., Arthur, and Dave C. played the Americans. Each side then took some time to review their options, ships, and plan their strategy. The Germans were using the British Port of Spain on Trinidad as their main base, but they could start the game with some cruisers already in place at the Venezuelan ports (La Guaira, Puerto Cabello, and Maracaibo). The German fleet consisted of ten ships; three armored cruisers (Fürst Bismarck, Prinz Heinrich, and Vineta), four newer light cruisers (Gazelle Niobe, Nymphe, and Thetis), two old cruisers (Falke and Cormoran), and one colonial gunboat (Panther). A Seebattalion (marine infantry) unit was also available. The primary mission for the Germans was to blockade the Venezuelan ports, with a secondary mission of securing control one or more of those ports as an operating base for German expansion into the region. The American had their main base at Culebra Island and were ordered to disrupt the blockade and prevent the Germans from establishing control of a Caribbean port. The American fleet was made up of twelve ships; the cruisers Olympia, Chicago, Atlanta, Albany, Newark, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Marblehead, along with the gunboats Yorktown, Concord, and Bennington, and a converged Marine unit.

 At the start of the game, no shots had been exchanged between the Americans and Germans and both sides were informed that they should make the other side fire the first shot.

With the background set, each side was ready to select their options for the game (each of which cost victory points). The options for the Germans were adding two battleships to their fleet (but they would not arrive until day 6), put diplomatic pressure on the British to keep Port of Spain Trinidad open to German ships, put diplomatic pressure on the Italians to re-join the blockade effort, and ask the French to open up the port at Guadeloupe to German ships. The Germans chose to pressure the British and Italians. They decided not to take the battleships because it would take too long for them to arrive (and they cost a lot of victory points). The options for the Americans were similar to the Germans; adding battleships to their fleet (but these were available right away), put diplomatic pressure on the British to close Port of Spain Trinidad to German ships, put diplomatic pressure on the Italians to accept arbitration. The Americans chose to take the battleships and to pressure the Italians.

The game began with each side plotting movement for the squadrons. The Germans were concerned that the British would side with the Americans and close Port of Spain to them. They planned to rush all their ships, along with the Seebattalion, to Puerto Cabello and seize the port. From there they could spread out to blockade the other ports as needed, while knowing they had a secure operational base. The Americans knew the Germans had some ships already at Puerto Cabello, so they rushed a cruiser force with the Marines to the port, while sending the battleships to La Guaira to establish and anchorage and forward operating base.
The Operational Level map for the game
The two sides arrived at Puerto Cabello at close to the same time. The Americans announced they planned to enter the port, but the Germans said they controlled the port and put their ships between the Americans and the port entrance. The Americans decided to stay outside the port, but sent a dispatch ship to La Guaira to let the battleships squadron know what was happening. Meanwhile, the ships carrying the German Seebattalion entered Puerto Cabello, landed the troops, and seized part of the dock area at the port. On the diplomatic front, the British said they would consider whether to allow the Germans to continue to use Trinidad, but it might be a few days before the final decision was made. The Italians were convinced the Germans had the right idea and decided to re-join the blockade (The Germans made a great diplomatic roll). Two Italian cruisers (Giovanni Bausan and Elba) were ordered to join the Germans at Puerto Cabello.

The next day the American battleships arrived off Puerto Cabello and the Americans learned that the Germans had landed troops. The Americans announced they planned to send Marines to the port to protect American interests. The Germans agreed to allow one American ship to enter port, but that it would be watched by German ships. The Americans sent the old cruiser Atlanta, with the Marines, into the port, while the Germans sent the cruiser Falke and gunboat Panther. The Marines landed, established a defensive perimeter, and waited for further orders. During the evening, local Venezuelan troops contacted the Marines. The Marines reported back to the fleet that the Venezuelans sounded eager to do something about the Germans, but the Marines were unconvinced that the Venezuelans would really attack.

Day three began with both sides ordering their troops to bolster their defenses, while reports were coming in of Venezuelan troops massing outside the city. The Americans decided they wanted to send the gunboat Yorktown into the port, but the Germans said they would not allow this. As Yorktown approached the port, the German cruiser Cormoran blocked the way and aggressively maneuvered to prevent the American ship from reaching the port. Yorktown retreated to the main American fleet, but as she rejoined formation the Italian squadron appeared on the horizon.

The Americans sent the battleships and some cruisers to intercept the Italians. As the Italians closed, the Germans sent their light cruisers to meet the Italians. The Americans signaled the Italians not to come any closer to the port. The Italians ignored the signals and the Americans fired warning shots at them. Not expecting this type of a reception, the Italian ships began to circle until the German cruiser Nymphe joined them.
The German cruiser leading the Italians
The Germans told the Italians to follow them into port, while the Americans signaled they would not allow the Italians to pass. Inside the port, the American cruiser Atlanta was facing off against the old German cruiser Falke and gunboat Panther, but we decided to resolve the main fleet action outside the port first. With the stage set for action, we set up the forces for the Battle of Puerto Cabello and took a quick break to grab some food.
Getting the ships all in place
Surveying the scene
The Germans had three formations; one with the cruiser Nymphe leading the Italians, one with the other three light cruisers (Gazelle Niobe, and Thetis) that was near the Italians, and the final group with the three armored cruisers. The American also had three formations; a battleship – cruiser group that was intercepting the Italians, a gunboat formation, and a cruiser formation that was watching the German armored cruisers. The battle started with the Americans saying they had warned the Italians as the battleship – cruiser group opened fire, but only on the Italians. The Italians took some damage in the initial attack, but no major damage.
Italians under fire
While the Americans had tried to keep this from turning into an all out battle by only firing at the Italians, at this point it was clear that there was no stopping it and both sides opened fire.
Early moves by the Germans and Italians
The American battleships shifted their fire to the German light cruiser formation and the next salvo destroyed one cruiser with a magazine hit and put the second out of action.
American battleships watch their handiwork as the German cruisers go up in smoke
The American cruisers continued to fire at the Italians, adding more damage. German and Italian attacks on this side were not very effective.

On the other end of the table, the American cruiser formation, with Olympia, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Albany, engaged the German armored cruisers Fürst Bismarck, Prinz Heinrich, and Vineta.
German armored cruisers moving to attack the Americans
Both sides opened fire, inflicting minor damage on the other. The Americans did get some special hits on Fürst Bismarck, forcing the ship to slow down and fall out of line.
American cruisers under fire
German armored cruisers under attack
Back on the first end of the table, the Americans split their formation, sending the battleships after the German armored cruisers, as the American cruisers Newark, San Francisco, Detroit, and Marblehead finished off the two German/Italian formations.
American cruisers finish off the Italians as the battleships head for the other end of the table

One German light cruiser, Thetis, had only taken a few hits and used the smoke from her burning and sinking compatriots to escape and survive the battle.

Seeing that things were not going well, the German armored cruisers also decided discretion was the better part of valor and moved to disengage. Fürst Bismarck turned to block the American pursuit of the other cruisers. But the German captain failed a morale roll and decided to strike his colors instead of fighting to the bitter end.

With the situation settled outside the port, we did some quick die rolling to resolve the action in port. As the battle outside the port started, the Germans announced they were opening fire on the American cruiser. German gunfire was relatively ineffective and their torpedoes also missed, while American return fire damaged Falke. After a few more rounds of light gunfire damage, we checked to see if the Germans could see what was happening outside the port. A couple bad die rolls for the Germans led to their crews seeing Gazelle’s magazine explosion and the destruction of other ships. With the American battleships in view, the German ships and troops ashore decided to ask for terms of surrender.

Surveying the aftermath of the battle, it was a clear American victory. While the victory was not bloodless, the Americans had not lost any ships during the fight. Meanwhile the Germans only had three ships left and all had some damage. 
The victorious (but fuzzy) American battleline
After the battle, we talked through each side’s plans and options, along with possible repercussions of the war. There was some debate about which side really fired the first shot, with the Germans being quite literal in that the American fired first, while the Americans mentioned that the German occupation of Puerto Cabello was really the first hostile act. We all agreed that the Germans were blocked from any further adventures in the Caribbean. Beyond that we thought there were two basic paths Germany could follow. One was that the humiliation would cause them to redouble their naval efforts, so that maybe they would have a stronger, better navy during World War I. The other idea was that the Germans would abandon becoming a naval power, so the naval arms race with Britain wouldn’t happen and maybe World War I would be delayed or prevented.

With that, we ended the fifteenth version of DANG. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, although the Americans probably had a better time with it. I always think pre-dreadnought actions are fun, but they can turn out a little lopsided too.

4 comments:

  1. The usual day of DANG greatness, thanks for the excellent report. Same thing happened in my RJW one day campaign. I was expecting a few turns of patrolling but the players all sortied en masse, had most of their predreads and ACs sunk or seriously damaged at the outset, did the same thing in turn two (but with their "fleets" made up from whatever weak stuff hadn't been involved in the first action) and pretty much shot themselves to a standstill after that.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I sometimes think the best way to generate more smaller battles would be to only give each side a portion of their ships and add more as reinforcements. That would let them destroy one fleet and then get another.

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  2. Great report and I like your post game thoughts. Would the British continued to build more and more if the German went the French route of cruisers and raiders

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    1. Thanks, I do like to talk with the players about alternate strategies for the game, along with what would happen after the game based on the results. It is usually a nice way to wrap up the day.

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