Sunday, April 8, 2018

Illustrious Project - First Playtest

On Saturday Kevin and I got together a few friends to playtest the Illustrious scenario at The Game Matrix in Tacoma. We had 6 players, so a couple short of what will be at Enfilade. But that was okay, since this was the first run-through and we were really wanted to make sure there were no major bugs with the game.

The scenario covers the air attack on HMS Illustrious during Operation Excess on January 10, 1941. Over the previous months Illustrious had been a thorn in the side of the Axis, having participated in several operations including the attack on Italian battleships at Taranto. The Germans had recently deployed X Fliegerkorps to the Mediterranean and made Illustrious a primary target. As the operation got underway, the British ships were spotted and plans to attack the carrier were put into motion. The basic plan was to use Italian SM-79 torpedo bombers to draw off the Royal Navy fighters and then let the Stukas go after the carrier and other ships. Historically, that plan almost worked. The Italians drew off most of Illustrious' Fulmar fighters and the Stukas got six direct hits on the carrier.
SM-79s closing in on the British fleet
For our game, we are using a pre-publication version of David Manley’s AirWar 1940 rules, which are very similar to the AirWar C21 rules. I did make one modification to the rules and added some scenario specific special rules. The modification I made was to turn heavy flak (essentially 3 inch and larger AA guns) from a direct attack into barrage attack weapon. I just felt like this better represented how naval AA was used during World War 2 (especially early in the war). So, heavy flak barrages would be placed at the start of each turn and attack any planes that flew within 4 inches of the flak base. The special scenario rules included a morale roll for the Italians when they took damage and pilot/crew skill selections (players could choose better a better pilot or to take die re-rolls).
Illustrious waiting for the enemy
We had 4 Axis players, 2 Italians with torpedo-armed SM-79s and 2 Germans with Ju-87 Stukas, and 2 Fleet Air Arm (FAA) players flying Fulmars. The Axis players set up with the Italians entering on the first turn and split so the FAA couldn’t put all their fighters in one area. The FAA then set up near the ships and, with the first wave on the map, could change the heading of the ships.
Fulmars off to intercept the Italians with HMS Nubian in the backgroud
Early in the game both sides closed in on the enemy. On one side of the board, things didn’t start out well for the FAA, with one pair of fighters missing their special maneuver rolls that left the planes slow and out of position. Then the Italian gunners got a lucky hit that knocked out the forward guns on one fighter, only leaving it with a weak rear-facing gun.
Fulmars just before failing their special maneuver
The slow speed and poor acceleration of the Fulmars meant the Italians only had to worry about flak as they sped away from the fighters.
SM-79s leave the Fulmars behind
These bombers were able to dodge the heavy flak and closed in on the carrier for their torpedo run. Light flak damaged a couple of the bombers, but they were all able to drop torpedoes. On the way out, one bomber was shot down, but they did get one torpedo hit on the carrier.
Approaching the carrier
Torpedo hit!
On the other side of the board, the other Fulmars mixed it up with the other pair of Italian bombers. Both sides traded ineffectual shots early on, but the Fulmars eventually started getting hits on the Italians. This is when the special morale rule suddenly made a huge difference as two bombers failed morale, jettisoned their torpedoes, and turned away from the battle. The remaining SM-79 soldiered on but took a special hit that jammed the torpedo release, ending the threat from that direction.
Fulmars and SM-79s mixing it up
While the attacks on the FAA and Italians were mixing it up, the second wave with the Stukas entered the board. One group tried to follow the same path as the first set of Italian bombers and the other group tried to skirt around the heavy flak. The first Stuka group ran across the slow Fulmar group. This allowed the Stukas to play fighters for a moment, as they get behind the Fulmars and downed one of them. Then they resumed their normal bomber attitude and headed for the carrier.
Fulmars in trouble
The Stuka group that was trying to to avoid flak ended up getting split up and then pounced on by Fulmars and flak. Two of the Stukas were downed by the fighters (one in a spectacular critical hit explosion) and the other was downed by flak. Unfortunately for the FAA, the flak also downed a Fulmar.

The final flight of Stukas started their run on the carrier as light flak opened up. One Stuka was shot down and another damaged, with the extra damage jamming the bomber release mechanism. That left only one plane to attack and it missed.
Stukas starting their attack run
But get no hits
Overall losses were four Stukas, one SM-79 (with three aborts), and two Fulmars. The carrier took one torpedo hit and was able to keep steaming along.

Everyone liked the rules, although there were a few quibbles around speed changes for changing altitude and speed losses for failed special maneuvers seemed pretty harsh (especially for the poor Fulmars).

Lesson learned – The game went okay, but we did come away feeling that some adjustments are needed. First up, the Italian morale rule needs a slight change to give them a little more staying power. I think I will reduce the damage from the heavy flak and I need to re-think my re-roll idea some. I felt like both sides had some bad luck during the game, but it might have impacted the Axis more than the FAA. We’ll make the adjustments and get one more test in before Enfilade, but overall I think the game will be interesting for players.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Illustrious Project - Ready for a game

I finished up painting HMS Nubian, so the Illustrious project is ready to start playtesting the scenario.
HMS Nubian ready for action
As I mentioned in my previous post, the only descriptions I had seen said Nubian was painted in an Alexandria type Mediterranean camouflage scheme. After a little more research, I came across an image of the paint scheme on the Steel Navy modeling site. Based on the description there, it looked like Nubian used a dark grey on light grey wavy scheme. Since I didn't have any better information, I went with the description there.
Forward quarter view
Rear quarter view
I used the same dark grey for the deck and camouflage. I think it turned out pretty nice and provides a nice contrast to the medium grey used on Illustrious
Nubian escorting Illustrious
I also couldn't pass up a chance to get a group photo with my Swordfish, which won't show up in the game, but they help make a nice vignette. Although it does make me realize that I need a better backdrop if I'm going to take more photos like this.
Another Swordfish flyby
Kevin and I are planning on running a playtest of the scenario next week, with Stukas and SM-79s attacking Illustrious and Nubian with Fulmars defending. It should be interesting and, if we have time, we might run through the Falklands air attack scenario too.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Illustrious Project - Escort

The next step in my Illustrious project is to add an escort ship to the game to help divert some of the Axis air attention. For Operation Excess in January 1941, Force A was made up of the carrier Illustrious, two battleships (HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant), and eight destroyers. While it was tempting to put a battleship out on the table, Kevin and I thought it would be better to go with something a little smaller. So it was down to one of the eight destroyers, which were: Dainty (D class), Greyhound, Griffin, Gallant (G, H class), Jervis, Juno (J, K, N class), Mohawk, and Nubian (Tribal class). But before the air attacks started, Gallant struck a mine and was being towed away by Mohawk, leaving only six destroyers.

I searched around for moderately priced model kits of the various classes, which really narrowed down the list. I finally settled on a Tribal kit for HMS Eskimo from Trumpeter models, which would be converted into HMS Nubian.
Trumpeter's Tribal destroyer
The Tribal class design emphasized guns over torpedoes, with four 4.7 inch twin gun mounts and one four-tube torpedo mount. For close-in anti-aircraft, the class had a four-barrel 2 pdr pom-pom and two quadruple Vickers .5 inch machine gun mounts. Later during the war, the X position mount (second from the rear, for you non-naval types) was replaced by a twin 4 inch high-angle AA mount to improve anti-aircraft defenses.The gun mount replacement was done on Eskimo in late 1940, while Nubian didn't get the 4 inch mount until late 1941. Luckily, the Trumpeter kit has the parts for either type of ship. So, I didn't have to worry about having the wrong mounts on my ship.

The Trumpeter kit is pretty well made and went together with out too much trouble. Although some of the small parts reminded me that my fingers aren't as nimble as they used to be and that I need to invest in some new modeling tools (like tweezers).
Profile view of the finished ship
Here is a little close view from the port side.
Port 3/4 view
Next up is trying to find the right camouflage pattern for the ship. I haven't been able to find an good image and the only descriptions I've read say Nubian was painted in an Alexandria type Mediterranean camouflage scheme. This generally means a light grey main color with a medium or dark grey pattern. I'll keep searching for better information (if anyone knows, feel free to add a comment to the post), but if nothing shows up I will probably do something similar to the scheme I used for Illustrious.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Illustrious Project - Out of the Yards

HMS Illustrious has completed her time in the yards and is ready for action. I finally put the finishing touches on the carrier’s paint job and got it in place for a few photos.
HMS Illustrious ready to sail
As I mentioned in my previous Illustrious post, the colors are light grey hull, with a medium grey disruptive pattern, and a dark grey deck with a solid yellow stripe. Here are some comparison photos of my version compared with the schemes from Mal Wright’s book.
Starboard camouflage
Port camouflage

Deck view
Overall, I’m happy with the paint job and how it compares to the illustration. Although my attempts at adding some weathering don’t seem to show up in the photos. But I guess that is a fairly minor problem.
Swordfish flyby
I should have finished the carrier a while ago, but I've gotten behind on some projects for work and others. I often seem to take on more things than I really should. But next up for this project will be an escort for the game.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Air Battle over Malta

Kevin came up with some unexpected free time yesterday, so we decided to try a walk-though of the rules we are going to use for the Illustrious project. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but we are planning on using David Manley’s unpublished Air War 1940 rules for the game. Since Illustrious is still in the paint shop at the yards, but Kevin had received a game mat of Valletta and Malta’ Grand Harbor for Christmas and it seemed like a good opportunity to break it in. So, we decided to try out the rules with an air raid on Malta’s Grand Harbor. The mat is from Tiny Wargame Mats and really looks nice. We even added a few ships from Topside Miniatures to provide some targets for the bombers.

We’ve played several games using Air War C21, so we are familiar with concepts behind the rules. But, there are some differences in the rules too, so we decided to go with intercepting an unescorted bomber raid. We pulled out 12 Italian bombers (9 SM.79s and 3 CANT Z.1007s) for the attacking force and some Hurricane Is and Fulmars. along with a little flak, on the intercepting side.
Hurricanes heading for the bombers
The bombers basically moved straight, with some minor turns to line up on their targets, at max speed. The interceptors started out in front of the bombers and needed to do a little maneuvering to get in good firing position. The Hurricanes were easier to manage than the Fulmars, being faster and more maneuverable.
Hurricanes spreading out their shots
British attack rolls during the game weren’t great. The Hurricanes did manage to cut through the Italian formation, getting hits on several bombers. But due to their light caliber weapons and less-than-average die rolls, they were only able to down one bomber. The Fulmars had similar results but crippled a bomber instead of knocking it down. The heavy flak also had mixed results, getting one hit early on that crippled a bomber, but missing all chances after that.

The Hurricanes eventually ran out of ammo and the Fulmars fell too far behind after missing rolls for special maneuvers, so we ran the remaining bombers through their attack.
Hurricanes and Fulmars taking their shots as the bombers approach the flak
Much like the British shooting, Italian bombing rolls were less than spectacular with no hits recorded.
Bombs Away! (but no real hits)
Overall the test game was successful, even though the rolling was poor. The Malta mat looks great and will provide us with a good mat for playing the “Illustrious Blitz” some time in the future.
A view of the Valletta mat without aircraft, but with some Topside Miniatures and flak

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Illustrious Project

One of my joint-projects for Enfilade 2018 covers the air attack on HMS Illustrious on January 10, 1941 during Operation Excess convoy to Malta. Illustrious was a thorn in the side of the Axis, having participated in several operations including the attack on Italian battleships at Taranto. Operation Excess was well planned, but so was the German and Italian response, including plans to sink Illustrious. The Germans had recently deployed X Fliegerkorps with over 40 Stuka dive bombers. The basic plan was to use Italian SM.79 torpedo bombers to draw off the Royal Navy fighters and then let the Stukas go after the carrier and other ships. Historically, that plan almost worked. The Italians drew off a number of Illustrious' Fulmar fighters and the Stukas got six direct hits on the carrier.
Stuka attacks on HMS Illustrious on Jan 10, 1041 (from armouredcarriers.com)
While Illustrious was severely damaged, her armored flight deck held up and she was able to limp into Malta. The website Armored Aircraft Carriers of WWII has a good article on the overall action.

After getting to Malta, the carrier (and island) were subjected to numerous raids, which are often referred to at "The Illustrious Blitz."

As part of the joint project, my friend Kevin will be painting up Stukas, SM.79s, and Fulmars, while I take care of the ships for the game. We decided to limit the ships to the carrier and one escorting destroyer. I already have the kit for Illustrious and the kit for the selected destroyer is on the way.

I always like to get the paint schemes as close as possible and my research on the camouflage scheme for Illustrious turned up the following, from Mal Wright's British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers
Approximate HMS Illustrious paint scheme on January 10, 1941, from British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, via the armouredcarriers.com
The colors are basically a light grey hull, with a medium grey disruptive pattern, and a dark grey deck. But it seems that the dotted yellow stripe had been replaced by a solid one by January 10.

I've assembled my Aoshima version of the carrier, adding some extra 20mm guns to round out the anti-aircraft gun fit for the time. I also put the large radio antennas in the down position (the assembly instructions for British carriers often tell you to assemble these in the up position, but my understanding is that they were lowered during flight operations. So, my version has them down as the crew rushes to get a few more Fulmars airborne).
Primed and ready for painting
Hopefully, my paint job will turn out like the pictures.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Rules/Book Review: Wargaming the Spanish Armada

I’ve been intrigued with the Spanish Armada for some time. There are a number of interesting books and games available on the subject and I have some Armada boardgames, but I’ve always been little reluctant to get into gaming the era with miniatures. I decided to spend a little Christmas gift certificates to get a copy of the Spanish Armada book in the Battle of Britain series of book-games.
The Spanish Armada book cover
Each book in the Battle for Britain series, there are seven all-together (and they are launching a Fleets in Profile series this year), covers a different war in British history. Each include profile illustrations of soldiers and weapons to cut out, along with easy to play wargame rules. The Spanish Armada book has all the major ships you need to recreate the navies that clashed in the English Channel in 1588 and has instructions on how to cut out and assemble them. It also includes a coastline, islands, and a sea surface with squares for playing the game. The rules are quick and easy to play, but still show the differences between Spanish and English ships and tactics. The book also includes short descriptions of the overall campaign and the different ships on each side, along with tactical suggestions for ship captains when playing the game. There are six scenarios in the rules (four historical, one hypothetical, and one generic) and a campaign game. So, there is really a lot packed into book.
Spanish Fleet description from the book
To start a game, you need to have your play area and ships, along with some six-sided dice for combat and a deck of cards for determining the wind information. The turn sequence for the game is Spanish move and shoot, then the English take their turn and can move and shoot or shoot and move. Movement is pretty basic with most Spanish ships only able to move one square, while most English ships can move two. If you are playing with the Orders rule, you roll a die at the start of the turn to determine how many ships you can move. There are also movement limitations based on the wind speed and direction (determined before the start of play). One interesting rule is that the Spanish transports don’t normally move during the game; they only move if they are hit by English gunnery. This does make games more fun that just doing the typical stern chase.
A page of English ships (click on the image for a closer look)
The movement information, damage and gunnery information for each ship type is summarized on a card.
Ship summary cards
For gunnery combat you roll a number of six-sided dice based on the firing ship type and range, with sixes being hits. When ships take enough hits, they become crippled and no longer move and can be forced to surrender. The English automatically reload their guns when they move, while the Spanish roll to see if they reload their guns. So, the Spanish have to think about when to fire their guns. There is also a rule for Spanish boarding (the English cannot initiate boarding). But a Spanish ship has to be in the same square as an English ship to try this and that isn’t very likely.

The campaign plays through a series of scenarios as the Armada moves through the Channel giving each side options for attacking the enemy (including a chance for the Spanish to attack ports or invade from Flanders). There are chances to resupply and repair your forces between battles too.

I haven’t cut out any ships yet, but I did play a couple battles with some stand-ins and the game played quickly and smoothly. There is a rules summary sheet, which I referred to when first getting started, to help with any basic questions.

The Spanish Armada book gives you ships, easy-play rules, and a basic history all a comprehensive little package. The author also gives you permission to copy the pages, so that you don’t have to cut up the book. Overall, I was pretty happy with the game and think this is a worthwhile purchase.