Sunday, January 26, 2014

Looking down the line

With the new year already well underway, I thought I would take a little time to make some notes about some upcoming plans and projects for 2014. My right arm is still recovering from the shoulder surgery in December, but I’m hoping that won’t prevent me from doing some hobby work.

I plan to work on some modern ships this year. I recently ordered a 1/700 scale Chinese Navy Type 56 corvette from the Objects May Appear… store on Shapeways (in addition to some 1/144th scale air racers). One thing I’ve noticed about the Shapeways figures I’ve seen is that the basic strong & flexible printing turns out with a grainy look and feel. Since this ship will have fit in with my resin and plastic ships, I chose to get the ship in the polished strong & flexible material (the mid-level price option). I’m hoping that will make the whole figure smoother, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I do expect there will still need to be some detailing work done on the ship, but since no one else makes this model I should have something unique. I will post my impressions of the ship and material once it arrives.
The Type 56 image from Shapeways website
I also want to get back to a couple of projects that I set aside. One is the 15mm Age of Sail stuff. This project has been languishing for years and I really need to do some work on it. I’ve got enough ships and figures to do some small battles and figure out the real direction I want to go. I want to do some U.S. Navy vs. Barbary pirate actions and maybe follow that up with some War of 1812 actions, but my slow painting has been holding up the whole project.
Barbary Pirates (still) in progress
The other project I want to get back to is the Vietnam War air rescue scenario that I started a couple years ago. I was going to run a game for Enfilade, but the project stalled and I went in a different direction. I want to use the AirWar C21 rules for the game, since the rules cover both air-to-air and air-to-ground stuff, but I’m having trouble figuring out the best way to do a turning template that fits with my stands and the game. I’m probably being too anal retentive about this, but I’d really like to have some good tools for players to make movement and turning easy. 
Planes waiting for completion
In addition to gaming projects, I want to make that I do more blog posting this year. My postings fell off a little last year and I want to change that. My goal is to get out a minimum of 30 posts in 2014. That isn't really much compared to most bloggers, but my posts tend to be long so I think that is a good compromise.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

DANG 2013 – Operation Landcrab Recap

DANG (Dave's Annual Naval Game) for 2013 was “Operation Landcrab – The American Invasion of Attu” with American and Japanese forces squaring off in the Aleutian Islands. The game was based on a General Quarters 3 mini-campaign (available for download to registered owners of the game). The GQ 3 game sets the stage for a hypothetical battle between American and Japanese battleships, but if you exclude the hypothetical forces (the Japanese battleships and carrier) you could still have an interesting more-historical scenario.

Everyone began arriving at my place just after 9:30 AM and we spent a little while catching up on things, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning. After that we split up into the sides with Mark, David S, Arthur, and Paul taking the Japanese while Dale, Scott, Kevin, Dave C, and Charlie taking the Americans. Each side got their briefing and began planning their actions.
The US Navy players
Japanese Navy players
To set the scene, the Americans were already ashore on Attu with a supporting Task Force (which included three older battleships and an escort carrier) at the island. The escort carrier only carried fighters, which could only be used to support the troops ashore and to defend the ships from air attack. They also had two cruiser covering groups (one with light cruisers and the other with heavy cruisers) patrolling west and south of Attu. The Americans also had a good number of land-based bombers, fighters, and search aircraft spread over two airfields, although none of these were really equipped to attack enemy ships. The primary missions for the Americans were to support the landings (off-loading supplies and ground support) and maintain control of the area around Attu. The Americans also had the option of adding a cruiser Emergency Reinforcement Group to their forces, but decided not to expend the victory points needed to bring them in.

The Japanese had three main naval groups – a battleship group with three older battleships and a light carrier, a cruiser group with three heavy cruisers, and a resupply group (made up of a seaplane tender, heavy cruiser, light cruiser, and escorting destroyers) for the island of Kiska. The resupply group was trying to from some A6M2-N ‘Rufe’ and F1M ‘Pete’ floatplanes to the island and historically turned back for port when word got out about the American invasion of Attu. The Japanese also had some supporting bombers and search planes back at Paramushiro (off the west edge of the map). The Japanese had an optional resupply group with a light cruiser and some destroyer transports that could enter on the second day to take supplies to Attu or Kiska, getting the supplies through would give victory points and the Japanese chose to take the group and planned to send it to Attu.

The map below shows the basic starting positions for the starting forces on May 15. The game would run until May 20, but I think everyone expected it to be over before then.
Operational map with starting positions
The basic Japanese plan was to have the battleship and cruiser groups make their way toward Attu while the Kiska group sent planes to Kiska. Then all three groups would converge on Attu and attack the American forces there. The Americans planned to keep the support Task Force around Attu, with the covering forces patrolling west and south of the island, while land-based air and submarines searched for the Japanese.
American planning session
Japanese planning session
On the first day of the campaign poor weather grounded the planes from Amchitka. During the morning the Japanese loaded torpedoes on their G4M ‘Betty’ bombers in Paramushiro and sent them to attack the Americans around Attu. The bombers were able to avoid the fighters from the American escort carrier to make attack runs on the battleships, carrier, and transports. But the anti-aircraft fire from the ships was heavy, shooting down or driving off most of the bombers and only one transport was sunk. Meanwhile American search planes from Adak found the Kiska group and part of the battleship group during the mid-day turn, but there were no spare bombers available to make attacks.

In the afternoon the Americans sent their southern heavy cruiser group toward Kiska to watch for the Japanese cruisers reported in the area, while the light cruiser group operating southwest of Attu turned to stay close to the island. The Japanese spilt their light carrier off from the battleships so it could launch an air strike while the battleships moved south of Attu. The air strike caught the American light cruiser group southwest of Attu. Nine B5N ‘Kate’ torpedo bombers attacked the four cruisers (one Cleveland class and three old Omaha class) heavily damaging the new Cleveland class and sinking an escorting destroyer.

In the east, the Japanese split the Kiska group sending the seaplane tender on toward Kiska, while the other ships turned to rendezvous with the battleship group. (On a side note, the seaplane tender would be sunk by an American submarine shortly after arriving at Kiska.) Late in the afternoon, the American heavy cruiser group picked up contacts on their radar, launched their floatplanes, and turned toward the contacts; setting us up for the Battle of Kiska.

Japanese forces consisted of the heavy cruiser Maya, the light cruiser Kiso and three destroyers.
Japanese ships for the Battle of Kiska
Low visibility conditions allowed the Americans force, with the heavy cruisers Wichita, San Francisco, Louisville and four destroyers, to surprise the Japanese.
American ships for the Battle of Kiska
The first American shots caught Maya unaware and caused flooding that would eventually sink the cruiser. The Japanese tried to get off some shots, but quickly decided it would be try to escape than to continue a losing fight and turned to retreat, launching torpedoes as they turned.
Japanese turn and launch torpedoes with the burning Kiso at the end of the line
The American cruisers, not wanting to lose a chance to inflict damage on the Japanese, turned to follow. Just as Maya was sinking, the torpedoes reached the pursuing Americans. The Americans tried to comb the wakes of the torpedoes, but there were too many of them and both Wichita and San Francisco took multiple hits, sinking the cruisers. Louisville was able to finish off the damaged Kiso, but this was definitely a Pyrrhic victory.

As night fell and we started the second campaign day, the Japanese moved their cruiser and battleship groups together and headed for Attu. The Americans moved their battleships to meet up with the remnants of the cruiser groups and headed west of Attu, leaving on the escort carrier and several destroyers at Attu, but hoping to stop any Japanese force before it could reach the island.

Around 0500, the American met up with the Japanese west-southwest of Attu. Both sides spotted each other at about the same time (thanks to US radar), so neither side was surprised at the start of the Battle of Attu. Both sides set slowly converging courses toward Attu. The Japanese were looking to get into position to shell the American beachhead in the morning, while the Americans wanted to block the Japanese.
Getting the US ships ready for the Battle of Attu
The Japanese battleships and escorts
The Japanese battleships Yamashiro, Fuso, and Mutsu traded shots at long range with the American battleships Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Idaho, with each side taking some hits and slowing the battleline. Each side had battleships catch fire, making them prime targets at night. The Americans were able to put out their fires relatively quickly, but one Japanese battleship would burn for several turns. The lighter forces skirmished around the edges resulting in several damaged and disabled cruisers and destroyers. The Japanese tried to close for torpedo shots, but even with their long-range torpedoes, they were finding it hard to get close enough for a good shot against the American battleships.
Fuso lighting up the night
Japanese taking their torpedo shots
US light forces maneuvering to keep the Japanese destroyers away
As game time was running out and players needed to leave, we decided to abstract the final battleship and torpedo shots. Two American battleships each took one torpedo, but the damage was not as heavy as it could have been and they were able to stay with the formation. The Japanese continued to take hits from the American battleships, but they too were still able to stay in formation. Since there were no decisive blows by this point, I made the referee decision to have both sides roll for morale to see if they would continue or withdraw (I used the standard GQ3.3 morale ratings, which gave the Japanese a slight advantage). Both sides rolled - the Americans passed but the Japanese failed (obviously, the American admiral remembered what happened to the men in charge after US Navy withdrew from around Guadalcanal the previous year and decided it would be better to fight on).
The chaos of battle as the Japanese fail their morale roll
With the Japanese forces retiring, we decided this game was a Japanese tactical victory (since they had damaged or sunk more American ships) and an American strategic victory (since they still controlled the battlefield).

Putting this into a historical context; Attu would still fall, both sides would have lots of ships to repair (although only the Americans had the shipyard capacity to really do it), and the timetable for the Kiska invasion would be thrown off a little (still allowing the Japanese to evacuate the island before the actual invasion). The Japanese battleship Mutsu would still blow up in port in June (only now it would be blamed on poor ammunition handling after reloading from the Battle of Attu instead of sabotage) and, due to damage sustained at the battle, Yamashiro would miss being sunk at Surigao Strait only to be sunk by American bombers near the end of the war. The American battleships Pennsylvania and Nevada would stay in the yards the next few months, delaying their participation in some campaigns, but still end up being sunk during the A-Bomb tests after the war.

Overall, I think everyone had an enjoyable time with the game. There were enough decisions to keep the players involved in the game and the two battles were interesting. The onus was on the Japanese to force the action and they did. The Americans could be more passive, but still needed to have a solid idea of how to react to Japanese moves.

From a referee point of view, most things moved along pretty smoothly. I was happy that we got in two battles and two air strikes (although I was hoping for more of those), which wasn’t too bad for a one-armed referee. I do need to figure out better ways to handle decisions and record keeping for aircraft for future games (I think this task was tough for the Americans), while still letting players feel they have control of those assets. On another note, the photographer for the day (my lovely wife) asked that we use larger ships in the future so she can get better pictures.