Tuesday, December 29, 2015

DANG 2015 - The Shores of Tripoli

This year’s DANG (Dave’s Annual Naval Game) was The Shores of Tripoli: U.S. Navy vs. Barbary Pirates. The game will cover the attacks by the U.S. Navy on Tripoli harbor in early August 1804. Historically the U.S. Navy made a series of attacks using (borrowed) gunboats and mortar boats on Tripoli. The attacks were mostly indecisive, but these actions and the subsequent Battle of Derna set the stage for the signing of a treaty between Tripoli and the United States. This action also provided experience for the young American naval officers that would prove invaluable during the War of 1812.
Bombardment of Tripoli (oil painting by Michael Felice Corn)
With the short history lesson out of the way, on to the game. Everyone began arriving at my place around 9:00 AM and we spent the next hour catching up on things, looking at the 15mm ships, talking about the projects we are all working on and planning, and munching on some breakfast snacks. Then we split up for the battle with Kevin, Mark, and Arthur taking the Tripoli side and Dale, Scott, Dave, and George taking the Americans. We did a quick review of the campaign rules, had a brief overview of the tactical rules, and each side went off to plan the first action.
Pre-game Briefing
During planning each side had some initial options to select from to beef up their forces before starting the battles. Each side also had to deploy their forces for the first game day. The Tripolitans had a felucca, a sloop, fifteen gunboats, and a couple forts to defend the area. There were three possible approaches to the city the Americans could take and the Tripolitans had to plan how cover these. They could also keep some ships in reserve, but it would take time for these reinforcements to reach any of the areas. The Tripolitans decided to keep most of their forces in reserve, but to place the felucca and five gunboats in the Jerba and Western passages into Tripoli Harbor (Zone B on the map), where there was also a fort to help with defense.
Campaign game map of Tripoli
The Americans had a carronade armed schooner, six gunboats (which were larger than the Tripoli gunboats), and two mortar boats. They also count on gunfire support from their larger (off-map) ships in the zones near open water (Zones A and B on the map). Their goal was to demoralize the Bashaw of Tripoli by sinking his ships and bombing his palace. They had the initiative and could choose where they were coming from, but there were no obvious good choices. After getting some information on the Tripoli deployment, the Americans decided to launch their whole force at Zone B (which was where the historical first battle occurred). So we set up the battle.

The Tripolitans set up just south of the entrances, with the felucca and most of the gunboats just drifting. The Americans entered from the north edge as one big group. I had told them they could enter in groups, since the close grouping would make maneuvering difficult, but they said they wanted to come on all at once.
Initial set up
View of the American ships from the fort
View of the Tripolitan ships from the fort
The Americans slowly closed and some long range cannon shots were traded. The Americans decided to use the long-range off-map support and some gunboats to attack the felucca, while the others fired on the smaller Tripoli gunboats. The Tripolitan ships all had smaller guns (18 or 12 pounders compared to the 24 pounders on the American gunboats) and had a little trouble getting hits, but the fort (with five 24 pounder guns) quickly found the range.
The American line moves forward
One Tripolitan gunboats decided to close range with the Americans, making him the target of many shots, but not a lot of hits (at least initially). The felucca was feeling some pain from the long-range guns and since it’s loss would hurt the Bashaw’s morale, the captain decided to head back to the docks. But a critical hit starting a fire on the ship as it was pulling away. All of the crew that wasn’t sailing the ship were tasked with firefighting and they were able to put out the fire without much damage. Then the felucca was able to make its way out of the fight.
A single Tripoli gunboat closes with the Americans
The Americans slowly move in
After taking a few hits and returning fire, the felucca decides it is time to head for the docks
But a critical hit starts a fire
The Bashaw won't be happy about this
But the crew douses the flames and the ship is able to retreat
USS Vixen makes a close pass on a Tripoli gunboat
Meanwhile, the fort guns were getting hits on the gunboats and a heated shot from the fort started a fire on one gunboat. As one of their options, the Tripolitans had chosen an expert gunner for the fort, which proved to be a good move as the fort would eventually sink three American gunboats (the last with a magazine critical hit as the gunboat disengaging).
The fort blasts away at the gunboats
Gunboat mast down and on fire
Lifeboats move to pick up the crew from a sinking gunboat
With the exit of the felucca, the Americans began concentrating on the remaining Tripolitan gunboats. The crews on two gunboats were wiped out from a mix of canister and musketry. The Americans captured one without a fight, but the other was holed at the waterline and sank before anyone could get to it. Two other gunboats sank after being hammered to splinters, while the final one had an explosion from a critical hit and burned to the waterline.
Good shooting knocks out the gunboat's crew
A hit causes an explosion on the Tripolitan gunboat
The Americans move in to finish off the remaining gunboats
Gunboats fighting it out
The last Tripoli gunboat sinks leaving the crew to swim
Tripoli sailors swim to shore
With all the Tripoli gunboats gone and reinforcements still off in the distance, the Americans withdrew.
Remaining American ships withdraw
Tripolitan heroes
For the Tripolitans the felucca was heavily damaged, the fort lost a gun and some crew, and all five gunboats were sunk. The Americans lost three gunboats and took light damage on the others. As night fell, the Americans rolled for changes in the Bashaw’s morale. The Bashaw was not happy about the damage to his favorite ship or the gunboat losses, but the American losses (and a poor die roll) were more than enough to offset the bad news. The Bashaw’s morale improved and he was demanding more in ransom and tribute from the Americans.

The loss of half the American force and the improving Bashaw’s morale meant that it would be tough for the Americans to win the game. With only a couple more hours of game time available, we decided to call the game for Tripoli. Each side talked about what they should have done during the set up and battle. Overall, I think everyone enjoyed the game and the 15mm miniatures were much more impressive to play with than the usual ships we have. Compared to history, both sides took more casualties (which is to be expected with gamers) and the result was fairly inconclusive.
2015 DANG crew
From the referee point of view, I was hoping to see some boarding actions (no one even tried to grapple) and I would have liked to get in another battle. If I do the mini-campaign again I’ll have to think about ways to make things move a little quicker (which it true for almost all my mini-campaigns). I’m going to think about running the historical gunboat battle for Enfilade, but it might not happen for the next one.


  1. It sounds like a great game. I'm sorry I missed it.

    1. David, we missed you. Hopefully next year will work better.

  2. What a splendid game...those ships are lovely.

  3. Excellent stuff - as we have come to expect from DANG each year. Lovely models, and which rules were you using?

    1. David, the rules were a slightly modified version of Thoroughbred Miniatures "Sea Eagles" rules (updated Prevailing Winds rules). They worked, but you need to make up your own ship stats or buy ships from Thoroughbred.

  4. Am curious about your campaign rules. Do you have anything written down?

    1. Brian, let me know an email address or contact information and I'll send you what I wrote up.

    2. Dave,
      I'm sorry; I thought it did that when I left you a comment. My email is: brianw0405ATgmailDOTcom

    3. Brian, I emailed the information yesterday. Let me know if you don't see it (but be sure to check you SPAM folder).

    4. Dave,
      Well, nothing has come through so far. Would you try a different email address? This one is: brian@weathersbysystems.com