Island Cruiser Patrol

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With two opposing fleets assembling amongst the Pacific islands, both sides were probing for weaknesses. Neither fleet was yet ready to take on the other, but they were keen to gain moral advantage before the oncoming battle.

Two cruiser forces were on intersecting courses. A British cruiser force was heading east, patrolling a line past which the Fleet Commander did not want the Japanese to go. A Japanese cruiser force was heading roughly south, mapping out possible lines of advance and probing the Allied picket lines.

 

Imperial Japanese Navy (in squadron order)

IJN Nachi – Myoko class heavy cruiser – with 5 x twin-barrelled 8” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 5” turrets and 4 sets of quad torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 33 knots.

IJN Tone - Tone class heavy cruiser – with 4 x twin-barrelled 8” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 5” turrets and 4 sets of triple torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 35 knots.

IJN Naka – Sendai class light cruiser – with 6 x single-barrelled 5.5” turrets, 2 x twin-barrelled 3” turrets and 4 sets of twin torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 33 knots.

IJN Sendai – Tenryu class light cruiser – with 3 x single-barrelled and 1 x twin barrelled 5.5” turrets, 1 x centreline single-barrelled 3” turret and 2 sets of triple torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 32 knots.

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Royal Navy (in squadron order)

HMS Suffolk – Kent class heavy cruiser – with 4 x twin-barrelled 8” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 4” turrets and 2 sets of quad torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 32 knots.

HMS Achilles – Leander class light cruiser – with 4 x twin-barrelled 6” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 4” turrets and 2 sets of quad torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 32 knots.

HMS Cornwall – Kent class heavy cruiser – with 4 x twin-barrelled 8” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 4” turrets and 2 sets of quad torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 32 knots.

HMS Ajax – Leander class heavy cruiser – with 4 x twin-barrelled 6” turrets, 4 x twin-barrelled 4” turrets and 2 sets of quad torpedo tubes. Maximum speed 32 knots.

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Hostilities Commence

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Turn 6: The lead ships spot each other and open fire

Turn 5

It was as the wind eased that the two patrols spotted each other between the islands. The wind eased to half its former speed to the relief of the crews as the ships accelerated to battle speed. The gun directors would also not be affected in their accuracy if the wind stayed at this speed. (In General Quarters III weather changes are tested for at the start of turn 5 and every 5th turn after that).

Turn 6

The heavy cruiser IJN Nachi was the leading Japanese ships. The IJN squadron was pointing directly at HMS Suffolk as she appeared from behind an island, so only the forward two turrets of the Nachi could fire on the British. And only the HMS Suffolk had the Japanese in view at this stage. The British scored the opening point of the match by knocking out a starboard secondary turret on the Nachi. The Japanese were closing in, with shell splashes not far from the Suffolk.

Both squadrons found the range quickly. With the next salvo, the British knocked out ‘A’ turret on the Nachi. Another shell found the fuel store for the spotter planes. The resultant fireball did some minor damage to the hull and started a small blaze. Men quickly rushed to action to pour seawater onto the flames. The Japanese fire-fighting crew was effective, bringing the blaze quickly under control. IJN Nachi’s reply was equally effective, knocking out ‘X’ turret on the Suffolk.

Turn 7

The Japanese circled slowly to port. This allowed them to bring more guns to bear on the British, but without turning sharply enough to upset the gun directors. Confident after the first round of firing, HMS Suffolk slowed slightly so that it could fire a few more salvoes before disappearing behind the next island. HMS Achilles was now out from behind the island and able to join the action. This it did quickly by landing a bulkhead hit on IJN Nachi with its opening salvo. The Japanese appear to be set for a pounding.

The British split into two groups, each led by a heavy cruiser with a light cruiser following. HMS Cornwall led the 2nd group in a port turn around the nearby island. Although only able to bring its front turrets to bear on the Japanese at this stage, it turned so as to not interfere with the broadsides of the Suffolk and Achilles. This allowed the Cornwall to come into action a turn earlier than if it had just followed the Achilles. The British commander was confident that the damage already caused to the Nachi and the early introduction of the extra guns may allow him to quickly overwhelm the Japanese force.

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Turn 7: Maneouvring so that more ships can trade fire

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

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Turn 10: The ill-fated Cornwall is left behind

By turning to port, the Nachi was now able to bring more guns to bear, despite a turret being out of action. It switched firing onto the Cornwall as this presented a bigger risk if it continued towards the Japanese light cruisers.

The first two shells to land made a mess of the deck, damaging both sets of torpedo tubes, but to the relief of its captain did not damage the main armament. This relief was short lived, however, when the last shell penetrated the forward magazine. The resulting explosion fatally wounded the British heavy cruiser – knocking it out of the battle and the war with just one salvo. Sailors swam for the nearby island as it slowly settled below the water. Distracted by the explosion, none of the other ships landed any shells.

Turns 8-9

The repair crew on the Nachi were having trouble stemming the flow of water from the damaged bulkhead, causing it to slow further. HMS Suffolk now had no target as it steamed behind the island off its port beam. With the Ajax avoiding the sinking Cornwall and ships having to swap targets because of them appearing and disappearing between islands, no-one hit with any of their next few salvoes. (In GQ3 we use the optional rule that when you fired at a different target, or no target, last turn, you only use half the number of dice. This simulates time taken up with ranging shots before firing full salvoes at a target.)

Turn 10

The weather was closing in again, with the wind freshening and visibility down to 14,000 yards. The opponents were within this range, so it was not currently a problem for firing. The sailors felt happier as it would make it easier to elude the enemy if that became necessary. By the time the crew of the Nachi had finished patching the bulkhead the Japanese ship had taken on a lot of water and was down to half speed.

All the cruisers were now capable of firing at each other. The Achilles joined in by hitting the engine room of the Naka, slowing it to half speed. A shell also penetrated one of the Naka’s magazines, knocking out the main port turret in the process. But quick work by the crew flooded the magazine in time to contain the explosion. The Nachi only managed to knock out the port torpedo tubes of HMS Suffolk, but the British ship took the hint and swapped its aim to this new threat.

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Turn 10: IJN Tone is about to follow IJN Nachi out from behind the island

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Turn 11: IJN Tone moves to shield the burning IJN Nachi as the Japanese light cruisers head through the strait.

Turn 11

The repair crew on the Naka got the ship back up to near full speed just as the Achilles exploded the oxygen supply for the starboard torpedo tubes – starting a fierce oxygen-fuelled fire. The Ajax followed suit, knocking out a set of torpedo tubes on the Tenryu. However, this Japanese light cruiser did not have the long lance torpedoes so he crew did not have a fire to contend with.

With the two Japanese light cruisers entering the narrow strait between two islands, the British light cruisers took the opportunity to both launch torpedoes. Although at medium range for the torpedoes, the Japanese would have restricted manoeuvring room.

The Japanese ships were not living up to their early promise and all missed their targets. But the Suffolk did not make that mistake. Angered by the loss of their sister ship, they quickly homed in on the Nachi; destroying ‘B’ turret, damaging the hull and slamming two shells into the engine room. The Nachi was now dead in the water unless their crews could make some temporary repairs. Worse was that all power was lost to the main guns, making her a sitting duck. But the British could not take immediate advantage of this good shooting. They needed to concentrate on the other three Japanese ships because they were currently a bigger threat.

Turn 12

Damaged shafts and ruined main bearings greeted the work crew on the port side of the Nachi’s engine room. This side was beyond temporary repair. Another crew were still working on the other side of the engine room to see whether they could get the ship partly underway. With the port side wrecked, the best they could hope for was half speed if they could repair the starboard side.

On the Naka, the fire fighting team was struggling to control the flames fanned by the strengthening wind. The heat was beginning to buckle some of the structural members of the Japanese cruiser.

In the narrow confines of the strait, the two spreads of torpedoes both headed towards the Tenryu. But the captain was experienced at this game and calmly manoeuvred his ship to narrowly avoid both spreads. The British commander was disappointed, but at least the distraction would make it more difficult for the Japanese gunnery crews on the Tenryu.

The British light cruisers were enjoying their gunnery, unlike the other ships. The Ajax battered the incoming Tenryu by destroying a set of torpedo tubes, knocking out ‘Y’ turret and damaging the hull. Not to be outdone, the Achilles pasted the Naka; knocking ‘A’ turret out of action as well as causing two hull hits and buckling a bulkhead. The Captain slowed the Naka rapidly to reduce the intake of water through the holes in the hull.

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Turn 12: The British torpedoes launched the previous turn all narrowly missed the IJN Tenryu.

The British Affinity for Engine rooms

Turn 13

Further disappointment greeted the Japanese Captain of the Nachi as the starboard repair crew also discovered critical damage to the engines. The Nachi was not repairable in situ and would need a tow to safety. They only had their secondary armament operable, but it was causing little damage at this stage of the battle. The crew were silently cheering on the Tone at the same time as cursing the poor shooting from that ship. It was their only hope. They needed to Tone to scare off the British and then tow the Nachi to safety. To their delight the Tone finally began landing some shells, knocking out a port secondary turret and causing a hull hit.

The damage they were taking was distracting the Japanese gunnery teams on the light cruisers. Again they failed to land any penetrating shots. Unfortunately for them the Ajax and Achilles continued to land shells on their hapless opponents. The Ajax knocked out ‘A’ turret as well as slowing the Tenryu by landing a shell in the engine room. In this battle the British seemed to be specialising in taking out the propulsion systems of their opponents. Once again the Achilles did even better, with two more shells into the hull of the Naka and another into the engine room. This was more than enough to doom the Naka. With all the holes in its hull, it rapidly went to the bottom.

 
 

Turn 14

Close range shooting was now the order of the day for the heavy cruisers still underway. Both landed four shells. The Tone suffered the loss of ‘A’ turret, a damaged bulkhead and two hull hits. The Suffolk also lost ‘A’ turret plus a set of torpedo tubes. It also had an aircraft fuel fire. But worst of all was a starboard rudder jam, which began turning the British ship into the nearby island. If they did not fix this quickly the remaining British heavy cruiser would soon be aground.

The Achilles now switched to target the Tone, knocking out a secondary turret.

HMS Ajax continued on the Tenryu, knocking out ‘X’ turret, causing a hull hit and (you guessed it) an engine room hit. The Tenryu was now stationary in the water and so badly damaged that another hit may finish her off.

Beached As Bro'

Turn 15

To the cheers of the Japanese, the Suffolk turned into the island and came to a shuddering halt. The red faces of the British crew was probably from embarrassment, although they claimed it was from the glow of the fire that was still burning while they had been concentrating on trying to repair the rudder.

The Japanese repair crews were very effective, with the Tenryu repairing part of the engine room and the Tone patching the leaky bulkhead.

Undaunted by their rough introduction to island life, the gun crews of HMS Suffolk staved off their brave Japanese opponents by damaging the only gun director on the Tone, smashing their starboard torpedo tubes and starting a fire from exploding oxygen.

The only other ship to be hit was the Tenryu. Just as she made some headway, although just a bare 6 knots in these heavy seas, several shells slammed into her from HMS Ajax. The loss of another main turret became irrelevant as unable to take further punishment, the Tenryu disappeared beneath the waves.

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The state of play after 15 turns.

Wrap-up

IJN Nachi was permanently dead in the water. Two main turrets had been destroyed and the other three were unable to fire because of the permanent engine room damage. It had taken 5 hull hits out of 8.

The two Japanese light cruisers (IJN Naka and IJN Tenryu) had been sunk. Their 5.5” guns were shown to be no match for the 6” guns of the British light cruisers. By the time they had closed to a range where they could penetrate the British ships, they had been virtually destroyed.

The Japanese hopes rested solely with IJN Tone. This heavy cruiser was now only capable of 16 knots, although this was infinitely faster than the British heavy cruiser could do. Although the Tone still had 3 main guns operational, its accuracy was going to be low. With no gun director it would fire at 2 ranges worse. Like the Suffolk it was currently on fire.

HMS Cornwall was sunk by a magazine explosion from the first salvo fired at it (Turn 7). This put the British on the back foot early on. However, the British firing improved in accuracy while the Japanese unfortunately wasted their early advantage. The British used the islands to advantage so that at times they had more shots on the Japanese ships than could be fired back at them.

Although HMS Suffolk was wearing the island as a bow decoration it still had two turrets of 8” guns and three secondaries with which to defend it. But first it had a fire to put out.

HMS Achilles and HMS Ajax were undamaged.

Aftermath

It was at this stage that we ran out of time. It had been a very close and exciting game. It had swung backwards and forwards between the sides.

What may have happened if we had not run out of time?

Both British light cruisers were capable of 32 knots; twice the speed of the Tone. So there was no way that the Tone could outrun them unless it damaged both without taking further damage itself. Both British light cruisers also had their starboard torpedoes available (having used their port torpedoes earlier) and were in a position to fire them at either the Tone or the Nachi next turn if desired. The Tone could probably outrun the torpedoes, but it would force her away from the grounded Suffolk.

The two British light cruisers would try and keep the Tone at 6,000 to 9,000 yards range, given that the Tone had no gun director. That way on average they would get 4.7 damage rolls per turn against only 0.8 damage rolls for the Tone. If the Suffolk got any shots at the Tone, then the Tone would be in an even worse position.

However, if the Tone repaired the gun director, then it would do 2.6 damage rolls on average each turn. This would be better, but the British could still do nearly twice as much damage.

If the Tone moved away from the Suffolk, then the Suffolk could just pound away at the Nachi. If the Tone moved closer, then the light cruisers would still try to maintain the ideal range and have the guns of the Suffolk in support. This could raise the British trio to a total of 6.4 damage rolls per turn.

The British were definitely ahead, but repair of the gun director and a round of good shooting for the Japanese might just tip the balance. Both sides were probably frantically calling up air and/or naval support. At this stage neither side was willing to disengage.

If the British light cruisers were able to be driven off without finishing off the Nachi, then the Tone may well destroy the Suffolk and then tow the Nachi away. If the Tone limped away, then the Nachi would be finished off quickly. The Suffolk would then be towed from the island. If the Tone stayed, chances were that it would be sunk and then the Nachi finished off for a clean sweep by the British.

But the outcome was far from certain, particularly as both heavy cruisers were currently on fire.

Leaving it there opens up a number of possibilities for follow-up games continuing from this point, including :-

1. Send in bombers and air cover for both sides, with a variable delay for each side when they come on.

2. Send in reinforcements in the form of other patrols.

3. Send in reinforcements - one side with aircraft and the other with ships.

4. Fight the main battle, feeding in squadrons of ships at a time.

This is the account of a fictitious Wordl War 2 naval battle fought at Nunawading Wargames Association by John and John using General Quarters 3 naval rules. The miniatures are mostly 1:2400 GHQ models.