Convoy to Borneo

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Last Saturday, we here at NWA in Melbourne had a visit from Mal Wright of Adelaide, who brought with him a demo of his forthcoming module in his WW2 convoy series which deals with Japanese convoys in the Pacific. This is an add-on to a system he has already had published. Mal is a prolific rules writer and researcher. It was great to chat to him about his wargaming projects and historical research.


Route to Borneo

The first thing that comes to mind with convoy games is the hassle of moving all of those ship models each turn. But Mal's rules get around this by the simple, but elegant, expedient of leaving the convoy stationary on the centre of the table and only moving those things that are moving in relation to the convoy as a whole – escorts, submarines, planes and so on.

There is a "campaign" map in the game, for the movement of the convoy as a whole, en route to its destination – your convoy is travelling from its start point (in our case, the Japanese home islands) to its destination (Northern Borneo for us) via a set route. The route is printed on the map, with a series of points marked on it, each representing the point to which the convoy had moved during the "turn".

There were two daylight and one night turn per day. On each turn, a roll or two is made to see if any random event occurs. This could be encountering enemy aircraft, an enemy submarine, getting an escort from some friendly aircraft for a turn, a merchant vessel breaking down and so on. Mal has worked in real events that occurred to such convoys during World War 2. These events make it seem, to me at least, that the game is also highly suited to solitaire play.

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Mal Wright is putting the final pieces in place for his game on Japanese convoys in south east Asia. The proper map will soon be found in his upcoming addition to his Convoy series.

The Convoy Sails South from Japan

Our convoy comprised six merchantmen, carrying supplies to the garrison in Borneo, plus three empty tankers hoping to bring oil back from Borneo.

Four escorts accompanied this convoy. Lead escort was an Asashio class destroyer, the Assugumo. Also with the convoy was a torpedo boat (Hayabusa), a minesweeper (W20 class), and a frigate (Shumusu).

First turn out, one of the tankers (the Rikko Maru) developed engine trouble and turned back. Not a good omen. The remaining ships as shown in the photo to the right are:

---, TB Hayabusa (Torpedo boat)

---, (missing Rikko Maru), AC Issin Maru (Collier), AP Hie Maru (Transport)

DD Assugumo (Asashio class destroyer), AC Kanseise Maru (Collier), AC Omahi Maru (Collier), AC Naigaisan Maru (Collier), AM W20 Class (Minesweeper)

---, AO Tatekawa Maru (Fleet oiler), AK Tunan Maru (Cargo ship), AK Ganges Maru (Cargo ship)

---, PF Shumusu (Frigate)

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Shortly after setting out, a tanker developed engine trouble and had to return to port, leaving only 8 ships to be escorted south.

Night Attack

 

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The Liberators approach the convoy from behind.

Then, in the first night turn, a pair of Liberators attacked from astern. Things got tense as only one of the escorts had managed to detect them as they came in. The first Liberator dropped flares to illuminate the target ship, whilst the second closed and bombed.

They then circled around and repeated, with the second plane dropping flares for the other to bomb on. A sigh of relief. The escorting W20 class minesweeper was missed and only slight damage was sustained by the cargo ship Ganges Maru.

A few turns of "nothing much happening" ensued. The hopes of the convoy participants rose. We might be all right after all.

 

But it was not to be. Rolling for events a result of 12 came up. I remember it well – a whole carrier-borne air group attacked from about the 1 o'clock position. Three flights of three Avengers with torpedoes, and two flights of Hellcats doubling as air cover but also carrying 500lb bombs.

The flights split up and approached simultaneously from a variety of directions. Things seemed to go well at first for the convoy. Passing over the torpedo boat to attack the lead starboard merchant ship, one flight of Avengers received a large dose of flak. Two out of the three Avengers in that flight went down without engaging.

After such a good start, the convoy was disappointed to miss all the other aircraft. A flight of Avengers released its torpedoes at the Hie Maru, but all of them missed. The third flight of Avengers released their torpedoes, but missed all of their targets as well.

We might just survive this...

The first flight of Hellcats dropped some of their bombs on the already lightly damaged Tatekama. Some additional damage was caused to the engine, stopping it dead in the water, and a fire started.

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Flights maneouvre to attack from multiple directions as the Hie Maru is set on fire.

Downsizing the Convoy

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Torn Apart by Air Superiority

Then disaster – the surviving Avenger from the first flight released, and hit the collier Kanseise Maru amidships – breaking her back. Another torpedo from a different flight had missed the Omahi Maru but unfortunately continued on. It missed all the merchant vessels, but slammed into the frigate Shumushu. Scratch one escort. 

The Hellcats did reasonably well, however, with two hits resulting in a pair of merchants dead in the water. What to do? It was decided that one of the escorts (the W20) would attempt to tow the valuable tanker Tatekawa Maru home. The Ganges Maru was detached to tow the other immobilised vessel - the Naigaison Maru. At this stage of the war Japan could not afford to lose too many merchant ships, so scuttling was a poor option.

This latter pairing got safely home. But the vessel under tow by the escort got into trouble almost immediately and sank. Another tanker gone that Japan could ill afford to lose. The only good news out of this was that the escort had not travelled far and was able to rejoin the convoy before too many hours had elapsed.

Only the second day had passed. The convoy was only just passed the Ryukyu Islands yet was down by one escort (sunk) and 5 merchant vessels (2 sunk, 3 returned to port). To help out that night, a pair of Japanese naval Kates lent support.  

 

To our great relief, the next 40 hours were uneventful. Passing the Philippines, we received air cover in the afternoon. This was in the form of three Bettys (twin engined bombers) with MAD equipment – Magnetic Anomoly Detectors. The Japanese had developed this by 1944, which rather put the US submarines in an unenviable position. Particularly as they did not know the Japanese had the capability.

The Bettys were a godsend, as the turn in which they were available saw an encounter with a US Sub, the Silversides. Despite being in a great position at only 4,000 yards in front of the convoy, it was detected by one of the Bettys. As it crash dived it was badly damaged by depth charges dropped from the air.

With nearly 50% damage and half its torpedo tubes out of action, it tried to limp away quietly. For a time it succeeded, with nearly a dozen further depth charges dropped to no effect. But eventually the persistent destroyer Assugumo obtained a faint contact. Quickly dropping a further planned pattern of depth charges, the subs hull was ruptured and sank immediately. The convoy leader was setting a fine example as he raced back to rejoin the convoy.

 

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The USS Silversides tries to penetrate the screen of Bettys.

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To speed up play, Mal was using a program to calculate the results of the tactical fighting, but you would usually play these out with the game charts and some dice rolls.

Over half way to our destination now, and a full day without any real event. That night another sub turned up. Initially undetected, it appeared on the surface only a short distance behind the convoy. As it was closing into position, it was finally detected by the W20, who immediately tuned back to attack the sub.

The sub dived and loosed two torpedoes at the oncoming W20. Both missed but one ran into the convoy and slammed against the rear quarter of a freighter. But only a dull thud was heard as it turned out to be a dud. And after all the talk about 1944 being a better year for reliabilty of US torpedoes!

Perhaps the sub would have had better luck if it had decided on a gunnery duel (two 6" guns on the sub versus just the one on the W20), although at least it lived to fight another day. Despite some further hunting from the W20, the canny captain slipped quietly away. But the W20 was pleased in that it had forced off the attack.

A series of "no event" rolls ensued, to the relief of the convoy, and the remnants eventually sailed into harbour at Miri (just to the west of Brunei). So some supplies got through, but all of the tankers were sunk or turned back. The Imperial Army was pleased, but the Imperial Navy was not.

Aftermath

The game was both tense and fun, with some real nail biting moments. I am already planning to invest in the earlier modules (dealing with the Battle of the Atlantic and the Malta convoys) and some ships. Great fun!

Ships used were the surprisingly detailed 1:6000 Hallmark models (now sold by Magister Militum in the UK), with 1:1200 scale aircraft, mainly on mutiple flight stands from Litko. Again - many thanks to Mal for putting on the game.

If you want any of the convoy modules, contact Mal on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. @bigpond.net.au