Battle of the Coral Sea

This is the first installment of Brian McCue 's ( groups' near-weekly refereed multi-blind playthrough of the, as he calls it, Full Monty Campaign Sequence.  Names are slightly changed by request to protect the innocent.   Different installments will be separated by horizontal lines.

Brian McCue

Last night we launched into Battles of the Solomon Sea, having set up the previous week. The scenario is the Battle of the Coral Sea, with the historical set-up and no alternative force-package die rolls, but with the intent that this is the first battle of the Full Monty Campaign Sequence, i.e., we will actually do Midway (with Markus's rules) when the time comes.

Rick replaced Ian temporally as the commander of land-based Japanese side aviation; I have the Japanese ships, Cris is masterminding all the Americans, and Reese is kindly reffing.

One of the game's major innovations is the Search Paths, and I think that these, in conjunction with the fact that sighting is not guaranteed, work wonderfully well. By spacing the steps closely, one can intensively search a region over a period of turns. There's a Shadowing rule that lets the steps be adaptively re-positioned after a sighting, and I think this rule also works really well.

In refereed doubleblind play, there arises the question of whether or not an aircraft that makes a sighting is itself counter-detected. I had suggested that it would be counterdetected on a roll of 6 + number of engines, and we are using that. The counterdetecting player is told the number of engines and whether or not the airplane is one that can take off from water. Note that an important moment in the Battle of Midway was when the Japanese sighted a plane that was sighting them, and noticed that it was a single-engine airplane that could not take off from water, indicating the theretofore-unsuspected presence of a carrier.

We had time to play four turns, and each side managed a few attacks against land and sea targets. Cris said that Rick and I were falling into the trap of using our aircraft in "penny packets," rather than in a smaller number of larger strikes, He's probably right, though our two-counter Betty attack against his "carriers" also had a significant recon value because it let us determine whether or not the "carriers" really ought to be in the plural. (They turned out to be two carriers, but in separate task forces.)

To some degree, we were able to use luck to compensate for lack of skill. Cris's attack on Shoho found her to be defended by a single intrepid counter of Zekes: this counter proved itself to be able to roll "1" about 50% of the time. We rolled for initiative, I rolled a 1 and got it. I lined up Shoho's one Zeke against a torpedo plane, rolled two 1's, and shot it down. Cris's planes lined up for their counterattack and I rolled a 1 and something else (flipping whatever was attacking me), so at this point the Zeke had rolled three 1's on four D10s, not to mention my 1 on the initiative roll. Those early-war Japanese pilots were really good! The AA gunners on the ships also did some damage to Cris's strike, but "the bomber will always get through," and Shoho and her two escorts were sunk, with Shoho going down so fast that we didn't even remember the Damage rules until later. The intrepid Zekes were able to recover to a nearby land base, where they will show the Army pilots how it is done.

Last night Shawn and I continued the Coral Sea battle in Battles of the Solomon Sea, Reese kindly reffing.

Kamikawa, having set up shop in the Jomard Passage, briefly detected the American carrier. I was quite surprised to find her there, expecting her to be much farther west--I was really only searching in that area because of a desire for completeness, and because Kamikawa has to set up in straits or coastal waters. I sent a Kate strike at a range of 3 hexes (Vals can't go that far) and scored one hit, but under the damage rules I don't know what impairment I caused, or if it has been repaired. Japanese land-based aircraft continued to attack my land bases.

That night, USN surface ships came through the Jomard passage and made contact with Kamikawa (a 10% chance), sinking her and having a shoot-out with the accompanying cruiser. This could have made an interesting miniatures or IBS II scenario, though it might have been a little one-sided.

The transports put to sea on schedule, and got sighted, and in due course attacked by American carrier-based planes operating from the vicinity of the Jomard Passage. The cruiser that had been escorting Kamikawa stayed in the vicinity so as to provide surface search, and although it didn't see any American ships, it did see quite a number of American torpedoes. These always missed, confirming intelligence reports that there is something wrong with American torpedoes. Between the loss of Kamikawa (and, earlier, Shoho) and the points lost because of hits on my land bases, I am now behind. The damage to the transports is enough to deprive me of the ability to have an "automatic win" landing at Port Moresby, so I have to sink some more American ships, and then do well in the landing.

We played 8 turns, more than a day's worth and a new record. I continued to enjoy the game immensely, and I really appreciate Reese's reffing so that I can have a chance to play.

Last night we continued the Tag Team Wargaming experiment, Shawn and I playing some more of Coral Sea battle in Battles of the Solomon Sea. Shawn was tagging in on the Allied side, I was continuing with the Japanese, and Reese reffed.

We played full day's worth of turns (not bad considering that Shawn was new to the system and coming in on the middle of a game, and considering that we're all really still learning), from early afternoon of the first day to early afternoon of the second. In a limited-information game such as this there's a lot that shouldn't be said, but I'm safe in describing some airstrikes. Shawn's land-based planes did some attacks on some of my land bases, doing some damage (which, of course, I may have been able to later repair in whole or in part) and destroying some airplanes.

I managed to avenge Shoho by finding the American carriers and getting mine within range of them. In addition, some land bases had airplanes that could also join the strike. I recalled Cris's observation about not wasting one's airplanes in penny packets (and also Lanchester), and formed the biggest strike I could. At the beginning of the game, I had re-sorted my Kates and Vals so that each of the big carriers had just one or the other (and some Zekes). In the die-rolling to see how my strikes arrived, therefore, I was going to get either all of my torpedo-bearing, anvil-attack-capable Kates or none of them, which I think is the right choice. As it turned out, everything made it and (hampered only slightly by sub-optimal attack die rolls) I delivered a big attack on Lexington without losing a whole lot of my own force. We used the carrier damage rules for the first time (we had forgotten about them in the case of Shoho, but it probably didn't make any difference because she would almost have certainly sunk with them, too) and liked how they worked. As we applied them, we saw that the damage to Lady Lex was so severe that she was going to sink no matter how well Shawn's damage control dice rolled.

During the night, a group of my submarines managed to find the American task force and penetrate the destroyer screen, but did no damage. I then discovered that some of my maritime patrol aircraft had been scheduled (note the use of the passive voice, avoiding attribution of the action) to return during night turns [and was destroyed].

Day dawned and we did some more searching, but without further carrier-carrier strikes. At some point I had dreamed up, and Markus had approved, the rule about task forces counter-detecting search aircraft by rolling less than 6 + number of engines after having been spotted by the search aircraft. Last night we found rule 14.10, whereby CAP can roll to detect what type of plane has made a sighting. Should our rule co-exist with 14.10? (I think it should.)

At the end of the session, we did some preliminary comparisons of VPs, though of course the importance of VPs is lessened by the fact that we have embarked upon the Campaign Sequence. The Americans are ahead by seven points, which is about a cruiser's worth.

Concerning land-based air, the Allies have lost maybe three steps from AA and two or three steps from CAP, but the Japanese have lost something like 12 steps of planes and 7 base hits.

Last night we finished the Coral Sea scenario.

Japanese search aircraft found Yorktown one more time. Zuikaku and the land-based planes were within range and the strikes managed to arrive simultaneously, but the massive number of Japanese fighters lost initiative and the bombers were accordingly set upon by the American CAP. Only one (out of two) torpedo-bearing Betty counters survived, and a few dive-bombers: these inflicted damage on the flat-top, but didn't sink her. Overheard transmissions suggested that the damage was a deck hit, forcing the CAP to recover at land bases.

[Comments from Shawn: Actually the CAP died to a plane defending the carrier--it was the divebombers returning from a strike on the transports (which they never found) that diverted to Port Moresby.]

We never found Yorktown again.

The surface forces engaged in a mighty multi-turn (and multi-hex, I think--certainly multi-hex if you count submarines) surface battle as the remaining transports closed in on Port Moresby during the second-to-last night of the scenario. Low Ammo and Crew Fatigue markers appeared, reducing the intensity of the action, but the forces fought on, and inflicted some damage on each other. When Zuikaku departed in a typical nightfall carrier retreat, Ian suggested unifying our two task forces, not possible earlier because The Big Z couldn't be in the same task force as the half-speed damaged ships. This was a good idea, but somehow it just slipped my mind at the appropriate moment, so I didn't do it, which cost us some.

US submarines continued to have torpedo problems, apparently, but our superior Japanese submarine-launched torpedoes found their marks a time or two.

The transports made it to Port Moresby, but the last of them were sunk on the turn in which they arrived, so no points were garnered for unloading (and, therefore, the Allies got some points for preventing any unloading). A Japanese cruiser showed admirable initiative and shelled Port Moresby on her own, doing a point of damage, even though Ian and I had neglected to order her to do so.

In the end, the Allies have 130.5 points and the Japanese have 86. We don't know what miracles the shipyards are going to be capable of working on Yorktown; I guess we'll find out when we do Midway.

[Shawn: In the end the Americans were lucky in a couple respects. First, our damage control was very good. Second, on the day prior to that in which the transports made their run into Port Moresby, US search aircraft found the Japanese carriers when the Japanese didn't find the Yorktown. Thus, the Yorktown got off a strike that sank Shokaku without receiving one that turn. If we had lost the Yorktown that turn (or she had been crippled) the point total might have been closer at the end (although the Yorktown planes, or most of them, could still have diverted to Port Moresby as they did when she ultimately got hit).]

A question arose on Carry-forward of losses, especially of non-capital ships as per Rule 2.2 of the draft Campaign Sequence, which says that , for a given class (DD, CA, IJN BB),

  1. if the number of ships specified in scenario N is less than the number specified in scenario N-1, set up as many as survived scenario N;
  2. if the number of ships specified in scenario N is greater than the number specified in scenario N-1, set up as many as survived scenario N, plus the increase in what was specified in N over what was specified in N-1.

This engendered a big discussion about what would be realistic, especially for Midway (and especially for the Americans), where the ships in question may not be carried over from Coral Sea.

I had a few ships deducted (somewhat to my surprise, because I thought without looking that at Midway I would have more IJN DDs than I did at Coral Sea, so case 2 would apply and I would gain, not lose. Reese did this in a sensible way, taking all the ships of the class, and deducting randomly. It matters for my Japanese, because the different ships have different turns of entry, and this method should be added to the campaign rules.