Battle of Santa Cruz

This is the fourth installment of Brian McCue 's ( groups' near-weekly refereed multi-blind playthrough of the "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 started the Santa Cruz scenario of the Solomon Seas "campaign sequence."

Shawn and I were the only players, everybody else being tied up in one way or another; Shawn's still the Americans, and I the Japanese. We set up the scenario in record time.

We used the Free Setup and Reese rolled on the table that gives variations in Order of Battle.

Then we managed to squeeze in three turns. As I mentioned last week, I've never played a Santa Cruz scenario of anything; Shawn hasn't, either. The first three turns saw a rather bloody airstrike on Lae, in which a 3-Zero CAP flipped one of the escorting fighters and also managed to flip one bomber counter and shoot down another completely, after which the surviving bombers rained untold (to Shawn) damage down on Lae and any airplanes that might have been there.

An American submarine spotted a Kongo-class battleship, and numerous escorts, in the Slot in daylight. The submarine penetrated the escorts (because I did not roll a 1 on 12 D10), but failed in its attack on the battleship.

We'll resume next week.

Tuesday night we continued the Santa Cruz scenario of the Solomon Seas "campaign sequence."

Shawn and I were re-joined by team-mates Will and Ian respectively.

It's difficult to say much about the action mid-game. A Kongo-class ship was sunk by an air raid, caught in daylight at the North end of the Slot. I like Reese's idea of using a digital camera to take a picture of the referee's board as of each turn, so as to let people take a look afterward.

Last night we continued the Santa Cruz scenario of the Solomon Seas "campaign sequence."

Cris and Will were both back to help Shawn with the Americans, and Ian came to command the Japanese with my help. Reese kindly reffed. We played the first night turn of the second day, and all the ensuing daylight turns.

The Americans located our massive carrier task force, containing six carriers of various descriptions. The recently-discussed rule that prevents the attacker from ID'ing specific ships (since all Japanese carriers will be identified as "Zuikaku") worked in our favor, since the Americans couldn't tell a Zuikaku from a Shoho. The Japanese did not get the initiative, but with high-quality pilots and a little luck were able to shoot down quite a few attackers. The remaining Americans had been armed with bad dice and failed to do any damage to any of the carriers.

The Japanese searches proved unfruitful, though comprehensive, and Ian and I suddenly realized that with our combination of unfruitfulness and comprehensiveness had actually given us a pretty good idea of where the Americans were: the one place in which we had not looked. So we launched three search/strike missions. These can search three mutually adjacent hexes each, so we had them overlap on the hex where we thought the Americans were, but cover different adjacent hexes as a hedge. The Americans proved to have three carrier groups in the hex. The first strike was six counters of unescorted Betties: they ran into CAP, did little damage, and took some losses. The second strike didn't find its target. The third strike was a massive, sky-darkening raid by our six carriers' worth of carrier planes. It found a different TF from that found by the Betties, lost initiative (as usual) and took some damage, but had lots and lots of airplanes left after the air duels and the AA, and had both hammer and anvil surviving (in reduced size) in the attack on the one carrier. We allocated most of the surviving dive bombers (of which there were about 10 unflipped counters) to the carrier, and Ian and I had quite a discussion about what level of attack against the carrier would constitute overtargeting. We ended up attacking a cruiser as a side-dish. The carrier took two torpedo hits and one dive bomber hit, and the cruiser took one hit. With the uncertain damage rules, we cannot know what happened to the carrier, but I would have felt more comfortable if it had taken all four hits. (This being a campaign sequence, it is not long until Guadalcanal, so even severe damage would be enough to put a carrier out of action until then.)

There was then some surface maneuvering, and the Americans found a surface force with their airplanes, and did some damage to it. Meanwhile, the land-based bombers flying out of Australia switched from attacking Buna (which they had been doing with impunity) to Lae, where they ran into CAP and took losses, though they inflicted some as well.

Next week, the exciting conclusion!

I think this is a great game.

[Will: Running a campaign game really improves realism in command decision-making. I recall several times last night debating a course of action that would have been advantageous in terms of "winning" the scenario but which might have resulted in damage leaving ships unavailable for future actions. So I like very much that aspect of the game.]

Last night we finished the Santa Cruz scenario of the Solomon Seas "campaign sequence."

If this had been the historical battle, it would be called "The Second Battle of the Coral Sea," not "The Battle of Santa Cruz," because the action was entirely in the Coral Sea.

Last night we played the final night turn of Day 2 and the whole of Day 3. Ian and Cris had work obligations; Will and I started off alone on the American and Japanese sides, respectively, and Reese kindly reffed. Shawn arrived late after wining and dining an important client.

Ian had had the idea of hooking around South with the carriers during the night with, I assume, the intent of getting somewhere that would be less likely to be searched. So I did that, going to about P7, and thence to P6.

(See .)

By then it was daytime and the big flying boats (and intrepid little seaplanes) were out looking for the Americans. The few surviving Betties did some searching as well, but we found nothing, and the submarine picket line (hex row 0, I believe) didn't catch anything, either. The carriers then had to retreat NW (towards the lower left of the mapboard as oriented in the above site) up 05-N6-M6 in order to stay in the region protectively swept by the airplanes (after a quick check to establish that Rennel Island does not harbor any Allied coastwatchers). Towards midafternoon there came a good-sized airstrike, which my goodly CAP and some AA was able to whittle down to the point where only a little amount of luck was needed to avoid damage to the carriers.

On the last daylight turn I pulled out all the stops and did a massive search of all hexes within 3 of my carriers, using a Kate to plug the final hole. This search was successful, but the ensuing long-distance strike did not find its target.

Throughout our ships' passage north, we noticed the distinctive "tunk" sound often heard in these waters. These sounds are caused by whales bumping into the ships, though some of the sailors say they made by dud American torpedoes impacting on the hulls! No submarines were sighted by our destroyers and nobody would make torpedoes with such a high percentage of duds, so the sailors' belief is obviously one of those quaint superstitions for which seamen are so well-known.

We endured a final strike by land-based planes, in which we our fighters finally got the initiative for the first time in as long as I can recall, and fought them off.

For the closing night turns of the game, we doubled back from M6 to M5 and bombarded Guadalcanal. There were a lot of whales in the waters near the island, and if they had been submarines, they would have been twice as hard as usual to chase away, because of the shallow waters.

After the battle was over, Japanese spies searched the American newspapers for news of a lost carrier, but found none. Spies reading British papers, on the other hand, read the Victorious had been sunk, despite her resistance of her deck to the large number of dive bombers allocated to her in the belief that she was just another American carrier. OTOH, an American carrier might have survived the level of torpedo damage that Victorious absorbed.

Pointwise, therefore, Santa Cruz was a victory of the Japanese--we got 81 points to the Americans' 74, though of course we are still far behind in total points, 269 to 341.5. [Markus: I note that I would subtract 30 points off this for the different handling of the Midway VPs, which makes the Allied total 311.5 ]

We finished up with a lot of time left over and so proceeded to set up Guadalcanal.