Monday, December 28, 2009

Los! (D.A.N.G. VIII)

Today was the 8th occurence of Dave's Annual Naval Game (D.A.N.G.) run by Dave Schueler as part of our Christmas vacation activities. I haven't been to all, but all that I've attended have been a great time.

This year's even was "Action off Tunisia" and was a small combatants campaign set in 1943 during the Axis' last gasp in North Africa. I played the Axis side along with Kevin Smyth and Arthur Brooking. The Allies were represented by Dale Mikel, Scott Murphy, and Dave Creager.

The area covered by the campaign stretched from Bone in Algeria to Valetta in Malta, though most of the action took place in the area around Tunis to Porto Empedocle in Sicily. (Bone, btw, is now called Annaba and in its earliest incarnation as Hippo Regius, it was the home of St. Augustine.)

The tasks each side had to perform were routine patrols, minesweeping, minelaying, and convoy. In addition, the Allies had to keep German convoys from getting into Tunis. Each day of the seven days covered by the campaign was divided into AM, PM, and Night turns. We plotted our missions and Dave determined if any of our forces collided. The day provided three actions.

Action 1: Fighting off Porto Empedocle, Sicily

We (the Axis) sent our missions out at the start of the game with the hope of running into something worth fighting. Our major forces were at Porto Empedocle (a.k.a. Port Imbecile) on the south coast of Sicily. We sent our five schnellboote (a.k.a. S-Boats or, to the British, E-boats) swanning about hoping, unsuccessfully, to catch a convoy while we swept outside our port for mines using our remaining two craft, a pair of under-armed Raumboote (R-boats, also E-boats to the Brits). As the R-boats swept away, they ran into a pair of British destroyers bristling with guns of every calibre.

Having no torpedoes and armed only with a single, rear-firing 20mm autocannon and two forward-firing light machine-guns, we were for it as soon as contact was made. Our only hope was to run like hell and seek safety under the shore batteries of Porto Empedocle. As luck would have it, the British were able to pound one of our boats (mine) with 4" naval guns—no mean feat given the odds against their hitting small fast craft with big guns. However, Jolly Jack Tar forgot Nelson's maxim that "no sailor but a fool fights a fortress" and pursued us right into range of the 88mm batteries that protected the harbor. As shell after shell found its mark on one of the British destroyers, they made about and headed out of range with one ship at full steam and the other limping from significant damage. Our loss was a single R-boat. We figured it was not a bad exchange as we hoped the damaged DD would be out of action for the rest of the campaign, or at least most of it.

Action 2: Tangling with Fairmiles off Tunis

The next action was fought at night on Day 2 in the waters outside Tunis, but too far away this time for us to expect help from shore fire. We sent the two S-boats we had in Tunis off to patrol in the area of Bizerte, but instead ran into a force of three British Fairmile C motor gun boats and three Fairmile D motor torpedo boats (a.k.a. "Dog Boats").

Although not mounting 4" guns, the Fairmiles also bristled with firepower. The Cs mounted 2-pdr. pom-poms, 6-pdrs., and a few 20mm mounts. Our ships had torpedoes, which are next to useless against small craft, and two single 20mm mounts (fore and aft) along with some light MGs. Again, we were not only outmatched in firepower ship vs. ship, but outnumbered 3:1.

The S-boats ("S" stands for schnell!) were fast, but the Fairmiles were plenty fast, too. We took a peppering from them. Kevin commanded one boat and Arthur commanded the other. Early on, Arthur's boot took a hit to his steering that forced him to continue straight for four game-turns. Unaware of this, Dave Creager "crossed the T" with one of his Fairmiles only to get rammed by Arthur's unintentional kamikaze. The resulting crash was about as bad as it gets. Arthur's boat cut Dave in two and destroyed itself in doing so.

Meanwhile, Kevin managed to get away from Scott's boats and the action ended with one S-boat damaged and one sunk on our side and a Fairmile C sunk on the Allied side (possibly minor damage to some other boats, but I don't think were were hitting anything). This was another morale victory for Der Axis. The loss of an S-boat for a Fairmile MGB was a favorable exchange for us.

Action 3: Destroyers (again)

The final action of the campaign took place on day 3 when the five S-boats we had in Porto Empedocle were en route to Tunis to operate from there, since that's where the action tended to be. In their first two missions of the game, the S-boots had come up empty in their sweeps to find enemy forces. In this mission, which was more an attempt at transit to a new base, they came into contact with the same two British DDs that ran into the shore batteries at Porto Empedocle. It seems that by herculean effort, the boys in Malta managed to get the damaged ship repaired within 24 hours and both DDs were fit and ready for another fight. They, too, were en route to operating in Tunis and moving at flank speed.

This was another "brown trousers" moment for us, but we finally had the A-Team in action, however outclassed it may have been by the DDs. These S-boats were of a later class than the ones that saw action off Tunis. Armed with torpedoes, a 40mm autocannon, a dual-mount 20mm, a single-mount 20mm, and light MGs, they had some firepower and their torpedoes had worthy targets. We also had speed with a top rate of 40 knots vs. 36 knots for the DDs.

We shot off a volley of torpedoes at the point that we sighted them and they were still unsure of our presence. Arthur fired all his "fish" at Scott's DD while I fired one boat at Dale and kept the other boat's torpedoes in reserve, as did Kevin with his one boat. We basically had only bow shots, so our chances of a hit were slim. The torpedoes had to run one turn before arming and our targets managed to side-step them.

The shooting was a little better for us than in the last encounter with the destroyers. They hit one of my boats with a 4" gun (I got away with minimal damage from it), but for the most part, they were not hitting well. We scored plenty of hits with significant, if not extensive results. The DDs having armored bits, a lot of our hits were ignored. We did manage to shoot up Dale pretty well and he was on fire, had lost some weapons, and had his bridge out of action for a few turns.

Arthur turned and retired after his torpedo volley and the Brits never sighted him. Kevin managed to turn his boat and scored most of the hits on Dale's DD. I had turned one of my boats around but the other kept straight to avoid running into my own torpedoes. It was at this point that our fortunes turned.

Still as overly-aggressive with their bigger ships as they were when they ran them up against shore batteries, Scott chased my lone boat and in so doing ran into the torpedo spread I'd fired three turns earlier. Both fish hit and the resulting damage sunk the ship. The action was over with no boats lost for the Axis and one DD sunk and another damaged (superficially) and making away.

After action

By now it was late in the afternoon and we called the campaign. So far, the Axis had managed to get one convoy through to Tunis as well as a special mission in and out of Tunis involving secret cypher machinery and what-not. (All very hush-hush.) The biggest disparity had been in ship losses. We lost one R-boat and one older S-boat while sinking a Fairmile C MGB and a destroyer. Dave called it an Axis win.

It would have been interesting to see how the rest of the campaign would have gone. We had another convoy coming in, which was well-guarded by a corvette and several MFPs. It was the only time in the game we would have had our own ships bristling with firepower. (But, then only if the Allies had contacted it.)

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