Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sturm und D.(r)A.N.G.

We met at Dave Schueler's house in West Seattle on Boxing Day for Dave's Annual Naval Game (D.A.N.G.) XV. A few of our stalwarts were absent, but we had a good number on hand, including a cameo performance by Paul Hannah, esq. The game this year was a hypothetical crisis in the Caribbean ca. 1903 where Der Huns are trying to bully a port away from Venezuela on the pretext of unpaid debts. Teddy Roosevelt sends in a few naval units to brandish the Big Stick and warn off the sausage-eaters. What could go wrong?

Dave Creager, Arthur Brooking, and I were the Americans. Dale Mickel, Scott Murphy, and Chuck/Charlie X, were the Germans. At the beginning of the mini-campaign, the Germans had already bombarded some Venezuelan ports and had naval units in Puerto Cabello. The Americans were all up at Culebra in the Virgin Islands. The Germans also had naval units in Port of Spain. The victory conditions were simple and exclusive: The Germans had to gain their coveted port in Venezuela and the Americans had to make sure they didn't.

In the end, the Germans' Drang nach einem Hafen turned into a Sturm auf Zee.

Each side had options they could take. For the Americans, our at-start units were a collection of protected cruisers and gunboats. The Germans had some roughly equivalent ships but also three armored cruisers that outclassed anything we had. Since we had the option to take three battleships (Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas), we did. What's a naval game without 13" guns? The Germans also had the option to add two battleships to their force, but they would be coming from far off and wouldn't be available until day 6 of the mini-campaign. Being impatient Teutonic types, they decided to go with what they had and forego waiting for the big boys. That was perhaps a mistake.

By day 2 of the mini-campaign, we had one squadron at Puerto Cabello only to find that the few German ships that were there at the start had been reinforced with the rest of the German ships from Port of Spain. Our other squadron, containing the battleships, had made for Puerto de la Guaira to act as a blocking force against the Germans coming from Port of Spain, which, however, had already passed through before we got there.

With our squadron at Puerto Cabello outnumbered and outgunned, we stalled for time and sent a dispatch boat to Puerto de la Guaira to bring up the other squadron. Meanwhile, both the Americans and Germans were pressuring the Italian squadron in the Caribbean. The Germans wanted them to join their blockade of the Venezuelan ports and the Americans wanted them to stay out of it. In the end, the Italians let the Germans lead them by the nose into trouble not of their making.

By day 3, the American squadron was assembled. The Germans had one cruiser and a gunboat in the harbor landing troops. We negotiated to have the USS Atlanta (our slowest ship) go into the port and land some Marines to protect American interests. We later attempted to reinforce Atlanta with a gunboat (USS Concord), but that was turned back when the Germans sent another gunboat to block the channel.

At this point the Italians steamed into troubled waters. Our ultimatum to them was to turn about, which they did at first. Then a German cruiser came to escort them back. We fired a shot across their bows, which set the stage for the ensuing naval action of Puerto Cabello.

We used David Manley's rules Fire When Ready! to play the game. They're a nice, quick-moving set of rules for the pre-dreadnought era. Dave's ship models were all Panzershiffe 1:2400 scale.

Each side organized their forces into three squadrons:

American 1st squadron - 3 battleships, 4 protected cruisers
American 2nd squadron - 4 protected cruisers
American 3rd squadron - 3 gunboats

German 1st squadron - 3 armored cruisers
German 2nd squadron - 3 light cruisers
German 3rd squadron - 1 German light cruiser, 2 Italian light cruisers

Out of the main fight were the Atlanta and the German cruiser and two German gunboats who were baring their teeth at each other in the harbor.

The initiative system in Fire When Ready! has each squadron rolling a D6 and adding its squadron command rating to get a number that could run from 1 (worst) to 8 (best). On turn 1, we had universally poor initiative rolls, but that helped. The sequence of play has the best initiative squadron move last and fire first. Loath to fire the first shots, the Germans, who all had priority to fire before the Americans, passed on shooting. We, having already fired a shot across the Italians' bows, felt obliged to open fire on just the Italians when our turn to fire came. The results weren't spectacular. Only the 1st squadron (Arthur and me) had the range and the concentration of fire increasingly obscured subsequent salvoes. But this meant that things would start to happen.

Turn 2 was equally fortunate for us because we got the higher initiative for our squadrons. The German 2nd and 3rd squadrons aggressively moved in to close the range and get their torpedoes in action. We got to shoot first and walloped them. The USS Indiana blew up the lead ship (Gazelle) in the German 2nd squadron (Dale's) and badly mauled the second ship (Niobe) so that it was a burning wreck. 13" guns will do that to cruisers.

Arthur (running the 1st squadron's cruisers) kept up fire on the German 3rd squadron and continued to hurt the Italians. Dave Creager was engaging Chuck's armored cruisers at a disadvantage, though they seemed to be matching hit for hit--except Dave couold take fewer hits before disaster.

On turn 3, I split the battleships off from the 1st squadron and left Arthur to keep at the now badly hurt 3rd and 2nd German squadrons. I figured the battleships needed to get into action against the armored cruisers. Still in range of the other Germans, the battleships lent a hand as Arthur dispatched the Italians and put more hurt on Scott's remaining German cruiser. Dave Creager got a lucky hit against one of Chuck's armored cruisers (Fürst Bismarck), which left it in bad shape.

By turn 4, the Germans were buring or sinking all over the water. Chuck's other two armored cruisers were in good shape, but the American battleships were already in range and shooting, so there was no need to stay around. The Fürst Bismarck was only making three knots and wound up striking her colors. Dale's surviving cruiser and Chuck's two armored cruisers fled away.

In the harbor, the Germans made a failed torpedo attack on the Atlanta and shots were exchanged, but with the general carnage of the German ships outside the harbor, further German hostility was futile. The German forces in the port laid down arms and prepared to be escorted out.

Without the battleships, the Americans would have been doomed. Had the battleships and armored cruisers engaged right off, the battle might have been less lop-sided, but they were on opposite ends of the table. However, despite being damaged a bit, Dave's protected cruisers fought the armored cruisers to a standstill until the battleships arrived. Only Olympia was much damaged, but not critically (yet).

We speculated after the game that this naval disaster for the Germans might have lead to Germany abandoning its aggressive naval program, which might have averted World War 1 and thereby World War 2, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam...

For another account of D.A.N.G. XV (and piccies) see Dave Schueler's blog Naval Gazing.

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