Amongst the Atolls

120127mitcham04s1944. The Allies are continuing to push back the Japanese forces. But the Japanese Navy is doing all it can to stem the tide. Amongst the atolls of the Pacific Ocean, an small flotilla of Japanese ships is aggressively patrolling in defense of the likely island targets for the next Allied invasion.

A group of British ships are in transit to join an Allied force, which is assembling nearby. As the Japanese round one of the many atolls in the area, the two groups are surprised to see each other. But both are well trained and quickly swing into action.


120127mitcham01Amongst the Atolls

This battle was fought by John and John using the General Quarters 3 (GQ3) rules with the latest amendments and a few minor variations. The game was played on the first meeting of the year at the Mitcham venue of the Nunawading Wargames Association (NWA). 

The main ship in the Japanese force was the hybrid battleship/carrier Ise. Originally a straight battleship, the rear turrets had been removed and replaced with a flight deck. It was in use as a floatplane carrier. It was still quite potent, since it still carried eight 14-inch guns. The Ise was accompanied by three 8-inch cruisers. All were armed with ten 8-inch guns, arranged as pairs in five turrets.

The Ashigara and the Nachi were Myoko class heavy cruisers. The Mogami was a Mogami class heavy cruiser.

The British force consisted of the battleship King George V which had ten 14-inch guns, unusually arranged in only 3 turrets with four, two and four barrels respectively. Three London class heavy cruisers accompanied the battleship; the London, Devonshire and Sussex.


Turn 1

The British force had the battleship King George V (usually known as the KGV) in the lead as they headed through the atolls. The three London class heavy cruisers followed close behind. The Japanese force appeared in the path of the British ships as the IJN force steamed out from behind one of the many atolls.

The British ships are in the foreground. The Japanese force can just be seen at the top centre of the photo.

The main guns of both sides were well within range. Both sides fired as they saw their opponents, but the surprise told. All the shots missed as the rangefinders and crew sought to accurately locate their enemy.

Turn 2

The Japanese ships were quicker to react. As they increased to battle speed, they were able to maneouvre so that they brought more guns to bear on the British ships. Unfortunately the Japanese were not able to take advantage of this opportunity as the Ise was masked by its escorting cruisers. None of the shots from the Japanese cruisers hit any of the British ships.

The British cruisers were still finding their range, but the KGV found its target. A salvo straddled the rear of the cruiser Mogami. Amongst the spray of the near misses around the ship, two shells exploded on the rear deck. As the smoke and spray cleared, the commander of the Mogami saw they were minus the use of two rear turrets. First blood to the British.


120127mitcham04Turn 3

The Japanese again had the initiative, allowing them to position themselves slightly better than the British. The British turned to starboard, around one of the atolls, to bring all guns to bear.

Although the standard GQ3 rules require the players to write down movement, for friendly games we find it quicker to do the following. We roll for initiative. The player with initiative for the turn can decide whether they move first or their opponent moves first. GQ3 also has simultaneous fire, but we decided to allow the player with initiative to fire first and apply the results before the other player returns fire.

Two shells from the Nachi exploded on the deck of the Sussex, destroying both the port and starboard torpedo tubes. Another shell penetrated the decking, causing damage to a bulkhead. The Captain immediately ordered the damage crews below decks to try and stop the flooding.

The other Japanese ships were firing on new targets, due to one of the atolls changing lines of sight and the Ise no longer being scrfeened by its own heavy cruisers. Some of these shots came close to the British ships, but none did any damage.

We were playing the optional rule where you halve the number of dice rolled if firing on a new target this turn. This simulates that the first few shots will probably be ranging shots, so there will not be as many chances of damage as when a ship is continuing to fire at the same target from the previous turn. This also has the advantage that it stops players swapping targets with a ship every turn just to gain a small advantage.

The Devonshire hit its new target straight away, knocking out the last rear turret on the Mogami. The other British ships all concentrated on the Ise. The KGV missed its new target, but the cruisers damaged the hull and started a fire in the rear hangar of the Ise. To this day the crews of the Devonshire and London both claim they caused these hits. The British overall commander did nothing to help this situation. In his after action report he attributes them to the Devonshire, but later examination of his memoirs passes the honours to the London. Either way, the Japanese main ship was now distracted by the fire starting to burn out of control in her hangar.

The picture shows the Japanese ships in the foreground, with the Mogami heading for cover behind the atoll and the burning Ise bringing up the rear.


120127mitcham05Turn 4

The Japanese commander again obtained the initiative. The British damage control party was effective. They sealed the leaking bulkhead on the Sussex with a temporary patch, stopping any further damage. Unfortunately the Japanese on the Ise were not able to control the fire at this stage, with burning aviation fuel intensifying the flames. The heat caused further damage to the hull of the Ise.

The Japanese commander felt he was getting the worst of this gunnery exchange at just under 15,000 yards so as the British continued in line, he ordered hard starboard turns for all his ships. The maneouvre was executed well, but the hard turns put off the gunnery for both sides. The British had expected the Japanese to continue on their intial track, use the atoll as a screen for a short time and then resume firing on the far side. The fire control "computers" had a hard time tracking their targets and some ships had to swap targets.

The Japanese cruisers again screened the Ise. Although this prevented the British from shooting at her, it also meant that the Japanese hybrid battleship could not unleash its power onto the British.

It looked like the Japanese were trying to get close enough to use their impressive 'Long Lance' torpedoes.

The end result of the salvoes provided further honours to the Nachi. It knocked out 'Y' turret on the Devonshire. So far this had been the most potent of the Japanese ships. The British replied, but they suffered the same difficulties in tracking the sharp turning enemy ships. Only the Sussex was successful, causing some hull damage to the Ashigara.


Turn 5

The weather continued unchanged with a strong breeze and clear tropical skies. The British began a gentle turn to port to maintain broadsides onto all the Japanese ships. Again the Japanese commander had the initiative over his enemy. The hard working men on the Ise finally put out the fire as the Japanese ships headed straight down between the atolls. The Japanese commander was pleased to see the British on a closing parallel course that would shortly allow him to fire his torpedoes. It did not appear as if the British commander had realised his enemy's plan at this stage.

With several of the Japanese ships firing on the same targets as last turn and with the ships steaming straight, the gunnery was more telling. The Japanese started well. The ever reliable gun crews on the Nachi continued to pound the Devonshire, with three hull hits and a port secondary turret put out of action. This slowed the British cruiser. The Ashigara missed the London, but the Ise hit the KGV, knocking out a port secondary and causing damage to the British hull. The Mogami, having steamed out from the cover of the nearby atoll, could only wet the Sussex with nearby splashes as it homed in on its new target.

120127mitcham06The Japanese commander was pleased, although would have liked to knock out some main turrets rather than secondaries. This feeling continued when the Sussex failed to hit the Ashigara and the Devinshire missed the Mogami. However, this pleasure was short lived. The London landed shell after shell on the accurate firing Nachi. The first hit damaged the fire control, probably bringing to an end the Nachi's current run of superb shooting. It also lost one forward and one centre main turret, a port secondary turret. In addition was some hull damage and a leaking bulkhead.

The Japanese commander had little time to think about the Nachi, however, when the KGV landed a devastating series of salvoes onto his flagship. The Ise reeled from a massive nine shell hits. It could have been worse, since four of these hits did only minor damage; such as destroying some of the secondary armament. But one shot took out 'A' turret and four shells penetrated the hull; causing water to pour in through several holes. This left the Ise only just afloat. The ship had slowed to a crawl and only one more hit might finish her off.


Turn 6

The British were on a roll and finally wrested initiative from the Japanese, although losing the initiative so far had not caused the British any problems. The Japanese continued straight down the channel between the atolls whilst the British continued their turn, so that the two forces were nearly on parallel, but opposite, courses.

The damage control parties on the Nachi were working hard to repair the bulkhead leak, but water was still pouring in.

The London and Sussex caused no concern for the Japanese, but the Devonshire more than made up for this. A flurry of accurate salvoes plastered the already damaged Mogami. 'Y' turret was blown off its mounting. Torpedo tubes exploded, with the oxygen burning fiercely. As shell after shell slammed into the Japanese cruiser, water poured in through gaping holes and the Mogami was sunk. Sailors leapt into the water as the ship rolled. The hulk floated for a while, creating a risk for the other Japanese ships.

The KGV landed a shell on the Ise, making a mess of the aft flight deck. The Ise replied, but only managed to knock out a port secondary turret on the British battleship. The Mogami missed the Sussex. The up-to-now inaccurate Ashigara finally joined the action by landing shots on the London. The warm-up was the destruction of a port 4-inch battery and the port torpedo tubes. Then the Ashigara rendered the London near useless by destroying 'A' turret, 'B' turret and 'X' turret. With three out of four main turrets gone, the London increased speed to try and put the cover of an atoll between it and the Japanese ships.


120127mitcham18Turn 7

The British continued with the initiative. The Ashigara turned towards the British, trying to get to a better range and be close enough for accurate torpedo shots. Using initiative to good effect, the KGV destroyed two main turrets on the Ise before landing the killer blow. As the battered Ise slipped below the waves, the other British heavy cruisers concentrated on the rapidly nearing Ashigara.

The London and Devonshire did little. The secondaries of the KGV swung into action for the first time and landed a shell accurately, but failed to penetrate the heavy armour.

The Sussex made up for this by knocking out 'X' turret, damaging two important bulkheads below decks and starting two oxygen-fuelled infernos from the destruction of two torpedo mounts. One engine was permanently damaged and the other had temporarily ceased revolutions. The Ashigara was now dead in the water.

The dwindling Japanese flotilla caused a bulkhead hit on the London, but only minor damage to the Sussex when one of two shells failed to explode.

The photo was taken after the completion of movement, but before firing. The British are in the foreground, heading to the right. The London has accelerated to hide behind the front right-hand atoll whilst the other British ships have slowed a little to allow further fire onto the Japanese ships. This maneouvre was successful, with the KGV finally sinking the Ise just before it was screened by the atoll. Being dead in the water, the Ashigara made a perfect target for torpedoes, but this was not possible as the Japanese had previously knocked out the port torpedo tubes on all three British cruisers.


Turn 8

The crew of the Ashigara concentrated on the fires and managed to put one out. But the other oxygen-fuelled fire and the damaged bulkheads caused three more hull hits to the stricken ship, leaving it low in the water. Even if the crews were successful next turn, they could only try to put out the remaining fire or repair one of the bulkheads. Thus, the Ashigara was doomed even if the British fired no more shots, as two more hull hits would finish her.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, neither the Nachi nor the Ashigara were in a position to launch their torpedoes. The Ashigara was not facing the right way and it was also blocking any launches from the Nachi. The British steamed on to make their rendevous with their allies, leaving the Nachi to pick up survivors.


Wrap Up

The British were initially concerned as the Japanese had a slight points advantage over them (38 to 36). The Japanese cruisers also have one more twin 8-inch turret than their British counterparts. But the British do have an advantage over the Japanese when firing between 6,000 and 9,000 yards. They are rolling for 1+..3 while the Japanese are only rolling 1+..2. 12-sided dice are used. Also, 8-inch guns multiply the number of successful hits by 1.5 to determine the number of damage rolls against heavy cruisers. If this results in a total number of damage rolls ending in .5 then a roll is made to determine whether to round up or down. 

120127mitcham201+..2 for the Japanese at this range band means that rolling a 1 causes 1 hit, rolling a 10 causes 1 hit and rolling a 2 causes 2 hits. Thus, at this range band, the Japanese cruisers have a 1 in 4 chance of being successful with each roll. If successful, they will cause an average of 1.33 hits. Multiply this by 1.5 gives an average of 2.00 damage rolls against a cruiser for each successful roll. Combining this gives 0.25 x 2.00 = 0.50 damage rolls on average for each dice rolled.

If all three Japanese heavy cruisers were able to fire broadsides with their 5 main turrets, this gives an average amount of damage on the British cruisers of 7.5 damage rolls (calculate by 3 ships x 5 turrets x 0.25 chance of hitting x 2.00 average damage rolls).

1+..3 for the British at this range band means that rolling a 1 causes 1 hit, rolling a 10 causes 1 hit, rolling a 2 causes 2 hits and rolling a 3 causes 3 hits. Thus, at this range band, the British cruisers have a 1 in 3 chance of being successful with each roll. If successful, they will cause an average of 1.75 hits. Multiply this by 1.5 gives an average of 2.625 damage rolls against a cruiser for each successful roll. Combining this gives 0.33 x 2.625 = 0.875 damage rolls on average for each dice rolled.

If all three British heavy cruisers were able to fire broadsides with their 4 main turrets, this gives an average amount of damage on the Japanese cruisers of 10.5 damage rolls (calculate by 3 ships x 4 turrets x 0.33 chance of hitting x 2.625 average damage rolls).

The British were able to use this to good effect, rolling 3's on a number of occasions when the range had closed to just under 9,000 yards. The Japanese were a little unlucky in that many of their shots took out secondary armaments and torpedo tubes rather than main guns of the British vessels. However, this occurred at times for the British as well. With naval battles, if you are lucky enough to take out some of your enemy's main guns early, then they have a harder time damaging you back.

The Japanese ships at times got in each other's way, reducing the number of guns they could bring to bear. The 'Long Lance' torpedoes are a double edged sword. They have a much longer range than the torpedoes of other nations. But they are fuelled by oxygen, which causes more dangerous fires when an enemy shell destroys one of their torpedo mounts.

 General Quarters 3 (GQ3) again played well for us, resulting in a fast paced and interesting game.