In testing various World War 2 naval rules we had found that “GHQ WW2 Micronauts”, “General Quarters 3” and “Naval Thunder” all handled ship-to-ship combat well. There are distinct differences in the way they handle gunnery and damage, but each works okay in their own way. Each of us had slight preferences, but this did not clearly choose one rule set over another. So we turned to see how each of these rules handled air and submarine combat to see if this would break the tie.
General Quarters 3 has two methods of handling aerial combat. The first is a campaign set which is a quick and effective way of handling the combat if you don’t want to go into details. The other is the tactical set which has more detail. Having tried the campaign rules it was now time to try the tactical.
The light aircraft carrier HMS Eagle was transporting aircraft to Malta to aid the defense of that key island. The battleship HMS Nelson led the escort of this valuable carrier. The other ships were the light cruiser HMS Spartan and the three destroyers Jervis, Kelly and Kipling.
Two flights of Seafires (the naval version of the Spitfire) were circling the convoy as air escort.
The radar controller reported incoming aircraft at 5 o’clock. One Seafire flight was dispatched to intercept. The second flight was directed to stay close to the convoy, in case of other flights coming from other directions, but to stay between the convoy and the spotted flight. The first flight of Seafires caught the enemy at 20,000 yards from the convoy. The incoming enemy consisted of three flights of German torpedo bombers with an escort flight of ME109s.
Because of the much higher speeds of aircraft compared with the ships, the GQ3 turn is divided into 3 phases when aircraft are involved. The aircraft move each phase and then the ships move one third of the distance they would normally move in a turn.
Aircraft at higher levels move first. If at the same level, then aircraft moving faster move ahead of slower aircraft. The Seafires swept past the escort fighters and created havoc amongst the torpedo bombers. One flight was destroyed and another was damaged – dropping their bombs and scarpering for home. The torpedo bombers failed to damage any of the Seafires. During aircraft movement, the move is temporarily interrupted to complete combat, then the move is continued (assuming the aircraft is not destroyed or driven off).
The Messerschmitts turned and chased the Seafires, engaging them in a swirling dogfight. Dogfights take 3 phase (a whole turn) before they are resolved. Any surviving aircraft that are not driven off damaged lose 2 levels of height. Whilst the fighters were occupied, the surviving torpedo bomber flight moved within 14,000 yards of the convoy.
The 2nd Seafire flight stayed at 5,000 yards from the convoy, lining up for an attack next phase on the incoming torpedo bombers. The bombers were now within 9,000 yards of the convoy.
An unescorted group of Stukas appeared at 12,000 yards from the convoy. The group consisted of 3 flights of dive bombers, coming in from 3 o’clock – which is direct to starboard. The 2nd Seafire flight raced towards the torpedo bombers, making a firing pass and downing the bombers. Unaffected by any return fire, they swept around and headed towards the incoming Stukas. The Stukas ended just out of AA range of the convoy.
The Stukas were intercepted by the Seafires, but the shooting of both sides was ineffective. The Stukas moved towards the convoy, ending the move next to the target ships. The long range AA banged away at the incoming bombers, but to no effect. Two flights headed for the carrier and one flight headed for the battleship.
The dogfight between the ME109s and the first flight of Seafires was finally resolved, with both flights being destroyed.
The dive bombers pointed their noses downwards and screamed towards the decks of their targets. Some of the guns could not elevate enough to direct their fire at the incoming dive bombers. However, one flight of Stukas was destroyed above the HMS Eagle before it could drop its bombs. However, put off by the AA fire, the bombs all missed the British battleship.
The aircraft carrier was not so lucky. Just as they were celebrating the destruction of one flight of Stukas, two bombs from the other group ripped through the decks. If a 1 is rolled, then a bomb hit is caused and the player has a chance of causing another hit. A 1 was rolled and then a 2, causing two bomb hits.
The first bomb damaged the hull, started a general fire on the ship and penetrated the aft deck. This destroyed the aft hangar, starting another fire. The second bomb caused half a hull damage and penetrated the forward hangar, starting a third fire. This damage slowed the HMS Eagle to 20 knots.
Dive bombers typically release their bombs at 1,500 to 2,00 feet above the deck. To exit as rapidly as possible, in order to minimise their exposure to AA fire, the dive bombers would continue downward, slowly pulling up out of the dive. They would then fly away from the ship as close as they dared to the wave tops.
The AA fire was ineffective on the retreating dive bombers. As the bombers exited the AA range of the ships, they were pounced upon by the lurking Seafires. Unfortunately, the rear gunners of the Stukas put up a good fight, forcing the Seafires to break off with damaged. The unaffected Stukas were then relieved to head back to their aerodrome.
Turn 3 to 7
The damage control parties on the HMS Eagle were kept busy. They could only concentrate on one fire at a time. They were successful in putting out the fire raging above the decks. But the other fires continued to do structural damage to the ship. Each fire causes 1/2 a hull point of damage each turn if it is not put out in the damage control phase. At the end of turn 3 the speed of the HMS Eagle was down to 16 knots and only 3-1/2 hull points left.
The Fire in the forward hangar proved more difficult to put out. The damage control parties took 3 turns to successfully douse this fire, by which time the ship had been slowed to 3 knots and had only 1 hull point remaining.
The tired crews turned their attention to the last fire, which had spread from the rear hangar. Luckily for them, their desperation helped them put the fire out the very next turn, leaving the ship limping along at 3 knots.
This was of great concern as it would probably allow the Germans time to organise another air strike. It also made the aircraft carrier a sitting duck for any U-boats that could be directed against the convoy.