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Monday, February 4, 2013

Eastern Solomons campaign

About a month ago, my serial Midway opponent Frank H. and I got together for another scenario from the Alan R. Moon variant, "Pacific Theatre via Midway."  We returned to the Coral Sea, this time to fight the "Battle of the Eastern Solomons" (Midway designerLarry Pinsky and Lindsley Schutz, publisher Avalon Hill).

Gili-gili, New Guinea
NASA image.  Public domain.
Frank, as the Japanese player, had the goal of invading Gili-Gili (on the eastern end of New Guinea) and Guadalcanal (further east among the Solomon Islands), each of which would earn him ten points.  As the American, I had the goal of sinking all five of his transports (APs) before he landed any troops, a feat that would earn me ten points.  Otherwise, we could both earn points by sinking ships and shooting down airplanes.

Coastal watchers reported that the Japanese fleet departed Rabaul early on the morning of 24 August 1942. In addition to five transports, the Imperial task force included two major carriers (Shokaku and Zuikaku), two smaller carriers (CVLs), three battleships (BBs), an astounding 13 heavy cruisers (CAs), and five light cruisers (CLs).  From east of Guadalcanal, I headed west at flank speed to intercept the invasion force with my U.S. fleet of three carriers (Enterprise, Saratoga, and Wasp), one battleship (North Carolina), five heavy cruisers, and two light cruisers.  Timed properly, I could make one carrier strike on the invasion force before nightfall.

I started with B-17s from Australia and Port Moresby in the morning.  The Japanese fleet arrived at Gili-Gili at 1300 and began the invasion.  At 1500, the fleet was close enough to send all aircraft to attack the invasion fleet and then fly on to Port Moresby to refuel and re-arm.  Meanwhile, an overwhelming number of F4F Wildcat fighters arrived from Port Moresby to escort the strike force and interdict any defending combat air patrol (CAP); those fighters would fly on to land on the carriers and exchange places with the carrier strike force.  There was no way, however, that all the B-17s, Dauntlesses, and Avengers in the Coral Sea were going to sink five heavily-escorted Japanese APs.  Gili-Gili fell to the imperial invasion that afternoon.

U.S.S. Wasp, Saratoga, and
Enterprise south of Guadalcanal
USN photo.  Public domain
Now it was time for the Japanese fleet to cross the sea, however, and try to take Guadalcanal.  Now Frank would have to sail his fleet into the teeth of the American carriers and under the superior numbers of U.S. fighters.  From dusk until dawn of the next morning, he made half the transit peacefully.  At daybreak, PBY Catalinas spotted the Japanese force about 40 nm southwest of New Georgia, making its way down the western side of the Solomons chain toward Guadalcanal.  The U.S. carriers sortied one strike at 0500, and then a second at 0900, just as the Japanese arrived off the shore of Guadalcanal.  When the smoke had cleared, there was not a single loaded transport left of Japanese troops with which to invade Guadalcanal.

The rest of the battle consisted of the Japanese retreating northwest up the Solomon Island chain under cover of aircraft based in Shortkimal and Buka while the Americans conducted two more strikes to further decimate the Imperial fleet.  By nightfall of the 25th, it was all over.

Although the Japanese had conducted several attacks on the American fleet and come very close to sinking the Wasp, no American ships were sunk.  Many planes were shot down, however.  The Japanese fleet, on the other hand, suffered significant casualties - one small carrier, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and all five transports were on the bottom of the Coral Sea after two days of fighting.  The final score broke out as follows:

Frank H., IJN
38 2/3     Aircraft
10           Landing AP at Gili-Gili
48 2/3     Total

Paul O., USN
20 1/3     Aircraft
  7           CVL Ryujo
  3           CA Suzuya
  3           CA Kumano
  2           CL Nagara
  2           CL Tatsuta
  2           CL Tenryu
  4           AP-1 (loaded)
  4           AP-2 (loaded)
  1           AP-3 (unloaded)
  4           AP-4 (loaded)
  4           AP-5 (loaded)
56 1/3     Total

So, despite having sunk so many ships, my victory was by a relatively narrow margin, owing to the successful invasion of Gili-Gili and the tremendous disparity in aircraft losses.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. Do you find the mechanics -- e.g. movement, search, air to air combat, air to sea combat -- of the original Midway hold up well to the unusual boundary conditions, such as terrain, and widely different OOBs, in these scenarios?

    Also, do you and Frank find the designed VP ratio between ships and planes to be appropriate?

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  2. The original Midway rules work very well with the different map and orders of battle, even with the "coastal watchers" rule, which alerts the opponent after the fact whenever you have units pass through a square containing any land.

    I'm not sure whether I agree with the VPs awarded for aircraft losses as compared to ship losses. I haven't read enough about the original battles to assess what the relative values to a commander would have been of losing (or destroying) aircraft vis-a-vis ships.

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