Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Back to Midway

On Wednesday, Frank Hodge and I returned to fight the battle of Midway (designerLarry Pinsky and Lindsley Schutz, publisher Avalon Hill).  Frank has spent considerable time refining his variable order of battle to the AH classic, and this time we had quite  a lot of fun beefing up both fleets to fight the battle in grand style.  A significant change that we prefer is that the Japanese invasion force is represented by five AP transports, rather than abstractly handled with the cruiser Atago according the rules.  The only other variation we added was the submarine optional rule from Alan R. Moon's "Pacific Theatre via Midway" article.  We didn't use B-17's in this game, and we didn't miss them.

Once more I played as the American, and in addition to the usual order of battle, I entered the board on 3
USS Saratoga.  USN photo.  Public domain
June 1942 with the carriers Saratoga, Wasp, and Lexington and the light carrier Independence, as well as the battleships North Carolina, Colorado, and Maryland.  (Frank introduced some considerable "alternate history" in composing this variable order of battle rule.)  The carrier Yorktown, the heavy cruiser Astoria, and the light cruiser Atlanta would be delayed until 4 June, but they would be accompanied by the battleship Tennessee.  Frank, as the Japanese, meanwhile had drawn his own secret augmentation to his order of battle, but I knew that he would have the battleship Ise.  (I found out after the game that his augmented order of battle included the carriers Shokaku and Ryujo, the light carrier Kamikawa, and the heavy cruisers Maya and Takao.)

Wednesday 3 June 1942
One lesson I had learned from our previous engagement was that if the Japanese hang back on the western edge of the board to await the 1500 June 3 reinforcements (four heavy cruisers), then the Americans have to move out very aggressively to be able to achieve an airstrike before nightfall.  I gave up on my usual cagey search board tactics on the first day and had most of the carrier group move out west at flank speed to accomplish that first strike.  Because I had so many carriers, however, I held Saratoga and a couple of escorts back, northeast of the main group, far enough to avoid a Japanese strike but close enough to provide Combat Air Patrol (CAP) cover for the main fleet.  I staged all dive and torpedo bombers from Saratoga forward with the main fleet and replaced them with fighters, so that Saratoga was nothing but a big Wildcat farm of F-4F's to provide CAP.  The remaining fighters with the main carrier group would provide escort for the dive and torpedo bomber strike group.

Sure enough, my search patterns established that the main Japanese carrier strike force was hugging the west edge of the board, awaiting the arrival of the cruiser escort group.  Several Japanese light cruisers advanced  east on picket duty, but at 1300 a few American planes caught the Nagara all alone and made short work of her.

A6M2 Zeroes on the flight deck of the Akagi
Government of Japan.  Public domain
Because I was making no effort to evade Japanese searches on the first day, they saw me coming, so that when the Americans moved within range for an airstrike at 1700, they were ready.  The five American carriers launched a full strike on the Japanese task force, which responded in kind, while the Saratoga sent all fighters in CAP over the main U.S. force.  The American bombers sank the carrier Akagi and damaged Hiryu, while the Japanese sank Independence.  Night fell as the carriers recovered aircraft.

Thursday 4 June 1942
The second day of the battle was perhaps the most tense as the two fleets sought each other out and the Japanese task force assembled itself to prepare for the invasion.  Because I had Yorktown and Tennessee arriving that morning, I'd pulled my fleet back east overnight to effect a rendezvous later that morning.  The Japanese patrols, however, had assumed that I'd press the attack the following morning and consistently searched too far west of my position.

By 1500, I'd established the track of the Japanese main force and consolidated my strike fleet sufficient
SBD Dauntless dive bomber
USN photo.  Public domain
to attack again.  The strike was something of a gamble by this point.  I'd be attacking early enough in the day that the Japanese could establish my position and potentially counter-attack before nightfall.  But I didn't want to risk losing track of the Japanese fleet and allow them to get any closer to Midway before I could make another attack.  So I sent in my strike wing, to find an enormous invasion fleet, including four transports of the five that intelligence had told us to expect.  American planes sank two transports plus the heavy cruiser Atago.  There were four carriers in that task force, but none had planes on the deck, which meant that the Japanese had scrambled their aircraft in anticipation of the attack.

A lone submarine did discover Saratoga, but the report was sufficiently vague that the Japanese command couldn't be sure whether its position represented the main American fleet or the late reinforcements.

At 1700, Saratoga sent all fighters in CAP over the main task force, in case of a Japanese reprisal, but none came before nightfall.

Friday 5 June 1942
The third day would turn out to be the climactic one of the battle.  The sun rose to find the Japanese invasion fleet dangerously close to the main American carrier force, just over the horizon.  An immediate attack from both the American carriers and the detachment on Midway Island sank the heavy cruiser Chikuma and two more transports, but a fifth transport was unaccounted for.  The Japanese carrier decks were again empty, and the reason became apparent.  The island of Midway was meanwhile under attack by an overwhelming number of Japanese bombers, and in less than two hours, the defenses of Midway were obliterated, the airfield useless.  The door was open for that last Japanese transport to take the island if the fleet couldn't stop her.

Hiryu burning at Battle of Midway
USN photo.  Public domain
At 0900, American PBYs finally found the missing transport, and another strike was ordered to eliminate the threat to Midway.  Attack planes found the transport escorted by no fewer than four battleships, including the Yamato.  That last transport looked too difficult to sink, so a change in plans was ordered.  If Midway couldn't be saved, the Japanese fleet would pay.  The attack turned on the carriers instead, which were not as heavily defended, and the American bombers sank the carrier Hiryu and damaged the Zuiho and Hosho.  

At this point it was clear that the fifth transport would not be sunk and that Midway would fall.  Under the circumstances, it was time for the American fleet to withdraw and declare victory by virtue of the damage done to the Japanese fleet.  Saratoga launched a final CAP over the main force; once the last Wildcat had left her deck, she turned northeast and put as much water as possible between herself and the Japanese.  The main American task force, meanwhile, tried to escape to the southwest, but the Japanese put out a major search effort and found the Americans just in time to send one last strike before they got away.  When it was over, Hornet was on her way to the bottom, and both Yorktown and Enterprise were damaged.

We determined that with the U.S. Navy relinquishing the seas to the Empire of Japan, the Island of Midway would have fallen at 0900 on Saturday 6 June.  The score then broke out as follows:

Frank H., IJN
22 American variable order of battle chit draw
 7 Independence
10 Hornet
15 Invasion of Midway
54 Total

Paul O., USN
20 Japanese variable order of battle chit draw
10 Akagi
 8 Hiryu
 4 Atago
 3 Chikuma
 2 Nagara
 2 Transport AP-1
 2 Transport AP-2
 2 Transport AP-3
 2 Transport AP-4
 1 Submarine
11 Delay in invasion of Midway
67 Total

This game was the longest and perhaps the most tense game of Midway we've ever played.  It was remarkable for the fact that so few airstrikes occurred on the second day (June 4).  The difference in my success was very likely the fact that I found Frank's fleet much more often than he found mine, and so I had a couple of unanswered attacks that came away with several sunken ships.  Eventually it got to the point where even the invasion of Midway couldn't offset the losses.

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