Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Midway: The brown shoe is on the other foot

My father was a naval aviator, and for whatever reason, whereas the rest of the Navy wore black shoes with their khaki uniforms, aviators always wore brown shoes.  This "brown shoe" image has a great deal of history and pride associated with it.  Well, today after work, Frank Hodge did well by that tradition in our game of Midway (designerLarry Pinsky and Lindsley Schutz, publisher Avalon Hill).  Unlike so many of our previous games, Frank assumed the role of commander of the U.S. Navy forces, while I took those of the Imperial Japanese Navy with the goal of invading Midway Island.

USS Wasp.  USN photo.  Public domain
As we have so often before, we used Frank's modified order of battle rules, whereby many more ships participate in the battle in a speculative what-if scenario.  In this case, my Japanese fleet was augmented by the Alaskan Strike Force, a separate task force that was in actual history conducting an invasion of the Aleutians at the same time that the Midway Strike Force was bearing down upon its target.  Frank meanwhile had a few additional ships as well - the carrier Wasp and the battleships North Carolina and Colorado, among others.

The first day of battle, June 3, proceeded with some cat-and-mouse dodging and doubling-back and searching.  My goal was to pull off an opening air strike on the American carriers on the first day, but the U.S. advantage in search planes left my position exposed, while I frequently lost track of the American fleet's location.  I sent the light cruiser Nagara ahead as a picket to find the U.S. fleet, but she was caught by American planes and summarily sunk.  My submarine searches had mixed success; I lost two Japanese subs but managed to inflict one torpedo hit on Wasp the one time I did locate the fleet.  I ended up pulling back and having the carrier strike force rendezvous with four heavy cruisers to improve their air defense posture, then headed east to begin the process of reducing the defenses on Midway Island in preparation for the invasion.  

At daybreak on the second day, June 4, my main invasion force arrived from the west,
USN photo.  Public domain
augmented by two more carriers - Zuikaku and Shokaku.  I had the invasion force pass north and then approach Midway from the northwest so as to avoid the search patrols that were tracking my carrier force.  Later that morning, at 0900, my carriers were close enough to begin attacking Midway, where the bombers found no fighter cover and numerous planes on the ground.  Unfortunately, they only reduced Midway's defenses by about 50%, so it would be necessary to return later and finish the job.  I had meanwhile revealed the position of my carriers, so I had the delicate balancing act of managing Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) while refueling bombers for the follow-up strike.  Knowing that an American retaliation would come, I did not refuel planes on the more vulnerable Hiryu and Soryu, but the American attack did not come that morning.

At about that time, the Alaskan Strike Force arrived with the carriers Junyo and Ryujo, the heavy cruisers Maya and Takao, two transports, and three light cruisers.  They were joined by the Yamato battleship group and so were well-escorted.  But they were considerably west of my position and could only provide occasional fighter cover.

Early that afternoon, Akagi and Kaga launched follow-up strikes to complete the reduction of Midway.  Now the island was ready for the arrival of my transports to complete the invasion.  Again, I had given away the position of my carrier fleet, and so at 1500, the American counter-attack arrived.  My CAP of fighters from Kaga, Ryuho, Junyo, and Zuikaku was overwhelmed by the F-4F Wildcats, so that the full power of the American dive bombers and torpedo bombers were unleashed on my four carriers without opposition from my Zeroes.  The American attack was most heavily concentrated on Hiryu, which could not be saved.  I tried desperately to coordinate air defenses to save Soryu, but she went to the bottom as well.  Akagi meanwhile suffered 60% damage and Kaga 40%, which meant that they would probably not survive another American attack.

Aircraft preparations aboard Shokaku.
USN photo.  Public domain
Just before nightfall, Shokaku and Zuikaku attempted a counter-attack of their own on the American fleet, but the fighters were so outnumbered that the strike force would have been decimated with little or no effect on the U.S. ships, so I waved off the attack and returned the planes to their carriers.

The night of June 4, the American commander considered that enough damage had been inflicted on the Japanese fleet that there was no sense in trying to make a stand and jeopardize the American carriers, so the U.S. fleet sailed away under cover of darkness.   By the afternoon of June 5, the Japanese invasion was complete, but the loss of two carriers was too high a price to pay for the island.

Frank H., USN
 8  Hiryu
 8  Soryu
 2 Nagara
 2  submarines sunk
 6  holding Midway until 1500 June 5
26  total

Paul O., IJN
 1  submarine sunk
15  invasion of Midway
16  total

In retrospect, I think I made a strategic error in focusing my June 4 carrier strikes on reducing Midway island defenses rather than trying to sink American carriers.  As I look at the points in the game, it is absolutely necessary for the Japanese to sink at least one and preferably two American carriers in order to secure a victory.  I should have had the lead carrier strike force trade blows with the U.S. fleet and leave the Midway reduction to Zuikaku and Shokaku (a luxury not normally afforded the Japanese player in the original order of battle).  

Frank and I are wondering whether there is an inherent bias in this game for an American victory.  I've always felt that the U.S. had an advantage just in terms of the number of available dive bombers, which can concentrate in some alarming attacks.  The weak air defense values of many of the Japanese heavy cruisers don't help, either.  But the Japanese can certainly win - it just didn't happen this time.


  1. I am not sure there is a bias in the game. Maybe there is one in the Solomons variants. We'll have to test it out some more. -- Frank

  2. You're probably right, Frank. I certainly made my share of mistakes as the Japanese player!