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Action off Linosa, 1941


WWII Naval, General Quarters, 1/2400 scale

This week, with a few of the regulars away, we wanted a small and fairly straightforward game. So, as we hadn’t played a WWII naval game for ages, we decided on it. I came up with a scenario where I could scale the forces up or down depending on how many people were willing to play. In the end only Campbell and Michael were around, and so the game was a fairly small one. It was set off the island of Linosa, south-west of Malta, and involved a small but much-needed Italian convoy, which was making its way to North Africa.The Italian objective was to get the convoy off the table, while avoiding major losses, while the British were out to stop them. The table was an 8×6 foot one, with two rocky islands representing Linosa just off the centre of the southern table edge. The Italians appeared in the north-east corner of the table, and their three ship convoy (a tanker and two freighters) had to get off the southern table edge. This small convoy was escorted by three Navigatori class destroyers, backed up by two light cruisers – the Bande Nere and the Bartolomeo Colleoni.For their part the British were already at sea, but had swept the area earlier that evening, and hadn’t found anything. So, Rear-Admiral Pridham-Whipple’s force was heading back to Malta when radar contact was made. He was to the west of Linosa at the time, so he altered course to the north-west, and deployed his small force into line. His flagship Orion was accompanied by another light cruiser, the Gloucester, and two H class destroyers – Havock and Hasty. I played the British, while Campbell and Michael shared the Italians between them. The Italians began by abandoning their convoy. It plodded on to the south – the freighters steaming at their maximum speed of 11 knots, the more valuable tanker increasing to its full 14 knots, in an effort to make it off the table edge before the British caught it. The three Italian destroyers which were protecting these ships veered off to starboard, and headed west to intercept the British. So too did Rear-Admiral Marenco with his two light cruisers. The two sides began trading shots at a little over 12,000 yards (six miles), without much effect. However, both sides were now racing towards each other, with a combined closing speed of around 50mph. Things were about to get messy!  For their part the British closed the range to within 10,000 yards (five miles), then swung to port to form a gun line, with Havock followed by Gloucester, Orion and then Hasty. Now, in General Quarters (v3) you have the option to switch to “Rapid Fire” for up to six turns – this is where the crews fire their light guns manually, giving them a better rate of fire than normal – until they tire of course. This seemed the right time, so my 6-inch cruisers began shooting up their Italian counterparts as fast as they possibly could. Soon bits began flying off the Italian ships, starting with the BArtolomeo Colleoni, which suffered multiple flooding and bulkhead hits, causing her speed to drop as she lost hull boxes. The Bande Bere was also suffering, but not quite so badly. The Italians’ return fire wasn’t nearly so effective, and apart from knocking out some of the guns on my two destroyers, they didn’t do much damage at all. By now the range had dropped to within 9,000 yards (4.5 miles), and the mayhem continued, with the British fire pulverising the Italian cruisers, knocking out guns and torpedo mounts on the Italian cruisers, and causing flooding damage to Marenco’s flagship, the Bande Nere. By now though the Italians were hitting back, knocking out the forward turret of the Gloucester and causing a steering hit to the Havock. She began a lazy turn to starboard, heading towards the Italian ships. Fortunately for her crew, the Italians had other things to worry about. In the next round of firing the Bartolomeo Colleoni took more hull boxes than she had left, and she sank. The Bande Nere was now in a bad way too, with all but one of her gun turrets knocked out. the Italian destroyers were still putting up a brave fight though, and Michael remembered the convoy, and began laying smoke to screen it as it headed off the table. The Convoy! Damn! I’d been so preoccupied in hitting the Italian cruisers that I’d forgotten my objective – to stop the convoy. We’d now been playing for a dozen turns, and it was pretty close to that southern table edge, with the tanker San Paolo almost off the table. I’d also used up my rapid fire allowance – my crews reverted to automatic loading – but their efforts had paid off. The Italians were down to one badly damaged cruiser, and she was on her last legs. I was planning to finish her off when the Italian players pulled their next masterstroke. they launched a full salvo of torpedoes. My two light cruisers were a little to the north and west of the enemy by now, so they were fairly safe. Still, they turned away, just in case. My two destroyers were in the firing line though, now that the crew of Havock had repaired their rudder, and formed up astern of Hasty. Both ships were down to two guns apiece though, and while their speed had dropped they were still fairly nippy. So, they managed to avoid the incoming torpedoes –  just – and the gunnery battle resumed. The arrow-shaped post-it notes represent the torpedo spreads, so you’ll see how close they came to hitting Havock.We were now into the end game. While Gloucester fired at the San Paolo in a last-minute bid to stop her getting off the table, the Orion kept firing at the Bande Nere, which was now limping along at just 4 knots. That’s her ship card up above, showing she was down to one gun turret, and one hull box! One final salvo did the trick, and the second Italian cruiser went to the bottom, taking rear Admiral Marenco down with her. The Italian destroyers were heading south now, making smoke, but they didn’t get away Scot free. The destroyer Nicolosa de Rocco was hit by a salvo from Gloucester, and she went down in what turned out to be the last gunnery exchange of the game. By now the San Paolo was off the table – Rommel would get his precious tank fuel after all – and the two freighters were just a turn away from the southern table edge. A thick line of smoke now obscured them from the British, and the two remaining Italian destroyers were hidden behind it too, as they limped south to rejoin the convoy. So, the battle ended. The Italians did very well – they scored 7 points for getting the convoy off the table. However, they suffered very heavy casualties – two light cruisers and a destroyer were lost defending it – a total of 8.5 points. So, it was a slender British win – hardly the decisive victory one would expect from the service. It was all down to me ignoring the convoy for too long, and concentrating on the Italian warships instead. I bet I won’t be thanked when Rommel’s panzers start rolling into Tobruk either… Still, it was a great little game, and well-matched. The British edge in firepower proved crucial, as did me taking the eye off the victory conditions for too long. The Italians fought a good defensive battle, and their plucky but ultimately doomed gunnery battle bought the convoy the time it needed to make its escape. Next time we’ll do something a bit bigger – and I can actually get some capital ships on the table… Warspite and Giulio Cesare are waiting in the wings…

 

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