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Ambush off the Lofoten Islands, 1942


World War 2 Naval, General Quarters 3, 1/2400 scale

A week or so ago I had a fire in the flat. As a result my lead store was badly damaged by smoke. So, this week I staged a small, manageable game, where I didn’t have to bring much in the way of toys. I opted for WWII naval – a fictitious clash set off the coast of Norway in the spring of 1942. The idea was, Tirpitz and Lützow had sortied to attack an Arctic convoy, escorted by four destroyers.They failed to make contact with the convoy, and now they were heading to their lair at Bogen near Narvik.Two of the destroyers (Z-17 and Z-19) had been detached to refuel, but the remaining two were scouting ahead of the capital ships. Then, off the Lofoten Islands, they came across two British destroyers. The scene was set for a small naval clash, fought out between Gruppe Nord and the Home Fleet. The Germans were approaching the southern end of the chain of islands from the north-west, with the destroyers forming a screen two miles ahead of the big ships. The sea was fairly rough, and a series of rain squalls were blowing in from the south-west. The pair of British destroyers (Orwell and Obedient) were lurking behind them when they were spotted by their German counterparts. Yes, purists will tell me those two O class destroyers weren’t in service that March, but damn it – they were the ones I’d scrubbed clean of smoke damage! Similarly the German destroyers were both sunk in 1940, but they’d magically been resurrected for our game.More importantly, lurking to the south-west were two battleships of the Home Fleet – King George V (flying the flag of Admiral Tovey), and Rodney. So, it was an ambush. The British aim was to disable the Germans before they broke off and fled north towards the Altenfjord. The game was played out on an 8×6 foot table.Campbell, Dougie and Alisdair were the Germans, while Peter and I commanded the British. Clearly this would be a brief clash, as the German capital ships had to keep their distance, and cover the withdrawal of their two destroyers. The opening salvos came from both pairs of destroyers. The British capital ships hadn’t appeared out of the murk yet, so the Tirpitz and Lützow opened up on them too. My two British destroyers promptly dodged behind a convenient rain squall (rather inelegantly represented by scraps of paper), while the Germans continued on towards the south. The Germans, it has to be said, weren’t particularly lucky with their firing dice, but I suspected they were just getting warmed up. One hit from Tirpitz could pretty much eviscerate a British war-plan destroyer, so I planned to hide in the squalls as much as I could. After all, Peter’s battleships were somewhere behind me. A lucky roll by Peter brought them on at the start of Turn 3. They appeared at the south-west corner of the table, and immediately broke formation in a very unseamanlike manner. Peter though, was trying to get his rear turrets into arc- until then both KGV and Rodney could only use their two forward turrets. Their opening salvos were directed at the Lützow , as the Tirpitz was still beyond the range of visibility. Their aim was good – one lucky hit from KGV smashed up the floatplane and started a fire amidships. The next turn the German shooting improved, with both destroyers scoring hits on the Orwell. She was visible as the squall moved away and uncovered her. That’s it’s ship card up above – the German fire knocked out the two guns crossed off in red, and she lost a hull box too, taking her down to a top speed of 32 knots. That though, was only the start. Over the next two turns she got pounded even more, with an engine hit reducing her speed to 23 knots, and a bulkhead hit starting a flood. it was dealt with though, but it meant losing another hull box. Meanwhile the Tirpitz appeared out of the murk, but for some reason both British battleships kept firing at the armoured cruiser Lützow . She took a magazine hit, but prompt action led to it being flooded, and the ship was saved. She was getting a real pounding though – hardly surprising with salvos of 14 and 16 inch shells landing all around her. The German capital ships decided to break contact at this point, as Tirpitz was now able to lend her weight of fire to the battle. Back to the south though, the two German destroyers were putting themselves in harm’s way. They went steaming in for a torpedo attack, and launched it at Rodney. It was at long range though, and Peter had time to turn away. That’s the situation down below. So, the torpedoes missed, but it was a close call – the result of another lucky dice roll. With the German destroyers having shot their bolt they turned away,but not before the KGV pummeled them as they slipped past. Eventually though, they slipped off under cover of yet more rain squalls. The British weren’t having it all their own way though. With Rodney hidden by the rain, the Germans concentrated on KGV, and soon both 11 and 15-inch shells were falling around her. She lost “B” turret – the two-gun one – and then lost one and a half hull boxes. That though, was the best shooting the German capital ships had done all evening. Still, without Rodney there to support her the British flagship was having a tough time of it. Strangely enough, what spared the KGV more damage was the re-appearance of the British destroyers. They’d spent the past few turns skulking behind rain squalls, but as the German capital ships began turning away from the British battleships they finally made their move.  Using the rain as cover they sped up and closed with the enemy. The Germans took a while to react, partly because Lützow  took a bridge hit, and couldn’t change her course and speed. it was a torpedoman’s dream, but the two destroyers ignored her. They had bigger fish to fry. So, at a range of less than 1,200 yards they both launched eight torpedoes at the Tirpitz. It was a bold move, but what happened all depended on Captain Topp’s reactions.In the end he made the right call. He turned hard to port, increased to maximum speed, and did what amounted to a handbrake turn. By the end of the move Tirpitz lay to port of her original course, and heading the other way. I hadn’t expected this, and all 16 torpedoes passed harmlessly to port of the German battleship. That pretty much brought the game to an end. With the Germans breaking contact with KGV, and the Obedient and Orwell out of “fish” the game was effectively over. The British destroyers made their escape back into the rain squalls, and the Germans did the same. So, the battle was inconclusive, and effectively a draw. However, it was all good fun, made the more so by the addition of the rain squalls. Now I just have to figure out how best to portray them on the tabletop.

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7 Responses “Ambush off the Lofoten Islands, 1942”

  1. Will
    6th February 2019 at 10:25 am

    Sorry to hear about your smoke damage and hope that it is not a permanent hit on your collection. I found out the hard way that wargamers need to tell insurers about your collections to be certain of cover.

    • 6th February 2019 at 10:41 am

      Thanks Will. It was a bit of a blow. Still, the lead survive, even though the 120 Really Useful boxes are black with smoke, and the stuff inside has a new darker patina! I’ve invested in a steam cleaner…

  2. William Harley
    7th February 2019 at 4:32 pm

    An other excellent looking game Angus, “Anchors away me hearty”.
    I am off to the Royal Naval recruiting centre as this game has inspired me to join up.
    Not to old am I?

    Happy gaming,
    Willz.

    • 7th February 2019 at 5:13 pm

      Will, you’re never too old to feel a sailor…

  3. 8th February 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Angus sorry to hear about the fire. Another wonderfull game.

  4. Scott Duncan
    2nd March 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Rain Squalls Try clear plastic with a spray of dark grey. Probably a cheap container for pie/fruit etc. The shape does not have to regular and should sort of 3D to provide the effect of rain falling and blocking vision.

    • 4th March 2019 at 12:19 am

      That’s a workable idea, Scott…if we could only find irregular cartons…

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