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Cape Prada, 1940


WWII Naval, General Quarters, 1/1200 scale

I like it when wargame opponent Dougie Trail wants to use his Second World War Italian fleet. WC Fields’ phrase “never give a sucker an even break” always springs to mind! Well, this game was a fictitious one, set soon after Italy came into the war – around July 1940. The Italians were trying to run a vital convoy from Naples to Benghazi containing the tanks, tankers and fuel needed to allow the Italians to go over onto the offensive in North Africa. The Royal Navy were obviously out to stop the convoy, and sent a force from Alexandria to intercept it. The scene was set for an Anglo-Italian naval clash – a scaled-down version of the Battle of Punta Stilo.british-cruisers-2The convoy of four merchantmen was escorted by four destroyers or torpedo boats, but the bulk of the Italian force was grouped into the covering force, whose job  was to screen the convoy from the British. It consisted of the battleship Caio Duilio, two heavy and two light cruisers, plus six destroyers. Support of sorts was also available from the Italian Air Force. For their part the British had the small carrier Eagle, the venerable battlecruiser Renown, four light cruisers and eight destroyers.The Italian player – Dougie Trail – made his first decision before the game began. Rather than risk its dismemberment he turned his convoy round and sent it back to Naples. He was playing safe, avoiding the potential loss of “victory points” if the convoy was intercepted. The covering force lingered in the area to cover its withdrawal, with both sides aware that the enemy was at sea, and somewhere close by. The first units to sight each other were the cruisers, and both sides immediately launched spotter planes to scout out the rest of the enemy force.naval%20game%20poor%20003The two battleships sighted each other, and the Caio Duilio opened fire at 21,000 yards, scoring a non-penetrating hit on the Renown. The British battleship fired back, and hit the Caio Duilio with her first salvo, knocking out “X” turret. Her second salvo was equally successful, as a shell penetrated the armour of “B” turret and destroyed it. In the space of six minutes the Italian battleship had lost nearly half of her firepower, and was clearly in a bad way. Renown was in her “zone of invulnerability” (called the “immunity zone” by the US Navy). At long range, plunging fire can penetrate the deck of either battleship . Closer in the Malaya had an advantage. At a range of 18-21,000 yards the Italian shells couldn’t penetrate Renown’s armour, while her 15-inch shells were more than a match for the armour of her Italian counterpart. This is Naval Gunnery 101 – the theory behind all this is explained here (off-site link). Dougie learned about the “zone of invulnerability” the hard way. On the third turn the Caio Duilio broke off the action and limped back to Taranto, escorted by her two destroyers. Three cheers for the Renownnaval%20game%20poor%20011The cruisers were the next force to come into action. The British cruiser commander Kevan Gunn knew that his light cruisers had a real advantage  at close range – under 6,000 yards. He wanted to close the range as quickly as he could, but the Italian cruisers kept the gap at 12,000 yards, and refused to be lured closer. In the gunnery exchange that followed two British light cruisers were damaged – Orion taking an engine room hit and Ajax having “Y” turret knocked out. In return the light cruiser Alberico de Barbiano was hit and damaged, while a fire was started on board her sister ship Luigi Cadorna. At that point the Caio Duilio headed off the table, which meant that the guns of the Malaya could turn on the Italian cruisers. Staying on and fighting wasn’t a sensible option. Therefore, Dougie’s destroyers laid smoke and the four Italian cruisers turned away, and headed off the table.  Before they went though, a salvo from Malaya crippled the leading smoke-laying destroyer Geniere, the only target it could see.sea-gladiators1The final act of the battle was fought out in the air. While all this was playing out Eagle launched an air strike – four flights of Swordfish torpedo bombers, escorted by two flights of Gladiators. Their objective was the Italian heavy cruisers, but before they reached them they were intercepted by Italian Fiat biplanes. In the dogfight that followed a Swordfish flight was shot down, while a Fiat flight was damaged and returned to its base. As there was too much smoke to launch an attack and more enemy fighters were expected the strike was recalled. Almost simultaneously the Italian Air Force turned up and launched a high level bombing attack on Malaya. Anti-aircraft fire saw off one bomber flight, but the rest dropped their payload, but didn’t manage to hit anything. That was the last clash of the battle, as by that time the Italian fleet had broken off the action and was heading for home.naval%20game%20poor%20005As usually we used General Quarters (3rd edition). This was the first game we’ve played integrating surface and air action, and the rules system coped well with all these added spotter planes, dogfights and bombing runs. While the game didn’t result in a single ship being sunk, the engagements was a clear victory for the Royal Navy. Surprisingly, Dougie proved just as cautious as his real-life Italian counterparts, but at least his fleet lived to fight another day. No doubt he’ll be painting up more powerful battleships, more aircraft, and trying to find a way of reversing his fleet’s losing streak. I’ll simply look forward to giving him another lesson in seapower!

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