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The Battle of Cape Esperance, 1942


WWII Naval, General Quarters, 1/1200 scale

The original plan was to play an English Civil War game, but as it was cancelled at the last minute we had to come up with something else. In these circumstances we often lay on a naval game, as it involves little effort; less lead to cart around, easy terrain and a quick set-up. While we’d played one game using the new version of General Quarters rules, this game was the first chance we’d had to try them out using my Pacific war fleets. The Battle of Cape Esperance seemed manageable, as it was fairly small, but it involved a few novelties such as night fighting, radar, and lots of torpedoes. It was the second of the string of battles fought in “Ironbottom Sound” off Guadalcanal, and pitched a small Japanese force of cruisers and destroyers against a slightly larger American squadron. I had most of the ships (although I had to substitute a couple of the American ones), and the game could easily be fought to a conclusion in an evening.pacwar-07The Japanese force consisted of of three heavy cruisers and four destroyers – two more destroyers than the historical force to balance the sides a little, while the Americans had four cruisers (two heavies, two lights), supported by five destroyers. Just as it did historically, contact came just before midnight, on a quiet night, with a quarter moon, and calm seas. aobaThe Japanese (played by myself and Dougie Trail) had a cunning plan – to close to within 10,000 yards, then loose off a massed salvo of Long Lance torpedoes, then to break contact, reload and return to the fight. Of course it didn’t quite go according to plan. For a start, the Americans (played by Kevan Gunn and Bill Gilchrist) spotted us as we approached – something  we hadn’t reckoned on given their inferior night-fighting abilities.pacwar-04Their opening salvos began to plaster our destroyers, but it didn’t stop a wave of 35 torpedoes being launched at their ships. I was a bit nervous playing with torpedoes alongside Dougie – in the last naval game he torpedoed my flagship, despite being on the same side! The trouble was, we didn’t use the torpedo rules correctly – we should have marked down the direction on a post-it note stuck to the table, then covered it, so the enemy couldn’t guess where the spread was going. Instead the Americans found it all to easy to avoid all of our torpedo salvo.pacwar-05We missed, so we laid smoke and veered away, protected by the covering fire of the Japanese cruisers. This didn’t work too well either – a lucky hit on the flagship Aoba hit a turret, and I failed to roll a saving throw which would have prevented a cataclysmic explosion. The Aoba blew up, leaving the Japanese cruisers outnumbered two to one. The only saving grace was that in the exchange of fire the USS Salt Lake City was so badly damaged it had to pull out of the battle, and head to safety.san-franciscoThe next disaster was an engineering hit on the Furutaka, promptly followed by a second one. Once again we failed to repair the damage, and the ship lay dead in the water – a perfect target for the American cruisers.pacwar-08By that stage it was clear we weren’t going to achieve anything apart from losing more ships. We withdrew under cover of smoke, avoiding a last parting salvo of torpedoes fired by the American destroyers. Of our three heavy cruisers only the Kinugasa survived, making the game a pretty emphatic American victory. Of course, our lack of experience with the torpedo and night fighting rules helped the Americans, and with luck they’ll find it a little harder next time we meet.pacwar-03

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