Saturday 28 March 2015

Battle of Cape Spartivento - 27-Nov-1940

A WW2 Naval Scenario / AAR

Italian Battleship Veneto
The last met up at Castle R arrived quicker than anticipated last week, work and home commitments meant I had very little spare time for organisation. That is why one has large Naval collections lying around. Drape the blue cloth over the table, get the ships out of the box and off you go.

My main interest in the WW2 Naval period at the moment is centred around the early / mid war in the Mediterranean between the Royal Navy and the Italians. There are quite a few decent size historical actions in the campaign to have a crack at and this battle is one of them, known by the Italians as the Battle of Cape Tuelada this is often described as an inconclusive fleet action, I decided to give it a go but release the Italian Captains from the restrictions they were placed under on the day (only join an action if you have superior forces) and see how it panned out.

Italian Heavy Cruiser Gorizia
Historical Background

10 days before the battle an Italian Force had set out to intercept a British convoy bound for Malta, the convoy was warned of the approach of the Italians and as a result launched its cargo of aircraft vital for the defence of Malta early, causing the loss of 9 out of 14 aircraft. The convoy was re run but this time with greater support. The excellent Italian Intelligence units at Gibraltar had spotted and reported the convoy to their superiors, as a result of this a force was sent to intercept. The British were aware of the Italians movements and sent the fighting part of the convoy to intercept the Italians and protect the precious cargo en route to the besieged Malta.

Both fleets used spotter planes to fix the others location. The two fleets were evenly matched, two battleships a piece, 5 heavy cruisers vs 6 but the British had the advantage of having an aircraft carrier in the convoy. Italian aircover came from Sardinia.

The Italians had a group of 3 Heavy Cruisers in the lead followed by another 3 Cruisers and 7 destroyers, a third group of two Battleships and 7 destroyers were a short distance away. The British had their Cruisers advancing line abreast towards the Italians with a Battleship and Battlecruiser with destroyer escorts just out of range of the Italians and then the Ark Royal with escorts a distance behind that.

The cruisers came into range at just after 12.20 and although at a slight advantage the Italian Vice Admiral commanding them was ordered to withdraw. HMS Berwick then lost a turret and the battle was swinging towards the Italians, just as they were getting the Peronis in HMS Renown started to reign 15" shells around the Italian cruisers, a very uncomfortable experience. The battle then swung back to the Italians when the Vittorio Veneto came into range, it was as the shells from this ship splashed around the British Cruisers that both sides retired from the battle.

Churchill was furious with the actions of Somerville the British Commander for not engaging the Italian ships however the board of enquiry set up exonerated Somerville although having a number of his friends on the board undoubtedly helped the verdict.

Orders of Battle

Regia Marina (Italian Navy)

Squadron 1
Bolzano, Gorizia, Fiume (Heavy Cruisers), Ascari, Carbiniere, Lanciere (Destroyers)
Squadron 2
Pola, Trieste, Trento (Heavy Cruisers), Oriani, Alfieri, Carducci, Gioberti (Destroyers)
Squadron 3
Vittorio Veneto, Giulio Cesare (Battleships), Alpino, Bersagliere, Fuciliere, Granatiere, Dardo, Freccia and Saetta (Destroyers)

Royal Navy

Squadron 1
Berwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Southampton
Squadron 2
Ramillies (Battleship), Renown (Battlecruiser), Encounter, Faulknor, Firedrake, Forester, Fury, Gallant, Greyhound, Griffin, Hereward (Destroyers)
Squadron 3
Ark Royal (Aircraft Carrier with 12 Fighters, 12 Dive Bombers and 30 Torpedo planes), Jaguar and Kelvin (Destroyers)
Squadron 4
Coventry, Despatch (Cruisers) Duncan, Hotspur, Wishart (Destroyers)

HMS Berwick
Game Set Up

The Italian Force was easy as I am blessed in having all the ships of the Regia Marina in my collection. I wasn't completely there with the British as my collection is based around the middle of 1941. I had to substitute the Belfast and Fiji for two of the British Cruisers and Carlisle for Despatch, all similar gun configurations and no real effect on the game. I also needed a few substitutes on the British destroyers again all similar types.

We played on an 8 x 4 table, set up the British Cruisers line abreast and then, depending on your rules, set up Italian Sqn 1 at long to extreme range, the Italians angled so that the British are in their broadside arc, set up Italian Sqn 2 behind 1 but about 2 turns out of range. Finally the Battleship Sqns should set up outside their maximum range with the Ark Royal Group further out.

Aircover for the Brits is in the orbat above, use your own aircraft rules, the Italians have random air power, roll a d20 at the end of each turn 15 or more brings air support. 15 a flight of 6 fighters, 16 a flight of 6 bombers, 17 two fighters, 18 two bombers, 19 three of either, 20 3 of each. Remember at this time the Italians had no dive bombers, they flew over the fleets and chucked the bombs out hoping to hit something. Official Italian records show they attacked their own ships between 30 and 40 percent of the time and you may want to reflect this in your game.

Our Battle

Four players, two each side was easily manageable, the advantage for the British is in the first few moves when they have a 5 vs 3 cruiser advantage, the 6" guns of the British struggled to penetrate the Italian Cruisers Gorizia and Fiume but started to cause problems with the lightly armoured Bolzano. The faster rate of fire of the 6" guns gave the British more hits while the Italians were getting the odd hit which was more powerful as they were armed with 8" guns.

Brave lads attacking a ship in a bi plane
The British managed to get an air attack in quite quickly with 18 Swordfish going for the Italian Cruiser Fiume, sadly for them they only managed 1 torpedo hit and rolled a 1 for damage so it was quite ineffective. The Italians also got an air attack that phase, the only one of the game, they managed to attack the right ships, the British Cruisers, but all the bombs fell harmlessly in the sea.

Bolzano has enough and pulls out of line
First blood to the British as the weight of fire and a funnel hit on the Bolzano slowed her down and she pulled out of line. It was shortly after this that the Ark Royal drifted into range of the Vittorio, one 15" shell hit the target striking the belt of the Carrier slowing her down, the Brits quickly reacted leaving Vittorio one more round of fire before it was out of range again, not under fire and a hit the previous round it was looking good, a hit, roll for location, a near miss !! Bugger.

"That was a big dolphin Sir"
4 squares out of 60 don't cause damage, no surprises on the dice.
The main battle lines came into action at long range, sniping away at each other, whilst the Italians launched a torpedo attack with 3 of the destroyers, it was a close run thing but none of the torpedoes hit, Fiji the luckiest.

With the range closing the Italian Cruisers started to get the upper hand, that and the second 3 cruisers were coming into range. A bridge hit on the HMS Belfast killed the Captain and forced her to withdraw, we then had a turret hit on HMS Manchester, the turret exploded taking the adjacent turret with it leaving her with no guns to the fore. HMS Sheffield was next suffering a funnel hit and a succession of penetrating belt hits slowing her down to 22 knots maximum. In two turns the potent British Cruiser Force had been reduced from 5 to 2 effectives, that was enough for the British Admiral and a general withdrawal was ordered.

The Italians lost one destroyer, Saetta sunk whilst attempting a torpedo run, Bolzano was heavily damaged losing about 50% of its hull points, Fiume had been struck by a torpedo but was making good speed. The British had lost the use of 3 Cruisers and the fate of the crippled Sheffield is uncertain as she is unlikely to have escaped at 22 knots. All in all a great game, I do enjoy a bit of Naval and a victory for the Italians, yes you read that here first a victory for the Italians.

British Cruisers under fire.
Next up will be WW2 Desert if I can find or work out a good 1941 scenario with Italians and Germans in.

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