It's Game 3 of this years Naval Campaign and by now both sides know the score, at the end of the last match up the two German ships were finally identified as the Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. It's early 1941 and we are following the sortie of those two ships into the Atlantic or Operation Berlin as it became know.
Our first Game was a confused night action as the Germans broke out into the North Atlantic.
The second game saw the two German ships causing chaos amongst a Convoy with some U Boat support.
Game 3 is something a bit different and based on an actual event during the course of Op Berlin, as before I have put the historical background and Umpire Notes at the end of the post if you are playing along.
After a couple of encounters with British Forces things have been going well with this litte cruise in the Atlantic. A number of Allied ships have been sunk and although there is a couple of dents in the belt armour to date you haven't taken any real damage.
Another Convoy has been sighted on the Horizon and as you move to engage the Merchant ships your lookout makes you aware of a small boat steaming towards you on an intercept course.
German Ships - Scharnhorst and Gneisenau carrying forward any damage from Games 1 and 2.
|"Hans, waz ist daz"|
Warnings have flashed across all the Allied ships in the Atlantic, the Germans have two big cats out hunting. You are commanding a small convoy designated HX114 however your prayers are not answered when two ships are spotted on the Horizon and they don't look very friendly.
One ship has left your convoy and is making smoke, doing full speed towards the Germans, you always thought the Danish Captain of the vessel, the Chilean Reefer was a couple of vouchers short of a toaster, your fears have been confirmed.
On your last contact with Fleet you were promised big gun support, lets hope they are close by.
British Ships - Convoy, although a different one from Game 2 we used the surviving ships from Game 2.
HMS Rodney and 2 escorting Destroyers off table.
Chilean Reefer - Armed Merchant see Umpire Notes
Sometimes, in a battle, there is an odd man out, a hero who makes a last stand, someone whose deeds are written down in History. In the mass of merchant ships of HX114 there was a Danish firebrand commanding the Chilean Reefer, ship registered at just 1,831 gross tons.
The moment the German ships were sighted the Reefer sent off a message reporting the vessels and an accurate position. He made smoke and steered towards the Battlecruisers and to the disbelief of the crew of Gneisenau, opened fire on the mighty ships with his tiny deck gun.
Captain Fein of the Gneisenau and his crew were perplexed by the actions of this tiny ship and rightly so, they had never seen anything like it. Was this some carefully disguised armed cruiser, was it a decoy for some, as yet unseen threat. Might the Reefer be armed with torpedoes or even rigged to explode ?
Fein showed up most respect and moved his Battlecruiser to a safer distance and opened up with main 11 inch guns. However the Chilean Reefer proved to be a hard nut to crack, a tiny target in a rolling sea. It took 73 rounds to sink the Danish ship, the most fired at any single target during Operation Berlin and no doubt would make her one of the most expensive, per ton, ships to sink of the war.
The German Captains were however right to be concerned, while they were seeing off the threat from the Reefer a blip appeared on the radar screen, an approaching group of ships. A short while later the imposing shape of HMS Rodney appeared on the skyline.
|HMS Dave to the rescue (cue puzzled looks from none UK residents)|
Rodders flashed a challenge and the Gneisenau replied with the call sign of HMS Emerald, a three stack light cruiser. Even if the crew of Rodney had been knocking back the Sherry all day they would have noticed something was amiss.
"What Ship ?" asked the British, however the Germans weren't hanging about for a chat, turning tail and working up to top speed. The last view the Germans had was of the dying flames of the Chilean Reefer and the searchlights of the British ships as they scoured the sea for survivors.
|Not often you see two Battlecruisers being chased by a Freighter !|
I forgot to take a photo of the table before the start of the game so here is my best description.
12 ft x 6 ft table, sea surface with no other terrain. Take North as one short side of the table.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sailing East, line astern, 20 kts, 2ft in from the Northern table edge with the rear of Gneisenau on the western table edge.
The Convoy should be set up steaming North on the outer edge of the maximum range for the Germans.
HMS Rodney will arrive on the Eastern side of the table steaming towards the Germans at maximum speed at maximum gun range.
The Chilean Reefer should be set up half way between the Convoy and the Germans on the Eastern side of the table steaming towards the Germans, making smoke.
This is designed to be a short fun game for no more than a club evening.
This game is all about the Chilean Reefer (CR), having had some fun messing with the British players mind with the identification of the Germans in Games 1 and 2, it was time to play around with the Germans heads.
Like hero figures in fantasy games sometimes you need to bend the rules a bit to make something work, so here is how I got the Reefer to work.
The German ships should not be allowed to simply open up on the CR and it's the job of the Umpire to make the scenario work. The Battlecruisers need to identify the ship and to start with seeds of doubt need to be sewn, it could be a German refuelling ship trying to escape the British for example.
The following is a suggestion of lines to feed the Germans, all designed to represent the confusion caused by the merchant on the day,
"It's difficult at this range to identify the ship through the smoke"
"Through the mist you can see crew working on the deck of the ship and a Captain with a ginger beard looking at you"
"The man in the Ginger Beard is waving his fist at you"
"The ginger bearded one is moving some boxes on the deck"
"Was that a puff of smoke from behind those boxes"
"That was a gun ! Are those torpedoes ?"
I armed the CR with a 4" gun and no torpedoes (but the Germans didn't know that) and made it very difficult to hit. The first 8 salvos fired at the CR will automatically miss (to represent the high volume of shots fired without a hit".
Once that has passed the CR should be very hard to hit, now this very much depends on your rules but at just under 2000 tons it won't last long when hit. As it's making smoke that halves any hits in my rules, added to that factor in its small size.
We use a ship card to represent the deck of a ship to allocate hits and smaller ships use an 8 x 4 grid which normally has a near miss location in the corners (see below) for the CR I increased the number of near miss boxes so that only boxes 2,3 to 2,6 and 3,3 to 3,6 counted as a hit. I dropped any critical hits as the small size of the CR meant it wouldn't last long enough once hit to worry about them.
I allowed the Reefer to move after all the other ships without written orders and gave it (an unrealistic) top speed of 24 knots.
Although present the Convoy is a bit of a side show. From the end of turn 1 the British player rolls 2d6 representing the distress call from the CR and on reaching a cumulative score of 24 the Rodney appears next turn.
How did we get on
|A ship card example|
An enjoyable experience for the British seeing the bemused looks of the German player as they tried to work out what the hell was going on !
The Chilean Reefer managed to get fairly close before opening up on the Gneisenau, a hit on the 11in gun turret hardly scratched the paint, it raised a smile and a return salvo of secondary guns.
The mention of the possibiity of torpedoes on the CR focused the mind of the German player and the Convoy was quickly forgotten as they started to manoeuvre to avoid the Danish ship.
|"That man with the Ginger Beard, he crazy"|
Added to that Rodney had arrived and was starting to close the range, this lead to the rarely seen sight of two Battlecruisers being chased by a small Armed Merchant, a moment well worth a photo !
As the Germans made for the safety of the table edge the luck of the Reefer finally gave out as a 11" shell tore her in two. A sad end for a brave ship and crew. The Battlecruisers escaped to fight another day.
Game 4 coming up soon when the Germans stumble across another Convoy but this time they aren't as lucky, this time the British are in the middle of a escort hand over and the Germans will need to fight their way out.