Friends, Romans and Plastic Pushers!

INVICTUS Logo

Well another month and another game. Wonder how I do it? Me too! I spend waaaay to much time in front of this machine. So, what is Invictus all about? Well, obviously it’s about the Roman Empire! After all there is the Aquila (Eagle) with Senātus Populusque Rōmānus right in the logo bar. Still stirs the heart!~ Makes the fingers itch to push legionnaires into the jaws of Tyche (god of chance) don’t it?

This game is designed for 1/72nd scale (HO) plastic and there is a HUGE range of ancients in this scale. The price and quality make a great alternative to metal. 15mm and 25mm can be easily substituted.

Now the question is of course ‘Why Rome?’ and why Rome after the pacific world war II? Well, my answer to that is ‘Why not?’ and the Roman army is one piece of land history I have studied as voraciously as sea warfare.  The Legion was the best fighting machine for two millennia and faced Parthians, Sassinids, Germans, Brits, Picts, Celts and more. No force in world history has faced such a variety of enemies and for the most part won. While the Romans often faced a terrible tactical defeat at the start of the war (not unlike the British Army) they would win the war. Just ask Hannibal. It was the ability of the Romans to adapt their force to fit the situation and enemy. This mission packaging was not unique or new but the Romans did it better than anyone else. Invictus reflects this with a system of customization to allow for infinite play possibles.  All the major forms of units are here Heavy Cavalry, Light Cavalry Archers, Elephants, Chariots, Auxili, and of course the war winners the Legionaries themselves.–enjoy

 

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

Why Battleships?

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

One of the oddities of the Guadalcanal campaign is the fact that battleships were used by both sides in restricted waters, in small numbers, and for very different reasons. Unquestionably the warship with the greatest impact on the campaign was the cruiser. There are many good arguments for saying the destroyer, but destroyers could not perform the multi-functions of a cruiser. Cruisers were for the most part the ‘big guns’ of the battle when battleships weren’t around. And most often battleships weren’t around. Cruisers made good platforms for admiral’s headquarters. Cruisers provided combat information from radar, sea plane, radio intercept and visual spotting to their fleet. Cruisers could more easily control the movement of ships and defend themselves from air attack in daylight. Cruisers were more often used as patrol and first line defense ships than any other type. Cruisers used their big 8 and 6 inch guns in a bombardment function often very close to shore. And yet even with all these reasons, both sides felt compelled to commit battleships from time to time, and the reasons why these commitments were made tells a great deal about the psychology of both the IJN and the USN in this campaign.

Japan’s reason for bringing the battle wagons in, was to ‘soften up’ marines on Guadalcanal island for a land attack to be launched after the bombardment. The failure of the IJN Cruisers and Destroyers to hit meaningful targets and to hit these targets hard enough encouraged the use of battleships. Maybe even as a sort of ‘last resort’ tactic after everything else had failed. The American reason was because the Japanese had brought in battleships. And that in a nut shells tells the whole story of Guadalcanal.

The Japanese spent six very long bloody months trying to pry the allies loose from Guadalcanal using very weapon in their arsenal in the attempt. Hampered by distance and allied air superiority, the Japanese were forced to confine their attempts to take the island to night time. Japanese sailor learned to operate cargo runs at night, sweep the area for enemy ships at night, use spotting planes to detect enemy ships at night, and to attack the island with warships at night. As good as the IJN was at night fighting their inability to perform any function in daylight doomed their mission right from the start.

All the allies had to do was respond meaningfully to any Japanese attempt. And this the allies did brilliantly. The allies never ‘upped the ante’  by introducing new elements into the sea fight, they just kept even with IJN. The allies met Japanese force with force. It cost the allies an Aircraft carrier, several cruisers and destroyers, in fact the allies lost more fighting ships than the IJN did, and yet the Japanese experienced that peculiar aliment of winning the battles and losing the war. The blood shed by the allies on and around Guadalcanal saved thousands of lives later in the war, as a broken Japan stumbled from one loosing battle to another.

Raven Games
Raven Games

To Fire or Not to Fire?

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

If you fire your weapons at night in pitch black you create a self imposed signal as to your position. If you don’t fire you may miss the opportunity to destroy or at least hurt your enemy. Now imagine facing this conundrum EVERY night! Captains faced this every night that they faced their foe around Guadalcanal. The flash and smoke would give you away for only a second and you could change direction, reverse course, something, anything, to throw off your opponent. You could also reverse course or change direction and lose the most important targets or lose your position within your own fleet and take the chance of being destroyed by your own side. This problem is the answer to one great question about the sea fights around Guadalcanal, why did the Japanese never go after the landing craft, merchant men etc. supporting the USA ground forces?

This conundrum plagued the Japanese more so than the Americans. NOT because of radar; as has been assumed through the years; but because they were defending the waters of Guadalcanal. AMERICAN’S KNEW they had friends surrounding them and if they could hold out until dawn their own CAP (Combat Air Patrol)  would defend them in daylight. American CAP flew out of Henderson field every morning weather permitting consisting of fighters (F4F) and (P-40s) along with dive bombers (SBDs) and the occasional army bomber. The target these pilots were looking for? Fat, juicy, Japanese fighting ships racing up the slot, laying on every once of steam to get away.

The Japanese by October 1942 KNEW the waters of Guadalcanal did not belong to them, further they had little choice but to run away after only limited time in enemy waters, or face the wraith American CAP’s.  So this lead more often than not to the conundrum: To Fire or Not to Fire?  The Imperial Navy realized it needed to hit priority targets like landing craft, merchant men, troopships and the like. They understood that the loss of a hand full of American destroyers would not bring victory. But there in lay the trap: The Japanese fighting ships had to either sneak past the patrolling enemy ships; and this got progressively harder as the USN (United States Navy) got better at it’s job; or batter their way through the Americans with enough time remaining to hit the priority targets which lay closer; and therefore deeper in enemy territory; to Guadalcanal. As the Americans coordinated their visual detection and radar detection of the Japanese and as the Japanese had only limited; and therefore predictable; window in which to conduct operations, it got easier for the American to defend the islands and waters off Guadalcanal.

Raven Games
Raven Games

Scenario 2 Steam & Steel

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

Theoretical Battle: September 1942 Night 02:23

IJN Forces are trying to exit Iron Bottom Sound after landing supplies to the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal. A forgotten mine field left behind by Japanese subs is in the path of both the IJN and USN unknown to both fleets. The USN has been given advance knowledge of the Japanese task force but failed to intercept them before they landed their cargo.

Maps: 6

2 Shallow Maps All shallow squares (Yellow) are mined. 1 Mine or Decoy counter in each square.

3 Deep Maps

1 Shore Map

Total Rounds of Play: 6

Place the Shore on the north/east corner of the square. The shallow maps are set below the coast line.  Along the west end of the board are the deep water boards.The IJN enters the board from the North West Board and must exit the Shallow board on the South East Corner. USN forces are placed on any East board including the coastal map and must stop the Japanese player from leaving the map.

theoretical map 1

Forces

Imperial Japanese Navy

6 DD

3 CL

2 CA

1 Float Plane 3 Star Shells 10 torpedoes

United States Navy

4 DD

2 CL

2 CA

2 Float Planes 6 Star Shells 8 Torpedoes

For every Japanese ship sunk USN gains 1VP. USN loses 1VP for every USN ship sunk

USN Wins marginal victory with   4 VP

USN Wins moderate victory with  6 VP

USN Wins crushing victory with   8 VP

Notes: There were many encounters as above, the use of mines by either side was sporadic and often lead to more problems than they solved.  In September of 1942 both the IJN and USN were trying to gain advantage around Guadalcanal but didn’t truly understand the other side’s commitment to the battle.  The Japanese constantly underrated the American resolve and committed forces far to small to do the job of driving the USN out of Guadalcanal waters even temporarily. –Enjoy

Raven Games
Raven Games

 

 

Visibility on the Sea

Steam & Steel Guadalcanal LOGO bar

When Lord Nelson cruised into glory at Trafalgar he did so by ordering his fleet to break up and come into ridiculously close range with an enemy who’s seamanship was terrible. Pounding away at each other, so close that ships rigging and masts got tangled up with each other, the battle was more reminiscent of a bloody knife fight. For all the horror, blood and violence of the fight, it was beyond doubt decisive. The rifles used in World War I far out ranged, fired faster, hit harder, and were protected in a way Nelson could never have dreamed. And yet the raw military power of modern warships could not be harnessed effectively. This left Jutland and most other encounters less than decisive. Why? Metal ships did something very easily that wooden ships never did..sink The sheer weight of shells being launched should have insured far more hits; and by extension more sinkings; than were scored at Jutland. Partly this is explained by a lack of effective communication between Admiral and their fleet. But mostly it was due to a lack of equipment able to take the visual data from the observer and create a firing solution fast enough to keep up with the speed of maneuvering ships in battle.

By the time of World War II new technology tried to address this issue. Radar in theory should have made every salvo a hit, yet they were not. Why?

First of all the problem with radar is it can be detected far more easily than trying to use it for targeting. Targets with simple radar detectors could maneuver out of the way.  Often the firing solutions from radar took too long to be calculated to be of any use; the target had moved past the solution or it’s correction. Next radar was new, those using it were new both to it’s strengths and weaknesses. And radar has weaknesses, ground clutter distorts the bounce back. Atmospheric conditions can render images indistinct even at very close ranges. Ships moving in front of the bounce back block enough signal to render the image useless or confused. The target can place it’s prow toward the radar signal and reduce it’s profile confusing the operator into thinking the enemy ship is further away than in reality.

All this being said, what made the battles of Guadalcanal such masterpieces for the IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) was their reliance on visual contact. Eye sight cannot be detected other than seeing the observing ship. This is not as easy as it sounds, and the Japanese were VERY good at seeing first and firing first. Does this mean that visual detect was the best way to observe, spot, and fire? No, a mix of both radar and visual detection had to be employed. Eye sight could be confounded by atmospherics just like radar, although the conditions were different. This meant that often what confounded one did not confound the other.

In writing Steam & Steel I realized quickly that the ability to see your target was in many ways the heart of modern naval warfare in a way it never was for Lord Nelson. Nelson was confronted with having to locate and move toward the enemy. He had to bring his ships into range and fire. Visually speaking it’s pretty easy to engage an enemy who’s twenty feet way. But Admiral Mikawa KNEW where the Allied fleet was before the battle of Savo Island he simply sailed down to meet them. He chose night to engage accepting the problems of night sailing in battle. The Admiral’s real problems began when his fleet engaged the enemy; unlike Nelson who lost all control as the guns roared, Mikawa had not only to select targets in the dark, hit the right targets, maintain contact with his fleet and hope the confusion he caused would cover his escape after. His ability to do this fell squarely on the shoulders of his spotters. Steam & Steels assumes that simply ‘seeing’ your enemy is not one of your problems but in fact IS YOUR PROBLEM.

Raven Games
Raven Games