Torpedoes Away!

In between painting bits and pieces (for some as yet undisclosed project maybe) I thought it was about high time I tried out my own rules for 1:600th scale WW2 coastal forces games. I’d used a few rulesets in the past but never been particularly happy with them, so I thought maybe I should write my own. Although I got the basic rules written years ago I’d never got round to making the ship record cards until recently, but those are now done for all of the ship models I have painted. In addition, I also managed to finish a few WW2 Italian vessels to use against or with my existing Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine ships.

I decided to set up a simple game with four RN motor torpedo boats (MTBs) attacking two German naval ferry barges (Marinefahrprahm or MFP, commonly referred to as F-Lighters), the latter escorted by an Italian minesweeper and corvette. I opted to use the small board I’ve set up next to my desk so that I could play the game over a couple of days and leave it set up in the meantime. The game area is shown below and is just under 3 feet square.

I used a simple printed sea mat with islands and strips of coastline I made years ago. There are also removable buildings and a lighthouse, all scratchbuilt. The small island with the lighthouse is quite old and could do with some new clump foliage trees adding to match the newer islands. Since winter is fast approaching in the UK I’ve got to take most of the photos in poor light and use the camera flash more, so apologies in advance for the quality of the pictures!

The Axis convoy ships are shown above. The corvette Driade and minesweeper RD49 are escorting the two German barges, MFPs 362 and 427. MFPs could be quite heavily armed and these two each carry one 88mm and two 37mm dual-purpose guns. I’ve assigned the MFP numbers arbitrarily as they’ve been difficult to get details on – some were quite heavily armed gunboats as opposed to transports. I scratchbuilt these two in the ’90s from plasticard since they’re very simple shapes. The two Italian vessels are recent additions and were covered in more detail in this post. The round, lettered discs next to each ship are to aid identification in the game photographs, since the names on the ships’ bases will be too small to read.

The attackers consisted of four RN MTBs, fast vessels each carrying two torpedoes but with only very light guns (shown above). MTBs 347 and 349 (boats 2 and 3 respectively) are Vosper 70-foot vessels, whilst MTB 414 (4) is a British Power Boat (BPB) design with a heavier gun armament. MTB 263 (1) is an early US Elco 70-foot vessel, some of which were used by the RN in the Mediterranean theatre (looking at the model now I think it’s an Elco 77-foot vessel, since it’s slightly longer than the Vospers! However, MTB 263 was a 70-foot Elco that served in the RN and I’ve given the model the correct stats for that vessel). All of these models were painted in the ’90s and are Skytrex metal models, with the exception of the BPB vessel (which I think was made by SDD).

I realised that there were a couple of areas of the rules that I hadn’t thought about before trying them out! One of them was how long should a vessel remain afloat after it had received damage severe enough to sink it, and the other was how far should torpedoes run during the course of a move. Having cobbled something together for those aspects I then had to decide on how the player turns should work (even though I was playing both sides). I opted to move all vessels on one side, then all of them on the opposing side, followed by all firing taking place simultaneously just to make it easier to keep track of.

The aim of the Royal Navy MTBs is to sink the two German MFPs. It might appear tempting to go for the Italian corvette Driade but it’s not the primary target and torpedoes might be at a premium. I think I’ve read somewhere that the shallow draught of MFPs meant torpedoes could pass underneath them, but for the purposes of this trial game I’m allowing them to be torpedoed (I think I’ve also read that torpedoes could be fitted with magnetic fuzes that would detonate the warheads if they passed close beneath a steel-hulled vessel in the event that they’d been set to run too deep).

Move 1

The four MTBs approached the convoy area from the north (right) at a speed of 20 knots (knots are nautical miles per hour for those not familiar with the term). The convoy was travelling in two columns on a north west course at 12 knots and aiming to enter the river estuary (see photo above – the river mouth is in the top right corner). The corvette Driade (A) and minesweeper RD49 (B) were in the column closest to the approaching MTBs.

Move 2

The MTBs increased speed to 30 knots and split into two groups to approach the convoy from ahead and astern. The convoy adjusted course slightly and Driade (A) fired her 100mm gun at MTB 263 (1) but missed this small, fast target (I still follow tradition and consider ships as feminine – to me, it’s a measure of respect).

Move 3

MTB 263 (1) headed for the river mouth with the intention of swinging south round the lighthouse island and engaging the MFPs at close range. MTB 347 (2) should have followed 263 but opted to head straight for the convoy instead, between the two islands. The other two MTBs continued on a southerly course with the aim of attacking the rear of the convoy.

The convoy maintained its speed at 12 knots, although this was the maximum speed of all of the vessels except Driade (although it looks like I forgot to move the minesweeper RD49 in this move). MTB 347 (2) attracted quite a bit of defensive fire from the convoy but none of it hit home.

Move 4

As MTBs 263 (1) and 347 (2) closed on the convoy some frantic manoeuvring took place to avoid collisions, MTB 347 cutting between Driade (A) and the lighthouse island, and MTB 263 passing close to RD49 (B), raking her with machine gun and 20mm cannon fire. By this time the other two MTBs has also managed to start their attack runs against the rear of the convoy.

Despite her high speed approach, MTB 347 (2) took a hit from Driade’s 100mm gun (A) and slowed to a halt, sinking fast! By this time most of the guns on the convoy’s ships were also in action and getting 20mm and 37mm cannon hits on the remaining MTBs. Just before she was hit by Driade’s main gun MTB 347 (2) managed to launch her two 21″ torpedoes, both hitting MFP 427 (D) amidships and causing her to break up and sink rapidly!

While this close range action was going on MTB 349 (3) launched two torpedoes at MFP 362 (C) but both missed.

Move 5

Complete chaos reigned! Having launched torpedoes and missed with them, MTB 349 (3) executed a sharp about-turn to move away from the combat (carrying only machine guns, she couldn’t really do much to help her sister vessels). MTB 414 (4) now moved into an attack position, although still further from the convoy, while MTB 263 (1) dodged in between RD49 (B) and MFP 362 (C) but failed to get into a position from where she could launch torpedoes. Convoy defensive fire concentrated on MTB 263 (1), but although Driade (A) and RD49 (B) inflicted no damage on the MTB, MFP 362 (C) shredded her with a hail of 37mm gunfire and she sank rapidly, although the F-lighter suffered some retaliatory 20mm fire from the sinking MTB.

In a now-or-never moment MTB 414 (4) launched two torpedoes at MFP 362 (C) and hit with both, the MFP quickly taking on water.

Move 6

With MTB 349 (3) heading east away from the convoy, MTB 414 (4) turned hard to port to follow her after torpedoing MFP 362 (C). As the latter sank, RD49 (B) had to go full astern to avoid running aground, while Driade (A) plotted a course between the two islands. A lucky parting shot from Driade’s 100mm gun hit MTB 414 (4) as she turned away and, although inflicting serious damage on the MTB both British vessels were able to make a successful escape!

So What Did I Think Of It?

Well, the British attack on the convoy was a success, with both MFPs sunk. Two MTBs were sunk in the attack and a third damaged, so the overall result was probably a draw. Considering this is the first time I’ve used the rules, they worked surprisingly well. Small, fast MTBs are difficult targets but engaging them at close range with heavier automatic weapons is usually enough to stop them. Larger calibre guns are less likely to hit them, but can prove lethal if they do. I use five different classes of ships ranging from Class 1 cruisers and larger down to Class 5 MTB-sized vessels. Class 5 ships only have a single row of damage boxes and don’t suffer any gradual damage effects – they’re either fully operational or sunk. This works well to keep the game moving without a lot of damage record keeping for small ships. In this game, the torpedo hits on the MFPs sank them easily so no intermediate damage recording was needed. The gun rules seemed to work fine but I thought the torpedo rules might need tweaking, making it more difficult to hit with them.

Movement was interesting, but the turning template I devised worked quite well (see picture below).

Each class of ship has three turning circles depending on its speed. For the Class 5 MTB above, it uses circle 1 at speeds less than a quarter of its maximum speed, circle 2 for less than half speed and circle 3 for above half speed (which is what this MTB is using). The circles are graduated in centimetres to make it easy to determine how far round to move them – ships only need to turn as far as they want to and can make partial turns in between straight runs. Any ship can use turning circles of a higher number for its class and speed. The full template shown was tricky to use when other ships were in the area, so I might make individual turning arcs that will fit more easily between other vessels.

I found the small, fast MTBs relatively easy to manoeuvre in the game, but the larger and slower vessels were more difficult. Both the corvette Driade and minesweeper RD49 almost went aground because I misjudged their moves! I hadn’t really thought much about the move sequence for the rules before playing, but found that moving all of the RN vessels, then the Axis ships and then simultaneously firing all of them worked quite well. In a game with only a few ships it’s probably be better moving and firing one ship and then going on to an opposing one until all ships have moved and fired.

But overall I was pleased with the way it played and I enjoyed the first WW2 ship game I’ve had in a very long time! Probably just as well, as I’ve got plenty of ship models that still need painting!

29 comments

  1. Great report John, the rules seemed to work well and like your turn template ( a laser cut plastic one would make life easier) look forward to seeing more of your naval battles.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Dave! πŸ™‚ I think they worked surprisingly well! A laser-cut template would be ideal – I’ve got some plastic templates for the Imperial Skies aeronef rules but they’re wouldn’t work quite as well (I actually derived mine quite logically, even though I can’t remember exactly how I did that now – doh)! I’d like to get some games in on a larger table with a couple of destoyers so watch this space!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I love that titchy terrain! Nice models.
    Looks like that was fun, all over in 6 turns for a small game is pretty good and a proper “win” too.
    Have you ever tried out Full Thrust? It’s for space fleets, but most if it would work well for more traditional ships. First edition though, I think it got more complicated later …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Frank! πŸ™‚ Quite a bit of action for a small game and good fun definitely. I’ve used Full Thrust as the basis for all my naval rules – it seems more appropriate to use size and speed modifiers for surface ship combat, but Full Thrust provides a good starting point.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What a great read John, I really enjoyed that.
    Your ships look terrific, as does the terrain.
    The rules sound pretty comprehensive and it sounds like you’ve aimed for as much realism as possible in them, I like that. I don’t think I’ve ever come across ‘sinking time’ in naval rules before, mind you, I’m a bit of a rookie here!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Justin, glad you enjoyed it! πŸ™‚ So far so good with the rules, but I need to try them out with some bigger ships as well. I thought if I make some allowance for the time ships take to sink it means they still function to block line of sight – not sure how well it might work and in this game the small size of the ships, even the MFPs, meant they went down quickly! Similar with torpedoes – they take time to travel to the target and you don’t know what might happen in the time they take to get to the target – again, in this game, it made little difference, since the range was short (and for gaming purposes I’ve assumed torpedoes will always travel far enough to arm)!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think timed sinking would work well with larger ships, both for blocking line of sight and for the possibility of the guns being manned as they go down. There are many different methods used in rules for torpedo run timing. I liked the way they’re handled in Star Trek fleet battles, which could be replicated is that they move a set distance with every ship activation, but that works best if you’re using alternate or random ship activations – it gives a chance to take avoiding action… if spotted of courseπŸ˜€

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’ve made the torpedo run time rules simple. They move a given distance per turn (which I think I’ll shorten to 20cm in my rules, which is a running speed of 40 knots), so dividing the range by the speed gives the number of moves to impact. Record the impact move on the target ships record card along with the number of torpedoes fired and the number required to hit when they were launched. When it gets to that move, resolve the hits and damage. Target size, speed and range are taken into the initial calculation – I suppose I could give the target ship the chance to avoid at the last minute but will need to try a few more games out first. Although I haven’t written them down as such, I’ve used fairly demanding conditions that are required before a ship can launch torpedoes – the target must be within a narrow “beam” width projected from the firing ship and it’s course must be within 30 degrees of a line normal to the torpedo path. This means ships have to manoeuvre accordingly to get a firing solution, although it should be easier with destroyers using trainable mounts.

          Liked by 2 people

          • It sounds good… I’ll be interested to hear how it works out with the larger ships in play. Torpedoes are often a sticking point in rules. I suppose it’s difficult to simulate properly and fairly without using hidden orders and a ref.
            It’s a tricky one, trying to bring a sense of realism to the table because it’s so easy to get bogged down in calculations and housekeeping, and before you know it you’ve moved one ship in two hours!
            I personally don’t mind this, as I’m usually playing against myself and have nobody to keep waiting, but when playing against others I prefer a fast paced game.

            Liked by 2 people

          • All good points, Justin! πŸ™‚ I’ll let you know how bigger ships fare, but that’ll have to wait until I get the chance to set up my larger table! In the meantime it might just encourage me to get my J Class destroyer painted!

            Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a great read, as always, John! I like the terrain you used. Its simple but looks good and doesn’t get in the way. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you paint up some ships in the near future as well πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jeff! πŸ™‚ I was thinking about buying an “islands” gaming mat but I think I’ve got enough of my own for most games. And, as with other minis, I’ve got plenty of ships to paint so some are bound to feature here sooner or later!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I truly am impressed with this post and what you have done to create rules that you like. The battle report was very easy to follow and I got the feel that it was a great simulation of battle conditions. My only suggestion (as an Army guy and not a Navy guy so take this for what it’s worth) would be to have a mechanism that would represent the chance that torpedoes might pass under a shallow-draft ship due to either waves or the actual ship’s draft. But I gotta say, I really like what you have done here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mark! πŸ™‚ Good suggestion about deep-running torpedoes so I might just add a factor in for that. I have a feeling that some torpedoes could be fitted with magnetic fuzes that meant they detonated even if they passed close beneath a target, but I maybe need to look into this more. For this game I was happy to not add any extra complications in just to see how it all worked though, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, the US Navy had a LOT of problems with their torpedoes, and I assume that other countries had issues as well. The Japanese Long Lance was supposedly the best, but all weapons systems have a rate of failure that you could model in your rules as hitting but not exploding, passing underneath, prematurely exploding, etc. Not to mention the propulsion systems being at risk for failure as well. I am glad you’re working on the problem and look forward to more posts like this one – very interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

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