Monday, 26 October 2009

Action in the Black Sea, 1915

As promised, I have managed to carry out a solo play test of the latest version of my DBSA Great War at Sea Gridded rules. Due to space limitations I had to fight this on my 3ft by 2ft table which meant a grid surface of 6 squares by 9 (using my 4" squared cloth). The forces were quite small but representational of the Turkish activity towards the end of 1914 - before the quantitative Russian superiority began to tell. initially I planned to describe this action on a turn by turn basis with die rolls and all the usual flam and para diddle but will instead opt for the after action report style; in keeping with a description of an actual engagement. A number of issues arose from the game - all of which will give me further thought as to how best to take the rules forward. It will be interesting to see if any readers can identify the points to which I am obliquely referring

Somewhere in the Black Sea, north of Zonguldak, 0800 hrs. 25th October, 1914........

A strong Turkish squadron under the command of Admiral Souchon on board the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (ex SMS Goeben) was patrolling along the northern Black Sea coast of Turkey with the intention of intercepting a rumoured Russian sortie aimed at the disruption of the Turkish inshore coal traffic. The squadron comprised the Yavuz Sultan Selim (flagship), the light cruiser Midilli, the protected cruisers Hamidiye and Mecidiye and four destroyers - two Samsun class (French Durandel types) and two Muavenet-I Milleye (German S165 types). the formation was heading due east with the Midilli in the van, followed by the Yavuz Sultan Selim, Hamidiye and Mecidiye (all in line ahead) and the destroyers on the port beam with the lead ship - the Muavenet-I Milleye - parallel with the flagship with the three others to the stern. In effect, half the destroyers were providing close escort to the flagship whilst the others covered the protected cruisers who in turn were operating in close formation to the rear of the flagship.

The Russian squadron was operating to the north east of the Turks, heading due west with the pre dreadnought battleships Evstafi and Ioann Zlatoust in the van with the Pantelejmon close behind, in company with the protected cruiser Pamiat Merkurija. The new and powerful Bespokoiny class destroyers (two of them) were deployed directly to the south of the lead battleships (on the port beam) with a pair of the Leitenant Puchsin class torpedo boats directly behind.

Sailing as they were, into the morning sun, the Turkish squadron was unaware of the approach of the Russians and so continued to steam due east at a leisurely twelve knots, oblivious of the enemy. Not so the Russians however as a sharp eyed lookout on board the Evstafi saw the approaching columns of smoke to the south west and raised the alarm. With a flurry of signal flags, the Russians immediately increased speed and the three battleships swung to the south west before resuming their heading due west. The new and powerful Bespokoiny destroyers, in a flurry of spray and smoke, accelerated to near flank speed and immediately roared away due west - crossing the rearward wake of the battle squadron - with the intention of engaging the Turkish squadron from the rear. The remaining Leitenant Puchsin torpedo boats and the protected cruiser followed the rapidly diminishing shapes of the Bespokoiny destroyers but with no real hope of catching them as their best speed was some twelve knots slower but the gallantry of the gesture was not lost on the Russian commander. Shortly before 0900 the guns rang out from first the Evstafi and then the Ioann Zlatoust at a range of some 16,000 yards with the only target in view (and range) - the light cruiser Midilli.

The arrival of several salvos of 12" shells in close proximity of the light cruiser caused Admiral Souchon to observe, somewhat laconically, that "My word, they are shooting at us!" Whilst the impact of this unpleasant and unexpected turn of events was being fully digested by the Turkish naval command a large black cloud of smoke and a flash of vivid red was seen from the bridge of the flagship - the Midilli had been hit.

The 12" shell from the Ioann Zlatoust had fortuitously exploded on impact and the main blast has been directed across the stern. However, it managed to set fire to one of the ships boats as well as the flag locker and so was easily extinguished by the relieved damage control party.

The Turks were galvanised into action and whilst action stations was sounded on the flagship, the destroyers immediately headed south east - the Muavent-I Milleye formatting with the flagship in a close escort role and the Samsun as escort to the Hamidiye. The Mecidiye was unable to conform with this as the frenzied high-speed maneuvers of the Turkish destroyers had given her little sea room so her captain prudently kept his distance from the maelstrom of criss-crossing wakes until the new formation had taken proper station. The Midilli maintained her position in the van of the squadron but increased speed to her maximum 28 knots and executed a breathtaking turn due north whilst the rest of the formation fell in to her rear.

Meanwhile, the Russian battleships maintained their formation but swung due south, in anticipation of the Turks using their superior speed to try and isolate one of their number. The destroyers and torpedo boats continued their wide sweep to the west and the Bespokoiny class ships were easily outstripping the older Leitenant Puchsin torpedo boats and the hurrying Pamiat Merkurija. The Russians again opened fire with their target being the hapless Muavenet-I Milleye. Despite the speed of the destroyers and their frantic evasive manouvers the superior weight of the Russian battleships secondary armament fired to telling effect. Almost immediatly one of their number was left ablaze and drifting helplessly; shot through by superbly accurate gunnery.

Desperate to get a telling blow in (and to relieve the pressure on his weaker ships), Admiral Souchon swung the vast bulk of the Yavuz Sultan Selim through 90 degrees so she was facing due north and then called for maximum speed. Deep in the bowels of the mighty battle cruiser the stokers rose manfully to the task and so the great ship surged forward at 27 knots, across the face of the Russian battle line. The Muavent-I Milleye, despite the pounding from the Russians and the loss of her sister ship, sped forward in concert with the flagship whilst the two cruisers and the remaining destroyers continued east at top speed. The Turkish squadron was becoming widely seperated with the slower Russian battle squadron in the centre.

The Russians battleships continued heading south whilst the destroyers, torpedo boats and the cruiser carried on with their wide sweeping turn - the Bespokoiny destroyers fast disappearing in the distance, so great was their speed advantage.

The unexpected turn of the Turkish battle cruiser and subsequent race across the line of the Russian battleships and taken the Russians completely by surprise and so the fire from them was ineffective. Sadly for the Turkish Admiral, the violent manouvering he had subjected his own ship to had also served to throw his own gunnery into disarray as, despite at one point being less than 8,000 yards from the rear Russian battleship - the Pantelejmon - he was unable to inflict any damage on his opponent.

By this time, Admiral Souchon had lost contact with his protected cruisers and the remaining destroyers (now heading north with the Russian destroyers in hot pursuit) and so, in order to avoid a damaging close range exchange with the enemy battleships, he reluctantly broke off the action and signalled to his scattered charges to rendezvous north of the scene of the action.

This signal however, would prove to be too late for the Muavent-I Milleye as, whilst they were coming about to conform with the flagship, they dallied for too long under the guns of the Pantelejmon and were immediately and fatally subjected to a withering barrage of assorted calibre guns which left the gallant vessel on fire and sinking. To further add to the chagrin of the admiral, the Bespokoiny class destroyers (with the Leutenant Puchsin torpedo boats and the Pamiat Merkurija protected cruiser gainfully trying to keep up with their speedier compatriots) managed to catch up with the rear of the two Turkish cruisers - the Mecidiye - and promptly proceeded to torpedo her, leaving her crippled and dead in the water.

With this final exchange the action drew to a close with the Russians suffering little or no damage. The Turks managed to lose a protected cruiser (soon to be repaired and taken into Russian service as the Prut) and a couple of destroyers but significantly, the lose of German prestige in the eyes of the Ottoman government was immense.

The rules worked pretty well but I need to tweak some of the factors - it is too easy to score with secondaries at long range and also, predreadnought battleships are a little on the tough side. The Yavuz was largely ineffective, even at close range so I need to consider this a little further.
I also need to think about drybrushing he cloth with some white as it comes up way too dark for photos!
The picture shows the Russian battleship Ioann Zlatoust steaming into action - no doubt to inflict further damage on the Turks.


SteelonSand said...

Excellent battle report, Ogre, a really thrilling read!

I like the Russian 'pincer movement', and I thought the Turks would get into trouble stretching their line out as they did - glad your rule tweaks are working out, when are we going to see them available online?

Keep up the good work, and more reports please!

Paul O'G said...

I heartily concur, it was like being there on the Bridge! Bravo and cant wait to try them out myself :-)

David Crook said...

Thankyou gentlemen for your kind words. The rules have been something like the torture of Tantalus as every time I think I have it cracked so another tweak is required!

In this case, Admiral Souchon made the mistake of assuming that his Turkish allies were in vessels of comparable performance to his own. The Russians were handled very well although the gap between the battle squadron and the escorting vessels as they hared off in search of glory could have been exploited by a more determined (and organised!)opponent.

The final draft version will be available soon and I would welcome any feedback.

Paul O'G said...

Dont forget the provisions you'll need for steam torpedoes and galvanic cannons in the VSF version!