Saturday 15 August 2015

East of Malta, West of Suez.....Game Number 51

East of Malta, West of Suez....

Prior to the landings at Gallipoli Turkish spies had been able to uncover details of the naval forces assigned to the expedition. Whilst the Turkish navy would not be able to seriously challenge the Allies forces they could operate successfully against isolated portions or even the convoy routes expected to be used. They would need to move quickly though and so the Yavuz Sultan Selim (ex Goeben) and her escort, the Midilli (ex Breslau) were secretly dispatched to attack the convoy routes in the expectation of disrupting the planned invasion. Speed was to be of the essence as if the Allies knew that the Yavuz had put to sea and was loose in the Aegean it would take a concerted effort to hunt her down. Similarly the Turks and their German allies were well aware that they would have a thin time of it should the allies catch them with overwhelming force on the high seas.

The Game

The following action was fought using a WW1 naval variant of the popular One Hour Wargames book by Neil Thomas. The variant was devised by Martin Rapier and John Armatys and was based on a WW2 version available in the files section of the AMW Yahoo group by richinq. The rules have been used to fight a 'bath tub' version of Jutland and I believe that Martin has a report on his blog, as does Tim Gow. They have also been used at the annual Conference of Wargamers (COW) back in July and were, by all accounts, great fun to game with. The action I fought used 1/2400th scale models on a standard OHW battlefield of 3ft by 3ft.

Note that there is not a hexagon in sight....;-)

The Forces

The Ottoman Turks

Yavuz Sultan Selim (ex Goeben), BC
Midilli (ex Breslau), LC

The Royal Australian Navy

H.M.A.S Australia, BC
H.M.A.S. Melbourne, LC

 Somewhere in the Aegean: Spring 1915....

The Turkish ships approach from the north east (top left) whilst the Australians appear from the south west and are now heading east.

With the Midilli leading the mighty Yavuz Sultan Selim at some 25 knots in a south westerly direction the Ottoman commander - Kerim Keyk- had little to fear from enemy submarines known to be active in the area they were traversing. The expectation was that they would be on station within the next day or so and could then settle into the routine of patrol. It would only be a matter of time before a convoy loomed over the horizon and the full weight of the 11" guns of the flagship could be brought to bear on the enemies of the Porte. The commander relaxed slightly as the most difficult part of the operation - the breakout from the straits - had gone without a hitch although the coal consumption was higher than he would have liked. His mission though was a simple one. Intercept and destroy a convoy and then had back at best speed. Aside from light forces the only ships in the area that could damage him were too slow to catch him so he was not unduly concerned about potential opposition. His mission would be a success and so when the signal came in from the Midilli that smoke was ahead - he quickly reasoned that it could only be from enemy vessels - it was with a grim resolve to do his duty that he called the ship to action stations.

Heading in largely the opposing direction and at a similar speed were two ships of the Royal Australian Navy; H.M.A.S Australia and H.M.A.S. Melbourne. They were in the area solely due to having been transferred from the Pacific in order to join up with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. They had been told to watch for possible submarine activity but also that any encounters with the Ottoman navy were very unlikely. In fact, it was more likely they would run into ships of the Austrian fleet rather than anything else. Even so, the Australian commander - Rear Admiral Thomas O'Malley - was taking no chances with his charges and so insisted on operating at action stations whenever possible. His foresight proved well founded as the signal came in from the Melbourne that there was smoke was on the horizon off the port bow.

Both sides quickly worked up to maximum speed but the Ottoman commander changed course to a heading of due west in order to identify the oncoming ships. He wanted to ensure that he would have the maximum number of guns available when, as was likely, he would be opening fire. The Turkish formation remained the same as suddenly the opposing smoke clouds seemed to split into two - one, the heavier of the two, continued on its existing course whilst the other swung away to the west, almost as if it was heading to intercept him. Kerim Keyk had no intention of splitting his force and so held on to his existing course to assist the Midilli if needed.

The two Turkish ships have changed course to  'open their arcs' whilst the Australians have opted to investigate from both sides of the enemy formation.

Captain O'Malley saw his escorting cruiser head off in a northwesterly direction whilst keeping a close eye on what appeared to be the larger of the two vessels heading west. He was in two minds as to whether or not he should emulate his mysterious counterpart and replicate his supporting move as if the the two ships proved to be hostile the Melbourne would be in serious trouble. He reasoned that he would have a another five minutes or so in order to decide and had made his decision to do just that when the explosive crack and dull rumble of distant gunfire shattered his reverie.

Almost immediately an urgent signal came in from the Melbourne to say that the lead ship was a light cruiser flying the Turkish flag and that she was engaging her. O'Malley quickly grasped the significance of this - the light cruiser could only be the Breslau which meant that the large ship following her (and which his own ship was rapidly closing on her rear port quarter) had to be the Goeben. Without a moment to lose he ordered the Australia to swing around to the north west in order to engage the Goeben and to support the Melbourne.

Meanwhile, aboard H.M.A.S Melbourne, her commander had quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valour as whilst he was confident he could tackle the oncoming Turkish cruiser he was less optimistic about his chances against what could only be the ponderous bulk of a German built battle cruiser bearing down on him. He could make out the distant shape of the Australia on the horizon and coming up on the rear of the enemy battle cruiser. Without hesitation he swung his ship around to cross between both of the enemy warships in order to engage both the cruisers in passing, thereby giving the Australia time to come up and engage the heavier of the two ships at a tactical advantage. He gambled on the fact that the enemy battle cruiser would be too concerned about the oncoming capital ship to worry about a lowly light cruiser. Once he had crossed the enemy front he would then be able to rejoin the Australia so both ships would be between each of the Turkish vessels.

It was a sound plan and so the signal was sent to the Australia. It was seconds too late.

The Midilli opened fire on the Melbourne from one flank whilst the Yavuz, ignoring the impending threat off her aft port quarter of the fast approaching Australia, opened fire with her main artillery. The gallant Melbourne was surrounded by great mast high gouts of water as both the Yavuz and the Midilli quickly found the range and battered her unmercifully. The 4.1" shells of the Midilli were but small beer compared to the great 11" guns of the Yavuz and the Melbourne was quickly in trouble with guns disabled and her steaming ability impaired. Still she kept on but her own fire had scant effect on her enemies.

Battle is joined! The Midilli has taken damage from the Melbourne whilst she in turn has been subjecting to a battering from both the Midilli and the Yavuz Sultan Selim. Meanwhile, the Australia continues to play the stalking tiger to the rear of the Turkish battle cruiser.

At last the Australia was in range and, with not a moment to lose, she proceeded to engage the Yavuz. Captain O'Malley, mindful of the damage the Melbourne was taking, fired at the enemy battle cruiser at the maximum rate his guns could be loaded and trained and was quickly rewarded with the gratifying sight of the dull orange glow and black, smoke-laden cloud of a hit or even hits.

Aboard the Yavuz Kerim Keyk listened to the damage reports with a mixture of relief that it had not been worse and apprehension as to how he would now be able to fulfil his mission. Clearly after having been engaged by enemy warships he would need to fight his way clear and head for home - any thoughts of tackling an enemy convoy were now largely redundant - as his mission had been compromised. His ship, although suffering minor damage had her steaming and fighting abilities unimpaired. Considering his options he decided to head for the south and then to swing back around to set a course for home. The Midilli would fall in behind and the enemy would not be able to catch them. He was sure that his assailant would follow him around so he needed to give him a good reason to slow down. The reason would be having to stop to pick up survivors from the light cruiser they had recently engaged.

With this new plan fixed in his mind Keyk gave the appropriate orders as the huge bulk of his ship heeled into a sharp turn to port. Meanwhile, the gunners made ready to finish the gallant Melbourne.

With a dogged tenacity the Australia clung to the stern quarter of the Yavuz as she completed her turn. In doing so she managed to draw the fire from the enemy battle cruiser, thereby alleviating the punishment the Melbourne was receiving, albeit it momentarily. The 11" shells of the enemy rained down on the Australia and shook the ship from stem to stern. From the bridge of the Yavuz all that could be seen were great clouds of smoke and steam and flashes of orange and red. Surely she must be out of the fight? The deafening roar and bone-shuddering clang of a heavy shell hit soon dismissed that notion from the mind of the Ottoman commander as the damage continued to mount. The Yavuz had lost some speed and the aft turrets were out of action - the roof of the main deck aft turret was peeled back like a sardine tin with great gouts of smoke gushing from within and the two gun barrels at drunken and impossible angles. Kerim Keyk new that it was time to get away and so he called for maximum speed and attempted to get the battered Yavuz away.

The Yavuz attempts to get away from the Australia whilst the Melbourne is heading into some serious trouble.

As the Turkish ship swung away from her relentless assailant the burning and battered but unbowed Melbourne once again loomed into view. No sooner than she appeared so the remaining great guns open fire at the plucky cruiser. Almost immediately the Melbourne was struck by the great shells of the Turkish ship and her once proud lines were reduced to resembling a blazing and smouldering scrap yard. Yet still she limped on.

After her initial brush with the Melbourne the Midilli had come about to follow her and was surprised to see two things. Firstly, the huge bulk of the Yavuz, obviously heavily damaged judging by the amount of smoke and the list she was carrying, was thundering towards her with what looked like an enemy ship of equal size pursuing her. She had been unable to reach the Yavuz (the commander of the Midilli was unaware that the wireless on the Yavuz had been destroyed) but second guessed the intentions of her commander and so made ready to come about and fall in in her wake.

Whilst the various commanders made their decisions the climax of the action was nearing.

As the Yavuz completed her turn to the south she fired a final salvo at the Melbourne. Once again the Turkish gunnery was excellent and the Melbourne, although still afloat, was battered to the point of sinking. Still she kept firing at the Midilli (her gunnery was badly affected by her opening damage and she only hit the Midilli once in the entire action) and was gamely trying to limp away from her tormentors when disaster struck. At maximum range a salvo of 4.1" shells pierced the engine room, severing steam lines and wrecking the boilers. This also impacted on the pumps which had, up until that point, been keeping pace with the amount of water flowing in through the riven hull. It was too much for the gallant ship to take and so, as the way fell off her she began to settle by the bows, her fight was over.

The end of the Melbourne. With further damage inflicted by the Yavuz as she attempted to get away from the Australia it was left to the Midilli to administer the coup de grace - which she duly obliged.

Captain O'Malley stared aghast at the smouldering and sinking wreck of the Melbourne as the Australia sped by. Should he stop for survivors or should he first try to finish the Goeben? He was sure she had been sorely hit and it was he duty to try and sink her. The sea was calm so he resolved to engage the Goeben first and then return to pick up survivors. 

Aboard the Yavuz the celebrations at the destruction of the enemy light cruiser were short-lived. Kerim Keyk had gambled that his counterpart would stop to rescue survivors, thereby allowing the Yavuz to make her escape but instead the enemy ship showed no sign of breaking off the action. 

The Yavuz was heavily damaged and could not hope to outrun her opponent so the only thing she could do was to try and outfight her. Like a punch-drunk heavyweight the great ship swung slowly around to give herself a better broadside against her oncoming assailant. Her guns spoke and her crew were rewarded with seeing great towers of water and black smoke surrounding her enemy. Once again the ragged cheering of the ship's company momentarily lightened the mood but it was to be an empty gesture as the heavy shells of the Australia rained down on the stricken Yavuz. With smoke and flames, secondary explosions; the screams of the dead and the dying ringing his ears Kerin Keyk gave the only order he could - the order that was the most painful any captain of a ship could give: the order to abandon ship.

The final reckoning. As the Yavuz attempts to limp away from the Australia she finally succumbs to her damage but not without getting in some telling blows on her assailant. The Midilli steams towards her stricken flagship to pick up survivors. The Turkish mission has failed and the spine of her navy broken.

Captain O'Malley saw the end of the Goeben with a huge sense of relief for his own losses and the damage to his ship was extensive. He was about to give the order to pick up survivors when he saw the other enemy cruiser in the distance, obviously with the same idea. He had enough of the fight for one day and besides, he had the crew of the Melbourne to consider. Seeing that the enemy appeared to be taking care of their own wounded he decided to do the same and so ordered the Australia to come about and to head for the last resting place of the gallant Melbourne. 


The scenario was essentially that old naval standby of the infamous encounter battle - although I hope that the back story added a little flavour to the proceedings! The rules worked very well although I already have in mind a number of 'tweaks' that will add to the experience and these will feature in a later post. At the conclusion of this brisk little action the Midilli had sustained 4 points of damage whilst the Australia had taken 9. This meant that the latter ship was carrying a yellow damage marker indicating penalties to both her firing dice and speed. Each ship takes 15 points of damage with a yellow marker at five points and a red one - with greater penalties to both firing and speed - at 10. 

Tactically the Australians had gambled by splitting their forces in the face of the enemy but they managed to get away with it simply because the Yavuz had ignored the Australia whilst concentrating on the hapless Melbourne. In game turns the Australia had an unanswered turn of firing at her opposite number meaning she was able to get her blows in first - which proved to be decisive in the long run. Well might Kerim Keyk rue his decision (he was picked up with the other survivors by the Midilli) to concentrate on the Melbourne but the margin between success and failure or even victory and defeat is often a narrow one.

It was good to be able to fight a game after what seems like an age and the whole 'One Hour Wargame' phenomena certainly appeals to me at present so you can be sure I will be exploring the concept further in due course. 

Did I mention that there was not a hexagon in sight?



Jim Duncan Wargamer said...

I thought I saw a hexagon over on the far side of the table, oh wait, it must have been half a dozen submarines sailing in formation at periscope depth 'cos I can't see them now.

David Crook said...

Hi Jim,

Synchronised submarines eh? I think you might be telling Fips.....;-)

All the best,


Paul O'G said...

A great account of some heroic high seas action! Great to see the RAN in the thick of things :-)
I'm sure the admiralty will be very pleased at trading a LC for a BC. I just got a copy of Thomas's One Hour War-games myself so I'll be interested to see your rules tweaks.

The old gem I just got was Osprey's Fighting Sail rules for Napoleonic naval. While I have to yet to play them I like them a lot and they really appeal to me. Gone are the typical Hull, sail, gun and crew hot boxes and the bode very well for fast play squadron sized actions. I think they'll be right up your alley and I can see some nice adaptations for expanding to the Crimea and ACW too.


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


An excellent battle report ... and one that proves that simple rules can produce realistic results.

I really MUST give the OHW rules a tryout ASAP!

All the best,


Jim Duncan Wargamer said...

Synchronised submarines ...

... here you go!

David Crook said...

Hi Paul,

Glad you liked it! It was great fun to fight and the plans for the tweaks are already in hand. I think you are quite right about the admiralty view of how things turned out although if the Yavuz had engaged the Australia sooner it could have been a different story.

I am keen to see the Fighting Sail rules - Mr Fox was singing their praises earlier this evening.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

It was great fun to fight and to write about but most importantly it was being able to tackle a game again!

You will certainly enjoy the core OHW rules and I know you will add your own stamp to them.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Jim,

Many thanks old chap!

All the best,