C.S.S. Alabama engages the U.S.S. Kearsage
As a quick follow up to my previous action I rather fancied something set on the high seas and so that perennial standby of the naval wargamer - hunt the raider - came up with the famous battle between the U.S.S. Kearsage and the C.S.S. Alabama fought off the coast of Cherbourg in June, 1864.
In many ways this is an ideal engagement to fight on a 3 x 3 basis as the number of ships is minimal, the actual battle itself was very much how many naval wargames turn out - the endless circling of one another in order to gain an advantage - and the two protagonists were fairly evenly matched (on paper at least). I have used the stats for the ships as written (and these are in turn based on elements of David Manley’s Dahlgren and Colombiad rules) but have allowed the U.S.S. Kearsage an armour value of 1 but only against the C.S.S. Alabama’s broadside 32 pounders (1/1 guns). This was because Captain Winslow of the U.S.S. Kearsage took the precaution of wrapping lengths of chain around the ship’s vital areas as a form of protection.
This is a straight up duel, pure and simple. H.M.S. Shannon versus the U.S.S. Chesapeake from the age of sail also springs to mind as a likely subject and indeed, there are many other two ship fights that the 3 x 3 system would suit quite well.
Captain Winslow of the U.S.S. Kearsage had been pursuing the hitherto elusive Confederate raider under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes for some two years or so but now finally was his chance to end her career once and for all. As he observed the rebel ship coming into range he muttered under his breath “You had a sweet roam Alabama, but Semmes I’m coming back for you!”
The protagonists - C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsage. Both will be having a minor refit as there a few further details to be added. Neither pretend to be super detailed scale models - they have been built in my usual ‘based upon and purely representational’ style!
Size: Medium, Speed: 2, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 0, Guns: P,S 1/1, PS 2/3
Size: Medium, Speed: 2, Hit Points: 9, Critical Point: 3, Armour: 0 (1 versus Alabama 1/1 guns to represent chain wrapped vitals), Guns: FW 2/3, P,S 3/3
The C.S.S. Alabama in the south western corner approaches the U.S.S. Kearsage. The somewhat patchy appearance of the board is due to it having been sealed prior to painting. I would have liked to have had this completed before the action but time is not my friend at present so fighting a battle took priority!
Turn 1. No firing to begin with (ships may not fire nor be fired upon when in the manoeuvre zones) so straight to initiative. Union 3, Confederate 1. The Union opt to allow the Confederate to move first.
Turn 1. Both captains appear to be exercising caution as they both execute turns to bring their full broadsides to bear.
Captain Semmes of the C.S.S. Alabama ordered the helm over to port as he closely watched the closing Yankee warship executing the same manoeuvre. “The Yankee captain knows his stuff” he said to no one in particular. This would be a close fight with quarter neither asked for nor given. His options were limited - he needed to slow the Yankee to enable his ship to get away but his opponent so far showed no signs of closing the range and appeared content to mirror his every move. “What’s his game?’ Captain Semmes mused.
Captain Winslow watched his adversary warily and for the moment was satisfied to keep the rebel raider under observation. The time for fighting was near and for two years Captain Winslow had prepared for this moment. There was no room for error, no margin to give comfort - it was do or die - but he, his men and his ship were ready.
Turn 2. Still no firing although the U.S.S. Kearsage would soon be in a position to do so with her forward artillery. Initiative - Union 1, Confederate 5. The Confederate opted to allow the Union to move first so as to ascertain their intended course of action.
Both ships reduced speed in order to aid their respective gun crews accuracy.
Captain Semmes braced himself for the broadside he knew was coming as his ship drew parallel with the Yankee sloop albeit heading in the opposite direction. In his mind he had decided that a good broadside into the enemy ship - hopefully damaging her engines - would suffice and then the C.S.S. Alabama would head off at best speed. That was the plan, crude as it was.
Captain Winslow was not about to let his enemy get away and so resolved to turn into her as hard as he could once his artillery had opened fire. Ideally he wanted to slow the C.S.S. Alabama down so that he finish her at his leisure. Above all though, she must not be allowed to escape.
Turn 3. Both ships opened fire. The range was 2 so 5 and 6s are required to score hits. Firing is simultaneous. The C.S.S. Alabama rolled 3 d6 (for her 1/1 battery and the 2/3 - I used a different coloured d6 for the 1/1) and rolled a 1 and 2 x 4. 5s or 6s were needed for hits so no effect. The U.S.S. Kearsage fired back with her 3d6 and scored 2 x 5 and a 4 so there are two potential hits. Each d6 gains a plus 3 for penetration (penetration of 3 versus armour of 0) and scores 2 x 2. Both of these are adjusted to 5 meaning two points of damage are scored against the C.S.S. Alabama - first blood to the Union ship!
Initiative - Union 3, Confederate 2. The Union moves first.
Both ships attempt to turn to face each other after the initial salvoes. Although drawing first blood the U.S.S. Kearsage now has the Confederate ship threatening to cross his stern, thereby being in an ideal position to inflict a punishing stern rake.
The acrid smell and voluminous clouds of powder wafted across the decks of both ships as each continued to turn as hard as they were able whilst hurriedly reloading their guns. The C.S.S. Alabama had been hit but thankfully nothing vital was damaged and casualties were very slight - they had been lucky. Captain Semmes was torn as to his course of action. He reasoned that he could break off the action but he was mindful of the fact that his ship would would be rigorously pursued. He would have to fight hard to beat off the Yankee ship and hope that his own damage was slight so that a clean getaway would ensue. He made ready to reengage the enemy ship.
Captain Winslow was satisfied thus far with the outcome of the initial round of firing. He had damaged the rebel ship and as long as he could maintain the range and match her course and speed he felt sure of the inevitable outcome. He ordered the helm hard over.
Turn 3. Both ships were able to fire with their broadsides although due to the arc - both ships were heading away from each other - their gunnery factor is halved (rounded down meaning the U.S.S. Kearsage loses out as her factor is 3) meaning that each ship rolls a single d6 to hit. The Union roll a 1 and the Confederate rolls a 3 meaning both ships fail to hit.
Initiative - Union 6, Confederate 2 - the Union allows the Confederate ship to move first.
Both ships continue their turns although the C.S.S. Alabama has intentionally slowed in order to better maintain her station.
Captain Winslow ordered an increase of speed to ensure that the rebel ship would have a harder time trying to cross his stern. “Damned if that rebel ship is going to rake me!” He muttered under his breath. His crew worked feverishly to be ready to fire the instant the rebel ship came to bear.
Meanwhile, aboard the C.S.S. Alabama, Captain Semmes opted instead to decrease speed in order to remain at the ‘hub of the wheel’ whilst the Union ship hurtled around the outside. It would help with the accuracy of his guns whilst at the same time hindering (or so he thought) those of his enemy.
Both ships made ready to reengage.
Turn 4. Both ships fire, again with but a single d6. Again both side miss - the Union rolled a 1 whilst the Confederates rolled a 2.
Initiative - Union 1, Confederate 5 - the Confederate allows the Union to move first.
The turning race continues with the U.S.S. Kearsage turning harder than her opponent. Neither side appears keen to engage with full broadsides and so this jockeying for position will continue until either side makes a mistake. Who will ‘blink first’?
Captain Semmes, his eyes never leaving the rapidly circling enemy ship, further considered his options. He desperately needed to damage his opponent but thus far this was proving to be a difficult proposition. He needed to somehow outwit the enemy - perhaps drawing him in closer to deliver a decisive blow although this option was fraught with peril. Trusting to fortune he made his decision - he would try to engage the enemy more closely.
This was exactly the thought going through the mind of Captain Winslow. He had damaged the enemy ship whilst his own was still fully functional and so counting on this advantage decided to force the pace and so turned harder into his opponent. If his manoeuvre worked his ship would be well place to deliver a telling blow.
Turn 5. Both ships continued to fire with a single d6. The Confederates rolled a miserable 1 whilst a glorious 6 came up for the Union. The effect roll of 1 added a 3 meaning that the adjusted score was 4 - 1 point of damage!
Initiative - Union 4 Confederate 1 - the Union opted to move first.
Trusting to luck and conscious of being temporarily outgunned the U.S.S. Kearsage accelerates and turns into the enemy ship. Meanwhile the C.S.S. Alabama makes ready to engage the Union ship with a full broadside.
Captain Winslow urged his ship forward as hard as he could as he knew that he had given the enemy a temporary advantage. If he could come through the enemy fire relatively unscathed he knew he would be in a good position to relentlessly harry his opponent from a position of advantage. Both he and his crew knew what was coming and so mentally braced themselves.
Captain Semmes looked at the closing enemy ship with grim satisfaction. Now was the chance he had been waiting for - and the enemy had given it him. The C.S.S. Alabama needed to make this count - her safety, their lives and the chance of getting home depended on it.
Turn 6. The Union ship only fires with a single d6 and scores a 6! The second roll is a 4 which is a miss. The penetration roll is a 2 which with 3 added makes a 5 meaning a single point of damage is scored. The Confederate ship rolls a 4, a 5 and a 6. The 5 is from the 1/1 battery which then rolls a 5 for effect meaning a point of damage is scored. The second roll due to the 6 is a 2 which is a miss. The roll for effect is 4 to which is added 3 making 7. This is 2 points of damage. The Union ship has sustained 3 points in total.
Initiative - Union 6, Confederate 2 - the Union allows the Confederate to move first.
The biter bit! Has the C.S.S. Alabama committed a fatal error? She tries to dart across the bows of the Union ship but with too much speed on her overshoots the enemy leaving her in a potentially fatal position under the guns of the Union ship at close range! The U.S.S. Kearsage was to take full and climatic advantage of this heaven sent opportunity….
Captain Semmes watched his guns battering the Union ship and acknowledged the ragged cheers of his men. His plan had worked or had it? He had certainly given the Union ship a bloody nose for little damage in return but his euphoria was short lived. Too late he realised that he had not reduced speed so as to be placed across the enemy bows - in fact the C.S.S. Alabama had overshot the enemy ship and was now at close range with only a single battery able to bear. He ordered full steam ahead and braced himself for the retribution that was surely coming.
Captain Winslow was relieved that he still had a ship despite the best efforts of the enemy to determine otherwise. He knew that his ship would be in for a battering but she had emerged from the forest of shell splashes more or less intact. There was damage aplenty but it was all relatively small beer, the fact of which Captain Winslow was immeasurably grateful for. More importantly though, and for reasons unknown, the enemy ship now presented her aft starboard quarter more or less under the muzzles of his artillery. This had to be it!
Turn 7. The rebel ship fires with a single d6 and rolls a 5 meaning she scores a potential hit. The effect roll is a 6 meaning two points of damage are scored on the Union warship. The U.S.S. Kearsage rolls 5d6 by way of a reply. She rolls a pair of 2s, a 4 and a pair of 5s meaning three hit rolls each with plus 3. She rolls a pair of 2s and a 6. These are adjusted to a pair of 5s and a 9 meaning four points of damage are scored.
The C.S.S. Alabama has gone beyond her critical point (she has sustained 8 damage points out of a total of 9) and so must now roll for her critical damage. In any event she must now break off the action. Her roll is a 4 meaning that she must lose 2 gun factors. The effect of the critical point is that she is not allowed to fire except when alongside an enemy ship as the result of a ram and she must break off the action and head back from whence she came at best speed. There is also a chance that the affected ship would surrender or sink
The chance of a critically damaged ship surrendering is equal to rolling her critical point or less using a d6. For every point under the critical point 1 is deducted from the die roll so in this case a roll of 5 or less (her critical point was three but she was two points beyond this) meant that the C.S.S. Alabama would haul down her flag. The roll was a miserable 2 and so the “Sweet roam of the Alabama” came to an end.
The main deck of the C.S.S. Alabama was a jumble of shattered woodwork, tangled cables and rigging, scorched fittings and the shouts and cries of the wounded. Captain Semmes knew his ship was finished - the final ear shattering, heading ringing storm of shot and shell from the Union warship had turned his once proud command into a sinking wreck. His casualties were relatively light but the fight was over and so all he could do would be to abandon ship - better that than an ignominious surrender. The ship was too badly damaged to be a worthwhile prize and in away event, the ever increasing down slope of the deck told him all he needed to know - the C.S.S. Alabama was sinking. He saw the small British vessel heading towards him and so he knew what he had to do. Captain Semmes ordered the ship to be surrendered whilst he abandoned his command to escape.
Captain Winslow was proud of his men and of his ship. For two years the pursuit of the rebel ship had been his whole life and now it was over. The final broadside wreaked havoc on the enemy ship and there could only be one outcome in the face of such a pounding. He could see the rebel ship was sinking so he gave the order to standby to pick up survivors. The only black mark against what had been a splendid day was the now obvious fact that the commander of the enemy ship had escaped to a British vessel - for a moment he was tempted to open fire on her but thought better of it. For now the rebel commander would be remain free.
There were a number of changes incorporated in this version of the rules and I am pleased to say that they worked very nicely! I have reverted to having firing dealt with as a two part process. The first is a roll to hit and the second is for any damage. The scores to hit are 4, 5, or at range 1, 5 or 6 at range 2 and a 6 at range 3. Damage is then rolled for based on the number of hits scored to which the usual penetration/armour modifier is applied. The resultant score of 4, 5 or 6 is one hit and 7 or over equals 2 points of damage. I started the scenario using the previous method - essentially a combined ‘to hit/damage’ roll - but this proved to be far too effective. In fact the C.S.S. Alabama was sunk outright on turn 2!
Using the two stage combat process feels far better in my opinion so I shall revert to that for the main set as well.
I need to formalise firing arcs - by that I mean write them down with the appropriate diagram - and also turning/manoeuvring. Again, I have this in my head but it needs to be put down on paper.
Other than the above it was a neat little action and in many ways the concept of the 3 x 3 game serves to really focus on the decision making process. One mistake can be fatal and although there was probably an element of ‘I wonder what would happen if I did that’ in the game it certainly proved the point!
As ever, it was tremendous fun and the next time I shall be using a pimped up playing area for sure!