Thursday, 18 March 2010

Axis and Allies: War at Sea - 'Bomb Alley' The Battles

We were able to give the game two run outs last night with the Royal Navy clear winners in the first and the Italians shading the second. As this very much in the nature of a playtest I will refrain from going into tactical detail but will give an overview of how the amended air rules worked out.

In both battles the Royal Navy made use solely of carrier based air whilst the Italians of course used land based. Within the game land based air can attack every other turn whilst with carriers it is every turn. The land based delay no doubt simulating transit times. In the first game the British used the Ark Royal with light cruisers and destroyers and in the second Illustrious paired up with Warspite and a pair of destroyers. The net effect was that in game one there was 2 bases of Swordfish and a Sea Hurricane and one of each in the second due to the reduced aircraft carrying ability of Illustrious compared to her famous contemporary.

The Italians went for a cruiser based force in game one with four air elements - 2 fighter and 2 dive bomber and in the second a battleship, two cruisers and two destroyers and 5 bases of aircraft - 2 fighter and three dive bombers

The first game saw the RN launch a successful strike against a light cruiser sailing on its own using two bases of Swordfish. A base of fighters was assigned to the defence but failed miserably to trouble the Swordfish (whom are very vulnerable to fighters). The resultant torpedo attacks left the cruiser crippled and sinking. The Italian strike against the Ark Royal managed to score a solitary hit after having got through the fighters and avoided the AA from the three ships in the square (normally only two are allowed but the Tribal class DD are able to 'Close escort'. The Italians however had put all their air power into play meaning that on the next turn the RN would have a free hand as the opposition would homeward bound for a game turn.

The RN made the most of this advantage and were able to dispatch a heavy cruiser by the Swordfish and another Light Cruiser by gunfire. The game was ended at this point; the Italians were too battered to continue. The RN had suffered minimally although the Italian fighter superiority had managed to render a Sea Hurricane squadron hors de combat.

A number of points arose from this first game - all of which seemed a fair reflection of airpower in use at sea.
  • Ships on their own are vulnerable to air attack
  • Air strikes need to be concentrated as far as possible to overwhelm the defences
  • Bombers should be escorted where enemy fighters are expected
  • Land based air, particularly fighters should be staggered so there are some airborne on every turn.

Most of these fall in the 'stating the blindingly obvious' school of naval aviation but it was refreshing to see that with the revised rules these principles could be applied effectively.

The second game saw the battleships come out and the Italians had learned from their previous experience and staggered the launching of their land based fighter squadrons to ensure that the Fleet Air Arm 'Stringbags' were always opposed from the air. The Illustrious was well clobbered on turn one by hordes of rampaging Stuka dive bombers that were well escorted by fighters and easily brushed aside the defending Hurricanes and withstood the AA barrage. Meanwhile HMS Warspite used her by now customary 'Long Range Shot' and hit the Italian battleship at a range of 6 squares (mutterings of 'once in her career, not once every game...........' from the sidelines were airily dismissed by the Royal Navy...). Game turn two was pretty uneventful as the sole air attack from the single base of Swordfish against the Italian Flagship was easily driven off by a combinations of defending fighters and AA. Game turn three saw Illustrious being sunk by the next wave of Stukas (thereby doing better than in 1941) and the Guilio Cesare disappearing in a cloud of smoke as the old battleship was riven by a salvo of 8 x 15" guns. the Italians had covered two out of three objective markers and so were deemed to have won the game.

I will need to tweak the air rules very slightly in terms of 'what happens when' but as they are core idea works really well. Having each air base count twice and allowing a successful 'kill' roll to entitle an extra throw (basically if you keep killing then you keep rolling) adds some spice to the proceedings. Aircraft are now a lot more effective but are not invulnerable and still need careful handling - especially in respect of land based arrival times.

I would like to thanks Messrs. Fox, Bryson and Kightly and Ms. Foster for taking part - their enthusiasm and spirit made the evening a most enjoyable occasion.

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