Friday, 12 March 2010

Struggle for the Middle Sea - The Great Navies at War 1939 - 1945

Following on from my earlier post describing the new models I now have for Axis and Allies: War at Sea; I took the opportunity to revisit my library and dip into the modest selection I have concerned with the naval war in the Mediterranean. I tend to get no more than a handful of titles for a specific period and I always try to ensure that they are ‘quality’ tomes. A recent acquisition to the library is a book called ‘Struggle for the Middle Sea – the Great Navies at War’ by Vincent O’Hara, an American naval historian. The book provides an encyclopedic coverage to most of the actions fought in the Mediterranean and covers the Royal Navy, the Italians, the French and the Germans. The coverage also extends to the end of the war rather than just when the Italians surrendered. I have really enjoyed this title although it will upset many Royal Navy admirers as the author is quite objective about his observations and as a result the Italians fare rather better than most histories give them credit for. I am all for objectivity but see that this may be viewed as controversial! For what it is worth my own opinion is that the Italians were nowhere near as bad as they are usually made out to be – their naval forces suffered from many defects (fuel being the most obvious) but were still able to inflict reverses against the so-called ‘moral ascendancy’ of the Royal Navy. This is by no means intended as a slight to the Senior Service – the reality of their achievements was real and tangible enough – rather it is acknowledging that their opponents were not as bad as they were routinely portrayed!

Each action features the order of battle, the weather conditions applicable and the fate of the combatants. Interestingly enough, the author assigns damage as one of four categories rated from D1 – light splinter damage to D4 which is with fighting power and movement ability finished i.e. dead in the water. I have a set of rules for WW2 naval games that uses this system – Battlestations! Battlestations! by Decision Games. Certainly from a rules design perspective this may be worth considering for any of my future naval sets. There is also much in the way of strategic considerations under discussion to support the battle reports which is helpful when placing events in their proper context.

If I have a criticism of this title then it is that it would have been useful to have ships specifications included. I know these are really easy to come by but having them all in one place would have been helpful. Also the use and effect of air power could have been covered in a little more detail but again, this would be easily sourced from elsewhere.

I wholeheartedly recommend this title as a very useful encyclopedia of the naval war in the Mediterranean but ideally it needs to be supported by some other sources.

One of the things that came out of this book was the number of actions involving the French Navy – all three of them! The pre surrender navy, the Free French and the Vichy forces all had an active time and I am now regretting disposing of the navy I owned for Axis and Allies: War at Sea – especially now as the latest War at Sea expansion set includes another destroyer and a cruiser. It will be an easy matter to rectify this via ebay and so moves are already afoot – together with the acquisition of the missing Italian kit I need. I will not be touching the US navy though as four fleets should be enough for anyone!

As I have mentioned previously, the great attraction for me of naval games (and in particular this system) is the ‘pick up and put down’ nature of such a subject. All I need to do is to base and name the vessels and they are ready to use. I have the card and the flags for the bases so merely need the arrival of the models and an evening or two to bring all the fleets back up to full strength with their newest acquisitions.

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