Sunday 24 January 2021

The Duel of the Fates....Late 1864....Game Number 62

H.M.S. Shannon versus the U.S.S. Chesapeake - the inspiration for what follows.

The raiding cruise of the C.S.S. Sphinx had been reasonably successful but she now faced a dilemma. Her return to home waters was uneventful until two days previously when a Union sloop of war had spotted her. Wisely she had maintained her distance from the armoured rebel ship but she had made sure that her presence was reported by a fast cutter. The Sphinx had taken refuge in the Blackwater delta, secure for the moment but still a long way from safety. There was a small Confederate outpost where the Sphinx had made her landfall and so her captain wasted no time alerting the garrison commander and immediately sending a rider to the naval base at Immobile Bay.

C.S.S. Sphinx - based on the C.S.S. Stonewall but with a turret instead of the aft gun house. In my world her and her sister are a hybrid design incorporating elements of the two turret ships ordered by the Confederacy but taken into the Royal Navy as H.M.S. Scorpion and H.M.S. Wyvern

Meanwhile, the Union forces converged on the mouth of the delta. 

The Sphinx was safe from direct assault - the Union forces dare not risk navigating the myriad channels exiting into the delta without a local pilot - so as long as she stayed where she was all would be well. The Union blockaders would not be able to remain on station indefinitely although any attempt to breakout would mean that every step the Sphinx took would be shadowed. 

The Union forces were in a quandary. They could not allow the rebel ship to escape but as each day passed by the force blockading the delta would be reduced as ships retired for provisions, minions and essential repairs. Reinforcements had been requested but with the fleet stretched very thinly it was uncertain when or even what could be spared. 

U.S.S. New Glory based on the U.S.S. New Ironsides shown in her reduced rig.

Aboard the U.S.S. New Glory, the splendidly named Rear Admiral Quintus Gonville D’Gin had summoned his commanders for a council of war. Ideas went back and forth until the Rear Admiral, his mind absorbed by the problem they faced, raised his hand slowly for silence. “I know the captain of the rebel ship and I also know what his weakness is. Pride. I will challenge him to a duel between our respective ships and worded in such a way he will be eager to obtain satisfaction”. The captain of the U.S.S. New Glory spoke first. “Sir, may I remind you that whilst the New Glory will have size and weight of broadside in its favour it is sadly not the fleetest ship we have!”. The attendant company nodded in agreement with the exception of the captain of the U.S.S. Coeur D’Alene, Captain Benjamin Kanobie, formerly of the U.S.S. Padawan. He pointed out that his was the fastest ship in the squadron and although not quite a match for the rebel ship was more than able to give a good account of herself. The rear admiral listened intently to his younger captain, his face an impassive mask. 

“Captain Kanobie, I thank you for your observations and I know that you have the best interests of the squadron in mind but my decision stands. I must face this phantom menace alone. You will lead the remainder of the squadron away to rejoin the fleet. This you are charged to do so that other ships will avoid the fate that I may suffer - your destiny lies along a different path to mine...” The Rear Admiral’s words trailed off into the silence but the point had been made to his younger captain, eager and thirsting for glory.

The meeting broke up and soon the Rear Admiral was alone with his thoughts. Before meeting with the commander of his flagship to make ready for battle he composed the challenge for the rebel commander.

To the officer Commanding, C.S.S. Sphinx,

As the Sphinx appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the New Glory with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Sphinx, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation. We have both noble motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here.

I remain, your obedient servant,

Rear Admiral Quintus Gonville D’Gin United States Navy

He mulled the words one final time, sealed the envelope and placed it in the hands of the waiting junior officer. After a moment of further reflection he summoned the captain. The game was afoot.

Aboard the C.S.S. Sphinx Captain Darius Theoden Maule pondered the contents of the recently arrived letter from the commander of the Union fleet. Here was an opportunity. His ship was fast and although the Union vessel had the advantage of both size and weight of broadside he was supremely confident that he could bloody the nose of the Yankee and get speedily away. He was sure that more enemy ships would be close by so he would certainly not be able to hang around. The sensible thing would be to get away as fast as the ship could move and to avoid a fight entirely. He doubted he would be able to get away with this and for sure once it was known he had accepted and then spurned a challenge his reputation would be damaged beyond repair. “So be it, Yankee” he mused. He would accept the challenge and so sat down to draft a reply.

The die was cast.

The terms of the challenge were simple. The Sphinx would be allowed to enter the main channel of the delta and would there engage the New Glory. The Union had given a two hour grace period during which time the Sphinx could attempt to escape from the Delta and the assurance that no Union ship would interfere. When the two hours had ended normal rules of engagement would apply. The Union had ordered the remaining ships of the squadron away - to be honest they were not exactly steaming at full speed - so the delta would offer plenty of sea room for the combatants.

Aboard the U.S.S. New Glory nervous tension permeated the ship. All guns were primed and ready, fires were stoked, bunkers full and the crew poised for action. All eyes were on the channel that the Sphinx would be emerging from and sure enough, exactly at the allotted time, she appeared, malevolent and evil in aspect.

Notes on the Game

I wanted to tackle a single ship action using the rules as refined by the tests so far. The ships are intentionally unbalanced so as to ensure that either side has to play to their strengths. In the case of the U.S.S. New Glory this rests with her shorter ranged but plentiful artillery whilst the C.S.S, Sphinx has speed and the benefit of being ram equipped. This will be an open sea encounter.

The two ships will be approaching each other from opposite ends of the playing area. The victory conditions are quite straightforward - the Union player must sink or render the Confederate ship sufficiently damaged to enable her to be engaged by the rest of the fleet. In short, if she was not sunk then she needed to be slowed down.

For the Confederates the victory requirements were also straightforward although perhaps a little more involved. Sinking the U.S.S New Glory and getting away would be major success, getting away with minimal damage would be a success but did not inspire the captain of the rebel ship. He was keen to give the Union ship a bloody nose and so, rightly or wrongly, he would have his duel.

C.S.S. Sphinx (based on the C.S.S. Stonewall)

Medium sized - Ram bow

Speed (SP) 6

Medium Manoeuvrability (TF) 2 turns

Flotation Points (FP) 6

Armour Factor (AF) 3 

Gunnery Factor (GF) Forward 2, Penetration 2, Port or Starboard 2, Penetration 2

U.S.S. New Glory (based on the U.S.S. New Ironsides)

Medium sized 

Speed (SP) 3

Medium Manoeuvrability (TF) 2 turns

Flotation Points (FP) 6

Armour Factor (AF) 3 

Gunnery Factor (GF) Forward 2, Penetration 3,  Port or Starboard 4, Penetration 3

The initial dispositions. The escape route for the C.S.S. Sphinx is the opposite side of the board but honour demands that she must engage and damage the Union warship before doing so. The remainder of the union squadron are over the top edge of the playing area.

Turn 1. Nothing happening until the initiative roll which is a 3 for the Union and a 4 for the Confederates. The rebel captain asks for the Union to move first.

The Union flagship lumbered into her turn as tightly as she was able to show the rebel ship the full length of her broadside. Seeing this so the Captain of the Sphinx turned away and then resumed her Reginald heading, thereby ensuring that a respectful distance was between them. When she engaged the Yankee ship it was to be her terms.

Turn 2. The Union ship opened fire and this was only half a broadside due to the position of her target. At a range of 5 rolling 2d6 she scored a 4 and a 1 meaning all missed. The rebel ship opened fired rolling a 5 and 3  meaning she scored one potential hit. The New Glory has an armour factor of 4 whilst the guns of the Sphinx all have a penetration factor of 2 meaning that damage rolls deduct 1 from the dice roll. The roll of 1 was insufficient anyway. For initiative the Union rolled a 4 whilst the Confederate rolled a 1. The Union player opted to move first, mindful of the speed and the ram of his opponent.

The huge Union ship lumbered into a turn in the opposite direction from previously still trying to keep her broadside to the enemy. The Rear Admiral could only watch in admiration as the enemy ship, at double the speed he was able to make, turned to close the gap but, he wondered, had she been too eager in the turn? The Captain of the Sphinx had but one thought on his mind, to ram the Union ship and then to get away. So far she had escaped any damage but now that she was staying into the maw of a full broadside he could only hope that his speed would upset the gunnery of the enemy ship.

Turn 3. The Union ship opened fire at a range of 4 with 4d6. 2, 3, 4 and 6 were rolled meaning two potential hits on the rebel ship. The New Glory has a penetration factor of 3 against the armour factor of 3 for the Sphinx meaning that no modifiers are applied to the damage rolls. A 5 and 6 were rolled meaning 3 points of damage were scored. The Sphinx recorded 1 point against the forward guns and 2 to the floatation points. He dare not reduce his armour or speed at this stage. Firing back with 2d6 the rebel ship scored a 6 and 1 meaning one potential damage roll at -1. The roll of 2 was insufficient. For initiative the Union player rolled a 3 whilst the Confederate rolled a 2. The Union opted to move first.

The rebel ship was closing on the New Glory so the Union ship opted to throw the helm over at the last possible moment. The extra distance gained meant that whilst the Sphinx was closing hard she was at least unable to catch her for the present. The rebel ship would receive a further half broadside before contact. “Damn this fellow fights well!” The captain of the C.S.S. Sphinx muttered under his breath. It was only a matter of time before he caught the Union ship but in the meantime he would be under yet more fire, albeit obliquely. The crew braced themselves for what was to come....

Turn 4. The Union ship opened fire with half a broadside and rolled 2d6 scoring a 5 and 2 meaning a single potential hit with a straight dice roll. The score of 3 was insufficient to harm the rebel ship. The single d6 by way of a return was a 4 with a damage roll of 5 minus 1 leaving a 4. The Union ship had taken a point of damage (recorded against the flotation value). For initiative the Union rolled 4 and the Confederates a 5! The rebel ship proceeded to ram the U.S.S. New Glory in her port aft quarter. The damage roll was 4d6 as she is ram bow equipped and plus a further d6 for a side ram making 5d6 in total, The roll generated 2 6s and 3 2s so 4 points of flotation damage were scored against the Union ship. 2d6 were then rolled for the potential damage to the ramming ship scoring a 1 and 4 so the rebel ship sustains a point of damage recorded against the flotation value (all ramming damage is recorded solely against the flotation value as the damage is invariably below the waterline. The C.S.S Sphinx is able to back away from the Union ship - she has 5 movement points left so can move a maximum of 3 in reverse. The Union ship is displaced one grid area and can move as normal.

The C.S.S. Sphinx ram the U.S.S. New Glory

The C.S.S. Sphinx backs away whilst the U.S.S. New Glory looks to open the range once again

With a bone-crunching jar the C.S.S. Sphinx rammed into the port aft quarter of the U.S.S. New Glory. Chaos ensued as the screech of metal on metal was mixed with the cries of the wounded, the shouts of the officers trying to restore order and of the ominous sound of water rushing into the huge gash in her hull. The water at the stern of the Sphinx boiled as the great ship eased her way back from her enemy lest she become entangled with her. It was a heavy hit on the enemy ship of that the Captain of the Sphinx was sure but the Union vessel showed little sign of distress as she slowly moved off.

Captain Maule was torn. Should he finish off the Union ship or should he look to get away, his honour intact and his ship is relatively good shape? Much as he wanted to the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few (or the one) so he looked to make his escape.

Turn 5. Despite the grievous condition of the U.S.S. New Glory Rear Admiral D’Gin resolved to fight to the last. As soon as the gun crews had reorganised after the ramming attack so they opened fire with a full broadside albeit it at maximum range. Unsurprisingly they missed. The rapidly retreating Sphinx managed a single shot and again to no effect. For initiative the Union rolled a 4 whilst the Confederate rolled a 5. The rebel ship opted to move first.

Quickly accelerating to her top speed the C.S.S. Sphinx swung about to head to the open sea and safety. In doing so she unavoidably sped dangerously close to the wounded U.S.S. New Glory meaning that she would be facing a final full broadside from the Union ship before she could get away. Captain Maule cursed inwardly but there was nothing he could do other than take it.

Rear Admiral D’Gin new that this could be the last throw of the dice for his ship. He badly needed to significantly damage the enemy ship so that it would be unable to get very far before the allotted time elapsed. The ship made ready for one final broadside.

Turn 6. The Union ship opened fire. A pair of 6s, a 5 and 4 - all hits! The damage roll was a 5, 2 4s and a 3 so three points of damage scored against the C.S.S. Sphinx - good but not enough. The rebel ship opted to silence the forward gun, take one hit on the aft gun and one flotation point. She fired back scoring one hit with no effect. For initiative the Union rolled a 1 whilst the Confederates rolled a 5 and so opted to move first.

The rebel ship was pulling away from the U.S.S. New Glory but not so quickly that the Union ship would not be able to engage her again and so the gun crews feverishly made ready to fire. The pumps were keeping pace with the inflow of water and the work of temporarily patching the hull was underway. The U.S.S. New Glory would live to fight another day. 

Captain Maule viewed the rapidly receding Union ship with a feeling of frustration. The enemy ship had been well handled and it was only through good fortune that his ship had thus far gotten off relatively lightly from the Union artillery. He held his breath as great gouts of smoke erupted from the gunports of the enemy ship....

Turn 7. The Union ship fired and scored 4 hits from 4d6! The damage roll was equally impressive with 2 6s and a 4 meaning 5 points of damage! The rebel ship silenced the last of his artillery for one point, reduced his armour by two points, reduced his turns by one and a further point from his flotation. The ship was a wreck but still able to steam at full speed. 

As the damage reports came in from across the ship Captain Maule took scant consolation from the fact that his steaming power was unimpaired. This was just as well as the ship had the last of its artillery dismounted, the steering was damaged and her armour plates had been beaten in and had worked loose in several places. Still, overall he was satisfied. His honour was intact and his ship could be repaired. He was still fast enough to outrun anything the Yankees had in the area and came very close to sinking his opponent. One thing he was sure of though. He knew in his heart that his path would cross with that of his enemy at some point and he resolved that the next time there would be a conclusion.

Rear Admiral D’Gin was disappointed with how his grand gesture had played out. He had heavily damaged his opponent of that he was certain but he badly wanted to reduce her steaming ability. No matter. The enemy ship would require a lot of work to get back into fighting trim (as would his own) but at least for now the sea lanes would be free of this most formidable ship. He knew that there was unfinished business with this determined enemy commander and so he look to the day when the reckoning would be had.

Game Overview

I rather enjoyed that! It was nice to have some sea room to fight over and although the scenario was a little contrived it was both entertaining and informative. There are a couple of things I am going to change before the next game but nothing in a major way. I definitely need to look at the provision of special effect hits as currently it is impossible to score them unless you have a positive modifier when shooting, meaning a larger penetration factor than the target armour value. Turning needs some clarification and I am having some thoughts around damage allocation. The core of the rules works well and I am happy with them but there are a few tweaks still needed.

Of the action itself the Union did as best as they could given the speed handicap they were operating under. Making sure the maximum number of guns was facing the enemy as often as possible was tactically sound, as was trying to stay in the middle so the enemy had to move further around the outside so to speak. The C.S.S. Sphinx was keen to ram the enemy ship but had to mindful of ‘running onto the guns’. This was quite tricky to avoid and so the ship was fortunate not to have suffered more damage. Those full Union broadsides could have caused a lot of damage but it was only at the end they showed this.

I have plans for a further action for this stage of testing and this will be quite a large one and so written up in the ‘three post’ format mentioned previously.

As ever, it was great fun to do!


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


Another great battle report! It looks as if you have developed a good set of rules that have enough detail to make for interesting encounters whilst being simple to use.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there Bob,

Many thanks old chap! I think that the rules have gotten pretty much to where I want them although there are a few points that will need some tweaking. The next action will be a much larger test!

All the best,


EB said...

That was fun. I look forward to the next report.


David Crook said...

Hello there EB,

It was that indeed! The next one promises to be a royal slugfest and so I shall be pulling out all the stops!

All the best,


Archduke Piccolo said...

Hi David -
What a fine action! Methought the Court Martial, wherever it would have been convened, might have taken a dim view of Captain Maule's quitting the action as soon as he did; but the damage to the vessel he brought into safe anchorage must have disarmed censure. A tactical success for the Union; a strategic for the Confederacy.

Now, what morale boosting goodies was the 'Sphinx' carrying...?

Incidentally, as I began reading the narrative, I thought this was going to be a 'disguised scenario' based upon the hunt for SMS Konigsberg in Rufiji River Delta (1915). Something for the future maybe?

David Crook said...

Hello there Archduke,

Thank you old chap! Funny you should mention the Konigsberg....

It was good fun to fight although a little contrived. The final action of this phase of the project will be a real slugfest based on Mobile Bay but I need to set it all up first.

All the best,