Barracks Battles 2004

Friday Mar. 13 to Sunday Mar 15.2004
at Jefferson Barracks, St Louis, MO.
Hosted by
Big Muddy Historical Games Alliance

Pictures from the Convention

Barracks Battles Convention Report.

After Action Report

Battle off Samar I (Bull's Run)
By Joe Shaffer

At Barracks Battles Terry Callahan presented the 1944 Battle of Samar, a quasi historical what-if engagement between the most modern and powerful battleships ever built: The Japanese Yamato and two U.S. Iowa-class battleships. Due to some oddities at the con event, which I'll describe shortly, Terry presented the fight again at MEGA last Saturday (4/10), mostly perhaps to stop my whining. This report will summarize that first action and part two next month will compare it to the redux last week.

The engagement is set during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese, as usual, devised an intricate plan to decoy the American carrier fleet and strike at the unprotected American transports supporting the invasion. While this battle was ultimately the grandest and effectively final defeat of the Japanese navy, parts of the plan worked and it came desperately close to winning its objective. The Americans did take the Japanese bait and charged after the Japanese decoy (a small carrier force) and the Yamato and its attendants came steaming south headlong for the American beaches. The only thing in their way was Taffy 3 -one of the ubiquitous American escort carrier (CVE) groups flying air support for the invasion. Through a combination of by then pervasive pessimism among many Japanese leaders and heroic aggression from the CVE's and their destroyer escorts, the Yamato turned tail and ran. Disaster was averted.

Terry Callahan's scenario was built on a couple what-ifs. First, what if the Japanese hadn't been timid? What if the battleship force had charged gloriously for its objective? Second, Halsey, steaming with the 3rd Task Force on its wild goose chase realized too 1ate what the situation was. He immediately detached his fastest surface combatants to make a run to intercept. What if they had moved a few hours sooner? Why then we would have seen the twilight of the battleship as a tremendous finale instead of a slow fizzle.

Samar I: Barracks Battles

The Japanese fleet came onto the board bearing due south. Its six divisions arranged into four columns. On the left (east), a destroyer squadron led by the CL Noshiro. Off its starboard beam ran a division of four heavy cruisers (Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, and Tone) followed by the battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna. Next came a division of two more heavy cruisers (Haguro and Chokai) followed by the Yamato and the venerable Nagato. The west-most column was another destroyer squadron led by the CL Yahagi. At the opposite end of the board awaited Taffy 3, with 8 CVE's with a half dozen destroyers and destroyer escorts. The battle opens with the American force steaming onto the extreme eastern leg of the roughly 'L' shaped board.

The American interceptors consisted of four columns of divisions as well, though they were outnumbered. On each flank rode small destroyer squadrons led by the Bagley on the right and the Hickox on the left. The Iowa and the New Jersey were the second column and three light cruisers, the Vincennes, Biloxi, and Miami formed the other column in the center. The Americans were steaming nearly due west on a course that would intercept the Japanese just short of Taffy 3.

I chose to command the Yahagi's destroyer squadron and agreed to make a full speed run for the Taffy, along with at the smaller heavy cruiser division while the rest of the Japanese engaged the interceptors. All we really had to do was steam straight ahead and fire contiuosly. The range would close and the more numerous guns of our cruisers and battleships would tell the tale. Even this plan was a bit too complex…

The convention scenario included the planes of the CVE's making bombing and then torpedo runs at the Japanese. Overall they accounted for the Yahagi and perhaps one destroyer, so they did little substantial damage to the attackers. But one lone torpedo from one plane of the second wave decided the whole fight. It seems our Admiral aboard the Yamato thought it prudent to shift his division to the west so that it would have the Yahagi's group between it and the American BB's. I'll not belabor the point that he already had the twelve combatants of the rest of the Japanese force in that position. I'll also not question the wisdom of any move that delayed the ungainly Yamato from closing on the objective. Really. I promise I won't whine. Okay, I'm lying.

As the Yamato turned to starboard to execute this maneuver, she was struck by a squadron of torpedo planes. Damage was minimal, but can you say "Bismarck"? Yes the giant of the seas, the possessor of nine 18 inch guns and secondary batteries of 8 inch guns was hit in the rudder. Her course was locked in at about 200 degrees-away from the Americans and away from the fight. She never came closer than extreme range and this majestic beast was, as she was in history, not a factor. In the process, to add insult to injury, the Yamato's turn caught the destroyers off guard (Ship Base III requires plotted moves, don't you know), and the Yamato neatly sliced a hapless destroyer in half before making her humiliating exit.

The Japanese did not give up the fight, though in hindsight they were doomed from that point. The heavy cruisers closed with and engaged the battleships, finally inflicting considerable damage on the Iowa, but they were far from neutralizing her. Not to be outdone by the Japanese in the pointless maneuver department, the American cruiser force commander decided to execute a turn to starboard, apparently to bring him closer to the Noshiro's destroyer force which was beginning a run toward the Americans. Japanese gunnery did not intervene, but the Vincennes' commander miscalculated and ran headlong into the port bow of the Iowa. The Vincennes stayed afloat but she was so badly damaged that she had to withdraw. This maneuver so confused the American formation that it removed all of the U.S. cruisers from the fight for several turns.

When they did get back they opened up on the Noshiro's group at very short range. The Japanese managed to unload a hoard of torpedos but the U.S. 6-inchers made short work, and the entire Japanese destroyer squadron was sunk. In one of the harshest demonstrations of American firepower, the New Jersey and Iowa also trained their primary batteries on these destroyers for a salvo or two. It was not pretty. The torpedos were set on a perfect intercept course, and three 8-torpedo spreads crossed the Iowa and later the Vincennes, but not one hit was scored. They had been launched at such long range that their dispersal made success unlikely.

With the destroyer threat gone and the Yamato made irrelevant, the American gunsights were now trained on the heavy cruisers. At this point range was fairly short, and the American BB's secondaries could also join in. In the space of two or three turns all but one or two Japanese cruisers were sunk or crippled. The battlecrusiers Haruna and Kongo were alive only because they were next in line. The Yahagi's destroyer group was closing on the Taffy, but the range was still quite long and the American DD's and DE's had sacrificed themselves heroically protecting their flock. The Japanese commander decided to try and run, and he ordered the Nagato, the battlecrusiers and the remaining destroyers to come about and make for home. We called the fight at that point. The American probably would not have given chase with the battleships since the New Jersey had over 30% damage and the Vincennes was out. Besides, the 3rd Fleet would need target practice tomorrow…

Regardless of my complaining, I have to say this was a good game. Terry presented a well-prepared and very playable scenario. MEGA and Big Muddy will miss him when he takes his ships and computer, and planes off to Omaha. I salute my able opponents and I want to single out our cruiser commander, Bob Roby, for his energetic if fateful attack on the American, and also Kelly Ritchie for the destroyer attack he led with the Noshiro. Both are "posthumous" congrats, of course. And Glenn, I really am kidding about my complaining. After all, you didn't MEAN to run the Yamato away and sink my DD. Did you?

Next month I'll write up the second battle of Samar. This time we'll see what those 18-inchers can do…

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