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The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary)

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The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary) - 10/15/2016 1:46:57 AM   
el cid again


Posts: 16622
Joined: 10/10/2005
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From RHS Scenario 129 Test 2 (Mifune vs ElCid) - running in parallel
with a second Scenario 129 by other players - the first games to
test an AltWars scenario in which Japan eschewed capital ship construction
in favor of carriers. Unusually, this report is on both sides. There
are separate Allied and Japanese report threads. Because of a medical
situation, Mifune gives orders orally, but ElCid actually enters them using
a procedure involving "ignorance" of the other side's move. [OK - pretended
ignorance - information 'unknown' is simply ignored. Guessing is done by
die rolls.] This summary report is intended to help make sense of a battle
more or less similar to Midway in the historical war - a battle at sea far
from major land bases and near only partially developed island bases.

The Japanese decided to run a campaign of continuous suppression of the
Allied SLOC between the US West Coast and Australia. They set up a series
of raids by carrier groups - after first sinking the two carriers in the central
Pacific as well as six of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor. This was generally
successful, and the Allies have not been able to send much to Australia via
the Pacific route. Unknown to the Allies, the Japanese decided to use the abandoned (never developed) airfield on Howland Island - left over from a pre war attempt to set a trans-Pacific crossing record and, in fact, never used at all - on an island with no port or other facilities. This is not far North of the Allied base on Canton Island. As a result, both outbound and inbound Japanese carrier divisions head toward a point in the sea not far from the point an Allied relief expedition must go to supply/reinforce Canton Island.

To counter this, the Allies did two things:

First, they assembled a serious carrier division - essentially the mirror image of the carriers which start the war (a Lexington class and a Yorktown class). Except they landed all the TBD's and embarked additional squadrons. The two ships carried four full strength fighter squadrons - all F4F-3's, F4F-3As, or F4F-4s. They also embarked no less than five SBD squadrons: 4x SBD-3's and 1 of SBD-2's. Naturally the larger carrier embarked 5 squadrons, the smaller one only 4 squadrons.
This air group was considered to outweigh a Japanese carrier division with two fighter, two dive bomber and two torpedo bomber compliments.

Second, the Allies decided to employ a "Glorious First of June" strategy - use the warship convoy to cover a logistical one - or in this instance two - such that, if an enemy were encountered, the logistical convoys would be ignored, insuring a strategic victory whatever the tactical outcome might be. The two convoys included the US Army 24th Infantry Division (bound for Australia) as well as the 2nd Marine Engineer regiment and supplies to relieve Canton Island - which was useless as a link absent supply and needed more engineers to build up rapidly.

About three days ago (game time), both sides detected some of the ships of the other side, including probable carrier task groups. At that time, the Japanese carrier division returning from the Tahiti area was spotted, but its relief - outbound from Truk - was not. For their part, the Japanese did not detect the troop convoys, but did detect the carrier task group. The Allies (correctly) believed they had immediate tactical superiority - detaching the convoys - and sought to close the enemy carriers. The Japanese believed they needed to assemble both carrier groups to have an advantage, so they withdrew to the Northeast - but sent in long range Mavis flying boats and Betty bombers (as search aircraft) to insure contact was not lost.

Finally, yesterday, both sides believed they had superiority, so both sides headed directly for each other. A bit too directly. The first clue was that the task forces made contact during the night. This was repeated the next morning. Both times the task forces disengaged, but it produced the following alarming information for the Allies:

Note there are FOUR carriers and FOUR battleships - facing TWO carriers and TWO Brooklyn type cruisers (joined, during the night, by a CA and an old Omaha CL). Not quite the battle the Allies expected.

During the day, both sides exchanged air strikes. As is fairly common, NONE of the Kates flew at all. [Half were set to carry bombs, half torpedoes - because the returning division was short of torpedoes and because bombers are more likely to fly.]
The Allied fighters (F4F-3, F4F-3A and F4F-4) lost 45 total, vs 32 A6M2m32 Zeros. Dive bomber losses were remarkably similar - 51 Vals vs 49 SBD's. At optimum range, both side's dive bombers delivered primary plus secondary bombs. The Allies engaged all four Japanese carriers, hitting three, setting two on fire. The Japanese naturally engaged both Allied carriers, as well as cruisers and destroyers, and managed to hit both big ships. But the larger Saratoga fared better - it was hit by fewer bombs (one of them a small bomb), and it managed to put out the few fires set. Yorktown took more hits, and was unable to put out all the fires - so its air group could not land back on board. Instead, aircraft from most of its squadrons landed on Sara with the result it had too many squadrons and aircraft embarked, and so it could no longer launch air strikes. The Japanese, for their part, lost most of their dive bombers - the only bombers they are confident will actually fly - and almost half their fighters - and two ships absolutely need to be repaired.

This sets the stage for a second day of fighting. Sara, by flying off squadrons to Canton, can resume air operations tomorrow. For their part, the Japanese can field two carriers, but only with small dive bomber squadrons. As well, it is unclear if the Americans will run for Hawaii or for Australia - or indeed if they will run at all? Even if they want to fight with small air groups, the Japanese must guess where to go in order to engage?

Reports and replay are in following transmissions.

< Message edited by el cid again -- 10/15/2016 1:49:28 AM >
Post #: 1
RE: The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary) - 10/19/2016 10:22:09 AM   
el cid again


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Joined: 10/10/2005
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On the second day of the battle, the major battle task groups broke up and maneuvered. In most cases the object was to disengage ships which needed fuel and/or repairs. But one Japanese group, with two carriers that also embarked an extra dive bomber squadron each, went on the offensive, hoping to sink a damaged enemy carrier. That didn't work out very well: no air strikes were flown at all. But land and sea based search planes from both sides found some of the enemy groups. As the third day of the battle begins:

Both sides have technical problems. If US engines are generally more efficient, and for that reason US ships generally have more range, the Japanese began this particular battle unusually well fueled: they had refueled the night before the action and then again in the morning maneuvering. That utterly exhausted their "slow replenishment flotilla" - but the "fast replenishment flotilla" was just arriving in the operational area, with enough fuel for weeks of operations. USN has but one fast tanker in the area. As well, Japan has numbers of nearby bases, one of them fairly well stocked with fuel: Kwajalein. The US has only Canton Island nearby. It never did get significant supplies or fuel because every attempt ended in the sinking of the delivery vessels. Finally, Truk is probably adequate to repair the damage done to Japanese ships. The US can do almost any sort of repair at Pearl Harbor, but it is farther from the area than Truk is.

Mifune directed the US ships run for Pearl Harbor at full speed. Since USS Yorktown is significantly slower than USS Saratoga with present damage, he decided to split them up. But the US destroyers were in many cases fuel depleted. Taking time to refuel them also means a task force will spend ops points fueling rather than moving. Since Yorktown is on fire, she cannot launch aircraft to defend herself. So I split up the task force even more - sending 8 destroyers to Canton island or to the tanker task force to refuel. In the end the Allies had two carrier task groups and several other groups with destroyers, cruisers or transports in them (delivering float search planes, fuel, supplies, and garrision units to Canton Island). Three other destroyers, needing repairs as well as fuel, ran for Fiji - to refuel - and then to Sydney for repairs. The idea was, if the enemy guesses correctly the US carriers retired on Hawaii, these ships would be able to transit safely. On the other hand, if they guessed wrongly (the "guess" was done by coin toss), they might confuse the task group with the carriers and continue to chase them in some circumstances.

In the event, the Japanese ran for Hawaii as well, but on an imperfect vector. They ended up five hexes from Yorktown's small task force - and not that much farther from Saratoga's. But Saratoga's (larger) group was undetected and isn't on the Japanese display. So the Japanese likely assume the Yorktown group is both US carriers.

The problem for the US is that Yorktown is not doing well. Eight fires still blaze, and maximum speed has dropped from 5 to 4. The fires mean Yorktown cannot fly off any aircraft. And only four exist anyway - all of them fighter planes (one damaged). Also, Saratoga's task group automatically refueled the smaller ships from the larger ones, reducing movement potential to 6/2 in the first 12 hours - vice the normal 9/4. Worse, the refueling process put the two Brooklyn class cruisers into the pink, restricting their movement potential. But at least the destroyers do not need to refuel.

The third day of battle will dawn with the possibility of re-engagement between the hostile carrier groups.

(in reply to el cid again)
Post #: 2
RE: The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary) - 10/22/2016 2:26:34 AM   
el cid again


Posts: 16622
Joined: 10/10/2005
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The third day found a much diminished set of task groups headed generally Northeast from the
area of Howland Island toward Hawaii - with Johnston ahead to port and Palmyra ahead to starboard.
The Allies continued to suffer fuel related movement problems - due to the sprint earlier. USS
Saratoga detached two Brooklyns (and an escort) which were in the orange for fuel - but Sara herself
went from green to orange during the turn and actually suffered the same issue again. As a result,
her task force is only a few hexes East of Yorktown's. Worse, the enemy carrier force is not far
West of Yorktown's.

During the night, Yorktown managed to put out her fires and so her fighters were able to fly (a surprise).
But there were only four of them, and only two flew! For their part, the Japanese managed a cohesive first
strike, with torpedo bombers, dive bombers and fighters together. The dive bombers managed to put another
bomb into Yorktown, and a single flight of three Kates no less than three torpedoes into her as well. This
was, of course, quite fatal. Yet the saga of the task group went on all day. The IJN continued to send air
strikes, these attacking an old and damaged CL (Trenton) and the two remaining destroyers. A lone USMC F4F-3
- in a hopeless situation with no ship or base in range - continued to defend the group - scoring yet again.
By the end of the day Trenton took a torpedo on two different occasions, as well as a couple of bombs. She
resisted sinking until she flooded out - the decks awash message indicating she was about to go under.

The situation is alarming for all the Allied ships in the area. IF the enemy continues on its present heading
toward Hawaii, they will detect and engage Saratoga tomorrow. I asked Mifune for permission to divert hard
right, meeting replenishment tankers and many other warships near Palmyra (there three AO's are unloading - too
slow for first line work they were delivering fuel to forward bases). A group of 9 fresh destroyers arrived in the
immediate area today, and other task groups in the area can send escorts to join Sara. I recommended she should
refuel and then retire on the US West Coast - lest the enemy intercept a run to Hawaii. He agreed to both

Note that this battle was both an operational defeat for the Allies as well as a STRATEGIC VICTORY!
And it was intended to be that in the worst case. The US 24th Division is now less than two days cruising speed
from Melbourne. Several other ships have managed to work past the enemy - distracted by this battle - so they
will deliver aircraft, and the first oil of the entire war from the US to Australia. This is similar to
the Glorious First of June in British/French history: a loss of warships but not one casualty in the primary
transport convoy. [It is true three ships delivering engineers to Johnston Island were sunk by one submarine.
But the engineer unit got ashore - only its supplies did not. Today we began unloading supplies again - and
another task group will arrive in about two days. Both brought aircraft as well as supplies.]

(in reply to el cid again)
Post #: 3
RE: The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary) - 10/22/2016 6:14:41 AM   

Posts: 2080
Joined: 11/23/2015
From: The Coastal Elite
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I really like your format. Makes it feel like real history.

(in reply to el cid again)
Post #: 4
RE: The Battle of Howland Island (both side summary) - 10/22/2016 4:09:24 PM   

Posts: 1589
Joined: 6/26/2008
From: Phenix City, Alabama
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A good read as I am starting a PBEM as the allies. Fortunately my opponent has not done your Japanese opponent's tactics, of cutting LOC to Australia. It is hard to lose a carrier so early as the Americans only get six CVs until mid 1943. You got some pass the goalie but at a very high price that you can't afford for ever. Can you use the allies entry hex far south to run supplies along the southern edge to NZ and OZ? I believe it is called Port Stanley.

(in reply to Anachro)
Post #: 5
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