It is 1979 and NATO and the USSR are on the brink of war following incidents in the Mediterranean and off Norway. A US Amphibious Ready Group of four ships is making haste to a safe haven area near Narvik, threatened by Soviet aircraft on the Kola Peninsula and a cruiser/destroyer task force reported around Jan Mayen Island (marked with a X on the map). NATO's multinational Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVLANT), consisting of six destroyers and frigates, is ordered to intercept and destroy the latter. They have support from Buccaneer and Starfighter strike planes based in Scotland and Norway but, in practice, these cannot deploy in time because they are daylight-only and the scenario takes place at night. There are also several Orion and Nimrod patrol planes, which give NATO a good search capability.
The briefing misleadingly tells you that losing any ARG ship costs you the game. Crucially, this isn't the case!. Each ARG loss costs at least 500 points, but this can be made-up by destroying the Soviet squadron. Losses of STANAVLANT ships and aircraft don't count for victory points purposes. Knowing all this in advance would have been comforting...
I sent STANAVLANT towards Jan Mayen at speed, as ordered, while hurrying the ARG along its pre-set course to Narvik. There is a critical problem in that STANAVLANT can't be in two places at once and, therefore, cannot protect the ARG from air attack. You could split STANAVLANT, but this would probably ensure neither mission succeeded. So the ARG is left to its own devices, with a few low-endurance Norwegian Starfighters for CAP. I tried stealthing the force by turning all the radars off, only to find too late that the game had switched them on again!
The Soviet squadron was in a predictable place near Jan Mayen and finding it was easy enough. It consisted of a missile cruiser, two destroyers and an oiler. The cruiser Vagyar had 16 Shaddock ship-killer missiles with a range of 270nm and these had to be weathered while closing the range. A couple of Badger recon planes tried to spot for the Vagyar, but got too close to STANAVLANT and were downed with SAMs. Without these, the Vagyar was firing semi-blind and all the Shaddocks were either shot down or went astray and self-destructed.
Meanwhile, another Badger overflew the ARG and was destroyed by a SAM. It was followed by a wave of Badger 'stand-off' bombers, escorted by two more with offensive ECM capability (with an impressive radius). Two Starfighters just about managed to intercept before going RTB for Bingo fuel - I had to change their base to make it happen. They accounted for two Badgers (helped by my new-found understanding of rear aspect weapons, thanks to this forum), but the bogeys got off 6 Kipper stand-off missiles. The ARG had no real defence against this and the amphibious dock Ogden was sunk, taking sundry landing craft and choppers with her.
Thinking I'd lost the game, I tried to take revenge on the Soviet squadron. An Orion promptly strayed into enemy SAM range when I wasn't looking, disobeyed orders to flee and, despite being very lucky, was shot down. A classic case of the difficulty of micro-managing simultaneous combats in widely-dispersed parts of the map, which is a major weakness of this game. You constantly have to monitor your patrol planes or they will overfly the Russians, with fatal results.
Regardless, STANAVLANT closed the range. With the Russians out of Shaddocks, I was able to fire four Harpoons in two pairs from the Dutch frigate Van Speijk at the Kashin-class destroyer, hoping to kill it before it got its Improved Styxes into range. Good plan, but the Kashin spoofed all four Harpoons by rolling under 20% each time!.
This enabled the Kashin to return fire. My remaining SAMs had poorish chances to hit the Styxes (around 20%), but every single shot missed, which was ridiculous. As a result, the Canadian destroyer Ottawa and the American Luce were hit and sunk, chaff and decoys notwithstanding.
However, this left the Soviets out of missiles. My remaining four ships closed-in and the Norwegian Bergen and British Active loosed Penguins and Exocets, respectively, aiming to cripple all the Russian warships by dividing fire rather than just sink one or two. The Kashin got lucky again and shot down two Exocets, but was wrecked by a third and sank, while another Exocet and four Penguins badly degraded the cruiser and the other (Kanin-class) destroyer.
Bergen then sank the Kanin with gunfire, taking a scratch in return, while Active and the German destroyer Lutjens finished-off the others. The oiler Boris Chilkin was then sunk at leisure.
There were no more air strikes and the surviving three ARG ships made port, leaving me with a score of +500 and a Minor Victory. The game ends when this happens (after about 16 hours), not after three days as advertised.
Overall, a good game, but the misleading victory conditions made it seem unfair for much of the playthrough.