This is another big scenario (it took three sessions to play) and combines some features of Dawn Strike and A Hunting We Will Go. Would I learn from experience?.
In 1968, the North Koreans captured the spy ship USS Pueblo. Historically, the States(already heavily committed in Vietnam)held back from serious retaliation, but what if they hadn't?.
You have command of a carrier group centred on the USS Enterprise, an ASW carrier group based on USS Yorktown, three destroyers (Collett, O'Bannon and Highbee), the cruiser Chicago and a diesel sub, the Ronquil. The spy ship Banner is included for historical reasons, but plays little active part (nor does Ronquil, which is too slow to keep up with the action).
US Marines have achieved the considerable feat of landing in North Korea by chopper, then infiltrating the heavily-defended port of Wonsan before re-taking the Pueblo under the enemy's noses. Your job is to extract them. Some Marines will be evacuated by the choppers that brought them in, the rest on the ship. The plan is for the three destroyers and Ronquil to force the approaches to Wonsan Harbour, while Enterprise provides air cover, Chicago a SAM umbrella and the Yorktown deals with any submarines that might be about.
In the Red corner are a dozen patrol boats, four dangerous Sohung/Komar missile boats with Styxes, a corvette and two Whiskey III subs of the North Korean Navy, plus swarms of MiG-21s, MiG-19/J-6s and Beagle bombers, coastal batteries from 76mm to 130mm calibre, mobile AA guns and a number of Guideline SAM sites. In addition, the Soviets have a Kildin-class destroyer (with Scrubber missiles), two Riga frigates, a Foxtrot sub and a pair of spy ships in the vicinity - and do YOU think they're going to stay neutral?.
As even one patrol boat could be lethal to the slow and almost defenceless Pueblo (which you need to get to a safe haven zone to win), it looks a tall order. There are some grounds for hope, though. Only one Guideline site is close enough to be much of a threat and even it doesn't cover the harbour properly. Also, Guidelines are ineffective below 10,000' and the enemy AA guns don't really bridge the gap, so flying between 5,000' and 10,000' is a good idea. Only three, possibly four of the coastal batteries are in a position to interdict the Pueblo's escape. You have plenty of planes and good sensors. There is no threat from North Korean troops or tanks. Finally, the Korean aircraft lack much in the way of radar, can't find you in the uncanny way they manage to do in Dawn Strike and aren't trained for night ops (the mission runs from 22:45 local time).
Did my best to keep ships' sensors 'dark' (relying on AEW planes), set the usual patrols and set about executing the plan. Several vessels were soon detected at the entrance to Wonsan Bay, with the Pueblo being moored (prior to re-capture) next to the corvette Sariwon. There were various contacts out at sea, including a probable sub near the Yorktown and what was probably the Kildin NE of the Enterprise, which was worrying.
The destroyers engaged and eventually sank a couple of nearby patrol boats, but made dreadful shooting and took overly long to do it. Meanwhile, two North Korean subs were found, one SE of Yorktown and the other a safe distance away to the S. Two Intruders with Shrike anti-radar missiles approached the SAM site at a safe altitude. It stayed dormant until later in the scenario, at which point it had its eyes put out. (Other SAM sites caused a few problems when fighters on CAP strayed into their reach - corrected this by forbidding them to investigate contacts outside their patrol zone).
After just ten minutes, word arrived that the Pueblo had been re-taken and would be underway in 45 minutes. This was a tight timescale to clear away the multiple threats and I was quick to implement the instruction that then arrived to mount airstrikes against the port and defending ships. DON'T attack enemy airfields, as suggested in the initial briefing.
Not long after this, Yorktown's Trackers and Sea Kings cornered and disposed of both Whiskeys.
A quartet of Skyhawks arrived and obliterated a 122mm battery that covered Pueblo's escape route...but a 130mm battery was then discovered on an island in the middle of the bay. By now, it was apparent that at least one Russian frigate was in the harbour so, for now, I had to be careful what I shot at.
The next wave of Skyhawks destroyed a nastily-positioned 76mm battery, then had ordnance left to massacre seven patrol boats.
By now, enemy fighters were beginning to arrive and the escorting Phantoms were soon hard at work, their Sparrows and superior radar giving them the edge over the MiG-21s. My Phantoms had the usual tendency to go RTB with fuel and weapons left - this was mostly curable by unassigning them from their CAP mission, then giving them targets.
Surprise, surprise, the Soviets sided with the North Koreans, one of the Rigas opening fire on the US planes. Free fire was authorised, with a nervous eye out for the Kildin, which had somehow vanished. The sub near the Yorktown was a Foxtrot, but I already had it covered and pressed the button with lethal results. Two destroyers engaged a Riga in the harbour, while another (a distance away to the SE) was covered by Ronquil.
By now, four Sohung missile boats had been detected hiding in their berths in the port. A Skyhawk strike inflicted damage on the installations, but failed to hit the Styx carriers. Further Skyhawk strikes sank the corvette, another patrol boat and destroyed the remaining shore batteries that I deemed a threat. It was really handy having enough ordnance per plane for each to bomb a couple of targets. In fact, I've rarely found bombing so effective in this game.
Highbee and O'Bannon sank the first Riga and an Intruder disposed of a nearby patrol boat, clearing the way for the Pueblo. By now, though, lots of North Korean aircraft were approaching from the NW.
A further strike on the port wrecked three of the Sohungs, but the fourth survived and I was out of bombers for now. A stray patrol boat had survived earlier strikes in a damaged state, but was finished-off by Collett as she emerged from the inner harbour.
Meanwhile, out at sea, a couple of Soviet spy ships insanely strayed too close to the main US task forces and paid the price.
At 23:35, Pueblo got underway, just as Highbee shelled and sank the second Riga. To help further, Collett took out a coastal radar. O'Bannon tried to get close enough to destroy the last Sohung at its berth, but started taking fire from 76mm batteries that should have been out of range and was obliged to pull back. Collett had also taken unexplained damage and I began to suspect mines.
At this point, I finally located the Kildin and launched some reserved planes at her. Learning from A Hunting We Will Go, I didn't worry too much about the ordnance I was firing and found salvoes of rockets sufficient to disable the deadly missile carrier, which settled and sank from fires and flooding. Big sigh of relief!! Presumably, she hadn't detected me because (like the Enterprise group), she had her radars off, which was what must have made her so elusive.
The last Sohung sortied, but weirdly fired one of her two Styxes in a random direction and missed O'Bannon with the other before withdrawing. It was hard to get a fixed bearing on her in the creeks of the inner harbour, but (by now out of missiles) she eventually strayed within reach of Highbee and was destroyed.
As Pueblo pulled clear, a huge swarm of enemy aircraft appeared. There were far too many for my remaining CAP and the cruisers' missiles to deal with (though they took a toll). Fortunately, they lacked radar and night training, only the Beagles had a strike capability and they failed to carry out a single bombing run on my ships. Of note was an extraordinarily lucky MiG-21. My cruisers missed it on successive chances of 34, 35, 31, 32, 42, 54, 40, 38, 34, 34, 32 and 32% before nailing it with a 13th missile.
As the air battle abated, Highbee scoured the spit on the NE side of the harbour of everything that moved (and much that didn't), before the fleet withdrew. Pueblo made the safe zone, which is the only thing that scores points in this scenario, leaving me with a triumph.
In summary, it was a long, hectic but exciting scenario, with superior technology and training triumphing over numbers against a tight timescale. Recommended.