Seth Owen
United States Norwich Connecticut

Continuing my series of River Plate refights using different rules sets, today I tried out Victory at Sea by Mongoose Publishing (not to be confused with the 1972 game of the same same I used in an earlier refight.)
Right off the bat, I decided to modify the scenario as given in the Victory at Sea core rulebook because it seemed to allow the British cruiser to start right on top of the Graf Spee. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate decision made for play balance or an oversight, but it's a very poor match for the actual situation and forces the Graf Spee to give up its main advantage  superior range.
So instead I started the British cruiser at the Graf Spee's maximum gun range of 40 inches, with the Ajax and the Achilles in line abreast on the Graf Spee's port quarter and the Exeter on the Starboard Quarter. The British squadron leader, Sir Henry Harwood is specifically listed as one of the "Admirals" in the Order of Battle supplement, so I decided to include him in this refight. His flagship is the HMS Ajax and his "Traits" are Tactical Genius, Master of the High Seas and Defensive Tactician. These add some interesting special abilities. Master of the High Seas allows each ship in the fleet to use Flank Speed once per game without counting against the One Special Action per turn limit. Tactical Genius provides a +3 bonus to initiative and Defensive Tactician allows the use of Evasive Action.
Turn 1. The British win the initiative with a roll of 8 +3 for 11 to the German roll of 5. Harwood elects to have the Germans move first. The Graf Spee wastes no time and attempts the Special Action of Come About! in order to bring its main batter to bear with a turn to Starboard. This requires a Command Check die roll. A roll of 1 plus the Command level of 4 equals 5, which is not enough for success, so the Graf Spee moves ahead 3 inches and then turns 2 "points" to the right, and moves 3 more inches. Harwood expects the Exeter will not come under fire this turn, being out of arc for the Graf Spee's rear turret, so the Exeter orders Flank Speed! for its Special Action, making its speed 9 inches for the turn. The Exeter moves 4.5 inches and then turns 1 "point" to port and moves 4.5 inches. For the Ajax and Achilles the order is also Flank Speed! and both cruisers dash forward 10.5 inches.
The Graf Spee fires its main battery at the British flagship Ajax. The range is 29.5 inches, making it just close enough to qualify as Long Range, so there is a 1 to hit for that. The target moves over 7 inches that turn, for an additional 1. The Graf Spee has six attack dice, needing 5s to hit. The 2 to the die roll means the Graf Spee has no chance of scoring a hit. The Ajxa and the Achilles are out of range. The Exeter is in range, but the 1 for Long Rnage and 1 for going Fl;ank Speed mean it also has no chance of scoring a hit.
Turn 2. This key initiative roll also goes to the British. Both sides roll 5s, but Harwood's Tactical Genius trait's +3 bonus means the British win again. And once again they force the Germans to move first. The Graf Spee continues its starboard turn, this time succeeding in its Come About! Special Ability attempt. moving ahead 3, turning 3 points to starboard and moving 3 more inches. Harwood decides to have the Exeter slow down and turn to port while continuing its Evasive! Special Action. He intends to have the Exeter duel with the Graf Spee to keep its attention while the light cruisers continue their dash. He decides that avoiding damage from the Graf Spees guns is more important than inflicting hits at this stage. Unfortunately the die roll of 3 combined with the Command level of 7 is short of the 8 required and the Exeter is unable to perform Evasive. The Exeter moves ahead 3 and turns 1 point to port to bring its broadside to bear, finishing its move with 3 more inches ahead. Meanwhile the Ajax and Achilles continue their dash at Flank Speed! moving 10.5 inches.
The range between the Graf Spee and Exeter is now 23 inches. Graf Spee has 6 attack dice of main battery. It's still long range, so there's a 1 to the hit rolls, but the Exeter is beamon for a +1, so there is no modification. A four is needed to hit the Exeter. The Graf Spee rolls 2.3,5,6,6,6 for a total of four hits. Very good shooting. Four Damage dice are rolled and compared to the Exeter's armor protection of 3. Because it's Long Range there is +1 to the damage roll. The rolls are 2,3,4,6 modified to 3,4,5 and 6 so four points of damage are inflicted on Exeter. The 6 is also a Critical Hit. The roll on the Critical Hit table is a 9 (weapons) and the followup roll of 2 means the AA weapons are damaged, which will have no effect in this aircraftless battle.
The Exeter returns fire with 3 dice, with 1 for Long Range and +1 for Graf Spee showing its broadside canceling out. Needing a 5 to hit, the Exeter rolls 4,5,6 for two hits. The Graf Spee, despite having battleshipscale guns, is really a cruiser and the Exeter will cause damage on a 4 or better, with a +1 to each die roll due to the Long Range. It turns out to be feast or famine for the Exeter with damage rolls of 1 and 6. The 1 is an automatic bounce but the 6 is a Critical Hit. dice roll of 5 shows that it was the Crew that took the hit. A follow up roll of 5 is a Hill Beach, adding 2 to the damage and knocking out 5 crew. Total damage to the Graf Spee is 3 hull and 5 crew. While the Ajax and Achilles are now within range, the 1 for Long Range and 1 for Flank Speed mean they still have no chance of scoring a hit.
Turn 3. German hopes of winning the initiative by rolling an 11 are dashed when Harwood also rolls an 11. The Graf Spee decides to try to KO the Exeter while keeping its distance from the light cruisers, moving ahead 6 inches. Exeter makes another attempt at Evasive, succeeding with a die roll of 6 (+4 command level to a 10, 8 was needed). Exeter moves 6 inches ahead. The light cruisers continued their Flank Speed march, another 10.5 inches.
The range between the Graf Spee and Exeter is 21 inches, so it is still Range. Both ships are still broadside to each other, but this time the Exeter is performing the Evasive special action, meaning any hits it scores or that are scored on it must be rerolled. The Graf Spee's 6 attack die rolled are 1,3,4,5,5,5. The Target roll is 5, so there are 3 potential hits. The rerolls are 3,5,6, so two are confirmed hits. The damage rolls are +1 for Long Range still, so rolls of 3 and 4 become 4 and 5 for hits, but not criticals. The Exeter is down to 5 hull. Another turn like that will leave it crippled. The Exeter's return fire is still 3 dice, unmodified. A 1,1 and 5 means one potential hit. The followup roll of 5 confirms the hit. A damage roll of 2 would normally be a bounce, but the +1 for long range means it penetrates and does another point of damage to the Graf Spee, dropping it down to 13 hull. The Ajax and Achilles are close enough now to have a chance of a hit, being just 15 inches away. Each ship has just its two forward turrets bearing, so each will roll 2 attack dice. The only modifier is a 1 for Flank Speed. The Ajax rolls first, getting Snake Eyes! All missed. The Achilles shot is marginally better, a 2 and a3, but nowhere nearly good enough to hit.
Turn 4. Graf Spee rolls a 9, Harwood rolls an 8, modified to 11, so the Germans once again must move first. The German captain decides he's close to finishing of Exeter and will continue straight ahead, but will attempt the Evasive! special action now that the light cruisers have demonstrated they are close enough to be a threat. His roll of a 3 isn't enough to succeed, so he will have to rely on bad die rolling by the British. Exeter bravely continues straight ahead, taking Evasive action as it does so. The Ajax continues closing at Flank Speed, while the Achilles hauls off to port 2 points to bring its broadside to bear, while still going at Flank Speed.
The Graf Spee and Exeter had been on slowly converging courses and had now closed to 17 inches, so it was no longer a long range shot. Graf Spee's six attack dice were 1,1,12,3,5, for some pretty poor shooting. Even the +1 for a broadside target wasn't enough to have more than once chance for a hit  and the confirming roll of a 3 meant the Graf Spee missed with its main battery. The Ajax was within range of the Graf Spee's secondary, however. Three attack dice, 1 for target speed, with rolls of 1,2 and 6 result in one hit. That hit is "weak" with a 1 to the damage roll, so the 4 was modified to a 3 which causes 1 hull point of damage to the Ajax.
The Exeter fires back with its 3 attack dice, +1 for broadside target but needing confirmation due to firing ship's Evasive action. The first rolls of 2, 4 and 5 result in two potential hits, with followup rolls of 3,6 confirming 1. That hit's roll of 2 is a bounce, however. The Exeter has secondary guns, but they are out of range. The Ajax fires its two forward turrets at a range of 9.5 inches, which brings a +1 to hit, but rolls of 2,2 are not good enough. The Achilles fires 4 turrets at a range of 14 inches with rolls or 1,3,4,6 for 1 hit, which subsequently bounces off the Graf Spee's armor.
Turn 5. The Graf Spee's can't beat Harwood's roll of a 10, so the Graf Spee goes first. It decides it's time to face around to deal with the light cruiser, so the Graf Spee turns 2 points to port (a Come About attempt having failed. The Exeter and Achilles maintain course while Ajax swing port across the rear of the Graf Spee. Given the configuration, the Graf Spee elects to keep firing on the Eexter with its main battery while firing the secondary at the Ajax. No ships are going flank speed or using Evasive. Graf Spee fires 6 dice, 1,1,2,4,4,6. The +1 for Broadside aspect means there are 3 hits. A 1 is a miss, a 5 penetrates and a 6 causes a critical hit. A 5 is on the Crew, starting a fire, knocking out 2 Eexter Crew. The Exeter is Crippled and on fire. Turret Y is knocked out. The Graf Spee fires 3 dice of secondary at Ajax., getting two hits (rolls of 1,6,6). Damage rolls of 3 and 4 are modified to 2 and 3 for a total of one more poit of damage to Ajax.
Exeter fires back with 3 dice, 2,3,3 being misses. Ajax fires dice at close range, 2,2,2,6 for one hit, which penetrates for a point of damage. The Achilles is a little further way, but the Graf Spee is broadside to it, so the hit chances are +1. Four rolls of 1, 4,4,5 are modified to 5,5,6 for three hits, two of which penetrate the Graf Spee armor.
At the end of the turn the Exeter is able to put out its fire.
Turn 6. Harwood continues to win initiative. The Graf Spee continues its turn to port. Harwood's Ajax takes a position directly astern of the German ship while the two other cruisers remain broadside. Graf Spee switches targets to the Achilles. 1,1,3,5,6 is two hits, one of which bounces. On epoint of damage to the Achilles. The Graf Spee's secondaries fire at Ajax, getting one hit that bounces. Exeter fires its two remaining turrets, missing with a 2 and a 4. Ajax fires four turrets at close range, 3, 4,4,6 for three hits. One bounces one penetrates and one scores a critical hit. Normally "weak" guns don't cause critical hits, but if the target's armor is a 3 or less then the weak gun can score a critical after all. The critical hit damages AA guns, a moot point in this battle. At this point the Graf Spee is down to 8 hull. Achilles fires 3,5,6,6, scoring three hits, all of which penetrate, one critical. That critical hit hits the engines, causing a Turbine Damaged result, 1 off of speed. This damage is also enough to leave the Graf Spee crippled, with its Y turret KO'd.
At this point, with the Graf Spee crippled, down to 2 inches speed and surrounded, I called the fight.
Compared to some of the other systems I used this was a much tougher fight for the Graf Spee. While the Exeter was crippled, the two British light cruisers were still in decent shape.
One rules note. I see that the errata reduces the Flank Speed bonus to 1 inch extra instead of 50% faster. I'm not sure this makes the special ability all that useful considering the penalty to firing. From my blog http://pawnderings.blogspot.com

Jonathan Townsend
Italy Roma Lazio

How did you like this rule set? It made for more exciting (and detailed) reading than the others.

Seth Owen
United States Norwich Connecticut

This one does a pretty good job of building a dramatic narrative and its realism seems adequate to me for a quickplaying naval wargame. I don't thin k it's a definitive answer to the question of whether the Graf Spee had a chance in 1939, but the outcome seems reasonable to me.
So far every battle has tended to be more decisive than the actual outcome was. My next refight will use the detailed Command at Sea system.

Michael Spence
United Kingdom Newtownabbey Northern Ireland
Blub, blub blub...

Brilliant idea well executed!
Could you possibly post links to your other sessions?


