Mark Gardiner
United Kingdom
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An old edition but one I’d looked forward to having the time to game for some years ever since I’d managed to acquire a second-hand copy. I played solo with some adjustments: all moves were pre-planned and when there was the probability of a contact I’d flip a coin to decide what of two possible sea-zones on the most direct route to their destinations or patrol zones the fleets would move into. I also used Doug McNair’s suggested trigger delay timetables and the possibility of “smoke on the horizon” being spotted from adjacent sea-zones. Finally while I used Karl Laskas’s “Alternative Tactical System for the Pre-Dreadnought Era” for the larger engagements, for smaller scale actions and those utilising the Port Arthur and Chemulpo tactical map overlays I used the advanced combat rules, although with Karl’s hit and damage tables.

Unusually the operational game starts on the tactical map with the Surprise Japanese attack on the Russian Pacific Fleet in the roadstead off Port Arthur. I allowed the coastal defence guns to target the Japanese destroyers, although contrary to the rules that primary guns cannot fire on light ships, as surely that was their entire raison d’être. The results were two hull hits each on Petropavlovsk & Poltava, and 1 hull hit on Tsesarevitch, at a cost of 8 destroyers, one of which ran aground. It should be noted that under the scenario rules any Russian ships suffering hull damage in this attack are considered grounded for turn #1, but are considered refloated for turn #2 and suffer no additional damage for grounding.

The naval plans for each nation were as follows. For the Imperial Japanese Navy the most vital role is to see their transports safely unloaded at Chemulpo and Fusan (this will be proven in the final results), with the main danger being the Russian Pacific Fleet – hence the surprise attack! Admiral Togo’s battle squadron will launch a follow-up attack aiming to sink any grounded enemy battleships off Port Arthur, while Admiral Kamimura’s armoured cruiser squadron will ensure the safety of the Chemulpo invasion force by intercepting the two Russian warships in port there. The ships at Maizuru will split into three: the transports heading to Fusan; a close escort; and a task force designed to patrol the seas off the eastern coasts of Korea and the Korean and Tsushima Straits in case the Russian cruisers based at Vladivostok look to intervene. The Russian plan is to send the three undamaged battleships along with the Tsesarevitch to attack the transports unloading at Chemulpo (the Petropavlovsk & Poltava being too heavily damaged to risk), but it will take some time to move ships in & out of the harbour at Port Arthur. The ships at Chemulpo and Shanghai are to try to make it back to Russian ports, while the four cruisers at Vladivostok that have the range will seek to bombard Japanese ports in Korea and on Tsushima and hopefully try to hit the transports at Fusan before thy unload.

Operations do not go to plan for the Japanese. Kamimura’s cruisers fail to contact the Russians at Chemulpo at night (lost them in the darkness among the various channels leading from the port?) but Togo’s battle squadron does come into combat with the Russians at Port Arthur. However the Russian destroyers and torpedo-boats attack, seeking to protect the immobilised battleships, and they damage Togo’s flagship Mikasa causing flooding; as a result of the Japanese damage control die roll the Mikasa suddenly capsizes (32 VPs for the Russians) and Togo is drowned along with Captain Hikojiro & most of the ship’s 836 crew. [Note: under Karl’s rules, what happens when a flagship is lost? Does the entire fleet roll on the Command & Control table?] This costs the Russians 3xDD and 9xTB sunk. Assuming fleet command in response Vice Admiral Dewa Shigeto orders his 8xTB to attack the immobilised ships in the roadstead, but all are sunk by the coastal batteries and Russian cruisers without inflicting further damage. In the gunnery action that follows, the Russians suffer damage to the Sevastopol (1 hull hit & flooding) and light damage to Retvizan, while the Japanese incur self-inflicted damage through a number of mis-fires but more seriously Hatsuse suffers 2 hull hits and flooding. As a result the Japanese withdraw while the Russians take even longer to reorganise their battle squadron and move damaged ships into harbour.

As the Variag & Korietz seek to escape the confines of Chemulpo they finally run into Kamimura’s armoured cruisers and the Japanese transports & escort. In an uneven battle Variag is sunk by torpedoes but appalling accuracy of Japanese gunfire prolongs Korietz’s life until the gallant gunboat finally goes down with the Russian ensign still flying. The Japanese lose 1 destroyer, but a lack of fleet markers will result in her two companions being interned at Wei-Hai-Wei (to allow the ships at Maizuru to organise).

Dewa’s remaining battleships merge with Kamimura’s cruisers, now released from Chemulpo, and with the damaged Hatsuse detached to port, they run into the Russian battleships under Vice Admiral Stark that have emerged from Port Arthur. The night Battle of the Yellow Sea will be fought between the following: -
IJN: 4xB (flagship Asahi); 5xAC; 4xDD.
IRN: 4xB (flagship Retvizan); 1xAC; 3xC; 13xDD.
The Imperial Russian Navy’s advantage in destroyers is illusory, as none have had the time to enter port and rearm following their action at Port Arthur, and Stark will quickly order them out of the battle as they have no gunnery strength to defend the battle line.

In the gunnery action that follows the Japanese advantages in training and ammunition (reflected in the hit table with more duds fired by the Russians) are offset by the number of mis-fires – indeed Kamimura’s armoured cruisers have 5 gunnery boxes destroyed through their own faulty ammo. The lead Russian ships Retvizan & Pobieda both suffer fires that result in failing Command & Control die rolls, while the same fate affects Dewa’s new flagship Asahi. [Note: when a flagship suffers a C&C failure I assume all ships will continue to follow if possible.] Retvizan & the cruiser Pallada are both sunk through failed damage control die rolls – Retvizan capsizing due to flooding, so losing Stark (not a great loss!) along with almost her entire complement of 750 – while Asahi is left crippled, dead in the water after 4 hull hits and has to counter-flood to prevent the same fate. This highlights the vulnerability of flagships when leading the line of battle, and the head of the line invariably draws more fire. The overall losses and damage inflicted was as follows: -
Imperial Russian Navy
Sunk: 1xB (Retvizan = 30 VPs); 2xC (Diana & Pallada);
Damaged: 1xB (Peresviet – flooding and out of ammunition);
Light Damage: 1xB (Pobieda); 1xAC (Bayan); 1xC (Askold).
Imperial Japanese Navy
Heavy Damage: 1xB (Asahi); 1xAC (Idzumo);
Damaged: 1xAC (Yakumo);
Light Damage: 3xB (Yashima, Fuji & Shikishima); 1xAC (Iwate).

The Japanese, having achieved their objective of intercepting the Russian fleet’s move towards Chemulpo, sets sail for that port in order to repair some of the damage. [Note: I assume damaged guns can be repaired during 6 turns – 1 day – in port, but that destroyed guns and hull boxes cannot.] Their transports complete their unloading at Chemulpo (60 VPs) while those at Fusan commence unloading. The escort force of AC Asama & 5 cruisers under Rear Admiral Uryu head for the seas off Fusan to add protection for these vulnerable transports. The Russians withdraw back to Port Arthur, but lose the Peresviet in the morning when she founders (21 VPs). This loss is more than offset when the Asahi also founders at dawn (32 VPs).

Meanwhile the Vladivostok Cruiser Squadron (Rear Admiral Karl Jessen) run into Japanese patrols from the Third Squadron at the entrance to the Sea of Japan. At first there is a stern chase, but the Russians turn to face the enemy cruisers & gunboats, sinking 1 Japanese cruiser. The Japanese commander calls off the chase, an act for which he will later commit seppuku, and the Russians bombard the port of Takishiki on Tsushima.

The Russian cruisers are now looking to slip through the Japanese patrols and catch the transports in Fusan, but they are intercepted by Asama & her consorts from the northwest and assorted cruisers sallying from Fusan from the northeast. In the Battle of the Korean Straits Asama quickly suffers a jammed rudder and the Japanese will eventually lose another 2 cruisers, but Rossiya suffers flooding and – as seems almost inevitable – capsizes when suffering a second such hit on her port side. With another flagship sunk – leitmotiv of the game? - the remaining Russian cruisers escape due to confusion in the Japanese line and head back for Vladivostok, the damaged Gromoboi suffering more hull damage as the result of a storm, but she makes it back safely. In the final moves of the game the Japanese battleships bombard the minor port of Takushan, where the GB Sivuch, having made it all the way from Shanghai, beaches herself.

The final result in Victory Point terms is a victory for the Japanese by 219.25 to 148. Those gained through sinking & damaging enemy ships are remarkably equal (144.25 vs. 145) but the difference is the VPs earned by the Japanese for unloading their transports. So the Russian aim has to be to prevent these transports from achieving their objectives – the VP difference will not be made up by sinking merchant ships or bombarding enemy ports. So, despite any losses suffered in the opening surprise attack, the Russians must risk their battleships to disrupt landings at Chemulpo, and also throw in the Vladivostok squadron for a back-up of attacking the transports at Fusan. It is possible that in battle the Russians could inflict a heavy defeat on the Japanese that would reduce the need to attack the transports – and in which event the transports would be more exposed to attack – but the hit tables are biased against them; the results of this game perhaps being far kinder on the Tsar’s navy than expected. For the Japanese they must intercept and – if possible – destroy the Russian fleet as a fighting force as well as fending off the Russian cruisers from the frozen north.

Interesting to note that, using Karl’s rules, a ship that suffers flooding is in terrible danger of being lost, especially if also suffering adverse damage control die roll modifiers as a result of fires.

An enjoyable operational scenario with the fleets surprisingly well matched!

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