Jun 4, 2015

Naval War AAR: Norway 1940

Last saturday, I've been able to play another playtest game for my Naval War rules. My opponent has been very kind to write a very nice battle-report of the encounter; Enjoy!

* My apologies for the fuzzy pictures, but the lighting was pretty poor for taking pictures.

5 April 1940
Saltfjord, Norway

During the preparation for the assault on Narvik, the Kriegsmarine high command receive reports that the British carrier HMS Glorious has been sighted making emergency repairs at Bodø. Hoping to catch the ship defenseless and strike a decisive blow, Raeder dispatches Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz’s I Kreuzergruppe to the area. His forces comprise three squadrons:

Admiral Hipper (Hipper-class heavy cruiser)
Blücher (Hipper-class heavy cruiser)
Lützow (Deutschland-class heavy cruiser)

Z21 Wilhelm Heidkamp (Zerstörer 1936)
Z10 Hans Lody (Zerstörer 1934)
Z11 Bernd von Arnim (Zerstörer 1934)
Z12 Erich Giese (Zerstörer 1934)

Albatros (Typ 23 Torpedoboot)
Möwe (Typ 23 Torpedoboot)

Upon arrival at the Saltfjorden, however, it becomes apparent that the situation is much less favourable than anticipated. Glorious is nowhere to be seen, and instead a Royal Navy cruiser division emerges from the fog:

HMS Devonshire (London-class heavy cruiser)
HMS Berwick (Kent-class heavy cruiser)
HMS Sheffield (Southampton-class light cruiser)
HMS Galatea (Arethusa-class light cruiser)

HMS Janus (J-class destroyer)
HMS Javelin (J-class destroyer)
HMS Codrington (A-class destroyer)

Although the German cruisers, and especially the pocket battleship Lützow, theoretically outgun their British counterparts, this advantage is soon rendered moot: a large squall is drifting West out of the fjord, between the Bliksvær and Nordarnøya islands, and hides the fleets from each other before they can exchange fire. Only HMS Sheffield can be seen by the heavy cruisers and, with poor visibility and rough seas, the opening salvoes all miss their mark...

Meanwhile, the Torpedoboote advance toward Bliksvær at flank speed, hoping to reach its protection before losing the squall’s cover. However, a brief clearing in the storm allows Sheffield and Galatea to open fire on the small ships with their 6” guns, scoring hits that set Möwe ablaze and knock out one of Albatros’s turrets.

On the Southern side, both destroyer columns race toward Nordarnøya: the British leaving the cover of the Kjærvær, the Germans hugging the Sørarnøya coastline, both obscured from their enemies’ cruisers by the weather conditions. Berwick and Devonshire attempt to use their advanced radar to attack the lead Zerstörer through the squall, but are unable to obtain a firing solution.

As Sheffield, followed by Galatea, attempts to cut off the German cruisers and cross their T, an 8” salvo from Hipper tears through its hull and detonates one of the ship’s torpedo mounts. This results in a massive fire, which threatens to spread to vital areas of the ship. Unable to press the attack on the Torpedoboote, the light cruisers duck back into the squall.

Likewise, the Kreuzergruppe’s hopes to drive home this advantage are dashed when, without warning, a swarm of Swordfish descend on them from the clouds - the Glorious strikes! Even with assistance from the Albatros and Möwe, the cruisers’ anti-aircraft batteries are insufficient to repel the massed attack, and both Hipper and Blücher are hit by aerial torpedoes, suffering substantial -though not critical- damage. And there is no respite for the three cruisers: scarcely have the flames been put out when 8” shells from the Devonshire and Berwick begin landing nearby, despite the almost total lack of visibility. The superior British radar fire control is demonstrated when a shell directly impacts Hipper's Bruno barbette, setting off an explosion in the ammunition storage which obliterates the flagship in a matter of seconds.

Though shaken, the Kriegsmarine squadrons continue their push without delay: in the West, the Torpedoboote dash toward the still burning Sheffield and unleash two spreads of torpedoes, scoring three hits and sending the cruiser to the bottom.

In the South, the destroyer column led by Wilhelm Heidkamp zip across the bow of the British heavy cruisers, whose 8" guns are still trained on the Hipper's squadron, avoiding their broadside-mounted rapid-fire secondary guns long enough to get in position for a cross-comb torpedo attack on the formation. The Royal Navy destroyers concentrate fire on the Heidkamp, completely razing its superstructure... but not before the first spread is let loose. Z10 and Z11 quickly follow suit, and chaos ensues as the Devonshire is torn asunder by two explosions and a hail of 5" shells.

A second wave of Swordfish swoop down on the Blücher and Lutzow. This time, though, the German cruisers are prepared, and most of the aircraft are driven off or shot down. Nevertheless, a torpedo strikes Blücher's bow, causing considerable flooding and knocking out her Anton turret. Moments later, she is again steaming at full speed toward Bliksvær, her remaining turrets firing on the distant enemy cruisers.

HMS Galatea emerges on the East side of the squall to rejoin Berwick, only to find herself in the path of two more torpedo spreads fired by Z12, and straddled by accurate long-range fire by Blücher and Lutzow. Desperate evasive maneuvers save the ship, but she is forced to break off the engagement - as is the lead destroyer Janus, her captain having been killed by a 5" shell hit to the bridge. Though the two remaining British destroyers put up a valiant fight against their German counterparts, Javelin soon takes a hit to her rangefinders which renders her return fire useless, and she quickly goes down in flames.

While this anarchic melee takes place, Albatros and Möwe, still carrying some torpedoes, finally reach the Bliksvær islands. As they circle around them, they soon sight their prize - the Glorious - on the North side, and relay the information to the nearby Lutzow. The British flagship, threatened by the approaching torpedo boats, a still-unscathed pocket battleship and the ever-present U-boat menace, has no choice but to order a general retreat.

Despite the tactical victory, however, the loss of Admiral Hipper and Wilhelm Heidkamp is a severe blow to the Kriegsmarine's invasion plans. Moreover, the Kreuzergruppe's failure to sink HMS Glorious demands the commitment of additional forces -including the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau- to secure the sea lanes. Grossadmiral Raeder is not pleased...

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