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Strategy in 'East of Suez'
Operational Scenario 2:
'Operation TRANSOM,' Part 1

By Doug McNair
July 2007

With our Great War at Sea: Zeppelins supplement now shipping to customers and Origins 2007 a pleasant memory, I’ve finally got a chance to remedy the long drought of strategy articles on our Second World War at Sea series.

East of Suez, our most recent SWWAS product, adds a full sheet of real and never-built ships to the SWWAS counter mix, and includes dozens of historical and alternate-history scenarios focused on Britain and Holland’s attempts to preserve their influence (and empires) in the Far East.

Today I’ll begin with one of the historical scenarios, OPERATION TRANSOM. In it, a joint British-American carrier force that had been training together in the Indian Ocean mounted a long-range raid against Japanese-occupied bases on Java. After the raid the U.S. Carrier Saratoga was to return to the American zone of operations under British escort. Japanese surface forces in the area were sparse (the majority of the Imperial Japanese Navy being deployed to the east to deal with the Americans), but the combined force needed to travel a long way to reach its destination. There was ample opportunity for Japanese submarine and land-based air forces to hit and disable a few key Allied vessels, then vector-in Japanese naval forces for the kill.

Player Objectives

The scenario is 100 turns long (just over 16 days). To win, the Allied player must score at least 40 victory points and score more VPs than the Japanese player. The Allied player gets 8 VPs for each bombing or bombardment hit he scores on the main Japanese base on Java at Soerabaja, and 6 VPs for each hit scored on other bases within 7 zones of there. The Japanese player scores the full VP value of each unsunk Allied ship that is not in the American-held island port of Manus at the end of play. Players score normal VPs for eliminating and damaging each other’s forces.

Allied Strategy

Given the fact that the Allied force starts the game with two fuel boxes already burned and has to traverse the entire length of the Java map to reach its destination, hitting the Japanese bases quickly to rack up the needed 40 VPs is crucial. If the Allies stick around Java too long, there’s a chance that some of their ships may either run out of fuel before reaching Manus, or may have to slow down so much to conserve fuel that the Japanese Reaction Force coming in from off-board may catch them.

The Allied player has two carriers with powerful air units, but only the American SBD-5 Dauntless dive-bombers off Saratoga have a decent chance of scoring more hits against Japanese bases than Allied air units will take from Japanese CAP and anti-aircraft fire. The Japanese score 6 VPs for each Allied air step eliminated, so the Allies can’t rely solely on airstrikes to get them a VP edge on the Japanese.

Allied battleships will have to make a quick run under cover of darkness to bombard one or more coastal Java bases at night, then run like hell and hope they don’t get torpedoed from the air. Those battleships will need air cover so a carrier will have to go with them, and only Allied ships with higher fuel capacities will be able to mount such a lightning operation and still make it to Manus afterward.

So, the Allies will need to split their forces, with the British carrier Illustrious escorting the bombarding battleships while Saratoga (which starts the game with only 11 fuel boxes remaining) hits one of the easternmost Japanese bases from the air and then starts the long, slow voyage to Manus with lots of destroyers escorting her as far as they can before their fuel runs low. Allied subs should screen the northern reaches of the Java Sea against incursion by Japanese surface forces intent on picking-off Allied stragglers.

Japanese Strategy

With most of their forces committed elsewhere, the Japanese will have to pick their battles very carefully. They’ve got substantial land-based air forces on Java, but most of their fighters are outclassed by their Allied counterparts.

The Japanese start with just a small on-map patrol force of one light cruiser and two destroyers. But each time they spot an Allied capital ship or carrier, or a Japanese base gets hit by an Allied airstrike or bombardment, they can roll to see if the Japanese Reaction Force enters the map. The Reaction Force consists of the carriers Zuikaku and Zhuiho plus heavy escort, so the Japanese player wants to commit lots of airpower to air search early so he can make many Reaction Force entry dierolls and bring them in ASAP.

But once it enters play, the Reaction Force still can’t afford to be too aggressive. It needs to hang back and let Japanese anti-aircraft fire, land-based air and submarines wear down Allied carrier strength. That way, when the Japanese carriers finally hit the Allies they’ll have numerical air superiority to compensate for the Allies’ qualitative superiority.

The Japanese carriers should also be satisfied with a few quick kills and then beat a retreat to avoid a crippling counterattack by Allied air or sub units. Either they or other Japanese ships can then hang back and perhaps make a late run against any disabled Allied ships that can’t keep up with the Allied fleets making for Manus. Or, they can leave that to Japanese subs if the Allies are able to do a good job of keeping their fleets together.

Game Summary

With that, here begins a turn-by-turn replay of the OPERATION TRANSOM scenario:

Japanese Setup

The bases the Japanese have to cover against Allied attacks are strung out all along Java and adjoining islands, and there is no central airbase from which fighters on CAP can cover all the bases. So, they start with fighters at Djakarta, Soerabaja, Bali and Soembawa, and concentrate their search and strike planes at the major airbase at Soerabaja (to give them maximum CAP and AA cover) and Soembawa (the easternmost base, which will have the best chance of being within strike range of the Allied fleets for as long as possible). They deploy one sub flotilla of 3 x I Boats four zones southwest of Bali, and the other flotilla of 2 x I Boats in the straits west of New Guinea, ready to intercept Allied fleets heading for Manus. Their small on-map patrol force starts on the north board edge in the Karinata Strait.

Allied Setup

The Allies can setup their task forces anywhere within five zones of zone BO-8 in the Indian Ocean. So, they split their forces into two carrier groups, with one led by Illustrious setting-up in zone BJ-7 so that it can stay as far away as possible from the central Java airfields while making a bombardment run on the westernmost Japanese base at Djakarta. The other carrier group, led by Saratoga, sets up in zone B0-13 so its dive-bombers can hit the easternmost bases at Bali or Soembawa and then make for port at Manus. The Allies deploy their two submarine flotillas in the Java Sea west of Borneo, ready to intercept all Japanese naval forces entering the map.

Day 1: May 15, 1944

The at-start weather on both halves of the map is Clear.

Turn 1

In the Air Patrol Phase, the Japanese put-up six steps of long-range recon aircraft on Search missions, and three seaplane steps up on ASW patrol. They fly CAP over most of their bases, and leave torpedo planes and dive bombers in the Ready boxes. Illustrious puts three Corsair steps up on CAP and two Barracuda steps up on ASW patrol, and leaves the rest of her planes in the Ready box so she can launch diversionary strikes against the western bases on Java and draw Japanese air units away from the main air effort to the east. Saratoga puts three steps of F6F-3 Hellcats up on CAP, three steps of TBDs on ASW patrol, and leaves the rest of her planes in the Ready box to hit the eastern Japanese bases.

In the Air Search Phase, Japanese search aircraft fail to spot Illustrious’ group but do spot Saratoga’s group (the CAP from Saratoga fail to intercept the Japanese search aircraft). The Allied player rolls an 11 on the Air Search Results table, meaning he has to report that the group has 18 ships and contains battleships. The latter triggers a Japanese Reaction Force entry roll, but the roll of 3 means the Reaction Force is not called-in yet. Neither side’s ASW aircraft contact any subs.

In the Air Mission Assignment Phase, the Japanese planes in the Ready box at the easternmost base of Soembawa get a Naval Strike mission against Saratoga’s group. Both carrier task forces give Land Strike missions to all available planes, with a small diversionary strike off Illustrious plotted to hit Djakarta, and Saratoga’s main strike plotted to hit Bali.

In the Naval Movement Phase, the Japanese patrol force moves south at maximum speed, knowing the waters its in are almost certainly sub-infested. It moves three zones southwest, luckily staying outside the search range of the British T-boats but entering the range of the two Shark boats of the eastern flotilla.

The first sub fails to contact the task force, but the second rolls a natural 12 and can attack any of the three Japanese ships. The Japanese player reports that the task force has three light ships, and then rolls a 6 on his ASW roll and drives the sub off with no losses to either side. Both Allied carrier task forces move two zones northeast, and they don’t enter the search range of the Japanese subs southwest of Bali.

There is no surface combat, so the airstrikes go in. The Japanese send two steps of torpedo planes escorted by two steps of fighters out of Soembawa to hit Saratoga, and they roll a 5 and locate the carrier group. The American CAP only rolls a 2 to intercept the airstike, but due to the Improved Radar rule for Pacific actions taking place in 1944 or later (24.43), they get a +1 bonus and just barely intercept the Japanese strike on a modified result of 3.

Saratoga’s three steps of Hellcats on CAP tangle with one step each of Oscars and Tojos escorting the Japanese torpedo bombers. They splash the Oscars (6 Allied VPs), but the Ki44s survive. However, the Hellcats take no hits from the Japanese fighters and blaze through to attack the torpedo planes, with a full two-step Hellcat counter attacking the relatively tough Peggies and a one-step Hellcat counter attacking the Jills.

They miss the Peggies, who hit back hard with defensive fire and kill a Hellcat step (6 Japanese VPs), but the Hellcats kill the Jills (6 Allied VPs). One step each of Tojos and Peggies get through American CAP to hit the task force, but the hail of British ack-ack around Saratoga is so thick (13 dice worth) that there’s no way they’d get through. So, hoping to disable a British capital ship and let the subs in the area sink it later, the Japanese hit the British battleship Valiant on Saratoga’s left flank.

That lets the Allies roll just eight AA dice, not enough on average to stop the attack since the Tojos are flying in ahead of the Peggies to soak up AA. The Allies roll their eight dice and score one hit, killing the Tojo fighters (6 Allied VPs) but leaving the Peggies alive to loose their torpedoes at Valiant. They do — and roll a one and two sixes! That’s two hits, and since Japanese air-launched torpedoes get a +1 bonus on the damage roll this could be ugly.

The Japanese player rolls a modified 6 and a 10 for damage, doing 6 Hull and 2 Tertiary boxes on Valiant (18 Japanese VPs). That’s just barely less than half her hull boxes, so she does not lose speed and can keep up with the carrier group. The Japanese will have to hit her again if they’re going to turn her into a straggler vulnerable to subs.

Then Illustrious sends two steps each of Corsairs and Avengers to hit Djakarta airbase. No location dieroll is necessary, and they catch the Japanese CAP there napping (they roll a 2 for interception, and since they don’t have an improved radar bonus, the British planes get through unmolested). Japanese AA rolls a 1 and a 2 and is similarly ineffective, and the British aircraft roll four dice and score one bombing hit on the base (6 Allied VPs). There are no aircraft on the ground there so no Japanese units are destroyed, and the Japanese attempt and fail the roll to call in the Reaction Force.

Finally, Saratoga sends four steps of SBD-5 Dauntless dive bombers escorted by two Hellcat steps against Bali. Japanese CAP is once again caught unawares on an intercept roll of 2, but Japanese AA scores one hit, which the Hellcats soak up (one Hellcat step lost for 6 Japanese VPs).

The dive-bombers go in — and roll four hits on six dice! That scores 24 Allied VPs and does one point of damage to the airfield at Bali, reducing the base’s capacity by one. Once again there are no Japanese aircraft on the ground there (they’re all up on CAP, though you wouldn’t know it), and the Japanese Reaction Force entry dieroll fails once again.

No special operations take place this phase, so the strike aircraft return to base, and the rather eventful first turn ends with the score Japan: 30 to Allies: 48.

Turn 2

It’s getting into typhoon season so the weather changes on rolls of 1, 2, 5 or 6, and the weather on the west side of the Java map (where play is currently taking place) turns Cloudy. That will make it slightly harder for Japanese air units to locate Allied task forces.

Sure enough, Japanese search planes lose contact with Saratoga’s task force, and the seaplanes on ASW patrol land since they have no chance of locating subs at long range in cloudy weather. Allied ASW planes don’t find any Japanese subs, but they stay in the air in case their fleets get hit by sub attack.

Having seen what Saratoga’s dive-bombers can do, the Japanese decide to move all the air-power they can in her direction. Several Japanese aircraft get Transfer missions to bases from where they’ll be able to hit Saratoga later, and some CAP aircraft land so they’ll be able to escort the attack aircraft next turn. This isn’t that risky a move, since half of Saratoga’s strike aircraft are still in the Hangar box and she won’t be able to launch a full-strength airstrike until next turn.

Illustrious’ task force moves two zones north toward Djakarta, and Saratoga moves two zones east-northeast toward Soembawa and the Sape Strait — an aggressive move that gets her farther into Japanese air unit range, but it’s also the quickest route to Manus. That still puts her outside the search range of the closest Japanese sub flotilla, and the Japanese subs close the range but cut behind Saratoga’s group and likely won’t be able to keep up with her.

As for the Japanese Patrol Force, they run two zones south to try and get away from the British subs and then one zone east to try and keep outside Illustrious’ air unit range. Unfortunately, that keeps them squarely inside the patrol zone of the two Shark boats, but both of them roll 7s and fail to contact the Japanese. The Allied sub flotillas both move south, with the Shark boats moving to within one zone of the Japanese fleet.

Once again there is no surface combat, and Saratoga keeps her planes at home so she can send out a full-strength strike next turn, but Illustrious sends two steps of Corsairs out again to harass Djakarta. Once again Japanese CAP roll a 2 and fail to intercept, and Japanese AA roll a 2 and a 3 and miss the attacking planes. But the Corsairs roll a 1 and a 2 and score no hits on the airfield, and once again the Reaction Force can’t be bothered.

All aircraft move out of Hangar boxes to ready boxes and returning aircraft do the same, so play proceeds to . . .

Turn 3

The weather dice come up 6 for both sides of the map, so the weather turns to Rain in the west and Cloudy in the east. The Japanese will have to put every possible aircraft up on Search if they want to have a chance of spotting an Allied fleet this turn (they need to do that so they can make another Reaction Force entry dieroll).

Allied carriers will also have it rough, since they now have a risk of losing aircraft on takeoff and landing dierolls. Allied CAP and ASW aircraft will have to land on their carriers anyway at the end of the turn since the next turn is a night turn, so that’s a problem right there.

The Japanese put up all their seaplanes on Search for 7 steps total out of Soerabaja and the maximum +3 bonus…but they roll two 5s and just barely miss spotting both Illustrious and Saratoga. Since bombing attacks on bases get a -1 dieroll modifier in the rain and any Strike aircraft launched will have two chances each to die on bad takeoff/landing dierolls, the Allies decide to send their planes below-decks for the evening.

The Japanese Patrol Force heads three zones due south toward the Java coast, and one of the Shark boats makes contact but can’t get a firing solution before they steam out of search range. Illustrious and the bombardment group keep heading straight for Djakarta, and Saratoga’s group keeps heading for the Sape Strait, keeping just barely outside Japanese sub search range.

There are no airstrikes, so Allied carrier aircraft must land since night is approaching. No air unit rolls a 1 when landing, so they all land safely and go in the hangar for the night.

Turn 4

The weather just gets worse, turning to Squall in the west and Rain in the east. Everybody battens down as the Japanese patrol force makes for port at Soerabaja and their first sub flotilla turns northwest to try to pick up Illustrious whenever she decides to stop raiding the Java coast.

One Allied sub flotilla stays put up north to wait for the Reaction Force (should they ever deign to arrive), while the Shark boats head south to follow the Japanese patrol force. Illustrious keeps heading for Djakarta while Saratoga heads due east for the strait.

Turn 5

The weather stays squally in the west but improves to Cloudy in the east, and Illustrious and the bombardment group reach Djakarta while Saratoga reaches the Sape Strait. The Japanese patrol force makes port at Soerabaja.

Turn 6

The weather gets worse again on the whole map, turning Stormy in the west and Rainy in the east. That will prevent the bombardment group with Illustrious from firing anything but Primary guns, thus reducing the number of hits they’ll score on Djakarta’s airfield.

But first Saratoga moves east through the straits, the Japanese patrol force refuels, and the Japanese sub flotilla moves north while the British T boats move west toward the Soenda Strait in case the Reaction Force goes there to try and catch Illustrious.

Then the French battleship Richelieu and the British battlecruiser Renown fire a combined total of 17 Primaries at Djakarta airfield, scoring eight hits for 48 VPs and killing a Japanese aircraft step on the ground there for another 6 VPs. That also does 2 points of damage to the airfield itself, reducing its capacity and making takeoff and landing dierolls harder.

This FINALLY gets the attention of the Imperial Japanese Fleet, which releases the Reaction Force for action (it will arrive on the board in six turns).

So at the end of Day 1, the score is Japan: 30 to Allies: 102. The bombardment of Djakarta gave the Allies all the VPs they need to win, and Saratoga’s group has gotten a good jump on the late-arriving Reaction Force by heading through the Sape Strait (the bad weather will be a big help to their efforts to get away clean).

But Illustrious is now right up against the Java coast, and if the weather clears she’ll be vulnerable to airstrikes from the entire Japanese airforce on Java. And all the Allied ships have burned a lot of fuel to reach their current positions quickly, so eventually they’ll need to start slowing down, and that will give the Reaction Force the chance to dash in for a strike on one of the carrier groups. And there are still plenty of Japanese subs lurking out there as well.

Can the Allies shake the Japanese and make it to Manus ahead of the Reaction Force, or will Japanese airstrikes force them to turn and fight the Reaction Force to avoid losing on VPs? Tune in next time and find out!

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