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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors
Enhancements for Battle Scenario 5, Leyte Gulf
Pat McCormick
January 2008

The epic October 25, 1944, battle off Samar, between the David of Clifton "Ziggy" Sprague’s Taffy Three and the Goliath of Takeo Kurita’s Center Force, was no ordinary naval battle (by World War Two standards or any other.) It comes down to us through published accounts as a chaotic, confused melange of elements: carrier aircraft making strafing runs, “dry” bombing/torpedo runs, or attacking armored ships with fragmentation bombs; destroyers and destroyer escorts laying smoke screens before charging point-blank into the maw of heavy weaponry to launch their fish and hammer the enemy’s upper works with 5-inch gunfire; escort carriers desperately careening through multicolored geysers of seawater raised by enemy shells, seeking out rain squalls for temporary cover; Japanese battleships, cruisers and destroyers violently maneuvering to avoid real or perceived threats from above while doggedly pursuing the fleeing Americans.

American survivors are pulled from the water after the Battle of Samar.

This rules set spices up Battle Scenario Five of Second World War at Sea: Leyte Gulf by adding all of these elements — well, all except the colored shell splashes, for which you’ll have to rely upon your imagination. It also serves to give the beleaguered warriors of Taffy Three a fighting chance against the tyranny of the dice, giving the Allied player incentive to close with the enemy. The Japanese player will find the scenario far more challenging than before, as ships fall behind due to air harassment while combat dice are slashed by smoke and other factors, but he/she should still be able to keep the pressure on, and the fleeing jeep carriers in visual (if not always in gunfire) range. And the randomness of aircraft and squalls plus the increased flexibility of Taffy Three ensure a high re-playability factor.

Unless overridden by these rules, all game and scenario rules remain in effect.

Click here to download Taffy charts.

Setup Changes

Lineup adjustment: CA Myoko was not actually present, so remove her from the Japanese forces (unless you wish to investigate what-ifs, of course.)

Japanese light ship doctrine: For most if not all of the Pacific War, it was standard Imperial Japanese Navy tactical doctrine to use their light cruisers (which were, for all practical purposes, oversized destroyers) to head destroyer squadrons, and operate these formations separately from the capital ships.

The DDs and CLs set up in two groups, each group containing a CL and 5 or 6 DDs.

Light ships to the rear: One of Kurita’s more puzzling decisions was to order the light ships, which would usually lead an attack, to the rear at the outset of battle. The light ship groups thus set up in any hexes from Z14-Z17 (this also avoids potential over-stacking in D11-13 due to the imposed “doctrine” grouping.)

The last thing they expected: Secure in the mistaken belief that Kurita was nowhere near, Taffy Three was caught in standard cruising formation. The 6 CVEs start in D3, the DEs split evenly between D2 and D4, and the DDs split 2/1 in the DE hexes.

Due to the increased group flexibility and special considerations for DE Samuel B. Roberts contained in this rule set, the Allied player should use four separate counters for his DEs.

The Airmen of Taffy Three (and Two, and even some of One)

Battleship Yamato and a heavy cruiser under air attack off Samar, 25 October 1944.

At the beginning of each combat round, just prior to the first movement impulse, add an Air Attack phase. In each Air Attack phase the Allied player will have six full-strength (2-step) counters available. The exact composition is determined randomly as detailed below.

Each counter is then assigned to attack an individual enemy ship of the Allied player’s choice (ships initially deployed silhouette-side up remain so during the first-round air attack). No more than one counter may be assigned to a ship. AA is resolved normally, except only ships under attack may fire, and only at the unit attacking them. Then any loaded TBMs launch their bombs, with the modifications below. Finally, all targeted ships are checked to see if the air attacks have disrupted their efforts against Taffy Three.
Mixed bag: The Allied player rolls six dice. A 1 or 2 deploys an FM-2 counter. A 3 or 4 deploys a TBM counter with no ordnance, and thus with an attack strength of 0. A 5 or 6 deploys a loaded TBM unit.

Bringing a knife to a gunfight: Few if any of the Taffy aircraft had anti-ship ordnance. Their missions were usually ground attack and anti-submarine patrols. The relatively few bombers able to scramble from their ships with full bomb bays faced Kurita’s heavies armed with fragmentation bombs and even depth charges.

Armed TBMs have their naval strike capability reduced. The attack strength is not considered circled and thus does not receive that +1 modification, and any hits are resolved as tertiary rather than primary hits (in all aspects; thus no armor penetration).

Hard-a-port!: After all AA and bombing attacks are resolved, the Allied player rolls one die for each surviving air unit’s “evasion” effect on its target. A 1 or 2 has no effect on the target ship. A 3, 4 or 5 drops its speed for by 1 for the current round, and it may not fire guns or torpedoes until Impulse 8. A 6 drops its speed by 2, and it may not fire until Impulse 12. Subtract one from the die roll if the attacker is an FM-2, if it was reduced by AA fire, or the target is a battleship. Add one if the target is a destroyer, or if the air unit made a bombing attack (regardless of whether any hits were obtained or not.) Modifiers are cumulative but the net modification can never be more than +1 or –1.

Speed loss resulting solely from air evasion may never drop the target ship’s speed below 1, and is only in effect for the current round. Ships slowed by evasion rolls may be separated from their groups before movement commences, and they may move in Impulse 2 if their (temporarily) reduced speed allows (that is, if reduced to 3 or 2.) In the rare event that a bomb hit causes speed loss — which should only be possible on a CL or DD since the bombs are treated as tertiary weaponry — handle per regular damage rules.


Lt. Cdr. Robert W. Copeland challenged the world's largest battleship with this tiny ship, USS Samuel B. Roberts.

The unique nature of this fight requires some unique “rules of engagement.” These universally favor the Allied player, and given the rank improbability of what happened historically, that’s as it should be. The Japanese player still has a solid chance at winning, probably still better than even, but he/she may have to work hard for it. Preponderance of strength, by itself, will not secure victory here.

The tactics of desperation: From the early moments of the battle, when DD Johnston peeled out of the group for a solitary run at the enemy, the Taffy Three escorts paid little attention to formations. Therefore, Allied DD’s and DE’s may split from their groups and still move in the same impulse.

Their bite was worse than their bark: The 5-inch mounts of the escorts inflicted a surprising level of damage on the upper works of several Japanese cruisers.

Allied ships receive an extra +1 to their gunnery dice rolls; this is cumulative with other modifiers, so in this case a +2, rather than a +1, is the maximum positive modifier. (This may seem drastic, but the light ships don’t tend to last too long in tertiary range of the big boys, so there is great risk tied to this reward).

Trying to swat flies with a sledgehammer: The majority, by far, of gunnery damage to Taffy Three was inflicted by 8” or smaller weaponry. The main armament of the dreadnoughts had difficulty hitting the swarming lightweights.

Primary gunnery directed against DDs or DEs has the number of dice thrown halved, cumulative with other modifications. (Exception: Yamato is penalized more severely, see below.)

The big flop: It is no small irony that, in her only chance to do what she was designed for — engage enemy surface vessels — the largest battleship ever built came up empty. Yamato registered no known hits with her 18” shells, then took herself entirely out of the fight early on after turning away to dodge torpedoes.

Therefore consider Yamato's primary gunnery quartered against all targets; this is cumulative with any other dice reduction. In addition, if she is the target of a torpedo attack, roll one die; on a “1” her captain has decided that discretion is the better part of valor and has taken her out of the fight, and she is immediately removed from play. Subtract 1 from the roll if she sustains any hits from the attack in question.

(Yes, it seems a damn shame to humble this great ship, with her eye-popping gunnery numbers. But she has plenty of other battle scenarios in which to demonstrate her awesome prowess.)

Lucky ships: Two of the bold Taffy ships, in particular, seemed to live charmed lives at first, while CVE Fanshaw Bay somehow took fifteen hits from 8” cruiser shells without sinking.

For the first round only, roll one die for each hit of any type taken by DD Johnston and DE Samuel B. Roberts (for the latter, simply designate one of the four DE counters as the Sammy B.) On a 6 the hit stands, otherwise it is “no effect.”

For Fanshaw Bay, ignore any positive dice modifications when she is a target — she can only be hit on a natural 6.


Smoke on the water: One of the first actions by the Taffy Three escorts was to generate smoke screens. Though far from all-obscuring, the smoke did make things tough on Kurita’s gunners.

In each movement impulse, any CL, DD or DE can generate a smokescreen in its own hex and any hex it moves into.  (This includes the Japanese, though it is hard to imagine there being any reason for it in their case.) The smoke remains in place through the immediately following gunnery and torpedo rounds, and is then removed. Smoke can be generated even in impulses in which a smoke-eligible ship does not move; in that case, only the ship’s own hex contains smoke. (Thus the DDs and DEs of Taffy Three will usually occupy smoke hexes as long as they can stay afloat.)

Gunnery and torpedo dice directed into or through a smoke hex are halved (as always, cumulative with other factors.) In addition, fire of any kind can only sight through one smoke hex and into a second; any line of fire passing through two smoke hexes is considered blocked. Fire passing through one smoke hex and into another is still only halved, not quartered.

Smoke is not taken into account when determining ranges for exiting; as long as a ship is six or less hexes away from the nearest enemy, it is still considered in “visual” range even if there are two intervening smoke hexes.

Let it Rain: Rain squalls provided temporary cover for both the jeep carriers and their escorts. The escorts already have smoke benefits, so to relax the wristage a little and give the already-hampered Japanese player a break, squalls are only available to the CVE’s.

At the start of each gunnery round, roll one die for each hex containing a CVE: a 5 or 6 will place a squall marker in the hex. Fire may not be directed into or out of a Squall hex, and a Squall hex blocks LOS (except, again, for exiting purposes.)

Keeping Track: Counters from other games (for example, smoke counters from Panzer Grenadier) can be used for environmental status, or you can make your own. I’ve found coins to be an effective solution as well; pennies call to mind the thick, dark smoke generated by the destroyers, while quarters (especially tarnished ones) at least faintly resemble storm clouds — with their own built-in silver lining!

Click here to download smoke markers.

Thanks: A pause here to give credit where credit is due. The smoke rules were adapted from the GWAS Dreadnought Tactical Rules, and the optional SWWAS Radar rules helped me clarify my squall concept.

Kurita's Concerns

As a counterbalance to the hordes of Allied-friendly special rules, the Japanese are guaranteed at least two rounds of combat and a better than even chance at 3. Do not roll for Kurita’s abandonment of the chase until the end of Round 2. At that point, a 1 or 2 will result in the Center Force turning tail. Should the fight continue into a third round, a 1-4 at the end of that round will end the contest.

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