in 'U.S. Navy Plan Gold'
Scenario #1 —
French Invasion: Day 1
The Great War at Sea system goes
yet again where no one has gone before with
Navy Plan Gold, our game of potential
conflict between the U.S. and France in the
In the early part of the 20th century, the
U.S. Department of the Navy prepared war plans
to take on just about every potential opponent.
While Japan, Britain and Imperial Germany
rated the most comprehensive war plans, America’s
traditional ally France still merited consideration.
Her powerful navy could have posed a significant
threat to U.S. commercial interests in the
Caribbean should Franco-American relations
turn sour. Of particular concern were France’s
two naval bases at Port Louis and Fort de
France in the eastern Caribbean, which put
her in a unique position to threaten America’s
vital strategic asset in the region: the Panama
French military moves toward the canal would
be sure to provoke a powerful response from
the U.S. Navy. And while the firepower of
France’s battlefleet easily matched
that of America’s, French ships were
at a significant disadvantage in the area
of fuel capacity. This, combined with the
long distances between France’s naval
bases and the canal, made for significant
logistical issues when planning an invasion
of the isthmus.
Artist’s view of the Lexington-class
But a well-played ruse de guerre
can more than make up for technical deficiencies,
and the French could have easily used the
Americans’ canal obsession against them.
Sending forces against more than one U.S.
target simultaneously would have kept the
U.S. Navy off-balance, and possibly kept America
in the dark about the real target of French
expansionism until it was too late.
Operational Scenario #1, "French Invasion,"
lets players explore these possibilities to
the full. The French player has five objectives
to choose from, and achieving any three of
them gives him a victory:
- Capture Colon (aka the Panama Canal —
counts as two objectives).
- Score more victory points than the American
- Score at least 20 victory points on the
Merchant Location Table (each ship sunk
= 1 VP).
- Capture Ponce or St. Thomas (capturing
both does not count as two objectives).
- Bombard at least four Florida and/or
Florida Keys coastal zones with at least
three battleships or battle cruisers.
Each side must deal with these main strategic
issues when playing "French Invasion":
The French ships are quite limited in fuel
capacity relative to their American opponents.
This is particularly true of French destroyers,
which have only four fuel boxes each! These
pitifully small fuel tanks will effectively
strip most French fleets of their destroyer
escorts unless they plan to hug the South
American coast (where neutral ports offer
the possibility of refueling), or unless they
take the time to rendezvous with the few French
colliers on the board.
But the French need to launch their canal
invasion quickly to beat the bulk of the U.S.
battlefleet to the target, so they’ll
have to let some or all of their destroyers
peel off for the Venezuelan ports to refuel.
This will give American submarines a huge
opportunity to shoot up French transports
with little fear of retaliation, and if the
Americans can send blockaders down to the
Venezuelan refueling ports, the DDs may have
a hard time getting back to their charges.
Even more importantly, the American Wickes-
and Clemson-class destroyers carry
four deck-mounted torpedoes each. So if an
American fleet with lots of DDs encounters
a French invasion fleet with no destroyer
screen of its own, the French transports may
find themselves at the bottom very fast.
The American ports of Ponce and St. Thomas
are secondary invasion objectives for the
French. And while the bulk of the U.S. battlefleet
starts too far away to keep an invasion there
from starting, Ponce sports several squadrons
of torpedo bombers.
But the French land-based fighter wing is even
larger, with GL-22 aircraft whose range lets
them just barely escort French fleets all the
way from Port Louis to St. Thomas. This ready
air cover should be able to shepherd a French
invasion of St. Thomas to a successful conclusion
if the French player commits enough transports
to compensate for losses due to air attack.
The Americans will be able to launch at least
a few air attacks since their PW-5 fighters
out of Ponce will keep some of the French fighters
busy. But if the American fighter pilots give
a particularly good account of themselves, then
even an overwhelming number of French transports
may not survive an American combined sea-and-air
assault (not to mention the efforts of any stray
Multiple-ship counter: A division of
Wickes-class destroyers transits
the Panama Canal, 1919.
The French player can give raid missions
to one or two fleets. Those fleets can disappear
from the board and move secretly, reappearing
to search for American merchant ships. The
more ships the Americans must commit to searching
for raiders, the less opposition French invasion
fleets will encounter.
The French should commit all three of their
long-range light cruisers out of Port Louis
to raid missions. If they can perform successful
hit-and-run raids in the rich merchant lanes
near Colon, Florida and/or the straits between
Cuba and Haiti, they should be able to rack
up the 20 points needed to achieve a French
objective with no trouble.
The one fly in the ointment for them is American
submarines, which are also deployed off-board
and can wait until a raider starts sinking
ships nearby. They can then reveal themselves
and try to contact the raider. If successful,
they can attack with no fear of anti-submarine
defenses due to the severely restricted range
of the French destroyers (all of which run
on oil, meaning the French colliers do them
With that, here begins a turn-by-turn replay
of "French Invasion".
The bulk of the French forces start at the
major port of Fort de France. The French fast
and slow transports go into two separate fleets.
Five French battleships will escort the fast
transports to Colon — three in an Escort
fleet and another two in a bombardment fleet
that must hit the Colon coast prior to any
French transports unloading.
The remaining four French battleships will
escort the slow transports to St. Thomas —
two in an escort fleet and another two in
a bombardment fleet. Each escort fleet gets
a few light ships as well, but the majority
of the French destroyers go into a separate
fleet that will accompany the Colon invasion
force as far as Willemstand and then peel
off to refuel. They’ve got a two-thirds
chance of gaining entry at each neutral port,
so if Willemstad doesn’t let them in
they can still try Maracaibo and Cartagena
on the way to Colon.
The French minesweepers accompany the Colon
invasion, and the long-range light cruisers
out of Port Louis form a raid fleet. Finally,
the French give their four colliers supply
missions and deploy them offboard near the
richest American merchant shipping lanes,
so that raiders can travel there at maximum
speed and then refuel before going a-raiding.
American rules of engagement forbid them
from attacking the French until the French
attack an American warship, sink an American
merchant ship on the Merchant Location Table,
or bombard an invasion target in preparation
for landing troops. That plus the fact that
there are so many ports and shipping lanes
to protect requires the Americans to spread
their forces thinly so they can react to any
French move quickly.
The Key West forces split into three fleets:
1. Four battleships plus destroyers that
will make their slow way south to Colon.
2. A patrol squadron of battlecruisers,
scout cruisers and destroyers which will
seek to intercept French invasion fleets
before they reach their targets.
3. Scout cruiser Shreveport and
three Clemson-class DDs which will
guard the shipping lanes around Florida
The Guantanamo Bay forces divide up as follows:
4. Two battlecruisers, two light cruisers
and destroyers which will make best speed
for Puerto Rico to guard against French
5. Two scout cruisers and three destroyers
which will guard the rich shipping lanes
between Cuba and Haiti.
And the Colon forces divide up like so:
6. Battleships and armored cruisers which
will lie in wait for invaders.
7. Four scout cruisers which will patrol
the area north of the canal looking for
8. The minelayer Tahoe which will
mine the approaches to Colon.
And the game begins with . . .
The French fighters transfer north from Fort
de France to Port Louis as the French fleets
move out. The French raiders head northeast
to stay outside American air reconnaissance
range from Ponce, and the airship Dixmude
heads southwest in hopes of doing the same.
For their part, the American air squadrons
at Ponce transfer north to San Juan, thinking
it a safer base than the closer invasion targets
of Ponce and St. Thomas. The American planes
at Key West transfer northeast to the more
forward base at Miami, and all American fleets
make best speed for their patrol zones.
On Turn 2, a lone French sub stationed off
Colon spots U.S. Fleet #7 (the one with four
scout cruisers and three DDs). It goes in
for the attack. The destroyers fail to hit
it, and the sub successfully torpedoes the
scout cruiser Erie. It rolls a 2, scoring
Critical Damage, but luckily for Erie
the roll on the Critical Damage Table yields
a result of only 2 Hull. Erie steams
on with her cohorts and gets outside the range
of the French sub, which decides to move to
a different zone now that the Americans know
to avoid AK16 (it can take up station in a
new zone on Turn 44).
But the French submariners aren’t
done yet. Also on Turn 2, the two French subs
stationed in zone Q27 in the strait between
Cuba and Haiti contact the fast-moving U.S.
Fleet #4 out of Guantanamo, just as it is
steaming out of their range. They attack,
but this time things don’t go quite
so well. The Clemson-class DDs spot
both subs and attack them, sending one to
the bottom before it can attack. The other
gets off its torpedo before joining its companion
at the bottom, but it misses the light cruiser
Pensacola, and the Americans depart
having swept the straits of all enemy subs.
Battle has been joined and the gloves are
off, but the American bombers in San Juan
can’t attack because they transferred
there on the first turn rather than taking
a strike mission. In any event, they probably
wouldn’t want to attack until tomorrow
since the French fleets are outside the range
of the American fighter escort.
No easy target. Cruiser Pensacola
So both sides’ fleets continue toward
their targets, with the French raiders disappearing
from the board as they head north and well
away from the American air units at San Juan.
USS Tahoe lays a minefield on the Colon
zone’s northeastern boundary (it can
lay six more before returning to port), and
by the end of Turn 6 the St. Thomas invasion
fleet is just six zones southeast of its target,
while the American Guantanamo battlecruiser
squadron is only five zones northwest of Puerto
The St. Thomas invasion fleet clears for
action as dawn approaches. It is in range
of both sides’ aircraft, and the sky
around it should be very lively very soon.
Will the fighters out of Port Louis splash
the American torpedo planes? Will the Guantanamo
battlecruisers guess right and get to St.
Thomas before the French do? And if they do,
can American speed and long-range gunnery
sink the transports before the French battleship
escort sends the battlecruisers scurrying
back home (or worse)? Will Laura wake from
her coma? Tune in next time and find out!
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