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Opening Salvo: War at Sea
Part 4 - Shōkaku

SHŌKAKU – BACKGROUND

Overview
The Shōkaku was a prominent Japanese carrier in the Pacific Theatre, participating in many of the major naval engagements there, though notably missing out on the Battle of Midway. She was the lead ship of her class and along with her sister ship, the Zuikaku, and would be part of Carrier Division 5. After the devastating Battle of Midway the Shōkaku would be one of a very few major carriers left to the Japanese. At full capacity, the Shōkaku could hold over eighty aircraft, consisting of Zeros, Kate torpedo bombers, and Val dive-bombers. Compared to many Allied carriers of the time, the Shōkaku had superior protection, which enabled her to survive battles such as Coral Sea that another carrier would have been lost in.

Pearl Harbor
The Shōkaku and her sister ship were assigned to Carrier Division 5, which would be part of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Aircraft from the Shōkaku , along with those on the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu, and aided by scouts from the Tone, would be responsible for crippling the US Pacific Fleet, though notably missing the US carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga.

Indian Ocean Raids
After the destruction of the ABDA forces, the Shōkaku, still with Carrier Division 5, would then participate in the raids on shipping in the Indian Ocean. . The Tone’s scouts would be instrumental in spotting the British ships, which the carriers’ aircraft would then sink. The raids would cost the British and Australians the carrier Hermes as well as a couple cruisers and support ships. While one of the goals of the raids was to disrupt shipping in the Indian Ocean, it also served to show how capable the Japanese crews were.

Battle of Coral Sea
During the course of this battle, aircraft from the Shōkaku and Zuikaku would sink the USS Lexington and damage the USS Yorktown, but not significantly enough to prevent it from participating in the Battle of Midway. The Shōkaku faired far worse, taking enough damage to prevent her from launching fighters, and causing her to miss the Battle of Midway – though this would perhaps prove to be a blessing. Moreover, the Japanese lost over half of their aircraft during the battle; the planes were easily replaced, but veteran pilots were becoming rare.

Battle of Midway
While the Shōkaku would not participate in the Battle of Midway, it would still have an effect on her. With the majority of Japanese carriers lost there, the Shōkaku and Zuikaku would be two of the very few fleet carriers remaining in the Japanese navy. They would form the basis of the new Carrier Division 1, and subsequently sent to the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

Battle of Eastern Solomons
Carrier Division 1, once more with the Tone, saw carrier action against the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga. The American carriers would come under attack from Val dive-bombers from the Shōkaku and Zuikaku. Acombination of poor communication and identification, by the Allies, as well as an effective escort by Zeros, allowed the Vals to strike the carriers relatively unimpeded. The Enterprise would take several direct hits and be heavily damaged, but still able to base aircraft. The Japanese would lose even more of their irreplaceable veteran pilots in this battle.

Battle of Santa Cruz Islands
Scout planes from the Tone, Shōkaku, and Zuikaku spotted the American carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet at roughly the same time the American scouts found them. Both carrier groups sent waves of fighters at each other, with the Japanese launching first in a large wave and the Americans launching several smaller waves. The USS Hornet would be crippled by the first wave of Japanese Vals, with several bombs scoring direct hits followed by a Kamikaze-like attack from one of the dive-bombers. American Wildcat pilots were drawn off by Zeros leaving their Dauntless dive-bombers unescorted. However, several of them managed to score hits on the Shōkaku, inflicting enough damage to cease her flight operations.

The next wave of Vals would catch the Enterprise with her decks full of aircraft, and cause significant damage to her. While the Enterprise retreated from the battle, Kate torpedo bombers would find and destroy the Hornet. This battle, while a victory, would prove to be costly to the Japanese Navy.

Battle of the Philippine Sea
Planned as the renewal of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific, the battle would be a disaster for Japan. The carrier group consisted of the fleet carriers Shōkaku, Zuikaku, Taihō, Junyō, Ryuho, and Hiyō. They would be joined by the Yamato, her sister ship the Musashi, the Kongo, and the Haruna (both Kong-class battleships), as well as the Nagato. Japanese air raids against the US Fleet would be a disaster, culminating in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. US Submarines would close in on the carriers, with the Shōkaku being torpedoed by the USS Cavalla, a Gato-class submarine.

SHŌKAKU – WAR AT SEA

The Shōkaku and USS Enterprise have the same basic armor, vital armor, and hull points typical of fleet carriers in this set. Both have the Expert Dogfighter ability, typical of nearly all carriers, and they are both the only two ships to have Expert Bomber 2. While the Shōkaku lacks the Survivor ability of the Enterprise, has a lower flagship rating, and one point less in antiair, the Shōkaku makes up for it in reduced cost; the difference being nearly enough to purchase a A6M2 ‘Zeke.’ The Akagi has more bells and whistles on her as well, but for a much higher cost. All this could lead one to believe the Shōkaku is fairly useless, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The low cost of the Shōkaku makes it the only fleet carrier that you can realistically field two of (the Shōkaku and Zuikaku) in a 100 point fleet; leaving enough points left over to field a compliment of two Zekes, four Vals, and two escorting destroyers.

On its own, a Val dive-bomber has enough dice to easily damage a cruiser, and a small chance against a battleship. However, with the two dice from the Expert Bomber 2 ability, you increase the odds enough that a single attack has a very real chance of outright destroying a cruiser and your bombers become more of a threat against battleships. When making your force, you will want to make sure you have enough dive bombers that at least one can make it through your opponent’s air defense and attack; otherwise you’re not getting the most of this very useful ability.

As mentioned in the last opening salvo, you will want at least one fighter to escort your bombers to their target. However, unlike the Vals, you won’t need too many Zeke to take advantage of the Expert Dogfighter ability as they will generally last some time. Moreover, there’s no way to stop a Zeke from using Expert Dogfighter, as it occurs during the Air Defense Phase.

The basing capacity of the carrier gives you a good idea of how many aircraft you should put into your force along with it. In general assume that each carrier should have one bomber per point of capacity, and a fighter. The type of bomber depends entirely upon the abilities of the bomber; in the case of the Shōkaku it’s best to use Vals to take advantage of Expert Bomber 2. This gives you extra aircraft so that as you begin to lose them to attrition you can still make use of the carrier. There are few things worse than a carrier without aircraft, especially early on in the game. In the Air Return Phase if you are lucky enough to still have extra aircraft, you can chose which ones to keep and which to send back to the land airbase. Always try to keep a fighter around to escort your planes and carriers, but if all of your opponents airbase have been sent back to their land airbase you can send your fighters back as well; this lets your bombers stay armed and ready to go, and the fighters will return when your opponent’s aircraft do.

In convoy scenarios the Shōkaku has a powerful presence on either side; as a raider, she’s able to launch bombers and sink the convoy ships anywhere on the map. On the other hand, if used in the convoy force, she can send out enough Zekes to prevent your opponent from using bombers against you. In the Major Engagement scenarios, the Shōkaku is only a portion of your force and no longer the majority of it. You can either add in different ships such as battleships, or use a second Shōkaku, the Zuikaku, and the Akagi to create a major carrier fleet.

The Shōkaku’s gunnery is slightly better than either of the two Allied Fleet Carriers’, though if it ever comes down to the Shōkaku making direct attacks, you are in some serious trouble. Keep the Shōkaku away from your opponent and preferably escorted by a destroyer which can take care of any submarine threats, while also adding some to your air defense. Never have two carriers in the same sector unless your opponent has no aircraft to attack them with; it gives your opponent too vulnerable of a target and the possibility of destroying or crippling both carriers in one turn with a single strike.

Losing a carrier is never good, and losing a fleet carrier like the Shōkaku can mean losing a significant portion of your air force as well. Even if the planes managed to escape the Shōkaku’s destruction, without a carrier around they’ll be forced to rearm at the land airbase; not only reducing their effectiveness, but giving your opponent windows of opportunity against your unprotected fleet. Keep the Shōkaku as safe as possible, and always remember to use her abilities.

Discuss the Shōkaku on our message boards, or read one of our other Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea Opening Salvo Articles:










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