|Tactica Aquatica II|
|War at Sea Naval Tactics II|
|by Jon Mayes|
The Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures Advanced Rules provides us with not only a standard 100 point game, but two alternatives; the Convoy Scenario and the Major Engagement. Whereas the differences between the standard scenario and the convoy one may be mostly obvious, those between the standard and major engagement scenarios may not be. For example the strategy of having a battleship worth at least 51 points no longer applies.
The Convoy Scenario is an interesting one, differing from the engagement type of scenario where victory is solely determined by the survival (or destruction) of the transport ships. This results in some very different forces than your usual games, where, especially for the defender, the large battleships or fleet carriers are not always useful. This scenario works well for a veteran player teaching new players the game; as the interceptor a new player has some leeway with his troops and mistakes may not be too costly, where the defender needs to careful consider all options and make an escort fleet for your convoy that can potentially fend off anything the intercepting player throws at it.
As mentioned, the intercepting player has some leeway when constructing a fleet. You don’t need to have ships to capture the objective, while you know your opponent will at the very least have five, and likely more. Here are a few basic tactics for playing and building the intercepting force in a convoy scenario.
First and foremost: Only the Convoy Matters. Often players get sidetracked into battling it out against the escort ships. However, unless it’s absolutely necessary to do otherwise, you should always concentrate fire on the transport ships. Those ships are the only thing that matters, and even if you have to sacrifice the majority of your fleet to get them you still win.
The next most important strategy for an intercepting fleet is to overwhelm your opponent. For this scenario you aren’t required to build a balanced fleet, and in most cases you won’t want to. Swarm fleets, as detailed in Tactica Aquatica I, work well here, as you want to focus on only one or two aspects of the game, such as submarines and aircraft, that the convoy will have little or no protection against. In many cases it will be quantity over quality. PT Boats, Patrol Bombers, and destroyers work well as the sheer numbers will allow some hits to get through. Transport ships, with a very low vital armor, are easily destroyed so units such as Battleships are overkill. The largest, or most expensive, ship you should use is a heavy cruiser such as the Tone, Admiral Graf Spee, or the Baltimore, which can destroy transport ships at a distance and engage larger ships if necessary. This isn’t to say a battleship won’t work, but it may not be as efficient as having more, less expensive, ships.
Taking a look at historical convoy missions, such as those occurring in the Atlantic we can see the parallels with War at Sea. Submarines work well at hunting the convoys, as they can be very difficult to fend off, especially in large numbers. An unprepared convoy fleet will be wrecked by a line of submarines across the map. Yet submarines lack the speed to quickly divert course and intercept the transport ships should they manage to slip by, or should the escorts manage to smash a way through them.
Aircraft on the other hand can quickly be sent anywhere and overwhelm any target. Though planes are normally expensive, for this scenario you can capitalize on the cheaper patrol bombers. The FW 200 Kondor is especially devastating on the initial rounds with its Antiship Missile; five of these aircraft could potentially destroy the entire convoy on the first round. Of course they have extremely low defense, so are easily aborted or destroyed, and your opponent may be ready for this tactics, or definitely will after his first game against Kondors, so you may want an escort for them.
My example Intercepting Fleet, listed below, focuses on the Atlantic units and the synergy between the Kondors’ Pinpointer with the Wolfpack of the U 510 submarines. Even at a range of two the Submarines will potentially have four torpedo dice each. In the opening round the Kondors are placed around the transport ships; as it should be easy to avoid placing them in the same hex as a ship. While some may be destroyed by fighters, a few should get through and hopefully damage some ships. After this round the survivors will be mainly used for pinpointers. Depending on the number that survive, you may use the remaining Kondors to attack targets as the opportunities arise. The submarines are placed in a line across the map like a net, and are used to herd the convoy into a corner if possible. From there you simply torpedo them until they sink. Keep overlapping fields of fire in case destroyers or ASW aircraft attempt to break a hole through your net.
|6x GE FW 200 Kondor
|5x GE U 510
|1x IT Ambra
Remember these guidelines, and especially that you only need to kill three transport ships. Don’t be discouraged by your loses, and hound the convoy as much as possible. If all else fails there’s a second way to win – prevent three of the transport ships from leaving the map edge by turn 15.
The player of the Convoy Fleet has a much more difficult time in deciding what to use. You have no idea what your opponent may use; it could be all submarines or not a single one. Due to this you need to have a fleet that’s capable of taking on anything to at least some degree, and specialist ships can become dead weight. Another important factor to keep in mind is that you have five ships you need to protect at all costs; your opponent only needs to sink three to win so you have to keep them well defended. Also, unlike an engagement map, the convoy scenario map has precious little terrain to hide behind.
Since the convoy ships have weak armor and poor anti-aircraft values, you shouldn’t group them together as it makes a ripe target for aircraft. You may want to consider having at least one escorting ship per transport. Since you don’t know what exactly you might be facing, general purpose destroyers are good choices. They’re cheap, can fend off aircraft, submarines, and surface ships, and often have useful special abilities. The HMS Javelin is an excellent example, as it has Lay Smoke Screen which they can use to form a safe corridor for your transports to slip through. Additionally they have sub hunter and a decent ASW attack, allowing them to move fast and score damage on an impeding submarine if need be. The USS Fletcher is another great escort that, while lacking useful special abilities, has good defensive stats, including its armor, antiair, ASW, and even decent torpedoes. Slow ships are very detrimental to the operations of your fleet; if an escorting ship is suddenly lagging behind your defensive formation could fall apart.
Aircraft can play a vital role in defending your transport ships, since they are able to immediately relocate to any area under attack. Torpedo Bombers, or Patrol Bombers with ASW attacks, are also useful as they aren’t as specialized as Dive Bombers since they can engage submarines in addition to surface ships. Unlike the Intercepting Fleet which may not care about carriers, if you are going to use aircraft you will need them to get the most efficient use of them. However fleet carriers such as the USS Enterprise or Akagi put too much of your point total into one ship. Instead light or escort carriers are more efficient; as multiples of the USS St. Lo or Shoho may give you a similar capacity at a cost of a few more points, but allow you to protect more ships. Again, remember from Tactica Aquatic I that a lone ship is a target of opportunity for aircraft.
Submarines are chancy in this, as they seem to have an equal chance of an outstanding performance or an abysmal one. It’s all up to the roll of the dice, and as the convoy player you may not want to take a chance with it. Against surface ships the submarine may help clear the way for your fleet, as the intercepting player may not want to risk the torpedoes right away. However destroyers and/or aircraft may simply destroy your sub before it has a chance to have an impact on the battle. Against other submarines you run a high risk; you may or may no hit and your opponent may or may not hit as well. Torpedo bombers may have much less of a chance of hitting an enemy submarine, but at least can’t be attacked back by one. My preference is to leave out subs from my convoy fleet; I find torpedo bombers much more useful against them, even if they usually won’t take them out in a single hit. However, some players may find one or two submarines more useful.
For my example Convoy Fleet I’ve decided to go with one escort per transport, giving me decent protection on all of them. I’ve gone much more heavily with fighters than I may normally in an engagement scenario, just out of fear of large waves of bombers, and especially missile attacks from Kondors. For protection the fleet is arranged in a “W” formation. The two Javelins are on the outer wings where they can lay smoke to protect the fleet, repositioning themselves as necessary. The carriers USS Princeton and USS St. Lo are in the back to give them a little more space between them and any surface ships, but within range of my ships so my two F4F Wildcats can use Combat Air Patrol to cover the entire fleet if necessary. Additionally, both Fighters have Defend the Flattop which may come in handy defending both the carriers and the transports in the same sector. The PBY Catalina may seem an odd choice, but is also extremely useful even if its Shadowing is never used. It has a high ASW attack (for an aircraft), and doesn’t require a carrier; just in case one or both are lost. If there are units to shadow, the Catalina becomes that much more useful. The TBD Devastators are useful against surface ships and while they’re not great at it they can at least attack submarines. However the St Lo can at least give on the expert ability, putting it on par with the Catalina. Normally I would be against using a carrier like the Princeton but not utilizing its Expert Bomber ability, but in the case of this fleet the Dive Bombers are too expensive and only good against one target type.
|1x USS Princeton
|1x USS St. Lo (CVE 63)
|1x PBY Catalina
|2x F4F Wildcat
|2x HMS Javelin
|1x USS Fletcher
|2x TBD Devastator
|2x Sea Hurricane
Playing this fleet, or any convoy fleet, requires some tough decision making at times, and a willingness to sacrifice some of your units if need be. As with the intercepting fleet it’s only the transports that matter. However there’s something important to keep in mind – you only have fifteen turns to get the transports across, otherwise the intercepting player wins by default. With the map layout and game set up this means it will take a minimum of 5 turns to make it across to your opponent’s deployment area, leaving you only 10 extra turns. Use this time wisely to distract, engage, or simply harass the enemy fleet while slowly making your way there. If you build a more aggressive escort fleet you may simply have the transports hold back while you engage the enemy.
There’s not nearly as much to a major engagement as there is to a convoy scenario, but there are still a few changes in tactics and strategies one should be aware of. Chiefly the change in stacking limit can have an important impact on the construction of your navy, lessening the roles of other unit types.
The change in stacking limit is an important one – it allows one more ship in a sector, but has no effect on aircraft or submarines. Due to this, those units can become much less effective; try having a submarine breakthrough a group of three sub hunters, or aircraft attempt to overwhelm the defenses on a carrier, two escorts, and CAP fighters. In general, the Major Engagement favors combat between surface vessels. While submarines and aircraft have their role, it is much less than that of a standard engagement.
The casualty rate of aircraft in major engagements tends to be much higher than in a standard one. With your opponent able to field more ships in a sector you will lose planes to attrition, and eventually you will find them unable to penetrate your opponents’ defenses. A dedicated carrier fleet should have at least one more aircraft per carrier than you would normally have, and preferably organized in groups of four. Don’t make suicide runs against, for example, the USS Iowa and two Atlanta-class cruisers. Whittle down what you can, and only make suicidal attacks like that if you have no other choice.
While carriers are still not to be trifled with, Battleships tend to dominate these games. Unlike the standard engagement scenario there’s no single ship you can take to force your opponent to attack it. This can allow you to field a fleet of the less costly ships such ass the USS Tennessee or Kongo. Fleets will have to have ways to tangle with battleships, especially monsters like the USS Iowa and Yamato which are surely to be seen.
Major engagements are usually longer lasting affairs, with multiple gunnery duels between battleships while lesser ships run about. The loss of a single ship is usually much less important, while the positioning and maneuvering of the fleet can be vital in securing objectives, cutting off retreat. Attempt to cut the enemy force in half with submarines or powerful extended range units, and concentrate on one half.
Tactics Series Continues
Next time we resume our Tactics 101 Series. Upcoming articles will cover multiplayer games, tactics for the standard maps, and more. Until then, good luck and I'll see you on the message boards.