Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Raise the blockade!

A hypothetical game during the American Civil War set at the mouth of some major river, or perhaps a coastal port.  Four players initially gathered, chose their side and drew an armored and wooden vessel from stacks of prepared ship sheets.  Rules are Steam and Black Powder by Neil Stokes, miniatures are 1/600 Thoroughbred and Peter Pig models.  The Yankees managed to draw two of the weaker ships in each category.  The armored vessel USS Keokuk joined with the river ironclad USS Benton.  The unarmed Ellet ram USS Switzerland paired with a 90-day gunboat the USS Itasca.  On the Rebel side we had the CSS Queen of the West and CSS Sumpter running interference for the CSS Neuse, a small and slow ironclad and my draw, the CSS Tennessee.  The latter is a great ironclad ram with excellent guns.  The purpose of the game was to sink or drive away the Yankees to formally lift the blockade.  Another player was due any moment and my plan was to have him take the USS Canonicus, a 15" gunned monitor and the USS Varuna, which at least had a lot of guns.  It would redress the advantage the Rebs enjoyed.  He'd get there any time now.  Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

A ranging shot from the Tennessee.

Who were the Rebs shooting at?

Both sides moved to close, though the Rebs more slowly since the Neuse could only manage half the speed of the Tennessee.  The Yankees drew first blood with a shot to the Tennessee that weakened a frontal armor plate.  But the Rebs were quick to draw even with a solid hit to the Keokuk.  The Switzerland, which drew a lot of fire continued to enjoy her immunity.

The Keokuk takes a hit as she checks the generous firing arc.

The Benton comes about to unleash a full broadside.

As the ships drew closer each began to maneuver.  Gunnery is effective in the game, but rams and torpedoes are the game winners.  So each sought a ramming solution while trying to protect themselves.  Suddenly, in one turn six of eight ships were involved in rams or collisions.

The Tennessee cuts loose as she is missed and hit.

A "three-way" that produced little results.

Bow on bow rams or at poor angles aren't as effective and each was either a glancing blow for no effect or just minor leaks.  The gunfire however became deadly at this range and bits and pieces of wood and iron went flying in all directions.

After glancing hits the ships slid past each other.

The Itasca is pummeled from both sides and catches fire.

At this range it was hard to miss and additional collisions were inevitable.  At this point the advantage in rams held by the Confederates became painfully clear to the Union ships.  Only the Switzerland was properly equipped for ramming so even when the other ships got into good positions they had little chance to do significant damage to the Rebs.

The big picture.  Where are those other Yankees?

The Keokuk suffers mightily.

At the worst moment the Keokuk found herself sandwiched between two Rebs as her crew frantically attempted to reload the 11" Dahlgren cannons.  It was a bad round for the Yankees as the Itasca burned fiercely, the Benton got a limited flood from a love tap from the Queen of the West and the absence of guns on the Switzerland continued to frustrate.

Not looking good for the blockaders.

Fire fighters only fan the flames higher!

The Itasca succumbed to her fires and flooding to sink.  Her ghost crew still at their posts.  Next turn the massive fires on the Keokuk caused total structural failure and she broke up.  Only the Benton and Switzerland remained.

Itasca breaks up as Benton sails by, Keokuk burns in the distance.

And now there were but two Yankees afloat.  The Queen of the West has fallen victim to flooding next to the Switzerland.

At this point the Tennessee had some significant damage on her starboard side, the Neuse's stack was holed, the Queen of the West had sunk and the Sumpter had taken damage.  The Reb's expected the Benton to break off since she had better speed than the Rebs, but she gamely renewed the fight, buoyed by the sight of smoke on the horizon finally.  Alas, it was only the Varuna as a replacement ship.  The reinforcements never showed (real world conflicts).

Two Yankee ramming attempts produce little result.

Here comes the USS Varuna at top speed.

Finally the battle came to a crashing end as the Tennessee crashed into the side of the Benton, causing a catastrophic flood.  The Switzerland put on the coal and ran while the Varuna took discretion as being the better part of valor.

The killing blow.

The Yankees performed well given they were essentially out-classed ship to ship.  It was the unfortunate draw of ships and the lack of the expected third Yankee player.  A fun time was had by all all await a rematch.  My thanks to all.

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