Sunday, June 21, 2020

High Seas Incident - a test.

Facing west, the Aithiops coastline is a short distance beyond
the table's far edge. HRMS Blunderer in the forground,
ANV Kickapoo and Lafayette hugging the distant coastline.
Log of HRMS Blunderer:

"Date: Wednesday,14/Oct/1874  Time 1800 hours.
Estimated position: 11° 25' S, 41° 37' E, some 8 nautical miles SE off Cape Delgado (East Aithiops coast) 
Course: 0°  (due North)
Overcast cloud, clear skies on the north and west horizon, light to moderate breeze from the south, Visibility fair.
Barometer falling, weather thickening from the south, wind rising.
Smoke on the horizon close under Cape Delgado, thought to be ironclad vessels recently acquired by the Azeitona Colony.  Bearing down towards smoke to intercept and investigate..."

Looking directly south.  The faster Kickapoo leads the
two vessel Azeitinian squadron.

The arrival of two ironclad riverine warships by the Azeitona Colony had long been suspected in Table Town - a development that rather appalled the Governor of the Cape of Good Grief Crown Colony.  With his powerful coastal battleship, HRMS Blunderer, the Lord Hughnon Reddit-Allreddy's writ could be extended a thousand miles and more up western and eastern coasts of the Benighted Continent, with particular attention paid to the none-too-welcome intrusion of the Azeitonian colony at the mouth of the Limpopo River.  But the presence of even one ironclad on the southern Aithiops coasts would a constraint upon that writ.  True, they were unlikely to be ocean-going vessels, but they would be quite capable of effective harbour defence and inshore work...

'Upon due consideration, ' Lord Reddit-Allreddy declared in a missive to the Colonial Office back in Ruberia, 'the presence of Azeitonian warships upon the coasts of Aithiops is not to be borne...' 

The rules in use (GNW) and the context - Colonial Aithiops.
For their part, the acquisition of two ironclads was something of a relief to the Azeitonian Colonists and their Governor.  The pair would be a boon to coastal defence against the depredations of Zanzingabar corsairs and Turcowaz slave raiders, and assistance to expeditions via the Limpopo River into the unexplored Continental interior.  Only the longer established Ruberian colony, far to the south, might be apprehended.  There was no doubt their coastal battleship, Blunderer, was a formidable vessel.  He hoped that maybe Milord Reddit-Allreddy would quietly ignore the presence of two warships - designed solely for defence, of course...
'Hey, up! Here's a fight!'
'Milord' Reddit-Allreddy had no such intention. He ordered Captain Weatherby Jack, Commodore of the Cape Squadron, to take his flagship and investigate these two Azeitonian warships, with the view to determining their threat, and what subsequently to do to diminish that threat. So, the pink dawn of Friday, 9th October 1874, would have seen HRMS Blunderer slipping out of its anchorage in Fallacious Bay, and setting course eastward along the coast. A thousand miles later, towards the late afternoon of the Wednesday following, and about to raise Cape Delgado, the lookouts spied the plumes of smoke. The Azeitonian warships were at sea.
HRMS Blunderer finds the range, and scores an early hit!
This was, of course, to be a shakedown exercise along the coast, partly to exercise the crews, partly to test what really were riverine vessels in coastal waters, and partly too, to map the relatively unexplored coastline. The surprise appearance against the grey southern skyline of darker clouds of smoke heralded the approach of a large vessel.  Disappointed, the ironclad commanders were not altogether surprised to see the Ruberian battleship hove over the horizon. At once that vessel turned to bear down upon the little Azeitonian squadron. Themselves not unwilling to test their metal - Azeitonian sea-going tradition at least as antiquitous as the Ruberian, if a little less martial - the two ironclads turned to port, to meet the oncoming Blunderer.
ANV Kickapoo has to run a gauntlet before getting in range...

Before resuming the narrative, let us examine the vessels of both sides. We'll begin with the contentious addition to the Azeitonian Inshore Squadron.  They were two ironclads, one a twin-turreted Monitor class Azeitonia Navy Vessel - ANV Kickapoo. Its turrets housed smoothbore 11-inch guns within 8-inch protection, by far the thickest armour cladding the vessel. Its top speed was 8 knots (2 hex-grid areas).

The other, ANV Lafayette, a dramatic-looking ship was of similar size, was of altogether different design. Its guns were all behind casemates, two 11-inch smoothbores forward, two 6.4-inch Parrott Rifles as stern-chasers, and three 9-inch smoothbore guns in the broadside. Its major weakness was its lack of speed - 4 knots only (1 hex-grid area). Though both were armoured, neither could boast the protection enjoyed by the Blunderer; not even the 8-inch turret armour of Kickapoo was a match.

Blunderer's second salvo even more destructive, as she
makes a sharp turn to port.  But Kickapoo manages to
put one aboard Blunderer.  Meanwhile Lafayette struggles to close the range.

HRMS Blunderer was a very formidable warship. Boasting four rifled 12.5-inch guns in 2-gun turrets fore and aft, this battleship was faster (14 knots - 3 hex-grid areas per turn), and better protected with heavy armour protecting the hull as well as the turrets.  It's one disadvantage in respect of the ironclads, was it much deeper draught, though that could scarcely weigh in the balance against its advantages.

To summarise:

ANV Kickapoo:

  • Flotation Points: 17
  • Speed: 2 hex grid areas
  • Gunnery Range: Broadside: 6 hex /7D6; Forward: 6 hex /4D6; Aft: 6 hex /4D6
ANV Lafayette:
  • Flotation Points 14
  • Speed 1 hex grid area
  • Gunnery Ranges: Broadside: 4 hex /5D6; Forward: 6 hex /4D6; Aft: 6 hex /4D6
HRMS Blunderer:
  • Flotation Points: 24
  • Speed 3 hex grid areas
  • Gunnery Range: Broadside: 8 hex /9D6; Forward: 8 hex /5D6; Aft: 8 hex /5D6

In developing these data, I used the method as prescribed in The Portable Colonial Wargame, but instead of dividing by 4 as Bob Cordery does for his 'one-hex' sized war ships, I divided by 8 for my 2-hex sized fellows. My vessels are twice the length of his, but represent much the same sort of thing.  I used the  Gridded Naval Wargames'  gunnery system.   It worked fine for this action, but whether it will for combined ops has yet to be tested.

The observant reader will have noticed the peculiar gunnery ranges of the Lafayette. This is due to its 10 guns being fixed in place, unlike the swivel turrets of the other two vessels. That ship's 2 forward 11-inch smoothbores would have the same firepower as one of Kickapoo's turrets. I had a feeling that Blunderer's rifled guns should have a much greater range than the smoothbores carried  by the Azeitonian gunboats, but could find no confirmatory data.  Only the Lafayette's stern chasers were rifled on the ironclads' side, and they were about half the calibre as the Blunderer's guns. Altogether I scaled down Blunderer's strength (or upscaled the ironclads) quite a bit. This action fell in the cusp between Bob Cordery's Ironclad and Pre-Dreadnought periods, and accordingly some compromises had to be made.

Having made another sharp turn - to starboard this time,
Blunderer places itself on the opposite course to Kickapoo.
But the range!  Practically point blank!
In conditions of indifferent visibility and fading light, it is perhaps understandable that misunderstanding might lead to a shooting match, especially given such bellicose characters as Captain Weatherby Jack, and Capitão-de-Mar-e-Guerra Joaquim Marques.  Commanding Lafayette, Capitão-Tenente Luis Monteiro, was eager enough for any action that would advance his career...
At close range Kickapoo gives as good as it gets.  Blunderer scores
more hits, but Kickapoo gets in a more damaging strike.
As the ranges closed, the first salvos were fired - no preliminary salutes here.  First blood went to the Ruberians, who, with greater speed and firing range, might have stood off and shot the Azeitonians to pieces.  As it was, the latter's speed differential led to the two ironclads becoming separated. Turning to a southwesterly course took Blunderer out of the range of Lafayette's forward guns, but then she turned sharply back onto the northerly course to exchange short-ranged pleasantries with Kickapoo.  
Distant Lafayette gets off an ineffectual salvo from
its forward battery.
That the latter had already taken some heavy hits from Blunderer's guns, didn't seem to affect its gun crews. In the short-range exchange both inflicted considerable hurt upon the other. Fires broke out upon both vessels.  The longer ranged fire from Lafayette's forward battery was ineffective.
The range rapidly closes between Blunderer and Lafayette
and opens up between Blunderer and Kickapoo.
Perhaps one of Kickapoo's shells had affected Blunderer's steering, for she was to remain on the northerly bearing for the remainder of the action, apart from a slight change of course near the close. By the time Kickapoo had turned to larboard to cross the Blunderer's 'T' from astern, the latter had put a fair distance between itself and the monitor, and was engaging Lafayette closely.  
Blunderer thumps in a devastating salvo, 5 hits, two of them
'major' against Lafayette's two.  But Kickapoo's unopposed
fire is deadly accurate.
The first broadside from Blunderer wrought fearful damage. Quite apart from perforated funnels and splintered lifeboats, Lafayette took heavy casualties among its crew, and sprouted several leaks from holes and started timbers. In return Lafayette scored a couple of moderately damaging hits. From its position athwart Blunderer's wake, Kickapoo did rather more damage, further compromising, it was found later, the battleship's steering.
Effective fire at long range from Kickapoo.

Turning away, Lafayette presented Blunderer with the chance to cross in its turn an enemy 'T', having just enough control for a slight change of course to the north-west.  By this time, Blunderer was out of range of Kickapoo's guns, and was able to concentrate at close range upon the slow ironclad.
Blunderer manoeuvres to rake Lafayette.
Blunderer took good advantage of it, but the Lafayette's stern chasers proved to be well served. Every shot from its final two salvos struck aboard the battleship.
Lafayette is fighting hard a losing battle! 

By that time, though, Lafayette had been almost mortally hurt (11 FPs lost out of 14). As she tried to break off the action, Blunderer turned again to northward, having strayed too near the shore line for comfort. Both ships exchanged final honours as the distance increased between them. Once again, Lafayette's stern-chaser crews demonstrated that casualties among their number failed to diminish their gun-laying skills.  

But Blunderer's gunners had also served their guns well throughout the whole action. Its final salvo finally put Lafayette out of action, left dead in the water, in a sinking condition. Here I added a slight tweak to Bob Cordery's Portable Naval 'Wargames Pre-Dreadnought' rules. If and when a vessel's Flotation Points was reduced to zero - exactly zero - it was not sunk, but left dead in the water, where it might be surrendered, salvaged or scuttled. If reduced to below zero, then it was held to have foundered.  
Blunderer might have returned to the action to put Lafayette under - or accept her surrender - but by now the weather was closing in with the darkness of early evening.  His ship had taken far more damage than Commodore Jack had reckoned upon. As Blunderer disappeared into murk of a rain squall and the gathering dusk, Kickapoo drew up to Lafayette, and taking that vessel in tow, undertook the long, hazardous journey, back to Vertiginus City.

The state of the vessels at the close of the action might be imagined by the following:

ANV Kickapoo: 17SP reduced to 9SP (8 hits)

ANV Lafayette: 14SP reduced to 0SP (14 hits)

HRMS Blunderer: 24SP reduced to 8SP (16 hits)

In the Courts Martial that naturally followed, neither side was willing to find fault with their own commanding officers, not with their unprovoked aggression towards each other, the battle that followed, nor in the manner of its closure. Capitão-de-Mar-e-Guerra Joaquim Marques was treated as a conquering hero by the Colonists, and was to be awarded the Military Valour Medal in due course. The 'reprimand' Captain Weatherby Jack received was calculated more to expedite that officer's career than to retard it, naval judgement being held rather in less esteem than combativeness.

Meanwhile heads illumined by midnight oil in Table Town bent over ill-lighted maps plotting how they might take, sink or burn those plaguey Azeitona ironclads...


  1. Fantastic game Archduke. Your model ships are wonderful. I haven't tried the Gridded Naval rules yet - this post has certainly whetted the appetite!

    1. Thanks for your response, Maudlin Jack. I've had a copy of GNW for well over a year, but this is the first action I've had using the rule set (slightly modified to 'fit' the vessels I have here). Of course this was very much a play test. The commanders in Table Town are plotting a cutting out or shore landing expedition... They'll have to overcome the ironclads, shore batteries, the local garrison... and a small flotilla of spar torpedo boats...


  2. I like your ships Archduke - very nicely scratch built. Cheers. KEV.

    1. Thanks, KEV. It is surprising the extent in this hobby to which one finds the need for something, and the only way to acquire it is to make one. Or more. They won't win any prizes, but they look the part. The ironclads I made about 25 years ago. The Blunderer just this year.
      All the best,

  3. Archduke Piccolo,

    I was absolutely gripped by the narrative! I like the way you have adapted my ideas to fit your particular requirements, and your models are excellent. It’s certainly given me something to think about as work on my current project reaches a natural break.

    All the best,


    1. Hi, Bob -
      Thank you for your kind remarks.

      Looking back over my previous naval posting I discover I have changed certain characters' names. I had completely forgotten that I had created them! I really ought to write these things down. I have several empty exercise books I can use!

      I really have to thank you for your original ideas; I would never have come up with them for myself. That I have expanded upon them is a tribute I think to their remarkable flexibility and adaptability. I'm especially impressed by my being able to fight really big battles on a small table, and no huge numbers of figures. I mean - how many people have 'done' Operation Uranus with 1:76 figures and models on a table not much bigger than 4 foot square?

      I probably ought to write an article outlining the places your rule sets have taken me - and I have taken them!


    2. Ion,

      I may have provided the rules, but you have done wonderful things with them!

      More power to your elbow!

      All the best,


  4. A good game! The Azeitonians were fortune that the enemy commander was so gungho rather than being a cunning tactician. If he had taken advantage of his speed and long range, he could probably have sunk or battered the older ships without taking serious damage himself.

    1. Hi Ross -
      Quite right. I am reminded of the opening yarn of Harry Harrison's 'Stars and Stripes' trilogy, in which Great Britain enters the War Between the States on the CSA side, whereat, upon some atrocity carried out by the British, the CSA promptly rejoins the Union, and GB decides that, now we're here, we might as well get our 13 colonies back ... with interest.

      Implausible? Undoubtedly, at several levels. But during the course of this war a sea battle is fought between USS Monitor, and HMS Warrior, in which the latter is defeated, and I think sunk. The British sea captain in this story behaved with the same reckless gung ho bellicosity as my Capt Weatherby Jack. If Harry Harrison thought it made for a good yarn, I could do no less!

      But I needed the fight to go this way - it was a play test - just to see what the balance was like in a stand-up fight. At the same time, I didn't intend that there would be any real danger of any vessel being sunk - hence the allusions to weather and time of day. I had stretched credibility enough to get the vessels in that part of the world as it was; no more would be coming...

      The question is, how are the Ruberians to come at those ironclads in order to deprive the Azeitonian colony of their services?


  5. Great looking game Ion and an entertaining read too. As Kev noted, your ships are great.
    I presume from your 'worked fine for this action' comment that it was a success as a play-test too? Is it on to a combined ops action then?
    All the best, James

    1. Hi James -
      Yes, it was really a play test - but I built a narrative around it. I have the materials for the combined ops, but it's waiting on a suitable time to play it out. This will be a two-player action, with Paul (Painting Little Soldiers blog) commanding the Azeitonians. Once we've finalised a date, I can outline the OOBs and maps.

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  7. The fleets look good and the Chibi'd ships work well.

    Regards, Chris.

  8. Impressive. Just read this, after spotting a link you provided in answer to Nick Nascati’s query on the PW facebook page. Midway through reading GNWg, and will see where it takes me. Many thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the posting, Martin. I'm probably moving away from these '2-hex' vessels to '1-hex', as shown in the naval aspects of the 'First Blacklands War'.