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FAI redux

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#141 simanton

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Posted 18 January 2021 - 10:14 PM

Decades ago, there was an optional rule for Alnavco Seapower to limit rate of fire to 25% until a hit was obtained.



#142 healey36

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 10:47 AM

I didn't realize Alnavco was still around, but I found their site. I bought quite a few Superior kits and reference books from them back in the day. It looks like those rules, or a version of them, are still in print.


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#143 simanton

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Posted 20 January 2021 - 01:44 PM

They are, though many of the optional rules appeared in editions of The Alnavco Log from the 1970s and are no longer available.  If you wish, I can scan the relevant pages from my copies.



#144 healey36

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 07:19 AM

If you have the spare time to make those, it would be very much appreciated. I'll flip you a PM with my email address.

 

Thanks, much.

 

Healey


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#145 simanton

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Posted 21 January 2021 - 12:51 PM

OK!



#146 healey36

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Posted 29 January 2021 - 10:57 AM

Got them and read them last night. Lots of useful/interesting bits there. The Q&A section was especially entertaining. Thanks for sending them over!

 

With a big chunk of my ship collection comprised of pre-dreadnought-era models, I'm wondering what rule changes/amendments would be required for FAI to roll it back some 20 years. I presume there were numerous technology/architecture differences (more than just fire-control and armoring). There are a few sets out there that might be usable, but I'm too old to go back to rivet-counting and some of the other vagaries, lol. I have a copy of Richard Hill's book War at Sea in the Ironclad Age...perhaps it's time to break down and actually read it. 


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#147 healey36

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Posted 13 February 2021 - 03:16 PM

We’re still becalmed in the doldrums of the pandemic here, so while the table is largely quiet, work continues on the lead/resin-pile together with a lot of reading. A number of unrelated projects have been worked as well, perhaps to be shared at a later date.

 

It’s disingenuous to say the table’s been totally silent, as a number of board games have found their way into the sunlight. The most recent was a solitaire play of ATO’s Arctic Disaster: The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17. I play-tested this for the designer back in 2015, but hadn’t looked at it since its publication. The mechanics are not too different from those of the early version we kicked around for a few weekends nearly five years ago, and it plays to a similar result (as do nearly all PQ-17 games). I would classify Arctic Disaster as more a “model” than a game; it’s brilliant at simulating/demonstrating what happened to the convoy, but it’s not much of a “game”. As with everything PQ-17, it boils down to trying to run a slow-moving convoy through a gauntlet of U-boats and land-based bombers, along with a seemingly better-than-not chance of an encounter with Tirpitz and her coterie. It’s just a blood-bath that you know is coming, and there’s no avoiding it.

 

Simanton sent over some pages from Alnavco’s Seapower which I’ve read through a couple of times. I’m not sure why, but I love reading naval wargame rules, especially those with some years on them. Seeing the nuances designers float as critical and their attempts to qualify/quantify the perceived impact is interesting, often eye-opening. This one developed from consideration of the methods and sequence of ranging and how some rule-sets handle it. Often times, one might think that a specific notion has gone unconsidered, but in fact it is cooked into the abstract system a designer has developed. On the other hand, it may have been genuinely overlooked. Pinning that down can be difficult without talking to the designer or reading his notes. A good place to start is often the game’s time-scale – elapsed time has a way of appropriately mitigating the minutiae of tactical combat, i.e. a lot can happen in a game-turn lasting six minutes, but a lot more can happen in one that lasts ten.

 

I finally finished a read of Graeme Cook’s Silent Marauders, then moved on to Blumentritt’s biography of Von Rundstedt (I wouldn’t recommend it, as it is a fairly blatant, unapologetic rewrite of the field-marshal’s career and his actions during the war). A friend of mine sent me a biography of Henry Segrave, which I think might be up next. That should have me digging through the attic looking for my old Avalon Hill Speed Circuit game.

 

Library book
Stamping inside the Von Rundstedt biography.

 

Together with some ideas shamelessly pilfered from Featherstone’s Solo Wargaming, I’ve gotten a few thoughts down and incorporated them into a template for an attempt at solitaire tactical maneuver for FAI. These, along with some hyper-aggressive gunnery notions and other ideas, might make for some fun (or total silliness). Regardless, I can see a few playtests hitting the table in the next few weeks, the details of which I’ll provide here.

 

Otherwise, we’re just laying low waiting for a vaccine appointment, reading through this year’s pile of seed catalogs.


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#148 healey36

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 08:19 PM

Better to Run For It

January 16, 1916

 

Have you ever heard of C. W. Cayzer & Company? Probably not, and until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t either. I’d been talking to a mate of mine about the Merchant Marine, which grew out of a discussion about piloting here on the Chesapeake. A couple of days later, he dropped off a pile of books, one of which was John Butler’s Sailing on Friday: The Perilous Voyage of America’s Merchant Marine. A quick read of that, together with Bernard Edwards’ War Under the Red Ensign, 1914-1918, had me going back again for a look at the war fought on the open Atlantic.

 

I’ve never been far out on the open sea. About thirty miles is the furthest, done a couple of times on charters while fishing for white marlin off Ocean City, Maryland. Some might find that frightening, being that far out in a relatively small boat, but you stay pretty busy, and I’m lucky to have a decent pair of sea-legs. If you get into trouble, there are other boats around. If you find yourself worrying about it, than you likely shouldn’t be out there.

 

On another occasion, I helped crew a forty-foot sailboat that was to be motored from Boston to Rock Hall, Maryland. We had strict instructions by the owner to motor only and to stay within sight of land, a reasonable request given the lack of experience of the relatively young crew. Unfortunately it all went to scuppers when the engine’s Lucas generator bit the dust a few hours out. After a couple of hours adrift, no one in sight, the coast disappearing off the horizon, no ability to call land (cell-phones were a distant fantasy at the time), and darkness gathering, we hoisted sails and made a rather harrowing run into Shelter Island, New York for repairs. Sailing in the dark without lights, Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, likely prevented us from being run down in the sea lanes. It took two days for the repairs to be made, and we collectively spent much of that time emptying bottles.

 

Frankly, the thought of being lost at sea, i.e. in the water with little to no chance of being picked up, is unsettling; in wartime, even worse. I’ve read accounts and seen interviews of merchant seamen at war who faced down the prospects, or worse the prospects of fellow seamen who they were unable to assist. Total war on such a global scale was just horrific. Men talk of sailing past their comrades in the water, unable to stop for fear of being torpedoed themselves.

 

The Old Man spent two years or so sailing around the Western Pacific during the last months of the Second World War and the months immediately following. As I mentioned in an earlier post, his time was spent aboard USS Chimaera (ARL-33), an LST that had been converted into an Achelous-class repair ship. He boarded at San Pedro, California, passed through Pearl Harbor, than on to join 7th Fleet. I recall him telling me the one thing he dreaded was seeing thunderheads brewing up ahead, knowing that stormy seas were typically miserable on the great flat-bottomed hulk that was an LST. He did, however, enjoy being at sea at night, but then he was trained for it; I was not. I never got the chance to sail with him, although I have sailed with a few of his mates. A bunch of crotchety old Navy men, you had to be on your toes or you weren’t likely to be invited back. But I digress…

 

I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the machinations of the Western Allies with regards to transatlantic traffic and the shipping lines during WWI. What seems relatively simple and straightforward, is actually quite complex. One has this mental picture of great convoys of ships moving en masse back and forth, protected by legions of escorts that warded off attackers more often than not. It’s a false narrative.

 

The convoy “system” was not instituted until late 1917, more than three years into the war. By that time, German tactics were inflicting withering losses on the sea lanes. By November, 1917, seven months after the US’ entry, seventeen million tons of the world’s shipping tonnage had been lost, with less than half replaced. The first ten months of 1917 had seen more tonnage lost than the previous twenty-eight months. One might think that the US’ entry would have greatly boosted the number of ships available, but in fact the US merchant fleet had been in steady decline for nearly ten years. American shipping companies, much like the nation’s railroads, had failed to invest in new ships and equipment, ceding much of the transatlantic trade to the European lines, including the Germans. Now, with the British seeing their merchant fleet attrited, and the Germans no longer participating, things were dire.

 

Prior to the deployment of convoys, it’s my impression that much of the war at sea was largely one of a cat-n-mouse game, with the number of cats increasing and the mice getting fewer and fewer. Merchant ships moved across the Atlantic individually, their fate typically decided equally by a ship’s capabilities, the experience and judgement of her captain and crew, and dumb luck. There was some flexibility in choosing a route, but when traffic was moving from known points A to B, it wasn’t too difficult to find the chokepoints that brought traffic into the enemy’s grasp.

 

In an effort to mitigate the free reign the German submarines and commerce raiders appeared to enjoy, the British developed the armed merchant cruiser (AMC) and the Q-ship. The AMCs were typically prewar liners, ships built for speed which, when armed, had the ability to not only defend themselves, but could run down an adversary with some ease. The Q-ships were well-armed decoys, aiming to lure the enemy (typically submarines) into range before dispatching them post-haste. It was extremely dangerous work, as attested to by the number of Q-ships lost. Neither appeared to blunt the upward trajectory of shipping losses, instead serving only to raise the wariness of their antagonists.

 

The German commerce raiders were hybridized versions of the AMC and the Q-ship. They largely depended on hidden arms and guile to run down or approach their prey. They were typically just as fast (or slow depending on one’s perspective) as the typical merchantman, and were well-armed with intermediate-caliber guns and torpedoes, hidden behind canvas shrouds or wooden partitions that could be quickly dropped or cleared for action. The tactic was to approach the enemy by hook-or-crook, deliver a warning shot across the bow, than accept their surrender. Board the ship, a few charges in strategic places, and the merchantman was soon settling on the bottom. The crews were seen to, either safely into their boats or taken aboard. It all seemed a rather civilized process until the British introduced AMCs, Q-ships, and began arming their merchant ships.

 

All of this is likely well-trampled ground for most readers here. Still, operating in such a manner, it seems to me, ran to the limits of what many would consider piracy. Flying a country’s ensign (other than your own) and/or identifying yourself as a neutral or non-belligerent vessel with the aim of deceiving your quarry smacks of 17th century sea captains that wore tatty clothes and set their hair on fire. Who is to say what is “fair” in such a war? And yet, if the actions of the German raiders were questionable, the reaction by the merchants seems that of sheep led to slaughter. By 1916, such tactics were well established and known, yet ship’s captains continued to allow unknown and/or suspicious ships to close on them, often with tragic result.

 

In view of all of this, the 20th century shipping companies, much like their 16th and 17th century forebears, often acted in ways outside the national interest. Insurers are not going to line up to underwrite assets operated at high risk, so companies acted to minimize it. Some ships were moved onto routes that saw less interdiction, some were sent to yards for reconstruction or conversion, some were anchored. Other companies accepted the risk, hoping for profitable operations. Until the companies were nationalized or their assets requisitioned, many operated in ways that mitigated the risk of loss, the nation be damned.

 

Which then brings us circuitously back to C. W. Cayzer & Company, a Liverpool shipping line which operated on the trade routes between Britain and India. Founded in 1877, it would go through a number of reorganizations, eventually founding the Clan Line of Steamers Ltd. Acquisitions would continue up to and during WWI, with its routes expanded to include South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. By 1930, the company arguably had become one of, if not the largest, freight hauling line in the world. The line, however, had gainfully continued operations throughout the war, taking a dreadful beating for the effort with a number of prominent assets lost to enemy action.

 

One such action was the abbreviated clash between SS Clan MacTavish and the German raider Möwe (alternatively spelled Moewe), perhaps the most successful German commerce raider of the war. Möwe had put to sea on her first sortie in late December, 1915, and by January 15, 1916, had sunk or captured seven ships without a fight. That would change the next day, at the hands of Captain William N. Oliver and Clan MacTavish.

 

(AAR to follow)


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#149 simanton

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 11:33 PM

Very interesting and no, not familiar with C. W. Cayser & Co.  Couple of detail items.  AMCs were out and out naval warships and operated as such.  In general, none of this false flag and hoist your true colors just before you open fire, their armament was out in the open and they flew naval ensigns.  Both of the famous Cunard liners Lusitania and Mauritania's construction received Admiralty subsidies for being built to Royal Navy standards for quick conversion to AMCs, although neither was converted during WWI.  By and large, RN AMCs were employed on blockading.  Imperial German AMCs such as Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Kronprinz Wilhelm didn't operate in disguise, although famously Cap Trafalger disguised herself as the Cunard Line RMS Carmania while, converted to an AMC, Carmania disguised herself as Cap Trafalgar!  The German Hilfkreuzer were not particularly successful, but the disguised raiders like Moewe, Wolf and Seeadler (Graf Lueckner's famous square rigged raider) did fairly well.

 

Looking forward to the AAR!


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#150 healey36

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Posted Yesterday, 05:42 AM

Agreed. My impression is that the WWI British AMC was typically, but not always, a requisitioned liner, flagged as a warship, armed and used principally for patrol of the sea lanes and, later, convoy escort. While they didn't operate by stealth, necessarily, there was an element, perhaps unintended, of deception in their tactical use. A traditional warship could be identified as a threat from a considerable distance, while an AMC often gained a few thousand yards on approach as an adversary went through an attempted challenge/identification process. Most of the accounts I've read have such clashes occurring at fairly close range, which was likely the result of both this phenomenon and the AMC's great speed.

 

It's interesting that the Admiralty both praised and lamented the dichotomy of employing the AMC. Fast and reasonably well-armed, they were well-suited for both pursuit and evasion. However, built as commercial shipping (perhaps with some oversight by the RN), they were vulnerable for their unarmored form, and their speed capability came at a heavy cost in fuel consumption. Engagements involving AMCs seem to have been mutually bloody affairs.

 

Merchant Navy poster

 

My first encounter with the weapon tagged as the Q-ship came some fifty years ago in Lowell Thomas' Raiders of the Deep. Further reading has done little to tamp down the romanticism and mythology surrounding their employment. They were sort of the reverse tactically of the German auxiliary cruiser, with the raider using deception to close on a target and the Q-ship attempting to lure a potential adversary into range. I'm not sure if I've ever read of a an encounter between a Q-ship and an auxiliary cruiser; they were instead primarily intended as an answer to the attack by a surfaced submarine. Unarmored and slow, they were configured to absorb tremendous damage and remain afloat. Accounts have their holds packed with lumber and/or empty sealed drums to mitigate the effects of flooding, the bridge and other vulnerable positions well sand-bagged to deflect/absorb shell splinters. It must have required a pretty stout disposition to go to war on a Q, knowing that your ship would likely be shot to pieces from under you during a lengthy engagement.

 

It's interesting that the Americans, as best I can tell, never employed an AMC or Q-ship, despite having considerable problems with submarine interdiction along the eastern coast. I do recall that the Navy had considerable input in the design and construction of the postwar liner SS United States, the last and, to my knowledge, current holder of the Blue Ribbon for transatlantic crossings. The Navy's interest was primarily in her capability as a high-speed transport. Launched in 1951, the era of the armed merchant cruiser had already ended.


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#151 simanton

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Posted Today, 12:00 AM

I enjoyed Lowell Thomas in the days of my youth.  My bookshelves still contain Raiders of the Deep, Count Lueckner, The Sea Devil, The Sea Devil's Fo'c'sle, and Lauterbach of the China Sea.  Interestingly, the intended victim of the Q Ship was the U boat which followed The Hague Convention Prize Regulations and certainly was an incentive toward unrestricted submarine warfare.  Even without Q ships, the Master of a ship flying The Red Duster was hardly likely to carry out the requirements laid upon him.  If Schweiger of U-20 had surfaced and popped a 5cm shell across the bow of Lusitania, would "Bowler Bill" Turner have hove to and been ready to present his papers?  Not bloody likely, mate!  Especially since his cargo manifest would have revealed small arms ammunition and 3" unfused shrapnel shells!  (It always amazes me that every couple of decades the media announces the blockbuster scandal "Ammunition Found on Lusitania!" No kidding?  All you had to do was look at the copy of the cargo manifest filed with The Port of New York on her sailing!  Mind you, whatever her legal status, sinking her without warning was certainly one of the great acts of monumental stupidity of the 20th century!)

 

When I was stationed in Norfolk in the late 1980s, many's the time I looked at United States laid up pierside.  Yes, Gibbs & Cox met Navy specification for a high speed transport, she must have been a pinnacle of conventional steam technology.  I remember an exhibit on Gibbs & Cox at The Mariners' Museum.  If memory serves, according to the exhibit she has never been opened up to full power (for that matter, neither has Titanic...) and Gibbs considered her good for 40+ knots.  Sadly, she will probably never turn a screw again.







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