Playing the Japanese
First, a disclaimer, I have never played the Japanese. This comes from me having run the campaign 6 times. I have observed what the Japanese did or did not do and how it worked out for them. I am not splitting the article of how to play the Japanese (even though they are split in two) because their fate is collective, if one fails then all fail. I have never seen a team play the Japanese and the additional complexity that might add. Of course, I have also never seen the Allies played by a team either.
Secondly, this is not some guarantee of victory either. There are simply too many variables of time of day, weather, visibility, set up, LBA (hit or no hit) for any one plan of action to cover. Your best bet is to get as much strength (your CAs) as you can between your convoys and Allied sweeps and try to impose your fight (your CAs in a gunnery fight over 12,000 yards) upon them. Aside from that there is no accounting for dice.
Thirdly, I am writing about playing with the historical start. This means no GT0, the RN capital ships are sunk, the First Malaysian Convoy is successful, and the Singapore Index is at 1. So, no capital ships on either side.
The Japanese forces are divided into a Western Attack Force (WAF) and an Eastern Attack Force (EAF) with island of Borneo dividing their respective areas of operation (AO). The WAF’s goals are the fall of Singapore and Batavia (the capitol of Java) and all the other objectives in its AO. The EAF’s goal is the fall of Surabaya (also on Java) and all other objectives in its AO.
The EAF is divided into two axes, Center and Eastern. Neither Batavia or Surabaya can be targeted until all other objectives in their respective AOs have fallen or are targeted the same GT as they are targeted.
The WAF has 11 objectives (successful convoys) to take and 16 convoys to take them with. The EAF has 13 objectives to take and 16 convoys to take them with. This is critical; each AF is assigned 2 to 3 convoy missions per GT. A convoy mission not sortied has the same result (objective wise) as a convoy aborted in that another convoy mission has not taken an objective. If the WAF fails 6 times it is defeated. If the EAF fails 4 times it is defeated. If either the WAF or the EAF is defeated, then both suffer defeat regardless of how well the other AF did.
Both the Japanese and the Allies have theater events (TE). These can be good or bad. They can severely affect the Allied ability to sortie. Some TE gives the Allies a ship as a reinforcement, but normally only for that turn. Both sides have reinforcements that are only available to them by spending CD and at a cost in VP. Unfortunately, that is the cost of doing business as you and the Allies are both going to need those ships including the Japanese CLs (more on that later).
Both AOs are divided into six tiers (0-5). These effect the chances of Japanese land-based air (LBA) to contact Allied naval missions. Each tier 1-5 completed subtracts 1 from the LBA contact DR. A tier is completed when all objectives in it are taken. This is important, but not the only consideration when deciding the order in which objectives are to be taken. You can leapfrog past objectives to take others (except Batavia and Surabaya). The reason you might want to do this is that Allied sweeps start rolling for contact in the highest tier there are Japanese missions in and only if not aborted do they roll against lower tier missions. So, if you sortie a patrol (and you almost always should) and it misses an Allied sweep or is defeated then you want the next possible contact to be your strongest convoy (escort wise) with an AV attached to up its chances of contact. Those two missions give your smaller convoys in lower tiers two levels of protect in addition to any CG or LBA coverage you may have. In cases where you have fallen behind schedule and need to use a CD for reinforcement, a strong convoy escort may be your only protection. This works well for the WAF, not so much for the EAF.
OK, you have a lot to do and 6 GT to do it in. What do you have to do it with? The WAF starts out with 3 Takao class CAs, 4 Mogami class CAs, 1 Sendai class CL, 24 DD, 3 AV and 51 AP. The EAF has 3 Myoko class CAs, 1 Sendai class CL, 1 CVL (w/1 old DD), 6 DD, 2 AV and 18 AP. The EAF needs help, and it can only get it in a timely fashion from the WAF.
The WAF is opposed by the Brits on GT1 and possibly the Dutch (if they do not transfer to Surabaya to unite with the Americans) from G2 on. The Brits comprise 1 weak CA, 3 D class cruisers (no rapid fire), 1 J class DD (their only DD comparable to your DDs), 3 E class DDs, 4 S&T class DDs (WWI relics) and 1 V class DD (which they are almost certain to transfer to Darwin). The Dutch have 3 CL (no rapid fire) and 7 DD (equivalent to the E class). The Brits if they do not get the TE (1 in 12 chance) allowing a free transfer of Vampire to Darwin are almost forced to use their CD to transfer Vampire or the ANZAC squadron when it shows up on GT2 will not have a DD and not be able to sortie. On GT2 the Brits will almost certainly take Mauritius (their best ship IMHO) as a CD reinforcement, so no sortie then either. You can only hope the Dutch come out on their own. On GT3 if the Brits get Emerald as a TE (a 1-12 chance) then they will almost certainly sortie hoping (hoping is an understatement) for a night engagement and a torpedo ambush. I have not calculated this in awhile now, but as I recall they need at least 8 different DR in a roll to go their way just to get them into torpedo range without getting shot to pieces. Nevertheless, if they pull it off, they are going to possibly hurt you very badly. I have never seen it happen; but if you are the unlucky type then you should sweat GT3. GT4, by this point, unless the torpedo ambush worked the handwriting is on the wall for Singapore and Batavia. I said all that to say this, the WAF on GT1 should transfer all the Takaos, DesDivs 4, 6 & 8 and 10 AP to the EAF. If you take Batavia and Singapore on GT4 then the WAF transfers all its remaining ships to the EAF on GT5. I almost forgot to mention that there is a small chance the Americans will transfer 5 Clemson class DD to Singapore on GT1. They would be available to sortie on GT2, but that does not change what the Brits are likely to do with their CD on GT2.
The EAF is only faced with the Marblehead (no rapid fire) CL and 5 Clemson class DD on GT1. Unless the Americans get TE 8 or 9 (on a D12). If they get TE 8 then they get Boise CL and 4 Clemson class DD. If they get TE 9 then add Houston CA. Those TE results (2 out of 12) are probably the only way the Americans sortie a sweep that GT. Otherwise its Marblehead against 1 or 2 Myokos and Clemsons with their 4” pop guns (1/2 damage against DDs) versus 2 or 4 Kagero DDs. If it happens at night so much the better as the Americans have no flashness powder and self-illuminate every time they fire. In all likelihood the Americans will transfer from Tarakan to Surabaya awaiting GT2 with its guaranteed reinforcements of Houston, Boise and 8 Clemson class DD. The Americans then must decide on GT2 if they transfer a DesDiv to Darwin to keep the ANZACs able to sortie. If they get TE 6 or 7 (another 2 out of 12) then they get the Pensacola for that GT only and they are almost certain to sortie. Nevertheless, it is the ANZACs at Darwin that you need to worry about. The good news is that they can only sortie against your Eastern axis. The ANZACs have 2 Kent class CAs (1 modified to CA armor), 2 Apollo class CL and 2 Leander class CL. All the CL can rapidly fire, so they want a daylight engagement inside 9,000 yards where they penetrate your CA armor and they are hitting on 1, 2, 3, 10, 11 & 12 while you are hitting on 1, 2 & 10. Do not give that to them.
Some good news for the EAF is that you can sortie a CG. But it is a single CVL and the most you can put up is 4 TB at a time. What about Allied LBA? Chuckle, Allied LBA is a TE (normally a 10-11 out of 12). It normally consists of 3 flights of level bombers. The other good news is that Allied TE 1-5 on GT1 & 2, and 1-3 on GT3 & 4 require the Allies to detach up to 3 cruisers and 6 DDs per base for convoy escort. An escort requirement will almost certainly prohibit any Allied sorties as it will take away the very ships their would have sortied with.
Japanese CD Reinforcements: The WAF should take the Yura CL on GT2 as it gives them the 2 cruisers needed for a large convoy while leaving the 4 Mogamis available for a patrol or a higher tier convoy escort.
The EAF is trickier in that they have more to do and less to do it with. They need the two CAs available and another CL would not hurt. But they also need their CDs to sortie convoys, a patrol, and a CG. They get 4 per GT (as does the WAF) and they may get another from TE (or 2), but you can not count on it. So, you must balance your need to sortie as many convoys as you can each GT as against your need for additional forces. This will all vary with the TE you get as well as enemy action (if successful). This is when you will have to consider sortieing a medium convoy (with 5 CAs as escort) against Ambon or Balikpapan (I would save them for this purpose). This means you will have to abandon completing the tiers in order as there are not enough S and VS objectives in the lower tiers. This means that you must play the EAF different then WAF as you simply do not have enough CD to do everything you want to do.
Tactically, IMHO you should analyze your strengths and your weakness versus your enemies’ strengths and weaknesses. From that you can determine the kind of fight you want as well as the kind of fight they want. Your fighting strength rests in the 12 Takao, Myoko and Mogami class heavy cruisers. Your DDs are generally superior to the newer Allied DDs present (the exception being Jupiter and then the 3 N class the Aussies can take on GT3) and much superior to the older DDs. You have the best and second-best torpedoes (types 93 & 90) but the Brits are not that far behind and getting the Allied CLs with their rapid fire inside 9,000 yards is begging for trouble. Yes, you could sink some stuff and they could cripple several of your CAs and you do not want to match your CLs against even the Dutch cruisers. So, while they want to be inside 9,000 yards. You want to be outside 12,000 yards (to preclude rapid fire) where only their 8” penetrate your belt armor and you shoot the same. Your equivalent damage advantage should take care of the rest. The good news here is that you 2 to 3 knot speed advantage should help you keeping the Allies at a distance.
The ABDA forms on GT3. Prior to that each Allied base (Singapore, Batavia, Surabaya & Darwin) has 1 CD per GT that only it can use. After the ABDA forms then it has 4 CD (unless a TE reduces it) that it can share out as it sees fit. In addition, the various Allies can not combine for sorties until the ABDA has formed. It is this lack of flexibility with CD assignment when coupled with Singapore convoy escorts that means early Allied sorties are problematic at best (from the Allied POV).
The Allies also have tactical communication problems associated with the fact that they speak two different languages and have three differing sets of signals. This means that they may be surprising slow to react to your spontaneous moves; particularly if English speaking divisions are coupled with Dutch speaking divisions. This may be particularly important in a night engagement when a GT delay in executing a change of course may decide whether a torpedo attack even comes close. So, I am not saying the Japanese should not engage at night, but the ranges are likely to be close enough that your belt armor is penetrable. Of course, if you catch the Americans at night, please help yourself. After all they have no flashness powder, very short ranged torpedoes and without working FC radar they add one range band. On the other hand, the torps on the Clemson class go boom when they hit you, so not too close.
Early on the EAF may have it easy. This could be accounted for by the Allies being especially unlucky with TEs requiring convoys. Or it could be that they have been concentrating at Surabaya and Darwin so they can sortie full strength sweeps against the EAF (starting on GT4 with the US acquiring Phoenix). Particularly the Eastern axis as both Surabaya and Darwin can sortie sweeps in that axis. For this reason, I would give priority to the Eastern Axis early on to take the ANZACs out of the equation until Surabaya where the Center and Eastern axis unite. By then (provided you have not lost any and the WAF transferred the Mogamis to you on GT5) you should have all twelve 8” cruisers. 6 for a patrol and 6 for the convoy escort against Surabaya. That is 30 8” D12 in each sortie. If you can not hit something with that then buy new dice.
Finally, you have the ships needed to win, but it is a closer run thing then you might have thought. You can not afford too many mistakes or missed convoy opportunities. As the author of the rules is wont to say; “Keep Banging On”.