Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare - Sam Willis

In my year review for 2019 as part of my plans for this year I mentioned some of the models and books I received over Xmas that were part of my early year modelling and reading plans with a promise to review this title as soon as I had finished it.

Well I started reading Sam Willis' book almost as soon as I had unwrapped it and found it an engrossing read.

The book is entitled as focused on the eighteenth century, but the content very much applies to the early nineteenth century as the Royal Navy became dominant in the period up to 1815.

So what to say about this particular book and why I found it so engrossing.

Perhaps I can find no better way of summing up the content than by quoting the author himself in his thinking behind writing this title. The book as described by Willis, in his preface, is a history of sailing warfare that 'was faithful to the practical realities of life at sea in the eighteenth century' and that with research started at sea before moving to the archives and museums, resulted in a series of essays designed to provide a thematic interpretation of fighting at sea.

Thus the book is laid out in a chronological narrative of two ships or fleets, meeting, engaging in a chase and escape, manoeuvring for position in an engagement, right through to the aftermath of battle.

In the process of describing the intricacies of each of these quite separate but linked steps, Willis makes careful reference to actual accounts referring to the experience of the men who did this for real with a notable reference to the many court martial records of the events, judged by the officer's peers, who in their recorded judgements either agreed with, or not, the actions taken, with an explanation of their thinking. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by Jamie Whyte with line drawings of the ships and their equipment pertinent to the text, together with nine glorious maps of the various naval theatres of the period. This example used to illustrate the layout of the standing rigging.

Alongside the accounts there are many battles quoted from the period to illustrate the results of the various actions taken which can at first seem quite overwhelming until you realise there is a copiously notated reference at the back of the book outlining the battles referenced and the key events in them. That said I did find myself thumbing through my copy of Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail by Brian Tunstall and Nicholas Tracy by Conway Maritime Press for extra insight, together with the excellent maps that particular title contains, but much of that kind of extra information is also quite readily available on the net.

As Willis points out, his book is very much Royal Navy centred given that most accounts come from a very extensive amount of firsthand source material and he also points out the omissions from the subjects covered such as the techniques involved with fighting at anchor or the practicalities of the immediate aftermath of battle.

That said this books covers a wealth of information in a very detailed and easy read that takes a landlubber like me through a very practical narrative of how these men practiced the art of sailing warfare and informs the way I imagine my model ships would have performed in reality.

Some of the standout references for me was covering how these men started to identify friend from foe in the days of limited optics and communications between ships meeting on the high seas; and the way the intent of a strange ship could be determined by the way its sails were set or how it reacted to seeing a stranger itself. 

The approach made by a stranger either to windward or larboard and how they approached, head on or presenting the broadside could cause one vessel to misinterpret the intentions of the other and occasionally cause friend to fire at friend if not done correctly or other factors prevented other ways to ascertain a strangers identity.

Even the shape of the ship helped the informed observer identify the likely nationality of a strange vessel, or even which friendly ship it was if part of a local squadron, and given that specific sail settings were observable from a much greater distance than signal flags, the setting of topsails could enable a signalling process over much greater distances by the simple process of setting the topsail at a certain shape or lowering and raising it several times.

Identifying friend from foe, reading a strangers intent and managing pursuit and evasion were all part of the skill set for a ship commander in the age of sail

When a ship or group of ships chose to run from a stranger and a chase developed, opposing ships could easily loose sight of one another over a long distance pursuit, and with the intervals of nightfall, the commander of the chasing ship would have to fall back on some basic deductions to work out the likely course of his prey once it had passed over the horizon, centred around where they were likely heading for, best course to maintain the best speed with the prevailing wind, to avoid being contacted again.

It is amazing how these simple techniques often enabled the pursuer to pick up the trail of a previous contact and how the better trained crew could often out-sail the faster ship with a poorly trained crew, and thus bring it to action.

One aspect of modelling fleet actions in Age of Sail games is the best ways of recreating signalling to capture the issues of command and control between multiple ships where a commander is attempting to bring a greater number of ships into action against a portion of an enemy fleet.

Nelson briefing his ships captains before Trafalgar

This aspect of naval warfare also caused much contemplation among the actual commanders themselves as outlined by Willis detailing the gradual adoption of standard operating procedures after some notable failures.

Willis points out some interesting aspects of this art of command, highlighting the difficulties for captains in mastering the techniques of manoeuvring in company with other ships in their squadron or division, taking into account the vagaries of their individual ships that could impact on their ability to keep station at the prescribed distance in the line of battle.

When it came to manoeuvring for action, historians focus on 'The Fighting Instructions', the codified list of what a captain should do in response to a specific signal from his respective commander, I say respective, because a captain had a first expectation of command to his direct commander before the fleet commander, another factor that could lead to confusion.

However the fighting instructions were just one part of the understanding between a senior admiral and his captains, which also included written instructions, those additional points that a specific admiral may issue that would either supersede the signal book, or add to it, and then there was the doctrine that governed what a captain should do in the event of a lack of orders for one reason or another.

The Court Martial documents help flesh out the view of this doctrinal approach where senior captains would take a view of the actions of a captain before them based on their understanding of what would have been most appropriate for the situation. An example would be the failure of a captain to come to the support of the ship nearest to him in the line assailed by an overpowering number of the enemy, something that was almost a given expectation in the Royal Navy.

To help captains in their approach to a likely imminent encounter with the enemy, it became standard for commanding admirals to meet with their captains to outline their plan and intent for battle to guide them in the actions to take when signalling and other communication became impractical. This developed into such a guiding principal  that the Admiralty started to take a very dim view of commanding admirals that failed to take this basic approach and then suffered a humiliating setback.

French Admiral Villeneuve, commander of the Combined fleet at Trafalgar

This aspect of command is where Nelson stands out among his peers in the way he was able to communicate his intent to such an extent that all his captains felt empowered as a unit to take the initiative in such circumstances, but not so that they would take actions that were of their own thinking but rather that of their commander; so much so that Admiral Villeneuve paid Nelson the compliment that he created a fleet of Nelsons, with captains very able at interpreting what their commander would expect of them in almost any given situation, with the great admiral famous for his comment about the least worst thing a captain could do would be to put his ship alongside that of the enemy.

The one aspect that helped confound this aspect of command and control at sea was that during the long periods of peace that separated the periods of war, these skills and abilities were often lost and lessons and skills had to be relearned as part of the build up to another war. This explains why fleets had to have time at sea to practice their manoeuvres and learn to understand their commander, their fellow captains, and their ships and crews abilities.

To add to these challenges, any movement of groups of ships between the different fleets could add to the time needed for this understanding to develop as the expectations of the admiral commanding the Channel Fleet could be quite different from that commanding the Mediterranean Fleet, and battle was not a good place to discover those differences as Willis illustrates with examples.

These are just some of the fascinating aspects of the realities of naval warfare of this period covered in this book, and I came away with a much deeper understanding of them after reading it and with a much better understanding of what could go wrong and why, when a commander sought to bring his ship or ships into action in a particular way and what the 'Command Factor' contained in some rules for the period are attempting to model in their differentiation.

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century is 251 pages including the index and list of references.

The contents are;

List of Illustrations


1. Contact
2. Chase and Escape I: Speed and Performance
3. Chase and Escape II: The Tactics of Chasing
4. Station Keeping
5. Communication
6. Unwritten Rules
7. Command
8. The Weather Gage
9. Fleet Tactics
10. Fighting Tactics
11. Damage

Appendix: Fleet Battles
Glossary of Nautical Terms

This book seems readily available from most good book dealers from around £20 and is a welcome addition to any collection of reference books on the subject.

Next up, the 1:700th ships get their fist roll out with a selection of three scenarios trying out some rules to use with the models.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Spectre Operations - Xmas 2019 Game

The Xmas break has for me traditionally been an opportunity to get in a few wargames with friends and family and as well as playing Augustus to Aurelian this Xmas with Will, Tom and Ben I got together with Steve M, Vince and Chas to play a game of Spectre Operations, in Vince's toy room.

I think I first came across the incarnation of this, what I would call, modern, special operations/asymmetrical warfare, set of rules back in 2018 at Colours in Newbury when I reported on the game seen below, which I remarked then was a game that would very much appeal to several of the chaps in the Devon Wargames Group - so I wasn't entirely surprised to see that Chas and Vince were getting to grips with them and the game we were about to play.

Spectre Operations at Colours 2018 - more pictures can be seen in the link below together with links to the rules and associated figures

Our stage for our fictitious battle, a benighted town in  the country of Nowhere. 

Our tabletop presented the normal third world, fly blown, shanty town, common to many news reports about terrorist hot-spots around the world, complete with its enclosed Presidential Palace into which, no less a person than President Donald Trump had managed to get himself kidnapped during an ill-advised visit.

I know, I know, but just go with me on this!

The scenario based on this initial set up saw the President being held by the militia forces of this fictitious state, looking to bargain with various interested factions who wanted to get hold of this VIP.

One faction, it turned out, was a shady firm of private military contractors purportedly working alongside western coalition forces, but with that relationship left in a certain level of uncertainty.

Another faction was the government of this fictitious state represented by its own military forces who though officially working alongside the coalition were to be considered as potentially unreliable in so many ways.

Finally there were the peoples militia forces themselves, who were holding the President, and demanding their own agenda be met before any prospect of the release of him.

The end of town that would figure most in our battle, with the Presidential palace, centre-top.

Into this unbelievable mess, with the stress on unbelievable, but if you are still with me, just keep going for a bit longer, are to be sent a rescue mission of US Army Rangers commanded by yours truly.

On being briefed about the three other factions with forces on or about to enter the table, I had two squads of elite Army Rangers tasked with securing the President who we knew was being held within the Presidential Palace compound and to come up with a plan to safely extract him, using lethal force as necessary, which as we all know is a very undefined criteria in these kind of operations.

The drone over flight about to call in missile fire against the AA mount on the roof of the palace garrison building, with the HMG armed pickup in the compound in front. The President was being held in the security block in the right corner of the compound close by.

To help the Ranger force, I had the use of helicopters, Humvee armoured transports, drone observation and missile fire support, and the somewhat dubious backup from a platoon of government troops with their own Soviet made APC.

I was also made aware that western private contractors may also be operating in the area.

with flame and smoke rising from a successful missile strike, the helicopter brings in the security team

My plan was simple:
The Rangers would enter the Presidential compound via helicopter lift onto the roof of the main building, with one helicopter and its team sniper detailed with taking down militia guards within the compound perimeter who might contest the landing.

The initial assault would be preceded with, as I was later briefed, my one missile strike, which I directed at the building on which a rather large Soviet made AA gun was positioned.

The next pre-landing primary target would be the heavy machine-gun mounted on the pickup in the compound, the crew for which would be dealt with by the sniper.

Some of the compound garrison lie dead as the garrison building burns and gate guards look to take cover

Once on the roof, a hole was to be blown in it and any occupants neutralised, together with any other members of the immediate garrison attempting to interfere with the landing.

With the compound secure the other Ranger squad would land on the roof securing the surrounding area as the release squad moved to the building where the President was held and escort him back to the palace building where he would change into Ranger fatigues.

with the assault on the compound under way, Chas prepares to resist Steve's oncoming government troops

With the palace and its surrounds secured, the helicopters would return along with the Humvees, with the latter providing ground support with their HMGs as the helicopter lift proceeded.

The government troops were tasked with capturing and holding the ground next to the palace in which a container park had been set up, and they would support the Humvees in suppressing any enemy ground forces.

As I suspected from the start, my plan was to be interfered with by other force agendas and so I determined to play the role straight, and assume the role of the Ranger commander, trusting no one, and only engaging known enemy or others who threatened my forces after being warned to stand down.

As part of that approach I determined to only allow other forces to come within a predetermined distance from my troops who would use the protection of the palace to limit the scope of any outside interference, but if those forces proved loyal could help support my operation by suppressing known enemy, whilst any deviation would alert me to their actual intent, freeing me to engage them accordingly.

The government forces move over the hill supported by their APC ready to secure the container park and the large white transport office building occupied by the private contractor force who narrowly avoided being brassed up by the APC

So the game played out with the Rangers successfully taking the compound in about five to six moves, destroying the AA gun and pick up as planned and with the security squad quickly neutralising other guards on the gate and in the guard house who fired on my team, killing one ranger.

This squad with the help of the recce drone quickly identified other militia units approaching the palace in nearby buildings and likewise continued to neutralise those other threats completely.

Rangers secure the roof of the Presidential Palace with one man down from fire taken from the gate guard, about to be disposed of by a rifle grenade, as shown by the blast template over the gate

The President was quickly released and brought safely into the palace where he changed clothes to make identifying him and his whereabouts from any other Rangers impossible to any force likely to want to take him hostage.

There was a risk to the President from fire directed at the Rangers, but knowing that the likely intent of other forces was to capture, not kill our VIP it was deemed a sensible precaution to hide the target.

The dismay on the faces of my eventual opponents, once revealed, seemed to confirm the success of this approach, that seemed to catch them off guard - all's fair in Spectre Operations!

Government troops cautiously enter the container park

With the President secured and only one Ranger down, the plan had gone very well and it was now that the other forces started to make their play, with the government troops insisting that they leave the area allotted to them and enter the Presidential Palace and its compound.

I issued an order to their commander to stand down and to follow my orders, with the the threat of failure to comply seeing my troops firing on them if required.

Militia forces take shelter in the lee of the perimeter wall after losing a lot of men from fire from the Rangers as they landed

Similarly private contractors were observed advancing alongside the government troops and, approaching a separate wall on the perimeter, blew a hole in it with a demolition charge, announcing they were a US Seal team operating clandestine in support of our mission.

Still uncertain as to their real intent, I called to their commander stating that the palace building was off limits to all coalition forces, save my men, who were now the Presidential guard, and under his authority I was in command and would shoot any unauthorised person or persons entering the palace, instructing him to order his men to defend the perimeter in support of the operation to extract.

Rangers on the roof secure the surrounds as others move behind the palace towards the security block to release the President.

The directions given to the government and private forces were clear, designed to test their intent before I determined to open fire on them, if they erred from my directives, which I felt sure they would.

The Rangers control the palace and the compound, with its security wall providing good cover from enemy fire

The government troops likewise blew an access into the compound and started to attempt to break into the palace through one of the main doors, failing to gain access in the face of warnings to desist and that they would come under fire on entry.

The goverment soldiers eventually forced the palace door but were immediately gunned down on entering through it.

The private contractors chose to blow in one of the ground floor doors with a charge that stunned two of my Rangers on the door.

Fortunately one Ranger had the fortitude to immediately open fire, killing one of the four man team, with another Ranger on the roof taking out another two with a well directed grenade.

Militia units tried to ram the palace gate in another pick up but were disposed of by a well placed grenade launched at long range by Rangers on the roof

With the battle opened on the supposed allied forces, the militia tried to gain access through the main gate by charging a squad up to it in a pick up with the intent to ram their way in.

A well directed rifle launched grenade put an immediate stop to that attack, leaving the vehicle burning on the road outside.

The first helicopter is shot down by the private contractor team

With a temporary hold put on attempts to get into the palace the decision was taken to call in the helicopters and Humvees, with one helo standing off as the other came in ready to begin the extraction.

As this happened the Humvees moved into cover and opened fire on the most dangerous threat, namely the contractors gathered outside the breach in the perimeter wall, with their 50 cals dealing with the majority of those men, before themselves falling to an attack from government troops.

The President is down along with three of the Ranger extraction team - game over

Frankly at this stage of the op I think all bets were off at a successful extraction, but I could at least make sure that the enemy would have to make a decision on their own objective, to either capture the President alive or to simply kill the Ranger teams.

Dead and wounded private contractors lie helpless inside the perimeter wall as they tried to force access with a shaped charge

The government APC oversees the little battle without itself becoming engaged

The ploy worked in one sense in that the contractors who had lost a lot of men at this stage of the battle, opened up with everything they had, with troops capable of delivering fire to the same level as my Rangers.

Obviously with all thoughts of profit now forgotten, the return fire from a nearby building was deadly, killing three of the Rangers on the roof, taking down the helicopter that crashed in front of the palace, but also killing the President as well.

The Humvee team are taken out by government troops

With no hope of extraction I ordered my Rangers to stand down, whist securing the body of the President and await capture from whoever got onto the roof first.

No doubt an order would be now issued for the killing or capture of the contract team leader and its members and the government of this benighted country would now go through a change of management in the light of this unfortunate incident.

The militia were almost forced spectators as the battle evolved into one between the Rangers and contractors

The rules played fast and furious with the usual disparity in effectiveness between modern forces and less well trained and equipped militia types.

Thanks to Steve M, Vince and Chas for a pleasant day of battling in 'Nowheresville'

Monday, 13 January 2020

Chatham Pictorial Histories - Fleet Battle & Blockade, The French Revolutionary War 1793-1797 and The Naval War of 1812

With my current work progressing on my collection of 1:700th ships for the Age of Sail, I have been rereading some classic works from my library, collected when I was last putting together a set of models for this era of naval warfare.

The Chatham Pictorial Histories are a really great read to reacquaint or indeed get to understand for the first time the particular naval campaigns and wars from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, summarising as they do, the conflicts into key moments and actions that characterised the period covered by the title.

The books follow the time line covered and as the series title suggests are liberally festooned with images from the period used to illustrate the actions described.

I have the two titles above plus the volume covering navies of the American War of Independence entitled 'Navies of the American Revolution', which pretty well cover the key periods I am particularly interested in, and have recently ordered up a used copy of the second title in the French Revolutionary Wars series 'Nelson against Napoleon, From the Nile to Copenhagen 1798 - 1801'.

The artwork in the books, principally provided by the excellent resource that is the archive of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, is perfect for getting a contemporary view at the ships from these periods, which from a modelling perspective is really helpful for capturing the look of them when painting and rigging.

The action between the USS Constitution and HMS Java, with comment in the text describing the American habit of pulling off to make repairs before taking possession of a struck enemy ship.

As well as depicting the ships of the period the books are jam packed full of other treasures from Greenwich including maps, ship draught profiles, plans of coastal forts and harbour installations and contemporary views of them to compare with the maps and plans.

The books in this series are a collection of contributions from some well known names in Naval History with each book receiving an introduction from Robert Gardiner, another well known name in the field and for an overview of the period and a good way of identifying potential scenarios for the historical gamer are very good value.

What I particularly like about them is the way the books are split into very specific chapters that cover an aspect of the time period of the book, such as 'British Shipbuilding on the Lakes' in the 1812 title or 'Commerce Warfare in the West Indies' in the French Revolutionary War one. The chapters are detailed enough to get to the heart of the important points covered but with plenty of pointers to further exploration of the subject should the reader wish to delve deeper.

In addition the content is not just a rehash of the historical tomes that have become part of the foundational literature, namely William James and Alfred Thayer Mahan, both great reads and sources of information, but both guilty of a liberal smattering of jingoistic rhetoric in their attempts to portray their own national bias as balanced and factual and so that sort of nonsense is most notably absent in the volume covering the War of 1812 especially, where as a wargamer I am interested in understanding some facts about the period rather than the nationalistic fables.

So for example the detail about the American movement to develop powerful frigates to overcome any European type is well covered as well as the counter designs within their naval establishment, with this countered by the fact that a lot of the US designs were often overloaded with too many heavy guns, causing structural issues and 'hogging' where the the stern and bow would bend down  into the water under the weight of those extra guns in the bow and stern, adding to the stress of the buoyancy on the midships to raise the centre of the vessel and over-stress the whole structure of the ship. Some of the very heavy US frigates were well known for handling like a bus and these factors added to that issue. I now need to see if my choice of naval rules allow that sort of aspect to be modelled.

The success of the American sloops of war against British 'Cruizer class' brigs is well presented with the tactic of American ships to take out the rigging of the opponent quickly, using the copious amounts of anti-rigging munitions carried by US vessels, having the added bonus against the two masted brigs of often leaving them helpless once just one of the two masts were taken down or particularly the mizzen and gaff were destroyed using this tactic. The British could get away with using these cheap patrol ships against lesser opponents and only got away with it against the Americans because there were lots of them ready to pounce on any US ship that was damaged in a conflict with another one of them, often forcing a victorious US sloop to head home for repairs, hopefully with a prize in company.

US anti-rigging munitions

The wariness of US captains that any strange sail would probably be another British warship approaching caused them to habitually pull off from a dismasted and struck opponent to commence their repairs before moving in to take possession of it, something that would not be contemplated by a Royal Navy commander in a similar situation, taking possession of the enemy immediately before starting to make repairs on both vessels.

Likewise there is a very good chapter looking at the British response to the American heavy frigate challenge, developing their own 'razee' heavy frigates and the super frigate with good speed and maneuverability, as epitomised by HMS Endymion, who led the pursuit and capture of USS President in 1815

Fleet Battle and Blockade is 191 pages from cover to cover with the following content:

Likewise the Naval War of 1812 is similarly 190 pages with the following content:

If they could be better it would to have had more of the artwork in colour which would have significantly raised the cost from the £30 list price back when they were published in the mid-nineties, however, given that a lot of the art can now be seen for free on the Internet in glorious colour, it now makes these titles a valuable resource in directing further research, with the written information still as useful as when it was first published.

These titles are, as mentioned, by no means new, with my copies dating back to 1996 and 1998 respectively, and have been comprehensively reviewed in other posts, suffice for me to say, I am very pleased to have these books which form an important part of my library and I have thoroughly enjoyed rereading them again over the Xmas break.

Both titles, in hardback, can be picked up quite easily for a really good price with a used copy of Fleet Battle available from Amazon UK at just £4.90 and The Naval War of 1812 for just over £1.00.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Target for Tonight, Op Five - Hannover

The amazing digital artwork by Piotr Forkasiewicz, captures dramatically the devastating impact of an attack with Schrage Musik, upward firing cannon.

The months of September and October 1943 saw Bomber Command take a two month break from its initial heavy attacks against Berlin as replicated in our first four ops of this mini-campaign using Target for Tonight.

Op 1 - Berlin
Op 2 - Nuremberg
Op 3 - Berlin
Op 4 - Mannheim

In the first half of this eight op series of games Bomber Command set up an imposing position with a Major British Victory in the offing that over the course of the last four games has seen that victory point total gradually pegged back , culminating in our last game in November last year that saw the Nachtjagd cause havoc among the veteran and elite bomber crews as a successful bombing pattern over Mannheim was marred by the loss of large number of very experienced crews.

The balance of the campaign had shifted to just two points keeping Bomber Command in the victory side of a drawn campaign and with the 711 plane attack on the relatively close target of Hannover that was attacked on the 22nd-23rd September 1943, as the next op to be played, there was a great opportunity for Bomber Command to regain its lead.

The historical raid plan for Bomber Command during the Battle of Berlin Campaign. We are playing some of the first eight largest attacks in that campaign to test our campaign system for Target for Tonight

The historical attack on Hannover is described quite succinctly in the Bomber Command War Diaries, stating;

'Visibility in the target area was good but stronger winds than forecast caused the marking and the bombing to be concentrated 2 and 5 miles south-south-east of the city centre. It had not been possible to obtain a German report but it is unlikely that serious damage was caused.'

As our game was to demonstrate Target for Tonight has an often unerring way of replicating the history book.

The campaign map indicating ops completed so far and on which targets together with the victory point threshold

The campaign we are playing is all about results obtained from the area bombing brought against the various city targets our bomber groups are ordered to attack, with the players at this stage of Ops planning looking carefully at the bomb loads to be carried against the fuel load and how to set up their waves to attack in sequence to allow the right mix of bombs to be dropped in the right area; with 'cookie', 4,000lb HE block-buster bombs needed to deal with industrial and transport targets to be followed up by other attacks dropping a mix of general high explosive and incendiary bombs.

The idea is to cause as many large fires as possible with the right mix of bombs on particular target areas in the city attacked, creating the victory point total for Bomber Command, topped up with any nightfighters shot down in the process.

A near full turn out by Bomber Command with just 20% of the force stood down for this attack

The Nachtjagd's mission is to destroy as many British bombers as they can, and preferably gain the added bonus of taking down the veteran and elite crews that gain them extra bonus victory points whilst hoping that a combination of bombing error and weather complications will add to their efforts and reduce the effect of the attacks on the target.

The number of bombers selected for our game ops and the quality of their crews is randomised for each game as is the quality of nightfighters they may run into together with British intruder nightfighters operating in support of them.

Likewise the weather and wind conditions at home airfields (this can affect take-off and landings) and the target (affecting which type of marker is used and any likely drift)is also randomised, forcing the players to make decisions on bomb load out and target marking positioning in the absence of certainty, but withing a margin of error.

The target map for Hannover, with wind direction indicated from the east and, because of predicted cloud over the target,
Paramata flare markers being used to mark the target, yet to be placed. The players select where this marker will be placed
to guide their bombing attacks on the key targets within the city, with the assumption that it is roughly where they have placed it.

As the campaign has developed the players are starting to get more sophisticated with their planning, looking to bomb up their Lancasters and the other Mainforce heavies in a particular load out to suit the target and sending in the waves conscious of crew experience and getting the first drops on target for the less experienced crews to attempt to follow up on.

This is adding another decision level to the basic game of Target for Tonight without taking anything away from the original design and something I was keen to include with the idea behind the campaign module.

The route to the target and back, with enemy and friendly nightfighters set up in each of the legs of the flight in enemy territory and with their ability indicated 2 worst, five best.

Likewise the inclusion of nightfighters with their own skill set, rated one to another, adds another level of granularity to the game when the bomber stream moves through a zone covered by an 'experten' or not as the case may be.

The intelligence briefing for players showing that the Germans have started to make improvements to their capabilities since the Mannheim op.

The game flowed along very quickly and seamlessly as the majority of players are regular and, knowing how this game runs, set up and start very quickly in comparison to when we first started.

Schrage Musik attacks are becoming a common method in the campaign with the ability to spot a nightfighter before it attacks greatly reduced often leaving a surviving bomber badly damaged whilst many others are shot down in the first attack.

The takeoff leg was reasonably drama free with all aircraft getting off safely despite a near miss on the taxiway between a couple of Stirlings from 3 Group and the stream set course for Germany with no mishaps until the enemy coast hove into view as the crews tested their guns and made navigation checks to confirm the time of crossing and headings taken.

No.1 Group with a full turn out of six Lancasters and a strong core of veteran crews led the attack with their cookie load outs. The rest of the groups were not so well prepared with a lot more Novice crews taking part, with two on their very first op.

With a warning to all players that experten from I/NJG3 were operating in the area using JU88's with upfiring Schrage Musik, the crew of Lancaster R-Roger of 5 Group, only on this their fourth op, fell to their guns, unable to corkscrew due to the heavy bomb load, even had they spotted the attacker coming up under their fuselage, they survived the first pass ditching their cookie only to be shot down at the second attempt.

Only the flight engineer, navigator and mid-upper gunner managed to bail out with just the former being picked up alive and the other two recorded as missing presumed lost.

The ops planning is put together on the Cyberboard module and the results are recorded on it through the game with the players handing back their aircraft record sheets on which details of damage, losses and bail outs are recorded and used in the records of each attack posted here on the blog.

The next drama occurred immediately afterwards as the stream crossed the Khamhuber Line with Stirling K-King of 3 Group, the crew on their third op, fell to a II/NJG3, JU88 that again managed to avoid detection to deliver a devastating blast of fire into the bomb bay of the British plane causing a massive explosion and lit up the night sky around, there were of course no survivors.

All the players are getting very used to the system and have the bomb/fuel load outs and bombing plan put together very quickly so that aircraft are taking off and assembling on the route in next to no time.

The most dangerous part of the flight was over the next two legs as the heavily laden bombers, unable to corkscrew immediately should they be attacked, needing to first dump some of their load out, passed through the night sky with German nightfighters readily aware of their presence.

In the end it was only Lancaster T-Tommy from 5 Group, with its crew on their first op, that was intercepted just before the stream went over the Hannover flak belt by another II/NJG3 Ju88 that managed to knock out two of the Lancaster's engines and riddle the wings and tailplane with multiple hits only to be driven off, itself heavily damaged by return fire from the tail and mid-upper gunner, as the inexperienced bomber crew got away with dueling it out with the enemy fighter.

A complete bomber stream assembled over the UK with no aircraft lost on take off, prepares to head out over the North Sea bound for Hannover, carrying a very heavy bomb load and a light quantity of fuel ready to grab back Bomber Command's lead.

As the stream turned over the target, buffeted by flak all but two of the stream were ready to make their bomb runs, with 1 Group Lancaster, A-Apple and its veteran crew on their 20th Op taking flak on the approach that damaged the hydraulics that would leave the aircraft unable to close the bomb bay doors after their pass over the target.

As the groups turned to make their approach to the target the losses and dumped cookies from veteran pilots looking to gain extra altitude over Germany had reduced the bomb lift by six bomb counters as the run-ins commenced.

Interestingly this bomb run would turn out to be one of the most dramatic in the campaign so far, with several novice and jumpy bomb aimers dumping their loads wide of the target and the stream coming under multiple attacks from free-jagd single engined fighters that, in one case, caused the loss of the next casualty, Halifax U-Uncle from 6 Group, its crew also on their first op.

The Halifax took hits in the port wing causing the port outer engine to catch fire, which, with the pilot unable to extinguish it, caused the aircraft to go out of control. All but the rear gunner were lost as the aircraft crashed on the eastern suburbs of Hannover.

The Stirlings of No.3 Group followed the Lancasters of No.1 Group in over the target with a useful bombing pattern starting to develop, as the first drop markers are indicating in relation to the yellow Target Indicator, placed over Hannover city centre. The Stirling is seen over the southern row (bottom) of boxes shown on the target map above

The Nachtjagd were not having things all their own way however, as the alert veteran crew of 4 Group Halifax, P-Popsie on their 19th op spotted an FW-190 trying to make a head on pass at the bomber only to fall to the fire from the nose gunner on the run up, the position taken over by the radio operator as the bomb aimer took his position in the nose

The players were distinctly aware of the potential drift issues associated with Paramatta target marking and, attempting to take into account any likely shift of the target marker eastward, started to create their bomb pattern in a way to allow for that movement whilst trying to get bombs on important target areas.

All in all, as the last Halifax's of 6 Group left the target, the crews felt reasonably confident with the mix and concentration of bombing as they prepared to get home.

With players calling out 'left,left, steady and right a bit Skip' to another player as they guess whether the next playing card turned will be higher or lower and watching for picture cards that determine if a 'jumpy' bomb aimer has released early, or an Ace has appeared declaring the arrival of a freejagd nightfighter ready to deliver a fast raking attack on the bomber, all creates a game of real drama following all the hazards of just getting to the target in the first place and for survivors getting ready for the return flight managing any damage received on the way in.

The final casualty of the night occurred as the enemy coast came into sight, with a spoof raid by Mosquitos on Bremerhaven and the inward route of the stream having drawn the fighters from NJG2 away to the north, the Me110's of NJG1 caught up with the badly damaged Lancaster T-Tommy which losing the other two engines in the attack that followed crashed into the sea with only the rear gunner bailing out and being picked up by the Germans.

The bomber track shows the first group of Lacasters passing over the target having bombed and with the first Stirling of No.3 Group moved in behind with the waves of the other groups on the flak zone behind waiting to make their bomb runs.

We had the most freejagd attacks by single engined nightfighters of any of the ops so far, well replicating the change in over the target tactics developed by the Luftwaffe defenders in the immediate wake of Bomber Command deploying 'Window'.
Most of the attacks inflicted light damage, with one bomber shot down to them and one nightfighter destroyed in return. In this case P-Popsie, 4 Group Halifax disposes of an FW-190 head on attack.

With no more drama the returning groups all landed safely and crews were assembled for the debrief and summary of the raid.

The expectation was that Hannover was well and truly bombed, but, despite the drift over the target being minimal, the Pathfinders ended up placing their markers in the cloudy conditions well off target, to the point that the bulk of the bombing ended up to the south and south east in open countryside, leaving just the bomb concentrations shown on the southern half of the city that resulted in four major fires that destroyed half of the city centre and the central railway station and yards.

The target map and the results of the night's bombing shown to some rather disappointed bomber crews after a long night.
The Pathfinder target marking error captured well the historical result with a roll of six minus two resulting in the marker shifting four boxes south to just off the map in the countryside. All the bomb drops were correspondingly shifted south leaving just the concentrations shown and a vastly reduced victory point total. It looks like you will be going back to Hannover again chaps!

In the the final tally for the night Bomber Command netted 22 victory points for the target value, fires caused and nightfighters destroyed, but with four novice crews lost saw that tally reduced to just 14 points.

The result is not as damaging as it could have been, as the lost crews, all being novices, reduced the tally for the Nachtjagd and ensured the result is 70 points for the five games played thus maintaining the British victory point tally at 14 points with three games to play.