Picking up from where I left off last week when John and Bob joined me at Chez JJ to celebrate International Naval Wargames Day in style, fighting a couple of historic single ship actions using Kiss Me Hardy & To Covet Glory (KHM/TCG), see link to the post below if you missed reading the AAR's for those games.
|JJ's Wargames- International Naval Wargames Day|
I was joined this week by Nathan and Chas to help me playtest another of the historical scenarios from the fifty so far created for KMH/TCG which is a planned game to run at this year's Devon Wargames Group 'Clotted Lard' meeting in September, recreating the action between Commodore Richard Lucas commanding His Majesty's 74-gun ships, Arrogant and Victorious and Rear Admiral Pierre-César-Charles-Guillaume de Sercey commanding six French frigates attacking British commerce in the Straits of Malacca in September 1796.
|Rear Admiral Pierre-César-Charles-Guillaume de Sercey|
As explained in my previous posts, all the scenarios take their set up based on the information provided in William James' Naval History of Great Britain where he describes this action thus;
'Rear-admiral Sercey, . . . made sail for the straits of Malacca, with the intention, in the first instance, of destroying the British factory at Pulo-Penang. On the 1st of September the squadron made Pulo-Way, and Point Pedro, island of Sumatra, and afterwards captured two or three vessels in the road of Acheen. On the 7th, when cruising off the north coast of Sumatra, the squadron captured the country ship Favourite, laden with rum and rice; and on the 8th, at daybreak, while occupied in transferring several useful articles of stores from the prize to the frigates preparatory to the former's departure for the Isle of France, the squadron descried two large ships to leeward.
|The setting for the action 'Sercey off Sumatra', 9th September 1796|
It was just at 6 a.m., Point Pedro bearing west distant about eight leagues, that the two British 74-gun ships Arrogant, Captain Richard Lucas, and Victorious, Captain William Clark, descried the French squadron, bearing about south-west by west. At 10 a.m. Rear-admiral Sercey, having formed his squadron in line of battle astern of the Forte, tacked, with a light air from west by north, to reconnoitre the strangers. At noon the French ships hoisted their colours; and shortly afterwards the prize parted company and stood in under the high land of Pulo-Way. At 1 p.m. the Arrogant, who was considerably ahead of her consort, tacked to speak her; and, on arriving within hail about 2 p.m., Captain Lucas stated to Captain Clark, that he considered the strangers to be six large French frigates, and the seventh ship, the Triton Indiaman, their prize. Captain Clark, in reply, gave it as his opinion, that two of the ships were of the line. Captain Lucas subsequently went on board the Victorious; and it was agreed between the two captains, that they should dog the six French frigates, and bring them to action whenever it could be done with advantage.
The leading French frigate, the Forte, had, in the meantime, approached near enough to count the ports in both British ships, and to ascertain precisely their force. Having done so, the French admiral, at 2 h. 30 m. p.m., tacked and stood away, as if to seek a less troublesome enemy.
. . . On the 9th, at daybreak, the French frigates were again ahead of the two British 74s, steering to the eastward with * . . . our translation is more according to the spirit than the letter of the original.
‘very light airs; and the two rearmost frigates, being nearly within gun-shot, were carrying a press of sail to close their companions. The Arrogant and Victorious now edged away a little, to endeavour to cut off these two frigates, but did not succeed, owing chiefly to the calm state of the weather. At a few minutes past 6 a.m., finding an action inevitable, Rear-admiral Sercey signalled his squadron to put about together, intending to try for the weather gage. The frigates were soon reformed on the larboard tack, and, with the Vertu now as the van-ship, stretched on to windward of their opponents.’
|Rear Admiral Sercey's squadron interpreted to the table|
At 7 h. 25 m. a.m. the Arrogant, still with her consort on the starboard tack, opened her fire on the Vertu, at the distance of about 700 yards, and succeeded in discharging two broadsides before the French frigate, owing to her position, could bring any guns to bear. The first broadside, however, which the Vertu did fire, brought down the Arrogant's ensign. It was immediately replaced by a union jack. The frigates were formed thus: Vertu, Seine, Forte, Régénérée, the latter a little to windward of her second ahead and astern, Cybèle, Prudente, the last on a line with the Régénérée. As they slowly passed in succession, the frigates kept up a brisk cannonade upon the two 74s; the fire from one of which cut away the foretopsail yard of, and otherwise greatly damaged, the Vertu. At 8 h. 30 m. a.m., the rearmost French frigate, the Prudente, having got so far on the starboard quarter of the Arrogant as to be out of gunshot from her, the latter ceased firing.
Since ten minutes after the commencement of the action a calm had prevailed; and the Arrogant, even had she been in perfect order, would have found it difficult to wear. As it was, her foretopsail yard had been shot away; and so had the larboard arm of the maintopsail and cross jack yards, starboard arm of the spritsail yard, and the mizen topgallant mast. The main topgallant mast had also been shot through, and the main yard, mainmast, and bowsprit much wounded. Three of her boats had been rendered useless by shot; and all the larboard main rigging and stays were cut away, with the whole of the starboard or weather braces and yard tackles. Her sails, also, were in a shattered condition. Thus situated, the Arrogant was quite in an unmanageable state.
The Victorious, who lay about a cable's length astern, and rather to leeward, of the Arrogant, opened her fire, as the French frigates, after having discharged their broadsides at the latter, successively got abreast of her. At about 8 a.m. Captain Clark was wounded in the thigh and carried below, and Lieutenant William Waller took command of the ship. At 8 h. 40 m. a.m., which was soon after the Arrogant had, as already stated, ceased firing, the Victorious wore round on the same tack as the enemy, and brought her larboard guns to bear. At 9 a.m. she perceived a signal at the Arrogant's foretopmast head but, owing to the smoke and to the flags not blowing out, did not understand it. The signal, which was for the Victorious to come to again on the starboard tack, remained up about ten minutes, and was then hauled down without having been answered.
The two leading frigates had now stationed themselves on the larboard bow of the Victorious; and the remaining four lay from the beam to the quarter, at the distance of about 900 yards. The 74 sustained and returned the united fire of the six French frigates until 10 h. 15 m. a.m.; when, having received several shot in her hull, upwards of 40 of them between wind and water, had her three lower masts and bowsprit, as well as her yards and topmasts, badly wounded, and her rigging and sails very much cut; and finding that the Arrogant, whose distance already was nearly a mile and a half, still continued to stand on upon the opposite tack, the Victorious attempted, with a light air of wind, to wear and rejoin her consort.
No sooner was the stern of the Victorious, in wearing, exposed to the enemy, than three of the frigates advanced to rake her, and it falling a dead calm, continued pouring a destructive fire until 10 h. 45 m. a.m.; when, fortunately for the Victorious, a breeze sprang up from the northward, and enabled the latter to bring her starboard broadside to bear. At this time the Vertu, from the loss of her foretopsail yard, had dropped astern, and lay in the south quarter, and another frigate was observed to be sweeping and towing with boats in that direction. The latter was the Cybèle, proceeding, by signal, to take the crippled Vertu in tow. At 10 h. 55 m. a.m., this service having been executed, the French squadron bore up and steered west by north, under a crowd of sail; and at 11 h. 15 m. a.m. the Victorious ceased firing, the last of the frigates being out of gunshot.
The condition of the two British ships at the close of this long and tedious contest, as far as respects their masts, yards, rigging, and hulls, has already been described. It remains to show, what loss in men they each of them sustained. The Arrogant, out of a crew of 584, or thereabouts, lost one midshipman and six seamen killed, and 27 men wounded. Among this ship's damages should have been noticed, the disabling of one second-deck, and two lower deck guns, and the dismounting of one gun on the quarterdeck. The loss of the Victorious, whose established complement was the same as the Arrogant's, but who had sent away in prizes her first lieutenant and 90 seamen, amounted to 15 seamen and two marines killed, her captain, one midshipman, 48 seamen, and seven marines, wounded: making the total of loss on board the two ships 24 killed, and 84 wounded.
With respect to the damage sustained by the squadron of Rear-admiral Sercey, we can only gather, that three of the frigates, including the Vertu and Seine, were much cut up in hull, masts, yards, and rigging. That the remaining three frigates also suffered in some degree, will be evident from the following account of the loss incurred in the action. The Vertu had nine officers and men killed, and 15 wounded; the Seine, 18, including Captain Latour her commander, killed, and 44 wounded; the Forte, six killed and 17 wounded; the Cybèle, four killed and 13 wounded; and the Prudente, three killed and nine wounded: making a total of 42 killed and 104 wounded.
|Strange sail on the larboard bow, Vertu and Seine beat to quarters as the British squadron bears down on their line.|
Of the force opposed in this action it may be sufficient to state, that the two British 74s were of the common or 18-pounder class; the Forte, a frigate of 1400 tons, mounting 52 guns, including 30 long 24-pounders; the Seine, Vertu, and Cybèle all large 18-pounder frigates, armed like the Virginie: and the Régénérée and Prudente, frigates of the 12-pounder or 36-gun class. Consequently, the superiority of force, especially in men, the numbers there being about as 10 to 19, was on the side of M. Sercey. Judging, however, from the relative loss of the combatants, we should say that, had the state of the weather, and other circumstances to which we need scarcely advert, permitted the two 74s to manoeuvre and act in concert, they would, in all probability, have captured two, at least, of the six frigates opposed to them. Unless, indeed, the French admiral had put in practice a well-concerted plan of boarding; in which case, undoubtedly, his decided numerical superiority would have placed the two line-of-battle ships in great jeopardy. After the action the Arrogant and Victorious, the latter in tow of the former, proceeded straight to Madras, and on the 6th of October anchored in the road. The French squadron steered for Isle-du-Roi, in the Archipelago of Margui, and anchored there on the 15th. Here the frigates got themselves thoroughly stored and refitted, even to the renewal of their damaged lower masts. They sailed thence in the early part of October, steering first towards the coast of Golconda, and afterwards to the eastern coast of Ceylon.
Having, while on this station, been led to believe that he should get all the wants of his squadron supplied at Batavia, Rear-admiral Sercey proceeded thither; particularly as the Vertu, Seine, and another of the frigates required large repairs in their hulls. The delay occasioned by this step detained M. Sercey in port at a very critical season; and so far the action between his squadron and the two British 74s contributed to preserve from spoliation much valuable property in the eastern hemisphere.
So using James' as the foundation of this scenario I came up with the following table-plan, which translated into the setup pictures of the table prepared the day before our respective commanders were to see if they could improve on the results gained by Messrs Lucas and Sercey.
Given the conditions being light to no breezes at all at one stage, I decided to keep the possibility of a change in wind direction, but left out the 'Getting Choppy' chit which if pulled sees the sea swell become such that the two British third-rates would be compelled to close their lower gun-ports which would not have accorded to anything like the situation faced historically and would have no doubt seen the actual action postponed until better conditions had prevailed.
Any scenario writer will know, much like the military maxim, that 'the plan changes on first contact with wargamers!' and that is why it is so important to get to play-test as much as possible to see if you have maximised the environmental and situational drivers to challenge the players similarly to their historical counterparts.
After explaining to the players why the two forces were here and the imperatives placed upon them to win, but not in a Pyrrhic fashion, we diced off for commands with Nathan taking the role of Sercey and Chas upholding the honour of the Royal Navy as Commodore Lucas.
|Both squadrons turn into wind looking for an aggressive advantage and with the French now operating in two distinct groups but well within Sercey's command range for signalling.|
With both players naturally aggressive in their style of play, I observed this encounter with a doubtful eye as to whether either commander would observe the second imperative, and the opening moves only served to reinforce that early impression of likely outcomes as both commands brought their respective squadrons as close to the wind as they could without going 'in irons' and the rather conservative, with a small 'C', Sercey replaced with a 'let's go get em!' version, as Nathan split his line into two columns and sailed to meet the British force mid table.
By sailing close to the wind the inevitable first exchange of fire would be delayed as both forces closed on a bow wind, but with Lucas moving away from the first group of frigates towards the second group, it offered up a chance for the British third rates to close on the second group, whilst leaving the other struggling to come up in support and perhaps defeat of the combined French force in detail.
|Let battle commence, Arrogant opens fire with a medium range broadside on the Régénérée, returned by the French frigate, as the Victorious, following up weighs in with her four 9-pounder bow-chasers|
|Declining to tack to come up in support, the Virtu fires an extreme range broadside at the rigging of the closer 74-gun Victorious, to aid in the struggle going on upwind.|
|The Régénérée has fouled the Arrogant and has been grappled forcing the Cybèle and Prudente following to take avoiding action as the Victorious closes in leaving the other three French frigates powerless to intervene.|
The chit driven activation used in KMH provided loads of gripping uncertainty, particularly with movement and firing and the order each was carried out in, producing the first close encounter as Arrogant got the drop on the Régénérée, to move across her bows and, in the close encounter generated, seeing the British third rate successfully grapple the frigate as it poured in a point blank bow rake.
The move brought the lead French frigate to a stop, forcing her consorts to take avoiding action and prepare to engage the Victorious, following up in close company.
|Arrogant crosses Régénérée's 'T' and pours in a point-blank broadside whilst the British crew follow up with a cheer as the grappling hooks take hold,|
|As the boarding action commences the other French frigates prepare to encounter the Victorious closing fast.|
Before they had got over the shock of the bow rake, the crew of the Régénérée were racing to grab their boarding pikes ready to defend their bulwarks, as a series of British grapples took hold followed by a cheer from the Arrogants, led by their Royal Marines scrambling to get onto the frigate's forecastle.
As this little action kicked off another was unfolding behind as the Cybèle found herself passing broadside to broadside at close rage with the Victorious whist the pursuing Prudente swung between the two British third rates delivering a short range stern rake to the Arrogant and bow rake to the Victorious as she passed only to be subsequently grappled by the Victorious, to begin a close embrace that was only likely to end one way.
|Trailing gun-smoke along her larboard battery, the Cybèle escapes the melee in her rear as her consorts ahead cover her escape.|
Fortunately for both British ships the Prudente was the weakest of the French frigates and her small battery coupled with Nathan's early abysmal die rolls meant that both British warships escaped with minimal damage and easily passed their follow up strike tests for being raked.
The same couldn't be said for Régénérée or Prudente as, left in the wake of the Cybele, which was now keenly pressing on with the wind to join the other surviving French frigates, she sullenly witnessed both her comrades haul down their colours as they easily succumbed to the British boarding parties supported by close in broadsides to encourage an early surrender, seeing the battered Prudente catch fire in the process of succumbing.
Perhaps at this stage of the game with two of the French frigates under new management with British prize crews eager to get their new charges out of the way of any return fire and with the crew of the Prudente very busy trying to put out the fire onboard when she struck, only succeeding as it turned out, with just two turns to go before she would have burnt to the waterline; I should take a moment to explain the Fleet/Squadron Point's Preservation Rules in force for the game and a mechanism I have used in other fleet or squadron engagements.
|With the grapples cut and British prize crews aboard frigates Régénérée and Prudente, the latter still on fire, the two British third-rates prepare to fend off Sercey's counterattack and seal their own victory by forcing him to break off.|
A copy of the briefing given to the players will hopefully suffice;
Fleets never fought to the last ship, just as armies never fought to the last battalion. After a number of ships had been lost, one side would try to break off the action and retreat to the nearest friendly port. At that point, the victors would usually be too tired, too badly damaged, or too disorganized to pursue (common phenomena among land armies also). The battle would end with the victors in possession of “the field” and some of the enemy’s ships
Battle Fleets Preservation Point Values (P.P.V.):
Each ship in a fleet or squadron has a preservation point value as follows:
Flagships, regardless of ship size 3
Two-deckers, including 50s and razees 2
Frigates or corvettes 1
Smaller vessels ½
The preservation level of a fleet/squadron is the proportion of the total preservation point values the fleet can lose without trying to disengage and retreat. If not specified in the scenario, the level varies by period and nationality as follows:
British - 50%
French - 30%
These differences reflect both general national fleet morale levels and differences in doctrine (both the French and the British were more cautious before 1793; after that date, the British became increasingly daring in seeking decisive actions).
Whenever the total preservation point value of ships lost or dismasted exceeds a fleet/squadron’s preservation level, all the ships in that fleet/squadron must test take a retreat test and if passed repeat when a ship in the fleet/squadron takes a new level of damage (see Damage States) or strikes. The ship’s entire preservation level is counted if the ship strikes, sinks, burns up, explodes, or is captured by boarding. One less than the ship’s preservation value is counted if the ship is dismasted (loses all rigging squares). The extra point is added if a dismasted ship strikes, etc., later.
Roll a d6 and add the commander of that fleet or squadron Command Rating (CR). The Fleet or Squadron breaks and disengages on 4 or less. 1 is always a failure. Disengaged squadrons must move to exit the table and may not fire unless enemy ships fire at them and those ships are demoralised for level of victory assessment.
Admiral/Commodore Command Rating (CR)
Both Commanders were rated Patriotic.
Game End Effects:
Winning side is the last side whose Fleet Morale breaks or the last side with an unbroken squadron on the table. If neither side has an unbroken squadron at the end of a turn then game is a draw.
Losing side – roll a d6 for any ships that have suffered Heavy Damage. They founder and sink on a 1 or are captured by the enemy if they have any ships of the same rate or larger that are not more than Light Damage.
Consult Endgame & Victory to determine if the victory was Marginal, Decisive or Resounding.
Thus the respective Fleet PPV's were calculated thus:
British Fleet PPV = Arrogant Flagship = 3 + 1 3rd Rate = 5 x 50% = 2.5
French Fleet PPV = Forte Flagship = 3 + 5 Frigates = 8 x 30% = 2.4
|Sercey has regrouped his four remaining frigates, with the Cybele now bringing up the rear, and bears down on the victorious but somewhat battered British third-rates determined to salvage the situation.|
With two frigates and two PPV's against the French, Commodore Lucas was in the driving seat, but still needed to knock out one more of the enemy frigates to cause Sercey's command to test to break off, and also having to be conscious that his battered ships, now faced three practically fresh opponents now bearing down on them to rectify matters.
As the two opposing lines closed the exchanges of close range fire started to take effect and the Victorious was the first to bring matters to a head as she grappled the Seine and boarded, only to be stern raked by Sercey's flagship Forte that prompted a following Strike Test which she passed, pressing on to capture the Siene's upper deck causing the Frenchman to strike and force Sercey to take the Retreat Test at the close of the turn.
However, he passed the test rolling a '6' and getting the next fire chit out of the bag before the British could move, allowing the Forte to administer a second stern rake on the Victorious that this time was successful, in not only causing a Strike Test, but seeing the British third-rate fail it when the Strike test chit came out.
This left the Forte free to join the Vertu in a grapple with the Arrogant just ahead of the now struck Victorious, later to be joined by the following Cybele, with all three frigates combining to overwhelm the Arrogant and snatch victory from the seeming jaws of defeat, with the capture of the British flagship negating any retreat tests.
The struck Seine was deemed to have been recaptured as the Victorious struck so quickly that neither her crew or her prize crew had had time to cut the grapple leaving the former prize in easy reach of being repossessed.
The final Ship Record Ships reveal what a battering both sides had administered to each other which explains why I was unsure of calling the game either way through most of it, but still being surprised at the final result.
|Sercey's flagship barely has a scratch on her paintwork and was along with the Vertu, the least damaged of the French ships at the close, but her fire on the Victorious was decisive|
|The Vertu had a key role to play as she manged to contain the Arrogant long enough for the Forte and Cybele to come up and force the British flagship to strike|
|The Cybele is noteworthy for being engaged throughout the action, surviving the first encounter and able to support the French counter attack at the close.|
The final three French frigates are those that struck to the British squadron with only the Seine being recaptured at the close.
Thank you to both Nathan and Chas for producing a fantastic game that was cut and thrust all the way, with no quarter asked or given, but played in the usual spirit of banter, laughs in equal measure to go with the fun of the game.
Likewise Kiss Me Hardy performed magnificently to produce a fast flowing game with turns proceeding at a good pace and with the ever present uncertainty of the chit driven activation and testing sequence, that had its say many times throughout the game, with its last surprise giving Nathan his opportunity at a double stern rake on the Victorious to set up what seemed like an unlikely French victory.
I now feel confident that this scenario has bag-loads of potential for both players if they choose to be aggressive in their intent, however I'm not sure how either admiralty would have viewed the damage suffered by their respective commands given the scarcity of resources available for this out of the way naval theatre.
For those interested, all the models presented are from the Warlord Games, Black Seas range of Napoleonic era ships all based on my acrylic pill bases supplied by Fluid 3D, follow the link 'All at Sea Ship Bases' in the right hand column under 'Labels', and the sea cloth is from Tiny Wargames, see link, at the top of the right column under the Devon Wargames Group club banner.
I'm off to the Devon Wargames Group monthly meeting today to replay this scenario with another group of players as another warm up for Clotted Lard, so look forward to reporting on the outcome of that game on the club blog.
More anon. JJ