Monday, November 28, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Playtest Session 7

When we last played, the Coelocanth was just north of Sofu Gan - AKA Lot's Wife, a pinnacle island in the Nanpo Shoto used to calibrate radar by both sides. The Coelocanth has a full load of torpedoes, Mark 14cs in the bow, Mark 10s in the stern. She had just gotten a RADAR reading from extreme range to the north and west, Japan.

Inexplicably, the Skipper decided to dive. Standard protocol now - early 1944 - was daylight submerged attacks, and night surface attacks. This was night, yet he decided to close a very long distance underwater, under slow battery power. He ordered a course change to the west, under the assumption that the convoy would be heading roughly south towards Saipan and the Marianas, as an intercept. Underwater, of course, he couldn't use the RADAR, and the convoy was well out of hydrophone range. He proceeded at 2 knots for a couple of hours, then asked the Exec, Mr. Bullock, for a hydrophone check.

Mr. Bullock returned three successes on this check, and with great surprise, he announced that the convoy was still at very far range for Hydrophones, and that they were just a bit north of west. The convoy was moving far faster than the Skipper had anticipated - normally a convoy moves between 8-10 knots, and this one was moving at maybe 16 knots, depending on the zigzag. Still, it would be easy to surface and run ahead, but the skipper refused, and doggedly kept under the surface, though he increased his speed to 5 knots, turning southwest to intercept.

As they closed to the contact, Mr. Bullock reported five sets of screws - two quadruple screws, one set of twin screws, and two single screws. This was no convoy! It was most likely a Japanese Naval task force, with two big ships - cruisers, battleships, or carriers - and support ships, with an escort. The Coelocanth swung into night periscope range just as the task force went by. There was an old four piper destroyer in the lead, a smaller, 5000 ton support ship following, then a cruiser, another ship part the cruiser, mostly masked by it, and a big cruiser sized ship in the rear. This ship had it's rear deck cut down flat, like a carrier.

Mr. Montgomery, at the scope, called the skipper, who was acting as Assistant Approach Officer, saying "God, Captain! You gotta see this! I've never seen anything like it!" The skipper took the scope and immediately recognized it, having seen it two years ago south of Davao - the destroyer and cruisers who had tricked him and almost caught the Thresher with torpedoes! "Open the forward torpedo outer doors! I'm going to put all six into that bastard!"

The Coelocanth shuddered as 6 mark 14cs - 18 thousand pounds of torpedos, shot into the murky night. The skipper called for the Coelocanth to make a sharp turn to starboard to bring the stern tubes to bear on the leading cruiser. Fish seven, eight, nine, and ten shot out.

Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Four fish hit the cut down cruiser and exploded! The four great screws still churning, it plowed itself under in minutes. "Surface the ship!" cried the skipper - again totally against standard practice! Once you were underwater, you didn't surface to face gunfire! As the Coelocanth burst through the waves, water cascading over her decks, both the cruiser and destroyer turned to attack - a mistake for the cruiser! Three torpedoes hit in succession, drastically slowing her down and making her sink deep in the water.

Mr. Montgomery dashed to the forward torpedo room to supervise the emergency loading of the forward tubes. Normally, it takes about five minutes per torpedo to load the tubes, but Montgomery got three fish in the tubes in a fast combat load. The Coelocanth continued its curve to the right on the surface, with six and five inch rounds splashing in on either side, and as the last fish was loaded, the skipper fired them off. Two streaked into the wallowing cruiser, and one into the destroyer. Only one of the two in the cruiser went off, but it was enough! The big ship sank by the head, the stern pointing up in the air as she slipped below.

The destroyer tried to avoid its fate, but the torpedo slammed in amidships, slowing the destroyer to a crawl. The Coelocanth swung away, out into the night and completing her reloading, before coming in from the side, putting two more torpedoes into the struggling destroyer, finishing him off with a blast. One unconscious prisoner was taken from the water, and the skipper, coaxing in fluent Japanese, persuaded two more to surrender. Several that were approached chose to swallow seawater and drown themselves instead. The skipper ordered them shot.

The two auxiliaries had booked it away, fleeing as the warships turned in to attack. After the prisoners were taken, the skipper ordered a pursuit, heading west and south. Before dawn the cargo ship was found and two torpedoes were on their way. When they hit, there was a spectacular explosion. The ship was carrying munitions. The skipper, when he recovered, used the frequency he had used two years ago, and announced that he was done, and was letting the last ship free to carry word of his vengeance.

The next night, after a long, stealthy approach, the Coelocanth launched the last two fish in the forward tubes into the remaining ship of the task force, a seaplane tender. Just before the torpedoes hit, the skipper announced over the same frequency in flawless Japanese "I lied."

Now the weird things. The skipper decided to make the entire approach underwater. I don't know why! He did not surface until both cruisers were sinking. Now most Japanese destroyers didn't carry RADAR - particularly old four pipers. Cruisers, on the other hand, did. If the Coelocanth has pursued their quarry in the standard RADAR guided night attack, which was the skipper's favorite mode of attack, the cruisers would have been prepared - you can see the interference from other RADAR on the screen - and a trap may have been possible. Yet that is not why he dived, and then stayed underwater at night. He could have had no idea there were large warships in the group until at least the XO discovered they were far ahead of where they would be expected to be if they were merchant ships, and that was only confirmed when the propeller noises were heard.

By making what was a strange choice and almost missing the attack because of it, he managed to preserve surprise and destroy the whole unit. That was just bizarre! I will never understand it.



  1. Instinct and intuition. My/his gut said to dive down, and take his time. He knew they weren't alerted, why give them the chance?