High Guard – Refuelling operations for a task force are another danger point, as forces which are low on fuel and maneuvering in a gravity well are especially vulnerable. The high guard position, so named because the ship or ships involved are higher in the gravity well than their companions, is used to mount protective operations during such maneuvers. (Mongoose Traveller Book 2: High Guard, p. 3)
“Approaching Isseydo Jump Limit,” the Navigator reported.
The Captain looked around his bridge. Battle Condition Red was set aboard Acheron High Lightning, FI-6357, an Azhanti High Lightning-class Fleet Intruder of the Imperial Navy. As befitted the Fleet Intruder mission, ACH was raiding the small world of Isseydo, to the galactic rimward of the Vegan area. After being at war with the Solomani for 10 years, the Imperial Navy was on the offensive and, though not part of the main battle fleet, raids by the ‘Flints’ were important in keeping the Soli’s off-guard as well as useful for collecting intelligence. Acheron High Lightning had been ordered to enter the Isseydo system and raid shipping. If possible, she was also to land her Marine contingent and copy -then destroy- the starport’s data bank. Opposition was projected to be light; Isseydo had no more than a dozen of the Solomani ‘standard’ 300dton System Defense Boats (SDB). Acheron was running into the planet with a 2-g velocity; not too fast so the ship could maneuver. The Captain had decided to keep the fighters aboard for now; they would be used to cover the Marines landing and deal with shipping nearer the planet.
Sensor called out, “Detecting three targets on an intercept trajectory. Maneuvering together; likely a flight of system defense boats.”
And so the battle begins….
It was still long range, but the SDB’s had changed formation into a spread echelon, a sure sign that a missile launch was to follow. “Target lead boat,” the Captain ordered, “Fire at will.”
As missiles streaked away from the boats, Acheron fired full laser and missile salvos. The spinal Particle Accelerator – PA gun – also fired. The Captain grimaced as it missed. The laser fire from both sides was equally ineffective. It was in the exchange of nuclear missiles that damage was found. Acheron rocked slightly as it was buffeted by nearby nuclear blasts.
“Lead boast has ceased firing, assess probable mission kill based on lack of weapons,” Sensors reported. The Engineering Watch Officer was conferring with Weapons, and after a moment he turned and reported, “Spinal Mount sustained minor damage from nuclear blast. Power degraded, but still operational.” The grimace stayed on the Captain’s face.
The range between Acheron and the flight of SDBs closed. “SDBs are closing to fusion gun range,” Sensors called out. “Lead boat is dropping to reserve position.” Exactly what they needed to do if they wanted to they were going to jury-rig their weapons back on line. “Target next boat,” the Captain ordered.
The exchange of fire went as before for Acheron; the lasers flashed uselessly, the few batteries of fusion guns now able to range missed, the slightly-less-powerful spinal PA gun missed again, and the nuclear missiles struck the SDB which stopped firing. This time though, the rocking of nuclear blasts was also mixed with jarring jolts as enemy fusion guns hit home. Again, the Engineer and Weapons conferred. Weapons shook his head, then turned to report, “Spinal sustained further damage from nuclear blasts. Looks like at least one battery of missiles is also out of action.”
The Captain looked at the holobowl. Ninety minutes remained until orbital insertion. They had come too far to turn back now. “Helm, continue to orbital insertion. Weapons, I want hits! Alert the Marine commander to prepare for combat landing. Remind him we don’t want to stay long. And get the fighters ready!”
Time seemed to slow to a crawl, just like Acheron was slowing to enter orbit. Another exchange of fire, this time against the third SDB as the others moved off to effect repairs. On the visual display, the Captain could see flashes of light as the boat was peppered with lasers, fusion beams, missiles and the particle accelerator. When the massive PA hit, the SDB became a flash and then a small expanding ball of matter.
“SDB 3 vaporized!,” Sensors reported. Weapons was smiling, the PA crew finally had hit and it made a difference. At last, a break in the battle in his favor, the Captain thought. “Helm, shape us a course to get near the reserve SDBs. Weapons, fire as you please!” But even as he ordered the breakthrough attack, Acheron rocked more violently than before. Weapons and Engineer rapidly exchanged information, but the Captain could see for himself on his displays that more weapons were falling off-line. Soon enough, Weapons reported, “Damage to PA gun again. We also lost another missile battery, as well as a battery of lasers, fusion guns, and sand.” What was that old Solomani saying, the Captain thought, “Death by a thousand pin-pricks?”
Acheron flashed by the two remaining SDBs, raking the first one with fire. The particle accelerator connected again; and the SDB disappeared into an expanding ball of gas. The Captain’s grimace almost turned into a smile; that is, until Sensors called out.
“Detecting six SDB reaching for orbit from the planet. Now looks like was also have three more inbound from the outer system. Total of nine additional SDBs tracked.” The Executive Officer now stood next to the Captain and said, “Looks like they are committing everything. Going to be hard to get to the data banks.”
The Captain grunted and nodded his head. “We aren’t designed for a real combat landing. Tell the Marine commander to stand down, as well as the fighters.” Louder he called, “Helm! plot us a single orbital pass then go for the jump limit. Navigation, get that jump plotted. Weapons, as we pass the planet your target priority is merchant shipping, then the SDBs. After we was pass the planet then you need to swat those SDBs so we can jump out.” Acknowledgements came from every position.
In the next three hours, the Captain was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to take a shot at any shipping. It looked like it had all scattered, but the system defense boats kept harassing him. He made them pay though. By the time Acheron High Lightning jumped out of the Isseydo system, two SDBs were vaporized, five completely wrecked, and another two effectively mission-killed. The spinal mount on Acheron needed some repair work, along with a few batteries and a patch here and there in the fuel tanks. As the crew stood down from Battle Stations and assumed the routine jump space watch, the Captain started composing his report to the Admiralty. Though Acheron had failed to destroy any shipping, nor grab the data bank, the defenses of Isseydo had been weakened significantly. Another raid in a few weeks, maybe by a light carrier, could clean up the shipping.
This battle was fought using the combat rules in Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard. The ships are taken from QuikLink Interactives Traveller’s Aide #7: Fighting Ships and Traveller’s Aide #9: Fighting Ships of the Solomani Confederation. The number of defending boats was based on stats derived from the Fifth Frontier War game. I had also planned to fight a ground action but after looking at the defenses (120 battalions of troops) against the AHL reinforced company of Marines, landing only a portion of the troops in the gunboat, I elected to pass on that sub-game.
The only HG2 rules modified were I treated flights of ships as separate entities and allowed them to have different ranges. Thus, in Round 7, the planet launched SDBs engaged at short range while the boats arriving from out-system fought at long. Seems more realistic to me.
The AHL-class fleet intruder had three missions: raid shipping, seize the data bank, and weaken system defenses. The intruder started two-hours (six rounds) away from the planet. The game was originally designed for 12 rounds plus however many more over the planet were necessary for the raid. After Round 3, the AHL aborted the raid, made a (relatively) high-speed pass of the planet, and then proceeded outbound to jump. To reflect this, I shortened the game to 11 rounds total (The AHL did not fire in the last round, but jumped away).
I was pleasantly surprised to see a few tactical lessons come through here; lessons that are often discussed in Traveller supplements like Sector Fleet.. In fleet-level engagements, lasers are nearly useless as offensive weapons; better to be used as defenses. Missiles can eat away at ships but not get the “big-hit” against battle class ships. Spinal mounts are DEADLY! In ten rounds of combat, plus one breakthrough, the spinal scored seven hits (7 for 11) that resulted in five wrecked and two vaporized ships. The real damage came from the critical hits scored. The fighters were kept out of the battle because their small computers gave them a significant disadvantage when fighting the decent computer, high-agility SDBs. In hindsight the fighters should of been launched anyway to go after shipping. As it was, the SDBs kept the AHL engaged and there was only one breakthrough (Round 3). Though none of the lessons are “new,” it is good to see them actually reflected in the game results.