My Game of the Week was Convoy and Deadly Waters: The Gibraltar Run 1941-1942 (Convoy – Module Number 1). Convoy is a set of “Fast play tactical rules for the Battle of the Atlantic” based on the Command at Sea portion of the Admiralty Trilogy of games. Deadly Waters is a campaign generator to accompany Convoy. A major reason I enjoy this game collection is that it makes for a great solo campaign game. I was also inspired by my recent discovery of @WestApproaches on Twitter.
Setting the Stage
Using the tables provided, I determined that my game was taking place in October-December 1941. I was charged with escorting a slow convoy of 21 ships from Freetown to the UK. My escort group was decent with 2x PG, a single SRE DD, 3x PGE, an ASW trawler and an Aux AA ship. Additionally, I had the benefit of a local escort group (2x AM, 2x ASW trawlers) through the midday of Day 2. Opposing this convoy were eight German U-Boats and 2x Italian submarines.
The Convoy Sails
After arranging my convoy and escorts, I set off. Each turn is an 8 hour block and for each one rolls against an Event Box. Hard to see in the attached image, I was following the brown route on the far left of the map from south to north.
The first Event Box (midday Day 1) started out with an HF/DF contact against an Italian Sub. Since I had the local escort group in company, I sent two ships out against the contact which surprised the submarine and sank it. Great start!
The first night was a bit difficult with two ships in the convoy colliding. Again taking advantage of the local escort I separated the ship and sent it along the way with an escort. It would eventually beach itself (1/2 VP to Axis players).
Day 2 started out with no contact in the morning, but a fire aboard a ship carrying explosives resulted in a spectacular fireball and lots of smoke that attracted another submarine. Initially located by HF/DF again, a strong response was able to sink this sub too. As the escort commander I was feeling good; two days, two submarines sunk.
The second night would prove to be a nightmare. Early in the night, another Italian submarine and a U-Boat attacked. The U-Boat was especially dangerous as it started out between the columns of the convoy. A valuable tanker was sunk and another damaged before the submarines could be chased away. Obviously skittish, a short time later Panic set through the convoy which gave another U-Boat a virtually free shot. Another merchant ship lost. Before the night was over, another U-Boat would get into the convoy and sink yet another merchant ship.
Day 3 was nerve-racking, as HF/DF showed that there was a U-Boat out there – somewhere – but without a good bearing no attack was possible. All the ships in the convoy were very nervous for the coming night…and rightly so. That night a German Wolf Pack of four U-Boats fell upon the convoy. Before the night was over, all the submarines would escape, and another two merchants were sunk outright.
Day 4 and night miraculous passed with no contacts. Day 5 brought good news with the Coastal Command sinking a German sub in the Bay of Biscay (removing one U-Boat from the German available forces). Day 6 saw a U-Boat attempt a submerged daytime attack but the torpedoes missed and the submarine was driven off. That night, two more submarines attacked, with another merchant ship lost (this one with explosives…more VP for the Germans).
Day 7 was highlighted by air attacks on the convoy. Though the AA ship was still in company, two German Do 217s gained surprise in the morning. Luckily, their bombing was horrible and though there were some near misses no ship was sunk. Later in the day several ships in the convoy were struggling and making heavy smoke. HF/DF revealed more U-Boats around, but the escort command declined to pursue this time. In the afternoon two FW 200s attacked; again no hits. That night, severe weather played havoc with the convoy and saw two ships previously damaged but not sunk develop severe flooding. Both were lost.
Day 8 dawned with good news of another submarine sunk in the Bay of Biscay. Another air attack in the afternoon was driven off with no damage or losses. The night passed quietly with no contact. The next morning, the convoy arrived.
Of the 21 ships that set sail, only eight arrived. The Axis lost four submarines. The result was an Axis Decisive Victory.
Although designed for miniatures, I found in my solo game the using my vinyl wet marker map worked best. My plotting was a bit loose, but I was able to quickly lay out the merchants and escorts and then vector in the attacking submarines. It certainly kept the game moving along.
The game also reminded me of just how desperate a struggle the convoy war was. A a naval wargamer, I tend to focus on the ‘big boys;” battleships and carriers and the like. Convoy and Deadly Waters is a reminder that it was the little, often unheralded ships (boats?) that carried a large burden of keeping the shipping lanes open. As my campaign shows, it was often thankless, demoralizing work and not always victorious.