#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 1 – Sixth Fleet (SPI, 1975)

OVER ON BGG there is a thread asking for recommendations of a modern naval warfare wargame. This got me thinking, just what do I consider a ‘good’ modern naval warfare game? As a hobby gamer, I certainly have my opinions but what about my professional wargamer side?

When reading about naval warfare, one surely will run across the name of Capt. Wayne Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.). Capt. Hughes recently died, which led me to reread his classic Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Second Edition)*. In chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Hughes, p. 9

BLUF – Sixth Fleet uses a very land-centric view of warfare and attempts to apply it to modern war at sea with very strange results.

Sixth Fleet: US/Soviet Naval Warfare in the Mediterranean in the 1970’s was published by SPI in 1975. Designed by Jim Dunnigan and David B. Isby, the introduction proclaims:

Sixth Fleet is a simulation of operational naval warfare in the Mediterranean based on a hypothetical war between the Soviet Union and the NATO Alliance during the late 1970’s. The game counters (or playing pieces) represent individual ships or groups of ships or aircraft whose actual counterparts exist in the Soviet and NATO navies as constituted at the present time. All of the essential elements of a potential contemporary naval war in the Mediterranean are depicted, including the latest aircraft and ultrasophisticated surface and submarine naval vessels. The Sixth Fleet scenarios, each of which is a complete and separate game, simulate various periods in the war in which the initially inferior Soviet Mediterranean Squadron is reinforced from the Black Sea and attempts to seize control of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and disrupt the vital communication lanes between Europe and the Middle East.

In terms of scale, Sixth Fleet is an operational-level wargame with counters representing single capital ships or groups of lesser ships. Aircraft are considered 12-ship squadrons. Each hex is 45.4nm across and each turn represents 8 hours of time.

As the Game Notes state, “Sixth Fleet is an interesting study of a modern military situation done in a very abstract way.” Yeah, no kidding!

Why Fight?

Victory (found in 13.0 Victory Conditions) in Sixth Fleet comes from a combination of two factors. First, players score VP for destruction of enemy units; “For each Enemy unit destroyed, the opposing player receives a number of Victory Points equal to the Electronic Countermeasure Value of the destroyed unit.” The Soviets also receive bonus victory points (13.1 Soviet Bonus Victory Points) if they achieve any of three additional conditions:

  1. ‘The Soviet Player receives ten (10) bonus Victory Points if there are no NATO units (of any type) in the Aegean Sea area at the end of the game.’
  2. ‘The Soviet Player receives fifteen (15) bonus Victory Points if at the end of the game it is impossible for the NATO Player to trace a line of communications from any coastal hex in Israel leading off the western mapedge.’
  3. ‘If the Soviet Player has received bonus points for fulfilling the [second] objective given in case 13.12, he receives fifteen (15) additional bonus Victory Points if at the end of the game there are no NATO units east of the Eastern Mediterranean Boundary Line indicated on the map.’

As one will discover upon further reading, destruction of ships in Sixth Fleet is not a given making the fulfillment (or avoidance of) Soviet objectives the primary focus of the game.


“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Maneuver in Sixth Fleet is very simple and straight-forward. Ships and submarines are given a movement allowance which is the number of hexes it can move in a turn. Aircraft have a range allowance.

There are no formations per se. That said, the Stacking rules allow a player to stack units in a hex in any order, but when attacked the combat is resolved in the order in which the units are stacked. Aircraft are allowed to perform a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over airbases or carriers.

Although the seas are often thought of as featureless of terrain, Restricted Water (i.e. littorals) cost additional movement points to enter.

In Sixth Fleet all ships possess a Zone of Control (ZoC). Ships can enter, but not move thru, an enemy ZoC. Ships must immediately stop upon entering an enemy ZoC. The presence of an enemy ZoC in a friendly hex forces combat. The major exception to this rule is that if a unit does not possess a combat value in that warfare area (Air / Surface / Subsurface) then no ZoC exists against units of that type. The concept of ZoC is very important to achieving the second Soviet bonus objective, leading to what the designers in the Game Notes call, “a solid front.”

By far the most interesting (maybe even unbelievable) element of maneuver in Sixth Fleet is the concept of Retreat. The Combat Results Table (CRT) is bloodless; the loser is not destroyed or damaged but must retreat a hex. The Game Notes attempt to explain why:

The bloodless Combat Results Table does make the situation abstract since it is a commonly held belief  that if your ship receives a hit these days its all over. Here the designer felt that the ship’s captain would realize when he was outmatched and rather than stay and die he would concede a little bit of ocean.

Ships can be eliminated in Sixth Fleet (indeed, players accumulate victory points for destroying enemy units) but that destruction only occurs if retreat is impossible. The designers seem to think that ensuring a retreat is not a foregone conclusion, especially if you use terrain:

While playing Sixth Fleet it will be useful to remember that it is almost impossible to insure a retreat in your combat phase. The best tactic is to place a force of friendly units in such a position that any enemy units adjacent to it during their Combat Phase cannot get a zero differential against it and must therefore retreat. This is most easily accomplished in restricted waters due to the doubling effect it has on the Defense Strength. 15.0 Game Notes


“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

All units in Sixth Fleet are rated for combat in three areas; Anti-Air, Anti-Surface, and Anti-Submarine. All ships have a combat range of one hex (45.4nm). I have to wonder what sources were available in 1975 as the range of the US Harpoon missile in the early 1980s was publicly proclaimed as 60nm (2 hexes?) and the new SS-N-12 missile on the Soviet Kiev-class carrier was seen as 250nm (5-6 hexes?).

The Retreat rules also have an interesting interaction with Firepower. Since ships in Sixth Fleet are not destroyed by firepower but by an inability to retreat just what ‘firepower’ is being portrayed?  The Game Notes seem to indicate a ship’s captain will retreat when he “realizes” the hopeless situation. Although there may be an element of truth to that concept, I think reality will need to see ordnance flying downrange and hitting to make that happen.


“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Sixth Fleet uses two factors to express defense, or the counterforce that Hughes describes. First, ships have a Defense Strength. This single factor is used in defense regardless of the attack type. There is no distinction between air defense or surface defense or ASW defense – one factor covers it all. This is the survivability and defensive filter Hughes describes.

All units in Sixth Fleet also possess an Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) value. In many ways, this factor is the most important of all the values for a unit. The Game Notes comment, “The designer saw the situation as being a battle of the little black boxes. Thus, he placed a very heavy emphasis on the ECM of various units involved.” The ECM value of a unit is a combination of defensive filter and, “cover, deception, and dispersion.”

Terrain also plays a role in Counterforce. As mentioned in Firepower above, units in Restricted Waters double their Defense Strength.


“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Sixth Fleet uses a ‘Gods Eye’ wargame model. All units are on the same shared map for both players to see. There are no rules (even optional) for hidden units. The rules are silent on whether a player can examine an enemy stack of units though I think it would be fair to it can only be done if the stack is within a ZoC.

In effect, Sixth Fleet is silent on Scouting. All units are assumed detected, tracked, and targeted (if within a ZoC).


“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting is not apparent in Sixth Fleet except in a very narrow implementation. The ECM Value of a unit represents deception – making the enemy  think you’re  elsewhere – and evasion (ruining or delaying an attack). That said, the Anti-Scouting concept is really almost below the level depicted in the game.


“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

In Sixth Fleet the player is the embodiment of C2. The process of C2 is in the Sequence of Play which has only two phases per player; a Combat Phase followed by a Movement Phase. With no Anti-Scouting there is no need to plan for it, nor is there a need to implement C2 countermeasures.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

In Sixth Fleet there is no way to interfere with (or interrupt) a players Sequence of Play. Like Anti-Scouting, the concept of C2CM is not apparent in Sixth Fleet.

Final Verdict

Sixth Fleet is very land-centric view of modern naval warfare using very dated wargaming concepts. The idea that ships at sea exert interlocking Zones of Control to create ‘solid fronts’ and force an enemy ship to ‘retreat’ because the captain realizes he is outmatched is far too simplistic, even dare I say, incorrect view of naval warfare. Although Sixth Fleet captures some of the essence of Maneuver, Firepower, and Counterforce that Capt. Hughes describes, it falls far short if not outright ignores Scouting, Anti-Scouting, C2 and C2CM. Sixth Fleet also narrowly focuses on only two of four objectives of why a navy fights (“From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy.”). It appears to me that the designers were victims of their own biases as they tried to shoehorn land-warfare concepts on a naval wargame. 

It doesn’t work for me.

* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

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