Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Retun to Ulsan - 14 August 1904

My favourite pre-dreadnought action is the clash of Vice Admiral Karl Jessen Vladivostok Independent Cruiser Squadron (armored cruisers: Rossia, Rurik, and Gromoboi) and Japanese 2nd Fleet under Admiral Kamimura (four armored cruisers Izumo, Azuma, Tokiwa, Iwate, and two protected cruisers Naniwa and Takachih) off Ulsan in the Korean Strait on 14 August 1904.
The Imperial Japanese Navy close in on the Vladivostok Cruiser Squadron on my newly made
naval gaming mat.
It's a great scenario for a relatively quick game (although pretty challenging for the Russian player) and a good one for testing out new rules. For me, it highlights the great range of outcomes possible in naval gaming. I've played it about eight times now and each game has been quite different. Only one or two, by memory, have see the Imperial Russian Navy prevail, alas!

Now, to get yourself in the pre-dred mindset I can always recommend watching the clip from Turning Point (that you all know so well, I'm sure) if you can put up wth the soundtrack:

Not being a devotee of the rivet-counting end of naval wargaming rules, my go-to rules for a fun game (especially when playing solo) are Coaling Stations by Twylight Games. What I like most is the card-based order mechanism where each squadron allocated a series of individual orders (move, turn, fire, make smoke, evade etc) by placing the cards in the order you wish to enact them, and then the player rolls against their allocated command rating (7 inferior commander, 8 average commander, 9 superior commander) using 2d6 and if the roll is equal to or less than the command rating, that number of orders are put in place.
In this case the IJN protected cruiser squadron (command of 9) had rolled a 6 and were able to put all four orders into action. They have to be performed int he order they are laid out in (L to R in this picture).

Alas, in this case, the shift to flank speed meant they steamed right past the Russians (top of picture) before being able to launch their torpedoes!
So, if you have a command rating of 8 for your squadron and you lay out five orders (eg. cruise speed, fire main guns, fire secondary guns, turn 90 degrees and make smoke), a roll of 7 means you get to move forward at cruising speed, then for your main guns only that turn.

It's an interesting and easy to use mechanism. I place my cards for each squadron face down in order (top to bottom) before rolling against the commend. Sometimes I accidentally mix up the order which I put down to fog of war style mistakes by the crew. As you will see below, sometimes this has devastating consequences.

So, here's a photo-story of how the game played out.

The fleets sight each other
First IJN salvo mostly straddles the Russian cruisers, but one shot finds its mark.
Naniwa and Takachih swing to port to close on the Russians.
The second IJN salvo bites hard at the Russian cruisers
Vice Admiral Jessen steers to port to try and distance himself from Admiral Kamimura's heavy guns.
Another IJN salvo starts to slow the Russian cruisers. Naniwa and Takachih close on the rear of the Russian line of battle in the hope of coming within torpedo range.
Naniwa and Takachih pull within range of their primary guns and start to hammer the
tail end of the Russian line.
The effect of the furious salvos from the IJN must have interrupted communications - no Russian orders are passed on this turn.
Jessen's gunnery officers finally receive the command to open fire as the stokers shovel coal for all they are worth. The Russian armored cruisers swing back parallel tot he IJN and open fire. Alas, to little effect.
Another salvo from the Japanese takes out a forward turret on the Gromoboi.
Rurik receives more hot stuff from the protected cruisers. The Russian fleet is badly damaged and
only limping along.
Lines of command in Admiral Kamimura's division are winning the day for the IJN, four orders are executed in one turn!
Jessen orders a punishing salvo - with several shots penetrating the Japanese armour.
But, it is too little, too late?
Fore form the main and secondary guns of the IJN protected cruisers hits home with devastating
effect on the Rurik.
Five hits and the Rurik is slowly sinking from the damage.
Steaming past the Russian line, the Takachih bring her starboard side torpedo tubes into action.
Jessen orders his crippled ships to make smoke in a last ditch attempt to avoid destruction.
Another Japanese salvo (not pictured) sends the Rurik, and Gromoboi to the icy depths. But then disaster strikes the IJN. After exercising excellent command under fire, Admiral Kamimura's orders are misinterpreted and his armoured cruisers are ordered to steer hard to port and slice through the Naniwa sending her to the bottom with all hands.
Admiral Kamimura reels with the shame of ramming his own ship as the IJN prepares to
annihilate the Russians.
Takachih avenges the loss of her sister ship by dealing a fatal blow to the Rossia.
As always, Coaling Stations and the Battle off Ulsan gives exciting results! However, a Russian victory seems always just beyond reach in this scenario.


  1. Thanks - t'was a fun battle. Shame about the order mix up for the IJN, that's gotta hurt!