Monday, November 16, 2015

Close Action: Haddock vs Allies

This was a hypothetical action in 1741, pitting 16 Royal Navy ships against 10 Spanish and 8 French. The Brits begin closehauled on the port tack at medium sail; the Spanish start parallel to leeward, at fighting sail; the French start broadreaching, in line with and facing the Spanish but far enough away that they can cut upwind to engage the Brits. That's what we expected to happen, in fact--the Spanish command conference decided the Brits would stay upwind, engage the French and ignore us. We would be too far away to shoot effectively and unable to close the range in any reasonable time.

The British, however, didn't know that. They immediately drove straight at us. Their plan, as it turned out, was to pass through our line and defeat us, and hope the French wouldn't be able to pass through our line to attack them.

Unfortunately, the 50 gun Brit who was trying to pass astern of me didn't quite judge it right, and rammed into my 108 gun Real Felipe. And he fouled, so I was stuck in place. And with an invitation like that, of course a Brit 74 sauntered over to park at my bow and rake me repeatedly. Fortunately Real Felipe is a monster and can withstand quite a bit of punishment. I fired half-broadside rakes at the 50 who had immobilized me, then...formed boarding parties! Both Brits hastily formed defensive boarding parties. I assaulted the 74, which barely repulsed me. The 50, knowing she couldn't withstand a boarding action, cut away the grappling lines and edged away.

Meanwhile, the French line had swept down on the British van and gotten embroiled in a furball there. The French admiral signaled me that he was going to keep his ships together at the van, which meant that my ship and the rest of the Spanish rear were not going to be rescued. That was probably the right decision overall, but that was cold comfort with my ship and her consort Brilliante fighting five Brits, and the rest of the Spanish rear equally outnumbered.

It was about this point that my consort exploded.

The Brits had sent four strong ships to attack the three weaker ships of the Spanish rear, but hadn't been effective as I would have expected--in fact, one of the three managed to escape, and another was  battered but still attacking at game end. The third, however--Brillante--had been reduced to floating scrap wood when she caught fire and blew up. Surrounding her were a knot of five ships--my Real Felipe and four Brits. The burning debris from the wreck caught all five of us on fire, but Real Felipe managed to extinguish hers quickly. Not all the Brits were as fortunate. I finally managed to turn (having been immobile since game turn 3) and put enough shot into that 50 to finish her off.

The game was called at that point with an Allied victory; the Brits hadn't managed to defeat our rear fast enough to prevent our winning at the van. I think the Brit plan was clever but flawed--it relied on their being able to get through a hostile line, and the French not being able to get through a friendly line. I am thankful not to have been selected for British admiral, since I don't know what would have been a winning strategy--there were several comments, from all three sides, to the effect the Brits were doomed from the start as they were facing a strength point disparity of about 20% .

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