RogerBW's Blog

Thirteenth Harpoon PBEM AAR: Radar Contact! 17 October 2015

I've started playing through the South Atlantic War scenario book for Harpoon (and for Combined Arms for land actions, which I'm ignoring). This is the first naval scenario in it: the Argentine submarine Santa Fe (formerly the Balao-class USS Catfish) tries to escape from South Georgia.

The submarine begins by the Grytviken dock, up Cumberland East Bay from the sea. The scenario book gives no guidance as to water depths, but with the ETOPO1 database I was able to generate a depth chart for the area.

The "S" subdivisions are unofficial - in S1, submarines cannot operate at all (in this case obviously there's a channel to the dock). In S2, they can operate on the surface, and in S3, they can submerge. So Santa Fe's first job was to get to an S3 area.

Meanwhile the British had Antrim, Brilliant, Plymouth and the patrol vessel Endurance, with three Wasps and two Lynxes on deck, and one Wessex in the air.

The Wessex moved in with active radar, and Santa Fe spotted it via ESM.

The Wessex circled, and got a fix on Santa Fe.

It moved in to drop depth charges - the first one hit, doing minor damage. The British gave the Argentinians ten minutes to surrender.

Other British helicopters moved in, with a Lynx also picking up the sub. The second depth charge attack missed.

The Lynx attacked with AS.12 missiles; the first one missed, and the second hit. This was enough to reduce the sub's speed, but not to do critical damage.

Two more depth charges followed, both missing, and two more missiles, one of which hit. This as it turned out was the decisive hit of the game: it had a good chance of doing critical damage against the already-damaged submarine, which could have prevented it from submerging, but failed to do so. Antrim and Plymouth had been racing in, and Antrim opened fire on entering gun rangeā€¦ but only had time for a single salvo, narrowly missing, before Santa Fe was able to reach deep water and dive.

Santa Fe turned north and reduced speed, heading for deeper water and dropping below the layer.

The British ran passive sonar, but the Wessex had headed back to refuel, and was the only available helo with a dipping sonar. Shipborne sonar came close at times, but was never quite in range, and the search space was expanding at eighteen knots.

Meanwhile Santa Fe turned east, planning to head round to the south of South Georgia and then back to the Argentine mainland.

Sonar passes were unavailing; the British were unable to make contact.

Santa Fe was able to identify a couple of the RN ships by sonar, but her captain quite reasonably decided that he wasn't going to try for an attack with a damaged boat. Instead, he rigged for ultra-quiet and sneaked away to the east.

Once the Wessex was up again, it made some dipping passes, but never got close enough to spot Santa Fe. (At one point they were right on the edge of active sonar detection range, but the dice weren't running for the British that day.)

So that's a victory to the Argentinian forces. Santa Fe has escaped to sea; she's somewhat damaged, and will be used rather more cautiously during the rest of the war, but hasn't been captured or sunk.

I frankly expected this one to go much more towards the British side, but they had bad luck with their missile hits in particular, and the ten-minute interval for surrender allowed Santa Fe to get a crucial few miles closer to the deep water.

I should apologise to the British player for giving him better quality equipment on some of the data sheets than was historically correct; fortunately he spotted this and queried it.

Thanks to Ron and John for playing this one. Next: some aerial action.


  1. Posted by John Dallman at 06:01pm on 17 October 2015

    Playing the Argentines, I was puzzled by one British move. When I was asked to surrender, I was asked to continue out to sea and raise a white flag. So I continued out to sea, without the white flag, creating some ambiguity.

    Had he told me to turn back into port, which was fine fir his victory conditions, he'd have been clear that I wasn't surrendering much faster, which would likely have made the difference. I did have a white flag ready, but was lucky enough not to need it.

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