RogerBW's Blog

Fifth Harpoon PBEM AAR: Northern Aggression 26 December 2014

Since some of the players had requested a game with submarines in it, I used this scenario out of the book. In 1997, three Russian surface ships violate Polish coastal waters in a show of force; a German Type 206 submarine tries to sink them. Total playing time was six days.

I made heavy use of Rick Rather's Automated Sonar spreadsheet. (Yeah, I'll write my own version eventually, but it's a good start, and it runs under LibreOffice.) Part of the problem is that there's obviously an O(N²) effect: although the sheet calculates detection ranges in both directions between a pair of ships, I need a separate copy of the sheet for each distinct pair, unless I'm going to be re-entering data all the time.

As usual, I translated the setup information from a plain unmarked table to an actual location, in this case the Gdańsk Bay in north-eastern Poland. This gave a sufficiently large area of intermediate-depth water to allow the submarine to move above and below the thermocline, while slightly constraining everyone's actions. (Huge image behind this link.)

I also experimented with a new scenario briefing format based on the NATO standard for orders STANAG 2014, with the aim of increasing realism. I may not have been sufficiently good at this: the Germans were explicitly prohibited from attacking outside the Polish territorial claim (the green line on the map), but the blue player didn't have this clear at first. (I am told that writing clear orders is both an art and a very boring chore.)

The Russians had a Grisha, a Krivak, and a Neustrashimyy, and started by moving slowly out north of the contested zone, the Grisha pinging with its hull sonar. The German submarine picked this up straight away, and started to close in.

With some truly horrid detection rolls, Blue failed to spot the Krivak for quite a while.

He dropped below the layer and sprinted north, ahead of the Grisha. When he popped up, he finally saw the Krivak (and with an excellent classification roll immediately identified it).

Unfortunately the submarine was within active sonar range from the Grisha, and Red soon pinned it down.

then lost contact as Blue saw their reaction and dived below the layer. Red launched the ready helicopter from the Neustrashimyy

and it flew over the last location, dropping passive sonobuoys and then pinging with active sonar. (And the sub managed to miss this, with some more bad die rolling.)

The Russians followed up with torpedoes: two SET-65s from the Krivak, one fast and one slow, and an RPK-2 Viyuga torpedo-carrying rocket from the Neustrashimyy, set to splash down on the far side of the sub. The UMGT-1ME torpedo payload found the sub, tracked in, and hit. Strategic victory to Red.

Thanks to Craig (Blue) and Todd (Red) for playing. The moment-by-moment maps as shown to each player are available here. Things I've learned from running this game:

  • This was a very different game from the surface actions I've been running so far, basically blind man's buff. (And the sonar rules are very different from the radar ones, and rather more complex.) Actually plotting contacts didn't happen until quite late.

  • This did mean that Red had very little to do apart from setting up patrol patterns, until he actually heard something.

  • I will almost certainly work up my own sonar calculator, using the depth and range data available from the data files I'm already keeping. It ought to be possible to get it to spit out "ship A, target B, sonar C, detection chance 25%". My only hesitation is an æsthetic one: I still want to play "Harpoon by email", not "Harpoon moderated by a computer".

  • This sort of low-speed manoeuvre isn't easy to show on the charts I have available, and I really need to work on producing a zoomed-in version (scaling up the underlying chart, then drawing the same things on top of it).

  • Another game will start in the new year.

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