US convoys enroute to Guam are being escorted by two battleships. The Japanese fleet leaves Saipan and Truk simultaneously while US battle cruisers from Guam race to support. In the early afternoon of the second day, the two fleets come together. For the Japanese they must sink the valuable American merchants; the Americans realize the best chance they have is to engage the Japanese quickly and keep them at bay while the merchants run for safety.
Note – The GWAS Dreadnoughts tactical rules were used for the following battle.
SPECIAL TO NY TIMES FROM REPORTER X
DATELINE: April 2, 1919, Somewhere in the Mid-Pacific, Aboard USS Alaska, Flagship Navy Escort Force
The day began clear and the ship’s captain at breakfast told us that he expected the day to remain the same. Late last night we rendezvoused with a large convoy of ships carrying vital cargo to our troops in the Philippines. The Captain warned us to keep our combat gear close as he was in wireless contact with our battle cruisers which should join us later in the day. This was important since we had also received reports from other neutral ships that the Japanese fleet was on the move.
At around 10am two ships hove into sight. After a few tense minutes signals were exchanged revealing the battle cruisers Intrepid and Bonhomme Richard. The also brought news that the Japanese fleet was just over the horizon. No sooner had the battle cruisers falling into formation then masts were sighted coming up over the horizon.
Turn 1 – The American fleet is in line astern with scout cruisers Manila, Davao, and Cebu in the lead followed by battle cruisers Intrepid and Bonhomme Richard. Astern of battle cruisers are battleships Alaska and Hawai’i along with the old armored cruiser Seattle. To starboard of the main battle line are four divisions of destroyers; to port are the gunboats Galveston and Tacoma with colliers Neptune and Orion followed by the fast transports and slow transports.
The Japanese fleet is to the south. The main battle line is lead by the battle cruisers Hiei, Haruna, Kirishima and Yoshun followed astern by the light cruisers Chikuma, Yahagi, and Hirado. To the starboard side are the gunboats Yodo and Mogami.
The scout and battle cruisers as well as our destroyers dashed ahead and met the enemy head-on. Meanwhile, the slower battleships moved to support while the valuable merchants turned south to avoid becoming entangled in the battle. Our gallant destroyers certainly earned their keep this day; we could see the plumes from torpedo strikes against the enemy hulls. Immediately, one ship stopped dead in the water and another quickly plunged beneath the waves. We listened in awe to reports of small Japanese gunboats running right up our ships and fearlessly firing torpedoes. Fortunately they all missed.
Turn 2 – The US destroyers lead the charge and pass down the port-to-port down the Japanese battle line. The first and second division fire torpedoes from around 4000 yards and score several hits on the lead Japanese battle cruisers. Hiei in the van goes DIW while the next in line, Haruna, suffers a catastrophic hit and rapidly disappears beneath the waves. The US battle cruisers are unable to fire since the scout cruisers are blocking their line of sight. The Japanese battle cruisers try vainly to swat away the smaller destroyers but only succeed in sinking a lone ship. Meanwhile, the two fearless Japanese gunboats pass starboard-to-starboard down the US battle line miraculously avoiding getting hit and loosen their torpedoes against the battle cruisers. All the torpedoes, fired from hull mounts, miss.
We stood in awe on the bridge wing and watched the seemingly fearless Japanese press on with their attack. They too turned to the south and our battle cruisers followed. We also watched the two Japanese gunboats continue right past us and drive on towards our nearly defenseless merchantmen. I could hear the wireless calling out for the scout cruisers to turn and go to defend the merchants. We took some shots at the Japanese gunboats as they passed us but the little ships proved to be too hard to hit. Fortunately, our own gunboats engaged the oncoming Japanese ships and one quickly went under in a hail of small shells. Meanwhile, our battle cruisers continued to duke it out with the two remaining Japanese battle cruisers. Our fire must have been good since we saw a fire erupt on the new Japanese leader. Our little destroyers scored yet another victory by sinking the hapless Japanese battle cruiser that had first been halted by our gallant torpedomen.
Turn 3 – The American third and fourth destroyer divisions finish off the stationary Haruna. Yoshun is hit and a fire started. Intrepid suffers damage to her tertiary battery but no other damage. Yodo and Mogami motor past the American battle line and make haste towards the merchants but fire from Galveston and Tacoma sinks Yodo.
After seeing the punishment taken, we were amazed when the Japanese fleet refused to turn away. Obviously sensing that the real prize were the merchant loaded with men and equipment, the Japanese commander moved to close the distance with the vulnerable tubs. Fortunately for the merchant seamen, Alaska and Hawai’i stood in the way!
Turn 4 – Gunboat Mogami gets in amongst the convoy but her gunnery proves poor as she is unable to sink any ships. Galveston and Tacoma try to get close to sink her while the scout cruisers continue to race back from the main battle line to lend support. The scout cruisers are still unable to engage due to the short range of their tertiary battery. Meanwhile, the two remaining Japanese battle cruisers, Yoshun and Teibo, try to slip past the American battle line but the two American battleships and two battle cruisers steam an mere 4000yds to the port side and exchange fire. Unbeknownst to the Americans, a fire aboard Yoshun threatens her magazines and her captain is forced to flood his magazines effectively rendering his ship impotent and unable to fire. Seeing the hopeless situation, and noting his light cruisers are still unengaged, he orders a turn to the south in order to disengage.
At only a few thousand yards we watched our shells slam into the enemy ship. Obviously having enough and realizing the futility of continuing against four American dreadnoughts, the Japanese captain turned away. Once we were sure the enemy light cruisers were not going to make a final charge, we also turned towards our merchant convoy to dispatch the last pesky Japanese gunboat that was racing amongst our vital ships. What a glorious day for the US Navy! The Japanese fleet has two less battle cruisers and most assuredly a new appreciation for American firepower!
Turn 5 – The two remaining Japanese battle cruisers turn away with the American ships taking a few parting shots but scoring no hits of significance. The American commander declines to pursue, noting the Japanese light cruisers with their torpedoes coming up and feeling the pressure to protect the convoy. The American scout cruisers with the assistance of the gunboats dispatch the lone Japanese gunboat after a melee amongst the merchants.
Post Battle Analysis
The American attack with the destroyers was far more effective than it should have been. In the first attack, three of 12 factors struck (25%) which is far above historic expected rates. In part this was because so many extra factors were used given the Dreadnoughts tactical rules being played. The American commander initially used the scout cruisers incorrectly; given the lack of firepower (tertiary batteries only) he should of held the scout cruisers back to protect the merchantmen. It was really only poor shooting on the part of the gunboat Mogami that saved the merchants as the Japanese wolf raced through the merchant columns. It is also interesting to note that Yoshun was rendered combat ineffective by fires and not hits by the enemy; she lost her ammunition before all her primary guns were destroyed but still had five of eight hull left (though she also suffered flooding). If the slug fest had continued for another turn, it is likely Yoshun would have been sunk. As it was, the special rule Better Part of Valor saved that ship.