Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Battle of Sangiang

December 7, 1941: After the Dutch refusal to accept the Japanese ultimatum Japanese forces land at Tarakan and Balikpapan in Dutch Borneo.  Admiral Karl Doorman, unable to oppose the Japanese with sufficient force falls back to Batavia.

December 8: England declares war on Japan in support of their Dutch allies and the oil embargo.

December 9: In the absence of sufficient air support Admiral Thomas Phillips realizes his force is exposed and his position is untenable. He falls back to Batavia and links up with Karl Doorman and the Dutch forces. He reports his position to the admiralty, but regrets that he cannot defend Singapore and orders it’s evacuation. Together Phillips and Doorman form a joint Australian, British, and Dutch command: ABDCOM.

December 14: Batavia comes under air attack from newly captured airfields on Borneo. ABDCOM falls back to Tanjungkarang on the south coast of Sumatra, just west of the Sunda Strait.

December 16: Dutch defenders in Batavia warn of Japanese landings and beg for assistance. Doorman and Phillips formulate a plan to force the strait and fall on Japanese forces in a night engagement.

This was the situation in the NIFTI command center, where Admiral Sabryin Owlfeather played the part of the Japanese and our friends Kurtis and Chris were obliged to be the British assailants.

I know, you’re thinking this will go well. ABDCOM has several key advantages: a larger force with a modern battleship in the vanguard. And of course inter-radio communications with VanGhoogle Translate should make communication a snap. Besides, Japan would never do anything sneaky to keep the foxes out of the henhouse, would they?

The scene opens with two Japanese "pickets" fleeing from the north side of Sangiang Island. These two small and unremarkable boats are Nasami and Natsushima and they've just spent the evening the naval equivalent of gumballs off their sterns. They belong to a category of ships one might call "minelayers." The Japanese force, hastily dispatched though it is, rests comfortable in the fact that they only need to defend one side of the strait. The mines will take care of the other. Quite reasonably, Sabryin deploys his forces on the northwest side of the strait, leaving the east side unguarded.

Sabryin deployed his destroyers in line abreast with his cruisers and capital ships immediately behind them. Kurtis and Chris deployed in four much more conventional columns, one of capital ships, the second of cruisers, and third and fourth of Dutch and British destroyers. The two forces initially closed blindly towards rumors of one another at flank speed. The British were counting on the surface search set aboard Prince of Wales to find . . . something. The first contact emerged from the noise of the island at around 0015, or rather I should say the radar watch officer picked it out, since it was a stationary contact. Twitchy gunners aboard the lead Dutch destroyer, Piet Hien, immediately opened fire on the very hostile (and surprisingly alert) AFW trawler (anti-fish warfare) that proceeded to flee at best possible speed towards the Japanese cavalry. (Odd, since the trawler was surely Dutch.)

It probably isn't a great shock that the Japanese sighted the Dutch first. Before even firing a shot, the unfortunate Piet Hien was introduced to the Emperor's new oxygen torpedoes. Two 24" torpedoes at the edge of gun range sent the offending destroyer to the bottom.

But it wasn't long before a flurry of British Quick Firing rifles sent Samidare to join Piet Hien. The battle slowly developed along this line. The ABDCOM force executed a simutaneous turn to starboard and away from the Japanese, making to run the east side of the strait in a slightly ragged right echelon. The Japanese destroyer force, in order to give chase, executed a simultaneous turn to port, leaving them in a fairly tidy line ahead.

The Japanese set a few torpedoes to 18 ft. and ran them under the destroyers and right at Tromp. Not only did the torpedoes open half a dozen compartments to the sea, the concussion wreaked havoc in engineering rupturing steam lines and salt water in one of the tanks put out fires in several boilers. Tromp immediately lost speed, dropping to about seven knots. Barely able to maneuver and with electrical failures disabling her A and B turrets she nevertheless bravely soldiered on as she trailed an oil slick and fired the occasional nuisance shot from her C turret at the column of Japanese death that now steamed quickly past her.

Meanwhile the Japanese battleships and cruisers turned hard to port to cut around the north side of the island in order to cut off any British stragglers that might clear the minefield.

The Dutch entered the minefield first, but De Ruyter was surprisingly lucky and struck only one mine, that detonated prematurely and did only very superficial damage. Prince of Wales was somewhat less fortunate, finding herself surrounded by waterspouts that holed her in the bow and on both beams. Her torpedo protection proved sufficient to prevent the worst of the mischief, but the damage slowed her down considerably. Best speed she was able to make was fifteen knots. Several destroyers cleared the minefield after her without striking anything. Java struck a mine, but again luck held and the damage was fairly superficial. Repulse struck several that slowed her down a bit between shock damage to her aging powerplant and increased drag from bent and torn hull plating, but her fighting ability was largely unharmed. Finally the last destroyer through the minefield, HMS Encounter, struck a mine which tore her in half. She sank with all hands in rather less than three minutes. Apparently the minefield wasn't completely toothless.

Still, this was unexpected. ABDCOM emerged into the north end of the strait largely intact, if two destroyers and a cruiser short. De Ruyter immediately called for flank speed while the remainder of the force screened her to keep the Japanese heavies at a distance. Admiral Sabryin, still coming about with his capital ships, met a particularly well timed torpedo volley from the gallant British and Dutch destroyers. Ise was struck first, losing all headway as the concussion apparently put out all her fires. She and Kirishima fired a volley at PoW that started a fire on the boat deck, but it was quickly extinguished. The two Japanese cruisers concentrated on Java, who was simply unable to withstand such a volume of fire. The first hit started fires in a berthing compartment forward, the following two penetrated into her engineering spaces, wrecking boilers in the forward fire room and leaving her dead in the water. With no power to counter-flood or operate pumps she took on water at an alarming rate and rolled over to port before plunging by the bow and taking most of her crew with her.

At this point a second volley of torpedoes caught Kirishima leaving her in straits quite similar to her squadron mate, if a few hundred yards closer to the enemy. With the two battlewagons dead in the water and afire the British heavies chose to shift their fire to the Japanese cruisers. The empire built her cruisers very well, but no cruiser of any nation could take the massive pounding that ten 14" and eight 15" Vickers rifles can dispense. Nachi fell first, wracked by massive explosions as PoW started fires from one end of the ship to the other and Repulse simply blew her bottoms out. Nachi survived slightly longer than Java, and she settled on an even keel, but the general effect was quite similar.

At this point we must speculate, because the hour had grown late and we needed to call the exercise. With no further torpedoes the British were probably out of miracles, and a squadron of Japanese destroyers was clawing up their wakes, but it's not unlikely that they could have finished at least one of the Japanese heavies before the Destroyers drove them off or sank them. The damage to the Japanese ships was more spectacular, but in reality all four battleships were serviceable once fires were extinguished and boiler pressure was restored. The biggest problem the Japanese faced was running down and stopping DeRuyter, who would probably have been more than capable of destroying the Imperial Army's still embarked supplies.

As to ship losses, I would guess that the British would have been best served by running. There wasn't much to be gained by staying in the fight. With all torpedoes expended and the bulk of the Japanese fleet still above water (and capable of firing both shells and 24" oxygen torpedoes) the British would have been hard pressed to finish the Japanese heavy ships before the destroyers caught up and put ABDCOM in a quite uncomfortable position. I'd guess that in reality all sides would have broken off action in order to regroup and lick their wounds.

In retrospect, I am not satisfied with the way I ran the minefield. I feel it was too weak and provided no credible disincentive to ABDCOM. (Not withstanding Admiral Kurtis's well known propensity to charge headfirst at any brick wall between him and dinner. And I wouldn't bet on the wall.) This left the Japanese commander in an unanticipated position, which was a little unfair since I gave the other side a more substantial force. The Empire of Japan would never have risked major fleet units so needlessly. But it was still a fun little scenario for all its flaws and it was nice to see some action on the masonite sea. With luck we can do this again sometime in the future. With real luck we can refight a substantial part of a longer campaign. Find out what might have happened if . . .

Ah yes, I do like a good what if.

Until next time, gentle readers. May your lives be more gentle than our imaginations, but twice as fruitful.

The Composer

Friday, November 15, 2013

A brief poetic distraction . . .

Several years ago I wrote a poem while in transit between one place and another. At least, I believe that's when I wrote it. You see, I got home, edited it some, and promptly lost it. Well, I finally found it, edited it some more and appended the date when I think I wrote it. I hope the date doesn't make it fiction, but even if it does I still think it's one of my better travel poems. Without further ado I bring you:

Information Dance

Color. The
Air is a confusion of
Esters bunch in pressure waves as
Frequencies collide. One
Wave transmits another, permits
Passage, but

Photons skim past the
Rarefied stuff of
In the same
Space other ideas find
Above us

Grand algebraic
Dragons bound among fluid clouds of chaos
Transposing genes through
Non-Euclidian space,
Fermenting synaptic construction and
Matching, giving
Passage while
Changing like
Two particles in a

In this vast cosmic
Radiation of information
Our own attachments
Are both
Distinct and

Next to unity
Beethoven measures the same as

9 December 2011

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Not Quite Human

Since I've been on the "28mm" diversion of late let me briefly present a few photo essays.

In the first Squats discover an abandoned Eldar settlement:

Next, a few pictures of Eldar at work and play in their fields:

Finally, maybe this is a record of what happened:

It just really doesn't look good does it?

No. Not good at all. Maybe the dwarves have the numbers to forestall the fate of the elves.

Several Shades of Crimson (Dragons, Fists, Cardinals, & Cetera.)

I've done a lot of "28mm" posts of late, which distracts a little from my more recent historical work, but I beg you to bear with me. I've been doing the sci-fi wargaming rather longer so it's a bit of a game of catch-up to make my explorations here current. (Though to be fair, it's been ten years since I last played an actual "game" with the science fiction kids.)

Still, as an artistic endeavor, they're important to me.

After my forays into Space Wolfery and Orcdom I had a lot of human miniatures in need of repainting, or half in old paint jobs that didn't work for my newer wolves. I took to repainting the older marines in other chapters. (I still have several boxes of old paints sitting around to be repurposed. It's an ongoing process.) The repaints thus far fall into one of two chapters: one of my own creation called the Crimson Dragons that are native to the desert world where my story is set, and for a few of my oldest marines the Crimson Fists. (No relation.)

Dragons first:

Ignoring the early 90s heavy weapons troopers at the end the vast bulk of this army is vintage late 80s stuff. In my opinion these were and are still some of the finest sci-fi models produced. A little dark and exaggerated, to be sure, but with tremendous character. And compared to the new stuff (note grossly out of proportion weapons of last two minis) they almost look plausible.

Of course they look quite startlingly different from Citadel's original marines:

There are several more of these, including a different officer and a rocket launcher, that await retouching as time permits. While they're not quite the same as the miniatures on the cover of Rogue Trader, they're similar enough that I hope my artistic inspiration is apparent. And while none of these are particularly recent paint jobs, they're good enough that they're not destined for the strip-bin yet.

Another hangover from the RT era is my obsession with adventurers. In Girls, Girls, Girls!  I talked a little about some of my recent adventurers, but I have many going back a long way. They represent a mixture of Imperial forces, some priests and inquisitors, and the sorts of random fringers and roustabouts you might find on the old Logan's World.

Several of these miniatures have an interesting history. Of the three below the fellow in the center started out as an "adventurer with chainsword" but was promoted to the position of "sensei"; a sort of reborn Emperor, or at least a piece of him. (Oh yes, did I mention that the "Emperor" really is just a dessicated husk with no life in it? The High Priests of Terra seem to be propping him up, Weekend at Bernie's style so that they don't have to give up power. Or at least this was the story as it unfolded in the days before the First Great Heresy at GW: The Cameran Schism of 1993.)

Anyway, the center fellow became a "sensei" as per the 1990 Realm of Chaos. The fellow on the right was released as an "imperial scout" and was for many years attached to my Space Wolves. I have since cut him loose as I think he's a bit too intriguing to be pinned down so narrowly. I can't quite identify the fellow at left, but I like him, so here he is for now.

The next few fellows are a group of dwarves, one dwarf adventurer and a couple ordinary dwarf troopers. A sensei could attract quite a following and I decided these guys had joined up.

Since the sensei is the reborn "star-child" (isn't that remarkably New-Agey for a dark future?) I figured he needed a good star banner. This Ironclaw squat was happy to provide one. And his short friend gives the sensei a pretty solid puch at range.

Here's another mixed bag. The miniature on the right was from a Citadel licensed range. The one in the middle is technically supposed to be an inquisitor. The wonder-boy is apparently quite persuasive.

Of course no adventure is complete without bad guys. Two of the three models below are "Ordo Malleus Inquisitors." The third is a quite similar model from another company. (Grenadier, perhaps? I don't quite recall and I'm not willing to pop him from his base right now.) Well, I like red and the red and white were quite striking. And only the High Priests of Terra wear red, so . . . the college of evil cardinals it is. I mentioned Emperor Bernie, right? Meet the props.

Of course all cardinals propping up long dead prelates need their own Swiss Guard. To my mind the Grey Knights serve that function. 

All marines, all monks, and all inquisitors.

Next time: non-humans.

Girls, Girls, Girls! and the Guys that Run With Them.

I've always wanted to play Warhammer 40K as a role-playing game, but I've long lacked for interested partners. Lately I've revisited the idea and convinced an artist friend, her husband, and my wife that a good old classic dungeon crawl through space with miniatures might be fun. Maybe this takes care of that little problem. But with girl gamers, well, maybe I need some girl miniatures. After a frantic e-bay buying spree and some long nights painting you can see the results. Clearly I picked up a few boys as well along the way as well. At some point I'll try to go into some of the "how to" on cleaning, converting, painting, and finishing models of this sort, but for now I'm just going to do another photo-dump.

Kara "Stone" Mason and Hary van Erikson are a pair of Citadel "Necromunda" figures: a Von Saar leader and an Escher ganger .

Lorita is an older pirate from the Rogue Trader era. (She even came with the name.)

Kitty Lee started out as an Escher juve from the old "Necromunda." Care to guess what inspired the nick?

Jackie Chu is a De Lasque leader, again from "Necromunda."

Lastly, PFC Bush is an Imperial Guard vet from the RT days. A bit out of uniform, I suspect. She does appear to be wounded, so I guess we can make exceptions. (Women in post-apocalyptic settings never do seem quite fully dressed. I guess things get ripped up when the end comes. But only things that cover PG bits. R and NC-17 coverings are more durable.)

For what it's worth, she does have feet, but my wife insists she looks better when you can't see the base. Here's the whole guardswoman, head to toe:

The lighting is a little flat on that one, but you get the idea. More will, of course, follow, but here's a start.

Monday, September 9, 2013

WWI Commissions

A while back a friend of mine asked me if I'd paint some miniatures for him. I've taken commissions every once in a while in the past, but I don't do it often because it's a lot of work and I don't have the guts to ask for the kind of scratch that would actually be commensurate with the time I invest. Maybe this isn't surprising. But this was a friend, and I said yes. Originally this was to have been a simple "paint up the Panzerschiffe" project, but darn if I can ever leave well enough alone.

Well, my friend Owlfeather wants to play some WWI games, and of course the Battle of the Falkland Islands is a nice, if rather unbalanced, place to start. The most famous participants are probably the two British battlecruisers: Invincible and Iflexible, followed closely by Graf Spee's two heavies: Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. (These are, in fact, the very ships Owlfeather first purchased.) I started with the British pair. As usual you can see some of my styrene additions to the model.

The tripod masts are .020" cylindrical stock topped by small rectangles cut from more styrene blanks. The aerials atop are .015" stock. For anchor chain I've found that smashing .010" cylindrical stock with a pair of textured needlenose pliers works fairly well. The anchors themselves are carved out of think styrene sheets. I cut a small square and put two groves in one side that I pry open a little. I then trim the resulting center bit down a little to make a sort of squashed sideways E that works fairly well. The anchor capstans are very short pieces of .020" stock. I glue them to the deck and then file them down to the same height and simply run my anchor chains up to them. In reality the chains should generally wrap around them and go back, but at this scale a little abstraction is inevitable.

While imperfect, it helps to solve the empty fo'c'sle problem. With nothing the expanse simply looks too large and too barren on ships of cruiser size or larger. (I've decided paint suffices on destroyers and under. Not only is the hardware smaller on lighter combatants, and thus less visible and harder to model at 1/2400, but you generally need many more of them. For the sake of mass production I have decided some sacrifices are acceptable. And prop guards give a better return on investment, but that's something for another post.)

Here you can see the result after I've applied a basecoat and the deck color.

Here you can see the completed effect. Invincible and Inflexible lie at anchor on the Sea of Shijin ready to do battle in the name of grognardery and the right to drink dark beer. The Kaiser's fleet will no doubt attempt to extend the hegemony of both yellow beer and lighter gaming. Me? I like both. I guess that makes me a neutral in this battle.