by Bob Eldridge
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When I go to HISTORICON or COLD WARS, the two major US gaming conventions on the East Coast, I always sign up for the games run by the Admiralty Trilogy staff consisting of Larry Bond, Mike Harris, Chris Carlson, Jay Wissmann, and Bill Madison. Regardless of the period, the scenarios they run are always challenging, inventive, and fun. At HISTORICON this year, the WWII scenario was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. The game was played on a map of Pearl Harbor and it’s environs with 1:6000 scale ships, and everything was deployed as it was historically on the morning of December 7, 1941 . This article is an after-action report of that game from the perspective of one of the US players.

left to right: Mike, Jay, Bill and Chris

I was assigned to command the battleships in Pearl Harbor . The other US players commanded the cruisers, the destroyers, the naval aircraft, the Army Air Corps aircraft, and the Army anti-aircraft batteries. The first thing we had to do was roll dice to determine how much warning we had received. The key premise of the game was that US forces had received some warning, but how much was left up to the die rolls. The sum of all the player rolls gave the result. Unfortunately we all rolled really badly, and wound up getting the minimum amount of warning – about 45 minutes. This amount of time was based on the detection of the Japanese strike force by the Opana Point radar being correctly interpreted and acted upon. This amount of warning, although fairly short, was enough to accomplish a number of things. The US players were able to get some (based on die rolls for each airfield) aircraft into the air, including fortunately all of the Marine F4Fs from Ewa field. The Marine aircraft were placed over Battleship Row in a position to intercept torpedo bombers. Some of the Army aircraft were also placed to attempt to intercept torpedo bombers approaching Battleship Row, while the rest were placed to cover the airfields in the hopes of being able to get more aircraft into the air later. Most importantly, that 45 minutes warning allowed all the ships in harbor to be brought to battle stations, which meant all AA guns were manned and all ships were at full watertight integrity. We also gained a few Army AA batteries to deploy near the harbor. We opted not to attempt to sortie any ships, figuring that they would be easier to defend in harbor, and not wanting to risk possibly blocking the harbor entrance. Meantime, the Japanese players plotted their attack strategy.

USN Team! That's me seated, in the white T-shirt.

IJN Team!

The Japanese first wave came in pretty much as the Japanese did in the actual battle. One group of torpedo bombers were wiped out by the Marine F4Fs, largely because that group was unescorted. Most of the Army fighters had very bad dice luck trying to fight through the escorting Zeroes to get to the bombers, except for the P-36s which gave a very good account of themselves (veteran pilots no doubt). More Japanese torpedo and level bombers fell to the AA fire from Battleship Row, but nonetheless the Japanese managed to score a number of hits with both torpedoes and bombs on the battleships moored along Ford Island, but substantially fewer than they did historically, and the US avoided any catastrophic results like the magazine explosion that historically destroyed the Arizona. The Japanese also managed to do substantial damage to some of the airfields.

Air Raid Pearl Harbor!

Between the first and second waves the US players were able to get a few more aircraft into the air (many had been destroyed on the ground) and got the destroyers underway and moved them to form an additional anti-aircraft screen around Battleship Row. I believe the Japanese players had the opportunity to change the ordnance loadouts of the second strike, but I don’t think they did.

Battleship row, hit hard!

The second Japanese wave concentrated mainly on the cruisers, but did relatively little damage, and took some fairly heavy losses since their flight path took them over the battleships and the destroyers deployed to defend them as well as the cruisers themselves. That ended the active phase of the game. Now the US players had to roll for damage control for their damaged ships. Specifically, I had to roll for the damaged US battleships. Needless to say, I rolled dice about as badly as you could – obviously the US crews were novices at damage control. In fact, I rolled so badly that after the game I was chosen by unanimous vote of all the players on both sides as “best Japanese player” - pretty embarrassing for a US admiral. However, even with horrendous dice luck, only the oldest two US battleships, Nevada and Oklahoma , settled into the mud of Pearl Harbor . All the others eventually managed to get their fires and flooding under control. This was much better than the historical result. The Japanese had lost 89 aircraft, mostly bombers, about a quarter of their strike force, and far more than the 29 aircraft they lost historically. This made the game a US victory.

This game was certainly unusual as a naval game in that one side was more or less completely at anchor, and the other side consisted solely of aircraft. This game was a good example of how to take a lop-sided historical event and turn it into a balanced and challenging wargame scenario by making some historically based modifications. The Admiralty Trilogy staff conducted a very informative seminar earlier in the day on the Pearl Harbor operations, and explored in detail the possibilities for early warning and likely US responses. The game setup and conditions reflected the extensive and detailed research that had gone into the seminar. Despite the fact that the US fleet was at anchor (except for the destroyers) for the whole game, it was a tense and challenging scenario and a great deal of fun. I can’t wait to see what scenarios the Admiralty Trilogy guys come up with next year at COLD WARS and HISTORICON.

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