Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Monday, July 13, 2015

Philip Passes with Flying Colors

Droits de L'Homme, 74, strikes her colors.
Last Saturday, I introduced my friend Philip to the boardgame Flying Colors, GMT's game of age of sail naval warfare. Phil is not a dyed-in-the-wool wargamer (yet ;-), but he's an aficionado of the period and the genre, being an avid consumer of Patrick O'Brian's tales of Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin.

I picked the Audierne Bay scenario as a good one to start with, given its lower vessel count and relatively straightforward nature. Phil took Sir Edward Pellew, commanding the frigates Indefatigable and Amazon, while I commanded the French 74 Droits de l'Homme. Packed with troops and unable to open her lower gun ports because of the heavy seas, DdH was fighting effectively as a heavy 4th rate. Holding the weather gauge, Pellew brought his frigates up to windward of the French ship as she carried a large body of infantry up the Brittany coast. Indy and Amazon are both 5th rates, though Indy being a 44 counts as heavy.

We read through the rules and played ten turns in about three to three and a half hours. Although this scenario features only three ships, I think that larger numbers will not take more time in direct proportion, since larger engagements are fought primarily in formations (to allow for command and control), so fighting a squadron of ten or fifteen ships will be more like maneuvering two or three multi-part elements than moving fifteen different ships.

My comments:

Though the French were able to concentrate considerable fire on the Amazon, cutting her rigging to shreds, the plucky 36 gave as good as she got, and the French ship of the line slowed considerably, her hull battered and blood streaming from her scuppers. Thinking she had at least temporarily immobilized the Amazon, DdH ran up the wind to engage the Indy (though the fight was bringing the whole group closer to shoal water along a lee shore).

But Indy dealt the French ship several shrewd blows, and the Amazon caught the wind and got enough speed to rejoin the fight in time to slam a broadside into the stern of the Frenchman, raking her decks cruelly and doing enough damage that the DdH finally struck her colors.

Fight of the Droits de l'Homme by Léopold Le Guen
His comments:
I was advised by a friend who also frequently war-games not to discuss what I had intended to do, or was planning as it might give others the key to beating me in the future. Since winning is not my over-all goal, but rather a more in-depth understanding of historical, martial decision-making I do wish to talk about how I went about this scenario.

My two frigates began running before the wind in line-abreast. As I had the weather-gage I had sought to maintain it for as long as possible. Additionally, I wanted to get into line-ahead. I turned to port (read larboard) into line-ahead with the Amazon in the van. Since I went from running to reaching I lost no speed.

After a series of turns on both sides, I broke from line-ahead and sent Amazon (running) to cross DdH's stern while Indefatigable continued on her base course with the hopes of taking DdH between two fires. I miscalculated here as I had forgotten that in Flying Colors, a ship of the line is able to turn as quickly as a frigate. And so DdH, after taking Amazon's raking broadside and returning her own, was able to come about and send a broadside with her port battery.

This left Amazon with substantial rigging damage and afire. Indefatigable at this point was on the other side of DdH and only able to play at long-bowls and so I had left her out of position to bring her heavier guns in close. Here I made another error. Even though Indefatigable's guns were having a gradual effect on DdH's firepower, in my over-concern for the Amazon I lost awareness of the wind.

View of the Wreck of the French Ship Droits de l'Homme by John Fairburn
And so because of this, and her damaged rigging, Amazon was already slow and forced to tack. She was virtually motionless for a period and so had to endure a raking broadside. Here, however, the British tactic of firing at the hull began to show an advantage. As DdH had turned to close Indefatigable, Amazon (while very slow) still had her full broadside available. After an exchange with Indomitable, Amazon was able to come up and so I finally had DdH between two fires. A turn later she was effectively armed "en flute" and so struck.

I took some lessons from this:

I gave up strength of formation for an easy, but unsupported stern rake. Had I kept to line ahead, I could have forced DdH to accept two broadsides while I took only one.

Giving up the weather-gage may have had to happen at some point, but losing awareness of the direction of the wind nearly cost me a frigate.