29 February 2012

Turn 11: Codename: “Wounded Bear”

22–28 February 1942

The era of carrier warfare dawned a little earlier in the AL&SWverse than in real life.

The calm:  Lexington, from Yorktown
By that, I mean that the “war event” dice have dictated that the Battle of the Coral Sea occurred this week; 25 February 1942 to be precise (vs. 7/8 May in real life). It is an interesting mental exercise to consider whether a major carrier engagement was remotely possible at this early date in the real world—but we are considering an alternate history here, after all, so let’s just go with it.

As anyone with a passing interest in naval history likely knows, Coral Sea was the first naval battle ever fought where ships of the two opposing sides never saw each other—all of the offense was delivered by carrier-based air power. Two US fleet carriers (USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Yorktown (CV-5)) squared off against two fleet carriers (Shōkaku and Zuikaku) and a light carrier (Shōhō) of the IJN. The carriers exchanged strikes over the course of two days; ultimately, Lexington and Shōhō were fatally wounded, and Yorktown and Shōkaku were seriously damaged. Both sides lost many aircraft (and their crews) and a handful of smaller ships as well. The human toll was about 1,700 men killed.

The storm:  The Lady, in extremis
Most of the sources that I have seen conclude that the battle was a tactical victory for the IJN, but a strategic victory for the US. The destruction of Lexington was a serious blow, but the losses the Japanese sustained in return forced them to abandon their planned invasion of Port Moresby (the battle’s precipitating event). I won’t pretend to be a historian here, so I will recommend Wikipedia’s extensive and well-written article on the battle as an excellent starting point for readers who’d like the explore the topic further.

As mentioned above, Shōkaku came out of the battle significantly worse for the wear. On the second day of strikes, she took three bomb hits, wrecking her flight deck and damaging her bow. Her crew managed to put out the resulting fires, giving her at least a chance to survive to tell the tale. She was, however, still far from home—and her enemies well knew they’d hurt her badly. They codenamed her “Wounded Bear,” and directed all available assets to find and kill her before she could make port.

That task, of course, largely fell to the submarines.

22 February 2012

Turn 10: What exactly is a sargo?

15–21 February 1942

I am not making any of these up.
It’s a . . .

Wait for it . . .

A sargo is a . . .

[Dramatic pause . . .]

. . . .

A fish.  A sargo is a fish.

If Wikipedia is to be believed—and since it’s on the internet, it has to be true—the sargo, or Diplodus sargus, is a small “seabream” native to waters nowhere near America. If certain other sources are to believed, they wear dixie cups and ride fierce, psychedelically colored torpedoes (?) like mighty chariots on the surface of a twilit sea. Huh.

Anyway, the reason we care—beyond our general love and thirst for knowledge on all topics, of course—is that D. sargus was also the namesake of a United States submarine (an entire class of subs, actually) that fought in World War II. And our sargo, or USS Sargo (SS-188) to be precise, has been on an absolute two-week rampage in the Coral Sea.

14 February 2012

Turn 9: All we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant

8–14 February 1942

Will this poster come true in the AL&SWverse?
The mood around ComSubPac’s offices has been decidedly grim for the last few weeks. Scuttlebutt among the staff has it that the admiral (i.e., moi) is under a tremendous amount of pressure from higher brass; the kind of pressure that uncomfortably juxtaposes the concepts of “do better” and “or else.”

And that pressure is understandable. America is fighting a new kind of war—on land, at sea, and in the air; seemingly everywhere on earth at once. And at this early date, it is still scrambling desperately to figure out how to do it. Our natural resources and national wealth are considerable, but certainly not limitless; every ton of steel that is put into new submarine construction is a ton of steel that won’t be available to build a new aircraft carrier, or a new bomber, or a new tank. So, the Silent Service is fighting not just its country’s enemy, but also fighting to demonstrate its basic viability in modern warfare. It has no tradition to fall back on; it can point to precisely zero previous successful submarine campaigns in all of history to bolster its case.

And this simple fact must be acknowledged:  it hasn’t exactly done a great job of it so far. So many near misses. So few emblematic successes. So many boats limping home with scarred hulls and mangled masts—with nothing to show for it. Perhaps—as the sentiment is already beginning to take hold in Washington—perhaps those tons of steel slated for submarines might be put to better use elsewhere. And perhaps you men with the gold and silver dolphin insignia on your chests can better serve by focusing on fishing up downed aviators, by transporting special forces—by, you know, supporting the real warriors.

Do better. Or else.

08 February 2012

Turn 8: Accidents happen

1—7 February 1942

[On board USS Saury (SS-189), 4 February 1942, Marshall Islands Operating Area.]

“That was a hit. That had to be a hit!” The skipper turned from the periscope in disgust as he slammed a fist into his open palm. The massive merchantman he’d been watching so intently plodded serenely away—stubbornly (or obliviously) failing to sink, or even to acknowledge that she’d been under fire.


“I don't know, but I just watched that spread all the way into the side of the fattest maru in the Pacific. There is no way that was a miss! When we get back to Pearl I am marching straight up to ComSubPac and telling him what he can do with these torpedoes.”

The XO was silent for a moment, as the captain tersely gave maneuvering orders that he hoped would allow for another approach, another attack with their obviously flawed weapons. Then: “Are you sure we didn’t set the...”

His thought was cut off by the distant but distinct sound of a torpedo explosion. The two men stared at each other.

“What in hell was that?”