22 March 2012

Turn 14: Skipjack, again

17—23 March 1942

One of the interesting (occasionally maddening/occasionally thrilling) facets of this game is how wildly variable the weekly results can be. Relatively small swings in “luck” can result in major swings in weekly scores—one roll of a 3 when what you needed was a 2 might cost you half your week’s haul (with the converse being obviously true as well).

Glamour shot!
The variability stems mainly from two facts.  First, you make a large number of low (or very low) odds attacks. You might well take 20 shots, say, but you’re only going to have a reasonable expectation of about three of them resulting in kills. But let’s say you get a little unluckier than you expect, and sink only two targets. That’s only changing one result out of 20 tries—hardly a big deal when you look at it that way—but it’s crushing your yield by 33%!

Second, the tonnage of the individual targets you’re shooting at is itself highly variable. One shot might be at a tiny 1,000 ton freighter, the next at a 10,000 ton oiler, and the next at a 20,000 ton behemoth. If you get your great rolls on the first of those three rather than the third—well, you will be cursing your dice’s lousy sense of the moment and looking at a very different score than what you might very easily have gotten.

To be sure, one expects these things to tend to even themselves out over long periods of time. On average, you’re going to be about average. Over the course of specific turns, though—well, meet my two pals “Feast” and “Famine.” Or maybe I should say meet “Famine,” because “Feast” doesn’t hang around here all that often.

With the foregoing in mind, let us consider this past week.

Sixteen boats were on patrol, and they made a total of 18 attacks. That’s not approaches—a few boats had to abort due to mechanical problems or getting punched (hard) in the face by a “diligent escort”; some others were simply unable to reach firing positions. Rather, it’s 18 actual dice thrown with a chance at sinking a target. In total, the service brought 97,000 tons of enemy shipping under fire. That was our “ceiling” for the week’s score. Thinking of it in those terms, it’s a huge number—our score for the entire war is nowhere near double that, for example. But of course, given the “low odds” nature of the attacks (as discussed above), the chance of getting an actual score anywhere near that number was astronomically remote. A reasonable expectation would have been around 15,000.

But remember how I described how tiny swings can have big impacts on the bottom line? That’s the trough the service found itself in all week. Near miss after near miss after near miss. After managing only two kills for 7,000 tons, with the vast majority of boats having completed combat for the week, I was resigned to our first truly paltry total in over a month.

That’s where USS Skipjack (SS-184) enters the story. At the end of the week, still patrolling the Solomons, she encountered a small but high-value convoy that included a 10,000 ton oiler. She set up a difficult shot on the big target, barely got the hit, and watched the fish detonate perfectly. With that one shot (that oh-so-nearly was another miss), Skipjack gave us one of the swings I’ve been talking about and completely turned the week around.

Which is her thing, apparently. Just two weeks ago, she pulled off, for all intents and purposes, the exact same stunt:  another late-week 10,000 ton victory that single handedly turned a “bad” week into a “good” one.

Out of torpedoes, Skipjack is now heading back to base to reload. Her third war patrol has been a record setter, and her career performance has her in second place on the leader board.

The service’s overall performance continues to be solid—wild swings notwithstanding. We’ve come through this first winter at war with 38 ships and 176,000 tons sunk—very respectable totals that are well on their way to extending this ComSubPac’s career past the next longevity milestone.


  1. That 72% wartime miss rate really brings home the sheer luck it took to get to where you are; well set to achieve the second milestone, and relatively little lost.

  2. Any interest in Steel Wolves when this campaign is completed?

    (Or how about this- concurrently running both the German and American submarine campaigns!)

    1. I doubt it. This project is probably going to sate my WWII submarine interest for a while. (I'm much more of a PTO guy anyway.)

      Thank you guys for the comments though!