Surface Action Opening Salvo, Part 4
Welcome back! This is our final Opening Salvo preview for Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set 6, Surface Action. This week we'll take a look at two of the heavyweights, the USS Montana and the Sho-Go Yamato. Surface Action releases on 25 October 2011, so it's not long now!
The largest and most heavily armored battleship ever to see service in any navy, Yamato mounted a potent armament of nine 18-inch guns, twelve 6-inch guns, and twelve 5-inch guns on a hull of nearly 70,000 tons. Yamato was commissioned in December of 1941, and soon after became flagship of the Combined Fleet. During the course of the war she underwent several major refits; most significantly, she lost the two wing turrets of her secondary battery, but received additional dual-purpose 5-inch guns, search radar, and antiaircraft batteries.
Yamato was involved in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but played little part in either engagement; major battleship actions were few and far between in the Pacific war. Finally, in October of 1944, the remnants of the Japanese fleet staked all they had left on a complicated plan to defend the Philippine Islands from the impending US assault. This was the Sho-Go 1 plan, which led to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In preparation, Yamato received a distinctive new coat of black paint for the anticipated nighttime engagements, and was assigned to the powerful “Center Force” of the Japanese fleet. The Center Force came under early submarine and air attack; Admiral Kurita’s flagship, the cruiser Atago, was sunk by a US submarine, and Kurita was forced to transfer his flag to Yamato. But the Japanese pressed on, exploiting an American oversight that left San Bernadino Strait unguarded. The Center Force arrived off the coast of Samar in the morning of 25 October 1944 and caught a group of American escort carriers, Taffy 3, completely off guard. In the ensuing action Taffy 3’s escorts bravely held off the powerful Japanese surface fleet. Although Taffy 3 suffered serious losses, the Japanese finally withdrew in confusion. Yamato never got another chance to bring her mighty guns to bear on enemy ships.
Game Play: Much like the Set 1 Yamato, Sho-Go Yamato is a great big beater of a battleship. Her secondary battery is weaker than the earlier version, representing the 1943 removal of half of her 6-inch guns, but her AA is improved. Most importantly, she gains an interesting new special ability, General Pursuit. This represents the controversial command given by Admiral Kurita during the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. It allows you to drive the best part of your fleet forward to engage the enemy more closely in one sudden surge, although you can’t use this ability to claim objectives. On the downside, you automatically lose initiative on the next turn—much as Kurita lost control of the attack on Taffy 3 when he released his ships to operate independently. General Pursuit is best used to press home a united torpedo attack with the help of some Long Lance armed destroyers and cruisers; try using it to overwhelm a tough enemy ship in range of several of your own.
Successor to the Iowa-class battleships, the Montana class provided the US Navy’s architects with their first chance in over twenty years to design a new battleship without any treaty constraints whatsoever. When the Iowas were designed, Japan’s abrogation of the London Naval Treaty triggered an escalator clause that allowed the United States to build a 45,000-ton ship with 16-inch guns. With Montana, the following class, all limitations were lifted. The Navy decided to retain the excellent Mark VII 16-inch guns of the Iowa class while adding a fourth turret, a heavier armor scheme, and a new secondary battery. The US 16-inch guns fired an exceptionally heavy 2,700-lb shell; with more barrels and superior fire control Montana’s broadside would have matched or bettered that of the Japanese Yamato if they had ever met in battle.
However, Montana and her sisters never entered service. Design work on the class was suspended in April 1942; given the building time of roughly 2-1/2 to 3 years for earlier battleship classes, they would have been unlikely to be finished before 1945. In the meantime, the yards needed for the Montana’s construction were busy building the Iowa-class battleships and Essex-class aircraft carriers. In the spring of 1943, the program was canceled outright: The war would be over before the giant battleships could be useful, and the days of the battleship were numbered anyway. Aircraft carriers were now the measure of power, and the Montana remained only an interesting might-have-been.
Game Play: The Montana is simply the biggest, toughest battleship available to the Allies in non-historical scenarios. The only question in employing her is whether to stand off and make full use of your Extended Range 5, or to pile in to point-blank range and count on your 10 armor to keep you afloat while you rake everything in sight with your good secondary batteries and awesome main guns. Don’t let your Heavy Antiair make you overconfident about enemy air builds; you can still only fire at one attacking squadron a turn, so you can be overwhelmed by multiple enemy squadrons grouping up on you.
Thanks for tuning in to the War at Sea previews! Keep your eyes peeled for a set list, which we'll publish soon. In the meantime, I'll be quiet for a few weeks here, but when I resume I'll take a longer look at the new A&A Air Force Miniatures game.