American War of Independence campaign

This campaign is still very much alive and kicking. A naval battle was fought last night between British and French squadrons, somewhere off the east coast of the 13 colonies. Now, I am bending campaign rules by putting the battle on the blog so soon after the event, and I have to be careful what I say - so please dear reader, forgive me, if on occasion, I appear a little vague.

The British squadron under the direct command of Admiral Graves

Admiral Graves, and his squadron of four ship of the line, and a sloop, had been in pursuit of a smaller French squadron for nearly a week, following a brief skirmish a few days before.

The French squadron under the command of Admiral Des Touches, was half the size of the British squadron, with just two ship of the line and a frigate (which was minus part of its mainmast that had been shot away in the skirmish earlier in the week).

The British had completely surprised Des Touches, who had to rely on the speed of his vessels to extract himself from trouble. Finding himself considerably outgunned, Des Touches was forced to ignore his original orders and sped toward safety - doggedly pursued by Graves.

The two ship of the line of Des Touches squadron

Meanwhile, unbeknown to Graves, and Des Touches, another squadron was going to play a part in the little drama unfolding in the campaign. This squadron was under the command of Admiral Arbuthnot, a famous Admiral within the game and a character that had appeared a number of times in the Yorktown Times (the campaign newspaper).

Arbuthnot was in his flagship, the 98 gun second rate, London. He was in company with a 36 gun frigate, the Flora, and escorting two merchant vessels. The cargo of these ships (if indeed there was any cargo, must remain confidential), but this group of four vessels were heading in the opposite direction to Graves and Des Touches. The three squadrons met on a fateful Sunday night, with the war-game taking an unforeseen turn of events that left all the players and umpire opened mouthed (a bit dramatic I know, but I am trying to build up the tension in my story).

The London (Flagship for Arbuthnot), leading the squadron to the fateful encounter on Sunday evening. (As an aside, the campaign diary records that a certain Midshipman called Horatio Nelson was serving aboard the London on this deployment.)

The player who was taking the role of Des Touches looked forlornly at the table, he found his little force sandwiched between 9 British vessels, and to his west he was edging close to the coast. He had no room to manoeuvre. Luckily, the wind was blowing to the east. So he had a chance.

Graves on the other hand had his own problems, Arbuthnot's squadron was acting under strict instructions from General Howe himself (the senior British commander and player). The arrival of this squadron on the scene was as unwelcome to Graves, as it was to Des Touches. It complicated the situation.

Des Touches trying to outrun Graves

Des Touches smelled a rat, a big fat juicy " I caught a British convoy rat" and made a decision, his damaged frigate would be bait, and tempt the Pursuing Graves in its direction, leaving his two 74's to molest the convoy. At least that was his plan, but was it the correct plan in the campaign? He considered the following:

1. Would risking his squadron, if it was lost, decisively swing the strategic balance of naval power against the French?
2. Is the risk worth taking?
3. Is the pursuit of the merchant vessels and their unknown cargo (if indeed they were carrying anything other than ballast) worth the risk?

It was with these thoughts firmly in his mind, that Des Touches ordered his 74's to close with the convoy.........

Graves sent two of his 74's to close with the damaged French frigate and opened fire at long range, quickly reducing the frigates mainmast to a shattered stump, further slowing the frigate.

Meanwhile, his flagship, a lumbering 98 gun second rate, the two other 74's and the sloop pursued the French main body as it closed on the convoy.

Arbuthnot, ordered his squadron to sharply turn to starboard, heading east, attempting to place the London and Flora between the merchant ships and the French 74's under Des Touches.

Both sides opened fire at long range, and slight, if not steady damage began to be caused to various vessels.

Graves felt fairly satisfied at the position he found himself presiding over. He was an approaching menace to the rear of the French 74's, and the London was not a vessel of inconsequence in the defence of the convoy.

Surely the French would make a token attack and disengage?

The umpire was thinking firmly along these same lines.

The Flora was passing within 100m of the starboard side of the London when fate dealt a terrible blow to the British................a broadside from the closest French 74, still over a 800m away hit the London, with devastating consequences...........

The London explodes, all hands, including Admiral Arbuthnot and Midshipman Nelson lost

Now, I have played over twenty games using 'clear for action' computer moderated rules, and this has never happened before, additionally, and most impressively, the rules considered the proximity of nearby ships, and added damage as appropriate. The Flora had all three masts and sails shattered, and left them dangling over her starboard side. She was too, effectively out of the battle, losing her captain (J.Pulford), and 2nd Lt Charteris, along with 28 other ranks.

In an instant, and through no fault of the British commander, the game had been turned on it's head

The Flora, with smoke and the wreck of the London in the background. Her campaign diary records that this was her captains last deployment before retirement to Nova Scotia.

Even Des Touches was momentarily shocked by the exploding London, but soon returned to the task at hand. He noted that the two merchant vessels were quickly moving to the east. Even though his 74's were quick, he wondered if he could close the gap. His other option, the frigate, was doing her duty, well astern, and was too damaged to take up the chase

A long range duel between ships of the line followed, but each minute brought the merchants, who had now turned north, closer to the formidable protection of Graves squadron

Graves squadron fan out in pursuit, exchanging fire with Des Touches

Merchant vessels sail east, leaving behind the crippled Flora (stern most), and with the remaining smoke from the London explosion in the background, the ship torn apart like matchwood.

By now, it was becoming clear that Des Touches would be unable to engage the merchants, and to dally any longer would endanger his command, he was already resigned to the loss of his frigate. Reluctantly he turned away from his pursuit course and started to sail away from Graves.

Des Touches heads south, with the crippled French frigate, and part of Graves squadron in the background

French frigate under fire from three of Graves squadron, her rigging a mess and trailing to port.

Graves was left holding the ring so to speak, he had protected the merchant vessels, and captured a damaged French frigate, but at a heavy cost. The London was no more, and the Flora had no masts and would have to be towed.

He had some tough decisions to make for the next campaign turn, some of which include:

1. Should he escort the merchants and call off his pursuit of Des Touches?
2. What should he do about the Flora - she would need to be towed, slowing his squadron to a crawl, or risking the vessel assigned to tow her unescorted.
3. The French prize, and her prisoners would also slow his squadron, or be an easy prey if left alone.
4. Had the loss of the London tipped the naval balance of power in French favour?
5. How would the CinC and the press react to news of the loss of the London and Arbuthnot?

The next campaign turns happens in two weeks.........

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