American War of Independence Campaign - The Story - Part IV

You may have noted a slight delay in the completion of my write up of the AWI campaign. This was down to a technical issue of a virus on my laptop. Luckily, the problem is now solved and I have recovered the required records to continue with the timeline of events.

Turn 13

The French closed on Baltimore, while Arbuthnot sailed north to New York escorting the ships carrying three of CORNWALLIS's finest battalions.

At this point, Cornwallis was in a very vulnerable position, too weak to advance, he could probably would hold onto Yorktown at a push, but would not be able to withstand a concerted effort by the allies. I wondered what Washington would do, and also pondered the likely French action when they finally unloaded.

Meanwhile Graves pursued DesTouches south, little did they know they were on a collision course with Arbuthnots squadron sailing north to New York.

The blue units are Allied positions, the red - The British

Washington was still utterly bemused by the withdrawal of the British to New York. Howe on the other hand had his hands tied. He was waiting for the key troops transferred from Yorktown to arrive, before his drive to the south. To the outsider he appeared to, at best, dither, or at worst, have something dastardly up his sleeve involving the 'ghost' third army that so haunted Washingtons thoughts.

Neither side had any real clue about the French, in fact, each commander was not sure if the French 'participation' in the game was a ruse or not.

Turn 14 -15
Turn 14 was a quiet turn. The British polished their bayonets behind their barricades in New York and Yorktown, whilst their naval colleagues sailed within telescope sight of each other along the American coast.

On turn 15 a major naval engagement took place, and involved Des Touches, Graves and Arbuthnot. Des Touches was not the only player to be surprised by the lookout shouting 'sail to the south'. Graves had no idea about the whereabouts of Arbuthnot.

The Summary of the battle (taken from an earlier post)

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.

The positions at the end of turn 15

Graves had saved the convoy, and Des Touches did not know if he was chasing empty vessels, but was heavily out-numbered. 

Both Admirals did the sensible thing and withdrew from the battle. 

Graves elected to escort the convoy north, along with his prize (The French frigate), Des Touches, fearing the destruction of his squadron, and the tipping of the naval balance heavily to the British set sail for Baltimore and a rendezvous with De Grasse.

So far the British had won every battle on land and at sea, but it amazed me how low the 'personal' moral of Howe had become. It did not help that he was being fed information about 'questions in the house' and the competence of his generalship in the Yorktown Times.

As umpire, in possession of the full facts, I thought he was doing rather well - but Howe seemed to be losing his nerve at this point.

Meanwhile Washington sat and waited. A member of his army wrote an article for the Yorktown TImes which was printed:

From Sgt Zacharia Smith, 2nd Massachusetts
 
All is well here, morale is good and we have every faith in General Washington. We are well provisioned both with food, clothing, arms and very secure behind our fortifications. The British will not dare attack. Certainly not after our last encounter, it filled the men's hearts with joy to see the damnable Redcoats and their German mercenaries retreating from the field back to New York.
 
The talk here about is that we will winter in New York, I had hoped to return to Massachusetts before the snows came but I fear that the British will hang on to their stolen possessions with a deaths grip. Well it cannot be helped I and all my comrades agree that home can wait until the Colonies are free of unwelcome aggressors.
 
Meanwhile we keep ourselves busy with drill, a little hunting, cards, dice and if one is fortunate a book to read. I must admit that I have almost finished reading the Lord's work myself. The Yorktown Times is always popular but recent editions with the over fill of British propaganda were used more by the men for an unmentionable purpose. 
 
Good news does reach us though. The latest is that the French have landed to support our cause. Ole' Jack Stockton who fought the French in the last war, he served with Captain Rogers, tells us that the men of France are doughty fighters and will push the British aside. Then today Major Dumbar tells us that the General and Congress have secured the aid of some Spanish man o' war. They have sailed from the Isle of Cuba, and will give the enemy navy a shock I do not doubt.
 
Now I must put aside my pen since I must see to the watch.
 
Yours
Sgt. Z Smith    

General Stevens Brigade marching north to join 
Washington from Philadelphia was purely Militia.

To be continued.............

Comments

  1. I may have been cautious, but you only gave me 17,000 elite troops to fight the farmers and woodsmen...................

    ReplyDelete

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