Matt Ward
United States
Richmond
Virginia
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What a mixed bag!

The Japanese have assembled a striking fleet including the requisite fast BBs, two fleet carriers and a light carrier as well as their superb destroyers and cruisers (and a very slow seaplane tender). They are seeking to invade Ceylon with the eventual aim of linking up with the Germans somewhere in the middle east. A large fleet of transports has been assembled in Penang and filled with ground units for that purpose. While this operation never happened it was planned and only the Navy’s recalcitrance kept it from being attempted.

The British have assembled a significant force to counter the Japanese, including three carriers at Addu Atoll and have some cruisers and plenty of land based air on Ceylon itself, as well as a tiny force of DEs belonging to the Indian Navy operating out of Calcutta.

Plans

The Japanese decide to use the first week of the operation to clear out the air space over Ceylon and to seek to reduce or eliminate the surface capability of the British to fend off the landings. As a result, the invasion fleet (all those transports and the accompanying DDs) stay in port for the beginning of the operation. The smaller surface group heads to Port Blair to refuel prior to moving to sweep the east coast of Ceylon and India, while the carrier group and BBs lay back to try to see if there are submarines in the area.

The British hope to use their submarines as scouts to see what is issuing from Penang before committing their heavy units.

Operations

The seaplane tender moves out of Penang first to see if it can flush out the British subs. They are, of course, in wait but the ASW air strength precludes an actual attack. Later on the first day the striking force moves out in town TFs, one of just the carriers and one of the heavier surface units (this was a tactical error that I learned later). The submarines performed admirably sighting both TFs as they left and giving the British forces a good idea of what was coming and where it was going.

The smaller surface group moved to Port Blair to refuel.

The British fleet set sail from Addu to move to the west coast of Ceylon to prepare a reception for the Japanese, unfortunately, since this was my first play against a Japanese force I did not realize the extensive range of the Japanese land based air. The British were sighted still west of Ceylon and a force of Bettys, which had relocated to Port Blair, found them at the extreme edge of their range and pulled off an attack, hitting the Illustrious with one torpedo which caused 3 hull hits but more importantly hurting the flight deck operations (no doubt an elevator problem). This caused the British to move with a great deal more caution in the ensuing couple of days as the Japanese strike force continuing steaming west.

The British were not without some attempts at countering this attack as the Blemheims based at Madras made frequent fruitless attacks on the smaller surface group, primarily annoying them and never scoring a hit. But it made them feel better I guess.

As the Japanese continued to close in on Ceylon it became apparent that there would be action on the morning of the fourth day. The British tossed aside their caution and moved within range of the Japanese fleet overnight. The next morning both carriers forces were sighted by their opponents and large strikes were sent (I should note that the British had a similar TF structure as the Japanese with all carriers in a single TF with screening destroyers with a separate surface action group). The British added a land based strike from Trincomalee. The British strikes arrives and were able to first damage and then sink the Ryujo, torpedo strikes were also conducted against both fleet carriers and while both were hit they lost no flight deck capabilities. Despite a strong CAP the Japanese failed both times to intervene with the strike aircraft!

The Japanese strike then found the British and what ensued showed why one should never have all of your assets in a single TF against the Japanese. The British CAP was thoroughly outclassed by the Japanese but did manage to find and stop some of the attacking planes. Unfortunately sufficient torpedo attacks were available to sink each and every British carrier. I did make a mistake with the rules and permitted the dive bombers to join the same strike flight. In the end this might have helped the British to a minor extent since they were also targeted on the carriers, a bit of redundancy as their bombs were not necessary for the conclusion.

What then happened, however was the real interesting part. The strikes had come with both forces within spitting distance of Ceylon. The Japanese were able to move out of range of the land based planes and thus preserve their force. The elimination of the British carriers should have ended the battle with a clear Japanese victory, however their planes were all able to land safely on Ceylon, making Ceylon an unsinkable, very powerful aircraft carrier. Under the circumstances, the Japanese decided to take their massive tactical victory and sit on it. They had sunk three carriers and four escorts while losing only a single light carrier. They had lost considerably more planes (about 50 to the British 20) but could not command the air space without putting their fleet carriers at risk. Since this is post-Midway action taking this type of risk would not be accepted.

The invasion of Ceylon was, sensibly, called off as the ensuing slaughter of troops on the beaches would have been pretty deflating.
Again a very good time was had. I learned a good deal about carrier tactics and what I did wrong. My next carrier battles will use a more dispersed approach and those darn Japanese torpedo planes are scary good! In the future if I replay this as the British I might just ferry the carrier planes to Ceylon and bug out!
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