Saturday, October 17, 2020

Autumn Wars 2020- Russo-Japanese War

This past weekend I attended my first gaming convention of 2020 Autumn Wars 9-11 October, hosted by HMGS-Midwest in Lake Geneva, WI.  Due to the COVID19 restrictions this was intentionally a small convention and it followed safety protocols including masks and social distancing with limited capacity.
Admiral Togo on Mikasa
I was invited by HMGS-Midwest president Kevin Cabai to run some of my games.  After considering the possibilities I decided to stick with Naval scenarios for the weekend as they are easier to transport, set-up and can be scalable since I did not know what attendance would be like.  
 Russian Battleship Oslyabya

I decided to go with my Pre-dreadnought fleets and focus on the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 as well as my Spanish- American War 1898 fleets.  I scheduled 4 scenarios running three of the major Russo-Japanese naval engagements: Battle of Yellow Sea, Ulsan, and Tsushima along with an open period to play some hypothetical 1898 engagements based on the Avalanche Press game 1898.

Naval Thunder Rise of the Battleship were the rules I used throughout the weekend.


Friday 7-11PM Russo- Japanese War Battle of Yellow Sea
Saturday 9-12PM Russo-Japanese War Battle of Ulsan
Saturday 2-7PM Russo-Japanese War Battle of Tsushima
Sunday 10-2PM 1898 Spanish American War
Russian Battleship Tsesarich

Battle of Yellow Sea August 10, 1904

Scenario: The Imperial Russian Navy's First Pacific Squadron had been trapped in Port Arthur since the Imperial Japanese Navy's blockade began on 8 February 1904. Admiral Vitgeft could remain in harbor, but his fleet faced likely destruction or capture with the Japanese army advances. The alternative was to set sail and hopefully link up with Russian forces in Vladivosok. By early August 1904 he knew he could not delay any longer and decided to break out of the harbor and sail to Vladivostok.

We had seven players total take command of the Russian and Japanese fleets.  Both sides fought valiantly with interesting results that were not strictly historical.

Initial Deployments

IJN move to head off Russians

Ranging Salvos

Battle Lines close

Flurry of shell splashes as damage starts to accumulate

IJN Battleships are not immune to Russian gunners

Close range knife fight ensues with torps in the water

Full on engagement as losses build

Russians break for open water

More casualties on both sides

Russians move to escape while taking and inflicting heavy casualties

Admirals contemplating the situation
Historically Yellow Sea was a smashing victory for the Japanese.  Togo was able to sink or capture the Russian fleet in mass.  This was due to an early lucky hit on the Russian Flagship bridge killing the admiral and most of his staff.  Our result was not quite the same.  Both sides took heavy damage including the Japanese main battle line,  More importantly the Russians were able to escape with part of the the 1st Pacific squadron to join up with forces coming down from  Vladivosok.

Battle of Ulsan August 13, 1904

Scenario: The Russian cruiser squadron at Vladivostok received news that the squadron at Port Arthur had sortied. They expected more warning and were not ready to sail. Russian Admiral Lessen prepared to sail after coaling and made his way south with the intention of meeting up the Admiral Vitgeft in the northern Straights near Ulsan. Lessen and his three cruisers reached Ulsan early in the morning. He was Unaware that Japanese Admiral Kamimurawas patrolling in the same area with his four cruisers.

We had 3 players join us for the Battle of Ulsan which was perfect with to commanding the four Japanese armored cruisers and one the three Russian armored cruisers.  Again, the dice gods spoke and history had a slightly different outcome.

Initial deployment

Closing distance for ranging salvos

Russians achieved some early critical hits disrupting IJN formation

IJN captain lost his nerve and withdrew his ship 

Rurik succumbs to overwhelming fire

While the Russian squadron took a pounding as they did historically, they actually accomplished a tactical victory.   The Russians forced one Japanese ship to withdraw and severally crippled two others which was more than the needed to win this scenario.  Despite being heavily outnumbered in fire power by the IJN squadron the Russian gunners scored some early critical hits that the IJN could not recover from. 

Battle of Tsushima May 27, 1905

Scenario: The Russians have formed the 2nd Pacific squadron and planned to relieve Port Arthur and meet up with the 1st Pacific Squadron and overwhelm the Imperial Japanese Navy. After the 18,000 mile journey the Russian Fleet was in poor condition. The Imperial Japanese Navy under Admiral Togo laid in wait for the Arrival of the Russian force. The Japanese first sighted the Russian fleet the night of May 26th 1905. The battle commenced the following day.

We had a full house for Tsushima with 10 players signed up.  Six commanded the Japanese fleet and four the Russians.  Historically the Russians are hampered in this scenario as they attempt the break through the Japanese battle line laying in wait.  Despite the handicaps the Russian players made a good showing for themselves attempting to maneuver and conserve their forces.  It took awhile for the Japanese players to decide what to do and close, but when they did the action became very hotly contested.
Initial deployments

Japanese Fleet

Russian Fleet

Hampered by slow speed the Russians attempt to maneuver for advantage

Russian Cruisers and flotilla fall back towards the main line

Japanese Protected and Armored cruisers close the distance
Japanese moving line abreast

Russians maneuver in tight quarters

As the shells finally start flying the Russians claim an early victim

Japanese Armored Cruisers score some hits

Once in range shells begin to land on both sides

Japanese Armored Cruisers Move Line of Breast under fire to get in range 

Decisive Moment as IJN Destroyers brazenly pass between Russian battle lines

After much consternation The IJN Battleships finally engage

Russian casualties mount as they take some big ship losses.

Tsushima had a more historical outcome with a Japanese win as we had to call the game due to time.  I have run Tsushima several times and this was by far the slowest developing engagement.  The Russians knew they were in trouble and attempted to sail out of it and the Japanese commander was slow to close with his main battle line.  As a result the cruisers had the opportunity to engage and suffered more damage than they did historically as the Russian Battleships began to target them.  In the end with the loss of two Russian Battleships and fairly equal loss of cruisers it ended in a Japanese win.  In honesty it would have been fun to see this scenario play out several more turns as the Russians had some firepower remaining to contest the Japanese main line.

1898 Spanish American War

Scenario: The Spanish American Naval War was a lopsided affair. Spain was still a world power, but she was in decline and proved no match for the up and coming United States during this period . As a result the historical engagements at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba proved to be lopsided affairs. This period does present a number of wonderful what-if scenarios based on plans and what could have happened. We will tackle one or more of these historical what-if engagements in the time available.

Scenario for AP 1898

Four players were ready to go Sunday morning.  I was hoping for two more, so decided on Scenario 6 from the 1898 scenario book.  This scenario pits and America force making its way toward the Suez canal intercepted by a Spanish force including the obsolete battleship Pelayo.  The Spanish can win by sinking an American capital ship or the supply ships.  The American win by destroying the Spanish squadron and protecting the supply ships without suffering a major loss.
Spanish squadron with Pelayo in the lead

American Sqadron

Pelayo splits off to draw fire

Pelayo quickly succumbs to US Battleships

Spanish Flotillas maneuver deftly to attack US Cruisers

Torps in the water scoring one hit on USS Baltimore

Baltimore take a torp hit and Pelyao goes down

Carlos V closes to point blank and suffers a devastating Magazine explosion

Spaniards are in a tough spot,
but USS Baltimore succumbs  to floods and capsizes

The Spanish squadron was all but eliminated, but did claim an American Armored Cruiser which counts as a capital ship.  the Pelayo and CarlosV turned out to be paper tigers.  I need to contact the game designer and verify the armor values.  I expected Pelayo to be low, but Carlos V was a large armored cruiser with the armor of a protected cruiser.  Either way both sides had a good time and enjoyed the suspenseful outcome.  We could have played another scenario, but all were happy to pack it up and call it a day.

In the end Autumn Wars was huge success.  I believe the official count was 95 participants over the weekend.  There were a number of quality games being run and mine were full or almost full for each scenario.  In addition, there were a number of vendors present despite the small size of the venue.  In talking to them they were as eager to get back out to gaming conventions as the gamers.  I was able to support one of them and pick up a cloth sea mat to use at home on the dinning table. 
New 4x6 gaming cloth

Not sure why I did not know about Autumn Wars in the past, but will definitely be looking for it in the future.  Kudos to the HMGS Midwest staff for continuing on and running a safe and fun convention in challenging times.  

Here is hoping we can get past COVID and there will be more public gaming in the future we can all enjoy.


  1. These games were great fun. I commanded the Russian fleet at the Yellow Sea game, and the Japanese TBDs at the Tsushima game, being given orders to "go forth and wreak havok".

    As a retired surface warfare officer, I have several problems with Naval Thunder, the easiest to fix/modify being the "sink multiple with one shell" and the whole "turns pivot on the stern" - should alwayspivot at the same point you take ranges from, besides, ships actually pivot at about the bridge.

    1. Glad you enjoyed. If you recall we resolved the "sink multiple with one shell" issue per the rules you cannot so if you fire main guns a hit will only sink one DD. As for the pivot issue I think the bigger issue is the models being out of scale. Per the rules it is off the base, but could easily be changed as long as everyone did it the same.

  2. Aaron, thanks so much for joining us. Your games at the convention were a great hit. My only regret is that I did not get to play in a least one. Next year we will be more organized and I will be able to slow down and "smell the cordite" Thank you again for your support.

  3. Not a genre I'm familiar with but very informative and easy to understand post. Hope to make it to AW next year!

  4. Thanks for the AARs. I’m sorry I missed it this year

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