Saturday, October 01, 2011

Battle of Hampton Roads and a rule conundrum..

As I mentioned previously, the source of my original interest all those years ago was the chapter in Donald Featherstone's "Naval War Games" book that dealt with the action between "Monitor and Merrimac" (sic) at the Battle of Hampton Roads..


So the cassus belli of my little sub-project is that same battle, using those same ships I used all those years ago...

The cause of the battle was the Confederate attempt to break the Union naval blockade of Norfolk and Richmond, and was fought over two days, March 8th and 9th 1862, in Hampton Roads which was the spot where the Elizabeth, Nansemond and James Rivers meet just near the Chesapeake Bay.

The following from the excellent Wikipedia article shows the area well...


Perhaps more importantly (in history terms anyway) this was also to be the first naval battle between ironclad warships.

Orders of Battle:The Confederate fleet consisted of "Virginia" of course, supported by the tender gunboats (think small, iron hulled, ships) "Raleigh" and "Beaufort", and ships from the James River Squadron - comprising the gunboats "Patrick Henry" (left), "Jamestown" and "Teaser".

The Union fleet, known as the North Atlantic Blocking Squadron, was on paper at least considerably larger and comprised the "Monitor" (who didn't arrive until the 9th); the 50-gun screw frigates "Minnesota" and "Roanoke"; the 44-gun sailing frigates "St. Lawrence", "Purviance" & "Congress", plus a 24-gun sailing sloop-of-war the "Cumberland", and several other smaller gunboats and support boats (tugs). The problem was that the majority of these were wooden ships...and Virginia was about to be unleashed like a wolf among sheep....

8th

On the first day of the battle the Confederate force was opposed by only those conventional, wooden-hulled ships - in fairly short order Virginia destroyed Cumberland by ramming (but broke her ram in the process, and almost sank when she couldn't disengage), and Congress by gun fire (including use of red hot shot) and was about to attack Minnesota (which had run aground a half mile below Newport News during an attempt to escape) when the attack was called off due to a falling tide, and oncoming darkness...

Virginia (above) was not completely undamaged - gun fire on her smokestack had reduced her already low speed. Two of her guns were disabled and several armour plates had been loosened. Two of her crew were killed, and more were wounded one of whom was her Captain.

Clearly round one to the Confederates...

On the night of the 8th, the Confederate squadron remained at anchor off Sewell's point.


9th

After hurried repairs overnight, Virginia steamed into action the next day to finish off Minnesota.

During the night, however, Monitor had arrived in the Roads and had taken a position to defend Minnesota.The two ships opened fire on each other helped by an occasional (ineffective) broadside from Minnesota...

"After fighting for hours, mostly at close range, neither could overcome the other. The armour of both ships proved adequate. In part, this was because each was handicapped in her offensive capabilities.  .... Virginia, had not expected to fight another armoured vessel, so ... guns were supplied only with shell rather than armour-piercing shot.

Monitor's guns were used with the standard service charge of only 15 lb of powder, which did not give the projectile sufficient momentum to penetrate her opponent's armor. Tests conducted after the battle showed that the Dahlgren guns could be operated safely and efficiently with charges of as much as 30 lb ...

The battle finally ceased when a chance shell from Virginia struck the pilot house of Monitor and exploded, driving fragments through the viewing slits into [her captains] eyes and temporarily blinding him. As no one else could see to conn the ship, Monitor was forced to draw off. The executive officer took over, and Monitor returned to the fight.

In the period of command confusion, however, the crew of Virginia believed that their opponent had withdrawn. Although Minnesota was still aground, the falling tide meant that she was out of reach. Furthermore, Virginia had suffered enough damage to require extensive repair. Convinced that his ship had won the day ... ordered her back to Norfolk. At about this time, Monitor returned, only to discover her opponent apparently giving up the fight. Convinced that Virginia was quitting, with orders only to protect Minnesota and not to risk his ship unnecessarily ... did not pursue. Thus, each side misinterpreted the moves of the other, and as a result each claimed victory.".

..and there you have it.... if you consider the original Confederate aim, then in reality this was a Union victory as irrespective of the engagement on the day, the Union blockade was not broken, and in fact the Union reinforced the blockade over the next months...

...the scenario I plan to game is the events of the 9th...in effect Minnesota played little or no part in the engagement so I don't feel a burning need to represent her on the table top, Virginia was accompanied by the James River Squadron but they played no part (that I can find) so no need to represent them...


I hoiked the Featherstone book off the shelf again the other day to refresh my memory on what rules I had used all those years ago, and can confirm that they are very simple, but times move on, and while I don't want to count rivets, or include modifiers for what type of cordite they were using in their shells, I need something a little more detailed for my little sub project...

So next I reached for that other staple of the old school wargamers library "Sea Battle Games" by Phil Dunn and I think that these are the rules that I will try for my game...

Just to conclude - it's worth noting how earth shattering this battle was - once the news reached out Britain and France stopped all further building of wooden hulled ships.. full stop.... the new warship design introduced with the Monitor soon became the standard for all war ships, and the ram also made it's re-appearance albeit not for as long....

Further Reading:

4 comments:

  1. Are those the ships that you made yourself Steve?

    Fascinating story, terrible beauties being born all over the shop, what?

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  2. ...I can only dream of exhibiting such skill - no those are 1/600th scale models from the inestimable Mr Pig...

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  3. Great post- and I have that book still too!

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  4. A very well put together and informative post! I hope to emulate at my blog at http://bytesanddice.wordpress.com/

    Cheers
    Jon

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