Friday, 22 December 2017

The Hunters: U-69 - First Patrol: October 1940

The cover of the The Hunters Rulebook.
So this isn't really a Roleplaying Game like a usually play.  I only really discovered The Hunters yesterday and decided to run a game of it since my Cyberpunk 2020 Yakuza game got called off last minute.  For those of you that don't know The Hunters is a solitaire Wargame of U-Boat warfare from 1939 to 1943.  Where the player takes on the role of a German U-Boat commander.  The objective is to sink as much tonnage of Allied shipping as possible.  If any of what I just said appeals to you, you can read more about the game by pressing the following link.  I you have a problem with playing Germans there is also a sister game called Silent Victory, where you play American Submariners in the Pacific.  So I ran myself through the maiden voyage of a Type VII C U-Boat and honestly had quite a bit of fun.  I decided to write up something resembling an actual play report in narrative form.

October 1st, 1940 - Brest France

Our story begins at the U-Boat Pen at Brest, where the newly promoted Kapitan-leutnant Josef Fechner.  (When you first start a game of The Hunters you are required to choose a Boat Model.  Give it a name and then name it's Kommandant.  I chose the name Fechner because it was a nice simple name that I could pronounce and because it sounds like a familiar four-letter word).  Has been given command of a brand new Type VII C U-Boat, number U-69 by the Kriegsmarine.  (I chose U-69 because who wouldn't?)  Which the crew has wasted no time in graffitiing with the German phrase "Er kann mich im Arsche lecken!" directed at their British enemies.  After cutting his teeth as a First Watch Officer aboard a Typer VII A, Kaleun Fechner eagerly awaits his first assignment as a U-Boat commander is his own right.  So much so that the night before departure he buys his entire crew a round in celebration at the local cabaret!

The U-Boat Pens at Brest, not built until 1941.  But we'll
ignore that fact for the sake of the narrative.
The crew's high spirits are somewhat dampened by their assignment however.  While they'll still be taking the fight to Tommies around the British Isles, they'll be doing it with a lot less torpedoes.  As their forward and aft torpedo tubes have initially been loaded with mines.  U-69 must deliver the mines before continuing on their main mission of sinking Allied ships.  A mission that neither the crew or their Kommandant relish.  Kapitan-leutnant Fechner was so against the mine-laying mission that he tried to petition up the chain of command to get U-69 reassigned.  The U-Bootwaffe command is having none of it though.  So our intrepid commander has to settle for the lesser load of torpedoes.  You can't rack up any tonnage to the boat's name with mines.  (Since you're not around to see if they sink any ships).  So their morale still high even if they're less than enthusiastic about their mission, U-69 sets out from Brest.

First Leg of the Journey

The trip to the British Isles is uneventful (and safe) as U-69 runs into no Allied Anti-Sub planes.  They also don't run into any lone ships, much to the disappointment of the crew.  Even with their torpedo tubes carrying mines, they could still sink a ship on its own with the 8.8 cm deck-gun.  Alas the Second Watch-Officer and his crew of deck-gunners have to go without the target practice.  U-69 sails into the Irish Sea unopposed and drops its load of mines.  In a position in the centre of a triangle between the Irish ports of Dublin and Belfast, and the English ports of Liverpool and Manchester.  Having completed their unwelcome mission U-69 makes way through the North Channel.  From their heading a ways out into the Atlantic off the Northwestern coast of Ireland.  Kapitan-leutnant is eager to make up for lost time and find a British convoy to sink.  U-69 spends some time patrolling this Northwestern approach to Ireland, before finding their quarry a British Convoy headed right for them!

The Convoy

Upon the Night-time sighting of the Convoy, Kapitan-leutnant Fechner ordered the boat to dive.  He planned to get in the middle of the Convoy itself and then resurface.  Upon surfacing he would order the firing of all torpedo tubes, both forward and aft.  (All of this was a very dangerous way of going about things.  Attacking at Close Range in The Hunters means that an Escort has chance to detect you before you can even take a single shot.  Firing from both Bow and Aft tubes also made it more likely that the Escort will detect you after you fire.  While making a Night Surface Attack means that they're  more likely to damage your U-Boat in the first round of depth-charging.  All of this was balanced out by making it easier to hit ships with a larger amount of tonnage).  U-69 slipped in among the ships of the convoy and brought itself up to periscope depth.  Absolutely sure that the coast was clear, Fechner gave the order to surface.  Before climbing out the hatch into the boat's conning tower.  The other officers right at his heels, eager to pick out their prize.  

Probably what it looked like ordering the attack on the
Sarita, Lincoln Ellsworth and the Manuela.
Looking through his binoculars Fechner scanned the horizon.  To their bow were two fat tankers, both over 5000 tons if not 6000 tons.  (The Sarita and the Lincoln Ellsworth, 5800 tons and 5600 tons respectively).  To their aft were two smaller freighters 5000 tons and below.  (The Manuela at 5000 tons and the Leonidas M at 4600 tons).  He gave the order torpedoes 1&2 at the Sarita, torpedoes 3&4 at the Lincoln Ellsworth and the aft torpedo was to be fired at the Manuela.  All officers except himself and the First Watch Officer were to go below deck.  First the forward tubes would be fired while the aft would be fired at the last minute before they dove to make their escape. Fechner watched eagerly as the forward torpedoes raced towards their respective targets.  The tanker Sarita was the first to go, bursting into a brilliant orange flame.  As a torpedo struck its side, Fechner theorized that the explosion had set the Sarita's cargo of oil ablaze!  By comparison the Sarita's sister tanker's hit was less impressive.  U-69 had damaged her of that Fechner was sure.  To what extent?  He couldn't say.  The attack on the Manuela was a hurried one as Fechner didn't want to stick around long enough, for the destroyers to figure what had happened.  U-69 dove after firing their last loaded torpedo, rushing to get out of the midst of the convoy.  

The Follow-Up Attack

After waiting a couple hours Fechner ordered the boat back up to periscope depth.  He couldn't believe their luck so far!  The destroyers had been taken completely by surprise and hadn't even come close to finding U-69.  Clearly the Escort hadn't been expecting such a bold and daring attack right in their midst.  As he scanned the horizon he could see the Lincoln Ellsworth limping from the damage their torpedo had done.  Kapitan-leutnant Fechner was less than pleased to see that their aft torpedo had not connected with its target of the Manuela.  He gave the order to load the last four torpedoes aboard the boat.  The Lincoln Ellsworth was damaged and Fechner intended to finish the job!  Another opportunity like this might never present itself.  He gave the order to follow the convoy at a distance, hoping that the escort would abandon the damaged Tanker.  They followed the convoy as the sun came up as the day passed and as a new night fell.  In hopes that the convoy would leave the Lincoln Ellsworth to it's fate.  No such luck.

The destroyers and the small freighters had slowed their speed, to keep pace with the wounded ship.  Like a herd of cattle staying with a pregnant cow, while a wolf nips at their heels.  There would be no surfacing to break the Lincoln Ellsworth's back with the deck-gun.  While he would have liked to save torpedoes, U-69's Kommandant drooled at the prospect of a second shot at multiple targets.  This time it would be a submerged approach at close range.  (The boat only had G7e Electric torpedoes left, which were harder to land a hit with at medium and long range.  I wanted to hedge my bets to actually land a hit on my targets).  They couldn't make a surface attack in the midst of the enemy's ranks again.  The destroyers would be on the lookout for such a maneuver.  They didn't have a torpedo to fire from the aft tube anyways.  They approached undetected by the escort.  Torpedoes 1&2 would be aimed at the Lincoln Ellsworth, while Torpedoes 3&4 would target the Manuela.  Fechner was a little miffed about their aft torpedo missing the small Freighter on their first approach.  He also didn't want to put all his eggs in one basket, why sink one ship when he could sink two?  The torpedoes fired on the Lincoln Ellsworth didn't go off, either they missed or were duds.  (I hit the tanker I just ended up rolling a Dud on both torpedoes).  While at least one of the torpedoes aimed at the Manuela connected putting a hole in the small freighter.  Which Fechner knew from his experience as a First Watch Officer, would sink a freighter of that size eventually.  (I rolled a miss with the first torpedo and hit with the second).  

The Voyage Home

Fechner decided to cut his losses and run.  There were no more torpedoes and the British Destroyers weren't going to abandon the Lincoln Ellsworth after losing a second ship.  So he gave the order to break contact with the convoy, somewhat bitter that he'd sunk the small-fry freighter rather than his original target, of the fat oil tanker.  That prize, it seemed was a luxury that he'd have to forgo.  (That didn't mean he had to be happy about it though).  He was angry the entire voyage home, venting most of his frustration by berating his hapless First Watch Officer.  Blaming him and the torpedo crew for the failed sinking of the Lincoln Ellsworth.  The crew learned to live somewhat in fear of their Kommandant's temper that voyage.  His mood only soured further when off the southern Irish Coast towards Cornwall, they came upon a single-ship escorted by Destroyers.  This time the targets of his wrath were high command, for saddling him with a Mine-laying mission. that deprived him of the torpedoes necessary to make an attack on the escorted ship.  If the destroyers hadn't been there he could have attacked the ship with the deck-gun.  With the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth, he gave the order to let the ship go.  The words were like poison in his mouth, as U-69 slinked back to Brest with their tails between their legs.  Fechner took to throwing his coffee mug, pencils and whatever else seemed like it'd withstand the throw.  Whenever they received word of another boat's successful patrol over the radio.

Due to the patrol not being a complete failure, (they managed to sink two ships, in one patrol) Fechner kept his initial promise upon leaving Brest.  Of buying a round at the local cabaret for the whole crew.  He drank his beer in silent fury as he waited for their boat to be refitted.  A task that wouldn't be complete until December, at which point he'd make up for what he viewed as a sub-standard (no pun intended) patrol on his part.

The Norwegian Tanker Sarita.
Formerly the British Melania, sunk
by U-69 off the North West coast of
Ireland.
The American Manuela, sunk by U-69
the night after it sank the Sarita.

Conclusions

I had a lot fun playing The Hunters.  One thing I found myself doing while playing was making up a narrative about the random encounters rolled.  Making up something of a personality for the boat's Kommandant and what his reactions to certain events would be.  I was playing with a very aggressive (and perhaps not that smart) style of play, which involved taking a lot of risks.  In exchange for a lot of payoff in the form of bigger ships and a better chance of hitting them.  I decided that the Kommandant of U-69 should have a very gung-ho, aggressive personality to go along with this style of play.  Which led to him being something of a tyrant aboard his boat, when things didn't go the way he planned.  I think he's sort of what would happen if Niedermeyer from Animal House, tried to be A Father to His Men and kept failing at it.  10,800 tonnage on your first patrol is nothing to sneeze at.  Yet he couldn't just settle for it he wanted the Lincoln Ellsworth and couldn't get it.  (I really wanted to sink that tanker as well as the Manuela, 16,400 tons on U-69's first Patrol would've been awesome!)  A few more patrols like this one and Kapitan-leutnant Josef Fechner will earn himself a Knight's Cross by December of 1941.  As you can no doubt tell by my enthusiasm in writing The Hunters is intense.  I was sweating bullets whenever I rolled to see if the convoy's escort detected me.  I can't believe the amount of luck I had, if any of those rolls had failed I would've been a goner.  Anyways if you liked this post be sure to +1, comment and follow this Blog.  As always may the dice be ever in your favour and have a nice day.