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What if Battles - The Battle of Cape Cà Mau, 9/10 December, 1941

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Hello All,

There have been a number of discussions of what-if battles on the forums over the years, including 'who would win, X or Y?' as well as 'what if X had happened?'. These are occasionally far-fetched, far too frequently 'Yamato v. Iowa' but some are more realistic. Examples of previous ones include:

Spoiler

Dseehafer VERSUS Series: A damn shame we lost him, and I won't forget him.

DeliciousFart TF34.5 v. Kurita's Center force:

MS406France1940 'Some Battleship on Battleship':

 

My 'what-if' is a fairly plausible one.

The Battle of Cape Cà Mau

Background
Many will have heard the story of 'Force Z', a doomed squadron of 2 Royal Navy capital ships sent to try and deter Japanese forces from attacking Singapore in late 1941. The battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse would become the first battleships to be solely sunk by air attack while maneuvering at sea. With their loss the British position would become untenable and Singapore itself would fall a few months later.

What is less widely known is the sequence of events leading up to the sinking. The day before their loss, Force Z sortied north in a desperate attempt to intercept Japanese invasion convoys. They did not succeed but on the night of 9/10 December came very close to combat with one of the Japanese screening forces.

With a slight nudge to history a major night-time clash between the RN and IJN may have happened.

RfkGxlI.jpg
Map of the divergence point - from The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, The End of the Battleship Era by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney.

At a critical point, with a likely close-range contact between the forces fairly probable, a scouting Japanese plane dropped a flare to illuminate what it thought was the British ships. In fact, it had located and illuminated the Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai. The British were close enough to see the flare, but not the ship. The British commander, Phillips interested more in invasion convoys turned his ships away. The Japanese cruiser force commander, Admiral Ozawa turned away as well, wanting to wait until moon-rise for any action, before the overall Japanese commander, Kondo with the battleship force ordered preparations made for a daylight action.

There are several ways a likely engagement could have developed but for a small change in chance -

  • The British ships detect the Japanese flotilla on radar before the flare - PoW had a set which was having some troubles but should have detected them, Repulse also had a set
  • The flare is dropped slightly later, the British see not only the flare, but the target it's illuminating
  • The flare is dropped on the British instead
  • The flare is never dropped and the 2 forces blunder into each other.

At the time the flare was dropped the British were proceeding on course 320° at 26kt. The Japanese force was steaming approximately 120° and I don't know the speed.

If there had been a clash then I believe the closest point of land would have been Cape Cà Mau - what is the south-westernmost tip of French Indochina (Vietnam) and that seems a reasonable name for any engagement.

The Forces
The British had 5 ships under the command of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. These were:

Battleship Prince of Wales - 10x 14in guns, 16x 5.25in guns, 28kt, 37,000t. Flagship.

image.png.096bf281481df95382c25e1836840b4d.png x 1

Battlecruiser Repulse - 6x 15in guns, 28.3kt, 32,000t.

image.png.4eeec44024d75c9f7c4c041c6b84ba60.png x 1

Destroyers Electra and Express  - 4x 4.7in guns, 1x 4 TT, 36kt, 1,400t.

image.png.aa7f6d3fdce39faeefde347f517c2631.png x 2

Destroyer Vampire - 4x 1 4in guns, 1x 3 TT, 34kt, 1,200t.

image.png.b7b3365f2fdc0d73bde3ce0a861afa93.png x 1

The British force is a composite mix of old WWI era ships in Vampire and Repulse, interwar standard destroyers in Electra and Express and one of the most modern RN ships available - Prince of Wales. The force had not extensively worked together before as a group, though the capital ships and E-class destroyers had made the journey together.

Combat experience is variable. Prince of Wales had at this point already fought engagements with the Bismarck and been subjected to air attack in the Mediterranean. Repulse had had a fairly quiet war on convoy escort but had never quite found her way into action. She did however have a very experienced crew established pre-war, while PoW had less experienced sailors. Although she had been in action, Prince of Wales had not been in commission very long, fighting Bismarck in May and then losing some time to repairs afterward. Vampire had at that point extensive Mediterranean combat service and the E's extensive Atlantic service.


The Japanese cruiser force was 10 ships under the command of Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa. These were:

Cruiser Chokai - 10x 8in guns, 4x 4 TT, 34kt, 12,600t. Flagship.

image.png.28bef146ea1418c9e01b7d87b6b4a8c4.png x 1
Cruiser Division 7, Cruisers Mogami, Suzuya, Mikuma and Kumano  - 10x 8in guns, 4x 3 TT, 35kt, 12,400t/12,000t.

image.png.c1fcf29e28037b5c04a1effc33695179.png x 4

Cruiser Sendai - 7x 5.51in guns, 4x 2 TT, 32kt, 8,000t.

image.png.0a285c0686a1e4528aff1e5e5499813c.png x 1

DesRon 19, Destroyers Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami and Uranami - 6x 5in guns, 3x 3 TT, 34kt, 2,100t.

image.png.7ba76cc19596e5e4f3fa391db6b3f704.png x 4

The Japanese force is predominantly newer than the British, with Sendai, completed in 1925 the oldest ship. The five heavy cruisers are modern, powerful warships with heavy armament, and the Fubuki class destroyers are significantly larger and better armed than their British contemporaries.

The Japanese had only been at war with the Western Allies for a handful of days (though had prior experience in China) and limited experience in surface combat. They do however benefit from operating in well established formations, the Mogami class cruisers had been working together as a division for at least 4 months, and the destroyers are all of a homogeneous flotilla. 

 

The Intangibles
The British have an advantage in weight of metal, but a sore disadvantage in torpedoes. The Japanese force may be able to throw up to 60 torpedoes in one massive broadside, and at night, at close range they are extremely dangerous.

The Japanese are renowned in early WWII for their skill at night fighting, but the British were no slouches there, having won several night time engagements against the Italians in the Mediterranean.

The British commander, Phillips has only recently been released from a desk job at the Admiralty to take command and is not greatly experienced, Ozawa is a generally well regarded officer but his war started just three days previously.

 

So what do you think would happen?

 

Sources:

Spoiler

The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, The End of the Battleship Era by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney

Navypedia - ship stats and images

Combined Fleet - details of the Japanese force present

 

Edited by mofton
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I think one of the biggest factors would be who gets to fire the first shot. If the Japanese manage to get spotting in advance and set up their wall of Torpedoes, the damage they could cause would be severe. If it‘s the other way around however there will be rather devastating salvos hitting the cruisers, which would not be able to survive that.

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If at night my money is on the IJN Torps being the decisive factor, however in daylight the Brits would have the advantage.

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It seems it all depends on who spots who. I've done some digging, at from what I can tell - it seems that the reason the British did not detect the Japanese by radar was because the Prince of Wales's search sets were out of commission. The Type 284 main battery fire-control radars fitted to her and Repulse, were not - however, the were fitted to the director, so unless the director was looking for targets, the radar wouldn't find anything - and they were off, because the British only turned them on when they expected to fight.

 

So - if the British decide to poke after what might've caused the flare and point a director with an active radar, their gunnery radars should easily pick up the Japanese ships - which I imagine would lead to a considerable 'oh crap' moment, when one discovers six cruisers and four destroyers at such closer range (5nm = 9.26 km, or just over 10,000 yards).

 

If that situation occurs, I think will favor the British heavily. The fire of 6x 15" and 10x 14" guns under radar fire control at night at such a range is going to be a brutal maelstrom of fire, and would rapidly be fatal. The Italian cruisers at Matapan, for reference, were less in number (3x BB on 2x CA, rather than 2x BB/BC on 5x CA/CL), so arguably you could say the British could put single cruisers under sooner - but it only took a few salvoes to inflict the decisive damage. And, it really should be noted - the Zara's were far, far more durable cruisers than the Japanese heavies. That's not just raw armor thickness (as that matters little except for the superior splinter resistance of the Italian cruisers), but also the fact the Italian cruisers stored their ammunition much more securely (extensive precautions were taken to prevent the detonation of magazines from enemy shellfire) and had far less explosive/flammable stuff about - such as massive 610mm Oxygen torpedoes. 

More likely than not, the minute the Prince of Wales and Repulse start laying into the Japanese cruisers, they'd be seeing some absurdly massive fireworks that would put Matapan to shame.

The thing is, the British can only fire at so many targets at once, and the Japanese have a lot more ships. Even with two heavy cruisers out of commission at the start, they still have another three heavies to react with, plus a light cruiser and four destroyers. Surprised as they may be, the Japanese are just as practiced night fighters as the British, and would react quickly. The British ships, hammering away with heavy gunfire, would be fairly obvious targets, and the Japanese, who's CA doctrine called for night gunfire at this range anyways (although not against battleships), would likely be quick to react, as would their destroyers. 

I would assume, anyways, that the Japanese heavy cruisers would quickly be cut apart. Even if they do start fighting back, the best their guns will do is cut apart upper works, and if they're lucky disable radars (but at that point between fires, searchlights, and starshells, optical gunnery should be possible). Any hits they score will be knicks on a giant, while in contrast any hits the British score is going to be devastating.

The real threat will come from Japanese destroyers, Sendai, and how effective their torpedo attack would be. They can dump about 40 (?) torpedoes to a broadside, and at such a close range they might have quite a good chance for success (they would attempt to close to 2000 meters, but how possible that would be in the face of British destroyers and the secondary fire of the heavy ships is not clear). Any hits scored will be crippling to the British, and the less guns they can fire back with, the worse off they are - the British need to put down Japanese ships as fast as possible to survive, due to how badly they're outnumbered.

 

If the British can get away with a brutal barrage and then break off, it would be a major British victory. Perhaps it couldn't stop the Japanese advance in the theater, or save them from air attack - but the Japanese would likely suffer a heavy cruiser force totally brutalized, easily losing at least 3 with more damage to others if not more sinking. If they break off, they can hopefully avoid incurring losses of their own. If they stay engaged, however, the weight of Japanese numbers could be deadly.

 


 

If, however, the British and Japanese just keep steaming and bump into each other - well, that depends on the range they see each other. At Matapan, Stuart first spotted the Italian cruisers at a range of 4 miles, or 7.4 km/8100 yards ("fine on the starboard bow, bearing 250º,"). This was at 2223, and before the spotting had time to be reported to Cunnigham, he and other officers on Warspite's bridge spotted the Italian cruisers as well, at 2225 ("steering 130º and some 4,000 yards off."). At 2228 they opened fire.

 

The account given makes me wonder how fast it might've taken for ships spotted to actually be reported, but it seems that optically or by the human eye, they were visible from a fair distance. 

At Savo island, the Chokai's spotters saw silhouettes at 12,500 yards, and two minutes later the cruiser fire four torpedoes at Canberra, and around the same time more lookouts reported shapes at 18,000 yards to the northeast. When Chokai opened fire, the range was 4500 yards. Aoba fired from 5500 yards, and Furutaka 9000 yards. 

 

It seems overall things could be all over the place. The Japanese failed to spot the British at 5 miles, so it seems visibility at Savo island must've been better than what was around Force Z and the Japanese cruisers.

 

To give both sides the benefit of the doubt, I'm gonna assume they spot each other at around 5-6,000 yards. At that point, it's a matter of who can react faster, and I'm not sure how much of an edge the British radar fire control will be. That being said, as mentioned before - the Japanese can harass the British with gunfire, but they won't hurt the capital ships. Meanwhile, the British will be hammering the Japanese cruisers and likely blow each of them to kingdom come within 2-3 salvoes per ship.

Of course, the Japanese response will be to dump numerous torpedoes in the water, and event if two cruisers are out of commission easily, more likely than not a massive number of torpedoes will be in the water, and at such ranges and with such volume I have to assume some are going to land. Any that hit are going to easily overwhelm the torpedo defense of the British ships, and cause massive damage. What matters then is how fast the Japanese can reload - because as long as British guns are in action, the Japanese will be getting brutalized. 

In such a 'they stumble into each other' situation, it's likely that it ends up being a heavy slaughter on both sides. The forces could largely annihilate each other, and while a crippled British ship might make it back to port, it might not be able to flee Singapore when it falls to the Japanese.

 

Of course, another major factor does exist for both scenarios that will likely be decisive - which ship do the British hit first?

If Chokai is hit first, it will cut the proverbial head off the snake and throw the Japanese into confusion. Likewise, if the Mogami is one of the first hit, she will likely go down fatally without doing anything. However if she survives the initial fire, she will likely take out at least one other Japanese heavy cruiser via ramming, or if not that potentially gut most of the Japanese force with a torpedo salvo. The survival of Mogami in the initial salvoes, to be frank, is likely one of the most important factors in the battle.

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As others have said, it's about who spots who first.  The first few minutes of the battle will decide the engagement. IJN ships were veritable powerkegs when their long lance torpedoes were still on deck.  Even a minor hit or near miss could detonate a torpedo and utterly destroy a heavy cruiser and thus dramatically turn the tide of battle.  But once those Japanese ships begin launching their torpedoes, their survivability increases dramatically.

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Something that doesn't seem to have been considered yet is the secondary battery of the larger ships. 

The British have an interesting mix of heavier, slower firing guns and faster firing lighter guns, on Prince of Wales and Repulse respectively. That they can keep back the Japanese destroyers is largely irrelevant due to the range of the Long Lance. Equally, at that sort of range, the Mk IX torpedoes in the two Es will also have the range. Of course, the Mk IV or V fish in Vampire will be lucky to be used, even as good as those torps are for their age. 

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Just wondering, how fast could the Type 93 be ready to launch. I assume the IJN force would be on alert, but are those torps ready to go right away?

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39 minutes ago, Sabot_100 said:

Just wondering, how fast could the Type 93 be ready to launch. I assume the IJN force would be on alert, but are those torps ready to go right away?

Well those torps would have to be already loaded in the tubes since it takes forever to reload them, the only complication is that the ships would need to do a 180 turn so that the tubes from both sides of the ship can be launched, which can be a bit complicated when in a fleet formation.  And if the don't launch from both sides, the ship remains at risk of the tubes detonating.

Edited by Royeaux

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Have to wonder if this battle would have had any significant effect on the war? Britain still loses the BBs (to aircraft the next day if nothing else) but could Japan have accomplished all it did in the opening months being down 3 (or more?) cruisers (assuming any not sunk outright will require months of repairs) from the start?

I think in the initial contact the Brits will have the advantage. They have radar, but even better, they  have a relatively small number of ships and can assume anything out there in the dark is an enemy. The IJN would at least have to pause to make sure they are not engaging friendlies. IRL ships don't have nice red or green icons over them.

Anyone know what the fleet formations would have been? DDs in the lead? How many? How far ahead?

Edited by Sabot_100

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On 1/31/2019 at 11:14 AM, mofton said:

Hello All,

There have been a number of discussions of what-if battles on the forums over the years, including 'who would win, X or Y?' as well as 'what if X had happened?'. These are occasionally far-fetched, far too frequently 'Yamato v. Iowa' but some are more realistic. Examples of previous ones include:

  Reveal hidden contents

Dseehafer VERSUS Series: A damn shame we lost him, and I won't forget him.

DeliciousFart TF34.5 v. Kurita's Center force:

MS406France1940 'Some Battleship on Battleship':

 

My 'what-if' is a fairly plausible one.

The Battle of Cape Cà Mau

Background
Many will have heard the story of 'Force Z', a doomed squadron of 2 Royal Navy capital ships sent to try and deter Japanese forces from attacking Singapore in late 1941. The battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse would become the first battleships to be solely sunk by air attack while maneuvering at sea. With their loss the British position would become untenable and Singapore itself would fall a few months later.

What is less widely known is the sequence of events leading up to the sinking. The day before their loss, Force Z sortied north in a desperate attempt to intercept Japanese invasion convoys. They did not succeed but on the night of 9/10 December came very close to combat with one of the Japanese screening forces.

With a slight nudge to history a major night-time clash between the RN and IJN may have happened.

RfkGxlI.jpg
Map of the divergence point - from The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, The End of the Battleship Era by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney.

At a critical point, with a likely close-range contact between the forces fairly probable, a scouting Japanese plane dropped a flare to illuminate what it thought was the British ships. In fact, it had located and illuminated the Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai. The British were close enough to see the flare, but not the ship. The British commander, Phillips interested more in invasion convoys turned his ships away. The Japanese cruiser force commander, Admiral Ozawa turned away as well, wanting to wait until moon-rise for any action, before the overall Japanese commander, Kondo with the battleship force ordered preparations made for a daylight action.

There are several ways a likely engagement could have developed but for a small change in chance -

  • The British ships detect the Japanese flotilla on radar before the flare - PoW had a set which was having some troubles but should have detected them, Repulse also had a set
  • The flare is dropped slightly later, the British see not only the flare, but the target it's illuminating
  • The flare is dropped on the British instead
  • The flare is never dropped and the 2 forces blunder into each other.

At the time the flare was dropped the British were proceeding on course 320° at 26kt. The Japanese force was steaming approximately 120° and I don't know the speed.

If there had been a clash then I believe the closest point of land would have been Cape Cà Mau - what is the south-westernmost tip of French Indochina (Vietnam) and that seems a reasonable name for any engagement.

The Forces
The British had 5 ships under the command of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips. These were:

Battleship Prince of Wales - 10x 14in guns, 16x 5.25in guns, 28kt, 37,000t. Flagship.

image.png.096bf281481df95382c25e1836840b4d.png x 1

Battlecruiser Repulse - 6x 15in guns, 28.3kt, 32,000t.

image.png.4eeec44024d75c9f7c4c041c6b84ba60.png x 1

Destroyers Electra and Express  - 4x 4.7in guns, 1x 4 TT, 36kt, 1,400t.

image.png.aa7f6d3fdce39faeefde347f517c2631.png x 2

Destroyer Vampire - 4x 1 4in guns, 1x 3 TT, 34kt, 1,200t.

image.png.b7b3365f2fdc0d73bde3ce0a861afa93.png x 1

The British force is a composite mix of old WWI era ships in Vampire and Repulse, interwar standard destroyers in Electra and Express and one of the most modern RN ships available - Prince of Wales. The force had not extensively worked together before as a group, though the capital ships and E-class destroyers had made the journey together.

Combat experience is variable. Prince of Wales had at this point already fought engagements with the Bismarck and been subjected to air attack in the Mediterranean. Repulse had had a fairly quiet war on convoy escort but had never quite found her way into action. She did however have a very experienced crew established pre-war, while PoW had less experienced sailors. Although she had been in action, Prince of Wales had not been in commission very long, fighting Bismarck in May and then losing some time to repairs afterward. Vampire had at that point extensive Mediterranean combat service and the E's extensive Atlantic service.


The Japanese cruiser force was 10 ships under the command of Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa. These were:

Cruiser Chokai - 10x 8in guns, 4x 4 TT, 34kt, 12,600t. Flagship.

image.png.28bef146ea1418c9e01b7d87b6b4a8c4.png x 1
Cruiser Division 7, Cruisers Mogami, Suzuya, Mikuma and Kumano  - 10x 8in guns, 4x 3 TT, 35kt, 12,400t/12,000t.

image.png.c1fcf29e28037b5c04a1effc33695179.png x 4

Cruiser Sendai - 7x 5.51in guns, 4x 2 TT, 32kt, 8,000t.

image.png.0a285c0686a1e4528aff1e5e5499813c.png x 1

DesRon 19, Destroyers Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami and Uranami - 6x 5in guns, 3x 3 TT, 34kt, 2,100t.

image.png.7ba76cc19596e5e4f3fa391db6b3f704.png x 1

The Japanese force is predominantly newer than the British, with Sendai, completed in 1925 the oldest ship. The five heavy cruisers are modern, powerful warships with heavy armament, and the Fubuki class destroyers are significantly larger and better armed than their British contemporaries.

The Japanese had only been at war with the Western Allies for a handful of days (though had prior experience in China) and limited experience in surface combat. They do however benefit from operating in well established formations, the Mogami class cruisers had been working together as a division for at least 4 months, and the destroyers are all of a homogeneous flotilla. 

 

The Intangibles
The British have an advantage in weight of metal, but a sore disadvantage in torpedoes. The Japanese force may be able to throw up to 60 torpedoes in one massive broadside, and at night, at close range they are extremely dangerous.

The Japanese are renowned in early WWII for their skill at night fighting, but the British were no slouches there, having won several night time engagements against the Italians in the Mediterranean.

The British commander, Phillips has only recently been released from a desk job at the Admiralty to take command and is not greatly experienced, Ozawa is a generally well regarded officer but his war started just three days previously.

 

So what do you think would happen?

 

Sources:

  Hide contents

The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, The End of the Battleship Era by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney

Navypedia - ship stats and images

Combined Fleet - details of the Japanese force present

 

Having read Neptune's Inferno, I think this looks like it'd play out very similarly to the events of November 15, 1942, when the BBs USS South Dakota, Washington, and 4 DDs took on the Tokyo Express.

The British, like the Americans, have radar, so they can see their enemy even in the dead of night and can accurately land shots sooner than the old IJN rangefinders. At Guadalcanal, the Japanese had a huge amount of torpedoes to throw at the Americans like they do here, but even at point-blank range they all missed the American BBs so there's nothing saying that they would hit the British ships, especially if the engagement is fought at longer ranges than those between the USN and the IJN in Ironbottom Sound.

With the torpedoes taken out of the equation and the Brits being experienced enough to hold their own in a night fight, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse would have the advantage on the Japanese cruisers and DDs, who in this instance don't even have a BB of their own like the Japanese did at Guadalcanal with the Kirishima. The British DDs would get shredded just like the American ones, but the firepower advantage of the battleships would be overwhelming and they would force the Japanese to withdraw.

Of course, there are variables in play, such as if the Japanese do get hits with their torpedoes, the fact that the Battle of Friday the 13th at Guadalcanal showed that 8-inch cruiser guns could mortally wound battleships at the suicidally close ranges associated with night fighting, or if the Prince of Wales suffers mechanical failures like she did fighting the Bismarck (or like the South Dakota did at Guadalcanal, though that one may be irrelevant since the Japanese fleet still turned back after the Washington obliterated the Kirishima). As well, the matchup of commanders may prove a factor. Ozawa was one of the IJN's best, which means that Sir Tom Phillips may have had his work cut out for him; I don't know much about him, but I imagine he's no Willis Lee when it comes to commanding BBs. Hopefully, he's at least competent enough to lead his fleet to victory on the strength of its big guns.

So yeah, that's my two cents.

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12 minutes ago, 1Sherman said:

The British, like the Americans, have radar, so they can see their enemy even in the dead of night and can accurately land shots sooner than the old IJN rangefinders.

Following the historical, I don't think the Brits would necessarily have spotted the enemy on radar first. Apparently they were having problems. Once engaged they had the fire control radar but IJN optics were pretty good too. US was expecting the Tokyo Express and had them on radar before the engagement started. A lot might come down to who spots and identifies first. Still think the IJN will take massive damage either way and will likely experience a collision in the chaos. So many ships in the dark making controlled (or uncontrolled) turns.

On the other hand, if a IJN DD squadron makes contact and can execute an unseen torp attack first...ouch.

Edited by Sabot_100

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9 minutes ago, Sabot_100 said:

Following the historical, I don't think the Brits would necessarily have spotted the enemy on radar first. Apparently they were having problems. Once engaged they had the fire control radar but IJN optics were pretty good too. US was expecting the Tokyo Express and had them on radar before the engagement started. A lot might come down to who spots and identifies first. Still think the IJN will take massive damage either way and will likely experience a collision in the chaos. So many ships in the dark making controlled (or uncontrolled) turns.

While the Brits may not have been waiting for the Japanese in this instance, they couldn't have expected that the convoys headed for Singapore would be unguarded. They would have known they'd have to deal with some form of escort, so they would be scanning the radar for enemy contacts.

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21 minutes ago, Sabot_100 said:

On the other hand, if a IJN DD squadron makes contact and can execute an unseen torp attack first...ouch.

If the IJN DDs and cruisers at Guadalcanal could miss both the South Dakota and the Washington with all of their torpedoes in the claustrophobic waters of Ironbottom Sound, then there's no guaranteeing that they'd be able to hit the Prince of Wales or the Repulse in a less confined location. If they do hit, I agree that it'd be devastating. If not, then they wouldn't stand a chance of getting away in one piece.

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21 minutes ago, 1Sherman said:

While the Brits may not have been waiting for the Japanese in this instance, they couldn't have expected that the convoys headed for Singapore would be unguarded. They would have known they'd have to deal with some form of escort, so they would be scanning the radar for enemy contacts.

Agreed, they were looking for them, as the IJN was aware the Brits were in the area and turned away to avoid a fight with no moon to see by. I thought I understood from the OPs setup that the Brit search radar was not working at the time when the engagement would have taken place. It could be that it just wasn't good to the range of the IJN ships or it was basically not working. (it was kind of fickle in those early years, lots of fragile tubes). I was assuming it wasn't working. I also assumed both side just took a little longer to make their decision to turn away so ended up blundering into range.

One question. Assuming the Brits did see the IJN on radar first. Would they attack a fleet of unknown size and composition, not knowing if it was the convoy, the detached escort, the BBs, (or how far away any of these units were) or turn away hoping their mere presence would keep the invasion force at bay?  I don't think the Admiralty was willing/expecting to sacrifice these BBs to stop the invasion. If they got damaged, they would be vulnerable to attack by air and sea the next day. In the long run with hindsight it might be seen as fair trade (since IRL they were sunk without doing anything. But then again, most of their crews were rescued) but what would their orders have told them to do that night? We know they were facing cruisers. A radar blip wouldn't tell them that.

On the IJN side, I think they would launch torps and try to disengage the cruisers as fast as they could when first contact was made/reported. Stay between the Brits and the convoy. DDs might hang around to prevent pursuit. They had BBs on the way and no light to see. Why attack piecemeal? Success depends on how many torps land. Any firing would be done by searchlight and starshell as there was no moon yet.

The Brits could do a lot of damage but might get into trouble using radar to keep engaging the fleeing enemy not knowing the torpedo danger they were in.

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5 hours ago, 1Sherman said:

Having read Neptune's Inferno, I think this looks like it'd play out very similarly to the events of November 15, 1942, when the BBs USS South Dakota, Washington, and 4 DDs took on the Tokyo Express.

I think that is a very much best case but possible scenario. The Brits probably aren't going to get jumped like at Savo Island, but even if the British get the knife in first, Tassafaronga showed what a Japanese torpedo counter-attack could do.

I'm not as confident in the British leadership or radar given the problems PoW was having, but they do have some plus points.

6 hours ago, Sabot_100 said:

Have to wonder if this battle would have had any significant effect on the war? Britain still loses the BBs (to aircraft the next day if nothing else) but could Japan have accomplished all it did in the opening months being down 3 (or more?) cruisers (assuming any not sunk outright will require months of repairs) from the start?

Anyone know what the fleet formations would have been? DDs in the lead? How many? How far ahead? 

Your question on formations is something I've been trying to find out about and it is an excellent one.

I don't know what the standard formations were, for the British I think PoW would be leading Repulse, but I'm not sure if the destroyers would be in line astern, or spread around as a screen. Night time formation was different from daytime, the British were intending to 'maneuver Force Z as a group' and to detach the destroyers around midnight. That said it was Electra that first spotted the flare that caused the joint turn away, suggesting she was out toward that direction and a bit closer.

For the Japanese, most likely Sendai was leading her 4 destroyers. From looking at other formations the Japanese used I think all the heavy cruisers would have been in line ahead together. Which flank the destroyer flotilla would have been on I'm not sure, possibly south toward the likely threat. That might mean the destroyer screens hit each other pretty hard, or the British have no outer screen but have a unit to deploy.

I don't think it would have had a tremendous impact on the overall war, the only way Force Z likely survives in the mid-term as a result is if it takes some damage - but not to speed - decides 'we've made enough of an effort' and retires south to Singapore and then does not divert to Kuantuan to investigate incorrect information of a Japanese landing. That might put them far enough south to evade air detection the next day.

That said, in the event of any damage, especially any that slows either of the big ships there would be plenty of scope for disaster, and submarine attack the next day too. Even if it survives that, the Japanese air and surface threat remains, and the invasion convoys had already landed. Force Z might have been better able to escape Singapore - as most of the main ships there did - which would maybe keep one old and one modern BB in the RN inventory longer.

7 hours ago, Royeaux said:

Well those torps would have to be already loaded in the tubes since it takes forever to reload them

The only thing I half remember on the Type 93 is maybe some ambiguity over whether the oxygen bottle was kept full all the time, certainly the fish were in the tubes and pretty ready to go.

14 hours ago, mr3awsome said:

The British have an interesting mix of heavier, slower firing guns and faster firing lighter guns, on Prince of Wales and Repulse respectively. That they can keep back the Japanese destroyers is largely irrelevant due to the range of the Long Lance. Equally, at that sort of range, the Mk IX torpedoes in the two Es will also have the range. Of course, the Mk IV or V fish in Vampire will be lucky to be used, even as good as those torps are for their age. 

The secondary battery on the PoW might have some utility - being able to hit Japanese destroyers fairly hard at moderate range is useful, it might have been a reasonable time for it to shine and otherwise given DoY at least one could fire starshell. I'm not sure how good the old old 4in battery of Repulse would have been on the day. Old guns, not as good ROF as they might have been, not sure on the directors for them.

The RN lacked torpedo volume on this occasion but did have good fish. I'd hope that knowing that their own fish could reach the ~5 nautical miles to the Japanese would brook the assumption that Japanese torpedoes would have the legs to reach them in return. Being in a zone assuming the Type 93 is out of range would be dangerous.

On 1/31/2019 at 3:21 PM, Phoenix_jz said:

To give both sides the benefit of the doubt, I'm gonna assume they spot each other at around 5-6,000 yards. At that point, it's a matter of who can react faster, and I'm not sure how much of an edge the British radar fire control will be.

I think first spot is critical, a very good point.

The other major point I would have is 'who crosses who's T?'.

The two forces are on converging courses, the British on 320° (NW) and the Japanese heading 'approximately NE'. If the British slip in front of the Japanese you could end up with the full broadside aimed at only the 4x 8in of a bow-on Japanese cruiser with the destroyers needing to maneuver hard to get a torpedo launch off. If the Japanese cross the T, they have a huge weight of 8in guns and the ~60 torpedo broadside to launch, though bow-on the odds of a hit are lower, if the British shake out into line to respond they'd be in some trouble.

 

Many thanks all for the well thought out responses.

 

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The British formation has never operated together as a task force.  Even though the PoW and Repulse have radar, they're very early war sets using A scopes so they have limited capacity for accurate surface detection and tracking of ships (they're primarily useful for getting accurate ranges on a target and general detection-- but with possible false positives).

All the Japanese really have to do is avoid having their transports and warships sunk.  They can let the British flail about for all it matters so long as that happens.  As soon as the sun rises the next day the IJAAF is going to show up and sink them just like they did historically.

But, if the RN and IJN did get into a night action, the Japanese have better night optics, better tactics, and better weapons for such a battle.  If they follow their usual pattern, the DD and cruisers get into torpedo range, let a salvo go with no gunfire to give them away then wait for hits before opening fire with a second salvo of torpedoes and all their guns.

At that point, the Japanese could withdraw and wait for daylight.  If they hit and damage or cripple any British ships it just makes the following day's airstrikes that much easier.

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RN was no slouches when it came to night actions.

Really it all comes down to the roll of the dice that is the mass torpedo attack the Japanese will almost certainly unleash. Could be be devastating or it could hit nothing.

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