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"Dogfights over Coral Sea, Fight #1" Topic

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Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2019 5:52 p.m. PST


7 May 1942

Greetings, and welcome to my return to the Pacific! Both the US Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy are on the prowl in the southwestern Pacific; the Japanese have their eyes on Australia, or at least cutting off the lines of communication between the US and Australia, and the Americans are looking to not allow that to happen. On 3-4 May 1942, while fighting raged on New Guinea, the Japanese attempted secure their flank, sending an invasion fleet into the Solomon Islands to put troops ashore on Tulagi (across the channel from Guadalcanal), in order to conduct an amphibious assault on Port Moresby on 10 May.

But the Americans noted the Japanese invasion force in the Solomons, and the USS Yorktown launched strike aircraft that sunk or damaged several Japanese warships, though now the Japanese were aware the US carriers were in the vicinity, made doubly worse by the fact the Americans were shorthanded: they had only the Yorktown and the Lexington in the area because the Hornet and Enterprise had just returned to Pearl Harbor following the Doolittle Raid. These were faced by the Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, and the light carrier Shoho. The two opposing forces marshalled their troops, refueled, consolidated, and began searching in earnest for each other.

Both sides made various, confused sightings of the other sides' forces, mostly believing they'd found each other's carriers when they hadn't. At 0915 on 7 May, Japanese aircraft found the US fleet oiler Neosho and the destroyer Sims (earlier reported by scout aircraft as the US carriers), sinking the latter and badly damaging the former, leaving it dead in the water, later to be scuttled. At 1040 that same morning, the US strike aircraft from Lexington and Yorktown spotted a Japanese task force. Believing they'd found the Japanese carriers, they assumed attack formation and descended on the enemy ships, only then realizing they'd found a Japanese surface force with the light carrier, Shoho, attached.

The VF-63 "Killer Pelicans," led by Lieutenant Case, an Ace after the squadron's combat debut in the Dutch East Indies, were now embarked upon the USS Lexington. Lt Case had broken the squadron up, one six plane division devoted to strike escort, the other two divisions dedicated to Combat Air Patrol, protecting their floating home base. The six strike escorts, led by Lt Case, lifted off, aiming to protect the SBD Dauntlesses of VB-2 and VS-2 (the two dive bomber squadrons, "Bombing 2" and "Scouting 2"), and the TBD Devastators of VT-2 (the torpedo squadron, or "Torpedo 2"), but the strike package was jumbled, the Americans not yet having ironed out all the kinks of carrier operations. This resulted in the Devastators forming up first and immediately departing without escort, then the SBDs, and lastly Lt Case's six Wildcats, making for a very difficult escort mission!


This is my arena for aerial combat; simple, yet durable and, to me, beautiful (in a simple, durable way). I'm using tiny aircraft designed by my buddy Thomaston; not sure what size they are, just that they are much smaller than 1/600. They're 3D printed models that I mounted on cut-down bases from Litko, and I'm using a very simple rules system called "Battle of Britain," which I found for free over on The Miniatures Page (I've already played a good 20 or so fights with them). North is left, where the Japanese carrier Shoho is present, as is her six-plane CAP, while at right, approaching from the south, is the Lexington's strike group, minus the Devastator torpedo planes, which have been unable to locate the target.


The US strike formation, from top:
Ensign Riggins, a rookie pilot on his first hop
Lt(jg) Casey, a regular with two kills in two sorties, and Riggins' section leader.
The six SBD Dauntless dive bombers, which are referred to as Bomber 1 through 6
Ensign Warren, another rookie on his first hop
Ensign Didier, one more rookie on his first hop

Of course, missing from this fight are Lt Case, the Ace squadron leader, and Ensign Dahlgren, a regular with one kill. They missed this fight as they were searching for the Devastators, then tallied on a Japanese aircraft a few miles back that ducked into some clouds. By the time Lt Case and Ens Dahgren gave up the search, this fight was over.*

*Strike missions only get four fighter escorts, so this is the back story to explain why Lt Case and Ens Dahlgren are not in the fight. And if you're wondering why I played three rookies and left out these two, it's because I rolled dice to see which US pilots would be in the fight, and this is how it turned out. Not optimal, by any means, but it does mean Lt Case and Ens Dahlgren will definitely be in the escort fight(s) on Day 2.


The Japanese Combat Air Patrol, looking to protect their home base from those pesky Yank fliers. I made a big mistake by listening to Thomaston, which will soon become apparent, and rolled up pilot experience for the Japanese. To refresh your memory, pilot experience goes: Rookie, Regular, Veteran, Ace, and Natural Born Killer. Based on the fact that some of these Japanese pilots have been flying, and fighting, for years, I rolled it so that a pilot had about an 8% chance of being a Rookie, and it went up from there, all the way to Natural Born Killer. So, here we go, from the top:
Zero 3: Regular
Zero 1: Natural Born Killer
Zero 2: Regular

Zero 6: Ace
Zero 4: Ace
Zero 5: Regular

Perfect, right? The Japanese Zeros are already getting a +1 for being superior (in terms of maneuverability and climb) to the F4F Wildcats, and now the pilots are markedly better in terms of quality.


The Zeros showed up hungry and are chowing down…


The Yorktown Dauntlesses plant three 500 pounders on the flight deck of the Shoho.

To see how the dogfight went, please check the blog at:

The Lexington and Yorktown still had scouting patrols out to locate new enemy targets. The scouts had identified a surface warfare task force and a transport task force (carrying the Japanese 'South Seas Detachment,' the Port Moresby invasion force), but with the enemy carriers still not located, Admiral Fletcher decided to hold off on launching another strike.

The US had sent a surface warfare task force north, which was promptly located by the Japanese. The Japanese carriers were still waiting on their strike force (which hit the Sims and Neosho) to return, so Admiral Inoue ordered two groups of bombers from Rabaul to attack. At 1435 they did, without effect, as did an errant flight of US Army B-17s… The US surface force then promptly withdrew.

Admiral Inoue very aggressively continued to scout for the US carriers, and at 1515, when the strike force that hit the Sims and Neosho returned, he even quickly rearmed them and sent them south, certain his scouts would locate the US carriers, and then he could vector the strike force to them. But it was not to be; the Japanese scouts were unable to locate the US carriers, but the strike force, flying bling in bad weather, stumbled close enough to them that the Lexington and Yorktown were able to vector their CAP over to intercept. At 1747 the US Wildcats tore the Japanese strike force a new one, sending the survivors back north, scrambling to safety without ever having seen the US carriers!

And that is the next fight!


dragon6 Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2019 6:38 p.m. PST

Shoho's carrier group at Coral Sea

8 A6M2 Zeros
4 A5M2 Claudes
6 B5N2 Kates

Almost every Zero on board is up for this fight. Bad luck ol' chaps. The smaller carriers had less experienced pilots

parrskool05 Sep 2019 6:04 a.m. PST

looks good. Still can't find the rules to which you refer.

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP05 Sep 2019 6:49 a.m. PST

Dragon 6- Thanks man, and I'm on top of it, but the issue is that these are ultra simple rules, not a simulation of anything, by any means. What that means in terms of OOB is that the force structures are set: defender gets six fighters, attacker gets six bombers with four escorts. You don't have to play it like that if you don't like, but the format has been working well for me (I've already played a couple dozen fights), so I'm sticking with it. I had a buddy ask why I didn't play the whole fight!? As I'm sure you're aware, the combined Lexington-Yorktown strike group (granted, they went into the attack piecemeal, but still!) was 18 Wildcats, 53 Dauntlesses, and 22 Devastators!

And regarding pilot experience, I'm rolling on a table to figure out what the experience levels are, and, for simplicity's sake, as well as how it fits into the campaign rules I'm keeping them the same for the Shoho strike on the 7th and the Zuikaku/Shokaku strike in the 8th.

Parrskool- Thanks, and here you go:
TMP link


parrskool05 Sep 2019 6:51 a.m. PST

thanks again. Unfortunately the link has been stiffled. oh, well

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP05 Sep 2019 6:54 a.m. PST


I don't understand, I just tried the link to the topic and the actual PDF link, they're both working for me.

Direct link:
PDF link


Ragbones05 Sep 2019 7:39 a.m. PST

Excellent stuff! Love those little planes.

parrskool05 Sep 2019 7:55 a.m. PST

Thanks Capt.Jack…. the link works…. strange about the other one, though….. definitely Tangoed

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP05 Sep 2019 10:32 a.m. PST

Thanks, Ragbones, and me too!

And no problem, Parrskool. They're super simple, but I've been having a great time! Having said that, I've added a little chrome, but I'm trying to be careful not to add too much and end up making them cumbersome.


War Panda05 Sep 2019 1:19 p.m. PST

Nice set up Jack. I like the planes and the aircraft carriers. Good to see you playing still

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP05 Sep 2019 2:51 p.m. PST

Panda??? Lil' Johnny is back? You are back, aren't you? Tell me you're back, that would be great news!

I can't believe all of you abandoned me! You disappeared, Ivan disappeared, Kyote… Well, Kyote is still Kyote, though he quit TMP. Shaun and Whirlwind are still kind of around, but 'real life' has kept them from gaming much, if any, for quite awhile now. I've had my own issues, I guess, but yeah, I'm still here, still cranking out batreps.

Wish you were too. And I still remember how much fun I had kicking Shaun's ass in Chain of Command. I suppose I should amend that to "kicking Shaun and YOUR asses at Chain of Command." ;)

Hope all is well.


War Panda05 Sep 2019 7:38 p.m. PST

Lol well if I'd known you were cracking out all this goodness then I'd have checked in earlier

You know how life gets with kids, moving house, bad health, doing hard time.

My kids are at an age where they're all into tabletop rpg and miniature gaming. My historical military stuff took a major backseat

But I have to say you've really upped your game. Some amazing looking gear you have in so many different genres and periods. Well done. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

But your recollection on past games leaves a lot to be desired. I think you'll find both myself and Shaun give you a right old whipping. I thought it was the victors who recorded history ;)

I'm looking forward to seeing more from you.

What's your favourite game right?

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2019 5:28 a.m. PST

Well, no time like the present, dig in. You know, since you left, things have changed a bit: I now have five blogs. My old standby, Blackhawkhet, which mostly showcases figures and terrain, then I have a WWII in the Pacific blog, a WWII in Europe/Med blog, my Cuba Libre blog, and my Arab-Israeli Wars blog.

Yup, I know exactly how real life can get in the way. Mostly it's these mongrel kids of mine with sports: I've got two boys playing baseball (I'm still coaching one of them) and a daughter playing volleyball. It's cool that you've got the kids playing games with you.

Yeah, I've come a long way since khaki-painted buildings and cut up rugs for hills ;) It's taken awhile, but I'm getting there.

And my recollections are crystal clear. As I recall, you were the umpire that got caught helping Shaun when I was busy beating him like a red-headed stepchild ;) So, I thought it was the victors who recorded history, too, and I'm wondering what the hell you're doing with a pen in your hand ;)

"What's your favourite game right?"
Sorry man, what are you asking me?


War Panda06 Sep 2019 11:52 a.m. PST

Lol well I see you haven't lost that sense of humour; which is a real shame to be honest

Sorry I'm writing on an iPhone and my eyes are not what they used to be

I meant to write: what's your favourite rule set to play right now?

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP07 Sep 2019 6:15 a.m. PST

No problem, I'll be here all day. And this me actually trying to be nice, so you don't run off for a couple years again.

Favorite rules:
Air: "Battle of Britain" ultra-simple dogfighting rules
Company-Sized actions: "5Core Company Command"
Platoon-Sized actions: "No End in Sight"
Squad-Size actions: "Five Men at Kursk," though "SOF Warrior" is not far behind


R Leonard07 Sep 2019 4:58 p.m. PST

Not to be overly critical, I can, barely, understand using made up names for pilots, but would it not be better to use actual squadron designations? After all, VF-63 was a night fighter squadron that was not established until 20 Jun 1945 as VF(N)-63. In fact in May 1942 the next series of new squadrons were just gleams in the eyes of prospective commanders, VF-9, VF-10 and VF-11 . . . VF-10 and VF-11's first commanding officers were actually flying in VF-42 at Coral Sea.

VF-2, actually operating off Lexington had a fine pedigree even though about half its pilots at Coral Sea were from VF-3 or actually aboard TAD for transport to VF-42. The experience levels of the VF-2 pilots are pretty well spelled out in the literature, see Lundstrom "The First Team", or can be divined from official sources such as officer registers.

For VF-42 on the eve of Coral Sea I can tell you how long each pilot had been aboard Yorktown and how many actual flight hours each had accumulated since they started flight training.

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2019 7:16 a.m. PST


Now that is an interesting comment. I've posted literally hundreds of battle reports over the past five years, in various wars and varying theaters in the same war, and this is the first time someone has brought it up. The short answer to "…but would it not be better to use actual squadron designations?" is 'no.'

It seems you're assuming I don't know the history; I'm certainly not at the scholarly level, but I started with Sherman's "Combat Command" when I was about ten, and just finished Sears' "Pacific Air," with a few in between. So I'm not sure if you're trying to convince me that the source information is available, I'm just pointing out that I'm not interested because it doesn't fit what I'm trying to do, and here's why:

-the reason I wargame is to follow characters through the travails of historical battles/campaigns. It's what I like to do, and I'm really not one to play 'one-off' games except when I'm playtesting rules.

-following those characters (whether they be a US Marine rifle platoon, a German kampfgruppe, or a US Navy fighter squadron), I intend on getting the most out of them. That is to say, I pack a truly incredible amount of intense combat into their careers, such that 'real life' persons and units did not, and could not, have participated in. In this manner I can have, for example, a unit attached to the 1st Marine Division, fight through the entire battle of Guadalcanal, and instead of taking (essentially) a year off to rest, recuperate, and re-train, I can keep my little platoon in the thick of it by attaching them to various Marine Raider units and/or 3rd Marine Division. I could even have them start Nov '43 on Bougainville with 3rd MarDiv, and end it with 2nd MarDiv on Tarawa.

I think you'll agree that no real-life unit could do that. But that's what I want to do, because I want to game both Bougainville AND Tarawa as part of my campaigns in the Pacific, and I want to do it following the same group of little lead heroes. From that standpoint, my intent for my US Navy fighter squadron is to fight in all of the carrier battles of the Pacific, each time based off a carrier that was sunk. So you're seeing them based on the Lexington for Coral Sea, you'll see them on the Yorktown at Midway, then on Enterprise (no sunk, but badly damaged, so the squadron will join Cactus Air Force for a bit) for Eastern Solomons, then on Hornet for Santa Cruz. Obviously, there is no way a single fighter squadron, or even a single pilot (much a whole squadron of them) could have pulled that off.

-next, real life history doesn't work. While I can fudge things to make ships sink or not sink, divorced from actions on the table (such as having all the Lexington Dauntlesses in this fight be shot down or turned back, but Shoho still struck), but I can't really do that with humans. What if I'm playing Butch O'Hare's dogfight that earned him the Medal of Honor, but he gets shot down instead? It just doesn't work.

-on a related note, my games are typically boom or bust, big heroes or big failures (maybe more so in the ground games, but possible in the aerial fights, as well). I refuse to use the names of real-life heroes and have them do something cowardly on the game table. Could you imagine O'Hare, Flatley, either of the Thachs, McCambell, Vraciu, etc…, making six different runs on Japanese aircraft and not scoring a single kill? How about ducking out of a fight by feigning engine trouble, or jammed guns? There's no way I would let that happen.

-similarly, characters get killed or go missing in my stories, and there's no way I'm going to attach the names of real-life heroes to my sill-ass wargaming escapades. It seems penultimately disrespectful to be playing with toys and end up writing "Alex Vraciu went up on 26 April 1945 facing a horde of Japanese kamikaze aircraft escorted by Zeros. He engaged but was shot down and Killed in Action," or "…no one saw his aircraft go down so he was listed as Missing in Action."

-Lastly, and no small detail, is that by making up my own unit and roster of men, it keeps me from having to pour through the roster of VF-'X' pilots to ascertain their names and attempt to assign them pilot ratings (for game purposes) for Coral Sea, then do the same for VF-'X' pilots for Midway, etc…

In the overall scheme of things, I'm playing stylized, Hollywood-style battles following group's of men through the a historical framework, so using real men's names and units is not only not feasible, but not desirable.

In any case, I appreciate your interest in my batreps, and I'll be posting the next one soon.


R Leonard08 Sep 2019 5:43 p.m. PST

Jack -

And you have very kindly answered my question for which I thank you.

I don't do gaming and I don't play what ifs, only interested in the history . . . what was and why.

So, now, I understand your perspective which seems to make eminent sense for your purposes.

Glad you took no offense to my comments as there was none being offered, just curiosity.



Joe Legan Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2019 6:36 p.m. PST


Outstanding as usual! Even those planes look good for their size. Have to check out those rules. Wouldn't it be better to partially randomize how many escorts there are though? Agree with keeping things partially fictionalized. Wish I had half your energy.


Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2019 7:04 p.m. PST


No problem, and my comments were sincere, no snark, just laying out my particularly goofy way of gaming ;)


Thanks man. Yeah, the planes are tiny, but I think they're awesome, and they fit my board perfectly. The escorts and CAP are supposed to start with 4 and 6, respectively, then losses come into play. I haven't been playing that way all the time because I'm trying to get all the pilots rotated into the fight. I hope I can keep this pace up ;)


Whirlwind08 Sep 2019 9:47 p.m. PST

@ Jack,

Good post on the benefits of using imagi-units and imagi-characters.

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP09 Sep 2019 2:33 p.m. PST


Thanks man. Not sure if it makes sense overall, but it makes sense for me ;)


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