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"Night Combat in the Pacific" Topic

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catavar14 Mar 2024 4:48 p.m. PST

From the few books I've read I get the impression that quite a few battles occurred a night and the Japanese used spotlights on several occasions.

The rules I use don't account for spotlights. There are three firing ranges POINT BLANK, NORMAL and EXTREME. They use EXTREME range when firing at night, no matter what the actual range is, and with a negative modifier.

I would think that spotlights would only be effective at very close. If I wanted to house rule them how would you suggest I do so? I appreciate any suggestions.

Grattan54 Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2024 6:57 p.m. PST

Maybe if they have search lights you move the firing range down to normal range.

codiver15 Mar 2024 6:06 a.m. PST

catavar, do your rules account for starshells? If so, I would leverage off of that (i.e. use one illuminated rule).

Otherwise, what Grattan54 suggested certainly has merit. The one thing I would add is that using searchlights illuminates the ship employing them as well.

A couple of other points that are accounted for in GQ3:
- US guns > 5" (so CL+) did not have flashless powder until 1943, so consider saying these ships that fire are treated as illuminated through 1942.
- IJN searchlights had a greater range (9000 yds vs. 5000 yds in GQ3). So if you limit most navies, to using searchlights at whatever POINT BLANK range normally is, consider extending it (roughly doubling it) for the IJN.

Wolfhag15 Mar 2024 8:56 a.m. PST

IIRC the Japanese also had better binoculars and optics for night fighting and were better trained for it too.

Good info on night combat: link


Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP15 Mar 2024 2:54 p.m. PST

The Japanese were far more skilled at naval surfaces night fighting inthe initial battles around Guadalcanal than the US and allies. Before the US radar gave them the upper hand. Better binocs, highly trained lookouts, searchlights, starshells. Cruisers launched seaplanes to drop flares. Most of the time in clear weather there is always some starlight. The Japanese trained incessantly to fight at night.

Japanese Long Lance torpedoes had tremendous range, all cruisers and destroyers carried them. This also gives then the edge. And excellent gunnery. Gaming Savo Island using the Nimitz rules, it's hard for the US to win this early battle.
In general, I would give either side modifiers for more hit chances depending on what point in the war you are can give the US first shot once the radar era gets rolling. Before that the Japanese have the edge.

Even though you might not be gaming the Guadalcanal campaign, this is where the great nighttime surface battles were fought. Wolfhag's link is excellent. Check Wikipedia for Naval battles of Guadalcanal.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Mar 2024 2:22 p.m. PST

"Neptune's Inferno" by James Hornfischer is an excellent book on the battles around Guadalcanal. He describes the tactics used by both sides including the use of spotlights. As I recall, they could be useful in pinpointing a target, but they also revealed and pinpointed the ship using them. Most of the night battles around Guadalcanal were fought at extremely close range, so spotlights could be effective.

HMS Exeter16 Mar 2024 11:38 p.m. PST

There are lots of issues influencing early WWII night surface combat in the Pacific.

Before the war the Japanese worked diligently to hone their nightfighting capabilities, including screening sailods for their night vision acuity. This advantage eroded steadily as more and better US radars became available.

The resort to searchlights was a many edged sword. You didn't use them to sweep search. You used them against ships you'd already spotted to make them easier targets for all the ships in your squadron. But doing so also pulled your own pants down, and invited retribution. A vessel caught in a searchlight would normally counter illuminate to return the "favor."

One more issue. Turning on searchlights robbed just about everybody of their darkness adjusted eyesight. If the lights all went out, only those whose vision was still darkness adjusted could really still see. Imagine looking through a rangefinder with night eyes and getting a searchlight in your kisser. It'd be quite a while before you could see anything again except giant bright circles.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP18 Mar 2024 5:52 a.m. PST

Neptunes Inferno is the best narrative version of those times I have ever read. Very readable and captures the tension of night battles at sea.

Nine pound round18 Mar 2024 11:58 a.m. PST

Of course, the obvious solution to a searchlight is simple enough, in theory: they work both ways, so start shooting at it.

I have yet to see a set of miniatures rules that really captures the challenges of night operations, and the prevalence of sheer accident and contingency. Charles Cook's book on Cape Esperance, Russell Crenshaw's on Tassafaronga, and Bruce Loxton's on Savo Island all capture some sense of the confusion of a night action, and the difficulty that commanders on both sides had in even understanding what was happening, let alone controlling it.

I suppose if you really wanted night rules, you could do something like this- using a referee, have the referee control all movement for both players, based on their orders. Mark all ship locations with numbered chits, giving each commander the name of just the 2 or 3 ships in sight of him that are associated with those numbers. When a ship makes a sighting, the referee should randomly determine what miniature to put on the board to represent it, particularly if the two fleets are in close proximity- friendly or hostile, and class/type (without either of those having to necessarily be accurate). If a friendly ship is identified as hostile, the closest friendly ships would open fire on it with a certain roll, regardless of whether it actually was or not. If a hostile ship is put on the board as friendly, friendly ships could not open fire, or at least not immediately. Ships' identity might change (and one miniature could be substituted for another) based on its actions, lighting, etc. The referee would have to keep track of what was what, but the difficulty involved in identification, and the lack of control by senior officers would at least be accurate.

catavar24 Mar 2024 6:47 p.m. PST

Thanks everyone. I'm going to check out the link and books.

I get the impression spotlights were more a IJN tactic.

I think ships at POINT BLANK range using NORMAL range with spotlights sounds good, while ships returning fire might just lose the negative modifier for night combat.

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