Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sophie and the Algerine

I am currently rereading Patrick O'Brian's 'Aubrey and Maturin' series, having realised that I hadn't reread some of the later books in the series since they were first published. Or, at least, I couldn't remember what happened in them. With a couple of the later books dealt with, I decided to go back to the beginning, and am most of the way through 'Master and Commander', the first in the series.

I thought that it would be quite fun to refight one of the actions from the book - indeed the first action described. This means that, whilst it is not Aubrey's first fight by any stretch of the imagination, it is his first in command of his own vessel.

So, it's 1800, and Captain Aubrey is in command of the 14-gun brig Sophie, operating out of Port Mahon in Minorca. He has been tasked with escorting a convoy and, whilst exercising the crew at their guns, it is noticed that Algerine galley has slipped in and taken one of the merchant vessels, the Norwegian Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir. Sophie speeds off to the rescue.

As a scenario this uses a few rules I'm not that familiar with - merchant vessels, chasers and oared vessels.

The Sophie is an unrated vessel, Hull/Broadside 5, Gun-class E (but with only a +2 at point-blank range, as she is armed with guns). Her crew are Experienced; it is obviousl from the book that they are competent, but not a finely-honed fighting machine. I gave her one crew party to make the scenario more interesting; in a larger game a vessel her size wouldn't rate one. In addition I gave her 1 Bow Chaser, but given that it's a single small gun I decided that it wouldn't inflict any ratings hits. However if its shot scored a 'hit' and it was also a critical, then the critical would count. She has two masts.

The galley was rated as Hull/Broadside 4, although the Broadside factor is virtual and for damage/striking purposes only. I gave it 3 Bow Chaser factors and 2 Stern; the book seems to suggest that it was well-armed with 24- and 18-pounders. I gave it a Gun-class of B, meaning that it could easily out-range the Sophie's 4-pounders. The galley rated 6 Oar Factors, and I made its crew Experienced as well with 3 Parties. The rules don't seem to cover switching between oars and sail, which I thought was odd, so I assumed that the vessel would declare in its Command and Repair phase. Under sail the galley uses a single lateen (fore-and-aft) sail.

The Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir is simply a merchant - 4 Hull, no broadside, or indeed any guns at all. She has a Poor crew with No Crew Parties. I decided that she couldn't set full-sail. Unlike the other two vessels she was Ship Class 1.

The setup. I used a 3' x 3' area, with the a light wind coming from the north. The Algerine could set up anywhere on the south edge. The Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir was placed heading east about a third of the way in from the west edge. The Sophie started off-table. In each British action phase after that in which the galley fired or declared a boarding attempt, roll a dice. On a '6' the Sophie appears at the centre of the north edge and moved normally from then onwards.

I left the striking conditions as in the rules; technically Algerines fight to the bitter end, but I just wanted to see how the scenario played out at a basic level. Victory is really about control of the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir; if the Algerines can sail her off the south edge then they win. If the British can sink or drive off the galley then they win. If the Algerines sink or capture the Sophie as well as the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir then they can be considered to have won a major victory.

And away we go!

Here's the hapless Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir

The Algerine rows into sight. That galley needs a bit of a repaint.

The galley attempts a long-range shot at the merchant. A lucky shot; it hits the Norwegian, who hauls down its colours and heaves to.

Unfortunately the long-range shot was a bad idea; before the galley can take possession of its prize, the Sophie comes into sight, alerted by the firing.

The Algerines lower boats to take possession of the merchant, whilst the galley prepares to engage the British vessel.

The galley fires, inflicting no damage. Corsairs board the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir.

The Sophie yaws, and fires a broadside down the length of the galley. A lucky roll sees the galley devastated - most of its guns dismounted and the bows wrecked.

Ignoring the galley for now the Sophie moves towards the captured Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir, and lowers boats in order to recapture it.

The crew of the Sophie board the Norwegian and in a brisk fight they retake it. Meanwhile the Sophie entertains the galley with another broadside

As the Sophies sail the merchant out of reach of the galley, the Sophie brings her broadside to bear again, and another devastating broadside sees the galley strike.

A decisive victory for Jack Aubrey! The Algerine firing so early was a mistake, as it brought the Sophie into the action before the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir could be captured. Ideally, and as in the book, the Sophie should appear and be left with the choice of recapturing the merchant or taking the galley.

A second run-through saw the Algerine not make the same mistake. It closed on the merchant, then lowered a boat with a boarding party whilst it rowed to windward to guard against interference from the Sophie. This would have been a good plan, as it left the galley in a good position - between the Sophie and the prize - had the crew of the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir not driven off the corsair boarding party. However a shot from the stern-chasers caused the merchant to strike, albeit at the cost of its foremast, fouled over the side. The galley sent a second crew party to board it and clear the fallen mast. At this point the Sophie arrived. It sailed swiftly past the galley, hitting it with a couple of shots, before heading for the Dorthe Englebrechtsdottir in order to recapture it before it cleared the fallen mast. However the prize-crew held on for shot after shot, cleared the mast and attempted to sail their sluggish, crippled prize to safety. The Sophie matched course, and fired a few more shots, but still the prize wouldn't strike. The galley had worked in behind the Sophie now, and was causing damage - at which point the light breeze died entirely, leaving the Sophie becalmed. It also left the prize in the same state, and another shot saw it strike, but the Sophie was now at the mercy of the galley - and it had none.

Aubrey made a gallant attempt to bring his ship back into the fight by towing with boats, but the galley was able to out-manuever him and keep up a constant, wearing fire. With no hope of relief, and no chance of escape, the Sophie struck.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, what a disaster, striking to those cutthroat dogs! Something tells me Dr. Maturin would not enjoy life as a galley slave. Plus, the Algerine can now eat the convoy at it's leisure. Major, major victory.

    I think Jack had the right of it; the galley needed to be driven off before the cat could be retaken.

    Cool scenario. Thanks.


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