Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Sir Henry Does it Again! Possum and Carcajou


Sir Henry Fearless, RN

Following the disastrous engagement in which he lost his ship without firing a shot, it seemed likely that Sir Henry Fearless would spend the rest of his career drilling Fencibles in one of the soggier corners of Lincolnshire.  However, two things stood in his favour: first, his cousin, Lord Sandicote, controlled four rotten boroughs and, secondly, Lady Sandicote was sleeping with the First Lord of the Admiralty.  Consequently, when Sir Henry's court martial convened, he was not only exonorated before lunch but also received a commendation for his action.

Nevertheless, both the Navy and his family agreed that the best place for Sir Henry was "As far away as possible!"  He was accordingly given command of the aged HMS Possum (74) with orders to sail to New South Wales and remind the Lobsters running the Colony that they were dependent on the Navy's good will.

However, it's a long way from Portsmouth to Australia, and even Sir Henry can't avoid every encounter...

It's that time of year again!  With International Naval Wargaming day on Saturday, my mind has turned to playing some solo games.  Ideally, I want to sit down for an afternoon and do a fleet action, but first I need to familiarise myself with my ruleset of choice, Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls after a break of over two years, so am going to start with some simpler actions.

Set-Up

Using a 30x47inch table, wind direction, the position of both ships and their headings were determined randomly.

It resulted in a very interesting situation, which promised a short, sharp and bloody encounter!



As dawn broke and the early morning mist lifted, Lt Hapless, the officer of the watch, had a nasty shock.  A French 74 had positioned itself into close range and was in position to rake Possum!  If the lookout survived the day, Hapless would have the skin off his back!

Immediately, he gave the order to beat to quarters and sent a marine to summon a bleary-eyed Capt Fearless.

I notice that in between the initial set-up and taking the second photo, I inadvertently reversed the direction of the wind.  It stayed in that direction for the rest of the engagement.

Round One

  • British Fire
  • French Sailing
  • British Repair
  • French Repair
  • French Fire
  • British Sailing
Fearless was unable to bring any guns to bear on the Frenchman - he could clearly make out the ship's name as Carcajou.  Fortunately, the enemy seemed to have been taken by surprise by the fog's lifting and missed the chance to rake Possum.  Nevertheless, at this range, the belated broadside was devastating.  In addition to hull and steerage damage, a fire immediately resulted in a major explosion, causing an inferno that incapacited most of the starboard gun crews.


I could have brought Carcajou to a full stop during the French sailing phase, which would have allowed for a raking shot, but there was no guarantee that the French would be able to fire before the British sailing phase, and I didn't want to loose manoeuverability.  

The French broadside scored major damage - six out of seven die scored hits.  Damage cards included the red joker (an explosion), which meant that a further five cards were drawn.  These included the black joker (an inferno).  In total, three crew stars were wiped out (from a total of seven), the hull was damaged and five of the seven gun positions on the starboard side were lost.  Significantly, the steerage gear was also damaged, restricting Possum's manoeuverability.

Damage was allocated randomly between port and starboard guns - as would have been the case with a raking shot - with five points to starboard and one to port.  Looking at the above photo now, I wonder if it shouldn't have been allocated to the port guns, which would have made a significant difference to the rest of the encounter.

Ruling out an attempt to circle so he could engage to port, Fearless brought the ship around to bring what was left of the starboard guns to bear.



It wasn't until the next round that I realised that until repairs were made to the steerage gear, Possum shouldn't have been able to turn at all.  But this is why I need a refresher!

Round Two
  • French Repair
  • French Fire
  • British Repair
  • British Fire
  • French Sailing
  • British Sailing
After such a devastating opening broadside, Fearless' only chance was to conduct some swift repairs and get into position to open fire before the French followed-up.  He according sent Lt Hapless to muster repair crews.  Before they could start work, Carcajou unleased another volley of fire, and Hapless looked around hopelessly as his repair crew were mown down by grape-shot.  With the few remaining men, his attempts at fire-fighting were futile.

The French scored another six hits out of seven, wiping out another crew star, two more guns and further damaging the steering gear.  With only one crew star left, Hapless could only muster a single repair crew.

After his pervious experince, Fearless was determined that it shouldn't be said that he'd given up without a fight, and urged the depleted starboard batteries to open fire.  If all else failed, he would ram the Frenchman!

With the damage to starboard guns, Possum only had the roll of a single d6 - and got a Natural One!

Round Three
  • British Repair
  • British Sailing
  • French Repair
  • French Sailing
  • British Fire
  • French Fire


Realising that the French were attempting to position themselves for a raking attack and desparate for manoeuverability, Fearless ordered Hapless to ignore the fires and attempt to repair the steerage gear.  Even with the assistance of Mr Bates, the Sailing Master, Hapless's crew we unable to make any progress.

Unable to achieve the raking position, Carcajou closed range and trusted in the superior weight of shot that it could bring to bear.


This was a gamble, as even Possum's gunners couldn't miss at this range.  A hit caused hull damage, but more significant was the fire from the section of Marines in the guntops, targeted on the Gunner's crew.

The decrease in range wasn't significant - but Possum finally scored a hit with its one dice.  It was at this stage that I reaslised that as we'd been in Close Range for the whole engagement, the Marines could have been doing their thing from the begining.  Another lesson learnt! 

But weight of shot counts in the end, and Carcajou was able to fire a full broadside, causing more hull damage and bringing down a mast.

Carcajou is rolling seven dice as compared to Possum's one.  In this firing phase it scored four hits.


Round Four
  • French Sailing
  • British Sailing
  • French Fire
Another broadside from the French caused massive damage.  Fearless looked around him: - there were massive crew losses, one mast was down, half the guns were out of action (with none at all able to bear on the Frenchman).  He had no choice but to strike his colours.

The Lincolnshire Fencibles were out of the question now.  He'd be cashiered and have to retire to Norfolk and politics.

Even without his guns knocked out, Fearless had to strike - his final crew star had been wiped out, Possum was lost.

Historical Note

Midshipman Poop-Decker and friend

Possum vs Carcajou is a minor engagement, and would be (gratefully) forgotten by most naval historians were it not for the fact that serving on HMS Possum was a midshipman (soon to be appointed Acting Lieutenant) in his first action.  This was Albert Poop-Decker, later to be famous (as Rear Adm Sir Albert Poop-Decker) as one of the first (and, to date, the oldest) recipients of the Victoria Cross for his actions before the guns of Sevastopol.

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