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Tactica Aquatica
War at Sea Naval Tactics
by Jon Mayes

Fleet Building
There are three main fleet types we’ll look at today: the carrier fleet, the battleship fleet, and the swarm fleet. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses and particular strategies that we’ll examine. There are of course many variations on these types and even hybrids of some, such as a swarm of escort carriers. One of the best overall tips for building a fleet is to always make sure your surface ships are in groups of two; this way they can group together to defend against air attacks. A lone ship is a target and an opportunity most players won’t pass up.

The Carrier Fleet
A carrier fleet is a force based around one or more carriers, and with all other units in the fleet there to support them. Usually they are based around one of the fleet carriers such as the USS Enterprise or Akagi, but they could also be a group of escort or light carriers. How heavily you want to invest carriers is of course up to you, but I would recommend using a total basing capacity of four or five at the most – that way you can still afford some escort ships after you purchase your planes.

The next step in building a carrier fleet is selecting your aircraft. As I mentioned in Opening Salvo #4, a carrier should generally have bombers equal to its basing capacity and one extra fighter. However this guideline is primarily for fleet carriers. If using escort carriers then reduce the number of fighters to one per two carriers, or even less. Choosing bombers for your fleet depends heavily on the expert abilities of the carriers you are using. If you are basing a fleet around the HMS Ark Royal, with its Expert Torpedoes, then taking all SBD Dauntless dive bombers makes little sense. Instead the wiser course would be to take Swordfish Mk II or TBD Devastators. This way you have enough aircraft of the correct type that even if one or two are shot down some will still make it through to use the expert ability. It doesn’t mean you should never take an aircraft not supported by your carrier, just that it isn’t always as efficient. For example, in the case of the Allies I might want to add in an SBD Dauntless simply because it has better armor values than the TBD Devastator and will last longer.

After choosing the carriers and aircraft you can fill in the remaining points with escort ships. General purpose destroyers are excellent escorts, as they can handle submarines that the aircraft may have trouble with. You could also simply add in your own submarines which can then deal with enemy ones or enemy surface ships. Don’t forget though you need units to capture the objectives, something neither aircraft nor submarines can do. At this point you’re not likely to have many points left so destroyers are you main and best option, though it may be helpful if you can squeeze a light cruiser in for some added fire support. You don’t always want to be completely reliant on aircraft, since if your opponent gets good AA rolls you will be in trouble.

For my example fleet I’ve chosen the USS Enterprise as my carrier, and I’ve decided to pass on adding any other carriers since I want to build up a decent escort for it. Expert Bomber 2 is excellent for the SBD Dauntless, but the aircraft are also fairly expensive so I’ll only use two. My third bomber will be the cheaper TBD Devastator. Finally my fighter escort will be an F4F Wildcat. Looking at my aircraft selection I find the PBY Catalina’s Shadowing ability to be quite powerful with my units so I’ll add one in too. If worse comes to worse it can attack enemy ships as well. I’ve decided to go with two groups of ships. The first group will stay away from combat and will include the USS Enterprise escorted by a USS Fletcher; the Fletcher adds decent AA rating just in case my opponent is also using a carrier fleet, and is decent against submarines. The second group will attempt to claim at least one objective, so will consist of a cruiser, the HMS Exeter, and with only 7 points left her escort will be another USS Fletcher.

Enterprise Carrier Fleet
1x USS Enterprise
1x HMS Exeter
2x USS Fletcher
2x SBD Dauntless
1x TBD Devastator
1x F4F Wildcat
1x PBY Catalina

The Battleship Fleet
Building a battleship fleet is similar to building a carrier fleet; you select a ship and build a force around her for support. In a 100 point game it helps to choose a battleship worth over 50 points, that way your opponent will be forced to engage it to win. As long as you grab one objective your opponent can only score 100 points from them, and since the battleship is more than half your fleet he needs to take it out. Having a battleship with a flagship score can be useful as it gives you a chance to go second, letting you set up your powerful and long-ranged guns.

Once you’ve chosen your battleship you need to build your escorting force. Be mindful of what you chose; if you already have a powerful battleship adding a battlecruiser to the fleet might be unnecessary or even detrimental. If your opponent is using submarines or aircraft in large numbers you’ll have two very expensive and vulnerable units for him to pick off. For this reason it’s usually better to go with the lighter cruisers and destroyers. Submarines can be your battleship fleet’s worst enemy as they negate the ships advantage in amour. Even worse, you may find yourself without any ASW units to deal with them, which can potentially cause you to lose.

For my battleship fleet I decided upon the Bismarck to lead the fleet. The Luca Tarigo provides a somewhat sub par escort, but Lay Smoke Screen could be extremely useful to protect my ship. The Karl Galster also has Close Escort, allowing it to break the stacking limit, so I can add her into the Bismarck’s group for a little more AA support. My second grouping will consist of the Italian light cruiser Duca D’Aosta and a second Karl Galster, which could always replace a destroyer in the Bismarck’s group if one becomes damaged. With only 11 points left there’s little I can afford; mainly the Köln or a U 510. The Köln will be on its own and vulnerable unless I transfer a Karl Galster to protect it, but then I’m taking away from the Bismarck’s defense. The U 510 won’t be able to use its Wolfpack ability but still seems the better choice at this point.

Larger battleship fleets tend to have the cruisers in the vanguard with battleships and escorting destroyers behind them; this allows both the cruisers and battleships to engage units at the same time, while keeping your vulnerable escorts out of range. If your opponent’s battleships move up then the cruisers can move forward to engage while the battleships sit back at maximum range. The destroyers can then be used to neutralize any threats, or speed ahead to engage as well.

Bismarck Battleship Fleet
1x Bismarck
1x Duca D’Aosta
2x Karl Galster
1x Luca Tarigo
1x U 510

Swarm Fleets
Swarm fleets have the most variation but usually the majority of them are made up of a single unit type. For example it could be a fleet using as many PT Boats as possible, or one using a large wolfpack of German submarines. The objective of these fleets is to concentrate on one aspect of the game and overwhelm your opponent. While it can be done with aircraft as well, they have the drawback of being limited by the land airbase’s capacity; so it’s more likely to be a carrier based fleet simply using more aircraft instead of escorts.

The drawback of many of these swarm builds is that PT boats, submarines, and aircraft can’t take the objective so they have to have at least one surface ship in them. This is where they are vulnerable – if that ship is taken out before they can secure one or more objectives, the player can’t win. For a carrier fleet it may not be too much trouble to take the ship out, but a battleship fleet may have difficulty reaching it in time. Submarines though may help delay the surface ship long enough for the battleship to fight passed the swarm and destroy it.

Submarine wolfpacks run an additional risk since they can’t harm air units, but most air units have at least some capacity to harm them. Whatever surface ship is meant to take the objectives will be under constant aerial attack as well, so it’s a matter of whether the submarines can reach the carrier in time or not. However, with their slow speed time is against the submarines and only sheer numbers may help pin a carrier down. Of course even then it may not stop the aerial attacks, but can at least slow them down a little.

Perhaps the most effective swarm type is a destroyer swarm. They are reasonably good against all unit types, and many have useful special abilities they can use. The destroyer fleet might lay down smoke screens for additional protecting as they approach, or hunt down any subs causing problems, or even simply dodge shots from more powerful ships. Meanwhile they are constantly closing in until they reach torpedo range. Casualties will be high, but that’s to be expected. Variants on this swarm type might include some cruisers for a little extra punch.

My example PT boat fleet uses the HMS Ajax and HMS Javelin for the main surface ships, with all other points and unit limit taken up by as many PT Boats as I can; individually they might not be effective but en masse they can be threatening. The Javelin’s Lay Smoke Screen should be useful in protecting the group as they attempt to capture objectives.

PT Boat Fleet
1x HMS Ajax
1x HMS Javelin
13x PT Boat

Naval Tactics
Most of the tactics for your fleet will be developed as you build your fleet; plan to get the most out of its advantages and take care to cover its weaknesses. However there are still some basic strategies to cover.

Placing Aircraft
The location and timing of aircraft placement can be vital to winning combats. The Advanced Rulebook gives the tip “place your fighters last” which is useful to a degree. You don’t want to commit your fighters until you’ve seen where at least the majority of your opponent’s aircraft are going. However if you have less aircraft then your opponent then you may have to commit them first, so you have to decide where they will be most effective. Units with Combat Air Patrol at a carrier can be useful because you can then possibly redeploy them after you’ve seen where all the units are going. Of course it doesn’t help if you find you need them somewhere out of range of the CAP.

Aircraft are far more effective, and less likely to get shot down, when they attack in large groups. If you attack in small groups, or singly, then most will be aborted or even destroyed. If your opponent has fighters, you want at least one of your own fighters in each bomber group so it can protect them with its escort ability. Unescorted bombers are easy prey for enemy fighters, so it’s better to have a fighter escort them and not be used than have the bombers shredded by enemy aircraft. Finally, if you find your aircraft in a position where attacking enemy ships or aircraft would be suicide, then don’t do it. Either remember to send them back to your land airbase at the end of the previous turn, or simply place them around your own fleet for added protection.

Terrain in War at Sea doesn’t nearly have as much influence as it does in Axis & Allies Miniatures, but it can still have an impact. Carriers usually benefit the most from terrain, as they can simply hide behind islands from most surface ships or submarines. As the enemy approaches they simply move around to one side or the other and attempt to slip away. PT Boats can also make great use of terrain, hoping from one island to another and remaining out of sight until they’re ready to engage their target. When playing against powerful battleships, islands become extremely useful in negating the extended range of those powerful vessels, allowing you to either close in to ranges you can hurt them at, or causing the battleships to back off or go around.

Shoals are another story and favor the units with longer ranges. They can often restrict or even channel movements which you can then take advantage of. Remember that unlike Axis & Allies Miniatures, units in War at Sea do not ignore the stacking limit as they move, so careful planning may cause a sudden traffic jam at sea.

Next Article
After everyone’s had a chance to play with their new ships we’ll take a look at some more Naval Tactics before going back to our regular Tactics 101 series. Until then discuss this article on our message boards and good luck on opening what you want!

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