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Opening Salvo: War at Sea
Part 2 - USS Atlanta and the Tone

Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea hits the waves on March 16th, 2007 but you can get the latest info on the minis now. On March 5th, we will make the Advanced Rulebook available so that players can get a complete look at the rules behind the game. Last week we previewed the images for four ships from the set. This week we take an in-depth look at the USS Atlanta and the Japanese cruiser Tone.


Commissioned on December 24th 1941, the USS Atlanta was the first in a new line of Light Cruisers for the US Navy, designed to be flotilla leaders. However, these cruisers were discovered to have very effective anti-aircraft units. The Atlanta had a brief shakedown period before it was assigned to Task Force 16. During its tour of duty, the USS Atlanta participated in the Battle of Midway and the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal before being scuttled.

Task Force 16
Task Force 16, based on the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, was famous for participating in most of the major battles in the Pacific, including the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. The Task Force was supported by the heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City and USS Northampton, along with a host of destroyers and auxiliaries.

Battle of Midway
The Atlanta’s primary role during this battle was to screen the carrier group. The carriers, which escaped undamaged, were in turn were able to send their aircraft to inflict enough damage to sink three of the four Japanese carriers Akagi, Hiryū, and Sōryū. Aircraft based on the USS Yorktown sank the fourth carrier, Kaga.

Battle of Guadalcanal
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, the Atlanta screened the USS Enterprise whose lanes supported the ground force landings. The Atlanta fought of numerous Aichi D3A dive-bombers (“Vals”), destroying several in the process.

The Atlanta transferred to Task Force 61 to convoy supplies, then to Task Force 17 with the battleship USS Washington. She was then assigned to Task Force 64 as Rear Admiral Normal Scott’s flagship of Task Group 64.2. The Task Group would include the cruiser USS San Francisco, the light cruiser Helena, and a handful of destroyers.

First Naval Battle of Guadacanal
Atlanta’s battle began with a large wave of Japanese G4M bombers (“Betties”). The bombers were driven off with minimal damage to the ships. The Task Group then engaged a Japanese force consisting of two battleships, a cruiser, and numerous destroyers. However as night fell the weather conditions caused it to become nearly pitch black. This combined with the terrible communications discipline on the part of the Americans, led the fleets to become engaged what became known as the “Barroom Brawl”.

A group of Japanese destroyers managed to cripple the Atlanta’s engines, but the worst was yet to come. Shells from the USS San Francisco then tore into the Atlanta; having mistook her for an enemy vessel in the poor conditions. Rear Admiral Scott was killed by the shells, and after the battle the ship was scuttled.


Compared to other cruisers of a similar point cost the USS Atlanta is under gunned. It is no match for large ships, such as the Tone. While unlike other US cruisers the Atlanta does have a limited torpedo capability, this attack is more of a last resort; more powerful ships are likely to destroy the Atlanta before it can fire them, and destroyers often will be able to fire a larger salvo in return – hardly a useful exchange.

With an air defense of eight and Antiair Specialist, the Atlanta makes an extremely effective escort for your carriers. In fact, if you want to use a historical unit that is effective in game, have the Atlanta escort the USS Enterprise. It provides such a powerful anti-air defence in that sector, you may not even need fighters to defend the carrier, but can use them to escort your bombers. Since neither the Atlanta nor any carrier benefit from being caught out in the open, it’s best to keep them hidden behind cover. If any of your opponent’s lighter ships do manage to make it to that sector, the Atlanta should have enough firepower to deal with them.

Battleships gain from the Atlanta’s anti-air proficiency, as planes are usually more of a threat to them than other ships. The best tactic is to maintain a distance from enemy by using the battleships’ extended range. This allows you to keep the Atlanta safe, while still allowing the battleship to fire.

While it is a drawback if your opponent’s force doesn’t include aircraft, the Atlanta can still be used to support your forces. Its firepower is enough to engage destroyers, and it can always close in to use its torpedoes. While the Atlanta may find the occasional battle where its expertise isn’t required, in most cases it will be a useful asset for your force. Fortunately, for the USS Atlanta, there are currently no ‘Friendly Fire’ rules for it to watch out for.


Like the USS Atlanta, the Tone was the first ship of her class. Finished in 1938 her sister ship, the Chikuma, would be the only vessels of their type and often fielded together. The Tone-Class Heavy Cruisers were a little unusual, having all of their guns located forward and none after, giving them poor firing arcs. This was to make room for additional aircraft, and consequently the Tone spent much of the war escorting carriers. While the Tone would be involved in a number of combat actions, she was rarely in the thick of combat. Her tour of duty would include numerous battles, including but not limited to: Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Port Darwin, Battle of Java Sea, Indian Ocean Raids, Battle of Midway, Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, until the final annihilation of the Japanese Imperial Fleet in 1945.

Pearl Harbor and Wake Island
While the Tone didn’t take too active of a roll in the attack on Pearl Harbor, her aircraft did. It was the aircraft of both Tone-Class cruisers that were used as scouts for the Japanese attack force, while the cruisers protected the carrier group. Returning from Pearl Harbor the Tone then used her aircraft to support the invasion. Later in Rabaul she would perform a similar support role.

Port Darwin
Once again the Tone and Chikuma would accompany a fleet of carriers that included the Sōryū, Kaga, Akagi, and Hiryū. This time the Tone would support the strike on the Australian naval base of Port Darwin. As with Pearl Harbor, the defenders would be caught completely off guard. Aichi D3A “Val” dive-bombers and Nakakima B5N “Kate” torpedo-bombers escorted by A6M Zeroes would inflict serious damage; sinking ten ships and destroying the two dozen aircraft located there. After this battle, the Port would no longer be used as an Allied naval base, preventing it from being able to support operations in the Dutch East Indies.

Battle of the Java Sea
The Battle of the Java Sea would see another major Japanese victory in the Pacific and the destruction of the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) fleet. Demoralized and poorly coordinated, the ABDA fleet would prove no match; losing all of its cruisers and most of its destroyers. As the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies progressed the ABDA Fleet set out intent on stopping the invasion force from reaching Java. The HMS Exeter would be the only cruiser to escape the main battle, though she would be intercepted by Japanese cruisers and sunk before making it to safety.

During the battle the Tone and Chikuma intercepted enemy ships, including the Dutch freighter Modjokerto, sinking them. The Tone would finally be engaged in direct combat, sinking the USS Edsall.

Indian Ocean Raids
After the ABDA forces were removed as a threat, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to eliminate the United Kingdom’s presence in the Pacific. With this done, the South-East Asia campaign could then be supported unmolested by British naval power. The attack began with raids on shipping, destroying over two dozen transports.

Again the Tone would be an escort for the carrier group, using her planes to spot the British fleet. While the Japanese would attain a victory, it would not break the British Naval Power. The more modern carriers HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable would escape, leaving only the elderly HMS Hermes to be destroyed along with her destroyer escort. Aircraft from the Tone would spot the heavy cruisers HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, which aircraft from the Japanese carrier group would then sink.

Battle of Midway
During the Battle of Midway the Tone would escort the carriers Akagi, Hiryū, Kaga, and Sōryū. While the Tone’s scout planes spot an American fleet, they fail to recognize it as a carrier group, which would prove to be a fatal mistake. American dive-bombers would attack the Japanese carrier group, sinking the Akagi, Hiryū, and Sōryū, and later the Kaga. While the Tone would come under attack, she would sustain no damage other than losing her E13A1 “Jake” recon plane.

Battle of the Philippine Sea
After Midway the Tone would take part in several operations until being stationed in the Philippines; joining a squadron of heavy cruisers to raid Allied shipping in 1944. The Japanese then decided to go on the offensive once more, starting the Battle of the Philippine Sea and ending in disaster. Acting once more as an escort the carriers the Tone would escape relatively unscathed, but the carriers, and especially their aircraft, would be decimated.

Battle of Leyte Gulf
This was actually a series of battles around the Leyte Gulf, including the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Straight, and Battle off Samar, Battle of Cape Engano, and the Battle of Ormoc Bay. With few planes of their own left, the Japanese would use their carriers as bait, hoping it would allow their cruisers and battleships to close in. The end results were a decisive Allied victory, due in large part to their complete air superiority. Many Japanese carriers, battleships, and cruisers would be lost, including Tone’s sister ship the Chikuma. The Tone is hit by aircraft during the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, but otherwise escaped the rest of the campaign unscathed.

Hiroshima Bay
July 24th 1945, the Japanese fleet is in such a poor state it can’t even leave harbor to defend itself. A tremendous amount of US Aircraft attack and completely destroy the remnants of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a final act of reprisal for Pearl Harbor.


One of the key abilities of the Tone its powerful Scout Cruiser ability is to enhance your aircraft from a safe distance. One of the main advantages of this is that while this ability works very much like a scout aircraft, its not a unit so cannot be prevented by being shot down, nor does it count against the stacking limits. Since conceptually the ability is representing scout aircraft, it doesn’t require the Tone to have line of sight to the target; allowing it to stay safely behind while enhancing friendly units.

Between its decent antiaircraft rating and Scout Cruiser ability, the Tone makes for an excellent and powerful, albeit expensive, carrier escort. While her gunnery attacks, as printed, are less than that of the other Japanese heavy cruiser, the Scout Cruiser ability can be used to make them equal if necessary.

The Imperial Japanese Navy has much longer ranged torpedoes than the other nations, and the Tone is no exception. Though the Tone has a lower torpedo attack than is standard for the Japanese Navy, the Long-Lance Torpedoes can inflict serious damage if they hit.

While it does seem preferable to keep the Tone in a carrier based force, it can be just as useful in a more traditional non-carrier build. In this case simply use Scout Cruiser to increase the odds of damaging your primary target each turn; usually a battleship if there is one.

Tactics based on the Tone usually involve keeping the Tone at a distance from enemy units, which must be why it escaped so many battles. However keep in mind that the Tone is a powerful and expensive cruiser; don’t be afraid to engage the enemy with her. While you want to get the most out of the Tone’s abilities, having twenty-four points hide in the corner may not always be the best use of her.

Feel free to discuss these new ships on our message boards and stay tuned for another Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures: War at Sea preview next week.

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