|Opening Salvo: War at Sea|
|Part 3 - Airplanes|
A6M2 “ZEKE” – BACKGROUND
The A6M2 “Zeke,” or Zero, was a carrier-based fighter used extensively by Japanese forces in the Pacific. Compared to other fighters in 1941, the A6M2 was an excellent aircraft. Not only did it have exceptional maneuverability, but it was also fast, had reasonable firepower, and a longer range than most aircraft. The Zero was designed as an attack plane, and so emphasized maneuverability and firepower over protection, evinced by its lack of self-sealing fuel tanks and armour plate to protect the pilot. While at first this was a negligible drawback, as the war dragged on it was discovered that the manoeuvrability was not enough. As the Allied developed new tactics and aircraft to negate this advantage, the Zero became obsolete. However, Japan was still forced to use them, and in 1944 began using Zeros in kamikaze attacks.
The attack on Pearl Harbor involved the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku, and their numerous aircraft. Zeros from these carriers would often fly Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions over locations to maintain air superiority. American P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks fighters would shoot down some Japanese aircraft, but overall provided an insignificant defence.
Battle of Coral Sea
The Battle of Coral Sea would become famous as the first naval battle where neither fleet had direct line of sight to each other but instead, aircraft dominated the action. The USS Yorktown and USS Lexington were the primary combatants of the US and Australian force, while the Japanese force was based around the Shōkaku and Zuikaku. Fighters such as the Zeros would fly CAP missions around their task groups to fend off enemy bombers, while others would fly escort for their bombers while they attacked enemy groups. During the course of the battle, the Lexington would be lost and the Yorktown would suffer some damage. In return, the Japanese lost the Shōhō, a light carrier, and a large number of aircraft. Additionally the Shōkaku would suffer damage significant enough to put her out of action for the upcoming Battle of Midway.
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway, a month after the Battle of Coral Sea, is regarded as one of the most significant battles in the Pacific. Japanese forces, intent on capturing the base at Midway and thereby securing their hold on the Pacific. During this battle the American F4F Wildcats would unveil the Thach Weave – a new tactic designed to counter the manoeuvrability of the Zeros. It would work to devastating effect, and demonstrate the decline of the Zero as a superior fighter.
A6M2 “ZEKE” – WAR AT SEA
The A6M2 Zeke provides the Axis with a cheap and decent fighter equally adept at defending friendly ships or shooting down enemy aircraft. The Zero’s vital defense of eight means enemy ships and fighters alike will have a hard time shooting them down. Even aborting it’s attack by hitting it’s armour of six will prove difficult and have little effect – only stopping it from using it’s main cannons which, with a mere two dice, aren’t particularly effective anyway. The majority of games will find the A6M2 “Zeke” far outliving any other aircraft on its side, and hopefully the enemy’s as well.
The first ability of the plane, Combat Air Patrol, is extremely useful defensively, and historically one of the most important uses of the aircraft. One of the toughest decisions in the game is where to place your aircraft to get the most use out of them. CAP gives you a limited ability to redeploy your fighters to a close sector where they are needed. Due to this, it’s sometimes best to keep your carriers somewhat close to your main fleet; though you should never have them close enough that your opponent can attack them!
Escort is another great ability of this aircraft and matches its historical usage. Unless your opponent has no aircraft, it is generally best to have one A6M2 escorting three bombers in a sector; this gives them the benefit of Escort while maximizing the number of bombers there. Even without enemy aircraft about, the Zeke can still be useful. Its two gunnery dice may not seem like much, but at least have a chance of damaging destroyers or crippled cruisers. There is always the chance that it could roll one or two sixes, and its high armor means it is unlikely to be destroyed by those ships. Of course, the USS Atlanta is an exception to this.
The last ability, Surprise, reflects the initial manoeuvrability of the aircraft allowing them to catch enemy planes off guard. Once the attack has begun in earnest however, the element of surprise is lost. With this ability it’s best to make as much use of it as you can; whether it’s shooting at enemy aircraft or taking a chance strafing destroyers.
When placing aircraft you have to consider not only the location, but also the timing. As the Advanced Rules advise, it usually is best to place your fighters last. This gives you a chance to respond to any build-ups of enemy bombers. However if you have fewer aircraft than your opponent does, you may have to place your fighters before you would like to. In this case Combat Air Patrol becomes invaluable. However lacking that, you simply have to cover up the weak points or aggressively attack units your opponent has already placed.
Even if you’re not using a carrier force, the Zero can often be a useful inclusion to your land airbase to give a little extra anti-aircraft support. However being based on land means they will be significantly less effective; if you plan on using more than one it might be worthwhile to invest in an escort carrier.
F4F WILDCAT – BACKGROUND
The F4F Wildcat was the main United States carrier-based aircraft from 1941 until mid-1942 when it began to be replaced by newer aircraft, such as the F4U Corsair. It was one of the first aircraft to replace biplanes on US carriers, and was active until the end of the Pacific War. Its Japanese counterpart, the Zero, was far faster and more maneuverable but the Wildcat had much better protection – able to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment compared to the Zero. The British also used a version of the Wildcat, designating it the Martlet.
There were several reasons pilots didn’t particularly like the F4F Wildcat: It had poor maneuverability, it was difficult to fly, and the visibility wasn’t optimal. However unlike the Zero, the Wildcat was well protected and included self-sealing fuel tanks. Since the Zeros could readily outmaneuver them, many Wildcat pilots would simply attempt to fly through the enemy fighters to attack the bombers behind them.
Battle of Wake Island
Striking on the same day as Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces began the Battle of Wake Island. The outnumbered F4F Wildcats of Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMF-211) defended the island against the Japanese forces, even managing to sink a destroyer. However, despite their bravery the squadron was eventually overwhelmed and all aircraft lost.
Despite the Wildcats drawbacks, several pilots managed to achieve impressive kills in them, including Edward “Buck” O’Hare. While he doesn’t have the most impressive score of the various aces, Buck O’Hare is known for his actions on February 1942 when the Japanese spotted the USS Lexington and sent a squadron ‘Betty’ bombers to attack it. The bombers were destroyed, but another squadron of bombers was reported incoming and only O’Hare would be able to reach them in time. He single-handedly destroyed five of the bombers, likely saving the Lexington from destruction. O’Hare’s luck ran out in 1943 when during a night engagement his fighter went down. His actions earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Battle of Midway
Up until this battle, the Japanese had enjoyed an edge over Allied fighters. However, various tactics such as the “Thach Weave” were developed, and were finally put to the test. The thach weave was used to make the Japanese Zero concentrate on one US fighter, allowing a second to line up and destroy the Zero. It proved to me immensely successful, and began the downfall of the Zero. During the battle, Wildcats from the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet (Task Force 16) escorted Dauntless dive-bombers and Devastator torpedo bombers.
Hellcats and Corsairs
While the Wildcats played an important role in the air defense of Guadalcanal, they would eventually be replaced with F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs; aircraft better suited to fighting the Zero. With the newer aircraft available, production of the Wildcat was ceased in 1943, though they would continue fighting for the duration of the war.
F4F WILDCAT – WAR AT SEA
The Wildcat may seem nearly identical to the Zero, but it switches Surprise for Defend the Flattop and its slightly increased stats, including price, allow for a wider variety of options. A gunnery value of three makes it much more likely the Wildcat will damage destroyers, and even gives it a much more significant chance than the Zero against cruisers, though it’s still largely a matter of luck. The incredibly high vital armour for an aircraft means the Wildcat will be nearly immune to most attacks, although since attack rolls of six count as two successes there’s usually a chance of a lucky shot.
Like the Zero, the Wildcat fulfills its historical roles of escorting bombers and performing CAP missions. However, the Defend the Flattop ability gives the Wildcat an interesting twist. Combined with the Expert Dogfighter ability found on most carriers, the Wildcat can potentially have up to nine antiair dice when defending a carrier – enough to give it a decent chance against a Zero. If using more than one carrier, you can potentially add the CAP ability into the mix; allowing your Wildcat to unexpectedly move from one carrier to another with a powerful antiair attack.
When choosing aircraft for your force, it can often be difficult to decide between the Wildcat and the cheaper Sea Hurricane. While the Wildcat is superior in all regards, sometimes it is simply excessive.Next Week
We have already seen one of the big Allied carriers, so next week we’ll show you one of her Axis counterparts. In the meantime, you can read last weeks article about the USS Atlanta and Tone, or go talk about this article on our message boards.