Meanwhile Hood has 9 primaries intact and only 22% of her hull gone. The German’s only prayer is to disengage, and I have the +1 initiative DRM. We conduct our rolls in Impulse 22, and…the enemy slips into a wall of rain and vanishes. Hood’s skipper hurls his hat to the floor of the bridge in frustration…
German luck strikes again as well. The Gneisenau escapes!
The DD’s are getting very low on fuel, so my “after action” replot takes a stab southward, hoping to cross the German’s path once again. If I miss, this group will be out of action for a couple of days, sailing slowly (to conserve fuel) around the bottom of Ireland and into Bristol. With the U-Boats clustered north-northwest of the Emerald Isle, I can’t send Hood that way without DD’s, and I’m tired of losing escorts to U-Boats. So Hood’s group will have to take the slow, safe route. However, Strasbourg’s group is nearly in range, and Repulse/Furious not too far off – oh, for good carrier ops weather! If it lightens to Rain next turn, I’ll take a chance…
Instead, it stays Squall, making flying carrier planes risky. Unfortunately it still allows U-Boats to operate, and the survivors of HX.9 will always remember this as a horrifying gauntlet to run. No less than four U-Boats contact the convoy for regular (non-straggler) attacks. Two may only attack the DE’s and choose not to; must be running low on torpedoes, as by the new sub rules they can only get 1 VP apiece for the V/W’s (whereas a fully-laden large transport is 6 VP.) The other two, again per new rules, launch torpedo spreads, and between them they sink 3 merchants and tally 1 hull, 1 AA on the other.
The subs are outperforming the Gneisenau. With the Daily Content sub rules in play, the scenario is nicely showing off the greater efficiency of unrestricted sub warfare versus surface ship raiding.
The weather lightens to rain in Turn 28, but night falls so that still negates aircraft. On the off-chance that Furious and Repulse stumble into Gneisenau, I move the “ready” Sea Gladiators and Swordfish back to the hangar.
The relentless German submarine attacks against HX.9 have completely ruined the formation, as is seen when three more transports are lost to straggler hunting over the last 8 hours of night (Turns 29-30.) That’s 11 merchantmen out of the 30 in the convoy, an appalling loss rate (and I suspect we’re not quite done yet.)
Meanwhile, over the past few turns (and extending into the coming day) various TF’s, mostly the watch cruisers and some destroyers, have been entering ports for rest and refueling. With Gneisenau near-impotent (though it would still be nice to finish her off) and Scharnhorst probably trying to sneak home, I can concentrate on intercepting Bremen. To that end I will form several larger TF’s, each with at least 5 destroyers (for aid in warding off subs) and each hopefully with at least one primary-armed ship (in case Scharnhorst should show up) to patrol between Norway and the Shetlands. Once HX.9 is safe at home, I can also shift aircraft to the Shetlands to aid in searching and attacking Bremen or any decoy coming down from the north.
The second dummy task force is being just as effective as a diversion. With some luck.