the diversion may help Scharnhorst sneak back home to Germany.
Weather improved all the way to cloudy overnight, but with dawn comes rain again. Nonetheless I chance sending Furious’ fighters out on search patterns (no need for CAP out here – no German aircraft can come within hundreds of miles of this spot) and hold her Swordfish ready in case of contact (having “readied” aircraft in Turn 30 so they’d be available at first light.)
And lo and behold, some eagle-eyed hero in a Sea Gladiator spots Gneisenau! I fear that the respective plots for the German and for Furious’ TF might open the range, but when the fleets move, Gneisenau actually edges closer; she is but two zones away now. I launch the carrier’s full complement of torpedo bombers (three steps.)
Before I find out if they contact, though, we have an interlude for sub warfare. HX.9 loses a twelfth merchant to U-Boats, again on a straggler roll, before reaching the environs of Belfast (though the convoy’s destination is, of course, Liverpool.) Meanwhile the new TF coming down from the north pulls within range of my northernmost sub flotilla, but neither sub is able to make contact.
But the Stringbags do! The rain provides a negative modifier (-2) to the contact roll, but this is canceled by the fact that the sighting was made in the current turn (+1) and that Gneisenau is only two zones away from Furious (+1.) I sweat out the roll, as a 1 or 2 will still result in failure, but it comes up 4.
Hood’s pummeling of “Gluckstein” wiped out her entire complement of AA weaponry, save perhaps for sailors with carbines and pistols, and so all three steps are able to attack. The five total attack dice yield three hits, which between them take out 8 hull boxes; Gneisenau only has 7 intact hull factors. She’s done for! The jubilant Swordfish jockeys return home to Furious, where they (and the Sea Gladiator search planes ) land without incident. The mission is a complete success!
WOW!!!! Who would have thought! Down goes the Gneisenau despite an otherwise good run of commerce raiding.
And now Furious and Repulse, with plenty of fuel, can steam in a wide arc well above the British Isles (to avoid the U-Boat concentration north of Ireland) and join the pursuit of Bremen. The French TF’s that had also been hunting Gneisenau (and which had narrowly missed catching her before the Stringbags did) will do the same, after combining into a common TF of BC Strasbourg and 7 DD’s. They’ll have to lay into port in Scotland, though – the destroyers are running low on fuel.
Nothing much happens the rest of the day. Air searches turn up no subs or off-map ships, the possible Bremen task force continues doggedly sailing south, somehow passing my northern sub flotilla completely without even generating any more contact rolls. It’s almost as if he knew where they are – which there is no way he could have. But by the time the mystery TF gets to the narrower waters between Norway and the Shetlands, my other two submarine groups, and at least two TF’s, should be in place to have a decent chance at interception.
In turn 36, HX.9 finally – gratefully – reaches Liverpool, with but 18 freighters out of