Old Gamers Never Die: The Battle of the Svalbard Islands, 5 March 1984
Today I woke up on the Florida room couch at 3:37 AM after falling asleep watching A Nation of Drunkards, the third part of Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I briefly considered going to bed, but instead I ended up reading a chapter from Ian W. Toll’s Twilight of the Gods: The War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945. After that, I wrote a post for my blog, then wasted time on Facebook until it was time for breakfast (or what passes for breakfast here on weekday mornings, anyway).
I flirted with the notion of taking a nap; I usually don’t feel creative when I’m tired, so I thought if I could lie down on one of the two couches here I could catch at least a couple of hours’ worth of sleep. However, I’ve never been able to sleep in the daytime – I’ve only done it a handful of times, and then only because I’m drained from exhaustion. (The most memorable occasion: August 1992, when I slept for 18 straight hours, starting on the night after Hurricane Andrew made its destructive passage across South Florida.) Otherwise, as long as it’s daytime and the room that I am in has even a scintilla of daylight coming in from behind curtains or a set of venetian blinds, I can’t sleep.
So I did what I usually do when I know that writing will not come easily or can’t watch TV for any of a thousand good reasons: I played a session of Cold Waters.
Cold Waters – if you are new to A Certain Point of View, Too and have never read any of my posts – is a 2017 computer game by Australia’s Killerfish Games studio. It is a nuclear fast attack sub sim inspired (according to the designers) on MicroProse Software’s 1988 classic game Red Storm Rising. Though it is not an update of that game – which itself is based on elements from the late Tom Clancy’s eponymous 1986 novel – Cold Waters takes the “Cold War turns hot” idea and runs with it by creating three alternative history scenarios:
- 1968: During the waning days of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency, tensions between East and West – already strained over the Vietnam War – rise in August of 1968 when the Soviet Union, already mobilized for the real-life invasion of its “ally” Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact, invades West Germany
- 1984: In a year marked by a Presidential election and more East-West friction caused by Ronald Reagan’s anti-Communist rhetoric and the Soviets’ cold-blooded shootdown of Korean Airlines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island in September 1983, war erupts between the two superpowers
- 2000: Another Presidential election year – note that Cold Waters’ three campaigns take place in years of Presidential transitions – in a world where the Soviet Union still exists but is reduced to being a near vassal of the People’s Republic of China. In this alternate version of 2000, the Hong Kong handover of 1997 never took place, and an aggressive Beijing is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea, assisted by elements of the Soviet Navy
I didn’t play any of the game’s “canned” Single Battles or Campaigns. I am too tired to be sharp enough to beat, much less survive, one of those professionally-made games. Instead, I played a Quick Mission that allows me to create, more or less, my own sandbox game session.
Today, for instance, I created a mission that takes place somewhere above the Arctic Circle – or close to it – near Norway’s Svalbard Islands. In the scenario I invented, I pit my Los Angeles-class fast attack boat USS Dallas (SSN-700) – yes, the boat from The Hunt for Red October – against a Soviet amphibious group escorted by the tactical aviation cruiser Kiev, the 1950s-era all-gun light cruiser Sverdlov, two modern destroyers, and several landing ships of the Ropucha class. To make things a bit more interesting, I added a Ka-27 Helix ASW helicopter; it adds an aerial threat to the mix.
I chose the date and location of the battle, but I let the game randomize the time of day, weather, sea state, and other environmental variables. I ended up having to fight in the wee (and still dark) hours of the morning, with rough seas and rainy conditions.
I’m too tired to write a complete, fully detailed account of the resulting Battle of the Svalbard Islands. Suffice it to say, though, that since I knew there was a Helix flying (or trying to) in that miserable weather, my best bet was to attack the convoy with torpedoes only at first.
I patiently stalked the enemy task force until the sonar crew had identified at least some of the enemy vessels. To my surprise, the ‘phibs were the first targets that I had good firing solutions for, so I let fly with four Mk.48 torpedoes – one at the Sverdlov, three at the Ropuchas. The three fish fired at the landing ships hit home, but the faster Sverdlov – alerted to my presence by the sudden death of a Ropucha – changed course and sped away from my torpedo at 32 knots.
The Kiev tried to get within weapons-firing range of Dallas, but the sea state was too rough and the Russian sonar was affected by the noise of the stormy seas, so she never got a whiff of my location. The helo, for its part, struggled to remain airborne in the inclement weather, and its dipping sonar never heard Dallas, not even when I accidentally “sprinted” at 15 knots at 150 feet and caused a brief burst of cavitation.
I ambushed Kiev with a Mk.48 torpedo and tried to slow the tactical aviation cruiser (sort of like a baby aircraft carrier) with UGM-84 Harpoon missiles to make sure the torpedo had a good chance of hitting. Unfortunately, luck was with the Soviets – at least in that regard – and all eight missiles were shot down or deflected by the ship’s use of “chaff.” However, my torpedo eventually acquired Kiev and opened a nasty gash close to her engine room.
Sverdlov kept on running away from the torpedo kill zone. The two Sovremenny-class destroyers stuck around, though, so I decided to hunt them down before finishing off the injured Kiev.
One Sovremenny died without getting off a shot of her own, but the other “tin can” had enough time to launch a homing torpedo at me even as my Mk.48 ADCAP torpedo was heading her way. The destroyer tried to evade my shot, but I think the sea state was too rough and she could not maneuver fast enough to avoid destruction. So…Ka-Boom.
I wanted to kill the Kiev and end the battle – the Sverdlov was already 40,000 yards away and I had no Harpoons left, so I decided to ignore the light cruiser and go for the already crippled aviation ship instead. But first I had to evade that pesky Russian torpedo.
Using every trick in the book, including noisemakers to deflect the torpedo’s homing sonar and changing course and depth, I successfully avoided being hit by the Soviet fish. It almost nailed me on several occasions, I must admit, but eventually It ran out of fuel and self-destructed.
Finally, I set a course so that Dallas would be bow-on to the slowed-but-still dangerous Kiev. At a range of less than 4,000 yards, I fired one torpedo, changed course, and watched my weapon as it made its way toward the target.
Ka-Boom. Without firing a torpedo or RBU (anti-submarine rocket), Kiev was hit at the stern and exploded in a ball of flame. Sverdlov was still In the area, but she was too far away for a stern chase, and I had no missiles, so back to Murmansk she sailed.
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