Old Gamers Never Die: Rainy Saturday & Stalking Japanese Carriers in ‘Silent Service II’

The Japanese carrier ‘Shokaku’ is struck by a U.S. Mk-18 electric torpedo in “An Embarrassment of Riches.” (C) 1990, 2014 MicroProse & Retroism (Tommo)

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon in Lithia, Florida, on Saturday, June 11, 2022. It is a dark, stormy, and gloomy early summer day in the Tampa Bay area. As I write this, the temperature is 81°F (27°C) under alternating bouts of rain and cloudiness. With humidity at 79% and the wind blowing from the west-southwest at 9 MPH (15 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 86°F (30°C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to pass through the area – which, by the way, they are doing – and a high of 87°F (30°C). Tonight, thunderstorms are still expected to hang around. The low will be 74°F (23°C).

As you can see, the weather here is not that great. It is not anomalous – the rainy season in Florida usually starts in May and lasts until November, coinciding with the more stressful hurricane season that officially started 11 days ago and ends on November 30. As a native Floridian who has lived in two metro areas in the state (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa Bay) for 53 years – the last 50 years being consecutive – I am accustomed to the wet season/dry season pattern – it’s one of the things you learn to accept in a subtropical environment.

(C) 1990, 2015 MicroProse & Retroism (Tommo)
The mission selection screen. Note that An Embarrassment of Riches is the last-named mission on the menu. It’s one of the most difficult missions in Silent Service II. (C) 1990, 2015 MicroProse & Retroism (Tommo)

Yesterday afternoon was also rainy, but the thunderstorms – if there were any in Hillsborough County – stayed away from the Fish Hawk area. I wrote one blog post early in the day, then played a couple of games on my PC, including one mission on Silent Service II. I selected the one called An Embarrassment of Riches, which is based on the sinking of the Japanese carrier Shokaku on June 19, 1944, by the Gato-class submarine USS Cavalla (SS-244).

This animation screen pops up – unless you disable Animations – either when you fire a torpedo or the Japanese attack your sub with depth charges.

This was a favorite Historical Engagement of mine when I started playing Silent Service II in the early 1990s; it is one of the toughest missions to win because you only have one chance to get the Shokaku and maybe some of her escorts while they’re steaming at 16 knots. If you focus too much on the lead Japanese destroyer and don’t hit the Shokaku with your first salvo, the carrier and two heavy cruisers will go to flank speed (30 knots or faster) and head away from your boat.

Meanwhile, the carrier’s escorting destroyers will converge on the spot where the Japanese think you might be lurking and search for you using their sonar and hydrophone gear. If you manage to dive to 200-300 feet and remain quiet, maybe the Japanese destroyers won’t detect you with their not-very-good sonar equipment, and if you are patient and chill for a while, eventually the Japanese DDs will give up and sail away to rejoin the Shokaku.

Your boat’s status board shows different dials and engine/torpedo status displays.

However, if you try to run away at flank speed – 10 knots using your boat’s electric motor – and make lots of underwater noise in the process, well, let’s just say that you and your boat will be lucky to survive the depth charge attacks by at least six Japanese destroyers. And surfacing to make a dash at flank speed – 20 knots – using your diesel engines is suicidal.

Because Silent Service II was the only DOS-based game that ran on all my PCs that came with floppy drives, I played that game for well over a decade, so I learned how to win in An Embarrassment of Riches. I usually go for two “high-value” targets in my initial attack: the Shokaku, which was one of the six carriers involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, and a heavy cruiser.

I used to go for the lead destroyer – or DD, in Navy terminology – and Shokaku when I played Silent Service II in my late 20s and early 30s. My go-to tactic was – and still is – to order Cavalla to go to periscope depth (55 feet in the game), slow down to two knots, and wait until the Shokaku and her escorts are close to 3,000 yards. Using the sub’s Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) to set my Mk-18-1 electric torpedoes (which leave no wake to point back at Cavalla), I fire three of my six forward torpedo tubes at the Shokaku, disengage the TDC, whip my periscope to the right until I can aim at the heavy cruiser on Shokaku’s port side, fire two or three torpedo tubes at it. I then lower my periscope, start a dive to 200-300 feet, and order the boat’s engines to All Stop.

Depending on the game’s difficulty setting – which can range from Introductory to Advanced – the amount of damage a player’s torpedoes cause varies. In the easiest setting, two hits will sink a heavy cruiser and three will demolish the Shokaku, assuming that none of them are duds. At the more difficult levels, the percentage of duds will increase – especially if you choose to use Historical Torpedoes – and a cruiser will only sink after at least three solid hits, while the carrier will be sunk by three to four torpedo hits.  

The real-life encounter between Cavalla and Shokaku took place on June 19, 1944, and was part of the massive Battle of the Philippine Sea, which was one of the Second World War’s largest carrier battles and is known as the “Great Mariana Turkey Shoot” because the Japanese lost over 400 aircraft to the U.S. Navy’s fighter squadrons and ships’ anti-aircraft batteries. (In comparison, the Americans only lost  123 aircraft, but many of the pilots survived being shot down and were rescued by U.S. forces. The Japanese were not so lucky.)

Well, it’s getting dark and stormy again, so I better wrap this post up and publish it on WordPress so I can log off and turn this PC off before lightning fries it. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay out of the rain!

All of the game-related art on this post is from actual game-play screenshots. All graphics and game elements are (C) 1990, 2015 MicroProse Software & Retroism (Tommo).

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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