Patrol, March-April 1940 – Off the Yorkshire Coast
The greatest danger I face in Silent Hunter III is overconfidence. After a few months of raiding British and Norwegian shipping without having to worry about destroyer escorts or air cover, I have developed bad habits.
I bring my U-boat to the surface without bothering to do a periscope check, because there is never anyone nearby. I start surface cruising while the sun is still setting rather than waiting for nightfall. I push my luck well past dawn, enjoying the higher speeds my Type VIIB U-boat can achieve compared to its glacial pace below the surface and its crummy batteries.
I have shot it out with a flight of Hurricane fighter-bombers rather than dive to safety. The other morning I launched torpedoes at a British cargo ship while a destroyer closed in from behind. It’s not like the Royal Navy is suddenly going to become competent.
Most missions in Silent Hunter III are not this exciting or rewarding. At this stage of the war, there is not enough shipping traffic across the Atlantic to make deep-ocean patrols very productive. Furthermore, blue water commerce raiding is conducted almost exclusively with torpedo attacks. The seas in the Mid-Atlantic range from rough to terrifying, so I can never use my 88mm deck gun. This is the downside of the way the U-boat is designed. It has such a shallow draft, and rides so low across the surface, that it gets tossed around like a bath toy in stormy seas. Unless the ocean is smooth as glass, crew members can’t safely walk out to the gun platform on the bow of the boat.
This used to drive me crazy, because there were times I would look at the gentle waves rocking my ship and think, “What kind of wimps couldn’t walk fifteen feet across the deck in this?” I’ve mellowed, however, since I took a ferry across Lake Michigan last month and encountered significant chop. I was standing below the bridge on the ferry’s upper deck when I got slammed in the face by a wave that somehow vaulted the 20 feet from the waterline to my face. Then I tried to walk back across the slick and pitching deck while being pelted by more shockingly cold waves. I was almost on my hands and knees by the time I made it inside the cabin. Now I understand, and you couldn’t get me onto the deck of a heaving U-boat at gunpoint
Still, it’s annoying to be forced to rely on torpedoes. They’re unreliable even when they hit the target, and hitting the target is far from easy. Plus, my Type VII only has room for about ten of them. Since it’s rare to sink a ship with anything less than two torpedoes, and they fail 30% of the time, I’m probably not going to get more than three kills with them.
Fortunately, my most recent mission assigned me to calm coastal waters off the northeastern coast of England, which allowed me to use the deck gun. Better still, it put me on the trade lanes between Scandinavia and England, near the bay leading out of the Firth of Forth. Once I arrived on site, my patrol turned into the beach scene from Jaws.
No sooner had I sent one freighter to the bottom than I stumbled across another one. From sundown to sunrise, every night was a killing spree. Once I’d finished my assigned patrol, I started angling closer and closer toward the Firth of Forth. The Royal Navy seemed to vector more destroyers into that sector as the body count increased, but they couldn’t detect me even when we were within a couple kilometers.
My ammunition for the deck gun started to run low and I tried a more frugal routine. I would strike first with a torpedo, then finish them off with shots from the 88.
My first attempt at running this kind of attack, however, is when the computer decided to screw me.
I was stalking a medium sized merchantman in the middle of the night. He had no idea I was nearby as I moved to close on him. However, he was moving fast and would soon leave my ideal “attack window.”
Because torpedoes are so dodgy in this game, you really want your shots to approach the target from close to perpendicular. A torpedo that strikes the hull at less than a 45 angle is very likely to glance off.
So I was going to launch from medium range and finish him off with the 88. Since it was a rather large cargo ship, I decided to launch a pair of torpedoes with a one degree spread between them. At this range, that should have both of them striking the fore and aft of the target. With luck, they might kill it.
What I didn’t realize is that they were two different models of torpedo: the first was the steam-powered torpedo with variable speed settings. I adjused it to medium speed, since I didn’t want it running out of power before reaching the target. The slowest setting has a very long range, but I have found that the longer the time to target, the lower the chance that you will actually hit.
Unfortunately, the second torpedo was the electric model, which has one speed: slow. It pretty much walks from your U-boat, stops at a diner along the way, has breakfast and two coffee refills, then finishes its leisurely commute to whatever the hell you’re trying to kill.
I am not a fan.
Not checking to make sure the torpedoes matched was my fault. However, what the computer did wrong was calculate a firing solution as if the torpedoes were identical.
So when I fired at 5000 m, one of the torpedoes was a miss straight away. I watched it fall behind the first torpedo, until over a kilometer opened up between them. However, the first torpedo was still on track to hit.
This is when I sent my gun crew topside and the computer screwed me over for a second time. Because I was busy making course adjustments, crew reassignments, and tracking my torpedo’s progress, I detailed my watch officer to oversee the gun. I’d relieve him once I was finished with my other tasks.
We were at 3500 m and the torpedo was still 90 seconds from impact, when he started blasting away as fast as the crew could reload. I quickly ordered him to cease fire, but the damage was done. Through my range-finder I could see the merchantman freak. He throttled up and jammed the rudder to port. My torpedo’s firing solution was completely blown, and it passed behind the target.
The reason my watch officer opened fire is because, three days earlier, I had given him the order to fire at will. Silent Hunter III remembers what your last orders were to the watch officer, and considers those orders to be standing. So when he took position, he had the order, “Fire at will” even though it made no sense to do so.
The merchie was making an impressive run for it, so I fired another fast torpedo in the hopes of hobbling him. It was a beautiful shot and caught him squarely in the middle of a starboard zag… but the torpedo bounced off the hull.
Three torpedoes. Not a single hit.
I popped a pair of starburst shells into the night sky above the merchant. They blazed to life on either side of him, turning his patch of ocean brighter than daytime and letting me watch my shot-fall. I took over the deck gun and opened fire.
It refused to die.
I hammered it for over ten minutes before it finally gave up the ghost. Between my idiot watch officer’s moment of glory and my own gunnery, this attack had cost me about 20 high-explosive rounds for my gun. This represented about a quarter of my high-explosive ammo.
Just like that, my picture perfect patrol had taken a sharp turn for the worse. Suddenly I was low on every kind of ship-killing ammunition, because of bad luck and some insane decision from my AI crewmen.
Even though I scored quite a few more kills over the remainder of the patrol, I had to become much more miserly in how I attacked. My cause was not helped by the fact that I only scored about four torpedo hits on my entire patrol. I headed home having sunk about 9000 tons less than I should have.
At this stage of the game, I’m pretty much playing for high-scores. My next sortie, I’m going to try and break the 35,000 tons that I sank on this patrol. It’s frustrating, however, to be so hindered by misfiring torpedoes and boneheaded mistakes. I always get back to the sub pens at Kiel, look at my patrol report, and immediately start thinking about how many more ships I could have killed if only things had worked.
Then I promise myself things will go better next time, and I head back out. In early 1940, ammunition is the only thing slowing me down.