The Commodore's Tactics Part V:
The Food Chain

What, you ask is the Food Chain of R/C Combat? Well, you see, it's sort of like this. In real life, and in nature, we all know that certain creatures grow and feed on other creatures, which in turn grow and feed on other creatures, which ... sooner or later die and decay, and are devoured by the least of creatures which renew the cycle.

It's my opinion that there exists a similar relationship in R/C Combat, except that it's just a little more twisted. (Just like our hobby, eh?). So, for example, the zebra eats the grass, the mightly lion eats the zebra, etc, right? Well, if you follow that analogy, the cruiser would eat the destroyer, the battleship would eat the cruiser, and at the top of it all, the "mighty" Squishy would devour all, or something like that. Well, it ain't like that.

Have you ever battled a destroyer? Have you noticed that a destroyer is essentially able to peck at you at will, while you're helpless to do anything about it, because you can't bring your own guns to bear on the swift, maneuverable target? At the same time, we all know that if the destroyer falters, it will be clobbered, much like a mosquito which overstays its welcome.

Well, I think that the hobby is full of relationships like this, of advantages, and counter advantages which often offset, enhance, or counter each other. This shows in our choice of ships, and of battling styles, and shows most when someone's battling style is in harmony with their ship...

So... Hopefully, that's enough background. I hope so, because I don't have all night to belabor the point. What I'd really like to get at here is the extremely important point of "Where does my ship fit in the food chain?"

Well, to start off with, let me remind you of my example of the battleship and destroyer. For the battleship captain, the destroyer is a nuisance, which might not cause much harm, but is still annoying. For the destroyer captain, the battleship is just so much big, juicy target. Dangerous, maybe, but not that much of a threat when handled carefully.

But, this is an extreme. Let's just take, oh, the Tiger as an example, because I'm tired of trying to think of better examples. What we have to identify for the Tiger is what ships are threats, and what ships are kitty chow. This brings up Rule #1 of the R/C Combat Food Chain: anything larger and less maneuverable than you is Tender Vittles. Unfortunately for the Tiger, is that it's pretty high on the Tender Vittles scale, due to the fact that 1) It's rather long, 2) It doesn't have a lot of units, and 3) it doesn't have super rudder area. However, the Tiger is still reasonably maneuverable, and could make a decent lunch of ships like some Musashis (used carefully), Romas, Richelieus, and most Bismarcks and Scharnhorsts. Of course, this still assumes that you have to use the correct tactics, etc., but essentially, as long he's doing it right, he can snack on these guys all day.

However, put the Tiger on the same pond with a Baden, and it becomes Tender Vittles. Why? See Rule #1. In any situation where the Baden and Tiger get side to side, the Tiger is going to lose. Period. So, at this point, the Tiger's main job becomes one of finding the right nutritious snack, while avoiding becoming food for another predator. This brings us to Rule #2: Never attack anything shorter/smaller/more maneuverable than you are. That's the quickest way to the bottom, and that's the reason why I was so stymied at the Fall 1996 Triple Crown in Fredericksburg with my North Carolina. I had a large, powerful, and maneuverable ship, but I was against smaller, but more maneuverable and very powerful targets (Valiant, Tennessee, and Invincible). Against them, I could only defend. If I attacked, I generally invited (and received) disaster.

So, what do you do with the shorter, more maneuverable ships? Well, that brings up Rule #3: When forced to fight a shorter/more maneuverable opponent, Run and Gun! Yes, Stan, I really said that! One of the fortunate coincidences of this hobby is that most ships which are on the losing end of the size/maneuverability scale have a little extra speed to help them out. So, if I'd only had enough sense to play strict run and gun with the 5.5 unit sluggers instead of trying to wear them down and play sidemount, I would have won the battle. (As it was, I sank and lost the battle by a small margin. That's what I get for disobeying my rules!)

Okay, I'm going to take a break and note here that this has got to be disappointing news for anyone who has a Tiger, or Lion for that matter, because it means that they're in pretty bad shape when it comes to other ships like the Baden. Unfortunately, they're on the wrong end of the food chain. Because of the Baden's maneuverability and stern sidemount setup, any time you approach the the Baden to attack with your bow, you'll only come away with a lot of holes in your bow, and even if you do manage to get a sidemount shot, you'll probably only hit his deck or superstructure. I know this, because I played the same game with the Axis for years with the Q.E. Any time they gave me their bows to shoot at, they were in for a world of hurt... The only way they could enjoy any success against my ship was to point their stern at me and hope that I'd absorb their stern guns while trying to get alongside them. Generally, when that happened, I'd just go away, and let some other fool absorb their stern guns and sink. I could usually count on finding another Axis who'd be distracted, and give them an unpleasant surprise.

So, if you have a Tiger, how do you battle a Baden? Well, you just point your stern at him and wait. And wait. And wait... And maybe you wiggle it a bit, or tease him a bit. Maybe you wait a second, while your teammate flushes him out and sets you up for those nice stern shots. But you most definitely do not give him any part of the side of your ship to shoot at. Either he will get bored and turn around (and give you a shot) or else it'll be a long, dull battle with a very low score. Feel free to take a couple pot shots at his stern. If he has more stern freeboard than you do, and you have good guns, you might just be able to to put a hole in his stern. Better to win 10-0 than to lose a sidemount battle... Sorry, I know it's disappointing, but if you're in a one-on-one situation, it's just the facts of life.

Okay... Back to the lesson. Let's say you're on the extreme edge, with a Hood, Yamato, or Iowa. According to Rule #1, you're at the worst end of the food chain. According to Rule #2, attacking any ship shorter/smaller/more maneuverable than you is suicide, so you can't do that (As certain Musashis found out at the 1997 and 1998 Nats!). So, according to Rule #3, your primary goal in a fleet battle or one-on-one is to play run and gun. And that's what you must do. You must optimize your ship first of all to be effective in this role. You must optimize your tactics to use the run and gun philosophy, which perhaps the occasional sidemount for the unwary. However, we're about to encounter what I'll hereby dub Rule #4: Big ships get their revenge when other ships go on five, or are otherwise weakened/crippled/defenseless. So, in the Tiger's case, if the Baden runs aground, calls five, or has his stern armament quit working (It could happen!), that's the Tiger's chance to attack and get his revenge. And now, the advantages are somewhat reversed, because the long ship now has the speed advantage to run down the shorter, slower ship. However, with the large ships, that's about the only time you really get to be agressive... So, to follow the analogy through, if I'd been sailing a Musashi at Nats, I would have started the battle religiously avoiding sidemounts, and using only stern gun run and gun tactics. Then, as the sortie wound along and ships were damaged, and called five, etc., then I would have attacked. For example, let's assume that if a North Carolina absorbed Fluegel's stern sidemount and limped away, if he had wandered astray, he would have made an excellent lunch for Musashi.

Okay... So, now I think we've pretty much exhausted that end of the spectrum. What if you've got the shorter, slower, more maneuverable ship? Well, again, according to Rule #1, the larger ship is Tender Vittles. This brings me to Rule #5: When you have the smaller, shorter ship, the SIDEMOUNT is your primary weapon, not the stern gun. Why? Well, primarily because this is the area where you enjoy perhaps the greatest advantage over your lumbering opponent. Against the Musashi, even a moderately large ship like the Q.E. disappears in all that target area. Handled properly, a slugger ship should be able to empty an entire sidemount into the giant without taking significant return fire. (I did this once in 1995. The Musashi wouldn't come near the Q.E. after that... Something about 18 belows, or something like that... He hardly touched me...) {Oh, and I did even worse to him on Monday of 1996 - I sank him with the North Carolina. Again, he was helpless next to the smaller ship!}

Okay... But, you say, the big, lumbering enemy is still faster than you are, and he's going to try and play the run and gun. Well, in a fleet battle, that's not necessarily so bad, because, like I mentioned before, there's almost always someone else to attack. However, in a one-on-one battle, you don't have an alternative. These two different ships require different strategies, but the goal remains the same: Get your ship alongside the enemy and pound!

Let's say that you've got a Baden and you're battling a Tiger. You desperately want to get to the Tiger's tender sides with your sidemounts. You hope that its captain will be foolish and chase you and try to use his own sidemounts. If he does, you OWN him. Period. Cat food. Again. However, if the Tiger doesn't cooperate nicely and tries to play run and gun, your life is much more difficult. If you turn, or show him anything but your stern, he's going to open your hull up with his stern gun and run away, having gained a lead. Rule #6: Never, EVER chase a ship that's playing run and gun. You'll only absorb a lot of holes for nothing in return. On the other hand, if you play stern to stern, and trade potshots, you throw away your advantages and leave the battle to random chance and lucky shots. The best you can hope is that you can draw him into playing stern to stern very close, then quick hit reverse and hope to get a stern sidemount on his stern before he accelerates away. (I sank Will Montgomery's Hiei in a one-on-one in 1991 by using this technique. Will was very surprised!)

Either way, those are about your only options. Any other maneuvering by either captain is likliest to result in disaster and a lost battle. Yeah, I know it's ugly, it's not pretty and romantic, etc., but that's the way things are. Deal with it. And if you're the Tiger's captain, be prepared for it and ready to counter it by turning away (quickly) and firing your stern gun into his hull as he backs across your retreating stern. Be careful, though. In that game, timing, and especially reaction timing is critical. I sank Will because my ship accelerated faster than he could react. Another battler tried that against the North Carolina and I was able to react faster than he could accelerate. He ate some triple stern guns.

Okay. On to fleet battle. Again, let's say you have your 5.5 unit slugger. You approach a Bismarck and get a nice look of stern. That's it - you just look. Then, you back down and leave. Don't hang around and absorb the Bismarck's stern guns. Go somewhere else. Learn to employ Rule #7: When you've got the shorter, slower ship, use surprise and maneuverability as a substitute for speed. Go find a Moltke, for example, who's busy pounding on somebody else who was foolish enough to get trapped ashore. Approach the Moltke from the bow, and away from shore. (Remember, the Moltke usually doesn't have any bow sidemounts!) Approach at full speed and turn at the last minute, either to expose your bow or stern sidemount, and start firing. When the Moltke starts moving, LEAVE. Period. Don't hang around. Good sidemount setups turn into bad sidemount setups when you get greedy. Take what you can and move on. Go find a Musashi that's backing down to avoid a North Carolina's stern guns. Again, attack from the bow. He can either continue backing until he reaches shore, or he switch back to foward (read STOP!). Either way, all you have to do is approach until you're in sidemount range. Then, cruise under the range of his double sidemounts. ("B" turret is the best one to sail under because the guns are mounted higher...) Once you're out of the danger zone, proceed to dump your sidemount into his hull. Bow or stern, whatever lines up best. Keep your eyes open, and when it looks like that situation's about to go sour, hit the throttle and go somewhere else. Never stay in one place, or hound one victim, unless you've REALLY got he drop on them, because if you overstay your welcome, they'll get the drop on you!

But, you say, what about those fine stern guns you have? Well, that's Rule #8: On the shorter, slower ship, stern guns are for defense ONLY. You'll need them at the end of the sortie. Trust me. Yes, this is the reverse of the situation of the large ship. There's a reason. You see, all those big battleships out there which are playing run and gun and probably saving their sidemounts just so that they can chase you around when you go on five. And if you do go on five, you can be sure that they'll chase you around mercilessly. However, if you and your teammates have used your sidemounts correctly, there probably won't be too many fast Axis left with much interest in chasing you. And if there are, once you put a few more holes in their bow, they'll be a lot more likely to give you a break.

So, to follow this story through a sortie, let's say that I'm back in the Q.E. for a sortie. (Yay!) The first thing I'll do is sail around looking for victims. Preferably big ones. I'll be patient, and try to surprise them, or catch them in situations where they've sacrificed their speed advantage, and run and gun is not available for them. I'll attack with sidemounts in that situation, because I can do the most damage to them quickly (and hopefully sink them) with sidemounts. I'll use stern guns occasionally for defense, but whenever I get a decent setup, the first gun I'll try to use is the sidemount. Always. As the sortie winds down, I'll keep using stern guns, sparingly until (ideally) either I run out just after the last Axis call five, or have a few rounds left in the stern guns to keep them from chasing me. (This also happened at the 1995 Nats...)

Oh, and there's another important one - Rule #9: Always maximize the differential. What do I mean by that? Well, basically it's like this: If I've got an Invincible, sure, I have an advantage on a Moltke, but it's not a very big one. In fact, that advantage may be only theoretical. You want to find a ship that you have a BIG advantage on, like a Nagato, Bismarck, or such. Why? Because if you attack ships which are similar to yours, the other guy has a fair chance of beating you on skill, reliability, or chance. And we wouldn't want that, now would we??? So, whenever possible, you want to ensure that you're attacking with the greatest advantage in your favor. Because things are not always what they seem.

And that's Rule #10: There are always exceptions (The Fleece Factor)... What this means is that you've got to keep your eyes open for opportunities, like that guy whose ship just never works right. These types can be an tasty target for anything from a Michigan to a Missouri. Likewise, Fluegel, although he had a Bismarck, is not the tastiest target. His ship's low freeboard and turning ability make it a deceptive target. Similarly, the Howe's low freeboard made it difficult to hit, and helped offset its size. Nothing is ever set in stone, and we all have to have the smarts to be able to evaluate the situation and determine whether or not the ship ahead of us is a sheep waiting to be sheared, or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

And we always need to remember Rule #11: Even though, you may have a 5.5 unit slugger, to smaller ships, you look like Tender Vittles. This means that that while a Bismarck looks like a huge target alongside your Valiant, when someone slides in next to you with his Nassau, you look as big as a Bismarck to him, maybe bigger. Sure, many Axis ships are targets to us, we're also targets to the small Axis ships, and we must treat them accordingly. We must be able to shift from run and gun in one case to close and board in the other, and we must be aware so that while we're doing one, we don't leave ourselves vulnerable to the other. Always keep your eyes open. Otherwise, a little slugger will sneak up on you!

Likewise, while I'm making up rules, let's throw in a couple more: Rule #12: Always conserve ammunition, and Rule #13: The Fleet that rules the water at the end of the sortie stands the best chance of winning. These two go hand in hand, and again, have obvious exceptions, but I still think they're true for the most part. They work together in that the fleet that best conserves its ammunition is able to hound the weaker fleet while they're on five. You conserve your ammo, so that you'll be one of the hounds, and not the fox that's running for its life. Guess what - the fox usually loses.

Okay... So, I've given you the basic layout. Let's follow it to a few conclusions... Given that the smaller ship has an advantage in the slugfest, then the Michigan should be ideal, right? Not necessarily. While a Michigan has ammo and reserve buoyancy, true, most other ships on the water are merely targets. However, when you have trouble, call five, or whatever, you are also at the greatest disadvantage (potentially) and easiest to crush. Likewise, when you have the big, fast ship, in a furball, you're at the mercy of the little boats. However, at the end of the battle, you can cruise around merrily tormenting the helpless little boats. So, in the end, the food chain goes both ways. You have to decide for yourself where you fit in it. That's a matter of personal preference, and stuff like that. Some will prefer a cruiser, which has an advantage over big fast unmaneuverable ships, but not over short sluggers. Others will prefer the big fast ship, because they offer an opportunity to do quite a bit of damage, while taking relatively little in return, and also offer the speed advantage. Still others will prefer the sluggers, because they want to get in close and hurt people.

So... That leaves one last point. Call it Rule #14: When you're building a new ship, always build the one that will give you the most advantages. Yeah, I know, that's no fun, but if you want to be at the top of the food chain, it's what you've got to do. If you want a 24 second battleship, build a North Carolina or KGV, or Nagato. Don't waste your time on anything else, because you'll only be a target. If you want a 5.5 unit 26 second ship, build a Tennesse, Q.E., Revenge, Konig, Baden, or something of that ilk, not the Agincourt. Again, the Agincourt is only a target.

Where do cruisers fit in? Well, they're kind of a special case, kind of like the destroyers. Since they don't have sidemounts, they are pretty much exclusively restricted to the run and gun game. Again, shorter ships are verboten as targets, but provided you play the run and gun correctly, all those big tasty ships will be fun to play with. But, like with the destroyer, if you make a mistake, you'll be the Tender Vittles. Play at your own peril.

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