Baptized by Fire
A Captain's First R/C Warship Battle .....By John Barrett
On an ordinary day, the Ritter Springs pond hosts fish, ducks, turtles and snakes, but today it will see scale models of WWI and WWII battleships battle and even sink as the Southwest Regional Competition gets under way in Springfield, Missouri.
This is the first major event for several of the captains,
including Ron Horbul from Minnesota. Horbul has traveled from
the Twin Cities with two fellow captains and is one of 29 battlers
to check in with the contest director for this annual sanctioned
event. "This is a long way to go to have your prized possession
destroyed," quips Horbul, referring to his 12-hour drive
Horbul has never been to a major battle before, and he takes advantage of the large collection of combat vessels gathered on tables near the water's edge. Glancing from ship to ship, Horbul examines the building techniques and analyzes the technology in the other ships. Beautiful scale models of all sizes, from a USS Brooklyn-class cruiser to an IJN Yamato-class battleship, are prepared for battle.
Horbul busily touches up the gray paint on the base of the
funnel of his 144th-scale SMS Moltke. He spent many hours converting
this Swampworks hull into a beautiful battling model, and he knows
it won't look this good when he heads back home. He scans the
virgin hull one last time before it becomes a target. A shot in
the gray area of the hull counts 10 points; a shot on the waterline
counts 25 points; a shot below the waterline counts 50 points.
It is with great anxiety that Horbul loads the C02 canister which will power his three BB-cannons for the coming battle. Horbul loads his Moltke with 50 BBs per cannon and checks his systems one last time to make sure everything is working. Fleet battle is very unforgiving to new ships-but there is no turning back now!
This event is not going to be fought with the traditional Axis/Allied team. Two amiable captains-Bart Purvis and Bob Eakin-are chosen to be admirals for the yellow and blue fleets, respectively. The fleets are announced and Horbul ends up on Eakin's blue fleet.
Admiral Bob Eakin-"It's gonna be an excellent day!"
Novice Ron Horbul-"I get the feeling this is going to be a painful learning experience."
Admiral Bart Purvis-"We've set this up as evenly as possible so the yellow fleet can trounce the blue fleet and still argue it was a fair fight!"
The surface of the shallow pond begins to fill with warships, hungry for battle. Horbul's Moltke slides gracefully through the peaceful water as captains hurry into position. Admiral Purvis' Atlanta is the last boat onto the water, setting in just as the contest director yells, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1. It's War!"
The battle starts and the air instantly fills with the whir of electric motors, the churning of brass props in the water and the staccato "pap-pap" of BB cannons seeking their targets. Horbul pilots the Moltke through the first wave of yellow battleships, his sights set on the Yellow cruisers and battle cruisers sailing near the end of the peninsula. The Moltke takes a few poorly aimed shots from the passing ships. Not even enough damage to fire off the Moltke's bilge pump. Horbul fires a few quick shots that penetrate the waterline of the passing Iowa, then breaks off contact and heads for the target-rich peninsula.
On the way to the point, Horbul passes Will Montgomery's mammoth
Musashi as it moves into the shallows to attack Robert Rucker's
little Chicago-class cruiser-like a crocodile sliding in after
a duckling. The plucky cruiser gets away with limited damage,
deftly maneuvering between some submerged tree trunks that the
enormous Musashi has to go around.
Near the docks, the SMS Konig gets ample attention from Jay Edwards' USS Washington. But the crafty Konig captain is in cahoots with Admiral Purvis, and as the Washington follows the Konig into a spiral, the Atlanta lines up and fires off five or six solid hits to the stunned American battleship. The Konig then foolishly turns behind the bulky Washington as eight quick shots with triple stern cannons shred the Konig's hull, opening a string of holes from the anchor back to the bridge. The Konig's pump gurgles out a stream of water in an attempt to remain afloat.
On the other end of the pond, Horbul has engaged the Von der Tann of Scott Bené in a somewhat secluded one-on-one. Both captains are relatively new with the ships, but Horbul's gunnery proves superior and the Von der Tann's pump is the first to fire up. With two quarter-sized holes in the bow, the Von der Tann slips away to lick its wounds.
Montgomery's Musashi chases down Rucker's Chicago, while being
pursued by Chris Au's Wisconsin, Tim Beckett's North Carolina
and Brian Eliassen's South Dakota. Shots are exchanged. Plumes
of water rise from the pond as the powerful cannons blast at their
Jay Edwards continues to pick on the crippled Konig, dealing out a deathly array of side-mount shots and taking little in return. Chris Pearce's HMS Valiant and Jim Pate's Inflexible slide into the fray and line up on either side of the Konig. The three captain's gleefully pummel the yellow fleet's slowest battleship.
Edwards' efforts on the Konig are not without reward, for just
13 minutes into the battle, the Konig lists hard to port. As the
Konig rolls past the 90° mark, Edwards salutes his fallen
foe with a quick series of blasts from the three cannons in his
stern turret. The BBs blast through the Konig's rigging as the
first casualty of the event slides beneath the waves.
As the Konig plows its way into the soft mud at the bottom of the shallow pond, the blue team's Larry Dahl sails his HMS Tiger past Horbul's Moltke. The Tiger rides very low in the water, but isn't pumping. Something is wrong! The Tiger slides under leaving only a trail of bubbles, going down due to lack of radio control.
The water was barely covered the superstructure of the Tiger when Troy Young's St. Louis cruiser plunges beneath the waves. Young wades out in the waist-deep water, muttering, "They just shot my boat out from under me!"
A similarly wet experience goes to the hometown Inflexible
of Steve Milholland, who had only one minute left on his "FIVE."
Captains must call "FIVE" when they are finished battling
and remain on the water-essentially as a target-for an additional
five minutes before taking the ships off the water.
Over near Horbul's Moltke, Captain Bene's Von der Tann comes
in off of "FIVE" without sinking and he brandishes a
huge smile-followed by a world-class sigh of relief. Terry Kief's
Graf Spee experiences battery problems that leave him slow but
not sunk. And in the middle of the pond, Captain Pearce cruises
his HMS Valiant in circles, scanning for some hapless yellow victim
who will become his next target.
A frightened Captain Horbul calls "FIVE" for his
Moltke. Barely pumping, but actively being chased by five large
yellow ships, Horbul cruises at full speed to the far side of
the pond and wisely hides behind the mighty Musashi, who takes
the heat off of the Moltke. The North Carolina, South Dakota,
Revenge and Wisconsin descend on the Musashi with a vengeance.
Horbul pours on the coals and sails out of harm's way, leaving
Captain Montgomery to "mop up" the remaining five or
six battleships of the yellow fleet.
Just as the Moltke is about to come off "FIVE," a
devastating cluster of shots from Admiral Purvis' USS Atlanta
rip into the bow of the Moltke-right on the waterline! It is a
grievous wound, but won't be felt until the second sortie, as
the Moltke comes safely into the docks. "I survived, but
I've got a nasty hole the size of a postage stamp right at my
waterline," Horbul moans as he takes his boat to the dockyard
The Wisconsin is triple-sterning the Musashi, which is pumping
two steady streams. Even Jamie Foster is chasing after the Musashi
in her French light cruiser, Georges Leygues. In a brave attempt
to rescue a teammate, Pate's Inflexible steams near the group
and takes half of the yellow ships with him. Montgomery shows
excellent maneuvering skills while being chased by three American
battleships- twisting, dodging and darting between them with the
largest battleship from WWII.
The tide of the battle takes a dramatic turn as the the bow
pump of the Musashi dies off! Cameras-and yellow boats-shoot with
zeal! The mighty Musashi takes considerable damage to sink, but
with one pump missing and the extra attention that draws, the
mighty Musashi slowly lowers and rolls gracefully over to port.
Pate also clears the pond-without sinking-leaving a hungry yellow captain asking, "Any blue targets left?" All that can be heard is the sloshing of swamp-filled sneakers coming from the blue dockyard. Bart's yellow fleet has dominated the opening round.
The ships are reloaded, but damage isn't patched. By mutual decision of the admirals, people who sank in the first sortie are allowed to patch half of their below-waterline damage and come back out. A few, including the Musashi, take advantage of this offer.
The majestic arches of the damage-control pumps lace the pond like the branches of a watery swamp willow. The worst of all of the ships is Horbul's Moltke, which almost sinks before the battle officially starts. Admiral Purvis' last-second burst has done the job. With it's decks nearly awash, the Moltke's pump is obviously challenged. The proud German captain shakes his head and concedes, "I'm just going for a decent burial at sea. The few; the proud; the wet!"
The battle begins with a flurry of stern cannons from the blue
fleet and a wave of yellow battleships steaming toward the Moltke,
which starts going under almost before anyone can get a shot off
in its direction. The Moltke slips down by the stern and slowly
rolls over toward starboard as Horbul attempts to bring her closer
to the dock. Sliding forward and under at an equal speed, the
Moltke is finished off with an impressive three-way crossfire
that rips mercilessly at his peppered hull.
Horbul dumps the wallet from his pocket and trudges out for his boat, announcing, "Man in the water!" The battle stops as Horbul goes toward the area where his boat went down. On the way, he recovers a turret from another ship, which has been shot off during the battle. He scans the murky water and sees a stream of bubbles off to his left. He reaches under and pulls up the Moltke, whose radio controls are safely protected inside a water-tight box. Horbul puts the safety pins in the cannons, drains the water from the hull, then slops back ashore with his Moltke, making the subtle switch from participant to spectator.
As fighting resumes, the battle-weary American battleships
look low and are pumping hard. Yet they are still looking for
targets. Scott Bene's Von der Tann is riddled and pumping a steady
stream that practically invites the blue team over to finish him
A hapless Inflexible flounders up against shore and is soon pounced on by both Pate and Pearce. The Inflexible sinks near shore, racing a blue cruiser, just to its left, to the bottom. The massive hull of the Musashi plows forward-beaten to a pulp-unwilling to go down!
Captain Pate, whose Invincible sits peacefully between the
docks, grins and yells, "I declare the Michigan battlers
to be sissies and I DEFY them to come in here and attack me like
men!" Upon hearing this classic challenge, a huge cheer rumbles
up from those in attendance!
The Michigan-based Au brothers, the target of Pate's challenge,
seem overly cautious and cannot muster the courage to venture
between the docks to battle. Their taunter slowly comes out after
them. The battle rages as these powerful veterans unload on each
The shattered remains of superstructure float everywhere. Waves of battlers and spectators wash back and forth along the shore in synchronization with the flow of battle. A crowd gathers at the base of the old dock where the Musashi and Atlanta begin to duke it out. The spry little Atlanta has no trouble out-maneuvering the bigger Musashi, which by now must be sloshing around an extra 20 gallons of water inside her hull. The yellow boats converge on the remnants of the dwindling blue fleet.
Having saved themselves for the big kill, the Yellow fleet
unleashes triple-stern cannons galore-sheets of BBs slicing across
the water at unprotected Blue hulls. Chris Au's Wisconsin unloads
his sterns into the hull of the Musashi. Joe Kutz's Invincible
cuts behind the Wisconsin and pays the price! In retaliation,
the Invincible spins and pulls alongside the longer American boat
as the two opponents exchange a withering barrage of side-mounts.
When the stern cannons have been expended, side-mounts rule!
And the target of the yellows' side-mounts is the Japanese Musashi.
Even with both pumps fired up, the Musashi looks very bad. It
slowly turns toward shore and rolls submissively over to port
in two feet of water. Chris Groissant's Inflexible and Brian Eliassen's
South Dakota cruise by to strafe the bubbles. The cannons of the
Musashi are still spurting powerfully as the owner wades out to
The Tiger, one of only a few remaining ships of the blue fleet, draws fire from the powerful Wisconsin and several other yellow boats. Dahl's Tiger is the center of attention until 11:50, when the British battlecruiser unceremoniously sinks! Pate comes off of "FIVE" under the watchful eyes of the father/daughter team of James and Jamie Foster. Terry Kief's battery-plagued Lutzow finally goes dead; he walks out to retrieve it. A hard-turning North Carolina is rammed by an Invincible, but it is the smaller Invincible whose superstructure comes loose. Ramming is not a legal attack, but it does happen.
Unfaltering 20' pump streams attest to the damage from the
savage attacks. Tim Beckett's North Carolina uses his remaining
side-mounts on Admiral Eakin's Washington as the battle dwindles
down. Eakin docks his Washington, still being chased by the North
Carolina and the Wisconsin.
Three yellow boats pick on Captain Pearce, whose Valiant pulls out the stoppers and uses its speed to pull away from Tim Beckett, Chris Au and Brian Eliassen. Dave Au gives chase and attempts to take a shortcut under the 2' dock with his 2' 6" Revenge. He loses the superstructure to the low overhead. Even with the reduced wind resistance, the Revenge can't come close to the speedy Valiant, which scurries away to safety as the battle comes to an end.
Basking in victory, Admiral Purvis sums up the battle, "We
were fortunate...we got some really good breaks, some fortunate
timing on pumps; pumps failing for them, and pumps working for
us!" Purvis closes with, "It was truly a sad thing to
see the big Musashi sink, but I guess that will teach him to mess
with my little Atlanta!"
Back at the dockyard, Horbul surveys the damage to his ship.
The Moltke has acquired 44 shots above, 5 on and 13 below the
waterline! There were several places where his beautiful superstructure
had been shot, but that doesn't count as points against his team.
Horbul looks at a nearby captain and laughs, "No problem! We've got two whole hours to get ready for the afternoon battle!" And he is right. The damaged hull is quickly repaired with silk span and paint. The guns are cleaned of pond water and put back together in minutes. Then it's time to eat lunch, reload and rethink the strategy so this doesn't happen again. Horbul will try some new things, be more aggressive and take less damage. He may not win, but at least he is no longer inexperienced-having been baptized by fire!