This is a reference to the Avalon HIll Board game.

One of the possibilities offered to the American player in the game is one or two B-17 attacks a day. A die roll of five inflicts three hits on a target ship and a die roll of six inflicts five hits. (This possibility did not play a role in the historical version of the battle.)

I'm going to begin by assuming that the B-17s could identify the main Japanese ship types - battleship, aircraft carrier and cruiser - and that they would target the carriers. Even so, there were two types of heavy carriers on the first day, the two larger ones (the Akagi and the Kaga) that required five hits to sink, and the two smaller ones (Hiryu and Soryu) that required three hits to sink.

Given the opportunity, an aggressive player might target the two heavier carriers and hope to roll sixes, while a conservative player might target the two smaller ones, succeeding with either a 5 or 6.

The Q &A of the (1960) rules of the game state that ship ID from search planes (and by implication B-17s) was not sufficiently accurate in 1942 for a long range bomber to make this kind of identification, "even identification of ship types was often erroneous. " But planes attacking at close range could (usually) identify individual ships. Which is why the defending player places his ships face up.

Should the rules allow the targeting described in the previous paragraph, as they seem to?

Or does it make sense to institute a rule change/house rule so that the Japanese player would turn over his four carrier counters face down and force the American player to choose his targets at random when using B-17s? Would such a rule change reconcile the game play with the Q&A text?

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question about real life tactical information and sensor systems. It's inspired by a board game, but the question isn't about the board game.
    – Samthere
    Oct 5, 2017 at 10:45
  • This question is better asked on a site such as history or aviation and once you have the needed information about the planes and technology at the time then you might be able to ask for the rule help here. As it stands users of this site are very unlikely to know that information without researching it which is not our job.
    – Joe W
    Oct 5, 2017 at 11:41
  • But that is not the focus of this site which makes this question off topic. .
    – Joe W
    Oct 5, 2017 at 11:47
  • I am having trouble finding the rules online so can you provide some information about how combat works in this game?
    – Joe W
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:39
  • 1
    In Battle of the Bismark Sea, B-17's attacked at an altitude of only 7,000 ft. This clearly allows some targeting, but is nothing like a dive bomber or torpedo bomber. The process of attacking in a defendable box formation further constrains the attack. I would perhaps double-weight the most desired targets, and increase hits by the square-root of the total vessels (effectively proportional to the diameter of the target formation, approximating time over target.. Oct 7, 2017 at 23:40

1 Answer 1


Attacking B-17s would have a better view than reconnaissance planes and would be able to id a carrier by class...

Dedicated reconnaissance aircraft (as opposed to fighter patrols) would fly at very high altitudes and typically would avoid overflying large formations of enemy ships. First it was dangerous and second, they did not want the enemy ships to know they had been spotted. At high altitude and at oblique angles, identifying a carrier by its class while maintaining a specified distance might well have been impossible in some circumstances, even with binoculars.

B-17 bombers also flew and attacked at high altitudes, but by necessity they would have to directly overfly any ships they wanted to bomb, and the bombardier would be looking at the vessels through a bombsight providing some magnification. It is likely that the B-17s crew, especially the bombardier, would be able to identify a Japanese carrier by class.

That being said, other factors such as ship positioning, ship maneuvering, and defensive fire could make it difficult for the planes to launch an attack against the carrier of choice. The one B-17 attack that I know occurred against a carrier at Midway was against the Hiryu (you can see a photo of the bomb pattern on the Battle of Midway Wikipedia page. It shows you the resolution the bombardier would have had, which was easily enough to id the carrier by class). Whether that B-17 was after the Hiryu or would have preferred one of the larger carriers, I do not know.

In short, the game's mechanic for B-17 and reconnaissance plane identification and B-17 choice of attack isn't that unrealistic.

...but B-17s were poor in the naval attack role in 1942

The problem that the Army and Navy encountered was that although B-17s could bomb from altitudes at which many Japanese fighters could not even reach them, they were woefully inaccurate from the high altitudes that doctrine dictated they fly at high altitudes (c. 25,000 feet) while bombing and without the Norden bombsights they would have later in the war. The early estimates for the B-17 in a naval attack role was that about 1% of their bombs hit. This is due in large part to the difficulty of dropping bombs from 25,000 feet at a target that is both moving and maneuvering. The B-17s at Midway were completely ineffective. You'll note that the previously mentioned photo on Wikipedia shows a miss by more than the length of the ship.

Later in the war, with better bombsights and a change in doctrine to allow lower altitude bombing runs, B-17s were more effective in the Pacific, though they were never deployed to that theater in very large numbers.

So as far as B-17 attack rules go (which I realize is getting beyond the scope of the question), any game mechanic that assigns them a decent chance of hitting a ship in 1942 is not realistic, and if the mechanics give the B-17 an equal or close-to equal chance to hit as a dive bomber or torpedo bomber, then the rules are wildly unrealistic.

  • Your answer suggest that the B-17 crew would be able to identify the ship that they are bombing after they have committed to bombing that target, which is quite different from them being able to identify before committing. "doctrine dictated they fly while bombing" Yes, B-17s generally did fly while bombing :) Aug 17, 2020 at 16:52
  • Yes, thanks. Corrected that to add "at high altitude." I don't see how my answer suggests they would be able to id a ship only after they committed to bombing it. The bombardier would see the target in his sight before dropping the bombs... that's how bombing with a bombsight works. I would have thought that wouldn't need to be explained.
    – ruffdove
    Aug 17, 2020 at 22:54

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