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Battle of the Fehmarn Belt, 1906


Pre-Dreadnought, Perfidious Albion, 1/1200 scale

The rather ludicrous excuse for this game involving three navies was the Algeciras Conference of 1906. The main diplomatic protagonists were France and Germany, and in our alternate history tensions had mounted so much that the countries were at the brink of war. To rattle the German cage a French squadron of three battleships was sent into the Baltic, to cruise off the German coast. Once there they were joined by a small Russian squadron – a country which was now allied with France. This provocation helped tip Germany over the edge, and as her armies began to mobilise alone on the French frontier, the Baltic fleet slipped out of Kiel, and headed out into the Baltic to give battle.The two sides were fairly evenly matched, with six pre-dreadnought battleships a side. They varied in quality though, with the Allies having a slight edge, thanks to the presence of the brand new French battleship Republique, and the small German one Brandenberg. The game began with both sides approaching each other in two columns, entering on either short side of an 8×6 foot table. As the game was set in the Fehmarn Belt, between the Danish and German coasts, there was limited sea room, as the belt was just 12 miles wide. That though, wasn’t really going to be a problem, unless the action veered off the table.I’m this game, Bart and Campbell commanded the French, Bill the Russians, while Peter, Neil and I shared the Germans between us. That have us two battleships apiece. As they were in their home turf, we have the Germans a slightly better crew quality than their opponents. That would also go some way to offsetting the Allied edge in ships and guns.The game began with both sides entering the table in two or three small columns. the Germans quickly shook themselves out into a line, while the Allies broke with convention and while the main force formed a line facing the Germans, Campbell’s two French ships headed on a more south-westerly course, heading around the back of the German fleet. Then the two sides started blazing away at each other. the range was still quite long – the models were three feet apart, which equated to 7,200 yards – but that didn’t stop us firing, hoping for some fluke hit on the enemy. Gradually though, the range closed. Pretty early on we worked out the German ships lacked the powerful guns and strong armour of most of their opponents. that meant we didn’t have much option other than getting in close, so our guns could actually do some real damage. My two ships at the back of the German line (Kaiser Friedrich III and Brandenberg) pounded away at Campbell’s Republique, but most of my shells simply bounced off its thick armoured belt. Further up the line, Bill’s Russian ships Tsesarevitch and Pantelimon led the way, taking on Peter’s Deutschland and Hessen, with both sides scoring minor hits on each other. In the centre of the line Neil’s Preussen and Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse took on Bart’s Slava and Gaulois, with the Russian and French ships getting the worse of the exchange. At the moment it was still all to play for. However, Campbell’s two ships Republique and Charles Martel were now due south of the German line, and so were able to fire everything they had at my two tail end ships. Still, Brandenberg was so small it seemed to lead a charmed life, as moist of Campbell’s shells fell into the sea astern of the small German battleship. We Germans were just beginning to congratulate ourselves on our superior shooting when it all started to go wrong.Until then, our greatest success was to start fires on several Allied ships – the Republique, Charles Martel, Pantelimon and Slava. Their damage control wasn’t as good as ours, and they had trouble dealing with this. Up above you can see the bows of the Gaulois blazing away nicely. We started hoping that the fires would spread, but before they got the chance one of Bill’s Russian shells found its mark. At this stage the battle lines were less than two feet apart – about 4,000 yards, or two miles. At that range they could still do more damage on us than we could do – theirs could penetrate our armour, while apart from the Slava, all their ships were largely impervious. Just as we began closing the range a little more a shell from Tsesarevitch struck the Deutschland, and blew up her forward magazine. Boom! By now my ships had begun to ignore Campbell’s powerful French ships astern of me, and I began firing at Bart’s Slava and Gaulois, adding to the weight of shells being lobbed at them from Neil’s to battleships. Two lucky hits on the Gaulois took out her turrets – they weren’t as well protected as the rest of the ship. She turned away, chased by German shells. Then it was the turn of the Slava. She’d taken a bit of a bettering, as she was the most lightly-protected ship in the Allied squadron. Her after turret was knocked out, she was on fire in several places, and her engines had been damaged. The coup de gras came from Neil’s Preussen, whose shells hit the Slava’s forward magazine. Boom! Yup, that’s her blowing up in the picture above, while in the foreground the Pantelimon is on fire, and the Gaulois is turning away. Apart from the unfortunate Deutschland the German line is relatively intact. In the background, young Campbell and I look on with a degree of feigned stoicism. This seemed to be going well, but once again – on what turned out to be the penultimate turn – fate took a decided turn.Before we go on, let’s explain the ship cards. The ship below is the Gaulois. So, if the range is 24″, a German “B” class shell (an 11″ one) can penetrate a box with a defensive armour of 7 or less. You roll a D10 and a D6, and cross reference the result. In this case a 3 along and a 2 down is a turret hit, which easily penetrates the 6 armour of the forward turret. Hits below the waterline cause extra flooding, and hits on the shell hoists could lead to a magazine explosion, unless the player floods them. All very simple – and fun. Well, the fun ended for me when the Republique fired a salvo of 12″ shells that struck the Brandenberg, which until now had got off very lightly. One of them penetrated her after magazine, and she promptly blew up. Boom! Campbell’s stoicism went out the window as he danced an unseemly little happy dance. That though, wasn’t the end of our humiliation that turn. Up at the front of the line, Peter’s remaining ship Hessen was under fire from both the Tsesarevitch and the Pantelimon. She had been hit several times, and was now limping along at half speed. However, the Hessen was still in the game. That ended when a 12″ Russian shell from Pantelimon struck her forward magazine. Boom! That made the tally three German ships sunk – blown to atoms – for the loss of one Russian one. So, with a heavy heart Neil ordered the three remaining German battleships to break off the action, and run back to Kiel.  That’s where we ended the battle – one that turned into a clear Allied victory on the second last turn. The thing about Perfidious Albion is that it’s almost impossible to take the game too seriously. It works nicely as a rules system though, and sort of reflects the tactics of the period, but above all its always a real joy to play. These lovely scratch-built models only add to the charm of this funky rules set and rip-roaringly enjoyable period. 

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One Response “Battle of the Fehmarn Belt, 1906”

  1. 14th October 2017 at 7:50 pm

    One of my most successful ever games my 2 Russian ships sinking the 2 best Germans. Urragh!!!

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