The Great War, Fleet Action Imminent, 1/2400 scale
Wargames rarely go according to plan. That’s largely because wargamers rarely do what’s expected of them. I thought this was a fairly sensible scenario – I really did. I’ve just finished writing a mammoth book on Jutland, and so the battle was pretty much fresh in my memory. So, this came was set at 7.30pm, just around sunset, when the area was covered by swirling banks of mist. The British battlecruisers had ranged ahead of the Grand Fleet, and stumbled upon their German counterparts – down to just four battered ships now that Lützow had limped away out of the battle line, her decks awash. When Beatty’s battlecruisers appeared the German ships had stopped, to let their commander Hipper transfer from a destroyer into the Moltke. He had spent the last hour following his command, waiting for the right moment. This wasn’t it.In the Derfflinger, Captain Hertog ordered the four battlecruisers to get underway, leaving Hipper’s destroyer behind. The four battlecruisers had all been badly damaged during the afternoon – most had flooding and fires to deal with, and had gun turrets knocked out. Of the six British battlecruisers Beatty’e flagship Lion had also been badly knocked about, as had two other ships. So, this was going to be a duel between two badly battered opponents – one with six ships, the other with four. Of course, it wasn’t going to be as simple as all that for the British. With their better guns and superior numbers they should have pummeled the German battlecruisers. They would have too, if another German formation hadn’t appeared out of the mist.This was the II Battle Squadron – six old pre-dreadnought battleships, commanded by Rear-Admiral Mauve. Wags had dubbed them “15 minute ships” – the length of time it would take for a modern dreadnought to sink one of them. The name was about to be put to the test. In our game Beatty was played by Bill, his deputy Rear Admiral Pakenham by Bart, Hartog by Michael and Mauve by Campbell. I played the part of the long-suffering umpire. When the British sighted the German battlecruisers the two sides were 12,000 yards apart – six miles. So, that’s where we put them on the tabletop. In fact all our deployments were based on actual placement in the real battle. In the picture at the top of this entry the north is at the top, behind the German dreadnoughts, and the British are to the east of the Germans, so the enemy ships were highlighted by the setting sun. It should have been a piece of cake for the British. That of course, was the plan … the one that fell to pieces.Quite sensibly, Michael started by making steam – a slow build up from his stationary start. For his part Beatty angled his battle line to the south-west, to cross the German’s “T”. That was when the mist rolled in. You see, at the start of each turn we rolled a “D10”. The result, in thousands of yards, was the visibility range for the turn, amid the swirling mist. In these rules, 10cm = 1,000 yards, so a “4” meant the ships could only see or fire at enemy ships within 40 cm (or 4,000 yards, or 2 miles). In fact the visibility remained consistently low for several turns, allowing the German battlecruisers to increase speed, then to loop their battle line round to the east.Meanwhile the column of six pre-dreadnoughts angled forward towards the south-east, so that the distance between them and the British battlecruisers was dropping fast. When the fog lifted the two lines were less than 3,000 yards apart. The British suddenly found themselves facing ten enemy ships rather than four. Worse, as a few of their own ships had guns knocked out, the British firepower wasn’t what it could have been. That was even before the dice started rolling.Over the next few turns the two lines crept ever closer, their guns blazing away. Strangely though, while Bill and Bart rolled quite badly, Campbell seemed to hit with every shot. His 11-inch guns were more than capable of piercing the armour of a British battlecruiser at that range, and the British took a real pounding. The fire of the leading German ships was concentrated on Beatty’s flagship Lion. After three turns of this it sank, taking the feckless admiral down with it. I was the umpire, and no fan of Beatty, but I’m still ex-RN, and this was a rather sad blow. Worse though, was to come. The two lines were so close that they actually crossed, and British battlecruisers and German pre-dreadnoughts threaded through each other – with a few collisions – firing as they went. Actually two of the collisions were actually rams – deliberate ones by Campbell.That’s why he’s grinning in the photo above, while Bart looks on bemused.These ships had guns that could wreak havoc at ten miles, and he chose to ram the enemy with them! It worked though, as the Deutschland sank the Indomitable. The game ended with the remaining British ships withdrawing as fast as they could, some barely able to keep afloat, and most with just one turret left in action. Mauve’s flagship Deutschland had all its guns knocked out, and a few other German ships – including Seydlitz and Derfflinger – were in very poor shape. However, the British “Splendid Cats” had been bested – by crappy old pre-dreadnoughts! All in all it was a great little game – and we’ll revisit the period again very soon – especially with the centenary of the battle just a few weeks away.