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The Battle of Norfolk Bank, 1915


The Great War at Sea, Fleet Action Imminent, 1/2400 scale

At the moment I’m working double tides, trying to finish my book on Jutland. So, in a rare evening off, this seems a strange choice for a game! Yup, there’s no escape from battlecruisers at the moment. this little game was a chance for a few of the guys at the Edinburgh club to try their hand at Fleet Action Imminent, the World War 1 version of General Quarters. This fictitious action – loosely based on Dogger Bank 1915 – involved a German raid on Lowestoft, and the interception of the bombarding force by Beatty. Both sides had five battlecruisers, supported by three light cruisers. That worked out at four ship per player. It wasn’t quite an equal fight though, as to even the odds in terms of points one of the German battlecruisers was replaced by the armoured cruiser Blucher, and two of the British light cruisers with the armoured cruiser Hampshire.We began the game with a try out of a campaign system. This came from the old Avalon Hill boardgame Jutland, published in the late 60’s. Essentially, the game included a hex map of the North Sea, and we used this to stage the raid on Lowestoft, and the reactions of the British. Beatty came racing down from Rosyth, followed by Jellicoe from Scapa Flow, while Hipper’s Scouting Groups made for Lowestoft, and the High Seas Fleet under von Pohl lurked off the Dogger Bank, hoping Beatty would run cross their path. In fact there wasn’t a contact at all – Beatty passed within 20 miles of von Pohl and Hipper, and the two sides missed each other. So, for the purposes of our game we had to fudge things a little, and presumed that Hipper’s Scouting Groups and Beatty’s forces met between the Dogger Bank and the coast of Norfolk.The battle began with both sides entering the 8×6 foot table from opposite diagonal corners – the British from the north, the Germans from the south. The cunning German plan was to divide forces, hoping to lure the British into a duel with one half of the German force, while the other worked behind them and crossed their “T”. In anticipation of a campaign next year we also tinkered with the rules slightly. As it stands, a battlecruiser can only blow up if the firer rolls a Critical Hit (a “12” on a D12), at a range when the firing guns can penetrate the target’s armour. then you go to another table, and roll another D12. One of the principal options is an “Ammunition hit”. That means a shell from the salvo has penetrated a turret or a barbette. The target ship loses a turret, and its owner takes a Damage Control test.The Germans have a 75% chance of passing, the British just 50%. Failure means the explosion reaches the magazine, and the ship blows up… exactly what happened to Queen Mary, Indomitable and Invincible at Jutland.  We thought that didn’t seem too likely – an 8.3% chance per hit to get a Critical, and then a 16.6% change on the Critical Hit Table, then the Damage Control test. Basically it would never happen. So, we decided to spice things up by making players roll every time a main turret was knocked out. Wow – what a difference that made!The thing is, we didn’t do our sums. The German shells can penetrate the armour of a British battlecruiser at 15,000 yards – that’s 150 cm, or 5 feet on the tabletop. Older British battlecruisers armed with 12-inch guns can only reciprocate at 9,000 yards – 3 feet. So, the Germans have a large window when only the 13.5-inch gun-armed Lion and Tiger could hit the Germans, but four German battlecruisers could hit them! To make things trickier for our British commanders (Bill and Campbell) the initial British salvo was considered a ranging one (in line with docrine), and so only a single die was rolled. The German could pelt away from the start.Worse, due to Beatty’s poor gunnery record, his battlecruisers fired using a D20. The Germans used a D12. This made it less likely that the British salvos would hit. So, the British were on something of a hiding to nothing. The real problem though, was that on the charts any penetrating hit has a one in three chance of hitting a turret. Under our amendments that meant a Damage Control test, with a 50-50 change of passing. So, with a German battlecruiser firing eight guns each, that was a lot of shells flying about – and a high chance of a fatal hit!Incidentally, in the corner of the room where we played the game – in the Navy Club in Edinburgh – there’s a ship’s wheel. Not just any one – this came from the New Zealand. It isn’t often you get that direct link between the past and the game…

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