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The Battle of the Denmark Strait, 1941


WWII Naval, General Quarters, 1/2400 scale

This  Thursday at the South-East Scotland Wargames Club  we held our AGM – a mercifully brief affair that didn’t get in the way of the evening’s gaming too much. Just in case though (as some of them have  been fairly heated and gone on for ages – don’t ask – we decided to play a fairly simple game. A small naval one fitted the bill – one where we didn’t need too many toys or scenery. We settled on a refight of the Battle of the Denmark Strait (24th May 1941), when the modern German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were met by a British battleship and a battlecruiser – the brand new Prince of Wales, and the venerable Hood. While the battlecruiser Hood was outmoded, she still exuded a certain degree of sleek style. In the real battle of course, the Hood was hit by one of Bismarck’s 15-inch shells, and she blew up, taking all but three of her 1,300 crew with her. The Prince of Wales was badly damaged, and forced to pull out of the fight, leaving the Germans free to break out into the North Atlantic.denmark-strait-015So much for the real battle. The thing was, would history repeat itself? As the British commander, flying his flag in the Hood, I took solace from the fact that things couldn’t go so bad as they did historically – or could they? I could always lose both British ships…denmark-strait-008The two sides sighted each other at a range of around 30,000 yards (15 nautical miles). Both sides opened fire almost immediately. For the British the tactics were simple. If their guns were going to have any impression on the well-armoured German battleship then they needed to close the range as quickly as possible. This also reduced the chances of the Germans scoring a plunging hit, where the shell would fall on the lightly protected deck armour of the Hood.  That was her Achilles heel in 1941, and the chances of it happening again were high until the Hood moved inside her “zone of invulnerability”. The British called for full speed ahead, and headed towards the enemy. That wasn’t strictly accurate – they kept jinking – firing all their guns, then jinking back to close a little further.denmark-strait-002The Germans scored the first hit, a shell hitting the Hood amidships, and knocking out one of her secondary guns. She fired back, scoring hull hits on the Bismarck. The Prince of Wales was firing too, but to reflect her turrets whose training mechanisms still had teething troubles we introduced another die roll. Every time she fired a salvo we rolled a D6. On a “6” one of her turrets malfunctioned (we diced to see which one), and we rolled again to see how long it would take to fix the problem (1-3 turns, representing 6-18 minutes). Sure enough, when the range got down to just 15,000 yards, and the Prince of Wales could start causing real damage, then her turrets went on the fritz. Every turn for five turns I rolled a “6”, meaning that one turret after another stopped working.denmark-strait-013However, the Bismarck was starting to suffer – badly. She knocked out Hood’s “B” turret, but Dougie (playing the Germans) had just started to celebrate when Bismarck’s “Anton and “Dora” turrets were put out of commission – one by the Hood, the other by the Prince of Wales. The Prinz Eugen tried to make a difference, but all she achieved was to draw the fire of Hood, which caused several flotation hits on her. The German player wasn’t quite so cocky by now, and the Hood was well within the danger zone of plunging fire. In fact, the range was now down to a mere 12,000 yards (6 nautical miles). This would now be a fight to the death.featureWhat really saved the British was the consistently bad shooting of the Bismarck. While I was defying the laws of averages with my turret malfunctions, Dougie was throwing amazingly poor dice, and was now being pummelled by two capital ships at very close range. The Prinz Eugen tried to even the odds by firing a torpedo salvo, and one of the “fish” struck the Prince of Wales, causing extensive flotation damage, and reducing her speed down to just 19 knots. The Bismarck then knocked out her after turret, but she still kept fighting. The Prinz Eugen pulled away, as she was in no position to do anything useful.denmark-strait-014No doubt the two shadowing British heavy cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk (above) would take care of her, who had been shadowing the Germans from a distance. Now though, it was the Bismarck that was getting a serious pounding. Soon both of her remaining turrets were put out of action, and with her speed reduced to 17 knots there was no escape.  Bowing to the inevitable, and unable to fight back, Dougie gave the order to abandon ship, and to scuttle her. So, last week’s turkey shoot of Rosshaydn was avenged, the Nazis were defeated, and the battered but victorious Hood and Prince of Wales were packed away, as the British commander toasted his victory in large pink gins. Hurrah for the Senior Service!

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