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Pre-Dreadnoughts – Playing the Period


Edwardian Firepower & Krupp Steel

I never really wanted to do another naval period. Three seemed more than enough. However, one day Colin Jack from the Edinburgh Club invited me to join him in a 1/3000 scale Pre-Dreadnought game, using a set of rules he developed – ones that later became Perfidious Albion. I’d used the rules before, and found them great fun. What put me off was that the 1/3000 scale ships don’t look very pretty. They’re just too small to pick out the real  style of ships from this period. I looked around for alternatives, and stumbled across Houston’s Ships, which looked terrific. I bought a bunch of them – 1/1000 scale British and French warships, all from the late 1880’s, when these vessels really looked their funkiest.  I also got to include HMS Inflexible, a pet historic ship of mine with its 100-ton muzzle-loading guns!  We were all set to refight a war that never happened!

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The Austro-Hungarian battleship Raedetsky

 

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Two German battleships

I’ve since sold these two fleets to my buddy Dave Marks down in London, who should put them to good use. This was a difficult thing to do, as the ships really looked great. However, I’d already adopted the rule that I shouldn’t take on a major new period without abandoning an old one, and by that time I’d already started collecting a whole new set of pre-dreadnoughts.

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The thing is, I met Jim Prentice. He had a friend – a ship modeller called Mike Earll – who died, leaving his poor widow with a garage full of scratch-built ship models. Jim was offering them for sale, as a way of raising money for Mrs. Earll. Well, I bought a few, then a few more, and before I knew it I had a range of pre-dreadnoughts, most of which were from the period from 1890-1910 – around the time HMS Dreadnought entered service in 1906 and changed the face of naval warfare forever. This time I bought two core fleets – one British and the other German, although I’ve since added a few others – Austro-Hungarian, French and Italian warships. The result is a large and growing collection of late pre-dreadnoughts, which I still use with Perfidious Albion rules, available as a download from A&A Games .

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Like the earlier period, this was one where I had to rely on a fictitious war, fought during the last years of the Edwardian Era, or a year or two afterwards. Fortunately, this was a period which was ideally suited to “what-if” scenarios. The diplomatic brinkmanship before the start of the First World War makes a great backdrop for a fictional battle or campaign – you’ve got the Balkan Wars, Anglo-German rivalry, clashes over Colonial policy in Africa and a general drum-banging militarism. Better still, this was the background to Erskine Childers’ great adventure book The Riddle of the Sands, written in 1903, or John Buchan’s magnificent Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), turned into a gripping film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935

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The plot of both books centred around Anglo-German rivalry, the threat of war, and spies. In fact, The Riddle of the Sands even involved a planned German invasion of Britain, launched from the German North Sea coast. It all makes for an excellent scenario, set when the pre-dreadnought battleship was the epitome of Edwardian power and elegance. Then of course, you can also introduce the Dreadnought into the mix, to see just how quickly it could demolish an enemy fleet. We’ve also played games pitting the various other naval powers against each other, and I have to admit a sneaking fondness for my small Austro-Hungarian squadron. With ship names like Raedetzky and Hapsburg you really want to start humming The Blue Danube as you open fire on the French or the Italians…

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Of course, the ultimate pre-dreadnought clash of this period was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. While I’d quite like to do this, my buddy Chris Henry has already bought Mike Earll’s ships from this conflict, so I’ve rather been pipped at the post. Still, I’d like to play a game with them, and I also have a soft spot for those lumbering, useless Russian pre-dreadnought battleships like the Tsarevitch, the Borodino and the Perseviet. Then again, they almost sparked a diplomatic incident in the North Sea, when they fired on the Hull fishing fleet, bizarrely mistaking them for Japanese torpedo boats. I can see a game where a Royal Naval squadron intercepts them off Dover, to teach them a lesson in seapower they won’t forget!

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German battleships

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German battleships demolishing the poor Charles Martel.

 

Perfidious Albion Playsheet  (1906 version)

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