Pre-Dreadnought, Perfidious Albion, 1/1000 scale
You’ll look in vain to find any account of this battle, save for the Venetian-Genoese scrap of 1380. Sometimes you just need to invent things in order to justify why six nations turned up with battleships, eager to blow each other out of the water. The rather fast and loose premise was that in the spring of 1905 there was an International Naval Review in Venice, attended by battleships of several of the major European naval powers. Then the Moroccan Crisis blew up, as Kaiser Wilhelm and the French fell out over control of that corner of North Africa. In our alternative universe this led to war, and both sides called on their allies to help them. This was why, on 15 April, the German squadron sailed out of the Venice Lagoon, accompanied by an Austro-Hungarian contingent and a sole Italian battleship. At dawn the following day the French did the same, accompanied by their British and Russian allies. Both sides had arranged to meet at sea, some 20 nautical miles south-east of the Lagoon entrance, and 18 due east of Chioggia.There were six ships on each side. Michael commanded the Germans – the Deutschland, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the Kaiser Freidrich III, while Campbell took charge of the Austrian contingent – the battleships Hapsburg and Erzherzog Karl, accompanied by the Italian battleship Regina Margherita. Their three opponents were Bart, Bill and myself. Bart’s French ships were the Republique and the Charles Martel, Bill had the Tsessarevich and the Pantelimon (formerly the Potemkin), while my Royal Naval contingent consisted of the Lord Nelson and the Formidable. Naval purists among you will no doubt point out historical discrepancies with this line-up. For instance, the Republique was still fitting out in Brest, Tsessarevich was interned in Manchuria, and the Lord Nelson wasn’t even laid down. However, this is an alternate history, and besides, these were the models I had! The models themselves deserve a mention. A few years ago, I was approached by a gentleman whose ship-modelling friend had just died. He was selling off his collection of scratch-built ships on behalf of the widow, and so I bought what pre-dreadnoughts I could. I wish there were more, as these are real masterpieces in balsa wood and wire. A wargamer would build a few of each class, but a modeler builds one of each, as that’s where his interests lie. As a result I have a pretty but eclectic international fleet, but surprisingly no American, Japanese or Spanish ships, which rules out the only two real naval wars of the period! As for the rules, Perfidious Albion are an old favourite. They play out a bit like Battleships – you fire your guns by rolling dice (usually a D6 and a D10), and these are cross-referenced against a schematic depiction of the target ship. If your gun can penetrate its armour at that range, then you score a hit. Simple – and deadly. Past experience shows that few ships are battered into submission -most either sink or are blown to smithereens. The rules were first developed by out club’s own Colin Jack and Bill Gilchrist about two decades ago, and were later revised and published as Perfidious Albion. I really like them, not because they’re realistic – they’re probably not – but because they’re great fun to play, and because you can’t take them too seriously. The battle began with five groups of ships steaming towards the enemy – three Allied and two Central Power groups in all, of 2 or 3 ships each. Firing began almost at once, with the French keeping the Germans at bay while the Russians and British concentrated on the Austrian and Italian column. Like that old Austrian Admiral Tegetthoff, Campbell was a great believer in ramming – he tries it in any naval game, regardless of the period. So, he streamed straight at the enemy, and so the Allies were able to cross his “T”. The Regina Margherita took the brunt of the British and Russian fire, and in only a couple of turns the battleship was flooding badly, and on fire. Finally a hit by Lord Nelson on the forward main gun barbette presented Campbell with a split-second dilemma. He could either flood the magazine (and take another flotation point), or take a damage control test. Fail and the ship blows up. He gambled and failed. Behind the now eviscerated Italian battleship was the Hapsburg. She lasted three turns before she succumbed to flooding, as Russian and British shells pounded her without mercy. Over on the far side Michael (not one of nature’s natural-born seafarers) was having trouble getting his ships to line up so all their guns could bear. Bart didn’t have any such problem, and his two French battleships blazed away at the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the Kaiser Freidrich III as the range shrunk to less than two miles. Eventually the Kaiser Freidrich sank beneath the waves – she ran out of flotation points. When the Italian battleship blew up Michael kindly lent Campbell the Deutschland, and she spent a couple of turns steaming west to join what remained of the Austrian squadron. By the time she got there there wasn’t anything left to join. Campbell’s bid to ram came to naught as at the last minute the Lord Nelson sidestepped the Erzherzog Karl, and turned all its many guns on her at point-blank range. One of the shells hit a magazine, and this time there was no saving throw. Erzherzog Karl. simply blew up, taking the Austrian admiral and all his men with her.So, that meant that all six Allied ships were still in the game – and all in reasonably good shape The Central powers were reduced to two German battleships – the Deutschland and the Kaiser Freidrich. It was no contest really, and not surprisingly they quit the table, steaming off to the eastern and western edges respectively. However, before she left, Deutschland tried a Parthian shot by firing a sneaky torpedo salvo from her submerged tubes. This proved amazingly ineffective, and so as the battle ended as the Allies lowered boats to pick up survivors. It was a great little game – albeit a rather crazy one – and it looked really good too, thanks to these great ship models. The rules worked a treat, and a couple of the players who hadn’t tried them before said how much they enjoyed the experience, even when they got blown to pieces. Unlike the real sailors, we get to tuck the ships away again in their box, ready for the next outing., With luck it won’t be too long.