The Great War at Sea, Fleet Action Imminent, 1/2400 scale
It was 21st October – Trafalgar Day – and the 205th anniversary of both that stunning victory and the death of history’s greatest naval commander. That meant we had to play something naval – and a game involving the Royal Navy, rather than other lesser fleets. We came up with The Battle of Dogger Bank, the debut game for our nascent First World War naval collection. The battle was an encounter between two forces of battlecruisers – five commanded by Vice Admiral Beatty, versus three and an armoured cruiser led by Vice Admiral Hipper. Both battlecruiser forces were supported by light cruisers – we decided to keep the destroyers off the tabletop, as they played little or no part in the real battle.The German 1st Scouting Group was outgunned and outnumbered at the start of the game, and in the real battle the British approached them from astern, and picked off the tail-end German ship – the armoured cruiser Blucher. As the German commander Colin Jack had read his history, and knew the Blucher was something of a liability. Consequently he detached her, and turned the rest of his fleet to the north, to give battle, and to buy time for the Blucher to escape off the table. In the end the Blucher was harried by British light cruisers, and subjected to some long-range fire from a pair of British battlecruisers, but although knocked about a bit she made it to safety, and therefore fared much better than the real ship!The main scrap was fought out between the two lines of battlecruisers. Strangely though, Dougie Trail commanding the British elected to use two of his battlecruisers – New Zealand and Indefatigable to engage the Blucher at long range, which left the three ships of the 1st BC Squadron – Lion, Tiger and Princess Royal – to take on their three German counterparts – Seydlitz, Moltke and Derfflinger. While the British had better guns, the Germans had better armour, and the British had also wasted their superiority in numbers. Worse, in General Quarters’ Great War version Fleet Action Imminent, the Germans fire using regular D12s, while the British battlecruisers use D20s, to reflect Beatty’s lack of gunnery training amongst his squadrons. The result was that British shooting was erratic, while the German fire was more accurate. Then, when the British did manage to hit the enemy, the shells either failed to penetrate the German armour, or they didn’t manage to inflict a telling hit. In the real battle the Seydlitz was almost blown apart when her forward magazine was hit, and she was saved by luck and quick thinking, although she lost two turrets, and had to limp home with her decks awash. In our refight she lost a couple of secondary guns, but nothing more serious. By contrast the 1st BC Squadron took a bit of a pounding, especially when the range closed to less than 10,000 yards (5 nautical miles). Beatty’s flagship Lion suffered a steering hit, and when she veered out of line she was hit again, causing flooding and engine damage. Tiger had “Y” turret knocked out, while on Princess Royal three of her four turrets were silenced – a real battering. On the other side Derfflinger was unscathed, but the Moltke had a few hull hits, and her speed was reduced. At that point the German commander broke off the engagement and headed for home, and a somewhat relieved British commander decided to let him go. All in all it was a bruising draw, but the Germans probably came off the best, largely thanks to the Beatty’s D20 rule, and the splitting of the British force. While the D20 rule was historically accurate, it really didn’t make the game as much fun for the British as the players would have liked! Without it, the Germans would probably have suffered a lot more.We’d played General Quarters 3rd edition before – the Second World War set – and these were very similar. They worked well, although we wasted too much time on the light cruisers, which with hindsight could have been dropped from the order of battle for the scenario, as they achieved nothing apart from slowing down the proceedings. The rules worked well though, and did the job of providing a fast and playable simulation, without resorting to the acres of charts so beloved of naval wargamers! As the British commander, Dougie declared he planned to buy the Queen Elizabeth fast battleships next – ships which not only pack the punch of 15-inch guns, but fire using D12s. I can see another naval arms race afoot – only in miniature.. GHQ will be loving it!