The Great War at Sea, Jutland, 1/2400 scale
This was a very strange experience. this week I was back in Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney. I say back, as I left there in 1978. Also, while the name was the same, it wasn’t really the same place at all. The “KGS” of my youth had been knocked down, and replaced by a fantastic new school building. So, at 10.30am I found myself in the Social Studies Department staff room, waiting for the bell to ring. You see, I’d just set out the table you see up above, in the middle of a classroom, and I was now waiting for a horde of Year 3 kids to appear. The idea was, I was going to refight part of the Battle of Jutland with them – on the tabletop! So, a few minutes later I was in the classroom, speaking to a surprisingly respectful bunch of about 35 kids. I divided them into two teams – one British, one German, and very democratically I got them to vote for their admiral. So, one kid became Vice-Admiral Beatty, and the other Vice-Admiral Hipper. We were going to refight the battlecruiser action from the “Run to the South” at Jutland, and we only had about 45 minutes to do it in! As time was so tight I abandoned my usual rules – Fleet Action Imminent – and instead I used an adapted form of the basic rules for the Avalon Hill board game Jutland. As you can see I stuck the basic rules up on the electronic whiteboard (apparently chalk and blackboards are a thing of the past), and explained it to the kids. I also gave them a brief background to the battle, and what the aim of the game was – to sink the enemy. Then we began…Kids are clearly better behaved than they were in my day. They all picked up the idea really quickly, and didn’t yell, fight or jab compasses in each other’s legs like we did back in the day. It helped that there were a couple of fantasy kids there – by that I mean Warhammer players – and keeping one on each side helped smooth the whole process of teaching non-wargamers how to roll dice. Each pair of kids had a ship, while the vice-admirals and rear-admirals were also there to make decisions. Essentially these were limited to the fire pattern – who was to fire at who – and when to pull out of the action. Actually, it all went really well. Unfortunately I can’t show any pictures of the games in progress, as for some reason schools don’t let complete strangers take pictures of their kids, in case they land up on a kiddy-porn site. So, you’ll miss the drama. The British concentrated their fire on the German flagship and the Derfflinger, and the Germans did the same on Beatty’s flagship Lion. Soon Lion was reduced to a burning wreck, with her guns out of action, and she sank two turns later. Queen Mary and Indefatigable took a bit of a pounding, but were still in the game when the battle ended. As for the Germans, the Lutzow was pretty battered, as was Derfflinger, but the rest of the German battlecruisers were unharmed. One memorable moment was when Vice-Admiral Beatty – or rather the kid playing him – went all weepy when his ship sank under him. Ha – I bet Sir David would have done the same. Apart from him all the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, but really 35 was too many – it would have worked better with a third of the number. At 12.20pm we did it all again. This time the kids were from Year 5, so were older, and there were also less of them – a more manageable 25. One became my scorekeeper, and he did an excellent job, saving the poor teacher Mrs. Devlin from having to keep the tally. This time the two girls commanding Indefatigable had their ship blow up on Turn 1. That didn’t put them off though – they just sat at the back of the class and texted for the rest of the period. This time both flagships were battered, but the older kids were a bit more savvy, and both commanders pulled their battered flagships behind their battle lines, effectively screening them with their other ships. In this the kid playing Beatty was particularly aggressive, wanting to close the range and ram the enemy. I had to explain that battlecruisers armed with 13.5-inch guns don’t really work that way. I feel that by the end of the lesson or period the kids had all learned something. I certainly enjoyed the experience, and hope that if even a little kernel of knowledge about Jutland got through, then my morning was a success. This, by the way, was all part of the Jutland commemoration staged in Orkney over the period. On the 31st May is the big event – and I’m at the Lyness Naval Cemetery, somewhere in the crowd behind the leaders of Britain and Germany, and the First Sea Lord, more than a few Jellicoes and Beattys, and a bunch of other descendants. I’m really looking forward to it – and to my Jutland book launch the day before – but this morning spent playing naval wargames with 60 Orkney schoolkids will remain a highlight of the whole thing.