Saturday, March 28, 2020

North Sea clash (Quickfire test game) Part 2 - the end

So, the two weeks since I began this game have been crazy, but I finally managed to conclude this trial run of the pre-Dreadnought rules. I aimed to keep the scenario realistic rather than an all-out slugfest, since I think it'll give a better view of how they'll work in a campaign situation.

The premise is that a squadron of German armoured cruisers are heading from NW to SE, bound for a rendezvous with the fleet off Heligoland. They must escape anywhere off the southern edge of the table. The Royal Navy squadron must stop, hinder or at least damage them whilst avoiding any serious losses of its own.

Yorck takes a pounding from the combined fire of the Apollos. Fire breaks out...
...and spreads. The German squadron concentrates on the Naiad to no effect.
As the range opens all ships redirect their fire. Prinz Heinrich comes under a fresh salvo, but escapes serious damage. The same can't be said for Iphigenia. Battered to a hulk by the heavy German guns, she begins to sink.

The last of the Iphigenia.
The German squadron redirects its fire to the next ship in the British line - Andromache. Explosions rock her hull and fire breaks out. The ship's company of the flagship Apollo, running alongside, can only stare aghast as their sister ship is torn apart.
The end of Andromache.
As the hulk of Andromache wallows in the wake of the squadron, the light cruisers' combined fire smashes into the Prinz Heinrich.

The German squadron's return fire seeks out Apollo and a major fire breaks out.

Yorck's damage control parties manage to effect repairs and she regains some speed. As she heads off southward the so-far untouched Roon swings north-east to send a parting salvo to cover the retreat.
Having done her best, Roon maneuvers to rejoin her sister ship, leaving Prinz Heinrich to fight to the last in an attempt to cover the newer ships' escape.

The End. A coup de grace torpedo shot isn't necessary as the combined fire from Naiad and Intrepid send Prinz Heinrich to the bottom.
So, honours even? Could the sinking of an aging armoured cruiser in exchange for two aging light cruisers be considered a fair trade?

The Quickfire rules live up to their name. They are fast. When I was able to find some time to play I could do several turns in a matter of half an hour. I'll try them out again with battleships and destroyers to get a feel for how they handle. At the moment I think I could add some mechanics borrowed from the more complex Battlefleet 1900 rules without doing any harm to the speed of play.

I hope everyone's keeping well in these difficult times. Somehow I suspect more than one lead pile is being reduced!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Life down the rabbit hole.

So, now we're under a two-week 'Shelter in place' order from Ohio's governor. We're confined to barracks and not allowed out with some exceptions. It's a strange time all round, to be sure. My wife's birthday is today, and since we can't go anywhere we're celebrating at home. I hope everyone's hunkering down to weather it all out. It's pretty much the story here. As an author I work from home anyway, and I'm also a solo gamer. I had the sneaking thought it'd be business as usual for me - or even more so. Instead it's been a bit bonkers, quite frankly, with all the preparations to do. Ho hum, I'll complete the naval rules trial then get another game or five in, I'm sure.

In the meantime, you might like to know Osprey Books are making a sterling and much appreciated effort to alleviate the boredom of 'self quarantining' by making a free offer on certain titles. Check out their webpage for details.

Stay well!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

North Sea clash (Quickfire test game) Part 1

It's been a peculiar week, full of disruptions, highs and lows thanks to the Corvid-19 outbreak. Fortunately I had some excellent news on the professional front, which I will share in a few days when things are signed and sealed, so that made things better. My wife and I are still in self-quarantine, and in between doing all the things which must be done in these strange days - I got some gaming in!

This is a trial run of the Quickfire pre-Dreadnought rules from War Times Journal. I began it last Friday and played it on and off, a few moves at a time over these past few days. I'm so glad I have a permanent gaming table!

This is a half-time report, as I really need to get the record down before I forget. The premise is that war has been declared between Britain and Germany over the Morocco Crisis. A German armoured cruiser squadron comprising SMSs Prinz Heinrich, Yorck and Roon sailing somewhere off southern Norway is heading for Heligoland for a rendezvous with other elements of the fleet. Radio intercepts by the British Admiralty has given the Royal Navy intelligence on this isolated squadron's location and heading. A squadron of five Apollo class light cruisers is dispatched to attempt an intercept.

The game begins with the German squadron heading E-S-E at full steam. The RN squadron is heading due North. Luckily it finds itself in a position to 'cross the T.'

British squadron: Apollo leads, followed by Naiad, Intrepid, Iphigenia, Andromache.
Opening salvoes. The German squadron is headed by Prinz Heinrich, followed by Yorck and Roon.
Iphigenia takes a pounding, and fire breaks out.

The Royal Navy ships concentrate their fire on Prinz Heinrich. Battered by 6" shells she suffers a burst boiler and slows rapidly.
With a fire raging aboard and her speed slowing, Iphigenia turns out of line to allow her sisters to keep station while she effects repairs.

Prinz Heinrich turns out of line, allowing Yorck and Roon to turn southwards.
As the German ships turn 'Windy Corner,' both sides concentrate their fire on the lead ships, to little effect.

The Apollos find the range. Yorck staggers under a concentrated pounding of 6" shells and fire breaks out. Apollo suffers hits below the waterline which reduces her speed drastically. Iphigenia succeeds in extinguishing the fire and her damage control parties improves her speed. She accelerates to resume her position in the line.
* * * *

I'll play out the rest of the game as-and-when. So far the rules give a quick game, without too much head scratching over interpretations. More to follow...

Friday, March 13, 2020

Strange days...

Today I had hoped to post an AAR on a trial run through of the Quickfire pre-Dreadnought rules. I even got as far as putting models on my gaming table, ready for action. Real life got in the way with a vengeance, mainly due to disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Governor of Ohio declared a state of emergency two days ago, followed by the Federal government's announcement today. In Ohio assemblies over 100 people are banned, with certain exceptions. Schools are closing for a few weeks. Churches are postponing services. Today our local library service announced all branches are closing for the duration. One of our favourite SF/Fantasy conventions has cancelled for this year with only two weeks notice. Locally, supplies of face masks, toilet paper and hand sanitiser are flying off the shelves. There's talk of food supplies slowing up to the point the National Guard will deploy to ensure the city has food. Local food banks and kitchens are also struggling to find a way to supply the poor and homeless during this crisis.

My wife and I are hunkering down to wait it out. Self quarantining and 'social distancing' are the watchwords. I still hope to get the game in - in fact I will do so, since there are no reasons to go out for a while. I post this as a sobering reflection on the world at large beyond our hobby.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Going down...

As a natural follow up from the torpedo and fire markers I made earlier, I created the probable consequences - these sinking ship markers, which I made more like vignettes. Top: Battleship. Middle: Light Cruiser. Bottom: Armoured Cruiser. I didn't bother making a Destroyer marker, since I assume they'll sink quickly, plus pre-Dreadnought destroyers are barely-there in 1/2400 scale anyway.

Blimey! What a carve-up! (© Sid James, Carry On Cleo).
The basis for these was a batch of resin miscasts from silicone molds taken from scratch-built ships, which I made to speed up production. The resin was old and reacted oddly with the catalyst, sometimes foaming up and making the castings honeycombed and brittle. Rather than throw them out with cries of disgust, I cut off those parts of the castings which were sound enough, like the bows and sterns, and filed them at an angle so they looked like they were rearing up before taking that final plunge to the sea bed. 

I opted to give the markers a generic look rather than paint them up as any one navy. A spray over with dark grey enamel paint undercoat was followed by a coat of battleship grey, red paint for the below waterline portion of the hull to represent the anti-barnacle coating, and lighter grey upper works. Masts were painted a basic white.

Cutting out discs of clear plastic, I glued the castings to them in a roughly off-centre position. Allowing the glue to dry, I smeared on a creamy mush made of tissue paper, spackle, and white craft paint to represent water foaming up as bubbles of air and steam escape the sinking hull. Once the mush dried, I gave the sea area a thin wash of blue acrylic ink and Future polish, before applying a thinner wash of blue over some of the white areas. A couple of streaks of cotton wool to represent escaping steam or sprays of water completed the vignettes. I decided not to add any debris or boats, since these would be virtually invisible at this scale.

Hopefully I'll get to try out the Quickfire rules over the weekend. In the meantime, since this blog has attracted the attention of a particularly annoying and prolific spammer, I'm afraid I'll have to moderate all comments from now on.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Torpedoes away!

Boom! Why does my torp go boom?

Because I finished the fire and torpedo markers today. They came together as I intended them to, so yay me.

To get the spray effect of water blasting up from a torpedo hit I glued scraps of black-dyed foam rubber to a clear plastic easel-like affair, applying them in increasing size from the top down. Once the glue had set overnight, I gave the foam a wet-brush once over with antique white followed by a heavier going over with plain white. The photo below shows the process at about the halfway stage.

Once all was dry, I tried them out on some model ships to see how they all looked in action.

Somewhere in the North Sea HMS Jupiter and SMSs Brandenberg and Gazelle come together in violent action. After a flurry of salvoes Brandenberg is dealing with a raging fire amidships, but Jupiter has her own troubles. Whilst she was concentrating on the German battleship, she didn't notice Gazelle sneaking up on her until it was too late. 


Monday, March 2, 2020

Pre-Dreadnought - The Rules of the Game

After a thorough read-through of the Battlefleet 1900 rules I decided they're a mite too complicated for what I want. They also seem to have an issue with missing sections, particularly those governing gunfire: not ideal. WTJ do produce a basic set of pre-Dreadnought rules called Quickfire, which look more my speed as a solo gamer. The record sheets are easier to produce, too. I'm going to use the rules as-is then add more complicated factors like signalling as I grow familiar with them.

At the moment I'm planning a quick play-through of the rules in a scenario involving a handful of light cruisers and armour cruisers then work up to battleships from there. I already have enough shell splashes for a game, but what I need are some fire and torpedo hit markers.

Bring on the foam.

I cut up a chunk of foam rubber, making a lot of small pieces and three vaguely wedge-shaped bits of increasing size to represent fires of increasing ferocity. A splash or two of yellow and red acrylic ink mixed with spackle plus a dollop of black craft paint later, and I got something usable. The small black pieces are going to be glued in a suitably messy fashion to the two plastic 'easels' on the right. These I made from leftover bits of clear plastic, suitably glued and embellished by a few passes of the hot glue gun. The theory is they'll go hard up against the side of a model so they look like the massive black sprays of dirty seawater and Torpex soot that are the signature result of a torpedo hit. I've only made two such markers, as I figure the odds of getting more than two torpedo hits in the same game move are pretty remote. Watch me get proved wrong in the first game...

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Gazelle class light cruisers

Out to launch... Fresh off the slipways, four Gazelle class light cruisers for the Kaiserliche Marine. Front front to rear, Gazelle, Endine, Nymphe, Frauenlob.

Four little maids from Keil are we...

These light cruisers were the end result of years of experimentation by the German navy, which sought a maid-of-all-work design that would suit fleet deployment, colonial policing, and commerce protection. With ten 4.1 inch guns and a speed of around 21 knots, they remained potent vessels for their size well into the First World War. The Royal Navy was considering moving its light cruiser development toward scout cruisers, but the advent of the Gazelle class forced them to reconsider.

...enacting naval pol-i-cy.
I found these more time consuming to make than the three armoured cruisers. As with any model in this scale, it's not a case of what to fit into the space, but what to leave out and still make the model look like the prototype.

Next upon the slipways will be the four Drake class armoured cruisers for the Royal Navy, and the five Kaiser Freidrich III class battleships for the Kaiserliche Marine.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Prinz Heinrich joins the Kaiserliche Marine

Enter SMS Prinz Heinrich...

Named for Kaiser Wilhelm II's younger brother, the ship was a one-off design rather crippled by budget constraints and the need for a multi-role vessel to get the 'biggest bang for the buck.' Armed with two 24 cm/9.4 in guns in single turrets fore and aft, she also had ten 15 cm/5.9 in and ten 8.8 cm/3.5 in single mountings, and four 45 cm/18 in torpedo tubes. She looked similar to the subesequent Roon class armoured cruisers.

Next up on the slipways are a quartet of German Gazelle class light cruisers. After that I think I'll get some models on the table and play out a trial game. At the moment I'm trying to get my head around the Battlefleet 1900 rules. It appears a section governing actual hits on the target is missing, but since the rules are similar to the stripped down Quickfire version which I already have, I can reverse-engineer them.

Thanks also for the best wishes for my wife's recovery. She's getting better now. :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Prinz Heinrich on the slipway

My wife has had some health issues over the past couple of days which puts everything on hold for a while. I am about finished with another German armoured cruiser, the one-off SMS Prinz Heinrich, named for Kaiser Wilhelm II's younger brother. Photos to follow.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

SMSs Roon and Yorck join the fleet.

War looms on the horizon as SMSs Roon and Yorck sail a sunlit North Sea en-route to join the fleet.

Station keeping needs a bit of work.

Making these two armoured cruisers was fairly easy using the 'sandwich' method. I'm still deciding what to build next. Possibly the earlier German armoured cruiser Prinz Heinrich, which was of similar construction to the Roon. The Kaiserliche Marine could use at least four more battleships and some light cruisers, and the Royal Navy four armoured cruisers before I have enough to form big enough fleets for a mini campaign.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Next project ~ SMSs Roon and Yorck

I'm slowly building up the forces for either side in the fictional/alternate history naval campaign set in 1906 between Britain and Germany. The next project will be the German armoured cruisers Roon and Yorck.
Roon passing through the Keil canal sometime in the first decade of the 20th century.

The pair were completed in 1905, displaced around 10,000 tons and had main armament of four 8.25" guns mounted in twin turrets, and ten 5.9" secondary guns. Roon took part in several actions during the First World War, including the raids on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. Yorck was less fortunate. She took part in the raid on Great Yarmouth on November 3rd 1914, but on the return voyage she strayed off course in heavy fog and ran into a German defensive minefield. She subsequently hit one or more mines and sank quickly with heavy loss of life.

In the campaign both ships will be brand new and ready for service. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Heligoland fortifications and a ruddy great bang.

A bit more research turned up some interesting data and photos of Heligoland Island's fortifications circa 1918. The main armament appears to have consisted of two battleship-type gun turrets mounting two 12"/30.5cm guns apiece, along with a number of smaller turrets mounting 8.25"/21cm guns.

30.5cm turrets. Note the ventilator hoods for the magazines and tunnel network connecting the turrets.
A view from the western side of the island. The turrets are marked by the pale circles surrounding them.

From what I can see the fortifications underwent a major upgrade immediately before and during the First World War, the guns above probably replacing older and less potent ordinance. The two main turrets were sited at the highest point of the island, about 160 feet above sea level. What with this and their low profiles, it would've made the turrets hard to hit by seaborne artillery and given the four guns a large measure of plunging fire capability. I believe there were smaller guns of around 4.1"/105mm calibre covering the harbour and anchorage.

All of the above pieces were dismantled following the 1918 Armistice. In the 1930s the Nazis evacuated the islanders and refortified Heligoland again, and the batteries were referred to as the Nordgrüppe. An extensive network of tunnels was constructed throughout the island to link most of the gun positions, which now included a sizable AA component. It was intended to base a number of U-Boats on Heligoland. Although one pen was built to house the submarines the plan was scaled down when French bases became available after 1940.

Britain took control of Heligoland again in 1945, and again it was decided to demolish the fortifications. In one of those rather bizarre experiments that followed the Second World War, the British Army took one third of the surplus explosives left after the war and packed it all into the tunnel system. They then touched it all off at once...

In the scale of things the explosion is rated as the largest non-nuclear event in history, with roughly one third the power of the Hiroshima bomb. Some predicted that Heligoland would be obliterated. As it was, the poor little island shook down to its roots and the eastern third collapsed. As if that wasn't enough, the RAF used Heligoland as a bombing range up to 1952, at which time Britain handed over what was left of it to then-West Germany.

(Thankfully the island is at peace now. The collapsed eastern half was leveled and a new community with harbor facilities built on the site, although the craters left from wartime and subsequent bombing are still visible on the top of the island. One part of the old above-ground fortifications remains: In 1952 a former WW2 flak tower was converted to create the island's lighthouse. Due to Heligoland's no cars policy, a lack of significant vegetation to create pollen, and the mild climate, it's a good place for people with allergies and respiratory ailments to visit. It also features an almost unique duty-free economy, and a world recognised guillemot sanctuary on the western cliffs).

So, some interesting features to consider in a naval campaign. Situated some 43 miles from the mainland the island was an effective outwork for the German naval bases and ports of Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven around the shores of the German Bight. By the same criteria it also made a potential blocker for the same.

At roughly half a mile long and a quarter mile wide it's not too big to represent Heligoland on the table in 1/2400 scale since (unless my math is off - which is entirely possible) it'll be about 13 inches long.

A few weeks ago, Peter at Grid based Wargaming played out his St. Nazaire raid project using simple but effective scratch-built buildings, emplacements and landing craft. A similar approach would work well for a hypothetical attack on Heligoland. Hmm...

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Battlefleet prep

One thing that tends to differentiate naval gaming from land-based gaming is the need for a bit more in the way of equipment. In the case of Battlefleet 1900 rules from War Times Journal, this means turning circles, angle of fire templates, and record sheets. I printed off a couple of examples of the record sheets that are part of the Battlefleet rules, but the sheer number required for even a small fleet action showed me I'd be better off getting with the technological revolution. So it was to take the donkey work out of the project I consigned the lot as modified GIF files to the computer's Paint program. This will allow me to move swiftly between the ships involved in the game to make entries on damage inflicted and save copies for campaign use. I'm still working up records for all the ships I have available, but a working example is shown below.

Format © WTJ, chart modified for personal use.

Since I want to set this up as a campaign, I'm looking beyond the rules mechanics to the potential theatre of war - the North Sea and Atlantic approaches. One interesting area is the Island of Heligoland in the German Bight.

Once belonging to Denmark, the island was seized in 1807 by the Royal Navy after the Danes were forced to fight for Bonaparte as part of his 'Continental blockade' policy. Heligoland was formally ceded to Britain during the Congress of Vienna in 1814. It remained a British possession up to 1890 when it was basically swapped for German territorial claims in Zanzibar and Africa. The island had - and still has - a reputation as one of the healthiest places on Earth, especially for those suffering respiratory illnesses. Under Imperial German ownership, it was developed into the 'Gibraltar of the North Sea,' with a naval base, dockyard installations, underground fortifications and coastal batteries.

All of which makes it a lovely juicy target for a hypothetical campaign.

Heligoland, circa 1890-1910. Image credit: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

The island has changed a great deal in the years since WW2 - especially in the extension of the harbor and the enlargement of Düne to act as the island airport - but the map and image above are close enough to the period I want to game in. Apart from the site of the kaserne (barracks) and military lighthouse, I can't find much information relating to the kind of fortifications and armament of shore batteries on Heligoland. I might just make an educated guess. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Brandenberg Quartet*

*Technically these are the four battleships of the Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm class of the Kaiserliche Marine circa 1900, but I didn't let that get in the way of a good blog title.

Back row: Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm,Wörth. Front row: Brandenburg, Weissenburg.

These are all scratch built in 1/2400 scale, about the smallest scale limit for my abilities these days. All are mounted on clear acetate, with the wakes created using thick PVA mixed with white craft paint followed by a coat of gloss varnish.

I aim to clear the gaming table and try out a set of rules called Battlefleet 1900 by War Times Journal go get a feel for them. After that, the German fleet will need a few cruisers of one kind and another for the hypothetical 'Morocco Crisis turned hot' mini campaign scenario I have in mind.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Yak shaving & 280mm guns

For one reason and another I lost my wargaming mojo over the holiday season. I do enjoy reading other gamers' blogs, but a general feeling of "can't be arsed" and my general SAD dislike of the winter months overcame any inclination I had to clear my cluttered games table and put my own models into action.

Thankfully, I'm coming back into the scheme of things one small step at a time. Hence the 'yak shaving' title.

Yak shaving ~ Any apparently useless activity which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allows you to solve a larger problem.

The yaks in question take the shape of four 1/2400 scale German Brandenburg class battleship models, which have languished half-built in my to-do pile for months. The 280mm guns are the teeth of these beasts, and they're the penultimate step to be completed before the lot gets undercoated and painted. It'll be a fiddly but necessary job to do, and hopefully should revive my interest. Small steps, small steps... 


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