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. 


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