Wednesday, August 17, 2022

“A ship’s a fool to fight a fort.”

So said Admiral Lord Nelson. With the centenary of Trafalgar so fresh in the collective minds of the Royal Navy, the Admiralty is pondering the Hero’s words anew as they contemplate an attack on Heligoland.

After the island was transferred to Germany in 1890, the new owners immediately began work on
fortifications centred around a quartet of 21cm/8.2 inch guns and eight 28cm/11 inch howitzers. These were supplemented by a number of 4.1 inch/105mm guns positioned around the island for close-in defence. Since the main artillery is located two hundred feet above sea level it also has the attribute of increased range and plunging fire.

Twelve heavy artillery pieces on a rock-steady firing platform and plunging fire capability… Quite.

The only bright spot is that this heavy armament won’t be augmented any time soon, as there’s a tug of war between the German navy and the army when it comes to the allocation of artillery. Troops are massing along the Franco-German border, and the French army artillery is superior to that of the German army. There's at least one company of troops in garrison on the island. It's believed their complement of machine guns has been increased.

So it is that the Admiralty ordered up the four Royal Sovereign class battleships Royal Sovereign, Empress of India, Resolution and Repulse. Their 13.5 inch main armament offers a ‘bigger bang for the buck’ when it comes to shore bombardment.

The class has the unfortunate reputation of being unstable in high seas, hence their nickname of the ‘Rolling Ressies.’ Stormy weather in the North Sea precluded any immediate move against Heligoland after the Battle of the Humber for this very reason. Now April has turned into May the weather has settled and the operation is on once more.

The plan is for the Royal Sovereigns to close with the island in the afternoon so the sun will be in the eyes of the defenders. The bombardment group will commence targeting the shore defences while the five London class and four Majestic class battleships stand off as cover in case the German fleet sallies forth from Jade Bay. Under no circumstances are the village or the lighthouse to be targeted. The civilian area is marked by the steeple of St. Nicholas’ church. (The kazern/barracks for the island’s garrison is located too close to the village to be targeted safely and so is, unfortunately, also out of bounds).

The fleet has the usual complement of cruisers and destroyers, among which is HMS Charybdis. This elderly Second-class Protected Cruiser was used for troop transport from 1905 onwards, and performs the role for this mission.

Game Mechanics.

All heavy artillery on Heligoland will range up to 20,000 yards (10 nautical miles). Add one to the firing dice for a totally stable firing platform and there are no penalties for bad weather. Each weapon counts as one calibre larger on the progressive fire table to reflect the effects of plunging fire, so 11 inch guns will count as 12 inch, 8.2 inch as 9.2 inch.

Shore bombardment takes a different approach. All ordinary hits are ignored. Critical hits count, but only Turret, Gunnery Director Centre, Fire and Magazine hits have any effect. A Magazine hit will only destroy the turret it serves. A result of Fire indicates that undergrowth or buildings have been ignited by a shell burst. Depending on the wind direction this will decrease the defending fire factor by one due to smoke obscuring the range finders.

Victory Conditions.

The Royal Navy has to destroy all twelve main artillery positions for victory. Once this has been achieved it’s assumed the smaller vessels will close with the shore to suppress the 105mm guns and provide fire support as Charybdis lands her troops.

The German defenders will achieve victory if two ships of the Bombardment Group are sunk or crippled, at which point the group will withdraw.

With luck and a following wind - and cooler weather - I'll fight out the engagement in the next few days. 


NCC1717 said...

What is the date of your scenario? It looks like it will be an interesting game.

Oddly, in spite of the all the hoopla about the Heligoland fortress, in the battle of Aug 28, 1914, Scheer says "The upper part of the island was completely shrouded in mist. The marine artillery on the island saw nothing of the action which raged within range of the island ..."

Michael Awdry said...

Best of luck with the encounter A.J. I have to feel that the odds favour the defenders. Looking forward to finding out how it plays.

A J said...

Thanks, gentlemen! NCC1717, the scenario is May 1906. Interesting observation about the mist. I'll be sure to check the weather forecast for that day!


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