Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Bombardment of Heligoland ~ Part 2

As the Bombardment Group went about on the next westward leg, matters went from bad to worse with Empress of India. An 11 inch shell screamed in, striking her stern and damaging the rudder flat. Her steering shot, Empress of India began to swerve out of the line to port. 

The damage control party were soon on the scene. EA Bert Hoskins scratched his head as he regarded the steel shard jammed in the rudder trunk. The whistle of the wind and the roar of battle came through the hole in the deck above his head where the enemy shell had entered.

"I dunno, Frank," he shouted to his mate, EA Frank Arkwright. "How should we fix this'n, then?"

"Do wot my Old Man always did when 'e 'ad a problem, mechanical-like," Frank replied in a gentle clatter of dropped aitches. "'It it wiv an 'ammer!"

"Right you are, lad." Bert held out his hand. "Pass me that there sledge'ammer..."

Captain Marsh commanding Empress of India ordered a reduction in speed to take the strain off the rudder while repairs were made. The Empress described one full circle, her two fit consorts passing north of her and Royal Sovereign slowing to pass south. The wounded ship resounded with solid clangs and grunts before finally a cheerful voice came from the confines of the rudder flat. 
"Try the bugger now, sir!"
The message - suitably bowdlerised - made its way to the bridge. The quartermaster tentatively tried the ships wheel before grinning and nodding to his Captain. "Helm's answering, sir!"

"And at the end of it all we merely exchanged places in the line." Marsh nodded approval. "Tell the engineering lads well done, and they can ask for an extra tot of run when this business is over."


To the north the effects of the bombardment were increasing. The island resembled a volcano as shell bursts dotted the once-pristine surface. Two more emplacements erupted in flame and ruin as 13.5 inch shells found their mark. Fires raged in the upper village to lend an awful human tragedy to the scene. The steeple of St. Nikolas' Church rose serenely above it all.

The next salvo destroyed the sole surviving 11 inch gun turret, effectively ending the island's heaviest-hitting artillery. Heligoland's defence now depended on the 28 cm howitzers, which had made a good show at pulverising Royal Sovereign's secondary armament, but had failed to penetrate her main belt and deck armour.

Edwards squinted through his binoculars. "Another hit on the civilian area, sir."

"Bloody hell," Ramsay muttered. "Resolution again?"

"Yes sir, but not to worry." Edwards lowered his binoculars and smiled. "She hit the enemy barracks this time." 

"It seems Captain Cavendish had a word with Thessiger."

"Quite likely, sir."

The Kasern erupts.

Edwards resumed his scan of the island and its environs. Movement in the area of the inner harbour caught his eye and he stiffened. "Sir? Enemy torpedo boats heading toward us, close by the harbour."

Six lean shapes emerged from the haze of drifting smoke, their sights set on the Bombardment Group.

"Hmm." Ramsay studied the oncoming vessels. "I'm surprised they haven't made an appearance before now."

"We are down two 6 inch guns, sir. Those howitzers may not be good for penetrating solid armour, but they played havoc with our secondary guns and crews."

"Indeed. Perhaps those fellows yonder relied upon the damage we've suffered to our secondaries being greater than it is. Signal the squadron to be on the watch for torpedoes. Warn our lookouts, too. Beastly things!"

As he turned to give orders for a moment Edwards thought Ramsay referred to Royal Sovereign's stalwart lookouts before realising it was a non-sequitur.

Although Royal Sovereign had lost all but two of her 6 inch guns to enemy fire, her consorts had not suffered anywhere near as much, or at all. As the German torpedo boats closed, so the British gun crews found their marks. The leading boats shuddered and split apart as the heavy projectiles ripped into their fragile hulls.

"Those fellows have plenty of pluck," Ramsay remarked as the surviving two torpedo boats sliced through the falling spray, debris and smoke to zero in on the squadron. Torpedoes shot from their tubes and splashed into the sea. Foaming wakes appeared, heading straight for the Bombardment Group.

An order came from Rear Admiral Crabtree. "Signal - the squadron must turn to comb the torpedo tracks!"

Ramsay gave the order to signal, but he could already see that years of peacetime naval maneuvers had paid off. The squadron's ships were already turning northward to comb the tracks. From his vantage point Ramsay could see trouble ahead. 

"Damn it, Tom, but it's going to be tight."

Even as he spoke a colossal plume of smoke and dirty water rose from Empress of India's stern quarter. The resounding explosion was accompanied by a wave of heat that they felt even on Royal Sovereign's bridge.

Ramsay watched with a sick dread as Empress of India reeled and yawed - before carrying on as before. He breathed a sigh of relief. "I think she's hurt, Tom, but not as bad as I feared."

"Bloody good job, sir. It'd be a shame for the Empress to sink now after all this."

The secondary armament of Resolution and Repulse made short work of the two remaining torpedo boats. 

Ramsay eyed the floating wreckage and the heads of survivors in the water. "Brave fellows. They gave it a damned good try. If we have any boats left, Tom, make sure to ready them for search and rescue once this business is finished."

"Aye aye, sir." Edwards gestured toward the island. "The enemy's fire is definitely slackening. I think we're near victory."

The last emplacement goes up.

A plume of smoke rose into the sky as the last 24 cm gun emplacement took a direct hit. Fire from the island died way altogether. The order to cease fire came from the flag bridge and a shocking silence descended on the scene. 

The Bombardment Squadron approached slowly and cautiously, the lookouts scanning the area with keen attention in case any more torpedo boats were lurking. Some of the island's nearer 4.1 inch guns fired as the squadron came within range, but a few choice shots in reply from the 6 inch guns soon dissuaded them from any more efforts. 

Soon a white flag was seen waving from the church tower. A picket boat emerged from the harbour flying another white flag and made its way toward the waiting ships. Rear Admiral Crabtree strode onto the bridge with the air of a man who saw a knighthood in his near future. 

"Congratulations, sir," Ramsay greeted him with a salute. 

Crabtree responded in kind then rubbed his hands together. "A splendid piece of work, eh, Jeff? Well well. Kindly signal the squadron to heave-to and anchor, then ask Charybdis to come along over here to land her troops. We can sew this business up before teatime, I think."

"Indeed sir."

Ramsay gave his orders then walked out onto the port bridge wing to lean on the rail. The fresh westerly wind failed to carry away the stench of smoke, propellant and, yes, burned human flesh. He looked down on the charnel pit a 28 cm shell had made of the closest 6 inch gun position. A surgeon's mate picked his way carefully over the blood-streaked wreckage in search of survivors as a damage control party got to work clearing debris. Lt. Edwards already had crews making ready to sway out the remaining boats to rescue the enemy torpedo boat survivors.

More than a few of my gallant ship's company won't see another teatime, either. Ramsay wiped his hand over his face, feeling suddenly weary. I'll visit the wounded then comes the hardest duty - writing the letters to the bereaved families. He looked over to the island, where fires still burned in the wrecked houses of the village. But before all that it'd be a kindness to help save what we can from the damage we caused those poor civilians.

Royal Sovereign slowed. Up on the forecastle the anchor crew got to work. With a last glance around Ramsay entered the bridge to give orders for firefighting parties to go ashore. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Bombardment of Heligoland ~ Part 1

"The range has closed to 20,000 yards, sir." The Royal Sovereign's gunnery officer's voice carried down the pipe from the director tower high overhead. 

The dark green hump of Heligoland Island loomed ahead, a thin line of gentle surf showing white along the foot of the russet cliffs. Most of the island appeared to be green and dozing beneath the May sunlight. Thin plumes of smoke from domestic fires rose above the red rooftops of the village at the eastern end. Nothing suggested massed German artillery waited for the British squadron to come into effective range. Nothing suggested the smiling sea to the west had been sown with mines, thus restricting the attacking ships' field of maneuver. 

Rear Admiral Crabtree turned to Captain Ramsay and smiled. "Here we go then, Jeff. We're about to see if the Hero's adage is correct. Is a ship a fool to fight a fort in our modern age?"

Captain Ramsay smiled back. "As much as I respect Lord Nelson, sir, my ship and I are determined to prove him wrong."

"Excellent! That's the spirit. I'll be off to the flag bridge." Crabtree clapped Ramsay on the arm. "Good luck, then, Jeff, and have at 'em!"

Within minutes the Bombardment Group had approached the designated firing area. The signal for a turn to port played out from the semaphore. As the arms swung through the message, distant flashes broke along the green line of the island. Moments later the express-train roar of plunging shells filled the air. Towering plumes of water rose all around the Royal Sovereign.

Lieutenant Tom Edwards, the 2-i-C, glanced at the bridge chronometer then his fob watch. As water fell in torrents upon the deck and superstructure he turned to the duty midshipman standing wide eyed alongside him. "Make a note in the log, Mr. Watson. The enemy opened fire at 12.10 hours precisely..."

Royal Sovereign leads Empress of India, Resolution and Repulse (below, off camera) into action.

The second salvo from the island screamed in. Moments later a cataclysmic explosion shook Royal Sovereign to her core. Edwards saw the thick armour of the after 13.5 inch turret open up like an obscene flower with fire at its heart. When he looked back at the Captain, Ramsay's face wore an expression more suited to a man seeing a kid throwing stones at his conservatory. "Damned annoying, that," Ramsay muttered. "See to it, Tom."

Royal Sovereign's aft turret explodes.

As Edward gave orders to damage control, above his head the calm voice of the gunnery officer gave the word to fire. Royal Sovereign's forward turret guns belched flame and smoke as the wounded ship retaliated. Hits were observed.

Royal Sovereign at 'Windy Corner,' Empress of India following faithfully astern. Smoke pours from the gaping hole in the deck where the after turret stood.

The ships of the Bombardment Group turned in succession, and the guns of Heligoland followed them along, shells raining upon the Royal Sovereign, making her shudder and rattle with every impact. It was not all one-way traffic. As more ships made the turn, so their guns came to bear. Soon, 13.5 inch shells rained down upon the island.

German fire concentrates on Royal Sovereign.

Suddenly a plume of dirty smoke shot into the air above the cliffs facing the squadron. A cheer rose from the embattled Royal Sovereign, sounding thin amidst the cacophony of exploding howitzer shells and thundering guns. "A hit, a hit, a palpable hit!" cried Ramsay, rubbing his hands.

"We'll need a few more of those to finish the business, sir," Edwards remarked.

"They'll get 'em," Ramsay replied.

They both braced themselves as the German gunners' reply slammed into their vessel.

On the island a 13.5 inch shell found a weak spot on the westernmost 11 inch gun turret. Plunging through the armour it exploded deep inside the magazine, blowing the turret off as if it weighed no more than a tin can.

The Bombardment Group went about, but the turn and the resulting predictable course served to aid the German gunners. More shells rained down on the flagship, penetrating her hull and creating havoc with the steam lines. As pressure fell and hull damage mounted she found it difficult to maintain speed and station. 

A midshipman ran onto the bridge, eyes shining with excitement, one hand holding a handkerchief to a gory shrapnel wound on his left cheek. He saluted the Captain. "Admiral's compliments, sir, and he requests you signal Empress of India to take the lead."

Ramsay lowered his binoculars long enough to regard the boy. "My compliments to the Admiral, and I shall comply with his wish." 

As the boy ran off, Ramsay gave his 2-i-C a faint smile. "He's half excited, half terrified. The lad reminds me of my own days as a 'Snotty,' Tom, at the bombardment of Alexandria."

"I was at Rugby at the time, sir, but remember reading about it." Edwards nodded in the direction of the flag bridge. "If he survives, at least he'll have a dashing scar with which to impress the girls."

Ramsay chuckled as he raised his binoculars again to study the effects of the bombardment. Moments later he groaned. "Oh Christ. Resolution's hit the village." He grimaced. "We hoped to avoid that. Let's hope the civvies are down deep in their cellars. There may be a few more hits on the town before this is over."

"I'm afraid so, sir." Edwards examined the island through his own binoculars as the next salvo roared away. "Ah, that's better. I believe we hit another of their emplacements, sir."

The din of battle lessened as Royal Sovereign eased out of the line. Edwards suppressed an uncharitable sense of relief as he saw the German defensive fire switch to pummel the Empress of India.

Empress of India takes a battering.

A plume of smoke rose above the island's cliffs. Ramsay frowned. "I think we hit something else over there, but I don't believe it's a gun position. I wonder what the devil it was?"

After a few minutes Edwards smiled. "I believe that last hit was their gunnery control, sir. Their fire is increasingly erratic."

"Good show!" Ramsay replied. 

The next salvo was the most effective to date. Two more emplacements erupted into ruin. 

"Now we're talking!" Ramsay said. "I do believe we've set the gorse and bracken alight, too. That'll also hinder their fire direction."

Moments later his smile turned into a scowl. "Bloody hell, Tom! Resolution's hit the town again - and there's another hit, from Repulse! Who the hell's the gunnery officer aboard Resolution?" 

"Thessiger, sir. George Thessiger. He was in my class at Dartmouth."

"I hope Palmer rakes him over the coals after this is finished," Ramsay fumed.

"Quite, sir..."

* * * *

The concluding part of this action will be posted soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Heligoland Scenario

Set up for the bombardment game. The Royal Navy intends to destroy all the gun positions located to the left of the line lighthouse-church.

This scenario requires a slightly different approach to registering hits. I'll dice as normal for the number of hits on the defences, but only Critical hits count. Due to the island's elevation the bombarding force is unable to get precise fixes on the artillery positions, so the type of Critical hit is then diced for, which will feature Turret, Emplacement, Magazine, Director/Gunnery Control, Fire, and Civilian.

Turret refers to one of the two 21cm/8.2 inch gun turrets. Dice to see 

which one is hit.

Emplacement refers to one of the eight 28 cm/11 inch howitzers. Dice 

to see which one is hit.

Magazine hits indicate a turret or emplacement is destroyed by the 

explosion. Dice to see which one is hit.

Director/Gunnery Control indicates the main fire director is hit and 

the artillery will then devolve to local control, resulting in a -1 on the hit 


Fire. Undergrowth and/or small buildings have caught light. Depending 

on the wind direction the smoke could interfere with gunnery direction, 

causing a -1 to hit.

Civilian, or Oops... Through some vagary of ballistics a stray shell has 

hit the town. 1d6 score of 1 = St. Nikolas' church. 2 = The kasern 

(barracks) 3 - 6 = Dwellings. 


All Duplicate scores have no effect. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II, RIP.

Whatever your feelings on the monarchy - and I have a few, pro and con - the passing of the Queen marked the end of an era. She ruled for all my life to date, and the traditions that go with a constitutional monarchy weigh on all British people. It's something people of other countries don't get and never will.

I'm going to avoid the social media outlets of FaceAche and Twitter for a few days. The amount of viciousness unleashed over her passing is positively sickening. 

Hopefully, with luck and a following wind, I'll fight out the fictional attack on Heligoland this weekend. The weather's turned a bit cooler which makes my gaming room more comfortable.


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