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Friday, 9 November 2018

The second Battle of Jutland

Over the past few days, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, has been hosting a conference entitled THE FIRST WORLD WAR AT SEA: CONFLICT, CULTURE AND COMMEMORATION. One of the activities laid on for the attendees was a wargame staged by the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island.

The conference programme describes the wargame thus:
The Battle of Jutland War Game
Presented by the U.S. Naval War College

The Battle of Jutland not only marked a turning point in the naval war; it also influenced the development of naval strategy on both sides of the Atlantic in the decades that followed. Mere weeks after the battle, reports supplied by the participants on both sides enabled U.S. Navy Admiral William S Sims and his associates to reconstruct the actions at Jutland on the war gaming floors of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. After the war, British and German veterans of Jutland frequently visited the college to lecture about their experiences. These lectures informed the war game experiments, which shaped the thinking of Naval War College graduates of the 1920s and 1930s, including Ernest J King, Chester W Nimitz, Raymond A Spruance, and William F Halsey, Jr.

Join members of the Naval War College faculty as we recreate the Battle of Jutland war game on the floor of the Queen’s House. Using the original methods and gaming equipment, we will demonstrate how American naval officers interpreted the lessons of the battle. The event will begin with a brief historical presentation and orientation for the game, followed by the execution of the game itself.
I was lucky enough to be invited to act as one of the game's umpires (although I ended up as one of the players), and after a short setup and briefing session on Wednesday 8th November, I took part in the wargame on the evening of 9th November.

The event took place in the Queen's House, which is in the centre of a colonnade that connects the two wings of the National Maritime Museum.

The Queen's House, Greenwich.
The rules used were those written by the staff of the US Naval War College in 1922 in light of the experience gained and data gathered during the Great War, and the playing area was approximately twenty-four feet square, with eight inches representing one thousand yards (a ground scale of 1:4500th). The models were 1:1200th-scale metal models mounted on bases, with each base named and numbered for ease of reference.

The game sequence was as follows:
  • Players on the same side of the floor consult and write their orders (3 minutes allowed)
  • Floor umpires then:
    • Collect the orders for the ships they are adjudicating
    • Move the models according to the orders (turns are calculated using a template)
    • Adjudicate the results of any gunnery (this is deterministic and does not involve throwing dice, hitting targets, or estimating ranges)
    • Mark the orders with the results of any gunnery exchanges
    • Pass the orders to the scorekeepers
  • The scorekeepers then record any damage, and the results are displayed so that the floor umpires can adjust the individual ship record charts that they have (17 minutes are allowed for the umpiring activity to take place)
  • The next move then starts
So how did I do?

I was given command of SMS Thuringen, a Helgoland-class dreadnought. As she was one of the first dreadnoughts built for the Imperial German Navy, she was lightly-armed in comparison with the later ships and although her main armament was twelve 12-inch guns, they were disposed so that she could only fire eight of them on each broadside and (in theory, if not in practice) six ahead or astern.


(Trying to fire six of her 12-inch guns dead ahead or astern was theoretically possible, but the resultant self-inflicted damage would have been severe. Firing four 12-inch guns ahead or astern slightly to port or starboard was far more feasible and far less damaging.)


SMS Thuringen's Record Sheet
I was positioned at the rear of the main German battle line and in accordance with orders from my admiral, I moved ahead at 10 knots for the first turn, firing at HMS Colossus as I did. (it is worth noting that HMS Colossus was not the closest British ship, but orders are orders ...)

I then increased speed to 15 knots and turned 70 degrees to starboard. I continued firing at HMS Colossus, and my ship was hit by British gunfire. As a result, my ship was reduced to 19 knots and her guns were only 0.9 effective.


Matters then became somewhat confused. The German flagship was hit and sinking, and the admiral decided to move his flag. I was informed by signal that he was moving to my ship, and so I ordered her to stop in order for the transfer to take place.

It didn't. He transferred to another ship, and mine remained stationary and unable to fire during Turn 3. Luckily, Thuringen was not hit by any enemy gunfire, although coming to a halt without warning did almost precipitate a collision with one of the other German dreadnoughts!

I was then ordered to turn towards the British battle line and engage HMS Colossus again. During the exchange of gunfire Thuringen was hit for a second time ...


... and this came close to reducing her to 50% of her original effectiveness (she was down to a speed of 13 knots and her guns were now operating at and effectiveness of 0.6).

At this point the adjudicator/chief umpire/game master brought the battle to an end. Both sides had lost ships and I suspect that had the battle continued for a further couple of turns, the Allies would have sunk quite a few more German dreadnoughts.

So, what are my thoughts about the rules?

Before I took part in the pre-game briefing session, I was sceptical about the deterministic nature of the rules, but once I had the opportunity to try them as both an umpire and a player, my scepticism evaporated. This was a set of rules which had the better elements of Fetcher Pratt's rules (which is hardly surprising since he was very conversant with the US Naval War College's rules) but without the tedious firing system. As a result, the tempo of play was faster, and players could concern themselves with what their ship was doing whilst the admirals could concentrate getting their ships into the best possible tactical position.

It is certainly a set of rules I would use again, and hopefully they can be given an airing at a future COW.

I must record my thanks to the staff of the US Naval War College and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, for staging this event. In particular to Peter Pellegrino, who acted as ringmaster/adjudicator/chief umpire/game master; to Richard LaBranche for enabling his Wargaming Department to come over to run the game; to Mark Stanovich (Stan) for being such a great guy; to the rest of the staff of the College for everything they did; and to Alison Hoyt – a JAG lawyer who had never before taken part in a wargame of this nature – for being such a great umpire. I am sure that I and the rest of the British wargamers who had the opportunity to take part in this wargame will join me in wishing the members of the US Naval War College a safe journey home and hoping that we will meet you again someday.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    I am very intrigued by the rules used for this - are they available in print anywhere? It looks like it was a lot of fun and I must confess to having a soft spot for the Helgoland class as they look rather like a pre dreadnought on steroids.

    How many ships were involved?

    All the best,

    DC

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    Replies
    1. David Crook,

      I'm not sure if the rules are available, but I hope that the US Naval War College will allow their distribution.

      There were about a dozen ships on each side, with each fleet including a mixture of dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts ... but none of the later 15-inch gun-armed ones.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. The 1936 edition of the rules will go to print shortly edited by me and Chris Carlsen (as in of Harpoon fame). I will publish the ship cards on my site to allow people to pick the game up and give it a go. Book is at final draft stage, so should be out within weeks. ps I have been working on this book with the full support of the Naval War College.

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    3. John Curry,

      That is good news. I look forward to seeing the book in print.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Sounds like it wasa great day Bob.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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    Replies
    1. Pete.,

      It was ... and hopefully more games using these rules will be staged in the UK in the not too distant future.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Wow
    Green with envy, it looked like a fantastic event
    Well done Her Kapitan!

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    Replies
    1. Geordie an Exile FoG,

      With luck, we might be able to stage a battle using these rules at COW.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I shall stand by the Game Wall for that one with "pen in hand" probably with David Crook jostling me for pole position!

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    3. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      Now that would be worth seeing!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Did those deterministic rules successfully model there being "something wrong with (their) bloody ships"?

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    Replies
    1. Nick Riggs,

      The rules don't have any mechanism for catastrophic hits ... but during the practice we held on Wednesday evening, HMS Orion was sunk in a single turn.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. I don't do envy as a rule, but ... Ooo, look: I've come over all green! Sounds like a lot of fun, with a very accessible rule set (by which I mean easy to learn and brisk to play, whilst still sufficiently verisimilitudinous - useful word, 'accessible').

    It seems to me likely that the absence of rules for catastrophic hits (good expression!), and the determinism of gunnery, places the emphasis on naval tactics. Did that come across do you reckon?

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    Replies
    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      It was a great event, and once you began to use the rules, they proved to be simple to work with and the game moved along at a reasonable pace.

      The rules certainly placed a great emphasis on the proper use of tactics and signalling, and the absence of dice or the need to estimate range speeded the game play. In real life, catastrophic hits did not occur that often, but they are always remembered by wargamers, which is why wargamers seem to become obsessed with them. In the tryout game, HMS Orion was sunk in a single turn as a result of being hit by gunfire from five enemy ships at a range of less than 10,000 yards ... and that seemed pretty catastrophic to me!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. Replies
    1. David Cooke,

      I'm very pleased that you enjoyed reading my report of the game. It was a very interesting one to take part in.

      All the best,

      Bob

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