A clash of Giants indeed! Our most prolific correspondent Mark Fry reports from the Slimbridge refight……..
The 31st of May – 1st June 1916 witnessed, what was probably the largest maritime battle ever, which took place on the North Sea off the Jutland coast of Denmark.
See this great YouTube video for a full historical run through of the battle – thoroughly recommended: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_UryFjKUsM
Just love those accents!
The Battle of Jutland Wiki is also very informative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Jutland
Germany and the United Kingdom were at war, the First World War as it was to become known as, and whilst the fighting on land was heading towards a stalemate and the horrors of years of trench warfare in the mud and blood of Flanders and Northern France, on the high seas the situation was very different or was it? There might have been no trenches but large areas of the North Sea, especially near the North German coast were heavily mined and the significantly outnumbered German High Seas Fleet was effectively bottled up in port not daring to confront the full might of the Royal Navy. Yes, German U-boats patrolled the shipping lanes trying to even-up the balance by preying on merchant vessels bringing much needed food and materials to England and in the skies overhead Zeppelins patrolled and provided radio reconnaissance, but the Kaiser was not about to risk his precious fleet in a foolhardy mismatched battle.
This was the era of the ‘Dreadnought’ – huge armoured ships with massively powerful guns that dominated maritime warfare. But the idea that these ships were invincible was a complete fallacy – in fact – in reply to an observation that Dreadnought warfare was like two heavily armoured knights hitting away at each other with battle-axes, Winston Churchill, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, was heard to reply, “More akin to two eggs hitting each other with sledge hammers!” But even at this stage in the war, Dreadnoughts had already been superseded by even larger, more heavily armoured and bigger gunned ships called Super Dreadnaughts and these formed the back bone of both fleets.
British maritime doctrine was founded on one significant principle and that was that the Grand Fleet needed to outnumber all its enemies by at least 60%, and at this time if you had combined the whole of the German High Seas Fleet, the USA navy and the Russian navy, the UK would have still outnumbered them all put together, and the British were still building more ships of larger and larger tonnage each year. Britannia did truly rule the waves!
The German High Seas fleet could not possible take on this behemoth of an enemy in straight head-to-head battle, but what it could (& did) try and do, was to lure its enemy piecemeal into a trap and inflict maximum damage on it even if only to achieve a propaganda victory.
So it was that on Saturday 15th April 2018 a band of naval wargames descended on The Tudor Arms at Slimbridge to attempt to re-enact this monster of a battle with fleets of 1:6000th scale ships. However, the game had been played out on map moves for weeks in advance, as the two fleets tried to find each other in the murk of the North Sea fog banks. I was playing the role of Reinhart Scheer – German High Admiral, ably assisted by Dave Nicholas who was my trusted No.2 Vice-Admiral Hipper who commanded a squadron of Battle Cruisers who were tasked with the advance scouting party.
3]. The German High Seas Fleet
Unlike my name-sake, I made a tactical decision to impose radio silence on my fleet (including Hipper) and also to choose to leave behind the slowest elements of my fleet – a dozen or so very slow, under armoured and under-gunned pre-dreadnought battleships whose contribution in any in combat with the British was at best limited and at worst a liability. These were left back at Horn’s Reef, with a guarding flotilla of destroyers/torpedo boats, near the mouth of the rout through main German minefield to secure the path of retreat to safe harbour. This decision also allowed the remaining High Seas Fleet move significantly faster and to close the gap dramatically between itself and Hipper’s squadron so they could jointly catch the British advance forces unawares.
The battle commenced at c. 16.30hrs (game-time) with the advance British squadrons led by Beatty sighting both Hipper’s squadron and the High Seas Fleet pretty much simultaneously and whilst Hipper and Beatty exchanged long-range shots and damage, Beatty chose not to push home his advantage and “engage the enemy closer” as he had done in history. Breaking his fleet into smaller packets he about faced and headed back towards the British Grand Fleet which was still out of sight at this point. However, that about turn was his down fall as his flagship HMS Lion was hit repeatedly by stern shots from both Hipper’s squadron and the advance elements of the High Seas Fleet, and suffered a magazine explosion and blew to bits, taking Beatty and over 1,000 other British seamen to a cold watery grave.
The battle then proceeded to break up into a series of skirmishes between German and British destroyers/torpedo boats each trying to gain an advantage over the other to get in close to the capital ships to unleash their torpedoes. As this was going on the main Battle Ships and Dreadnoughts were throwing shells at each other at long range, dishing out and receiving gruelling punishment. Beatty’s scattered squadrons – especially the newer more heavily gunned Queen Elizabeth class Battleships were concentration fire on damaged segments of the German High Seas fleet, whilst the Germans punished severely British mishandling of their Cruisers and Armoured Cruisers most of which were sunk in the deadly gun battle.
As the British Grand Fleet started to appear on the horizon after 2 hours of intensive fighting the Germans had lost 7 capital ships seriously damaged or destroyed and with the visibility slowly dropping as night started to fall (it was now 18.30 game time) Scheer ordered the withdrawal to safety leaving Admiral Jellicoe commanding the British fleet to curse his luck.
In the actual battle there were a series of confused night combats at which the Germans were much better suited and Scheer went on to inflict more damage on Jellicoe, causing him to pursue more cautiously. In our game we’d run out of time and our umpire ruled that all the Heavily damaged and damaged German ships were considered lost (which was a bit harsh in my opinion) thus giving the British a sizable victory.
So … we had ‘done’ Jutland in a day and successfully fought a major action with a new set of naval rules, ‘Si Vis Pacem’ that worked really well. Great fun was had by all – but mostly by us Germans as we got to do the bulk of the fighting.
Many thanks to all the players and in particular our very patient Umpire (Stuart Machin) who did a grand job in ensuring that a table top battle actually happened, as both fleets manoeuvred blind across the expanse of the North Sea in an on-line pre-game written order session. Also to Dave Manley for writing the rules that worked so very well.
Remember that Mark and the boys will be back very soon with the latest instalment from the Cold WAR GONE HOT CAMPAIGN! Stay tuned for Mark and myself on a battlefield just North of the Border………..