Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thoughts on Naval Scenarios - Relative Advantages

I've been thinking about scenario design for naval war games and came up with the following relative advantages that exists.

  1. Advantage of Strength (out-gunning) exists when one side has a clear advantage in firepower. Therefore in a toe-to toe slugfest the fleet with this advantage should win a gun battle.
  2. Advantage of Manoeuvre (out-running) exists when one side can show the other a clean set of heels and thus avoid the toe-to-toe slugfest. or alternately prevent their opponents from running away.
  3. Advantage of Position exists when one fleet holds a blocking position, essentially lies between the enemy fleet and their objective.
  4. Advantage of Situation exists when the status-quo favours one side and forces their opponent to press for a conclusive result.
Obviously the key to scenario design is to balance these for advantages to produce a competitive and fun 
game  (I'm still working on this one).  Obviously a combat between one side with an advantage of sped and another with an advantage of firepower will be short with - one side running and the other gunning until the weaker side gets away or is hit badly enough to slow down and be overwhelmed.

To illustrate these let's look at a couple of historical actions. 

  • River Plate 1939
    • The Graf Spee holds a clear advantage of firepower.  In a gun battle she can expect to overwhelm the british cruisers (and did so historically)
    • Commodore Harwood holds a clear advantage of manoeuvre and can decide to fight or flee.
    • There is no real advantage of position as the battle was fought on the open sea and neither side effectively blocked the other.
    • The british hold an advantage of situation as the Germans must fore a clear victory which in this case means to drive off his pursuers and escape in good shape.  A stalemate will allow the RN to call in further reinforcements and hold an advantage of strength.  A bloody victory will leave the Graf Spee useless as a raider and at the mercy of any new RN ships she meets.
  • SMS Goeben vs. Admiral Troubridge (1914)
    • Here the Goeben holds a clear advantage of both firepower and speed over the British armoured cruisers.  
    • But now Troubridge can hold an advantage of position by blocking the Germans access to Constantinople.
    • Historically the advantage of situation lay with the Germans, if Troubridge did nothing (as he did) then SMS Goeben  becomes the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the entire shape of the war changes.  However, if Troubridge was blocking the way then the Germans have to fight his way past while retaining full power of manoeuvre or he'd be caught by stronger RN forces.
There are similarities between the two scenarios, and they both make fun and challenging games.  However, the differences n speed and position make for different challenges.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Internet Library for Wargamers

So over the last year or so I've been finding a lot of useful wargaming resources (ok, useful to me maybe not for anyone else) on the net.  With the digital age, there's a lot of older books that are out there and available.

FYI, I don't own a Kindle, I Pad or any other fancy e-book reader.   I just find these and save them as adobe pdfs on the hard drive of my macbook.  All of them cam (as my Irish father-in-law would say) free, gratis and at no additional charge.

Here's a sampling of the more useful books I've found for Naval warfare in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I know that similar treasure troves are out there for other periods (for instance the James' history of the Royal Navy 1793-1815 is available in its entirety).

Books available online

1.     Brassey, T.
a.     The Naval Annual (1886, 1887, 1888-9, 1890 & 1902 editions – I am still trying to track down the 1896 and 1898 editions – these are valuable troves complete with plans, armour and weapon details and squadron Orbats)
2.     Cassard, W, G
a.     Battleship Indiana and Her Part in the Spanish American War, 1898 (by her chaplain!)
3.     Gibbs, F.T.
a.     Illustrated Guide to the Royal Navy and Foreign Navies, 1896
4.     Goodrich, C. F.
a.     Report on the British Naval and Military Operations in Egypt, 1885 (prepared for the US Navy)
5.     Jane, F.T.
a.     The British Battlefleet, 1915
b.     Heresies of Sea Power, 1906
c.      The Imperial Japanese Navy, 1904
d.     (Copies of Jane’s Fighting Ships are so far proving elusive)
6.     Jones, H.W.
a.     The Battle of Santiago On board the U. S. Battleship "Texas", 1913 (another chaplain at Santiago)
7.     Lodge, H.C.
a.     The War With Spain, 1899
8.     Mahan, A.T
a.     Lessons of the War With Spain, 1899
b.     Naval Strategy, 1911
c.      On Naval Warfare, 1918 (a selection of Mahan’s articles)
9.     McClure, A.K.
a.     The Naval Battle of Santiago, I am not sure of the publishing date but Cornell’s copy has a library stamp from 1903!
10.  Reed, E.J.
a.     Modern Ships of War, 1888 (with Simpson and Kelley)
b.     Our Ironclad Ships, 1869
c.      (Reed was a controversial former chief constructor for the Royal Navy)
11.  Schley, W. S
a.     The Battle of Santiago, 1898 (Schley was in charge of the US fleet for the first part of the action – this was his action report)
12.  Stevens, G.W.
a.     Naval Policy, 1896
13. US Office of Naval Intelligence
a.     Some Information Concerning Some of the Principal Navies of the World, 1909
b.     The Views of Admiral Cervera, 1898 (the view from the other side)
c.      War With Spain, Operations of the US Navy on the Asiatic Station, 1900 (Dewey’s reports)
14. Wilson, H.W.
a.     The Downfall of Spain (Naval History of the Spanish American War), 1900 (the best resource for this War)
b.     Ironclads In Action, 1896 (classic resource covering 1855-95)
c.      Japan’s Fight For Freedom, 1904 (covers early parts of the RJW, and yes that is the actual title)
d.     I am still looking for Wilson’s “Battleships in Action” covering Russo-Japanese War and WWI

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Videos of 1898 Navies

I think this is pretty cool - newsreels of some of the participants in the Spanish American war.  The Spanish cruiser Vizcaya - I expect when she visited New York in exchange for the USS Maine's ill fated visit to Cuba.

Then the USS Oregon

Why Game the Spanish American War?

Ok, enough of the pictures and time to use this as a medium for organizing my thoughts (good luck on that one).  On the surface, Santiago seems to have been very one sided.  The Armada lost all 6 ships and the US Fleet suffered only minor damage.  Dig a little deeper and the Caribbean  Campaign offers a fair but if flavour and the all important wargaming possibilities.  So here goes...

  1. Goofy looking ships, the naval equivalent of pretty uniforms.  Naval gamers love the late Victorian era for the weird and wonderful variety of ship designs, and they are present in the Span-Am war.  Low freeboards, high freeboards, turrets in echelon, barbettes in lozenges, broadside guns, Elswick cruisers and early destroyers - it's all there.
  2. Low density actions - The fleets engaged at Santiago included 6 armoured cruisers, 4 battleships, 3 torpedo craft and two armed yachts (more flavour).  That's a good level to make it interesting but not  big enough to be overwhelming.  Count up the ships engaged at Lissa, Round Island or Tsushima and think about fitting them on a table easily.
  3. Short gun ranges - OK relatively short gun ranges compared to later actions but not as short as the age of sail or ACW.  Ranges were  almost always under 6000 yards, and the maximum was 10,000 yds.  Six later at Round Island they opened fire at 14,000, and ranges were over 20,000 yds by WWI.  That   means your minimum table or floor space is manageable.  At 1cm=100yds (~1:10,000) the max range is 1 metre, at 1"=100 yds (1:3600) max range is 100".
  4. Gaming it at 1:1200 is possible - this follows as a direct result of the previous two bullets, and means that your models can look appropriately goofy (as per the first bullet).  As you can see from my photos, I am no master modeller but simple models give the right look in my eyes.  I'll admit that other scales work too, especially given the quality of the War Time Journal 1:3000 vessels.  But 1:1200 gives a proper gaming with toy boats feel.
  5. Transitional Periods Are Always Interesting - The period 1880-99 was one where naval architects were forced to compromise (probably more than any other period).  There were finite limits on the combinations of fire power, speed and protection for any given ship.  This only eased at the end of the century when new armour processes allowed the same levels of protection for far less weight. 
  6. Free Reference Materials Available on the Net or Library - searches via the Internet archives or Google books bring up lots of interesting stuff. Or cruise through your local library (University libraries are especially useful).  I'll post a full reading list of the ebooks on my MacBook's hard drive in a later post.
  7. Operational Possibilities - From the US standpoint there are operational challenges.  Initially Adm Sampson was charged with blockading Cuban ports, locating Cervera, supporting the Cuban rebels and protecting the Eastern Seaboard from Cervera.  And one of his major units (USS Oregon) was en route from the Pacific Coast via Cape Horn (Teddy hadn't dug the canal yet).  That's a lot of bread to spread your butter over and it can't be very thick in any one place.  On arriving in the Caribbean, Cervara had options too.  In the end he tied up the US fleet nicely by diving for cover at Santiago while Sampson and Schley searched for him on the open sea.
  8. Scenario Possibilities - We have fleet actions, shore bombardments, blockade running, troop convoys and gun boat actions up narrow creeks.  Let's add in the possibilities from Cervara running into dispersed elements of Sampson's fleet and aggressive actions from blockaded ports and there's lots of possibles here.
  9. Plenty of Scope to Given the Spanish a Better Chance -  Ah yes the wargamer's what ifs.  Let's face it the Spanish were the fleet most likely to step on a rake in 1898, but there's plenty of option to give them a better chance.  First we can work with what they had historically and improve their efficiency.  Dig a little deeper and we can allow them to build up their fleet with purchases and building programs (heck just finishing up the ships on the stocks would help).  And lastly there is:
  10. Escalate the War to Include Other Nations - it's the last thing you want to see in the news, but this is all grist for the wargamers' mill.  Prime candidates would be the three leading European naval powers - Great Britain, France and Germany.   

    That's enough for now, but I'll likely blog on some of these bullets further in the future.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    The Armada Espanol

    Here's some real vs model shots for the opposition.
    Vizcaya in 1:1200
    The design is supposedly based on HMS Orlando, although the main armament is in barbettes on the spanish vessels.   I'll be kind here and not post the pictures of the same ships after Santiago. 
    Vizcaya and sister ships circa 1898

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    US Battleships 1898

    USS Iowa in 1:1200
    An improvement on Indiana, trading down in armament for a raised fo'csle and improved speed and sea-keeping.  These models are basic but capture the basic "monopoly token" appearance of the originals - short with lots of turrets.  The extra deck on the Iowa stands out clearly.
    USS Iowa c. 1898

    USS Indiana in 1:1200 

    The first class of US Battleships, suffered from low freeboard compared to foreign ships.  However, the Oregon made the trip round Cape Horn from San Francisco to the Florida keys.

    USS Indiana in c. 1898

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    USS New York

    Historical Photo from c1898

    The Model
    My philosophy on modelling ships is basically KISS, get the details that stand out in photos.  In this case, the ship has a clean flush decked hull, 3 funnels and 2 masts with turrets at each end.  I should add cranes since they stand out in the photo.  I also need to give her a darker coat of yellow ochre on the upperworks and finish the flag.

    The Santiago Project

    Ok, about 10 years ago I started carving the fleets from the Spanish American War out of balsa.  Now I'm looking at finishing off the job and then running a game on the battle of Santiago at the local convention in May.

    Here's a look at the fleets to date

    USS New York, USS Iowa and USS Indiana
    From the Armada Espanol, the Vicaya, Cristobal Colon and Audez