Sunday, March 13, 2011

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.

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