Jutland: The Baltic Sea
Publisher’s Preview

Great War at Sea: Jutland is a big game, filled with lots of pieces and scenarios. It covers not only the titular 1916 clash of dreadnoughts, not only the campaign in the North Sea, but also the Russo-German campaign in the Baltic Sea. We’ve expanded on the North Sea segment with books like High Seas Fleet and Jutland 1919 that study German and British fleet building plans, and Jutland: Battle Analysis and Jutland: Dogger Bank that give close study to the historical campaigns and the game’s scenarios. But it’s about time that the Baltic half of the map got some love.

Jutland: Baltic Sea is an expansion book for Jutland, the game, this time focused on the Baltic half of the map. Most of the attention goes to the Imperial Russian Navy’s plans for expansion, but there are some additional Germans and Swedes as well. The book comes with 70 new playing pieces, all of them “long” ship pieces, and all of them die-cut and silky-smooth. And you get 30 new scenarios so you can play with them, because you’re going to want to play with them.

For the Germans, all of the new ships are coast defense ships. Before Alfred von Tirpitz began his battleship building program, the German Reichstag showed itself willing to fund coastal defense forces (coast defense ships and torpedo boats) even when it wouldn’t discuss battleships. Tirpitz was successful in ramming through his Naval Law, but if he had failed or been partially successful, more coast defense ships would have been built, so we look at the proposed classes (and give you pieces for them, and scenarios so you can fight with them).

There aren’t many Germans, and the Swedish contingent is the same size. The Swedish Navy unsuccessfully agitated for more modern ships both before and during the Great War, and now they get their wishes. The second division of Sverige-class coast defense ships is here, giving the Swedes a potent core to their fleet. And the three armored cruisers and three light cruisers proposed for the 1916 program are included as well. The Swedes are still no match for the full High Seas Fleet, but with these ships and their handful of modern ships that appear in Jutland, they can certainly take on the German coast defense forces or the Russian fleet before its dreadnoughts enter service, and maybe even after they have one or two of them.

Most of the love, and the new pieces, in Jutland: The Baltic Sea goes to the Imperial Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet. Once a respectable force, almost all of its ships were lost in the Russo-Japanese War. Rebuilding proved a slow and painful process, and when war broke out in August 1914 only one modern ship (the armored cruiser Rurik) was ready for action, and she lagged well behind the curve of current ship design. Not until the spring of 1915 were the four new dreadnoughts under construction when the war began fully capable of combat missions, but the aggressive fleet commander Nikolai von Essen died suddenly in May 1915 following a bout of pneumonia brought on by overwork. With him died any thought of using the dreadnoughts offensively.

Essen had been one of the few Russian officers to emerge from the Russo-Japanese War with his reputation not only intact but greatly enhanced. He was 49 years old when he was named Baltic Fleet commander in 1909, jumping over many more senior (and far less able) officers. He found the lack of modern ships frustrating, and saw that the slow construction times of Russian shipyards would never bring him the ships he needed to carry out his wartime mission. Essen was well aware that the Russians would never have the naval strength to challenge the full German High Seas Fleet, but they could engage in commerce and mine warfare in the Baltic and back the cruisers that carried out those missions with a strong enough battle fleet to force the Germans to detach strong modern forces from the North Sea in order to counter them.

To obtain the ships, Essen urged his Admiralty to contract with British shipyards for additional ships. British yards completed new dreadnoughts at the fastest pace in the world, at prices only American builders could match. The Russian Admiralty had soured on British builders after the delivery of the armored cruiser Rurik, feeling that Vickers had sold them an obsolete ship and withheld knowledge that far more capable battle cruisers were under construction for the Royal Navy. Her armored barbettes had to be removed after delivery to address structural problems, and Vickers had balked at replacing her triple-expansion engines with turbines after construction had already begun.

Essen had been Rurik’s first commander, and argued that the British yard had been prompt in correcting the ship’s defects and that she had been an acceptable warship once the improvements were made. To alleviate concerns, he suggested buying ships already under construction in Britain, either on slipways or to the same design as those ordered by the Royal Navy. With the aid of international arms dealer and man of mystery Basil Zaharoff he re-opened contact with Vickers, obtaining designs for battleships and battle cruisers.

The Russian Navy, Essen argued, should attempt to purchase four R-class battleships under construction for the Royal Navy. In addition, he suggested ordering additional ships to other designs. To avoid the problems with Rurik, the Russians would order ships whose design drafts had been fully completed and would not attempt to alter them during construction. While that would mean building ships less capable than the most recent warships laid down, it would assure that they actually could deliver on their claimed capabilities.

These included Vickers Design 688, a ship with ten 12-inch guns in five twin turrets; Vickers Design 474, a big ship with sixteen twelve-inch guns. Vickers Design 651 was a flush-decked vessel similar in appearance to the Izmail-class battle cruisers under construction in Russia, but with eight 16-inch guns in four twin turrets.

To quickly augment the fleet, Essen also pressed for the purchase of dreadnoughts from the South American navies: two from Chile under construction in Britain, two from Argentine under construction in the United States, and one from Brazil under construction in Britain. In the end the Chileans and Argentines held onto their ships, while the Brazilians sold theirs to Turkey – though the Russians apparently did bid on her.

Well before Essen’s proposals, the Russian Admiralty had entertained the idea of building ships abroad, studying a proposal from Italy’s Ansaldo combine to construct a class of four battleships each carrying a dozen 12-inch guns. That proposal didn’t come to fruition, but the Russians appear to have nicked a few of the design concepts for the Gangut-class dreadnoughts.

Between the Essen proposals and the Ansaldo ships, the Russians add a lot of heavy metal in Jutland: The Baltic Sea, with 16 additional battleships and two battle cruisers. That’s enough dreadnoughts to allow full-on battles with the High Seas Fleet. And they get some native Russian proposals made cardboard as well: a torpedo battleship and a torpedo cruiser design, the original large Svetlana cruiser design and the “Super Novik” extra-large destroyer.

Giving Russia fleet able to fight the Germans greatly changes the Baltic battlefield, allowing a fresh set of scenarios in what’s as good as a new theater. Someday we’ll issue a Battle Analysis book for the Baltic historical scenarios, but those play out very differently as the High Seas Fleet has such enormous materiel superiority. With a strong Russian fleet in the mix, the Baltic’s narrowness almost assures that there will be surface action.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.