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Modified Pre-Dreadnoughts
By Ernie Wheeler
June 2014

One of the appealing features of the Great War at Sea series of games is the way in which the combat values of the many warships of the period are represented in a simple system which nevertheless gives reasonable results in the resolution of most combats.  Of course, any such simplified system is bound to raise questions about the ratings assigned to those ships which fall on the margins of the rating system. Dr Bennighof did a Daily Content piece in which he indicated that, if he had it to do over again, he might go for four gunnery factors, rather than three, in order to better represent some of these marginal ships; in particular, those with guns between 8 and 10 inches in caliber.

Instead, what we have seen is relatively minor tweaks to the ratings assigned to particular ships, in order to better represent their abilities in relation to all the other ships. For example, the British predreadnoughts Lord Nelson and Agamemnon were originally rated as 4-0-0, but, when Jutland was released, were re-rated as 3-6-2. The former rating undervalued the 9.2” secondary battery carried by these ships in combat with anything more lightly armoured than a battleship and, while the new rating loses 25% of the former rating for primary strength at 2 or 3 hex ranges, an opposing dreadnought which finds itself at a range of one hex for any reason (surprise sighting?) will find the Lord Nelsons are now actually 50% more effective:  see GWAS optional rule 19.2.

Similarly, Daily Content pieces have provided re-rated counters for the Austro-Hungarian Radetzky class (formerly 4-0-4, re-rated 3-5-3) and for the French Danton class (formerly 4-0-3, re-rated 3-8-2). In my view, all of this is as it should be.


Kurfurst Friedrich Wilhelm in 1902.

Although others may have their own favorites, for my money that leaves the ships of the German Brandenburg class as the best remaining candidates for re-rated counters. There are four of them, or eight when you consider that each ship also appears in Turkish colors. In German colors, they’re rated 4-0-2; as Turks, they rate 4-0-1. Completed between October 1893 and June 1894, they have the most powerful primary gun rating of any 19th-Century warship in the Great War at Sea system. That rating of “4” represents six 28 cm. (11-inch) guns, arranged in pairs in three turrets on the centerline: when you look at the deck plans, 116 years later, they look like miniature dreadnoughts.

So why does nobody refer to the “Brandenburg” era of battleships? Why did the Germans not build more of them? Why did no other navy copy them? Why did the Germans consider them the perfect ships to sell to Turkey, even though the Navy balked at the Kaiser’s suggestion to sell the armored cruiser Blucher (rated only 2-2-1)? The two sold to Turkey, Heirredin Barbarossa and Torgud Reis, saw a lot of active service: acquired in 1910, they were on hand for the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-1912, the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and the Great War from 1914 to 1918. But they avoided the Italian fleet, were fought to a draw (twice) by the Greeks and were rarely used against the Russians . . . despite having better guns “on paper” than any predreadnought in any of those navies.

The short answer to all those questions is that the Brandenburgs don’t deserve a primary gun rating of “4” in the GWAS system. Here’s why.

The battle cruiser Goeben has a primary rating of “6”, which represents a main armament of ten 28 cm. guns. The Brandenburgs have six 28 cm. guns, so 6/10 x 6 = 3.6, rounded to 4. That seems fair enough, but not all 28 cm. guns are created equal.

Goeben was armed with a model known as the “28 cm SKL/50”, which threw a 666 lb. shell up to 25,300 yards, with a muzzle velocity of 2887 fps. The guns were 47.4 calibers long.

The Brandenburgs, like many pre-dreadnoughts, had a mixed battery; unusually, both types of guns had the same bore, 28 cm. The main battery, of 4 guns, was a model known as the “28 cm KL/40”, which threw a 529 lb. shell up to 16,500 yards, with a muzzle velocity of 2346 fps. The guns were 36.6 calibers long. The secondary battery carried by the Brandenburgs, only 2 guns, was a model known as the “28 cm KL/35”, which threw a 529 lb. shell up to 15,800 yards, with a muzzle velocity of 2247 fps. These guns were only 31.7 calibers long because a longer gun could not have cleared the superstructure when moving from one broadside to the other.

The point is that both models of 28 cm. gun carried by the Brandenburgs were inferior to those carried by Goeben in every way.  The smaller shell fired by a Brandenburg’s guns means that the relative weight of metal a Brandenburg could throw was 48% that of Goeben, not the 60% one would arrive at by counting guns. This alone would imply a primary rating for a Brandenburg of no more than “2.85”, rounded to “3.”

But that’s not the end of it. Unlike later German predreadnoughts, the Brandenburgs did not have “all round” loading of their 28 cm. guns. Instead, the guns loaded in only one position, requiring the turret to swing around to that position in order to reload. This considerably slowed the rate of fire.

So, what would be an appropriate Great War at Sea gunnery rating for a Brandenburg? The primary battery of a Deutschland class predreadnought, with a Great War at Sea primary gunnery rating of “2”, was four 28 cm. guns of the model “28 cm SKL/40.” This gun is better than the model carried by the Brandenburgs because muzzle velocity (2690 fps) and range (20,600 yds) were both greater, although the weight of shell was the same at 529 lbs. The obsolete loading system in a Brandenburg would mean that it could fire once in the time a Deutschland would get off 2 or 3 salvoes, but the primary gunnery rating for the Brandenburgs cannot be as low as “1” because that would undervalue the 28 cm. guns in comparison to small coast defense ships, such as the Austro-Hungarian Monarch class whose main battery of four 24 cm. (9.4”) guns also rates a “1.” Due to the “granularity” of the system, the Great War at Sea primary gunnery factor of a Brandenburg should be a “2.”


The central turret of Torgud Reis, with those short-barrelled 28cm guns.

But what of that extra turret of two short 28 cm. guns, that got the Brandenburgs their rating of “4” in the first place? In part, it contributes to the revised rating being as high as “2,” but that does not seem entirely satisfactory. Giving a Brandenburg a secondary gunnery factor is, at first glance, awkward.  Twenty-eight-centimeter guns are squarely within the primary range. These old guns fire too slowly to be very effective against light ships, so giving a high secondary value in the knowledge that optional rule 19.2 will give a good result at short range is also a non-starter, however well it works for a Lord Nelson.

Fortunately, this problem has been previously addressed in the Great War at Sea system. In the Mediterranean game, you will find two Greek gunboats, GB01 Ambrakia and GB02 Akteon, which have a circled tertiary gunnery factor. These gunboats were each armed with a 10.2” gun. The circled gunnery factor indicates that a hit will penetrate heavy armour, but the range remains that of a tertiary gun.

The same approach can be taken with the Brandenburgs. A circled secondary gunnery factor of “1” will recognize the potential value of the middle turret in short range actions against armoured ships, without overstating its potential effect upon light ships.

When playing a scenario which reduces the range of predreadnought primary guns to two hexes, the range of this secondary gun factor should also be reduced to one hex. That rule comes from the 1898 game, the era to which these ships belong. In scenarios played under the Dreadnoughts rules, a Brandenburg’s secondary gun factor cannot fire into the ship’s bow or stern arcs.

The revised gunnery ratings are 2-(1)-1. The counters to be replaced are found in the following games:

Jutland:  in German colours:
B21 Brandenburg
B22 Worth
B23 K. Friedrich Wilhelm
B24 Weissenberg

Mediterranean:  in Turkish colours:
B01 Heireddin Barbarossa (ex-K. Friedrich Wilhelm)
B02 Torgud Reis (ex-Weissenberg)

Dreadnoughts:  in Turkish colours:
B03 Sipka  (hypothetical purchase of Brandenburg)
B04 Kosovo (hypothetical purchase of Worth)

A note on the Hit Records: In Mediterranean and in Dreadnoughts, these ships are given heavy armor over both guns and hull. In Jutland, they are given light armor, except that B23  K. Friedrich Wilhelm and B24  Weissenberg have heavy armor on the hull. The Jutland treatment better reflects the reality that the latter two ships were given a belt of Krupp nickel-steel, whereas the first two had an earlier armor which offered perhaps half the protection given by the Krupp armor for the same weight. The two ships with the better armor were the two sold to the Turkish navy.

For your convenience, here is a list of the scenarios into which you can substitute these revised counters:

Mediterranean: Battle Scenarios 10* & 11*;  Eastern Operational Scenarios 1*, 2*, 3*, 9 & 30; Mediterranean Operational Scenarios 2, 3, 6*, 9 & 12

Jutland: Operational Scenarios 3, 12, 24 & 25

Dreadnoughts:  Scenarios 2, 3, 6*, 7 & 14*; Ottoman Scenarios 1 & 2*; Austrian Scenario 2

Great White Fleet: Battle Scenario 1; Operational Scenarios 1 & 25

Airships:  Operational Scenarios 3 & 4

Black Waters:  Plan Black Operational Scenario 3

Plan Scarlet:  Battle Scenario 10; Operational Scenarios 12, 13, 14 & 15

An asterisk indicates a scenario where the revised counters may affect the outcome of the scenario; especially in Balkan Wars scenarios between the Greeks and the Turks, an historical outcome may be more likely.

You can download the new playing pieces here.

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