Central Powers:
Ships of the Central Powers

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
November 2015

Central Powers came about as an extension of the Triple Alliance story line, the result of writing too many scenarios for the first book in what has now become a trilogy. The expansion comes in large part from my renewed interest in battle scenarios, sparked in part by Nick Rider’s Content piece about them some time back. Pretty much every operation that could spawn a battle situation now has a companion battle scenario, sometimes more than one.

I’m really pleased with the way the set turned out; players seem to like the opportunities to get right to the shooting and torpedoing. And the additional scenarios based on the same operation really help expand the narrative.

Going to an additional book is also a fine opportunity to provide more new playing pieces, both because they’re needed by the story arc, and just because new pieces. We’ve looked the new new French heavy ships in a previous Content piece; today, we’ll see what Central Powers has for the Central Powers, Italy and Austria-Hungary.

Italian Battleships

Italian shipbuilders engaged in a fierce rivalry during the years before the Great War much like the modern wargame industry, some company leaders drew greater fulfillment from harming competitors than from advancing their own operation. As a result, the Royal Italian Navy only ordered two dreadnoughts under the 1911 fiscal year plan, as opposed to three for 1910. The orders went to the two Royal dockyards capable of building dreadnoughts.

Had the antagonists managed to resolve their differences, a third dreadnought of the Andrea Doria class probably could have been built (likely at the Orlando shipyard in Livorno, the possibility of which had sparked Ansaldo’s political sabotage). She’s named for ancient Rome’s greteast military leader, Scipio Africanus, conqueror of Carthage. Italian ship names often carried a political subtext, and with Tunisia on the minds of Italian expansionists it’s a fairly obvious choice.

Shipyard rivalries helped stop battleship construction for the next several years, but Italian admirals and naval architects also wanted to make a great leap forward in size and fighting power. The Francesco Caracciolo class was a very capable fast battleship, armed with eight 15-inch guns and making 28 knots. Considerably larger and considerably faster than the British Queen Elizabeth class, like other Italian battleships their protection was somewhat lacking.

Several alternative designs were studied as well: a ship with ten 15-inch guns, adding a dual turret amidships. One with twelve guns, with triple turrets fore and aft, dual turrets super-firing over them, and another dual turret amidships. Another alternative echoed the preceding Andrea Doria class, with a triple turret in place of the amidships dual turret, for a total of thirteen 15-inch guns.

That last alternative is the one we’ve presented in Central Powers. She’s a huge ship, comparable in size to the Japanese and American super-dreadnoughts built for the much longer ranges needed in the Pacific. Not needing the huge bunkers of those ships, she carries a heavy broadside though her armor is no better than that of other European dreadnoughts, and actually thinner than most (though not enough to show up at the scale of Great War at Sea).

Italian Seaplane Carrier

The Royal Italian Navy purchased the merchant ship Quarto in February 1915 and converted her into the seaplane carrier Europa (Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Thousand Red Shirts began their 1860 expedition to Sicily at the Quarto rocks near Genoa, and an Italian scout cruiser already had the name).

Europa was abominably slow, not suitable for accompanying the fleet had it actually sortied during the actual war. She could operate eight seaplanes, but usually only carried half that number.

Improved Austrian Cruisers

Austria-Hungary came to construct scout cruisers for the battle fleet later than most navies: a coast-defense fleet did not need fast cruisers as much as it needed vessels to show the flag on foreign stations. Earlier Austrian light cruisers were slow and relatively heavily-armed, but not suitable to screen the battleships. Since the battleships themselves were not fit to fight in a high-seas engagement, this was not the glaring deficiency it might seem at first glance.

That changed in 1906, when the Naval Technical Committee (MTK) directed its architects to design a fast cruiser capable of out-running foreign contemporaries, with better protection than potential enemy cruisers at the cost of less armament. The new cruiser, named Admiral Spaun, became Austria-Hungary’s first turbine-powered maor warship and served as a test bed, encountering crippling machinery defects throughout her period of service. Three vastly improved near-sisters were laid down after Spaun’s defects had been detected and corrected.

As ordered by the MTK, Spaun’s designers fitted her with seven 100mm (3.9-inch) guns; the three following units had nine such weapons thanks to the weight saved by using more efficient turbines. Fairly early on, the Austrians realized that they had made an error in selecting the 100mm gun rather than the 150mm (5.9-inch) weapon. The smaller gun had been chosen because of its much faster rate of fire, but the greater range and striking power of the bigger gun greatly outweighed this advantage. The Navy hoped to re-fit Spaun, Helgoland, Novara and Saida with the heavier guns, but wartime priorities kept them from entering the shipyards for re-arming.

With greater resources devoted to the naval war in our story arc, we’ve brought the re-armed cruisers into action starting in mid-1915 (and given Spaun the new engines she desperately needed).

Austrian Destroyers

During the course of the actual war, the MTK (in common with its equivalents in other navies) found its 800-ton Tátra class too small for its many tasks. The MTK sought a much bigger “high seas torpedo vessel” for the next class, selecting a 1,500-ton design in the spring of 1916 from a number of alternatives ranging up to 2,500 tons. The chosen boat would have carried six 100mm (3.9-inch) guns and six (or possibly eight) torpedo tubes, with a top speed of 35 knots. In the actual war, Austria-Hungary could not lay down a new class of destroyer and had to settle for a few more examples of the Tátra class.

We’ve named this class Seehund after Austria-Hungary’s first torpedo-carrying warship, the former screw-gunboat Seehund (which fought at Helgoland and Lissa, and appears in our upcoming Ironclads: Hearts of Iron game).

And those are the additions for Italy and Austria-Hungary. More stuff next time.

Click here to order Triple Alliance right now.

Click here to order Central Powers right now.

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.