Central Powers:
The Story So Far

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
August 2015

A while back, someone recommended a space opera novel to me. So I read it, expecting blood, thunder and space battle. What I got was . . . meetings. For the first two-thirds of the novel, characters went to meetings (apparently videoconference technology has regressed in the future) and looked at powerpoint presentations. Then a short space battle, then the meetings resumed. I assumed it was a parody of the present-day U.S. military, but have been assured it was quite serious. A science fiction conventibusary novel (if that’s not a real word, then I just made it one).

When I write alternative/speculative history scenario books for our games, I want players to get action. Lots of action; since I hold a strong opinion that a wargame that’s not based on actual history needs to offer the players something else: cool and weird pieces, extremely fun game play, or both. No meetings.

With the two Great War at Sea books, Triple Alliance and Central Powers, I worked from the actual Central Powers war plan for future naval conflict in the Mediterranean, but slanted the story line toward lots of battleship battles. When you get to warp history, warp it in a way that serves your purpose.

Great War at Sea: Triple Alliance studies the possibility of Italy remaining part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and waging war alongside them against France and Britain. It was a serious possibility, as we discuss in Triple Alliance, and almost happened by accident: the Italian political leadership had not informed their military high commands of their intentions, and the soldiers and sailors believed Italy would fight alongside her allies. Troop trains had begun loading men for transport to the German border with France when King Vittorio Emanuele III ordered a halt.

Triple Alliance has 43 scenarios, which are organized in a story arc following this different sort of Great War from the opening missions in August 1914 through July 1915. The first few months of the war follow the script of the actual Triple Alliance war plan, and also the vague intentions stated for the period after those first months (unlike their army comrades, the naval planners of all three nations seem to have understood well before the war that a future conflict could last a very long time). The three fleets (if you include the two German ships) attempt to stop French troop transports moving from Algeria to France, then the two sides brawl for control of the central Mediterranean.

It’s a radically different strategic situation, with the Central Powers holding a strong central position in the south Italian ports (Messina, Naples and Augusta) and the Allies divided between Malta for the British and Bizerte and Toulon for the French. The Allies have a great deal of potential naval power, but much of it is tied up in the North Sea as the Grand Fleet stares across the waters at the German High Seas Fleet. The British deploy their pre-dreadnought battleships in the Mediterranean, but these ships ultimately lack the firepower and speed to match the Italian and Austrian dreadnoughts and suffer enormous losses despite the bravery of their crews.

The Central Powers war plan was very aggressive and expected the British and French to be very active for their part, and the scenarios reflect this. After the initial scenarios, not every ship is available for every mission – despite their size, battleships (and other warships) are delicate machines that require constant maintenance.

While the plan makes reference to operations in the eastern Mediterranean in the second phase, it’s kind of vague about these. It does not take into account that Turkey might fight alongside the Central Powers, and that gives a focus to missions on that end of the map.

I’ve long rejected the notion that the German battle cruiser Goeben somehow “changed the world” by steaming to Constantinople in the war’s early days and later spearheading a Turco-German naval attack on Russian ports. Barbara Tuchman wrote that it did in Guns of August, and it makes for more drama, but it's a little overstated. The Young Turks chose war with Russia for their own reasons, and while the big cruiser’s arrival certainly helped sway public opinion, Turkey likely would have joined the Central Powers anyway.

In the actual First World War, the Central Powers had limited access to Turkey during the war’s first months, finally establishing railroad communications after the conquest of Serbia in late 1915. But with Italy on their side and the Austrian fleet operating out of Italian bases, the option of sending convoys through the Aegean is present with the Greeks unable to do much to stop them. Along with convoys to Constantinople, the Central Powers also have the option of sending much more powerful fleets into the Black Sea to fight the Russians. An Allied landing at the Dardanelles is going to be extremely risky with a powerful Austro-Italian battle fleet able to intervene.

Italy has its own strategic liabilities: the Dodecanese Islands on the other side of Greece, and the recently-acquired colony of Libya in North Africa. As in the Second World War, Malta provides the British with a base directly astride the sea lanes between Italy and Libya. The need to supply the huge garrison in Libya, and to bring part of it home once Turkey’s entry into the war as an Italian ally quiets Senussi resistance, sparks a series of large-scale battles.

And that’s about where the book Triple Alliance leaves off. But I wanted to tell more of the story, and had written about twenty more scenarios when I realized that I had far more text than could be squeezed into the book. So I kept writing anyway, and decided to follow Triple Alliance with a sequel that extended the story.

Central Powers, the book, picks up the story in August 1915. Since we’re a year removed from the beginning of the war, the Central Powers war plan of 1913 isn’t as much of a guide though it provides some directives calling for sea control and its denial to the Allies. And for a massive amphibious landing in southern France once that sea control has been obtained.

That’s not going to be an easy task. The Royal Navy will not abandon the Mediterranean, especially after losing so many capital ships. While the Admiralty is well aware that these were obsolete pre-dreadnoughts and armored cruisers of limited military value, the British public mourns the loss of the thousands of sailors aboard them and wants re-assurance that Britain is winning the war. French pressure also demands a major British commitment, including dreadnoughts. And there are additional allies to be tapped for assistance: Japan and the United States.

Central Powers is a sequel to Triple Alliance, and requires Triple Alliance to play any of the scenarios. If you play much Great War at Sea, I think you’ll like Central Powers a lot.

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. Leopold is not named for the archduke.