Dutch East Indies:
The Designer Speaks

By James Stear
April 2015

Great War at Sea: Dutch East Indies grew from an idea I pitched to Mike proposing a series of downloadable Great War at Sea supplements set on the Strike South maps, built around the themes of Japanese southward expansion, and colonial squabbles between the various Western naval powers. The first I elected to tackle was one centered on the Dutch, with the intent of finally allowing players to make use of the Dutch dreadnoughts previously published in Cruiser Warfare and Jutland in the region where they were intended to serve: the islands of the Dutch East Indies.

When I sat down to start sketching out scenarios, however, I began to realize how little I knew about the East Indies of the 1900’s, as compared to the East Indies of 1941-45. Oil was only just starting to become a factor in the world economy, much less the choice fuel for ships, so campaigns devoted to seizing the oil fields on Borneo, Sumatra and Java would seem a bit premature. Dutch fears aside, what motivations would the Japanese (and others) have more making a Great War-era intrusion into the islands?  Furthermore, some of the key towns in the 1940’s were little more than sleepy villages in the early part of the 20th century. What was the coaling situation at all of these ports scattered across the map?

I ended up spending much time (probably too much, as Mike waited patiently for what was supposed to be a simple download) poring over what resources I could, to develop the background motivations of the regional players and to establish the state of ports and logistics in the East Indies (and surrounding territories) of the 1910’s. Old versions of the Encyclopedia Britannica proved quite useful gaining insight to the islands of the time and their desirability from an economic standpoint, and the regional sailing manuals (pilots) published by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office in 1916-17 gave me the information I needed regarding the coal situation at the various ports. And as to better understanding of Dutch plans for defense and the details of the proposed-but-never-built battleships, Conway’s and Breyer proved to be excellent references, along with van Dijk’s article from Warship International. Various historical articles on Japanese desires for southward expansion dating back to the Meiji era, German desires for a base in the islands (and more grandiose dreams of outright annexation), the involvement of other powers in the islands through history such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Turkish Caliphate and of course the opening moves of Graf von Spee and Karl von Müller in the early months of the Great War helped round out the scenario ideas.

Scenario ideas, soon grew from the target 10 to 15 to well over 25 (and eventually would top out at 35, with still more that could have been added). I have a bit of a challenge keeping creativity in check when I get interested in a task, and this one was no exception. Mike eventually decreed this should be a book supplement, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dutch cost defense ship Hertog Hendrik moves at top speed.

The battle and operational scenarios are grouped around three themes: Dutch building plans intended to counter Japanese moves against the East Indies that require pieces from Cruiser Warfare, Jutland and Pacific Crossroads, more might-have-beens with the Dutch navy facing down threats from other colonial powers (and in part intended to make use of some of the under-utilized Spanish and Turkish ships from Dreadnoughts in a fun setting, along with some French from Mediterranean), and finally a set built around the opening months of the Great War, with elements of the German Asiatic Squadron seeking to cause mayhem with the Allies while the Dutch either hinder or assist these efforts (and the hypothetical German East Indies scenario is sure to keep the Allied player hopping). The German-themed scenarios do not feature the Japanese, however players will note they are set in the first month of the war, during which the focus of the IJN was the seizure of Tsingtao.

The Dutch-Japanese scenarios are broken into two groups. The first postulate the Dutch went for weaker dreadnoughts (or undertook no dreadnought construction at all) similar the España-type, perhaps supplemented by the compact twin quad-turret type suggested later by Krupp-Germania. These also make use of the Invincible-style battle cruisers considered by the IJN as a precursor to the Kongos. The second group allows players to use the more capable Dutch dreadnoughts in action, and as a consequence face off against the full might of the Japanese. In both cases, we must assume the Dutch started their dreadnought program quickly and potentially earlier than historically considered, as for The Netherlands to produce four or five dreadnoughts by 1916 or 1917 without foreign assistance would have been beyond her capabilities.

The supplement also includes a campaign game, for those adventuresome types wishing to see how a Japanese invasion of the East Indies might have unfolded. I broke the campaign into a series of 90-turn rounds, so that players could progress through it over a series of gaming encounters, yet still preserve the dependence of the current round on decisions made in prior ones. The logistics have been simplified so as not to be overwhelming, however players should keep paper handy to note repairs and other record-keeping.

Some players may raise eyebrows at the fact that the stated scale of the GWAS games is 32 statute miles per sea zone, while that in SWWAS is 36 nautical miles, or some 20% smaller, and yet there is no stated map correction. In truth, the differences in scale are minor compared to the revisions I have made to the operational speeds and fuel capacities and usage, not to mention some of the distortions evident in the maps of both naval series.

I have always been puzzled by the fact that ship endurances in GWAS seemed to be about half of what I would expect (those expectations being based on Conway’s and the like). As with aircraft ranges, ship operational radii can be argued ad nauseum. Nevertheless, when combined with the very restricted operational speeds in GWAS (1 or 1-slow for most ships, which is about 7 knots in a straight line (or 8, assuming the ship is zigzagging at 30 degrees from a base course), it is hard for most ships to get places quickly. What I felt was missing was the option of moving faster on the operational scale (and many of the ships with speed 1 were certainly capable of that, with top speeds of over 20 knots) in exchange for higher fuel consumption.

SWWAS provides a fine solution to this, with the option of moving on the map at speeds closer to historical values for most vessels. Mapping GWAS speeds to SWWAS equivalents is easy. The problem then becomes, what’s in a fuel box? In GWAS, each box is 12 points, while in SWWAS, they are 24. Looking over the cruising radii information I had for many of these vessels, the SWWAS value appears much more in line with the data I have for a range of ships, large and small, hence I have adopted that here. And in the future, I hope to harmonize both systems around this common approach to speed, fuel consumption and capacity, at a convenient map scale of 36 nautical miles per sea zone (which will make development of maps for both series much less problematic, as they can both use the same maps with minor changes to ports and countries).

I’ve also included a number of additional optional rules, which I hope players will try for their enjoyment. These include ignoring referred pain (which tends to lead to an imbalance in hull damage, depending on whether a ship had secondaries or tertiaries), and moderating the speed imbalance in the tactical sequence.

Fight for the Indies! Order Dutch East Indies today!