Jutland: Dogger Bank
I wrote our Jutland: Battle Analysis 1914 book mostly as a personal indulgence, which is usually a really bad idea. I’d spent a great deal of time delving into recent scholarship on the Battle of Jutland and the North Sea campaign in general, and wanted to justify that investment by writing something.
Jutland: Battle Analysis turned out to be one of the most popular books we’ve published, and it deeply satisfied me as its author. Over the past few years, we’ve been working more history into our games, altering the format to a story-arc approach, similar to role-playing games, with each scenario placed firmly in the historical context of the campaign or war.
Great War at Sea: Jutland is our most popular wargame, and I wanted to delve deeper into the North Sea campaign, adding both scenarios and analysis. I ended up writing a whole lot more of those than I’d expected; only the 1914 chapters would fit in the book (and not all of those). So I decided to continue with another volume, titled Jutland: Dogger Bank.
Dogger Bank picks up the story from the Battle Analysis with two chapters of 1914 action (the Cuxhaven Raid, in which British seaplane carriers launched a strike against German zeppelin sheds, and British plans for assaults on Helgoland or the Frisian Islands) that I couldn’t fit into the Battle Analysis.
After that, we move into the preliminaries for the title event, the Battle of Dogger Bank. This would be the first battle between dreadnought-type ships, and one of only two surface battles in the North Sea fought by such ships. As such it’s worthy of a lot of analysis, since both sides drew many lessons from the battle. For example, the near-loss of Seydlitz caused the Germans to restrict ammunition handling, while the British put even greater emphasis on rapid fire, making them even more lax in filling their handling rooms with shells (leading to multiple losses of battle cruisers at Jutland).
The defeat at Dogger Bank cost High Seas Fleet commander Friedrich von Ingenohl his job. The Kaiser passed over Reinhard Scheer of Third Battle Squadron and gave command to Hugo von Pohl. Pohl had been Chief of the Admiralty Staff, and there had agitated for unrestricted submarine warfare, which took effect two days after he assumed command of the High Seas Fleet. Unwilling to risk the fleet while the submarines took up the offensive burden, Pohl restricted operations to the very south-eastern corner of the North Sea.
In all, the High Seas Fleet set out five times after Dogger Bank and before Pohl’s relief in January 1916 following a diagnosis of liver cancer. The brief sorties never encountered the British, and did little to relieve the boredom of the crews or quench their thirst for action. Lower-deck discipline began to slip even in the elite Scouting Groups.
Scheer, the new fleet commander, obtained Imperial sanction for more aggressive use of the High Seas Fleet, even the precious battleships that Wilhelm II had stopped Ingenohl from deploying as he had wished. Scheer brought out the fleet to raid Lowestoft in April 1916, and again two weeks later in an attempt to rescue several crippled zeppelins.
At the end of May 1916 came the Battle of Jutland, which did not end fleet operations in the North Sea. Our Dogger Bank book wraps up just before Jutland; we’ll pick up the action again in a third volume that studies the great battle itself and the operations that followed right up until the High Seas Fleet’s attempted “Death Ride” at war’s end.
Our Jutland game included a Dogger Bank battle scenario and an operational scenario, one of only three such pairings in the game. The battle scenario is the only one in the Jutland game that I didn’t design myself, and it also has the most glaring historical flaws, and now we can fix them and also present a passel of variations on how the battle might have played out.
Jutland, the game, has a pretty glaring lacuna (that’s academic for “gap”) between the January 1915 Battle of Dogger Bank and the April 1916 Lowestoft Raid: there’s a total lack of North Sea action for fifteen months. That’s mostly because, during those months, Pohl kept the fleet close to its bases while the submarines that could have countered British superiority in heavy ships were off loosing torpedoes at merchantmen. The zeppelins that could have given warning of the approaching Grand Fleet had launched their first bombing raid on Britain just five days before the Battle of Dogger Bank.
In practice, neither of those new and innovative naval service branches lived up to their supposed potential when finally deployed by Scheer in 1916. But Pohl did not know that, and hesitated to enter the North Sea without their assistance. He doubtlessly also suffered from the cancer that would eventually kill him.
Like Ingenohl before him, Pohl led an inferior fleet. The first two classes of German dreadnoughts were poor fighting ships and the third at best mediocre. Only the König class and later the Baden class could be considered comparable to British ships of the same period. It would take a man more comfortable with risk than Hugo von Pohl to attempt to find the mis-match pitting the High Seas Fleet against a single British squadron that appeared at the time - and seems confirmed by hindsight - to be the only realistic chance for a German victory at sea.
When I wrote the Battle Analysis, I had misgivings about the book’s market viability. Historical veracity (often called “historicity” by game reviewers, which I’ll pedantically point out is a term from academic history with a very specific, and very different, meaning) was always important to me as a game designer, but most of that consisted of small things (a special unit there, a special rule here) that almost certainly were evident only to me. I didn’t call out the history, and now I’ve fixed that.
The Battle Analysis has sold very well, far better than I ever expected - it’s already been reprinted. So maybe I’ve been wrong about this whole history-through-games thing, and there’s good reason besides self-gratification to emphasize historical narrative/analysis. If that sort of thing appeals to you, then Dogger Bank is another book just for you.
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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.