Erik the Red’s War:
Sometimes, the alternative-history stories almost write themselves. In 1931, a band of possibly drunken Norwegians unrolled their flag over a piece of north-east Greenland - then as now, ruled by Denmark - and re-claimed it for Norway as Erik the Red’s Land. The Norwegian government backed them, and threatened war over the claim. Defense Minister Vidkun Quisling ordered the fleet mobilized, such as it was, and war became an actual possibility. Both sides eventually submitted the case to international arbitration, which went in favor of the Danes.
That is an irresistible hook for an alternative-history naval campaign, and the basis for Second Great War at Sea: Erik the Red’s War. The book started out as a small “Golden Edition” just for the Gold Club, but I realized it had too much fun potential for just 16 pages and 20 pieces, so now we’ve expended it into a full-sized book with 50 pieces: 30 “long” ones and 20 standard-sized ones. And a set of 40 scenarios, with chapters covering the 1931 war and the early stages of the Second Great War.
The action takes place on the operational maps from Second World War at Sea: Bismarck and Sea of Iron. Neither Denmark or Norway have been included in Second World War at Sea games before, though the Norwegians are at the center of the upcoming Norway 1940. After some thought, I decided to include the Norwegians in both Erik the Red’s War and Norway 1940, since there aren’t many of them (four ships rating “long” pieces) and that would allow us to release Erik the Red’s War whenever we wished without waiting for Norway 1940, which has not yet been released as of this writing.
Norway and Denmark once formed a united kingdom; from 1380 as a personal union with a common sovereign and from 1660 as a formal joint state (though each kingdom retained some of its own functions. That ended in 1814, when Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden; Swedish rule ended in 1905.
Norway brought an overseas empire to her union with Denmark: Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands. The Danish king Christian I lost Orkney and Shetland to Scotland after he failed to pay a promised dowry for his daughter Margaret; the other territories remained with Denmark when Norway was ceded to Sweden in 1814. Some Norwegian nationalists never reconciled with this loss of prestige - none of the lands had great economic value, even when initially settled - and this longing for a restored empire had led to the 1931 landing in Greenland.
In our Erik the Red’s War, Norway has a fleet built around aging coast-defense ships and a few modern smaller craft. The Danish fleet is similar, and in the “historical” scenarios (the ones using ships actually available in 1931) the Danes have the edge. The Norwegians have a difficult time projecting their power, such as it is, across the Norwegian Sea. However, since neither fleet is very large, the crafty Norwegians can slip past the Danes and land in the disputed territory.
That would have been the basis of the small, Golden Edition version of Erik the Red’s War. But both countries planned to build up their fleets following the 1931 confrontation, with the Norwegians aiming to add modern coast-defense vessels and the Danes looking at a series of small cruisers as well as an additional coast defense ship or two. And it seemed to me that I could weave that conflict into our Second Great War story arc. And so I did.
After the 1931 conflict ends with the overseas territories still flying the Dannebrog, by 1940 the Norwegians are ready to try again. Even as the North Atlantic is rent by the tremendous fleet battles between the Germans and their French and Russian (and eventually British) enemies, the valiant Norwegians sally forth to plant their own flag on their lost islands. That most of these are now occupied by German garrisons is not a deterrence; Norway’s quarrel is with Copenhagen, not Berlin. But mistakes can be made.
The Norwegian fleet is built around its four ancient coast-defense ships, plus four more elderly ones the Royal Norwegian Navy sought but never acquired: two Argentine ships almost purchased in 1905, and two larger ships laid down in British yards but confiscated by the Royal Navy during the First World War. They also receive the four modern destroyers actually authorized (but not completed by the time of the German invasion of 1940), two modern new coast-defense ships and two modern small cruisers (all of these ships were actually designed, but never ordered).
On the Danish side, the fleet is likewise built around an aging core of four coast-defense ships. For the 1940 second round, the Danes add two modern coast-defense vessels, three modern cruisers (sort of a hybrid of a small coast defense ship, a slow cruiser and an oversized fisheries protection vessel) and a pair of modern destroyers. As with the Norwegian ships, these are actual ship designs, but none were actually ordered let alone built.
All of that makes for a strange new volume of the Second Great War at Sea story, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. The tiny fleets have to be played far differently than the huge battlefleets of The Cruel Sea, which takes place across the same watery battlefield (and, per the story arc, at the same time). This is a different sort of game, forcing players to plan carefully and maximize what force they have, and not to accept battle without care - unlike the huge battleships of the Second Great War story, these old tubs will not hold up long under heavy shellfire.
Erik the Red’s War is exactly the kind of gonzo weirdness I deeply enjoy writing, which is why I couldn’t restrain myself from expanding the book to what for us is a full-sized volume. It has a lot of fun game play and slots right in with a popular alternative history series. And you get some unusual new ships for your fleets, that you’re not going to see elsewhere.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has way too many books, games and articles on historical subjects. Some of them were actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.