Fleets: Imperial Germany
When you make up an entire world, at some point you need to flesh out the details.
Fleets of the Second Great War: Imperial Germany is pretty much what the title says it is: a sourcebook detailing the ships and aircraft of Imperial Germany in the Second Great War. It tells more of the story behind Second Great War at Sea: The Cruel Sea, focused on just one fleet instead of the war’s world-wide “history” that we began in The Second Great War. For the most part it’s a technical history, focused on the hardware: ships, airships and airplanes.
In our actual history, the First World War ended in 1918, not 1916. Imperial Germany and the other empires of Eastern Europe – Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia – perished in an orgy of fire and blood. In the history of the Second Great War, the empires survive (along with millions of their subjects), only to face another war a generation later.
That means that Adolf Hitler’s insane regime has been erased from history, as the Greatest Leader of All Time is reduced to painting pulp magazine covers. There are no Nazis in this setting; as much as I hate Nazis and enjoy describing how utterly inept they were at running a country and conducting a war (and just about everything else beyond genocide and petty corruption) even I tire of that sometimes. And so I just wrote them out of existence.
I like making up history; I guess it goes back to my first profession, newspaper reporter, where we sprawled around the newsroom all day doing bong hits and making up news just like it was Ken Gilmer’s basement. Or we would have, except they had this thing called “professional standards” that meant that we could only write about stuff that actually happened. Just because you don’t like it, that doesn’t make it fake news.
These days, most of what I write about actually did happen, but the Second Great War did not. I like writing about stuff that happened and why it happened, what we call “history,” but I also like writing about stuff that didn’t happen, but could have. That’s what the Second Great War alternative history is all about. I like to keep our fake history grounded in a semblance of reality, and that’s why we have a book all about the fake German fleet. Even the fake stuff has its origins in reality.
In our brave new universe, Imperial Germany – governed by Socialists – goes into the new conflict with its High Seas Fleet intact. In our history, the fleet was scuttled in June 1919 in defiance of the Allied Powers’ demands that the ships be turned over as part of the Versailles peace settlement. Rather than start from scratch, the Germans have a solid base of battleships and battle cruisers from which to build their fleet, those that served in the war as well as many more still on the slipways or the drawing boards.
And it’s an impressive fleet, as befits this world’s second-leading industrial power (behind the United States): 41 battleships and 27 battle cruisers, plus all of the cruisers and destroyers needed to round out the battle fleet. There are two aircraft carriers and five helicopter carriers, and sixteen aircraft-carrying zeppelins.
Unlike the High Seas Fleet of the First Great War, this iteration is no luxury. Imperial Germany needs that fleet to protect the overseas ties to its second-largest trading partner (after Austria-Hungary), the United States. German-American economic ties have blossomed over the last two decades, and even with hefty grain imports from Poland and from Austrian Ukraine, Germany cannot feed itself. The High Seas Fleet has to defend the supply line across the North Atlantic, in the face of French and Russian – and eventually British – attacks.
Most of the ships described in Fleets: Imperial Germany are found in The Cruel Sea, but all of the Imperial German ships from the setting are covered as well, including those stationed at overseas colonies (and appearing in books like Tropical Storm and Swedish Steel). There’s text describing the ships, deck layout sketches, and also data in table form sort of like the Conway’s All the World’s Warships books.
It’s not at all necessary to own this book to enjoy The Cruel Sea’s scenarios; those are designed for maximum battleship action and folks seeking that can have at it with their battleships without a care for the story surrounding the battles. Plenty of folks enjoy historical wargames without any thought for the history they try to portray, so it stands to reason that even fewer will wonder about the made-up background.
But for some players, immersion in the world background is part of the fun, or really all the fun. One of the dirty little secrets of wargaming (and for role-playing games, perhaps even more) is that most games are never played. While that sounds kind of sad, that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyed. It’s okay to just read the scenarios and look at the pieces. Really, it is. We won’t tell anyone.
In the Fleets series of sourcebooks, we’re distilling out that part of the fun. There’s nothing here but background and story. We’ve been crafting our games and expansions for a while now to emphasize the story behind them, whether it’s a story out of history or one that we made up. A book like Fleets: Imperial Germany gives substance to the story: you can look up the displacement and armament, when they were built, where they’re deployed in 1940 and what sister ships exist. There’s a nice schematic of most of the ships (way larger than the ones we put on the playing pieces, so the detail shows) and you can read the story of each class of ships.
A long time ago, when Avalanche Press was much larger than it is now, our marketing guru demanded “a book that you can take into the bathtub with you.” She was absolutely right: you can’t spend all of your time at the gaming table, and you’re going to want to take the experience with you elsewhere. Fleets: Imperial Germany is that book. Fake history is fun. You need more fun.
You can order Fleets: Imperial Germany right here.
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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.