Bismarck: Force de Raid:
Publisher’s Preview
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2023

For our newest Campaign Study, Bismarck: Force de Raid, I decided to try something a little different. We released the book without any buildup, no early ordering, no announcements. It’s available right now: order it, and we’ll ship it to you. No waiting. No need for some number of orders to be placed first.

It’s available right now: order it, and we’ll send it to you. That’s it. So, what is it?

Bismarck: Force de Raid is a Campaign Study for Second World War at Sea: Bismarck (you’ll only need the Second or Playbook Edition of Bismarck to play the scenarios). You get 14 new scenarios (five operational scenarios, that take place on the big map of the North Atlantic where fleets move, and nine battle scenarios, that are fought out on the Tactical Map with guns and torpedoes).

It's just a little book, but it takes a game you already have and already know how to play, and makes it into a new game. You don’t have to spend a pile of money buying a completely new game, or a pile of time learning how to play it. Just lay down your $12.99 plus shipping, and you’re ready to play.

So, what’s it all about?

A while back, I designed an alternative-history expansion for our Bismarck game, called The Cruel Sea. The story opens with the Imperial Germans (no Nazis here) and the French sparring over the North Atlantic trade routes. Both have strong surface fleets (this being an alternative history that favors the battleship over the airplane), with the Germans having to defend their trade routes and the French attacking them. Eventually, the British will intervene and the situation changes, but that’s another expansion.

Strasbourg (foreground) and Dunkerque.

The strategic situation interested me, though: France against Germany, with a neutral Britain. How would that play out in our own history, in 1939?

During the 1930’s, France took a decidedly more anti-Nazi stance than her putative allies across the Channel who did, after all, have the Channel to act as a moat between them and the nightmare of Adolf Hitler. When France pressed for economic sanctions during the Rhineland Crisis in 1936, for example, Britain refused to participate, which scuttled the plan. Britain and France held staff talks in 1936, the first such since 1918, and British leaders made vague statements about their security being tied to that of France. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain finally declared in February 1939 that an attack on France would be regarded as an attack on Britain. But only after the Germans ignored the Munich agreement and occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 did the British government come around to view appeasement as a failure – though not before the Bank of England handed over £5.6 million in gold that the Czechs had sent to London to keep it safe from the Nazis.

Britain and France did not have a formal alliance until they both declared war on Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939. How sure could the French leadership be, that Britain would follow them into a war with Germany over Poland?

Among the various steps in Britain’s appeasement strategy, under the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 Great Britain accepted German naval construction up to a total of 35 percent of Britain’s total tonnage in most warship categories. Not coincidentally, that 35 percent exactly matched France’s allotment under the Washington naval limitations treaty; the British made the pact without consulting the French, and signed it on the 120th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

By 1939, that agreement had resulted in the French and German fleets neatly matching one another, at least in terms of heavier ships. The French still had an edge in the lighter categories, and the Germans had nothing to match the huge French destroyers of the contre-torpilleurs type.

French destroyer Le Malin.

Force de Raid leaves the French to face the Germans alone in September 1939, with the French ships found in the Bismarck game (the remainder are presumably deployed in the Mediterranean to face the Italians). They have two battlecruisers, smaller than full-sized battleships with lighter main armament but good speed. The Germans likewise have two such ships. They have two old battleships not suitable for many duties other than convoy escort; the Germans have two armored cruisers not suitable for many duties other than convoy raiding. Both fleets have two light cruisers; the Germans have eight destroyers and the French have twelve. And both had two powerful fast battleships under construction.

The Force de Raid – the French reaction squadron stationed at Brest in our actual history and in most of the book’s scenarios – can match the German battle cruisers, if it can find them. That’s going to be a problem with a smaller fleet than what the Royal Navy deploys in the standard game, a total lack of aircraft carriers, and no airbases in any useful position (though the Allied position isn’t much better in that regard even with an active British presence).

We also look at a French attempt to force a surface action with the German fleet, with a foray into the North Sea. They did not undertake anything like this in 1939, but did do so in 1870, when France had a powerful fleet and Prussia had almost none. It’s an obvious strategy if the French are seeking a confrontation, and in this story, they’d rather fight the Germans on their own terms than chase them across the North Atlantic.

Those French pieces in Bismarck don’t get a whole lot of use in the standard game scenarios – the Germans took a very tentative approach to commerce raiding in the North Atlantic during the first months of the war. For one thing, they did not have access to bases on France’s Atlantic coast, and once they did, France by definition had been knocked out of the war.

Force de Raid lets you play with them, and they’re interesting ships. While the French naval program has been damned by some later writers as a waste of resources that should have gone to landward defenses, the Force de Raid scenarios show that it was, by contrast, a prudent and responsible course. France had no formal alliance with Britain, and could not be completely sure they would not be left in this very situation – facing the Germans at sea relying solely on their own resources.

Again, it’s just a little book, but it opens a whole new dimension to Second World War at Sea: Bismarck. And that’s a very good thing.

You can order Bismarck: Force de Raid right here.

You can order Bismarck Playbook Edition right here.

Triple Bismarck
      Bismarck (Playbook edition)
      Bismarck: Force de Raid
      Journal No. 31: Deluxe Bismarck
Retail Price: $112.97
Package Price: $90
Gold Club Price: $72
You can order Triple Bismarck 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 NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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