Gin Palace:
Agincourt Variations

Back in the last century when I was writing the Great War at Sea: Dreadnoughts book, I included a piece about the mad backroom scramble to purchase the Brazilian battleship Rio de Janeiro during the months before the First World War. And to accompany the piece, we included playing pieces for the ship in most of the nationalities mentioned: Russian, French, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, Greek, Spanish, Romanian, German and Japanese. Over the years I’ve slipped her into other supplements, too. She’s also served the Confederacy, the Union, Canada, Imperial Mexico, the Netherlands, Denmark and Imperial China. Plus Brazil, Britain and Turkey.

We’ve looked at the ship’s origins in Daily Content. Thanks to her odd origins, Rio de Janeiro was a very odd-looking ship. She carried fourteen 12-inch guns (the greatest number of heavy guns ever fitted on a battleship, though some uncompleted French designs had sixteen) in seven turrets (the most ever on a battleship). The seven turrets went by the names of the days of the week, starting with Sunday and working backwards. That weirdness, and her multiple owners, inspired me to insert her into many fleets in many color schemes.

Fitting out the Gin Palace.

Agincourt, as the British named her in 1914 (sailors labeled her “Gin Palace” since “A Gin Court” did not do justice to her grand size), would be scrapped in 1922. But she received a new “alternative” existence in Second Great War at Sea: The Habsburg Fleet, under Turkish colors. In that guise she had been modernized, with her two amidships 12-inch turrets removed to allow the fitting of more powerful oil-fired machinery and a large seaplane-handling deck installed in their place.

That re-construction had some grounding in reality. The Royal Navy had hoped to sell Agincourt immediately after the First World War, before naval arms limitations talks put an end to battleship sales. Converting her to oil fuel was considered a necessary pre-requisite to any sale. That would probably require removal of at least a couple of her seven gun turrets, leaving a lot of empty deck space amidships. The French did this with their battleship Lorraine and used the newly-opened real estate for seaplane handling, and that was the inspiration for that iteration of Sultan Osman V.

I kept drawing Agincourt variations after we finished the artwork for The Habsburg Fleet, partly to keep improving my skills and partly because I just like the odd looks of the odd battleship. After a while I’d collected enough variations for a whole Golden Journal devoted to them, and that is the premise of “Gin Palace,” the theme of our Birthday 2016 edition of the Golden Journal.

Gin Palace includes eight variations on a modernized Agincourt. All of them pre-suppose a conversion to burn oil fuel and improvements to her armor and internal protection. Here’s a look at them.

The Base Ship
As the Washington Naval Conference opened in late 1921, the Admiralty changed Agincourt’s designation to “Mobile Naval Base Ship.” This may have simply been a ruse to keep her off the chopping block at the conference, but in any event the conversion never took place.

Our repair ship version has the cranes and other equipment of an actual repair ship, and has lost all of her heavy armament. In game terms, she’ll help you repair damaged ships in ports that otherwise lack repair facilities.

In Gin Palace the base ship appears in British and Japanese colors.

The Armored Oiler
This notional ship is actually based on a U.S. Navy proposal from the 1960’s to rebuild one or more fast battleships (Iowa or South Dakota class) as a high-speed, high-volume fleet oiler. Agincourt did not have the internal volume of those much fatter vessels, but was still a pretty big ship for her day and could have hauled a lot of oil in her skinny frame. An armored oiler able to keep up with the fleet (or at least not too far behind it) would make for interesting long-range operations.

In Gin Palace the armored oiler appears in British and Japanese colors.

The Battle Cruiser
Agincourt had a favorable length-to-beam ratio for high speed (7.5:1, compared to 7.8:1 for Tiger, the last of the pre-war British battle cruisers), and was expected to make good speed for a dreadnought (22 knots on 34,000 horsepower). With a larger power plant, she should be able to make much better speed.

The battle cruiser conversion deletes her two amidships turrets (Tuesday and Wednesday) to allow for the new boilers and turbines and a greater speed (probably 27 or 28 knots – she was never going to be cruiser-fast at her advanced age). She probably would have received less additional armor protection than some of these other variants, to save weight in favor of speed.

In Gin Palace the battle cruiser appears in Turkish colors.

The Anti-Aircraft Escort
This is another ship inspired by a U.S. Navy proposal, this time to complete the Iowa-class battleship Kentucky as a huge, fast anti-aircraft escort. In that role she would accompany aircraft carrier task forces, unleashing her wall of flak against both aircraft and incoming missiles. Agincourt’s long hull would have been admirably suited for a similar though far less sophisticated conversion, with plentiful dual-purpose guns in rows down either flank and lots of light anti-aircraft weaponry sprinkled between and above them.

Since it would be difficult-to-impossible to give the old girl enough speed to accompany aircraft carriers, I thought of this conversion as a convoy escort. She has lost three of her 12-inch turrets (the three in the center) and received a huge array of lighter guns in their place. There are two different versions in the Gin Palace set, as I ended up drawing the ship a second time with an extended amidships superstructure just to see what it would look like. 

In Gin Palace the anti-aircraft escort appears in Italian and Australian colors. The Italian version has more mid-caliber guns and the Australian one has more light weaponry; I think I I like the Australian drawing better but I’m also pretty pleased with the “barber pole” paint job on the bow of the Italian ship.

The Seaplane Carrier
This drawing grew right out of the Sultan Osman V of The Habsburg Fleet; I wasn’t really satisfied with that drawing and started thinking about a more extensive seaplane-friendly conversion, sort of like a battleship-sized equivalent of the Swedish seaplane cruiser Gotland. I also had second thoughts about why the Turks would want a seaplane-equipped battleship.

This conversion has lost all three central turrets and replaced them with a large seaplane deck, capable of handling some fairly large aircraft. There are two athwartships (side-to-side) catapults plus cranes to lift the aircraft out of the water.

In Gin Palace the seaplane carrier appears in Japanese and Brazilian colors.

The Aircraft Carrier
Hybrid battleship-carriers were sketched by many navies between the world wars, in an effort to combine big guns and aircraft. Almost all of those were designed as such from the keel up. Agincourt would have been one of the few existing ships capable of such a conversion, thanks to her great length and unusual design. Removing everything aft of the “Monday” turret and replacing it with a hangar structure and flight deck would provide a “carrier” portion of the ship about 450 feet long – about the same as a Bogue-class escort aircraft carrier.

Our version has a fairly large island and a pair of elevators, and could probably handle an air group of about twenty planes. She retains two of her 12-inch turrets. In a surface battle, her stores of aviation gasoline would make her fantastically vulnerable to a catastrophic end; it took a surprisingly long time for naval architects to recognize this fairly obvious problem with the concept. And just how air flow around those turrets would have impacted flight operations would require wind-tunnel testing that we did not conduct.

Had such a ship actually been built on Agincourt’s hull, she probably would have been converted into a through-deck carrier at some point in the 1930’s with her remaining turrets removed and the hangar and flight deck extended to the bow.

In Gin Palace the aircraft carrier appears in British and Australian colors.

The Amphibious Assault Ship
Another ship inspired by the U.S. Navy’s hopes to rebuild its fast battleships into something else more useful. As with the American concept for a battleship/amphibious assault ship, the design weds heavy gunfire support with the actual ship bringing the troops to their beach. Unlike the American design this ship has no helicopter deck, but instead uses its large open after deck for Daihatsu landing craft and vehicles (those are Type 97 medium tanks dotting the cargo deck, though they’ll surely not reproduce clearly on the printed pieces).

This ship also draws inspiration from the Japanese amphibious assault ship Shinsu Maru, fore-runner of the modern assault ship. Shinsu Maru could carry aircraft and was the first landing ship with a floodable well-deck; this version of the Gin Palace has neither of those capabilities but it can carry a large number of landing craft, vehicles and troops.

In Gin Palace the amphibious assault ship appears in Japanese colors.

The Helicopter Carrier
We’ve done helicopter-carrying cruisers and a battleship before, but I was never satisfied with the drawings. This is a much better one, and shows a prettier, and pretty capable, ship. There are American proposals to do this to a fast battleship, but the original idea came from the post-war Italian helicopter cruiser Vittorio Veneto and the British Tiger.

The big ship’s role would be to escort convoys, using her big guns to drive off enemy surface raiders and her helicopters to seek and enemy submarines. It would have been a radical idea in the 1930’s or 1940’s, but the notion of using large, dedicated anti-submarine vessels was a prime component of Soviet naval strategy from the 1960’s onward. Toward that end, she has retained her four forward turrets, with a broad field of fire now available for the “Wednesday” turret (in the final version, the large control island seen in the sample if you look really closely has been deleted for this purpose). Agincourt’s Tuesday and Wednesday turrets were sited several decks higher than those on the after deck, what is now the flight deck. The helicopters have their own hangar beneath the flight deck.

In Gin Palace the helicopter carrier appears in British and Austro-Hungarian colors.

Don’t wait to put these Gin Palaces on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get the Birthday 2016 Golden Journal.

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.