By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Warfare, a Great War at Sea game, is built
around the attempt by the German East Asia
Cruiser Squadron to steam from its isolated
base at Tsingtao in northern China around
the world to Germany.
Germany had maintained cruisers in Chinese
waters for some years, and in 1896 the squadron
commander, Alfred von Tirptiz, had been charged
with locating a suitable permanent base. He
recommended Tsingtao, and a year later, two
German missionaries conveniently died nearby
and German marines grabbed the desired real
Spee’s flagship, in China Station white.
The Chinese had established a small naval
station at Tsingtao in 1891, hoping to develop
the excellent deep-water port into a major
base. But a year after the occupation, Germany
extorted a 99-year lease on the territory,
as well as major economic privileges in the
rest of Shantung province.
Tsingtao became a well-ordered port, with
a European-style planned city and excellent
harbor facilities. The Germans even built
a brewery that still produces China’s
best beer. Forts sprouted on the surrounding
hills, with a perimeter well out of artillery
range of the harbor. The forts soon proved
necessary: German punitive expeditions against
surrounding peasant villages that refused
to accept Christ were the direct cause of
the Boxer Rebellion, which broke out in Shantung
The Boxer Rebellion spread across China,
and Kaiser Wilhelm II enthusiatically joined
the Western counterattack. Thirty thousand
German troops eventually served in China,
gaining a reputation for brutality. A large
naval squadron including the High Seas Fleet’s
largest battleships supported them.
Afterward, the East Asia Squadron typically
contained one large armored cruiser and several
small ones. For years, the armored cruiser
Fürst Bismarck served as squadron flagship.
She was replaced in 1909 by the new armored
cruiser Scharnhorst and returned
to German for rebuilding. Scharnhorst’s
sister, Gneisenau, joined her
there in 1910. The two cruisers had won almost
every High Seas Fleet gunnery prize, and the
Germans boasted the most powerful European
squadron in Chinese waters. In 1912 the squadron
received a new commander, Rear Admiral Maximilian,
Reichsgraf von Spee, a Dane who’d joined
the German Navy as a teenager and risen through
By the spring of 1914, Spee commanded two
heavy cruisers and three light cruisers. Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau were 13,000-ton
armored cruisers, very similar in design to
previous German ships of the type but faster
than most foreign armored cruisers. They each
carried eight 8.2-inch guns and six 5.9-inch
guns, and had four torpedo tubes.
But the British had reinforced their own
presence in 1913 with a powerful armored cruiser
and a weak battleship. Minotaur, the
new flagship of the China Station, was the
equal of the German ships on paper, but in
an even fight the edge would probably have
gone to the crack German crews. The second-class
battleship Triumph lacked a full
crew, and despite her four 10-inch guns and
fourteen 7.5-inch pieces was probably not
a match for either German cruiser.
Spee’s light cruisers also had extremely
capable commanders and crews, but did not
have the same materiel superiority over potential
British opponents as his big ships. Leipzig,
Emden and Nürnberg
each carried ten 4.1-inch guns, a weapon
favored by the Germans because of its high
rate of fire: The 4.1-inch round was the largest
that could be handled by a single crewman.
But it was greatly outranged by the 6-inch
guns of the British light cruisers on the
China Station like Newcastle and
Yarmouth (just two of them in Newcastle,
but eight for Yarmouth).
The German light cruisers weren’t very
fast, either: Leipzig had made 22
knots on trials in 1906 and never reached
that again. Nürnberg could hit
23 knots, the same as the two armored cruisers,
and Emden was considered slightly
faster. The British light cruisers, by contrast,
could make 25 knots.
The German cruisers also were much smaller
than their British counterparts, coming in
at 3,800 tons (4,200 for Emden) compared
to 4,800 for Newcastle and 5,200
The two opposing squadrons made for difficult
game design decisions. Even though Cruiser
Warfare, the game that covers Spee’s
epic voyage, is a more recent release in
the Great War at Sea series, the
ship rating system was laid down a decade
before when we did the first volume, Mediterranean
Ships are grouped in four speed categories.
Old ships making 19 knots or less get speed
1-slow. Very fast ships (30 knots or better)
get 2-plus. And then there’s the bulk
of the fleets. Most dreadnought navies sought
a top speed of 21 knots for their battleships,
with a few exceptions (a little slower for
the French and Austrians, a little faster
for the Italians). Ships that make around
21 knots get speed 1. Ships that make 25 or
better get speed 2, an easy cut-off for game
design because most navies aimed for speeds
of 26 knots or better for their fast cruisers
and battle cruisers.
The difficulty comes with the ships in the
23- and 24-knot range. Arbitrarily picking
some number isn’t satisfying from the
historian’s perspective; although there
are plenty of complex naval wargames that
define a ship’s speed down to the knot,
this does not make them “realistic.”
It only makes them complicated.
This son of Copenhagen
knew all about speed differentials.
Many factors can affect the speed of a coal-burning
ship: the state of the machinery. A tired
crew (that coal has to be shoveled). A foul
hull. Quality of the coal (“harder”
coal burners hotter and yields more energy
per shovelful). And many more. For example,
on paper, Nürnberg could do
23 knots and the British armored cruiser Kent
hit only 22 on trials. Yet at the Battle of
the Falklands, Kent ran down Nürnberg
in a stern chase and sank her.
This sort of fuzziness is why I went with
the four speed classes in Great War at
Sea, and for the most part it works out
very well. In 1904,
where there are quite a few ships in the “gray
zone,” we added the speed class 1-plus
to cover them, and since there were no ships
of speed 2-plus it was easy to adjust the
tactical combat sequence accordingly.
Cruiser Warfare has, proportionately,
a lot more ships in this middle ground. But
only the Australian Parramatta-class
destroyers receive the 2-plus speed rating.
However, after some thought I decided not
to use it in Cruiser Warfare, since
I wanted all three 1914 games to have consistent
components (Cruiser Warfare, Mediterranean
But wargamers like trivia, and if you want
to adjust speeds, here’s what to do.
For the tactical sequence (7.31) just adjust
the faster ships “down” by one
class: speed 2 moves in the speed 2-plus steps
and speed 1-plus in the speed 2 steps. Ships
with speeds 1 and 1-slow aren’t affected.
The extra speed class does show why Admiralties
continued to rely on armored cruisers in 1914,
even though they’d been made obsolete
by battle cruisers. The change only applies
in tactical combat; they get no extra movement
capability on the strategic map (of course,
neither does anyone else).
Treat the Parramatta-class destroyers
as speed 2.
Treat the following as speed 1-plus:
AC02 Black Prince
AC03 Duke of Edinburgh
AC24 King Alfred
AC30 Good Hope
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