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The Habsburg Fleet:
The Royal Navy

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
September 2014

In the world of the Second Great War, the battleship remains the dominant weapon at sea. The huge fleets of Great War dreadnoughts have been modernized for a new generation of warfare; at least the more capable among them are still around.

Our Second Great War setting allows us to not only play with history, but to take the Second World War at Sea game system into a setting that lets players use battleships even more than in the historically-based games. The newest book in the setting, The Habsburg Fleet, as a result leans more heavily toward battle scenarios than most Second World War at Sea books and games, giving players many chances to use their battleships in action. And the story line provides lots of battleship action.

The book also includes a fair number of new battleships. Many of them aren’t exactly new – they’re reconditioned veterans of the Great War - but they are new to the Second World War at Sea game series, as they were either scrapped before the war or never completed.

The Habsburg Fleet follows the first year of the Second Great War in the Mediterranean. Most of Britain’s Royal Navy is deployed elsewhere, and we’ll add additional ships in additional volumes in the setting, if the series proves popular enough: more rebuilt older ships like the Orion and Lion classes and the big G3 battle cruisers and N3 battleships, and more cruisers and destroyers to accompany them.

British squadrons face the German High Seas Fleet across the North Sea, and keep a watchful eye on the still-neutral Dutch, Japanese and Americans. But despite her commitments to other theaters, Britain fields a strong fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. Here’s a look at its ships.

The backbone of the Mediterranean Fleet is its squadron of four Iron Duke class dreadnoughts, built just before the outbreak of the Great Wear and rebuilt in the early 1930’s. With eight 13.5-inch guns, they have the firepower to stand up to other old battleships, but are almost always outclassed by modern fast battleships. Fortunately, there aren’t many of those in the Mediterranean: Austria has four of them, and Turkey but one. They are not very fast, and compound that with comparatively weak protection. But they can effectively keep enemy cruisers away from convoys, and are able to match the older battleships that make up most of the Austrian and Turkish fleets.

The four Iron Dukes lost their central turret during their conversion to oil fuel, receiving in its place an enhanced anti-aircraft battery and a catapult for a seaplane. Their coal-burning power plants were replaced by oil-fueled boilers, but this only added another knot or two of speed. The naval architects who drew up the reconstruction plans suggested lengthening their hulls with an insert amidships (since removing the central turret and its armored barbette represented major work anyway) to improve their speed, but this was rejected as too great an expense for a second-line battleship.

Note: We included Iron Duke in our Horn of Africa game; she survived the Treaty of London as a training ship and served in that capacity throughout the actual Second World War. Her turrets and guns had been placed in storage, and plans were made to reactivate her along the lines discussed above. Her three sisters went to the cutting torches in the early 1930’s. In the world of Wilson’s Peace, all of them have survived. Since Jim Stear used most of the heavy ships from Bomb Alley in The Kaiser’s Navy, I needed some new ones in order to have Mediterranean scenarios taking place at the same time as those battles in the Atlantic.

Britain in this new reality has had to expend considerable resources to maintain the Royal Navy. Despite the far milder Great Depression this has meant reduced spending on the Royal Flying Corps and the British Army.

The Royal Navy also maintains four battle cruisers in the Mediterranean, usually based at Malta. The two older ships are Tiger and her sister, Leopard. They have both had major modifications, as detailed in an earlier Daily Content piece, and are fast and fairly powerful ships.

Note: Tiger also appears in Horn of Africa, though we gave her better speed in this game (she probably should have had a speed of 3 in the earlier game as well). Leopard was never actually laid down, but I wanted to include her anyway because I think she looks cool, I like the name, and I'm kind of proud of the drawing.

The other two battle cruisers are large, powerful sisters of the famous Hood. Heavily reconstructed in the 1930’s, Hawke and Russell have high speed, good armor protection and a main battery of eight 15-inch guns. They’re almost as formidable as the Italian Caracciolo class fast battleships, and better than their own Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class.

Note: We had to change the names of the additional Hood-class battle cruisers (Rodney, Howe and Anson) since they were all issued to other ships after the cancellation of the three remaining Hoods. They have received the rebuilding intended for the name ship of their class, but never carried out before she was lost in 1941.

Finally, the Royal Navy adds a pair of heavy cruisers, the last two County type, Surrey and Northumberland. They are slightly improved versions of the Norfolk class, and retain their torpedoes. They have been spared the lengthy, expensive and pretty much useless rebuilding given to their near-sister London, which actually resulted in a less efficient fighting ship due to the damage inflicted on her hull by the increased weight.

Note: Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government cancelled Surrey and Northumberland as a cost-saving measure. We’ve given them new life since the milder Great Depression in the world of Wilson's Peace presumably would have allowed for continued ship building (Labour governments in the U.K. have traditionally favored the Royal Navy, as a sop to shipyard workers).

I would have liked to include more British ships and planes, and airships, in the mix but there’s only so much cardboard to go around. Setting up discord between the Entente helps mitigate the overwhelming advantages the Italians, French and British have over the Austrians and Turks, but adding more Brits would only make things more unbalanced. There’s a lot of story still to tell, so I’m sure we’ll be returning to the Royal Navy of the Second Great War someday.

Click here to sail with The Habsburg Fleet.

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 noble dog, Leopold. Leopold cites bank fraud as the root cause of the Great Depression.