Kingdom of Hawaii
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For more than two decades, we’ve maintained two series of 20th Century naval games: Great War at Sea and Second World War at Sea. And for much of that time, the games had two different scales on their operational maps (the ones where fleets move and search for one another).

There was no reason for this. Well, there was a reason, but it was a really stupid one involving ego. The games actually play the same at either scale (32 or 36 statute miles across each sea zone). Which means that you can play Great War at Sea scenarios on Second World War at Sea maps, and vice-versa.

We’ve done that in other books, and Kingdom of Hawaii brings the Great War at Sea to the big open ocean of the Midway Deluxe Edition maps using pieces from Russo-Japanese War and Remember the Maine. It’s set at almost the dawn of the Great War at Sea age, in 1897, as the United States and Japan have the first clash of their emerging colonial dreams. In the actual events, the Japanese back down; the Americans first overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii and then annexed the islands in 1898.

That easily could have led to a shooting war; and in our Campaign Study, Kingdom of Hawaii, it does.

The first American-Japanese confrontation came in 1893, when American planters overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii and established a white-run Republic in its place, with the open goal of seeking annexation by the United States. The American cruiser Boston provided the muscle – 162 sailors and marines – while Capt. Heihachiro Togo of the Japanese cruiser Naniwa urged his government to defend the monarchy with force.

That potential conflict frames our first chapter, with small cruiser-centered forces trying to exert gunboat diplomacy in a chain of islands far from either opponent’s bases. Neither side deploys much force, and there’s an element of cat-and-mouse here.

The heavy action, with heavy ships, is built around the 1897 annexation crisis. During the interim, both Japan and the United States have poured still more resources into building a modern navy to bring them into the imperial age. On top of that, the Japanese have actually fought and won a naval war since the last crisis (against China) and are brimming with confidence.

Our second chapter sees both sides steadily feeding in reinforcements in a bid to secure these distant islands. It’s a different sort of war; while there are plentiful anchorages where coal-hungry warships can be replenished, there are no meaningful local stocks of coal. That means both sides are trailed by a fleet train with colliers and supply ships, something that had been done for centuries with sail-powered fleets, but never when the ships’ voracious appetites for coal had to be sated.

By 1897, the United States had taken the lessons of the prior confrontation to heart. The Pacific Squadron had been greatly enlarged, and a new Asiatic Squadron fielded as well (the small fleet that would win the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898). That included the battleship Oregon, commissioned in 1896 in San Francisco as part of a new outlook for Manifest Destiny across the Pacific. But the Imperial Japanese Navy had added its first new battleships, Fuji and Yashima, and the prizes taken from the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese War (these latter, a battleship and a gunboat, did not add a great of strength – but they did exist, and formed part of the battle fleet).

In Chapter Two, the Japanese take action first, landing troops at Honolulu to re-establish the kingdom and Queen Liliu’okalani; in our actual history the queen traveled frequently to Washington to lobby against annexation and for financial compensation. In our alternative, she’s gone to Tokyo instead to bend the ear of her “brother monarch” the Emperor Meiji, who had been a personal friend of her brother King David Kalakaua. But the Americans take the restoration as an act of war, and respond with naval force.

Initially, the Americans respond with their Pacific Squadron, which is built around a collection of protected cruisers and gunboats. They face Japanese cruisers, as the Japanese try to secure Oahu and keep it supplied and reinforced and the Americans seek to disrupt this mission.

Reinforcements arrive: the American battleship Oregon and heavy monitor Monadnock from the California coast, and George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron from Hong Kong. The Japanese bring in more ships of their own. It’s not a rapid process, as it takes a long time and a lot of support to bring coal-fired warships across thousands of miles of open ocean. The fleets skirmish repeatedly, until both sides have built up sufficient force to wage a true battle for Oahu, including an eventual American amphibious assault.

One of the great advantages of alternative history in game design is that you get to craft the story to fit the game-play. Real-life admirals don’t want a “fair fight”: the want to overwhelm the enemy with excessive force, wipe them out at the cost of little or no loss to themselves. But at the end of very long logistical tethers, the Japanese and Americans can only field roughly equivalent forces. Which makes for a situation where both sides can attack and both must defend.

Hawaii’s national flag is lowered for the last time, July 7, 1898.

And we get to use the weird and wonderful ships built during the transition from ironclads to steel battleships. There are some seemingly-modern ships, serving alongside broadside ironclads with none of their gun in turrets, or in open barbette mounts. Lighter guns can therefore do a great deal of damage, thanks to their much higher rate of fire than most of the heavy guns of this transitional period.

The brief naval war shown in our little book was probably more likely to occur than the actual Spanish-American War that broke out a few months later. While the stakes were not as great (Hawaii, in 1898, was not as valuable as Cuba), both Japan and the United States were vigorous, expansionist latecomers to the colonial land grab. The Japanese are aggressive, where the Spanish were not.

A Japanese victory in the Hawaiian War would have had even more profound implications than the Spanish-American War. Hawaii would become a protectorate, and like Okinawa eventually a prefecture of Japan itself with the former monarchs brought to live in Japan. The Spanish Philippines would become a target for Japanese expansion, and either seized of sold within a few years. The Americans would likely still fight Spain anyway, and annex Cuba outright to help assuage the sting of losing Hawaii to the Japanese.

Kingdom of Hawaii is a fun little book: fourteen scenarios from the dawn of the Battleship Era, with the Japanese and Americans fighting it out in the Hawaiian Islands two generations before Pearl Harbor. It’s a different sort of campaign than the World War II battles (and hypothetical battles) we’ve studied there before.

You can order Kingdom of Hawaii right here.
Please allow an extra four weeks for delivery.

Pineapple Empire
      Remember the Maine
      Russo-Japanese War
      Kingdom of Hawaii
Retail Price: $142.97
Package Price: $120
Gold Club Price: $96
You can experience the Pineapple Empire Package right here.

Please allow an extra four weeks for delivery.

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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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