High Seas Fleet:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I’ve always liked our book supplement line, especially when they turn out really well. High Seas Fleet is definitely one of those – it’s exactly what I’d hoped it would be.
The book is based on a single historical premise, and a question based off that premise. First, that the so-called “Dreadnought Race” before the First World War wasn’t much of a race, with Germany never employing her full industrial and financial capacity due to political concerns (some foreign, but mostly domestic). And second, the question of how a more powerful fleet might have been used during wartime.
Essays look at those issues, focused on the German side of the equation: politics, finance and ship design, as well as the new ships provided in the book’s counter mix. I probably could have filled the book just with essays, but to give the people what they want you have to strike a balance.
There are thirty scenarios, grouped by theme. They draw on our Jutland game, and only our Jutland game, for other pieces and for the map. I’d originally intended to write a book similar to The Habsburg Fleet, which uses its scenarios a storytelling device to move the alternate history forward. I had a similar structure in mind for High Seas Fleet, telling an alternative history tale of the strengthened fleet and its naval war with Britain. But I abandoned that idea along the way.
Instead, the book looks at different phases of the High Seas Fleet’s growth, and how war might have been more or less likely and how it might have been fought. The scenarios aren’t all that different from the way I originally drafted them; I just re-wrote their introductions to reflect the plans and possibilities rather than a connected story line.
As we’ve done lately, the book is about evenly split between battle scenarios and operational scenarios. We finally make use of the Faroe Islands up there in the top left of the Jutland map, ignored since we published the game. And we have the “Spee Comes Home” scenario I’ve wanted to do since we published the game that preceded Jutland.
Scenarios range in size from small to ultra-large, with Jutland-style battles featuring the augmented fleets of both sides (much bigger and better scenarios than the Jutland battle scenario in our Jutland game, a scenario I’ve never really liked). We look at a 1908 war, with the High Seas Fleet built around its projected but never built semi-dreadnoughts and small dreadnoughts, and a 1912 conflict where fast cruisers take a major role. At the other end of the scale, for the 1916 scenarios the Germans can send almost as many ships with 15-inch and 13.5/13.8-inch guns to sea as the Royal Navy (in the actual Battle of Jutland, they had none against 22 for the British).
Fans of Great War at Sea always want new ship pieces, and we have some pretty cool ones. The Germans are the focus, and so they receive three complete new classes of battleship: the 1904 semi-dreadnought, the 1905 small dreadnought, and the 1912 dreadnought with 13.8-inch guns. Three classes of dreadnoughts also pick up a fifth member, while the Baden class of super-dreadnoughts is repeated for another year with four new units.
And there are additional cruisers, both light cruisers and five more of the Blücher class (making for the full class of six that Alfred von Tirpitz wished to build). Plus new pieces for all the German armored cruisers, giving them gunnery ratings that more accurately reflect their actual capabilities.
The British get a limited response: the fourth member of each of their first two classes of dreadnoughts (deleted as a cost-saving measure) is restored, along with some additional battleships and battle cruisers that were discussed but never actually funded. And like the Germans, they have pieces for re-rated armored cruisers to replace those from Jutland.
The newly-rated armored cruisers are much more in keeping with their actual uses. They have no primary guns, and no longer are just very weak and poorly-protected battleships. Their powerful secondary batteries make them very dangerous to enemy light cruisers, but their relatively slow speed keeps them from chasing down their smaller enemies.
The big German cruisers of the Blücher class are a different story. There are six of them, with a very strong secondary battery and a speed equal to that of a typical British light cruiser. These ships can chase down enemy light ships and shoot them to pieces, or the German player can send them against British battle cruisers and use that huge array of secondary guns to riddle the light armor of an Invincible. In the scenarios they almost always appear as a pack.
We’ve given High Seas Fleet a great deal of Daily Content attention:
• Designer’s Notes
• Pieces: German Battleships
• Pieces: British Ships
• Ship Data Sheets
• Pieces: German Cruisers
A long time ago, wargames were advertised as “paper time machines.” I think that’s greatly overstating things, but every now and then you actually can use one to test out a historical thesis. I like the way we’ve done so with High Seas Fleet, and if you’re keen on the historical angle, I think you will too. And if the game’s the thing, then this time the Kaiser actually has a chance.
Click here to order High Seas Fleet right now!
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.