Jutland: Battle Analysis 1914
In an industry like wargame publishing filled with ego projects, Jutland: Battle Analysis 1914 stands out as a different kind of indulgence. I enjoyed digging into the enormous amount of new scholarship released in the wake of the First World War’s centennial, particularly the history of the North Sea naval campaigns.
Reading some of that scholarship made me wish I had the opportunity to re-make our Great War at Sea: Jutland game. I saw many changes I would make to the existing scenarios, and many new scenarios I wished I had included. On top of that, I’ve changed my outlook on scenario design since I worked on Jutland well over a decade ago. So I gave in to those desires by writing the Jutland Battle Analysis.
I went through all of Jutland’s 1914 scenarios, splitting them into five chapters based on some key event. For each of them I added a battle analysis, discussing how the scenario reflected the historical events on which it’s based.
Great War at Sea is a relatively simple game system, compared to other specialty wargames (it’s pretty complex compared to mass-market games, even those with a historical theme lathered on). Great War at Sea shows the events through the outcome, without detailed processes that pretend to historical verisimilitude but usually only involve rolling lots of dice and looking at lots of tables. That simplicity makes it ideal for making a historical study of the events it portrays (and for using “verisimilitude” in a sentence).
There’s an odd conceit among some wargamers, one I’ve seen for many years, that wargames represent scholarship just like a monograph (that’s academic for “book”) and are filled with research and analysis just like a peer-reviewed work of history. And that’s just not true. Often it’s simply antiquarian study (“just the facts”), though sometimes impressively done. Even the very best of them (from a historian’s perspective) have their research and analysis presented in abstract unit strengths and leader ratings and whatever else. There are no footnotes on a Tiger II counter.
With that said, you can learn some things with a wargame that you just can’t by reading a book, and that’s what I was after with the Jutland Battle Analysis. I’d long wanted to use a game’s scenarios to tell the story, and we started doing that with our alternative-history settings like the Second Great War at Sea, and extended it to Panzer Grenadier in historical games like Fire in the Steppe.
That’s also the essence of the Battle Analysis: tell the story with both text and scenarios. I packed Jutland with scenarios, or at least I thought I did: 51 total, 44 operational scenarios and nine battle scenarios. All of the major operations in the North Sea and Baltic are in the game and some hypotheticals too (10 or 11 of the latter, depending on how you’re counting). What’s lacking is a close look at the operations (chiefly, but not solely, British “sweeps” of the North Sea) that could have led to battles, or the battles that could have arisen from those operations and those included in the game, but for whatever reason did not. Without those scenarios, it’s not possible to get a full picture of the campaign.
So I added scenarios: 35 of them, nine operational and 26 battle scenarios. The operational scenarios cover actions that we left out of Jutland, in most cases because one side wrongly thought the other was up to something and deployed to stop them. Naval intelligence was not very good in 1914. The battle scenarios are usually actions that could have arisen from the operations, both those in the Jutland game and those we added.
Supporting all those scenarios and reflecting all that reading and study, we have some adjustments to Jutland’s special rules and to a few of the ships. And we have some additional special rules regarding gunnery, speed, the Helgoland Fortress and similar things.
One of the things you can learn from a wargame, or at least from the Jutland Battle Analysis, is that High Seas Fleet commander Friedrich von Ingenohl gets a raw deal in the many books published in the century following the Great War’s end. Daniel Allen Butler, in Distant Victory, writes of Ingenohl’s “natural timidity.” Keith Yates, in Flawed Victory, calls him “defensive-minded, timid, and indecisive.” The list goes on; even Wikipedia piles on.
German naval intelligence didn’t even know where the Grand Fleet had gone for its war station. Eventually they realized it had gone north, but they did not identify Scapa Flow as its base until months after the war began. And Britain’s Grand Fleet wasn’t just larger than the High Seas Fleet. It had a decided edge in heavy ships (battleships and battle cruisers) and the later dreadnoughts had greater firepower than their German counterparts.
The newest German ships were harder to sink than equivalent British ships, but Ingenohl didn’t just have the newest ships. The Admiralstab and the Kaiser insisted that all of the fleet’s battleships be made operational and added to the High Seas Fleet. The German pre-dreadnoughts were poor fighting ships, and the oldest classes carried nothing heavier than aged 240mm (9.4-inch) guns.
Even the earliest dreadnoughts weren’t very good. The German Navy came late to turbine propulsion, and it’s possible that the British suppliers of Germany’s first turbines sold them sub-standard goods. The first two classes of dreadnoughts carried the older triple-expansion engines, and the Nassau class was no faster than the pre-dreadnoughts.
That means that, in game terms, the German player’s fleet will not only have fewer ships mounting fewer guns, it always be slower than the British player’s fleet. Even worse, in the early-war scenarios the German player is often dragging along up to eighteen ships that have no primary guns, have a speed of 1 Slow, and have either three hull boxes with heavy armor or two with light armor (if you haven’t played Great War at Sea, that means that a new British dreadnought like Iron Duke will likely vaporize them while dreading naught of the spitballs they sling back in response).
You needed to be brave to man a German torpedo boat (yes, they were that small).
Ingenohl was right to fear Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet. He couldn’t face them head-on, but had to find a way to engage just part of the British fleet. Many of the scenarios reflect Ingenohl’s attempts to do just that – and he made plenty of attempts. Ingenohl wasn’t avoiding battle; he was avoiding annihilation.
Going in, I knew that I had a lot of research material that I hadn’t fully used (or hadn’t been published) when I designed Jutland in the early years of this century. I didn’t expect it to yield quite so much additional game material – history, analysis and scenarios. The Battle Analysis picks up the story from the British declaration on war on 4 August 1915 and carries through the Scarborough Raid of mid-December.
Putting all that together took enormously more work than I expected, too. This wasn’t a very wise investment of resources on our part, but it’s a unique item that a sub-set of Great War at Sea players (the ones in it for the history) is really going to like.
You can order Jutland Battle Analysis right here.
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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.