Jutland: Battle Analysis
We’re going to need a bigger book.
I undertook the Jutland: Battle Analysis project to flesh out the scenario set of Great War at Sea: Jutland a little more, add more scenarios and give more historical background on the existing scenarios while talking about how they relate to the events.
Jutland is already a big game, with 51 scenarios (44 operational scenarios, seven battle scenarios). That’s not the ratio we aim for these days, so right away I wanted to add more battles – those that would have taken place if the operations had resulted in contact (or, in some cases, had the contact been pursued more aggressively).
Jutland: Battle Analysis is a standard-sized book for us, which means it’ll come in at 36,000 to 40,000 words (it’s sometimes hard to judge how much space scenarios are going to take up). We’re already way past that, and haven’t covered everything I want to put in the book. And that’s not counting all the other things I wanted to add to Jutland, like giving the same treatment to the Baltic Sea campaigns and an intense analysis (with more scenarios) of early aircraft carriers.
At least in the early days of the Great War, the North Sea fleets were very active: the British Grand Fleet in conducting actual operations, the German High Seas Fleet mostly in planning them. Both sides deployed their obsolete pre-dreadnought battleships in the battle fleet, making the potential actions in the first weeks of war very different from the Battle of Jutland (and therefore something I wanted to show in the book’s new scenarios). And the odds of such an action occurring were very good: the idea that the battleships remained hidden away from harm is simply false. The British definitely wanted to fight, and the Germans were willing to accommodate them – if they could do so on favorable terms.
Complicating the High Seas Fleet’s desire to fight the British was Kaiser Wilhelm II, using his position as Supreme Warlord to put restrictions on the use of German warships. These began as a stricture on deploying anything other than torpedo boats, submarines or minelayers outside of German waters, and eventually relaxed enough to allow the battle cruisers (and fast armored cruiser Blücher) to operate farther afield. That forced the Germans to plan operations that might lure the enemy close enough to the German naval bases for the battle fleet to sortie and attack them without breaking the Kaiser’s rules any more than they already were by moving the battleships outside the harbors to be ready to respond.
For their part, the British conducted “sweeps” of the North Sea, seeking the German fleet, individual German warships, German merchant ships and most especially outbound German commerce raiders. The fleet moved out of its wartime base at Scapa Flow and proceeded southward behind a screen of cruiser squadrons before turning back northward for home. The Germans had some awareness of this, but their submarines proved far less adept at scouting than had been assumed before the war.
All of that activity adds up to a lot of potential scenarios, based on actual operations and plans. The first three and a half weeks of war, leading up to the First Battle of Helgoland Bight, generate fourteen scenarios: six operational ones, and eight battle scenarios. Helgoland Bight itself generates a couple of battle scenarios (it’s represented in the Jutland game only by an operational scenario), including a look at Alfred von Tirpitz’s desired reaction to the raid.
Helgoland Bight is also the subject for the first example of a new kind of operational scenario, one introduced in the new editions of a pair of Second World War at Sea games, Eastern Fleet and Midway. Since we started making naval games, I’ve written the operational scenarios to cover the action in question from start to finish. There are good reasons for that, both in terms of fun play and historical insight. But that’s not the only way to do things, so we have some operational scenarios that start up with the action already underway. In this case, there’s a Helgoland Bight scenario that picks up the story after the Brits have ravaged the German cruiser force in the Bight and the High Seas Fleet is now in hot pursuit as Tirpitz thought they should have been.
Things slowed down after Helgoland Bight, as the Kaiser tightened his control of the High Seas Fleet, treating its dreadnoughts like a set of precious bathtub toys. Even if the British appeared right off the German coast – as they did two weeks after the battle – the fleet command had to telegraph the Supreme War Lord in Berlin for his expressed permission before setting out to fight them. The Germans instead had to rely on submarines – Wilhelm apparently did not care if they were sunk – and did so with some success.
Those successes in turn frightened Sir John Jellicoe, who moved the Grand Fleet out of Scapa Flow to Northern Ireland, far from where it could influence events in the North Sea. He still led it into hostile waters, believing the greatest danger lay in submarine penetration of Scapa Flow. The British continued to react to poorly-sourced reports, like one claiming that German cruisers had slipped through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic and thence through the Skagerrak into the North Sea. So we let Sir John play out his fears, and send out the Germans on an operation they never undertook but the British believed they had.
Most of the operations to follow are covered in Jutland with operational scenarios, but just one of them for each incident and no battle scenarios. So I wrote battle scenarios for the Scarborough Raid, like one where Rear Admiral Robert Arbuthnot orders his dreadnoughts to open fire on the German battle cruisers instead of waiting punctiliously for instructions to come down the chain of command while the enemy returns to the mist. The operational scenarios are all in the same vein, starting when the first ships of whichever side drove the action leave harbor (or sometimes home waters); so the Scarborough Raid, for example, now has a second operational scenario picking up the action after the bombardment, as the German battle cruisers make for home and the British are in unexpectedly hot pursuit.
Jutland: Battle Analysis is a fine excuse to put together the scenarios I’d want in a new edition of Jutland, without having to take Jutland out or print or worrying about overloading the game with too many scenarios (yes, there is such a thing) and too much history and analysis (that’s also possible). That’s a license to overload the book with those things, and then another volume as well. This has been a fun project, and we’ll do more books like it.
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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.