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Strategy in Great War at Sea: Jutland
Operational Scenario #29: Jutland, Part 1
By Doug McNair
August 2007

Now that we’ve published the advanced airship rules in Great War at Sea: Zeppelins, the time has come to tackle the granddaddy of all Great War at Sea scenarios. The Battle of Jutland offers both the Allies and the Central Powers player the chance to end the Great War at sea in an afternoon, but winning the game is less a matter of sinking enemy ships than of getting the enemy to come out and give battle on favorable terms.

Strategic Situation

The game starts on May 30th, 1916, and runs for 48 turns. The starting weather condition is Mist. The German battle plan requires a scouting force of battlecruisers and light ships to move at least one sea zone row north each turn until they reach the coast of Norway, or until any Allied battleship or battlecruiser has been spotted in combat. The main German battlefleet is to follow at a distance, in hopes of intercepting a British battleship or battlecruiser squadron that will hopefully be sent to deal with the German scouting force. To win, a player must sink at least three enemy BBs or BCs, score more victory points than the enemy player, and sink more BBs or BCs than the enemy player. Any other result is a draw.

British Strategy

The Royal Navy is far more powerful than the Imperial High Seas Fleet, and that makes

bringing the Germans to battle problematic. If the British player simply masses his fleets into one or two task forces, the German player will abort his missions and head back for port, and the game will be a draw.

Similarly, if the Allied player keeps all his battleships together but tries to hide them among many small scouting forces blanketing the North Sea, the German player will just run for port as soon as one of his zeppelins spots the main battlefleet. To beat the Germans the Allied player will have to play a shell game of the utmost complexity. Royal Navy forces begin the game at five different ports, and the British player must keep those forces separate to entice the Germans into attacking one of them while not allowing any one task force to stray too far from its fellows. This may produce an initial engagement where the odds greatly favor the Germans, so the British player must try to damage a few German battleships and then run.

Meanwhile, the other British task forces must maneuver behind the Germans so as to catch any damaged German battleships from the first engagement and hopefully intercept the entire German battlefleet as it’s making for home. British subs and destroyers should harass the Germans on the way out and back, and the British should use their reserve force of old battleships at Sheerness (led by BB01 Dreadnought herself) to finish off any stragglers that get slowed down by hits in battle or torpedo runs from destroyers and subs.

German Strategy

Because he’s badly outnumbered and outgunned, the German player must aggressively seek battle with a portion of the Royal Navy and then run for home before British forces can combine to annihilate him. Fortunately, the Germans have the perfect tools to make this happen: zeppelins.

Because the North Sea is a relatively small theater of operations, just a few zeppelins on Scout missions can quickly reconnoiter all approaches to the British coast and report back on the dispersal of the Royal Navy. Once a suitably-sized British task force containing at least three capital ships has been located by zeppelins, the German battlefleet should leave port behind a screen of scouting fleets with three zeppelins along for an Escort mission.

The escorting zeppelins will help the Kaiser’s battlefleet make contact with the enemy, increase German initiative, and spot for German gunnery. The latter will vastly increasing the accuracy of German gunfire and hopefully allow the Germans to sink three or more British battleships quickly and then break off and head for home.

And while this is going on the Germans must be sure to keep a few zeppelins in the air on Scout missions at all times, sending more out as the first wave of zeppelins comes back for refueling. This will allow the zeppelins to keep constant tabs on British fleet movements and hopefully warn the High Seas Fleet of any British moves to combine their squadrons into a unified battlefleet.

The main danger to German plans is not the British, but the weather. Weather conditions at-start are Mist, and if they worsen to Fog the zeppelins won’t be able to provide escort benefits like helping contact enemy fleets or spotting for gunnery. If they worsen to Squall they won’t be able to search for enemy fleets either, and if they get worse than that the zeppelins will have to abort their missions and head for home.

So, the Germans have to react quickly to any worsening of the weather. They should keep some light scouting fleets in the van to take over search operations should the zeppelins have to abort, and the Kaiser’s battlefleet should be willing to pull back behind the German coastal minefields if it looks like the British are combining forces under cover of bad weather. On the other hand, fresh zeppelins need to be ready to go once the weather clears, heading out to scout for any remaining opportunities to engage a British fleet of the appropriate size.

Day One: May 30th, 1916

With that, here begins my turn-by-turn replay of the Battle of Jutland scenario.

Both sides begin with their forces split into the maximum number of task forces possible. British ships begin at Scapa Flow, Rosyth and Cromarty, with reserve forces stationed at Harwich and Sheerness. All German ships start at Wilhelmshaven while the zeppelins begin at Cuxhaven. The Germans deploy sixteen subs in a patrol line stretching from the westernmost point in Norway down to the Dutch coast, with a few more subs stationed at points forward of the line. The British station their two subs in forward positions as close as possible to the German coast.

Turn 1

The German scouting force, divided into three task forces, leaves Wilhelmshaven and heads north. Zeppelins L11, L13 and L14 all leave Cuxhaven with scouting missions, making best speed for the enemy. British fleets fan out from their bases.

Turn 2

The weather improves to Clear, and the zeppelins continue onward at top speed. The scouting force heads generally northwest, and one of the task forces is spotted by a British submarine three zones northwest of Wilhelmshaven, which reports that the force is composed of eleven light ships. Given the likelihood that many of them are destroyers, the sub decides to let the fleet pass unmolested. Another German scouting fleet passes through the sub’s patrol zone undetected. The German battlefleet fans out from Wilhelmshaven.

The northern British forces generally steam northeast, with some task forces from Scapa Flow and Cromarty congregating in the firth between the two ports. The task forces out of Rosyth form a patrol line and begin steaming eastward in orderly fashion, while another task force steams out of port behind them.

Turn 3

The weather stays clear, and the zeppelins move west toward the advancing British patrol line from Rosyth. The German scouting forces fan out behind them, with one fleet moving northwest while the other two steam northward. Three task forces from the battlefleet steam east along the coast toward Cuxhaven, while the others form a patrol line of their own north of Wilhelmshaven. All avoid the British sub.

The patrol line out of Rosyth sends its flanks northeast and southwest while the center keeps steaming east, and the slower fleet behind it steams southeast along the Scottish coast. The fleets south of the Faeroes converge while others keep mingling in the firth between Scapa Flow and Cromarty. The British patrol line is about to come in contact with the zeppelins.

Turn 4

Clear weather prevails as twilight approaches, and seven German fleets head generally northwest toward the Brits while three others move adjacent to Cuxhaven. Most British fleets steam generally northeast, successfully staying outside zeppelin range for the first day.

The three zeppelins remain to the south and try to scout the fleets out of Rosyth, but the Rosyth fleets largely fake-out the zeppelins, with Fleet 3 not moving while zeppelin L13 flies around its zone but not into it. Zeppelin L11 flies south of Fleet 3 toward the British coast (the direction Fleet 3 had been moving). The zeppelins get only an approximate read on Fleet 3, which the British player reports has fourteen ships.

Since the zeppelins didn’t fly into Fleet 3’s zone they can’t get a read on its ship types. But zeppelin L14 to the north does better, flying by British Fleet 4 and reporting that it has 7 ships, and then flying directly into the wake of Fleet 2, meaning the British player must report accurate numbers and ship types for it. The report comes in that Fleet 2 has eleven light ships. So with evening falling, all the Germans know is that the three fleets in the British van have somewhat in excess of twenty ships between them, but so far they haven’t spotted any British BBs or BCs.

Turn 5

Night falls and the weather stays clear, but zeppelins can’t search for enemy fleets at night. So the fleets out of Rosyth steam eastward toward the Germans, with the exception of Fleet 2, which reverses course and steams northwest (the zeppelin sighting must have spooked it). The northern British fleets keep to the north, steaming eastward toward the Norwegian coast.

The German scout fleets advance cautiously, coming close to the lead Allied fleets but not making contact. The three fleets that were steaming eastward arrive at Cuxhaven, and the other four German fleets also move cautiously northward, with the British sub northwest of Wilhelmshaven failing to contact the German fleet that enters its zone.

Zeppelin L11 stays put near the British coast, hoping to get sightings of British fleets as she makes her way back to base tomorrow, while L13 and L14 head northeast into the path of any British fleets that move in the direction of the Germans tonight.

Turn 6

The weather turns misty, and the German scout fleets continue cautiously northward. Three zeppelins at Cuxhaven take Escort missions and move out with the fleets that arrived last turn, and the remaining four German fleets spread out into a patrol line running west-southwest to east-northeast. Zeppelin L11 remains on station by the British coast, but L13 moves five zones northeast so it can pass back southward through the British fleets on its way home tomorrow, and L14 moves three zones northwest to the edge of its range, hoping the bulk of the British northern fleets come to her before she has to turn back south.

Two forward British fleets southeast of Rosyth steam into or through the same zones with forward German fleets. They all fail to make contact in the dark, with one British fleet just barely missing the northernmost German fleet in the newly-encroaching mist. The northern British fleets move generally southeast, but most of them stay outside the maximum range of the zeppelins currently in the air.

So, with dawn about to break on the second day of operations, the advance fleets from both sides have bypassed each other in the dark, and nobody has spotted an enemy capital ship. That could all change very quickly come morning, unless the encroaching mist foreshadows worse weather to come. What will the dawn reveal? Tune in next time and find out!

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