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Prizes of War:
The Ships

Great War at Sea: Prizes of War began as a downloadable supplement some years back, designed chiefly to allow us to re-use existing ship artwork. Assigned to craft 10 scenarios Jim Stear turned in 21 really fine ones, leaving me regretting that we’d chosen to release it in download format.

And now we’re bringing it back the way it always should have been: with silky-smooth, die-cut playing pieces, all of them sporting brand-new artwork (we sort of have to do that, since the new printing process we use is so sharp that it reveals all the previously-obscured flaws of the old art). And a full-sized, 64-page book to contain all of those scenarios and a few more, and plenty of story and background.

Prizes of War takes as its premise the takeover of French and Russian warships by their friends (the British) or foes (the Germans). For the most part, these are only the modern, useful ships as the British and especially the Germans didn’t bother to man their own over-aged pre-dreadnoughts and certainly wouldn’t have bothered with foreign models.

Russia, of course, actually collapsed and some Russian warships did come under German and/or British control. France did not, but wobbled under the weight of Army mutinies and battlefield defeat, and did discuss selling some of her incomplete battleships to the British.

To hard-core Great War at Sea players (are there any other kind?), what matters most are the new toys with which they’ll get to play. And Prizes of War delivers on the toys: 85 total, 55 double-sized “long” ship pieces and 30 normal-sized ones.

Let’s have a look:

French Battleships

The first two classes of French battleships, Courbet and Provence, are present in both British and German colors. The four Courbet-class battleships were not particularly good fighting ships, and would have been somewhat more valuable to the Germans than to the British. The Grand Fleet had plenty of dreadnoughts armed with 12-inch guns; the fleet command instead called for as many with 15-inch guns as could be made ready for sea, as quickly as possible.

The three ships of the Provence class had somewhat more combat value, with a main armament of ten 13.4-inch (340mm) guns. They shared the outdated protection scheme of the earlier class, and like the Courbet class would have had more value to the High Seas Fleet than to the Grand Fleet.

French Super-Dreadnoughts

The French laid down five new ships of the Normandie class just before the Great War, continuing the obsolete protection of the previous classes and compounding it by adopting a strange combine propulsion system with both turbines and triple-expansion engines.

They featured a unique main armament of a dozen 13.4-inch guns mounted in three quadruple turrets (actually a pair of dual mounts sharing the same turntable and armored housing). That gave the guns wide angles of fire, and intrigued the British, who inquired into purchasing the five incomplete hulls and finishing them to a modified plan.

Vickers, the massive British arms conglomerate, had sketched a triple turret for the 15-inch Mark I rifle that armed the newest British dreadnoughts. It’s not clear whether the British ever determined if this turret could be fitted to the quadruple 13.4-inch turret’s barbette; the extensive work needed to upgrade underwater protection and replace the propulsion system to bring the Normandie class to anything approaching British standards quickly ended the plan to buy them. It would be cheaper, and faster, to build completely new ships in British yards from the keel up.

Unlike the Royal Navy, we’re not limited to realistic appraisals, and so Prizes of War includes the Normandie class as designed, in both British and German colors with a brand-new ship drawing. It also includes the five ships re-armed with the Vickers triple turret. As such they have impressive firepower, but have been floating avatars of the “eggshells armed with hammers” aphorism.

Russian Battleships

Each fleet receives the four ships of the Russian Gangut class, built to the “Cuniberti” pattern with four triple turrets with 12-inch (305mm) guns, all on the main deck level along the center line. That meant that the two central turrets could only fire to either broadside. None saw much action during the Great War and only a little during the Russian Civil War; the Germans did not demand them during the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk in 1918 when they probably could have easily obtained them as the Bolsheviks had already diverted the crews of three of the four to ground fighting.

As with the first-generation French dreadnoughts, these ships would have had little utility for the Royal Navy, but somewhat more value to the Germans. The barbette underneath the triple turrets probably could have been modified to fit the standard dual turret of the British 15-inch Mark I, and so we also have included a version re-armed in such manner, which would have made the ships slightly more valuable to the Grand Fleet.

Cruisers

The true prizes among the Prizes of War would have been the four incomplete battle cruisers of the Russian Borodino class. They’re big and fast, with powerful main armaments. They add a lot to the German First Scouting Group and are no mean addition to the Battle Cruiser Fleet, either. Or at least they are at first glance. Their dozen 14-inch guns give them firepower equal to any other British or German battle cruiser, and they are almost as fast as any other, making 26 knots (good enough for speed class 2 in game terms).

And then the comparisons start to break down. We over-rated them in our Jutland game; they do not deserve heavy armor on their hull and this is a serious shortcoming. They’re also relatively short-legged, which doesn’t matter much in the bathtub-like Baltic Sea or even in the North Sea, but would if they were deployed just about anywhere else.

The Germans receive the four cruisers of the Russian Svetlana class. These ships, never completed for the Tsar’s Navy, were big, fast and powerfully armed, and would have been a tremendous addition to the High Seas Fleet’s scouting forces, which already had two former Russian cruisers. Like the two ships building in German yards, they probably would have been re-armed with fewer 150mm weapons in place of their Russian 130mm guns. They carry the German names of port cities in the Baltic provinces, areas with a large German-speaking minority and earmarked for annexation to Germany.

The imperial ensign also flies over the Russian armored cruiser Rurik, a fine design but made obsolete before she even entered Russian service. She saw much use in the Great War, and her commissioning by the Germans would have probably been based more on reputation than actual usefulness.

Destroyers

Russia’s Novik-class destroyers (officially the Orfey class, but always called “Noviks” in both Britain and Germany) are substantial additions to either sides light forces. Their gunnery is no better than most other destroyers, but they carry a heavy torpedo armament and good endurance. These are fine fleet destroyers that add much to the side that controls them.

The French destroyers of the Bisson and Bouclier classes are roughly equivalent to the more modern British or German destroyers. Both classes are lumped together in German service, with the older boats’ fuel bunkers assumed to have been enlarged when refitted for German use.

Don’t miss your opportunity to put Prizes of War on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it for your own collection.

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.