Royal Netherlands Navy:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Based at Singapore, the “Gibraltar of the East,” Britain’s Eastern Fleet served to protect British colonies and project British power throughout South-East Asia. This was true in the reality we know, and also in that of the Second Great War at Sea.
The Eastern Fleet shown in Royal Netherlands Navy is a bit different than that of Strike South, our game of the 1941-1942 campaigns of the actual Second World War at Sea. It’s a good bit stronger, and based around a different set of capital ships – ships that either no longer existed or had never been built in our actual history.
Game design issues made that necessary: we want the Second Great War at Sea story arc to hang together across the various books, and Jim Stear had snarfed up most of the British heavy warships to fight the Imperial Germans in The Kaiser’s Navy. So if the British were to have a powerful Eastern Fleet like I wanted them to have they would need some extra ships. And so they get them.
The oldest of the “new” ships are the three surviving members of the first King George V class of battleships, laid down in 1911 and commissioned in 1912 and 1913. In our reality, two were scrapped and one converted into a target ship in 1926 to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. In the world of the Second Great War, there are naval limitations treaties, but they are much kinder to old warships (on the one hand recognizing the immense investment they represent, and on the other attempting to divert resources to their repair and rehabilitation that might otherwise go to newer, more destructive weapons of war).
Royal George (the original name intended for King George V – we couldn’t have two battleships with the same name steaming around) and her sisters have received a thorough reconstruction based on the work done to modernize the slightly newer Iron Duke class as seen in The Habsburg Fleet. The amidships turret has been removed, their hulls have received anti-torpedo bulges and they have new oil-fired machinery, raising their speed slightly.
The extra deck space created by the turret removal allows installation of a seaplane hangar and catapult, and additional anti-aircraft weaponry. Like Iron Duke, the three old battleships have had their 13.5-inch Mark V main guns replaced by the new and very fine 14-inch Mark VII all-steel rifle. Yet despite their reputation for accurate gunnery, concerns about their low speed and relative lack of protection relegate them to missions like convoy escort and fire support. They are very suitable for the Eastern Fleet, considered a backwater of the Second Great War before Winston Churchill’s political blundering brings the Netherlands into the conflict on the side of the Central Powers.
Almost as old, but enormously more powerful, are the ships of the Trafalgar class, known in our world as the N3 battleship design. They are huge ships, displacing over 50,000 tons apiece after their modernization, but retain the relatively slow speed of the post-First Great War battle fleet. With their nine 18-inch guns they are thought to carry the heaviest armament of any battleship afloat (naval analysts of this world, just like those of our own, assume that the Japanese Yamato class is armed with 16-inch guns).
They also carry a heavy secondary armament and an impressive antiaircraft suite. They are not present in the Far East when war breaks out, having started the conflict on the North American Station keeping watch on the quietly hostile U.S. Navy. They join the armada summoned to protect the invasion fleet that Winston Churchill orders against Sumatra as part of an effort to break the Dutch blockade of the beleaguered fortress.
In addition to its three battleships, the Eastern Fleet begins the war with two battle cruisers, also rejuvenated veterans of the First Great War. Lion and Princess Royal have likewise lost their amidships turret, which leaves them with a main armament of six 14-inch Mark VII rifles. They’ve been rebuilt largely along the lines of Repulse and Renown, and so they have good speed but still lack sufficient protection to stand for long against ships also armed with heavy guns. Thanks to removal of the amidships turret, they do have the space to carry many more seaplanes than most battleships.
Later two more battle cruisers arrive from the North American Station, Invincible-class ships of much greater fighting power than the two Lions. These are the ships known to our reality as the G3 battle cruiser design, similar to the N3 battleship but with a main armament of nine 16-inch guns. They are fast as well as heavily armed, and though their protection is not quite up to modern standards they are more than a match for anything fielded by the Dutch or Germans in the Far East.
The new Eastern Fleet also gets some much less glamourous ships – additional destroyers to help escort all this seagoing firepower. These are older boats built just after the First Great War as flotilla leaders, but considerably reconstructed afterwards. There just aren’t that many destroyers included in Strike South and Eastern Fleet, and the British needed some more.
Finally, the Eastern Fleet has an addition to its scouting capability: the dirigible Mayfly, also known more modestly as R104. She’s not quite as capable as her German counterpart, but does carry her own small contingent of Skua dive-bombers which can also double as very weak fighter planes to protect her if necessary. Fortunately for Mayfly, she is not present when the sorely-provoked Dutch attack Singapore and other British bases but arrives later as a potentially-helpful reinforcement. The British player will have to be careful with her, as the Dutch are very strong in the air.
And that’s what we’ve added to the British lineup for Royal Netherlands Navy.
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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.