Royal Netherlands Navy:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Kaiser Wilhelm wanted a High Seas Fleet to assure Germany’s “place in the sun” – colonies around the world. When Woodrow Wilson brokered a negotiated peace to end the First Great War in the last days of 1916 – the premise of our Second Great War story arc – Imperial Germany agreed to hand over its leased territory at Tsingtao, but regained control of its Pacific territories. Saipan, Tinian and the Caroline and Marshall Islands are small outposts, but German New Guinea has become economically valuable through copper mining, fishing and agriculture.
To protect those investments, and show the Imperial banner throughout Oceania, the Imperial Navy has a strong East Asia Squadron with its major base at Rabaul on the island of Neu Pommern and a secondary base at Palau. The bases are protected by permanent fortifications and strong garrisons of tough, long-service East African askaris, with well-stocked depots and thriving trade connections with the nearby neutral Dutch and American colonies. In case of war, the Germans plan to hold out here a very long time.
That's part of the background for our Second Great War at Sea: Royal Netherlands Navy alternative-history expansion for Second World War at Sea: Strike South. The story opens with France, Italy and Russia at war with Germany and Austria, with other powers joining in later. In the early scenarios of Royal Netherlands Navy, that puts the Germans in conflict with the French based in Indo-China.
The East Asia Squadron is built around a pair of First Great War-vintage battle cruisers, the preferred ship type of the High Seas Fleet. The older of them, Hindenburg, was laid down in 1913 but not completed until just after the end of the war. She’s the second-oldest battle cruiser still in German service, behind her sister Derfflinger, and carries a relatively weak main armament of eight 12-inch (305mm) guns.
The two old ships received a thorough modernization in the early 1930’s, with their coal-fired boilers replaced by oil-fueled ones. They can still make a good turn of speed, but while they can overwhelm a heavy cruiser they are no match for a real battleship.
The third sister, Lützow, was lost at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 after a pair of heavy-caliber shell hits to her forward torpedo room caused widespread flooding. Both of the surviving ships have had this vulnerable spot removed. They also received new secondary and anti-aircraft batteries – the Imperial Navy does not have a dual-purpose medium-caliber weapon.
The bigger of the two battle cruisers, Prinz Eitel Friedrich, is almost as old. She’s named for Kaiser Wilhelm’s second son, the “Hero of St. Quentin,” who rallied his faltering 1st Guard Regiment in August 1914 by seizing a drum and personally leading a renewed bayonet charge while rattling out a cadence. One of four Mackensen class ships laid down in 1915 and completed in 1918, well after the end of First Great War, Prinz Eitel Friedrich entered the dockyard for modernization soon after Hindenburg. In response to the declining quality of coal available to the Navy, she originally had a mixed-firing arrangement: one-third of her boilers burned oil, and the remainder coal. As rebuilt, all of her boilers are oil-fueled and she can still make good speed.
The Mackensen class design is an enlarged version of the Defflinger class, with 13.8-inch (350mm) main guns. Otherwise Prinz Eitel Friedrich is very similar to Hindenburg, with the same secondary armament. Her greater size allows a slightly more powerful anti-aircraft battery as well.
Accompanying the battle cruisers are two light cruisers of different types. Wiesbaden is one of the large Cöln class of ten light cruisers built right after the First Great War and modernized a decade later and typical of cruisers built in that era, with her guns in open mounts protected by shields. Built to burn both coal and oil (with eight coal-fired boilers and six more burning oil) she’s been refitted to burn only oil. She carried eight 5.9-inch (150mm) guns and remains a threat to enemy merchant ships if not much of one to their warships.
Amazone, in contrast, is one of the most modern Imperial German warships, with a high speed but an armament (eight 5.9-inch guns) somewhat weaker than her size might suggest. She’s a valuable ship for potentially raiding enemy commerce.
Flying above the ships is the airship Theodor Kober, one of the modern LZ142 type airship-carriers. She can carry up to a dozen aircraft, a mixture of Bf109 fighters and Ju87 dive bombers, and these planes also greatly extend her reconnaissance capability. Kober is a gigantic ship, one third again as large as the huge passenger airship Hindenburg, and she allows the East Asia Squadron to project its power all across the region.
Despite possessing a pair of powerful capital ships, this force is no match for the powerful Allied fleets in the region – the French at Cam Ranh Bay, and the British at Singapore. Their forward base at Palau is separated from the British and French possessions by the neutral waters of the Dutch East Indies and American Philippines, and the Germans slip through the islands to attack enemy shipping and raid their coastlines. Once the Netherlands is drawn into the war by British aggression spurred by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, the German squadron pulls back to Rabaul to defend against Australian incursions from the south and plays only a minor role alongside the Royal Netherlands Navy.
And that’s what we’ve added to the German 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. Leopold is a happy dog.