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Royal Netherlands Navy:
World Building

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
February 2015

My good friend Chris Pramas, award-winning designer of multiple famed role-playing games (Chainmail 2001 edition, Dragon Age), once explained the creative drive to me in very simple terms: “You get to create a whole world.”

Our Second Great War alternative-history setting for Second World War at Sea is turning into just such a world. Well, sort of. It’s not created from scratch, so it’s not a whole new world, but it’s a different one than that of the actual Second World War, thanks to Wilson’s Peace of late 1916 and some other variations we’ve snuck in. And I think I like creating variations on reality better than building up a whole world from scratch.

That we would do a book like Royal Netherlands Navy, our third Second Great War setting, was inevitable, because of the stockpile of pieces from our old Spice Islands booklet. The very first concept would have been an expanded version of Spice Islands, with the Orange Waters sequel bundled in, but that wasn’t very satisfying and didn’t fit the Second Great War setting.

To fit the setting, I devised a new story line that resulted in a “split” book, with part of the Dutch fleet fighting in the East Indies (on the maps from Strike South) and the rest fighting in the North Atlantic (on the maps from Bismarck). I liked that, but the scenarios and story taking place in the East Indies seemed much stronger and were squeezing the North Atlantic segment out of the book, which had grown to book-length all on its own and was crying out for more pieces, too. I decided to revise the book, and concentrate on just one theater.

Royal Netherlands Navy, as revised, is the story of the Second Great War at Sea in the Indian Ocean, East Indies and South China Sea. It draws on Strike South and Eastern Fleet for its maps and pieces, with no need for Bismarck or The Kaiser’s Navy. It has the old sheet of pieces from Spice Islands (70 "long" pieces like the one on the left, and 140 square ones) and a new sheet with 50 more long ones and 40 small ones.

There are five powers at play in this setting. The action begins at the start of the Second Great War, with an Imperial German cruiser force (two battle cruisers and two light cruisers, backed by an airship) operating out of the Palaus with their main supply base and repair facilities off the map to the east, at Rabaul. In the war’s first months they harry the French, who have a strong fleet based at Cam Ranh Bay in Indochina. The French in turn try to neutralize the German base in the Palaus.

Things heat up a little when Britain enters the war in April 1941, but the British Eastern Fleet is made up mostly of ancient battleships of the Royal George class at this point and is tasked mainly with protecting against German raiders. But in September (conveniently, right after The Kaiser’s Navy and The Habsburg Fleet wrap up), Winston Churchill’s insistence on stifling the Dutch transit trade (passing along American grain and other goods to Imperial Germany) pushes the Netherlands into open war. The Eastern Fleet is strengthened by more heavy ships, including some old but modernized and still-powerful N3 and G3 battleships and battle cruisers.

Meanwhile, the French Far Eastern Fleet has been receiving reinforcements as well, the most modern new ships in the Marine Nationale: Alsace-class battleships, Joffre-class aircraft carriers, and Saint-Louis class heavy cruisers. Plus a commerce-raiding submarine cruiser, and a flotilla of modern destroyers. It is a formidable force, and Japanese naval intelligence rightly suspects that it is intended to support Russian aims in the Pacific. The Japanese strike first, attacking the French fleet at anchor in December 1941.

That leads to an unusual military-diplomatic situation:

• France is at war with Japan, Germany and the Netherlands.

• Britain is at war with Germany and the Netherlands, but not Japan.

• Japan is at war with France, but not Germany, the Netherlands or Britain, and claims at least in public that the Anglo-Japanese Alliance remains in effect.

• The Netherlands is at war with Britain and France.

• Germany is also at war with Britain and France. Germany and the Netherlands are allied with one another, but are not allied with the Japanese.

• The United States remains neutral, and is happy to supply all sides. In practice this neutrality greatly favors the Central Powers.

One of the deus ex machina aspects of the Second Great War setting is a relatively more prosperous world than that of our reality; the Great Depression is not nearly so depressing without the issue of German reparations and Weimar hyper-inflation to drive it. And there’s a lot more oil sloshing around in this world: Italy has opened fields in Libya, and Japan has opened fields in Manchuria.

I knew players would want more ships, but the obsessive historian lurking within me demanded that their owners have some plausible ability to build and operate them. Thus that Italian and Japanese access to petroleum in large quantities mentioned above, and much stronger economies. However, ownership of Manchurian oil fields would remove the Japanese incentive to attack the Netherlands East Indies. In this setting, the Japanese have no reason to seize Dutch oil fields, but they do have cause to strike first at the French. And that French fleet buildup provided an excuse to add new French pieces to the setting, with an explanation for why they weren't present in the Atlantic or Mediterranean (the French really did wish to play a bigger role in the Far East with a powerful fleet, but never realized these plans in our world).

With The Habsburg Fleet, set in the Mediterranean, I made the Second Great War at Sea a battleship war, and wanted to continue that logic in the Far East. That meant adding more battleships, mostly modernized versions of ships scrapped in the early 1920’s or never completed due to a combination of naval limitations treaties and economic distress. While the setting takes off from reality, I’ve tried in each book to keep the additional ships within the bounds of actual naval construction plans and desires: warships never modernized or never built, but actually designed or projected.

Japan, Britain and France all get more battleships. A lot more battleships. The French get a complete roster of supporting ships, and the British get a few more destroyers (the historical British Eastern Fleet of the namesake game and Strike South went into action really short of destroyers). The Dutch get one more battleship beyond those in Spice Islands, and the British get an aircraft-carrying airship because airships.

It’s a lot of fun to write for this setting, and I think players are going to enjoy these scenarios. You get to play with battleships, and to move powerful fleets across those really interesting Strike South maps. And, of course, the story moves on.

Don’t wait to put Royal Netherlands Navy on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!

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.