By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
As the wise King Moonracer once said, “A toy is never happy until it is loved by a child.” Staring at a stack of leftover maps from our old Cone of Fire game, I decided they needed to be loved and not recycled. And so I designed a new game to use them, Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn.
Tropic of Capricorn is part of the Second Great War alternative history setting. In it, Argentina and Chile side with the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Italy, Russia) against Brazil, which is aligned with the Central Powers (Imperial Germany and Austria). The game’s organized like most of our more recent offerings, with the scenarios (24 of them – ten operational and fourteen battle scenarios) telling the story of this naval war that never happened.
In Tropic of Capricorn, the Brazilians hold their own at first, but the odds swing against them when a Royal Navy aircraft carrier task force arrives. Though outnumbered, they have easier access to the neutral United States and its shipyards, which are happy to repair battle damage for a price. The story wraps up in July 1941, with the Brazilians suffering a major defeat at the hands of Royal Navy biplane torpedo bombers.
That’s where we pick up the story with Tropical Storm, an expansion book for Tropic of Capricorn. The book comes with 80 new die-cut and silky smooth playing pieces: 60 “long” double-sized ship pieces and 20 merely normal-sized ones. And there’s a map, the middle map from Cone of Fire, which shows the central Argentine coast. I’m not sure why we didn’t put it in Tropic of Capricorn, but we didn’t. They’re in storage and they need to be loved, so they’re going in the book.
The heart of the book is the story, which continues the action in August 1941, following the British air strike on the Brazilian fleet. The Brazilians get some badly-needed help soon afterwards, as the German West African Squadron rushes across the Atlantic to take refuge with their allies following the fall of Kamerun.
Design Note: Originally I’d intended to use these ships (and the British ones listed below) in a stand-alone Gulf of Guinea game, which would have added a new and unusual theater to Second World War at Sea. I’m not sure that another Second Great War game (as opposed to an expansion of a historical game) is the best use of our resources
It’s a welcome reinforcement, a force built around two battle cruisers and two of the large, fast armored cruisers built just after the Great War. The rest of the ships are smaller cruisers and destroyers, plus there’s a German airship. But they were driven away from West Africa by superior British forces, and soon most of those show up in their wake.
The Royal Navy’s powerful reinforcements are centered on a pair of new battleships, each with eight 16-inch guns and a dozen 6-inch. These are the 16A design drafted in 1929, that in our actual history would have been laid down in 1931 had the Washington naval limitations agreement’s “battleship holiday” expired in that year as originally intended and not been extended for five more years.
They also get four of naval architect Sir George Thurston’s proposed “small battleships,” armed with six 12-inch guns and here classed as coast defense ships, and four of the “five turret” improved County-class heavy cruisers that would have been built in the early 1930’s had the London Treaty not put a hold on more heavy cruiser construction.
Design Note: In each case, I’ve gone with ships that were actually designed in our reality, though they were not built. I like our fantasy to have some roots in reality. Finally, there are two more aircraft carriers and seven more destroyers to round out the British contribution.
The South American navies are reinforced as well. The Brazilians take delivery of four old, rebuilt American battleships and six destroyers. The Argentines receive a pair of Italian-built armored cruisers and eight big destroyers, and Chile gets an Italian-built coast defense ship.
With those new forces, the story sees the Allies seize the initiative and attempt to control Brazilian waters. The Central Powers, however, want to extend the zone of operations and force the Allies to stretch their forces. Argentina lies at the end of a very long supply line stretching back to Europe, with weapons and manufactured goods coming south and foodstuffs flowing north. That route is vulnerable to interdiction.
While the Allied coalition has paper superiority over the Brazilian-German forces, they are far less unified in purpose and command. The Brazilians can’t easily ships goods to and from Germany, but they do have ready access to the massive arms bazaar that is the neutral United States. The Americans are willing to sell on a cash basis to any who wish to buy; in effect this policy favors the Central Powers thanks to their close pre-war commercial relationships with the United States and Imperial Germany’s massive foreign exchange reserves. The Allies can’t easily interfere with this traffic without risking an unwanted conflict with the Americans.
And so the story is one of commerce raiding and protection. Neither Argentina nor Brazil can easily be knocked out of the war by naval action alone. The fighting on land, currently bogged down along the Rio Uruguay, will be far more decisive to the war’s outcome. Yet both sides depend on foreign stocks of munitions, so the grinding convoy battles at sea are crucial to maintaining those forces on land.
Tropical Storm, the book, is wrapped around a set of thirty new scenarios extending the story into 1942. As with other Second Great War books, the scenarios are part of the story format. Lots of people buy these things for the story as much as the game play and we want to make sure they feel they’re getting plenty of fun out of the book, too. So Tropical Storm has plenty of background on the participants and their fleets, to flesh out the story and making playing the scenarios that much more fun.
You can order Tropical Storm right here.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published far too many books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.