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Sword of the Sea:
The Persians, Part One

The world of the Second Great War, our alternative-history story arc in which the First World War (that is, the Great War) ends in late 1916, is more prosperous than our own. Europe is spared two years of death and devastation, and without a post-war reparations crisis, the Great Depression is more of a recession.

That sort of economic growth needs energy, and that makes the 1920’s and 1930’s boom decades for oil-producing nations like Persia. In our history, Persia – re-named Iran after 1935 – suffered under British and Russian (later Soviet) domination; in our alternative history, Reza Shah likewise owes much to his foreign patrons – Britain, Italy and Imperial Russia.

Despite Woodrow Wilson’s dream of a League of Nations to regulate international disputes, war returns in 1940. The Allied powers – France, Italy and Russia – launch a war of aggression against the Central Powers (Imperial Germany, Austria and Ottoman Turkey). That’s the Second Great War, the theme of our alternative-history story arc.

Second Great War at Sea: Sword of the Sea brings that war that never happened to the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The major conflict is between the Ottoman Navy for the Central Powers, aided by a small German squadron, and the Imperial Persian Navy, backed by large Italian and British (including Indian) forces. It all takes place on the map from Second World War at Sea: Horn of Africa, which we made nice and large to include the Persian Gulf and much of the Arabian Sea just so we could use it in this expansion.

With the aid of his allies, and the revenues of the Abadan oil fields, Reza Shah has built a potent war machine. On land, his army stages an invasion of Ottoman-ruled Iraq and Kurdistan. At sea, the fleet seeks to keep the Ottoman squadrons bottled up within the Persian Gulf while ranging into the Arabian Sea. The new, modern built with all of that oil money has many challenges; let’s have a look at Reza Shah’s purchases:

The Big Cruisers

In our history, Josef Stalin, the Great Helmsman of the Soviet Union, took a personal interest in the Soviet Navy’s warship proposals for the Third Five-Year Plan. His attention focused on the battle cruisers and oversized heavy cruisers that the naval architects had sketched, offering his own suggested improvements.

As Great Stalin pointed out, the Soviet Union had not been invited to sign any of the naval limitations treaties of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Soviet Union could build as many ships as it wished, limited only by its resources, and not by armament or displacement. Projekt X would be a type studied by many navies, the “Washington Treaty Cruiser Killer,” a very fast ships with larger guns than the 8-inch (203mm) maximum of heavy cruisers under the Washington agreement, but not a true battle cruiser.

One Soviet bureau submitted a 15,520-ton ship with nine 240mm guns in three triple turrets, a speed of 38 knots and the ability to launch two midget submarines. Another went with a displacement of 19,500 tons, nine 250mm guns and a top speed of 36 knots. The Italian shipbuilding firm Ansaldo submitted their own ship, a 22,000-ton cruiser with nine 254mm (10-inch) guns able to make 37 knots.

That last ship (a design which existed in the real world, but only as a proposal) is the basis of the Persian Navy’s Damavand class of two ships. Each of the Soviet-generated designs compromised their protection in exchange for speed and armament; the Ansaldo ship would be fast, powerful and well-armored. Despite heavier guns than a cruiser, however, she would in no way be able to stand up in battle against a real battleship, but she would have the speed to run away from such a confrontation.

Had she been built for the Soviets she likely would have carried Soviet-made weapons rather than the 254mm of the proposal. In our story she’s ordered from Ansaldo and has the same main armament as the UP90 “picket battleship” design prepared for Romania. In addition to the main guns, she has a dozen 135mm dual-purpose secondary guns and a dozen more 90mm heavy anti-aircraft guns, a very large allotment of Breda 37mm and 20mm light anti-aircraft guns (28 of the former, 48 of the latter), six torpedo tubes and the capacity to carry four seaplanes.

Design Note: The Second Great War books and games are an opportunity to add ship designs that were never realized to the Second World War at Sea mix. Positing some of them as export designs allows us to include some variants like the Ansaldo super-heavy cruiser (we gave the Imperial Russian Navy one of the proposals for a much larger battle cruiser that replaced her in Stalin’s heart).

She would have been a very expensive ship, in our reality or the alternative, which kept her out of the Soviet Third Five-Year Plan and also limits Reza Shah to buying just two of them. But they are formidable hunters of the German and Ottoman cruisers contesting the Arabian Sea.

The Super Light Cruiser

Italian shipyards commonly offered foreign customers “export” versions of the ships they built for the Royal Italian Navy. Usually, like the “medium” cruisers built for Argentina, they had a reduced size and main armament to also bring down their cost; the Soviet cruiser Kirov had slightly heavier armament than her model, Raimondo Montecuccoli, and was about the same size.

The Persian light cruisers of the Saam class buck that trend; these are the “maximum” proposed follow-on to the final light cruisers of the Condotierri type, the Duca degli Abruzzi class. The Royal Italian Navy went with a design that bears a strong resemblance to the Ansaldo coast-defense ships we’ve included in several games and broke with the Condotierri style.

The enlarged Abruzzi design shows influences of the American Brooklyn-class and Japanese Mogami-class light cruisers (before the latter were re-armed as heavy cruisers). She’s been enlarged to accommodate five triple turrets rather than the four turrets of the standard Condotierri type (in the case of Abruzzi, two triple and two twin), increasing the number of 152mm guns from ten to fifteen.

She carries her extra turret aft, with eight 90mm anti-aircraft guns, an array of lighter weapons plus six torpedo tubes. Like Abruzzi, she’s not meant for the insanely high speeds of the earlier Condotierri types, making “only” 36 knots, and shares Abruzzi’s relatively better protection. The Imperial Navy has four of them, all built in Italian yards. They have good speed and firepower, and they’re large, well-protected ships as light cruisers go.

Those are Persia’s cruisers; next time we’ll look at more of the Shah’s ships.

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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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