Britain’s Royal Navy
Our massive Second World War at Sea: Plan Z expansion set got its name from the German Plan Z. Gamers wanted these projected German ships in their games, and we responded. But the Germans aren’t the only ones with a huge new fleet: our Plan Z also includes a bevy of British ships, too.
One of the many problems with the grandiose armada of Plan Z (beyond Germany’s lack of industrial and financial resources to build such a fleet) is the near-definite probability that Britain would not have allowed such a challenge to go unanswered. Britain had severe financial and industrial problems of her own, but our Long War setting (in which the Plan Z story arc takes place) opens in 1942, giving the United Kingdom an additional three years to prepare for the coming naval and air war.
The additional British ships (or upgraded ships) found in Plan Z conform to British plans during the period. This is the fleet the Royal Navy (or at least its political masters) hoped to build/rebuild, though it likely stretches available British resources somewhat beyond reality. It’s not nearly as much of a stretch to imagine as a completed German Plan Z, so it’s appropriate to include these vessels in the expansion set.
Despite its size, Second World War at Sea: Plan Z is an expansion set, not a complete game, and as such its scenarios draw on Bismarck, Arctic Convoy and Sea of Iron for playing pieces as well as those included in the very heavy box. There are already many British ships in the first two games listed (plus a few Australians and Canadians); the British ships found in Plan Z are in addition to those.
Britain had begun re-arming during the administration of Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Neville Chamberlain as prime minister. Baldwin directed the Royal Navy to reconstruct “all useful warships” in preparation for the coming conflict. Under that directive, three battleships of the Queen Elizabeth class and the battle cruiser Renown received major reconstruction that made them far more capable combatants during the war.
That left quite a few older vessels yet to be reconstructed. Some will appear in later volumes of the Long War story line. We’ve discussed many of these in Daily Content pieces, with more still to come.
Plan Z’s oldest British ship is the old battleship Iron Duke, in use as a training ship in 1939. She would have been expensive to modernize, but the Japanese did a fine job of rebuilding their own training battleship (Hiei) and Britain could have done so as well. Iron Duke would have been a capable convoy escort, and carried the best name of any battleship ever.
Iron Duke might have been an easier rebuilding project than the Revenge class. The five battleships carried 15-inch guns as opposed to Iron Duke’s 13.5-inch main battery, but Iron Duke had an amidships turret that could be removed to provide more room for an improved power plant. Revenge and her sisters would likely have to be lengthened, a process likely to consume vast amounts of time and money. They would emerge from the yards capable of performing the same second-line missions as Iron Duke.
Another elderly ship scheduled to be reconstructed, the battle cruiser Hood, would have benefitted greatly from additional armor and other improvements. She retains her main battery of eight 15-inch Mark I rifles in four double turrets, modernized as in the Queen Elizabeth class. New machinery drives her at 31 knots, and she has an all-new anti-aircraft suite plus fire control radar. She is finally a warship worthy of her press clippings.
There are also brand-new battleships. The four Lion class ships carry nine 16-inch guns on a hull very similar to that of the preceding King George V class, with good speed and good protection. They are a very fine battleship design, much superior to the overblown German H class they’ll be asked to fight.
And there’s the fast battleship Vanguard, a massive waste of resources which actually did see service, but only after the end of the (actual) Second World War. She’s a better warship than Hood, but having been laid down more than 20 years later that’s not saying a whole lot. Still, she makes a valuable addition to the Battle Cruiser Squadron and will see action very early in the new war.
Well before the aircraft carrier proved its worth in the attacks on Taranto and Pearl Harbor, the Royal Navy had projected a great increase in its fleet of flattops (though nothing on the scale of the U.S. Navy). Plan Z adds six additional aircraft carriers to the British roster: two old but modernized carriers of the Courageous class, two new ships of the Implacable, and two big and very modern carriers of the Audacious class.
The additional flight decks, plus the carriers found in Bismarck and Arctic Convoy, will give the Royal Navy a very strong Fleet Air Arm. And the set also includes plenty of new-generation planes to put on those decks: Seafires and Barracudas in place of the Fulmars and Swordfish. The carrier arm has a decided advantage over its German counterparts. And we get carrier battles in both the North Sea and the Atlantic, because carrier battles.
The Royal Navy required a large number of cruisers, to show the flag in remote corners of the British Empire in peacetime and in wartime to escort friendly commerce and attack that of Britain’s enemies. And so Plan Z addresses British plans for new cruisers. Many new cruisers.
At the large end of the scale are the huge super-cruisers proposed by Winston Churchill while serving as First Lord of the Admiralty, featuring a dozen 9.2-inch guns, a huge hull, high speed and no apparent mission that wouldn’t be served just as well by a smaller cruiser proposed by the Admiralty. That alternative design – a well-balanced heavy cruiser with nine 8-inch guns – is also present in the set.
And on the opposite end we have a couple of additional Dido-class anti-aircraft cruisers. These small (and fairly weak) ships have appeared in the Second World War at Sea series before, but not all of them, and we round out the class with these two leftovers.
The British projected an ambitious program for light cruiser construction: nineteen of them to a similar design with nine six-inch guns (the Fiji and Swiftsure classes), a fairly small ship of somewhat limited capability intended to be affordable in large numbers. They would be followed by a much larger cruiser of 15,000 tons, the Neptune class, carrying a dozen six-inch guns. A number of the earlier ships have appeared in Second World War at Sea games, so in Plan Z we concentrated on the newer types that either were not completed or joined the fleet after the war’s end.
And finally, the British have new destroyers: having learned their lesson during the First World War, the Royal Navy made sure to order plenty of these extremely useful ships to make sure all those new and rebuilt battleships and carriers had proper protection against German U-boats. Plan Z adds 32 new destroyers to the Royal Navy: 12 of the S class, 16 of the Z class, and four of the Battle class. The S and Z types are an evolution of previous British destroyers, multi-purpose boats adequate against surface, submarine and aerial threats but no more than that. The Battle class is much larger, also a multi-purpose destroyer but much larger to meet the need for a much greater range anticipated for operations in the Pacific Ocean.
It’s a much-augmented Royal Navy that awaits the German Z-fleet in the Atlantic showdown. The Germans get more ships in the expansion set, but have fewer to start with among the existing Second World War at Sea games. The stage is set for epic sea battles that never happened.
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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.