I had finished basing my first War at Sea 1/1800 ships (see here) and it was time to use them in a game. A few months ago I realised it would be the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Denmark Strait that occurred on 24 May 1941 (during the Second World War) between ships of the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine. The British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Hood fought the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which were attempting to break out into the North Atlantic to attack Allied merchant shipping (codenamed Operation Rheinübung).
Ara, Jack, Liam, Mike and Nic all were keen for some naval wargaming and I set about in organising the game. The rules were Mongoose Publishing's Victory at Sea, which Warlord Games has recently updated and re-released. They're a simple set of rules, but I like them as they're easy to pick up, have some historical flavour and are able to deal with large fleet actions (Ara, Liam and I have played the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay without issue).
To make things interesting, I also designed a set of 'Captain Cards', for each captain and fleet commander. They would award additional victory point if certain actions were performed during the battle (detailed blog post pending). They are based on historical commanders, and how they behaved during battle or orders they were given. Based on what happened during this battle, e.g. the victory conditions for Lütjens and Lindemann are not compatible.
The cards were allocated randomly and the players commands were:
- Admiral Lütjens (Bismarck) - Nic
- Kapitän zur See Lindemann (Bismarck) - Mike
- Kapitän zur See Brinkmann (Prinz Eugen) - Jack
- Vice Admiral Holland (HMS Hood) - Ara
- Captain Kerr (HMS Hood) - Ara
- Captain Leach (HMS Prince of Wales) - myself, but later Liam
The ships were set up per the scenario in the rulebook, with the German commander having the option to choose the order the ships were deployed, Mike (Lütjens had deferred decisions to his subordinates at this stage still) electing to keep the faster Prinz Eugen in the front of the line.
I included the optional rules for the guns on the Prince of Wales (i.e. the guns not being fully operational and in part being manned by non-navy technicians), mainly as it added historical flavour. To get into the theme, I also drank an English beer (something I rarely do!).
Opening move had the British ships split to try and envelop the Germans to stop them escaping, while the Prinz Eugen went as fast as she could down the gap that had been created (torpedoes anyone?). After a few rounds of firing (and missing - Victory at Sea doesn't allow pre-measuring), the Prince of Wales already had one barrel out of action.
At this point the battle was paused as all commanders got together for blue cake (it had recently been Ara's birthday), I just love that maniacal look on Liam's face.
After a belly full of the raspberry cake it was back to the sea. Things started getting serious with the Hood receiving a few critical hits, one on her engine slowing her down and a fire breaking out.
Mike, as Captain Lindemann, confidently declared the Bismarck still had a fair bit of armour in response to the Hood's situation. The Prinz Eugen was one hit away from being crippled, while the Prince of Wales was almost undamaged.
Moments later all this changed, Ara scored a critical hit (4+ on a D6), vital systems (12 on 2D6) and a catastrophic explosion (6 on a D6); sinking the Bismarck in spectacular fashion in much the same way the Hood was historically sunk.
If that isn’t a belated birthday present I don’t know what is. Victory points wise it was a clear British victory (the Germans also had very weak overall command with Lindemann shooting before it was optimal for Lütjens' victory conditions to do so. It also made the follow on battle, recreating the last battle of the Bismarck on 26-27 May 1941, redundant. However, I plan on basing these additional ships, as the two battles are a good scenario to introduce people to WWII naval wargaming.
Finally I also picked up a few sets of Irregular Miniatures' 'GWV14 Two explosions and two shell craters' sets, that I will paint as water explosions (so mainly white). They are definitely a candidate for obscure miniature of the week.