Thursday, 21 July 2016

Battle of Lissa, 150 Years On

This week sees the 150th anniversary of the battle of Lissa, fought on 20th July  1866 between the navies of Italy and the Austro Hungarian empire. Lissa was the first and indeed only ironclad fleet action, and the sinking of one of the Italian ironclads (Re d'Italia) by ramming erroneously focussed naval tactics on ramming for many years afterwards.

To celebrate the anniversary a team from the Naval Wargames Society has been on the island this week, and yesterday on the anniversary we refought the battle. Using Stuart Barnes Watson's lovely collection of 1/1200 models we staged the battle in the utility room of the villa that has been NWS HQ (it was quite cool, plus the floor was a nice blue grey colour, although nothing like the bright, vibrant blues that we have been seeing in the seas around Port George recently.

The original plan had been to use my "Iron and Fire" rules (we used them for a previous NWS Lissa refight some years ago) but in the end we went for my "Broadside and  Ram" rules that form part of my recent Lissa publication. This was a good move as we fought through 25 turns in the afternoon before we had to close up.

The battle itself proved to be a reversal of history, and a black day for the Austrians. The ironclad division accounted for itself well and fought a slugfest with its Italian counterpart. Many ships on both sides were damaged but none conclusively apart from the Austrian Don Juan de Austria which caught fire and after some time blew up and sank. But to the North Persano's leading ironclads faced an oncoming tide of heavy Austrian wooden ships and faced them off with deadly fire (Nathan's gunnery rolls were generally excellent). Soon Kaiser and the other Austrian heavies were burning and shattered, and as losses mounted Teggethoff decided the day was lost and the Austrian fleet moved to withdraw.

The rules worked well, we fought the game to a concusion in 5 hours (which were punctuated by a number of breaks, so more like 3-4 hours of playing time)and the overall feel was just right.

So the first game drew to a close, and as I write we are looking to state a refight of 1811 Lissa before a tour of the island.


  1. Outstanding. Can you post an OOB for both sides? I'm trying to collect Lissa in 1:600 and I'm not sure I have everything yet.

  2. That looks like a great game. I re-played Lissa several years ago and ended up with a similar result. Lovely models as well.

  3. ...but watch out for the enormous footwear!

  4. a couple of typos there, en instead of end in the 3rd para and Nathan's name is spelt wrong!

  5. Nice looking game, which raises the question if the rules reversed history does this highlight a possible problem with the rules or just the tactics adopted? In a full refight the best test is to slavishly follow the entire battle sequence without allowing the players to change the orders to stress test the rules. IMHO

  6. I think it was a tactics thing, plus the Italians were more aggressive than in the real battle. Where the players followed historical lines the course of the battle was far closer to reality - ironclad blasting away at each other with little real effect, inconsequential rams against ships that were capable of manoeuvre etc.

  7. "if the rules reversed history does this highlight a possible problem with the rules"

    Historically, the Italians proved totally incompetent. Admiral Persano transferred his flag without informing any of his captains. In the process Re d'Italia had to come to a stop and was rammed. Much of the Italian fleet never came into action. It is one of those rare occasions where the average wargamer is better than his historical counterparts. With a superior fleet and minimally competent players, the Italians have a definite advantage. Use only the ships that actually fought and give have the Italians fail every command test, and you may get something more historically accurate.