Saturday, 19 August 2017

Review - "The Naval War in the Baltic", by Poul Grooss

The Naval War in the Baltic, 1939-1945
Poul Grooss

The naval side of the Second World War in the Baltic is often seen as something of a backwater. This recent book written by Poul Grooss, a retired Danish Navy Captain and lecturer at the Royal Danish Naval Academy, sets the record straight and shows that, whilst it was not the setting for well known “set piece” battles and campaigns as in the Atlantic and Pacific, it was the scene of constant naval action from the start to the finish of WW2 in Europe – indeed the opening shots of the war came from the sea.  A good portion of the opening chapters deal with the historical and political background and developments leading up to the shelling of the Westerplatte by the German pre-dreadnought Schleswig Holstein. This part is, in itself a gold mine of information not readily apparent nor available to the average reader outside Scandinavia, in particular as it deals with the delicate position of Sweden. A neutral country, Sweden walked the tightrope between the Axis and Allies, historically an enemy of Russia and hence covertly (and sometimes overtly) supportive of Germany in the early years of the war, her preferences and support veering towards Britain and the allies as the war progressed.



The bulk of the book details German, Russian and Finnish naval operations during the war, actions characterised by coastal forces, submarines, the siege of Leningrad and mine warfare. The numbers of mines deployed in the narrow seas was staggering – over 68,000 in the Gulf of Finland alone, and many times that in the Baltic as a whole. The naval aspects of the war are inextricably linked with operations on land and so there is a fairly detailed coverage of the land campaigns fought along the shores of the Baltic. The nature of the Russian advance in 1944-45 and the isolation of German forces and civilian centres cities in the Baltic States, East Prussia and Poland also set the scene for the massive refugee evacuations that took place in the latter stages of the war, and saw the greatest maritime tragedies in terms of loss of life in the sinkings of the Wilhelm Gustloff and Cap Arcona, to name but two.

The book closes with the confusion of the German collapse in May 1945, tensions between East and West, the role of Denmark in accepting (grudgingly) the tens of thousands of refugees streaming in to Copenhagen and other ports, and the transition into the Cold War.

I found this book to be a fascinating read. As mentioned earlier it covers subjects not commonly known to the average reader outside the Baltic states (and, I suspect, due to political sensitivities, not many there either). Originally written in Danish the translation is good, although some additional gentle editing would have been useful at times. There are a good selection of illustrations, charts and sidebar entries discussing various aspects of maritime warfare. All in all an excellent read, and a worthy addition to the naval historian’s bookshelf.

The Naval War in the Baltic, 1939-1945
Poul Grooss
Seaforth Publishing, ISBN 978 1 526200001
RRP £30.00

Monday, 14 August 2017

Mad Wet Max - The Details

A few people have asked for more details about the changes to Dave Schueler's "Thunder Boats" rules that led to the creation of MWM. It is a simple story. Last year Dave sent me a copy of "Thunder Boats" and I got together a collection of Hot Wheels hydroplane boats to use with the rules. I ran the game at the Naval Wargames Show in Gosport, and also at the Berkeley Vale club here in Gloucestershire.  Each time the game went well, players had a blast and a good time was had by all.



But there was an interesting conversation at the end of one of the Berkeley Vale club games.

"Lovely game, good fun, but not enough peril", says BV Wargamer

"And by peril you mean?......"

"Shooting at things"

Of course. And in that moment MWM was born.

The Thunder Boat rules are retained pretty much in their entirety, but are overlaid with rules for a variety of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rockets, mortars and mines. The rules are quick and simple (generally a d6 roll against range, or 2x range for short ranged weapons). Mortars have a more complex rule that allows for fall of shot, so shooting at a congested area may see you hitting a different boat to the one you intended, whilst shots that miss will land in the water and form mines. Speaking of which, mines can be dropped during movement and may detonate when boats pass over or near them.



If a hit is scored then a simple d6 roll on the damage table determines effect - this can cause engine or hull damage as in the standard rules, but can also damage weapons or injure crewmen. two wounds and you are dead. Some locations may be armoured which grants a saving throw.  Ammunition is strictly limited so it pays to save your ammo for a choice shot




There are a few additional bits of "colour" - for example some of the boats can deploy a parascender who "flies" behind the boat and can drop grenades on boats below, one of the boats features a guy in Ancient British garb with spears - these of course become explosive tipped spears that he can lob at boats as they pass, whilst spectators can camp out around the course and take potshots at the competitors (think Sandpeople during the SW Ep1 Pod Race).




A race comprises two laps - we did originally set the race at three but it was rare for more than a couple of craft to make it to the end of the second lap. There are three gates around the course which must be passed in order (although the direction doesn't matter that much, which often leads to interesting routes being taken through the islands that form the infield. To allow some tactical thinking at the start there is no firing allowed until the first boat passes through the first gate - then its open season! And in this game it often doesn't pay to be in the lead, as you tend to become a bullet magnet!





So, some simple rules in keeping with the originals. The combat element does increase the time needed to play but its still a fast and furious game :)




Sunday, 13 August 2017

Mad Wet Max Wins Thornbury IPMS Best Parti Game, 2017

Today was the 5th IPMS modelling show at Thornbury that has included wargaming, and I'm back with the "Best Participation Game" award for the 5th year in a row! This year's game was "Mad Wet Max", my combative post apocalyptic variant of Dave Schueler's popular "Thunderboats" powerboat racing game. The game has been under development since Christmas and today saw all the elements together for the first time in public. 



So, we had the parascender take to the air for  the first time (although he didn't last long as his boat took an engine hit which caused the boat to lose speed and caused him to be dumped him in the sea - where the following boat promptly ran him over! And for the first time the "spectators" made their presence felt, shooting up boats that came a bit too close (they killed two boats out of the eight racers in game #3!)



Everyone that played it seeemd to have a good time, and I had a succession of visitors telling me they liked the game and especially the models. I guess they must have been right as the game won :)


I'm probably not going to run one of my own games next year - I guess it will be a "Wings of Glory" day instead - August 5th is the provisional date for anyone who is interested in coming along.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

International Naval Wargaming Day 2017

So, today is the inaugural International Naval Wargaming Day (INWD), and throughout the day I've been seeing posts, emails and FB messages about games going on across the UK, Europe, North America and Australia (there is even an INWD game happening in Saudi Arabia!).  So we seem to have got this event off to a good start. To all naval wargamers observing Fred T Janes' birthday and this international virtual gathering, I salute you!

For my own part I'd hoped to be playing two games but fate intervened and I have only managed the one, but it was a jolly good bash. The battle was based loosely around the Battle of the Yellow Sea, August 10th 1904. In this action a Russian force of battleships under Admiral Vitgeft, with escorting protected cruisers and destroyers, is attempting to escape from Port Arthur and reach the more defensible haven of Vladivostok. In their way is a Japanese force of battleships and armoured cruisers under Admiral Togo, with a squadron of obsolete battleships, protected cruisers and destroyers. The Russians aim is to exit as many of the battleships off the right hand side of the table as they can.

Starting point - Russians to the left (west, Japanese to the right (East) 

Vitgeft's Russian squadron

Togo's opposing Japanese fleet

The Japanese battle line, Mikasa in the lead

Vitgeft's heavies - Tsesarevich leading

The fleets close, Japanese light forces to the South, the obsolete battleships closing with Encounter Rock

The fleets turn to the South, Vitgeft's light forces move to the unengaged side 

Initially the two battle lines headed on southerly courses to intersect South of Encounter Rock. An early mistake on the part of the commander of the obsolete battleships put them in range of the Russian battle line, the old ships suffering badly. Slowed and separated from Togo's main force, they struggled to escape to the North. The battle lines soon joined,the Japanese heading parallel and south of the Russians aiming to cross their T. Avoiding this, the Russians took a risk in executing a sharp turn to the East, which could have exposed them to concentrated close range Japanese fire, but luck was with them as Togo's battleship was hit hard, suffered an underwater critical hit and this threw the Japanese intended reaction out of kilter. With the Japanese trying to regain control the Russians swept to the East and opened up a lead in the rush to the eastern table edge. Wrong-footed, the Japanese turn came late which meant they spend the rest of the game playing catch-up. A destroyer attack on the head of the Russian line failed to appreciably slow the Russians; a similar attack on the Japanese line also failed, but accurate gunnery concentrated on Togo's flagship caused Mikasa to drop out of line for more repairs.

The "run to the South" continues -  the obsolete BBs find themselves the unwelcome recipients of a flurry of high calibre shells

Ouch! - red markers indicate a ship that has taken damage, black shows a ship that is Silenced (very heavy damage, unable to fire, slowed)

The battle lines come into range, the obsolete Japanese BBs run (crawl?) for safety

Vitgeft makes an unexpected turn to the East, his leading ships take concentrated fore from the Japanese battleships

The Mikasa also takes fire...

...and the next turn is Silenced

Togo's following battleships also take hits (green markers show a ship that is under fire which affects its own gunnery temporarily)

As Togo loses control the Russians sweep past

Togo recovers control, but the Russians are past

The Russian rush for safety brings them back in contact with the obsolete battleships. Meanwhile the Japanese destroyers move in to attack in an attempt to slow the Russian line


A shift of focus as your intrepid war photographer moves to the Eastern side of the table. Destroyer attacks have gone in on the heads of both lines, and both flagships suffer heavy damage

Both admirals concentrate on getting their flagships operational, whilst the training Russian ships trade shots with the Japanese battleships behind them

alas at this point the photographer ran out of film (or more accurately, battery) so this brought the photographic record to an end...

As the Russian battleships headed for safety the leading Japanese battleships now landed a heavy blow to the trailing Russian battleship Peresviet, which was crippled and stopped. To turn and try to help the crippled battleship would lead to inevitable disaster so the Peresviet was left to her fate. Vitgeft and his damaged but still seaworthy battleships and cruisers would eventually make the safety of Vladivostok.

So, a Russian victory with some lucky breaks - plus avoiding the death of their Admiral which doomed the Russians in the actual battle and caused them to return to Port Arthur.