French Naval Actions of the First World War – 1915 in the Channel

Two short WW1 naval scenarios that we played out last year….

These were refights of two clashes that took place in August 1915 off the Middelkerke Bank, just out to sea from the French/Belgian border. Home grown computerised rules were used and each action took less than an hour to play out.

These were first surface actions between the newly formed German Torpedobootsflottille Flandern, based at Bruges, and the torpedo boats of the French Défense Mobile, charged with guarding the French side of the Dover Straits approaches from Dunkerque.

 

In the first action, which took place on 9 August 1915, two German TB’s, A.4 and A.16, spotted suspicious vessels steaming towards them from the direction of Dunkerque. They had been spotted by the small French TB’s 341 and 342, which were on outpost patrol and had steamed at full speed to investigate suspicious smoke.

The German boats were bigger and more heavily armed, but with very small targets and no fire control for their small calibre guns, they had to get very close to have a reasonable chance of getting hits and carefully time their fire for best effect.

A twisting turning action resulted with the boats jockeying for position, whilst having to avoid the shallow sand banks in the area.

The 341 got position first and fired a torpedo, which hit and sank A.4.

341 and 342 cashed in their luck and beat a hasty retreat as a third German boat, A.12, came up from the direction of Ostende to join the fight.

In the real world of 1915, the action had been short and indecisive. The Germans had broken off the action shortly after opening fire when an unidentified shore battery opened up on the scene.

However this was just a warm up for the German commanders, who were new to the rules. They chalked the result up to experience.

This set the scene for Scenario two, which took place in the same area.

Back in the real world of 1915, the French had beefed up their patrols as a result of the first incident. On the night of the 22nd, two Torpilleurs d’Escadre (small destroyers), Oriflamme and Branlebas, went out on an ambush patrol to the Middelkerke Bank Buoy. At 11pm they spotted the silhouette of a German boat in the darkness. This was A.15, inbound to Ostende.

In this refight A.15 was very badly outgunned by the French destroyers and too slow to escape them, so her only hope was to land a lucky torpedo hit. Learning from the first encounter, the players who were now in command of the French destroyers closed, holding their fire until they were close enough for their shots to tell, with a good stockpile of ready ammunition to hand. As they manoeuvred A.15 managed to get off a snapshot with one of her two torpedoes, but this missed Branlebas. The response was swift and decisive as first Oriflamme and then Branlebas opened a devastating fire, which quickly knocked out A.15’s only gun and her other intact torpedo tube. The lack of return fire told and a nasty list to port tipped them off to the amount of damage they had done. The French destroyers pressed in close to for the kill. A.15 finally sank beneath the waves.

The result was almost identical to the real life result, which saw Oriflamme and Branlebas press their attack and sink A.15 back in 1915, Oriflamme obtaining a hit with a torpedo. This was the third boat the German force had lost in action since being formed and highlighted the poor design of the A.1 class TBs. They were too weak to fight and too slow to run. It had been the first real opportunity for the Défense Mobile to engage enemy vessels since the war began and they had certainly seized it and driven their attack home. The German force in Bruges would need better boats if it was going to be able to successfully take on the British and French surface forces in the Channel.

Small scenarios like this often make for interesting games than large fleet actions that can get bogged down in big long range gun duels. The action/reaction nature of a night action is created by making each boat dice for initiative. Those with higher initiative get to choose whether to move before or after those with lower initiative.  If one side is more alert than the other a modifier can be applied. The boats used were 1/3000 scratchbuilds made from plastic card sheet and rod, except for Branlebas and Oriflamme, which were conversions from Navwar models of the earlier Arquebuse Class. The scale allows the game to be played out comfortably on a small table.

Action off Horns Reef – 17th August 1915

The British force breaks off at the end of the action

The society is refighting all of the naval actions of WW1 as a long running campaign, initially focussing on British Home Waters in 1914-1915.

Scenario 10 covered a night action off the Danish Coast on 17th August 1915.

Ships used are 1/3000 Navwar, with the Princess Margaret and the Light Vessel scratch built, all from Mark’s collection.  Rules are Mark’s computer moderated rules written in Visual Basic 6.

British forces were heading in to the Heligoland Bight to lay a large minefield aimed at catching German vessels coming in and out of their ports.  The large Minelayer, Princess Margaret, was escorted by seven modern ‘M’ class destroyers of the 10th Flotilla.  The sun had recently set and the British force was using the light from the Danish Horns Reef Light Vessel to get a position fix before heading in to lay the mines.  These were commanded by Mark as umpire.

Co-incidentally five large German destroyers of the 2nd Torpedoboots-Flottille had been on a search mission to the north that day and were heading back to port, also using the light vessel to get a fix before their final run in.  This force was commanded by Jon.

Horns Reef Light Vessel

The British force was silhouetted against the afterglow of the sun and so at 8.13pm the German force was able to sight and close on the British unseen.  At 8.22 the British spotted the shapes of ships in the murk and after some hesitation about their identity, the closest Division of British destroyers opened fire.  A short fight at about 5000 yards ensued with the British getting off a couple of torpedoes.  Apart from a near miss on the British destroyer Miranda, no hits were made and whilst the British torpedoes crossed the German line they both missed.

The British had turned away and with the remaining light having gone, the two sides lost sight of each other.  The players now plotted their next actions on a map.

The British decided to attempt to resume their course for minelaying and at 20.40 the two sides blundered back into contact.  As there was no moon and the Princess Margaret reacted slowly to the new contact, the two sides found themselves very quickly at close range.  The British 1st Division raced forward to shield the Princess Margaret, with both sides opening fire as they closed to just 600 yards and the German commander ordered a flotilla torpedo attack.

The close range clash – torpedo markers show the salvos fired and Minos has a marker showing she cannot turn to starboard due to a heavy port list

In a few minutes of mayhem the British destroyer Minos and then the German B 109 sank as a result of shell hits.  The British were extremely lucky to avoid 16 well-directed German torpedoes which crossed the tracks of 6 ships including the Princess Margaret.

Moorsom and Miranda shield the Princess Margaret

The Mentor and Moorsom were also badly damaged and reduced in speed and the German G 103 stopped by a shell in her engine rooms.  She was able to repair her damaged steam line and get back underway at reduced speed after the action to limp home.

B 98 leads the German Flotilla

The British again broke off and this time headed west for their covering force.  The German boats gobbled up the lagging Mentor and sank her with gunfire, then also stumbled across the crippled Moorsom as they steered south for home, again finishing her with a couple of salvos.

The British destroyers had succeeded in saving the heavily loaded minelayer they were there to screen, but had paid a high price, with 3 of their destroyers sunk, for only 1 German boat lost.

In the real action the Germans used the light advantage to close, then fired 3 torpedoes, before the British saw them.  One of these hit and blew the bow off the destroyer Mentor.  The Germans and British then immediately broke off, leaving the Mentor alone.  Once shored up, she managed an epic journey to limp all the way home.

In all campaign games German losses count double, to reflect the fact that they were less able to absorb losses and to reflect their more cautious use of their ships.

Nevertheless this game was a German tactical victory as the tonnage of British ships lost was more than double that of German ships lost – 2805 tons to 1352 tons, a net score of 101 points for Jon as German commander and a loss of the same for Mark as British/Umpire.  This leaves the league table as follows:

Mark H +87196
Andy K +13060
Mike P +11339
Alan O +350
Mark W +307
Alex M +121
Colin C 0
Brian S 0
Dean L 0
David S 0
Ian F 0
Brandt 0
Andrew (visitor) 0
John Le -428
Jon R -1155
Barry -3995
Trevor P -9538
Craig D -14481
Steve T -30235
Bob C -52540

 

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