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.

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