Introduction In this AAR I will be playing as the Hun, harassing and harrying the Britishers and their so-called Grand Fleet. I’m playing on two week turns, starting in early 1916. I don’t expect victory - in fact I expect to be given a good pasting - but hopefully there’ll be some action. As a Brit I also hope to learn a bit about the German point of view of the war at sea as I go.
The twist is that I’ll be playing the Arena of Steel mod by fredsanford , which stacks the deck for both sides with a bunch of extra ships. I’m going to pull out all the stops with this brilliant mod, ordering and expediting every hull I can get my hands on to try and break the blockade. I’ll need them too – because I’ve set the Tommies to grab everything they can as well. Scheer doesn’t know it yet, but the North Sea is about to get busy!
--- Imperial German Navy, summary of forces 31st January 1916 ---
The High Seas Fleet can currently field 17 operational dreadnoughts, organised into four homogeneous divisions – the 5th, 6th, 1st, and 2nd (see table). Although morale is decent, the crews have suffered from long periods of inaction recently and so are due some gunnery drill in the next few weeks.
The König and Kaiser classes (10 x 12”, 14” belt, 21kts) are capable and tough ships, although newer British ships mounting 15-inch guns threaten to seriously outclass them. The older Helgolands and Nassaus (12 x 12”/11”, 12” belt, 19kts) are less impressive. Their hexagonal turret layouts and old reciprocating engines certainly leave something to be desired.
In addition to these, eight older pre-dreadnoughts make up the numbers in the 3rd and 4th divisions. Although more hulls and heavy guns are certainly welcome in the battle line, these ships are slow and vulnerable – in black humour they are known as the “Fünf-Minuten-Schiffe” (“five-minute-ships”) by their crews. Nevertheless, I may have to sortie them with the fleet since we are so greatly outnumbered by the British.
Scouting for the fleet are six old, slow light cruisers armed with four-inch guns. These are obsolete and will only be used with the fleet at their backs, despite any minelaying capabilities. The more modern cruiser Rostock is employed as a destroyer leader. The line is supported by eight half-flotillas (each 4-6 ships) of destroyers, which displace between 600 and 800 tons. Some larger 1000 tonners, fast and equipped with larger 4-inch guns, are arriving from the yards soon to make up the new 21st half-flotilla.
Total: 17 BB, 8 B, 7 CL, 46 DD
The six battlecruisers of the 1st scouting group are possibly our most valuable asset. Despite being a jumble of different classes, they all have similar speeds (25-26 knots) and uniformly mount 12-inch guns. Apart from the recently commissioned Lützow, their crews are experienced, and I expect to use them frequently – especially given their relatively thick belts. The loss of Blücher is regrettable, but her combat power was dubious when compared to the rest of the division.
Our best light cruisers are attached to the scouting forces. Quick and mostly armed with 6-inch guns, they can be used to scout for our battlecruisers or to act as fast minelayers. At times I may use them independently, although light cruiser reinforcements will be few and far between. In addition, there are four destroyer half-flotillas attached. Of note are the big, expropriated destroyers – six Russian and four Argentinian boats seized in the yards – that are faster and larger than all our other types.
Total: 6 BC, 9 CL, 23 DD
3 Marinekorps Flandern
In occupied Flanders we have stationed twelve small A-class boats. These are poised to raid the Channel, lay mines, and generally be a nuisance to the enemy. The fortified ports of Oostende and Zeebrugge have very limited capacity for anything else, although I may consider racing a half-flotilla or two down the Broad Fourteens to reinforce them.
"A low, grey rat of a vessel."
Total: 12 DD
The Germans benefit from a large submarine arm. Hopefully these will prove useful as fleet pickets, radioing in reports of enemy movements and maybe even torpedoing something (an enemy vessel, ideally). Numbers will vary depending on whether the top brass decide unrestricted submarine warfare is a good idea or not today. The naval air station at Borkum should help detect any British foray into our coastal waters, but the Zeppelins based out of Tondern are the real aviation asset. Our airships have the range to patrol the majority of the North Sea, providing useful intel. A third source of intelligence are the E-Dienst bods, who provide us with signals intercepts from time to time.
I retroactively recalled the Goeben from the Mediterranean (using the editor). I’ve said yes to every mod decision that gives me more ships, and you’ll find out more about them as they join the fleet. This does mean I am in a bit of a VP hole.
I really should be quoting calibres and armour thicknesses in mm, but inches are what the game uses and what RTW players are used to. It also makes comparison with RN ships a bit easier.
It is nearly February. With long nights, few OPs, and cold winter weather, I don’t expect much action this turn. Therefore, the main units of the Hochseeflotte have been sent through the Kiel canal for some gunnery and damage control training in the Baltic. Given the disparity in numbers between us and the Britishers, we need to keep our crews well-drilled to get the most out of our ships. Lützow has been sent with them to work up.
As for operations, High Command wants to send out at least two Battlecruisers on a sweep North along Jutland. This is a conservative plan, far from British bases, but I’m going to send the whole scouting group to be safe in case we run into something. We’re also going to lay a minefield off the Frisian Islands, meaning we’ll sail clockwise if all goes to plan. The U-boote are deployed in a loose cordon to screen the operation.
The force leaves Wilhelmshaven on an overcast day to little fanfare. Sailing west, Regensburg manages to lay her mines at the objective just as night approaches.
Mining at dusk.
The force turns north for the Norwegian coast. A few minutes later, lookouts on Derfflinger spot two shapes looming in the dark, dead ahead.
The division turns hard-a-starboard in a panic, just as one of the fast-moving contacts is identified as an enemy destroyer. Escorting destroyers are ordered to dive in and cover the big ships. The mysterious charges turn away and disappear eastward into the night. With driving rain reducing visibility to 3000 metres, and 12 hours left until dawn, I’m not willing to risk a night search for some enemy destroyers with my big ships. We carry on north, ordering a half-flotilla to more closely screen I-AG. The contact is radioed back to base to alert our patrols.
In the morning the boffins at E-dienst report two enemy battlecruisers operating in the area. At the same time, our force runs into a merchant near the objective. The captain of SMS Frankfurt is a little too zealous in despatching the poor freighter:
With objectives completed, we turn for home. Two contacts and the report of battlecruisers may well mean our cover is blown, so it’s best not to linger around the objective. U-14 reports heavy ships heading across the picket line as our second night of steaming begins – but thankfully things are uneventful as we return to port. Overall a minor success - we laid our mines and sank a merchant for no losses, and almost unimpeded too.
A depressing note - Intelligence lets us know that the enemy has 40 operational dreadnoughts. We have 24. The good news is that we only had 23 last week. Salamis, which was initially ordered from us by the Greeks, has been commissioned into the navy.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Those 14-inch guns, the same as those intended for the coming Mackensen class, are not to be trifled with. Her belt is a bit thin compared to our other dreadnoughts, but she is faster - in fact, I’m tempted to stick her with the battlecruisers if ever they need the numbers. For now, she is the sole member of the new 7th Linienschiffdivision.
The 1st half-flotilla has gone to the yards to be up-gunned, as well as light cruisers Wiesbaden for refit and Frankfurt to scrape merchant off her bow. Many of our destroyers are slated to have their gun calibres increased this year, after wartime experience has shown the 88mm gun to be insufficient to stop larger modern boats. New 105s should keep pace with the British 4-inch guns found on newer models.
More good news: the HSF’s training cruise has paid off. Most of the big ships now have a crew level of ‘1’, which means they can shoot straighter and plug holes quicker (among other good things). It did cost us a fair few ops points though. We have 375 this turn, but I’d want at least 800 for any big sortie.
The orders this turn are to shell Lowestoft. I’m not too keen on this sort of thing – it’s a civilian target after all – but if we pull it off it’ll embarrass the Royal Navy and keep them on their toes. Simply put, we sail the battlecruisers in at night, shoot up everything we can, lay some mines, and scram. To add to the planned nocturnal confusion, I’ve asked the commander of Marinekorps Flandern to launch a raid across the Channel at the same time. We need to be quick to evade any heavy response that might materialise.
The plan. Only two subs are available, so they cover the North end.
Last Edit: Aug 10, 2021 15:22:12 GMT -5 by Wiggy: italicised ship names
I-AG leaves port on a flat calm late in the day. The force makes it across to the English minefields without incident, and lines up for the night run. The battlecruisers scream down the coast at 25 knots, churning up the sea, all guns roaring - coastal batteries are pummelled while the seaside towns are left pockmarked with shell holes. Regensburg lays her mines at the end.
With five hours of darkness left, and no enemy warships encountered, we begin our escape eastwards. There are flashes in the distance as one of the Flemish A-boats stumbles into a destroyer patrol. We try to slip past while they are distracted, but the developing chase runs into some of our fleet destroyers that are lagging behind. A short scuffle follows.
A patrol stumbles into our rear.
The English patrol gets the worst of it, but our half-flotilla doesn’t want to hang around to finish them off. They melt away into the dark. As the sun rises, Graudenz finds that she has not in fact been leading her compatriots home, but is instead being shadowed by a British cruiser force, now bent on revenge!
Do I turn the battlecruisers south to save her, knowing this would give any British heavies sortied more time to catch up with us, or do I play it safe and leave her to be swamped by destroyers?
I choose the former. Modern light cruisers are especially valuable to me, since many of ours were out-of-theatre in the colonies at the war's beginning. There is no intel to suggest a British big sortie, and our subs haven't spotted anything, so I gamble that the feared response isn't actually there.
The pursuers from Harwich turn to flee as 12-inch shells begin to rain down around them, sending up huge columns of spray. Two unlucky enemy destroyers take direct hits, disintegrating instantaneously, and Graudenz is forgiving enough to pick up what few stunned survivors she can find in the water.
This was the last action of the operation, as we went on home unmolested. The gamble paid off in the end - there was no sign of enemy battleships or battlecruisers at all. Perhaps their coastal defences reported only our light cruisers in the night's confusion, or perhaps they had too few operations points. In any case, I imagine my opposite number is tearing his hair out trying to deal with the bad press.
Strasburg and Stralsund are off to swap their 4-inch guns for 6-inch ones. This should give them a better chance to stand up to enemy light cruisers. Meanwhile, Salamis and Lützow have finished working up.
I don’t think the I. AG can maintain this operational tempo without a break, so I’m giving them one. This week’s plan is a small light cruiser raid far to the north, consisting of the cruisers Frankfurt, Pillau (both II. AG), and Elbing (loaned from VI. AG). These are the only 6-inch armed fast cruisers not refitting or in repair, so I ought to use them carefully – they are to turn back at the first sign of any trouble approaching. Doing this will save me enough OPs to sail the whole fleet next turn should I choose to.
A simple plan. There are many more submarines available this week.
The cruisers steam north. As they reach Great Fisher bank, zeppelins report a heavy cruiser force far to the south, headed for Oyster Ground.
Wishing to give the overworked battlecruisers a rest and save OPs, I choose to decline battle and do nothing about them. Maybe it’s just an aimless sweep. E-dienst is giving plenty of information about targets to the north anyway.
We reach the objective point as day breaks. The group fans into a search line out to hunt for targets, but there is nothing to be seen. I daren’t press further north past Scapa without heavy support.
Reports filter in of enemy heavy ships off Borkum. I finally decide to sortie I. AG (for the third turn in a row!), prompted by the need to defend my backyard. At least emergency activations cost fewer OPs.
They find nothing – the enemy have absconded. Verdammt!
Our light cruisers in the north find nothing either, which is perhaps for the best if enemy big ships are on the loose. Everyone returns to base thoroughly bored. A quiet turn in the end – happily, an enemy light cruiser struck a mine laid by Regensburg, and is reportedly sunk.
I. AG mostly have crew ratings of ‘2’ and can now be considered a crack unit. Because Moltke and Derfflinger are due for refit in four weeks, I intend to use them on a big sortie before then. Graudenz and Wiesbaden have finished repairs, and more submarines are being delivered every week.
As for VPs, I am trailing by 500,000 (!), mostly due to the extra ships I’ve twisted the Kaiser’s arm for. Raids on coastal shipping and battlecruiser sweeps only gain me a few thousand VPs at a time - they might embarrass the Royal Navy, but to make up any ground I need to send some of it to the bottom instead. To this end, a major operation is planned this week.
With the HSF as a covering force, I. AG will steam deep into the North Sea. Regensburg will lay a minefield and then lead a detached light force of destroyers even closer to RN bases, hoping to find some targets and provoke a major sortie from the British. If this does occur, the light force will flee and try to lead the enemy onto our heavy forces (so long as it isn’t the whole Grand Fleet!). If not, they will re-join I. AG and sweep towards Norway. For the first part of the operation, radio silence is key. We don’t want them knowing the HSF has put to sea.
The operation was postponed for two days owing to poor visibility.
The entire fleet assembled on the new date without issue, despite the strong westerly gale. Destroyers were ordered to the lee side of the main units to give them some shelter during the transit towards Scotland. If it weren't for the pressure from High Command, I'd have considered calling off the mission entirely.
The fleet and its scouts.
We cross the central North Sea. Regensburg manages to lay her mines before advancing beyond the submarine picket, who haven't reported anything yet, although in this sea state a sighting would be a miracle from those pitching and rolling things. The detachment reach their objective (worryingly near to Scapa, mind!).
There is no sign of the enemy. Not a peep. No patrols, no merchants, nothing. After hunting around for a bit, the light force returns to the relative safety of the Aufklärungsstreitkräfte and plods away east towards the Norwegian coast, while the HSF withdraws.
Night falls as the battlecruisers reach their next objective. They turn for home as well after this. Overall, a fruitless operation – we didn’t even detect that there was an enemy battlecruiser sweep on until after the fact. I can see why Scheer’s predecessor, von Pohl, was viewed as cautious – it’s hard to find anything in this pond, and even then fleet movements are a delicate dance. At least we gave the HSF some sortie practice.
Week 9 – refits, repairs, reinforcements, and Regensburg
Salamis has a new partner:
Quite the ship. Anyone know what the white rings on the raised turrets are for?
The Bayern class are the next generation of German dreadnoughts. With similar speed and armour to previous classes, the big difference is those whopping 15-inch guns. Their choice for the class is unusual in that the Reichsmarineamt, our design bureau, escalated gun calibre before we knew what the next British class (the QEs) would mount. A division of these will give the HSF some teeth.
A plethora of ships have been sent for refit this turn: battlecruisers Derfflinger and Moltke, pre-dreadnoughts Hessen, Deutschland and Hannover, the cruiser Pillau, and some destroyers. This, combined with the need to work up Bayern, leads me to keep things quiet and build OPs back up.
This week entails a short minelaying operation – our friend Regensburg will lay a field off Texel while the rest of the fleet drills, rests and repairs. The plan is so brief that the the next two images can tell the whole story:
The mission goes ahead as planned. We lay the mines in the rain and make it home safely. Nothing special to report. The aim of laying minefields along the coast is to help retreating ships – chases often become bounded by land and mining chokepoints like Texel or Horn’s Reef are a good way to surprise the pursuer.
It is April, so the weather is improving. A few ships have finished repairs, but unfortunately none of the capital ships. Goeben will be up for refit soon, and I’ve sent the HSF for more drill – next turn I. AG will be at full strength, so I intend to stage another big operation then.
A useful reinforcement is the fast minelayer Brummer, placed in the new VIII. AG.
400 mines are a serious upgrade from the 120 that other cruisers can carry. She can make a speedy 28 knots but is barely armoured (and only carries four 6-inch guns), so I’m unlikely to use her for anything but mining. A sister ship, Bremse, is due to join the fleet in August.
Like last turn I plan to try a quick minelaying operation, this time off Horn’s reef. This should create a narrow gap through which our forces can escape if ever they are pinned against the Danish coast. Rostock of the HSF will lay them this time.
It was another very quiet turn, as the operation went off without a hitch. No action again I’m afraid, although now I have enough OPs for something big next week.
The stars seem to have aligned this week. I have received an urgent telegram from E-dienst:
– enemy plans sweep central north sea STOP large sortie expected STOP 24 april sailing date STOP -
Armed with this detailed knowledge from our spies, I can pre-empt the Britishers for the first time since I took command. We are well set up to do so - I was planning a full sortie anyway!
I. AG is now at full strength, with all six battlecruisers available. The HSF is well drilled (bar Bayern, which has barely finished working up) and is effectively also at full strength. I have 1070 operations points - a full sortie is therefore in order.
Deployment to advanced positions proceeds without incident. The weather is clear with a gentle breeze as the fleet slowly steams north-west. Our 27 battleships and six battlecruisers await the enemy.
Sailing into the unknown.
U-71 reports large warships crossing the first submarine line off Scapa Flow. U-31 radios in as well. Zeppelins report heavy cruisers, later reclassed as battlecruisers, far to the south. Do press on or turn south to investigate?
In two minds.
I choose the latter, deciding to send the HSF directly south and the further-ahead I. AG south-west to get between the reported enemy and their presumed northern bases. However, before the turn can be complete the battlecruiser force finds something. Scouts head off to investigate.
More and more ships come into view, and there is a troubling amount of smoke on the horizon. At first the slow-moving contacts look like transports, but then pre-dreadnoughts come into view – a heavy convoy escort perhaps? Crews scramble to action stations as heavy shells begin to fly past Pillau.