Friday, 20 May 2011

The German Fleet at the Battle of Dogger Bank 1915

For someone who likes to play Naval Wargames, it's a sad fact that over the years I've actually managed to play very few. Several years ago, naval map games were quite popular at Kirriemuir Wargames Club, where one of the guys would umpire 2 teams moving their fleets on maps at either side of the hall and then bring the fleets to a table when contact was made. The problem with these games, however, was that if both sides were too "clever" you could be shuffling ships round a map all night and never make contact with the enemy at all.

We played with General Quarters rules, the map games usually involving WW2 ships, thus planes etc played more of a role but I always favoured the WW1 period. Less complicated with fewer technologies to get bogged down with, this was the era where the "big gun" ruled the seas.

So it was that I started building up 2 fleets, one for the Royal Navy and one for the German High Seas fleet in 1/3000th scale using ships from Skytrex/Davco and from Navwar and being very much a supporter of the British Empire, I tended to play the Royal Navy when we did get the models out on the table. Problem I had with them, is that very much like their real life counterparts at Jutland, I usually found that " there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!" as my sleek battlecruisers usually disappeared under the waves from a hail of German fire.

Also, even in 1/3000th scale, you tended to need a rather large table which made gaming at home difficult (if you halved the ranges, it would work but just didn't feel right) and in those days 1/6000th scale hadn't really started to make an appearance.

Re-fighting Jutland would be the pinnacle of any WW1 Naval Grognard's ambitions but it would be an ambitious re-fight for even the most hardened and committed Naval Wargamer giving the number of ships that took part in both Fleets, although Magister Militum do produce the complete orders of battle in 1/6000th scale for both British and German fleets for this titanic battle.

But if Jutland is just a bit too ambitious, then the Battle of Dogger Bank fought in January 1915 is perhaps a more realistic goal.

The background to the Battle was an attempt by the Royal Navy to try and catch one of the German Battlecruiser squadrons, which from time to time would carry out a raiding attack on the eastern coast of the British Isles. Unknown to the German Naval High Command, their codes had been broken by the British Admiralty and thus a trap was set to bring one of these raiding squadrons onto the waiting guns of a superior (in terms of numbers) British Fleet. False intelligence was fed to the German Admiralty that a small force of British ships were carrying out reconnaissance in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea and consequently Admiral Von Hipper's 1st and 2nd Scouting squadrons set out to catch and eliminate what they thought would be a small British force. Instead they ran into the British 1st and 2nd Battlecruiser squadrons led by Vice-Admiral David Beattie.

The German 1st Scouting Squadron consisted of 3 Battlecruisers -

SMS Seydlitz

SMS Derfflinger

SMS Moltke

And the armoured cruiser SMS Blucher

Supporting the capital ships were the light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Squadron -

SMS Kolberg

SMS Stralsund

SMS Graudenz

SMS Rostock
(This is actually a model of SMS Breslau, a Magdeburg class light cruiser, but very similar to the Karlsruhe class light cruiser that Rostock was a member of - but I don't have a model of Rostock!)

The squadrons were supported by 2 flottilas of destroyers (or Torpedo Boats as the Germans tended to designate them) totalling 18 boats.

Facing them were the Battlecruisers, HMS Lion, HMS Tiger, HMS Princess Royal , HMS New Zealand and HMS Indomitable, the light cruisers of the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, HMS Southampton, HMS Nottingham, HMS Lowestoft and HMS Birmingham and the "Harwich Force" consisting the light cruisers HMS Aurora, HMS Arethusa and HMS Undaunted and 35 destroyers.

Realising that they had been out maneuvered and were out gunned, the German fleet turned tail and headed for Port with the British ships chasing them down. Due to poor communication between the British ships, their fire was poorly distributed among the German ships, so that instead of each of the large British Battlecruisers concentrating their fire on their German equivalents, the guns of Lion and Tiger were engaging Seydlitz, while Princess Royal engaged Derfflinger, leaving Moltke free from fire and thus she was able to concentrate her fire on the Lion, which was the British flagship.

The other two, older British Battlecruisers, New Zealand and Indomitable concentrated their fire on the Blucher which soon started to suffer heavy damage and being slower than the 3 German Battlecruisers started to fall out of the line. Von Hipper, however, could not risk allowing the Battlecruisers being dragged back by waiting for Blucher and decided to leave the old ship to her fate. Seydlitz took some heavy damage and only as a result of some quick action, leading to the flooding of her magazines avoided a catastrophic explosion, but was now in too poor a state to fight back effectively.

Lion too was taking a heavy pounding and when she suffered a direct hit to her forward turret, which again required her magazines to be flooded to avoid destruction of the ship, she started to fall behind Princess Royal and Tiger in the chase to catch the German Battlecruisers.

Further poor signalling between the British ships led to them turning all their guns on the doomed Blucher and by the time Blucher turned turtle and sank beneath the waves, taking almost 800 of her crew with her, and after a false reporting of a German U-Boat in the area caused the British Fleet to go into evasive action, the German Fleet was out of range and heading safely for home.

While Dogger Bank was undoubtedly a victory for the Royal Navy in terms of damage inflicted, the reality is that they had missed a glorious chance to inflict a much heavier defeat on Von Hipper's squadrons. Their poor fire distribution at the start of the combat meant that the British fire was not as effective as it could have been, only 6 hits from the large 13.5" calibre guns were scored by the British ships whereas the Germans scored 22 hits on the British ships with their 11" and 12" guns (16 on Lion alone) and the signalling problems suffered by Lion led to the fleet concentrating their fire on the stricken Blucher whereas Beattie had intended that the ships keep up their pursuit of the German Battlecruisers.

Both Seydlitz and Lion were severely damaged and each required several months in dock for repairs. But whereas the Germans took the opportunity to learn from the effects of the damage caused to Seydlitz to improve their flash protection throughout the fleet, the British did not and this lack of foresight ultimately led to the destruction of the Battlecruisers, Invincible, Queen Mary and Indefatigable at Jutland the following year.

However, the battle did have the effect of further eroding the confidence of the Kaiser in the ability of the High Seas Fleet to engage in a head to head fight with the Royal Navy and orders were soon issued for the surface fleet not to seek combat with the Royal Navy except where intelligence was confident that the High Seas Fleet would outnumber the opponent. Thus the seeds were sown which would lead to the great but inconclusive Battle of Jutland where once again German Intelligence believed that they had set a trap for Beattie's Battlecruisers but in which the High Seas Fleet found themselves almost sailing directly into the full force of the British Grand Fleet.

I still need to paint up New Zealand, a few more of the Light Cruisers and about a dozen or so more destroyers to be able to field the British Fleet at Dogger Bank but maybe they'll get to the top of the painting queue one day and I can try and see if I can do better than David Beattie.....


  1. Nicely done, good models, good post.

  2. Great post and very nice figures, we had a WWI navel game a couple of weeks ago, it was very enjoyable, even if I did lose, I managed to get the Derfflinger sunk!

  3. Nice looking lil ships.
    For some reason whenever I hear WWI naval battles I immediately think "Scapa Flow" and end up idea why...must have been that perticular history lesson

  4. Nice ships, nice period, but those rules, blegh!! I thought you were gonna be buying the VaS WW1 supplement. Your sea cloth looks suspiciously like blue woven tarpaulin, I seem to remember your Uncharted Seas being played on a much better looking cloth?

    I still have those computer moderated rules if you wanna try those out.

  5. @GordonY - I do have the VoS supplement but like so many other things they are gathering dust on my shelf.

    The "cloth" is in fact Catie's painting mat. I do have an 8 x 4 board painted blue but I was too lazy to haul that out for the photos. The cloth used for the Uncharted Seas was a club cloth