Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fate of the Graf Spee

In January of this year, Curt and Dan came to my place for a naval campaign simulating the hunt for the Graf Spee in 1939. The second game, with Captain Curt Langsdorff in command of the famous German pocket battleship, ended in the harbour of Montevideo as 4 British cruisers under the command of Captain Dan were appearing in the distance, sealing the fate of the Graf Spee. The campaign was great fun, but the captains felt that the engagement was not conclusive and that the German ship could pound her way through the British blocade. It was only this past weekend that the final battle of the campaign could be played, using the simple but efficient General Quarters rule system.

The historical engagement distance was 10 miles, which translates to 200 centimeters at GQ scale. To give the ships some rooms to maneuver, I decided to have the game played on the floor. This was also to serve as a test for future big naval battles like Trafalgar. The downside is that my poor dogs had to be kept out of the playroom :-(.

Captain Dan, after spotting the Graf Spee, decided to immediately close in. Under his command were the heavy cruisers Cumberland and Exeter, as well as the light cruisers Achilles and Ajax (his 4th ship is masked by his left elbow). With all the bending and crawling involved, the game prooved to be as much a physical challenge for the captains as it was a strategy challenge. Not wasting any time and despite the distance (21 000 yards), the British squadron opened fire at once.

After a few salvoes, a lucky shell hit the un-armoured rear deck, ripped the steel deck down to... the rudder! and jammed it! The Graf Spee started circling starboard. Captain Curt's dedicated crew frantically tried to repair the damned thing but, after a few turns, the repair team's diagnostic could be summarized with this one German word: "Kaputt". Deciding that he'll have plenty of time to repair his ship after disposing of the pesky British boats, Captain Curt kept his 11" guns thundering while doing the Merry-Go-Round.

Meanwhile, Captain Dan ordered his ships to split into two squadrons in order to annihilate the Graf Spee with a clever pincer maneuver. Achilles and Cumberland were heading to the South while Exeter and Ajax would circle around the Graf Spee and attack from the North. As they were closing in, the British ships were showering the German pocket battleship with shells. Most of the 6" and 8" hits were bouncing off the thick armour, but as the British ships were getting closer, at a range of 9000 yards, things were starting to look bad for Captain Curt. The Royal Navy light cruisers were using rapid fire with their 6" guns, and the German was doing the same with his secondary armament. The Graf Spee lost one main turret, then the other one, while the Cumberland, stubbornly heading toward the enemy despite her damage, was sent to the bottom of the bay.

At a range of 6000 yards, all ships sent their torpedoes almost simultaneously. That is what the tapes on the floor are for. The Graf Spee is on the top left corner. The German autonomous weapons hit both the Exeter and the Achilles, sending them to the kingdom of Neptune. All the British torpedoes missed, but the constant firing from all the guns at such close range was enough to send the stubborn German ship to the bottom of the sea. It costed the Royal Navy 3 cruisers to get rid of the German commerce raider, but seaways in the South Atlantic were now safe from surface threats.



El Grego said...

Quite a price for the RN...

Nice looking ships!

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Thanks for the battle report
A brutal affair

One in the best of traditions of the RN. Well done

The Graf Spee scuttling did save a lot of lives after all

Curt said...

"...It costed the Royal Navy 3 cruisers to get rid of the German commerce raider, but seaways in the South Atlantic were now safe from surface threats."

Except, of course, for a cyclopean Dan (as you can plainly see) wallowing in the surf off Montevideo... It really is a maritime disaster of gargantuan proportions.