A new old book for my collection

Today I finally got my hands on my own copy of “Sea Battle Games” by P. Dunn, published by MAP in 1970, reprinted 1974.

This means that I can throw away the 88 photocopied sheets from a library copy that I have had for the last 15-20 years as a substitute.  (Yes, I know it was not legal, but in those days it was very difficult to hunt down an out of print book.)

Amazingly the price I paid for a copy in good condition with a protective plastic cover over the dust cover was only four times the cover price 45 years ago!  Even with postage added I paid only about 7 times the original price, which in my opinion is not bad.

When it was published the book cost about 3.5% of my net monthly salary.  Today, even with postage added, it cost only about .075% of my net monthly pension.

I have always had a whim to play Chapter 9: “The Hypothetical World War Game”.  Sadly I already have too many gaming projects to start this at present, but it might be tied in with my plan to refight on the wargame table the whole of World War Two, which started five years ago and has so far reached 4th September 1939!!!

Anyway, this evening I will commence reading the book.

Three wargames and some real life

Following my recent post “Rethinking my priorities” I have moved the campaign on.
The battle for the Arnhem railway bridge has been fought and the allies now hold this crossing over the Rhine.
I have another game currently in play for this campaign using Memoir ’44 board and rules, but instead of their models I use my own gaming tokens based on German tactical map signs (see photo’ below).
Each token represents one platoon or equivalent.

Oploo 4

In this game a German Panzer regiment and a supporting Panzer Grenadier regiment have encountered two battalions of British infantry. They have been fighting for two game hours so far.

On other gaming fronts I have been preparing the battlefield for the long awaited 4th September 1939 battle in my project to refight the whole of World War Two before I die! The troops have been ready for months.

I have also been gathering the models for the first naval encounter of World War Two, the sinking of three commercial vessels by German submarines on 7th September 1939. Although the attacks did not happen in the same area, my game will involve an escorted convoy against three submarines operating independently. British must cross the table with as many ships as possible surviving. German submarines are vying with each other for the maximum ships sunk.

Annoyingly I have lost the box of unpainted “sinking ship” models  that I printed a couple of months ago.   The only one I can find is the half-painted version (now complete) in the centre of the picture below.


I know that if I reprint them they will turn up, so meanwhile the printer is in use to produce dummy submerged submarines for the confusion of friend and foe alike.

My idea for submerged submarines is that when a sub dives it is replaced with a number of transparent models according to the roll of one average die. One of these is marked underneath as the real submarine. They each go their separate ways and until they come into action neither side is allowed to look beneath the model.
I have been struggling with a computer program “Rule the Rail” which is used to design virtual model railway layouts. I found the game in a discount store many years ago and have since upgraded it by downloading extra models and functions provided by other users more clever than me to make it more British and 1950s focussed – my old trainspotting days.

Last week the program suddenly started refusing to save files, although I have successfully run it on Windows 10 for a year or more. I can only guess that Microsoft have updated something to the detriment of my enjoyment. The developers last tested the system with Windows XP, so any fixes are now handled by the fan-base community. I have asked them for help.

My latest, half finished, project is based on a layout found in “Railway Modeller” of the local station where I used to do my trainspotting as a lad in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The actual model is well researched, but the creator admits that it was pure accident that the school-children on the platform are wearing the correct uniform for my old school (Poole Grammar). I want to finish the project, but if I cannot save any changes I am, as they say, “stuffed”.

Incidentally, the developers recently launched a kickstarter to develop this program for the latest PC, Mac and Android operating systems, but it failed with only half a dozen backers. A shame, since there is clearly a large community of users who could have helped.
On a personal note, I have recently undergone a “triple A” investigation for possible aneurism, which showed that I have no problems in that department.  Next Thursday I have my PSA blood test to confirm that all is still well after my cancer operation in November 2017.  Isn’t it amazing how concerned the NHS gets about you when you  are over 60, when so many of the issues could have been solved by better advice when you were 20?

Battle of the Denmark Strait – 1

Step 1. Preparation.

For this game we only need four large/extra large ships.

The ships come from the “Axis & Allies – War at Sea” collection and are 1:1800 scale.  This is about 20 times the sea scale for the game (6cm hexagon = 200m)

The ship bases are printed and painted.  Using translucent PLA for the printing I sprayed the underside blue and only painted the ship names, the ship’s wake and arc of fire lines on the top.

The ships are glued to the bases, and clipped to maintain rigidity until the glue dries.

The first “sinking battleship” token is designed, printed and painted.  More are in preparation, either awaiting printing or painting.

The ship data is printed on label paper and must now be transferred to the actual cards (search Amazon for “blank playing cards” to buy 1000 for £10).

When all is dry I need to run a solo rules check playtest before exposing the game to my friends.

An expedition to Norway

Last Sunday I played a wargame with my young friend Benjamin.

We decided to play a WW2 naval game as the scenery would be simple and it could be set up (and put away for the Memsahib’s satisfaction*) reasonably quickly.
I have a set of rules adapted from the game Axis and Allies – War at Sea, previously mentioned on this site.

*Actually Mrs. GeneralWhiskers said she was impressed with the layout.

The adaptations are to allow play on a hexagon grid rather than the rather more basic sea area maps provided with the game.
My adaptations therefore involve actually steering the ships and include arcs of fire from the various guns and torpedoes.

The table available is 270cm x 900cm (9ft x 3ft), i.e. long and narrow.  Searching for a suitable battle I decided on something based on the Royal Navy attacks on Narvik. The game would involve a British task force steaming into the Fjord, wreaking havoc and getting out again.
The location was Ingenstedsfjord, south of Narvik, known to be a haven and refuelling depot for the Kriegsmarine.  The date was 31st April 1940. (Yes, I know, but I got the idea from Len Deighton’s excellent book “Bomber”).  The location translates as “nowhere inlet”

The forces were determined by dealing the first 12 cards of ships available in early 1940 from the deck (no pun intended) for each side. Unfortunately this resulted in the following very unequal balance:

1 Battleship*
2 Carriers
2 Cruisers
6 Destroyers
1 Minesweeper
*actually a flower class corvette was dealt, but turned out not to have been built yet. The next card was HMS Warspite!
“Oh dear, ‘ow sad, never mind” as BSM Williams[#] might have said.

3 Submarines
5 Destroyers
2 Auxiliary supply ships
2 Commerce raiders

As it happens, the German force would not be unusual to be sheltering in a Norwegian Fjord, but a Graf Spee, Prinz Eugen or Bismarck might have been useful! I did flirt with the idea of one of these three turning up half way through the game, but decided to play what fate had dealt.

I topped up the German defences with a minefield across the Fjord entrance which proved more effective than expected, even though I ensured that there was a path through it with careful seamanship.

I placed MDF hexagons from another game around three edges of the table to indicate the limits of the Fjord and created a small town at the north-east corner. I added a couple of islands for good measure (of which more later).

DSCF0009And so, with a mixed bag of 1:1800 ships, 1:900 aircraft, 1:1200 houses and 1:600 forests on a sea scale of 1:360000 we were ready to play.

One German destroyer and one submarine were on patrol. All other ships were moored and would take 1 average dice of turns to get up steam.


The British approached from the west end of the table. The minefield was about one turn in from the edge.

HMS Halcyon, the minesweeper, darted in and failed for three turns to clear a single mine, even though there were only five, a 2/3 chance of each being removed, and arranged so that she could attack two at a time. Cries of “mine, mine” as performed by the seagulls in “Finding Nemo” echoed around the room. The German destroyer Diether von Roeder failed equally to cause any damage to the Halcyon during this part of the operation.

Then the big boys arrived. HMS Illustrious and HMS Victorious, each with two flights of Swordfish biplanes, entered the Fjord and sent the ‘planes to do the dirty work. They were the nemesis of the German fleet.
The rules allow all aircraft to fly a mission every turn and so each turn four flights attacked a single ship. The best defence a destroyer could offer would be for one flight to be chased off before attacking, and so it would still be subject to six torpedo attacks, with a roll of 6 being sufficient for a deadly strike.
Rules have been rewritten for the next battle.  (See below)

Both sides of necessity fed in their ships piecemeal, but the Swordfish just picked off the Germans in a most unsatisfactory way.

DSCF0015The hardest thing for Ben as British commander was manoeuvring his larger ships between the numerous wrecks that began to litter the fjord. It also appeared that one of the islands was too close to the northern shore for any ship to sail through the gap.

He did lose most of his destroyers to submarine attack or from the guns of the Altmark, and I thought it most cowardly when he started to hide his  destroyer screen behind his carrier, behind an island, DSCF0014.JPG

but we called it a day when it was clear that the Germans could not run, nor beat off those deadly Swordfish.

After the battle we sat and discussed how the rules could be bettered.
We thought the submerged submarines would be better if each had a couple of dummies for the enemy to chase.
The existing rule was that a submerged submarine would actually be in any one of the seven hexes containing or around the actual model. This resulted in one of my subs accidentally running aground when I was not paying attention.

The biggest amendments were to the operation of carrier aircraft.
First, a mission would not be restricted to one turn only, so a longer range attack over several turns would be possible.
Second, after landing, one complete turn would be spent refuelling and rearming.
Third, Only one flight could target a single ship in any one turn.
Fourth, no carrier would be able to launch aircraft and receive returning aircraft in the same turn.

In total there are 12 new rule amendments.
If anyone wishes to see my rule set, please e-mail paul.wisken@btinternet.com for a copy.
(But please give me time to rewrite including the revisions).

Our next foray on the foaming seas will probably be the hunting of the Bismarck next year.

[#]A character in the BBC sitcom “It ain’t half hot Mum”, played by Windsor Davies.

A trip on the briny

Battle of the River Plate

This was an adapted rules playtest, taking the Axis & Allies War at Sea game and moving it to a hexagon cloth.  Unfortunately several photographs of this game were unusable.

For my small (6ft x 4ft) table I translated the game’s sea areas into 3 hexagons per area as a starter.  This can be varied according to the size of the table, but in effect meant that one 6cm hexagon represented about 200 metres of real life and the model ships were twenty times too big.

I decided that if ships began to reach “the end of the world” all models would be shifted to bring the action back onto the centre of the table.  Therefore the game would progress for a number of turns before the Graf Spee was deemed to have reached the protection of Uruguayan territorial waters (or had been sunk in the process).

I rolled 5xD6 for the number of game turns, which resulted in 20 turns.  The Graf Spee rolled a 5 turn lead on the British pursuing ships (HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles), but the 20 turns would begin when the British arrived.

Graf Spee Plate 01.jpg


The pursuing force approached from the SE corner of the table.  HMS Exeter in the centre, flanked by HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles.

Force G Plate 02

Turn 1

The Germans won the initiative roll 4-3, and therefore (counterintuitively) moved second.

The three British ships steamed approximately NW (see note). Exeter continued directly ahead while Ajax and Achilles swung west and then resumed course to the NW, the idea being that the two lighter cruisers would attack from one side while Exeter moved to the other side of Graf Spee to split her fire.

A note on compass directions.  Standard compass directions are generally given in increments of 90° (N,E,S,W), 45° (N,NE,E,SE, etc) or 22.5° (N,NNE,NE,ENE,E,ESE, etc.). Hexagons work in 60 degree increments. A truer conversion of the hexagon directions would be close to: NNW, W, SSW, SSE, E, NNE.  For game purposes I used NW, W, SW, SE, E and NE. North and South are excluded.

Conversion of movement rules.

All the ships in this specific game occupy two hexagons.  All have the same speed of two sea areas in the base game:  By using 3 hexagons per sea area they would all move at 6 hexagons.  However by converting 1 hexagon to 10km/h I researched the maximum claimed speed for each ship, and adjusted accordingly.  Graf Spee moves at 5 hexagons per turn, Exeter, Achilles and Ajax at 6 hexagons per turn.

I also had to include rules for steering.   All ships reduce their maximum speed by 1 hexagon per 60° turn.  Large ships must move at least 1 hexagon forwards before the first turn and at least 2 hexagons forwards between turns in the same move. (This gets around the argument of “But I just moved two hexes at the end of the last move”). Large shops will pivot around the stern hexagon.

The Graf Spee continued W at full speed (5 hexagons).


Rule conversion. Ranges are given in the standard game as 0, 1, 2, 3 and occasionally 4 or even 6 sea areas.  Allowing for the ship itself to occupy the centre of the area, this was translated, in hexagons from the ship, as 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13 hexagons.  Also, using hexagons the arc of fire for front and rear gun turrets could be taken into account.

The ships were 22 hexagons apart, so no shooting was possible.

Turn 2.

The Germans won the initiative 3-1, so the British moved first.  All ships moved NW and then turned W.

Graf Spee continued W.

(The positions were adjusted to keep the shops on the table.)

All ships were still out of firing range.

At this point I calculated that with a speed advantage of 1 hexagon it would take 10 turns before the first British ship could come within range of Graf Spee’s guns (which have an extended range of 4 areas = 13 hexagons).  I moved the game on by 9 turns as a straight pursuit.

Turn 12

The British won the initiative. All four ships steamed W.

Graf Spee was able to reach Exeter at extreme range of 13 hexagons with her main armament.

At this range the full die roll is 3 dice. However, firing astern, only one of her two triple 11″ turrets could fire, so I allowed two dice.

Rule: if fire is divided between front and rear turrets, and the result is an odd half, the player may round up either, provided that the total for the ship is not exceeded.

Graf Spee rolled 2, 3.  4+ is needed for a hit, so no damage was done.

Turn 13 Plate 04

None of the British ships could reach Graf Spee with their 6″ or 8″ guns.

Turn 13

The British won the initiative roll 6-4 and moved second.

All they could do was to try to close the gap between them and the Graf Spee.

Graf Spee fired again at Exeter, scoring 1,2. Still not good enough.

Turn 14.

The Germans won the initiative roll 5-2.  The British steamed W at full speed to close on the Graf Spee, who turned NW to bring her full armament of 6 x 11″ guns and 8 x 6″ guns to bear on the Exeter.

Exeter fired first with 4 dice (two twin 8″ turrets at the front of the ship). A lucky shot scored 3,4,6,6.  A 4 scores one hit and a 6 two hits, so 5 hits were scored. Graf Spee’s armour rating is 4, so she suffered one damage point.  Ajax and Achilles were still out of range.

Graf Spee returned the fire with primary and secondary guns.  At a range of 10 hexagons her primary (11″) guns rolled 10 dice and her secondary (6″) guns a further 5 dice.

Here there was a problem of interpretation.  Should the total hits be accumulated, or separated between primary and secondary guns?  The rules state: “A ship like Yamato can attack three times in one Surface Attack phase, using its main, secondary and tertiary gunnery”, but also “Ships with secondary and tertiary batteries can attack with all batteries in the surface attack phase”.

The difference was that the total hits scored were 7 for main guns and 5 for secondary guns.  Exeter has a a”vital armour” rating of 9, so if amalgamating the attack she would be sunk, but if separate attacks, merely crippled by two hits exceeding the armour rating of 3.

I opted for the separate attack method, as it would in exceptional circumstances allow a one volley sinking, but normally not.

Exeter took 2 damage points. With a Hull Points rating of 3, she was now crippled. This meant a reduction of 1 to the armour and vital armour ratings (now 2 and 8 respectively), and a speed reduction of 3 (one sea area) to 3 hexagons.

Plate 05.jpg

Turn 15

The Germans won the initiative roll.

Exeter moved at limited speed and turned NW to bring Graf Spee within her broadside.  Ajax and Achilles continued W to outflank Graf Spee from the S.  Graf Spee moved NW and then turned to bring Achilles into broadside range.


Ajax vs Graf Spee. Range 10. 5 dice roll 1,2,2,5,6 for 3 hits. Insufficient.  Achilles vs Graf Spee. Range 10. 5 dice roll 1,1,4,4,5 for 3 hits. Insufficient.

Graf Spee vs Achilles ( ship in range and direction of all guns) 10 hexagons is 10 dice for main guns. Hits on 2×4, 1×6 is 4 hits, equal to armour rating. Achilles takes 1 damage point. (Graf Spee forgot at this point to fire secondary guns!)

Turn 16

Germans won the initiative.

Ajax and Achilles swung NW to approach the Graf Spee. Achilles then turned W again to bring her broadside to bear while Ajax continued towards the stern of Graf Spee.

Exeter swung broadside on to Graf Spee in the hope that one more shot would be possible before she moved out of range.

Graf Spee moved W, then turned SW to engage Achilles.


Exeter was out of range and masked by Ajax in any case.

Ajax employed her full broadside of 8×6″ and 4×4″ guns at 7 hexagons (6 dice) for an insignificant score of 1,1,2,3,3,6 and only 2 hits.  Achilles could only bring her forward guns to bear. 4 dice rolled 2,4,4,5 for 3 hits, but 4 were needed.

Graf Spee returned fire against Achilles with 11 dice main guns and 5 dice secondaries, scoring 8 and 0 hits. Achilles was now crippled, but just survived a sinking.

Turn 16

The Germans won the initiative.

Ajax was the only British ship with any speed left, and moved NW before swinging W.  Achilles continued W at reduced speed.  Exeter pursued but with little hope of rejoining the battle.


Achilles at 5 hexagons with forward guns. 4 dice rolled 1,3,3,4 for one hit.

Ajax at 7 hexagons with forward guns , 4 dice rolled 2,4,6,6 for 5 hits. Graf Spee took another damage point and was now crippled, reduced to speed 3.

Graf Spee replied against Achilles with her rear turret.  Main guns. 6 dice (rear guns only) roll 1,1,2,5,6,6 = 5 hits. One damage point sank the Achilles.

Secondary guns against Ajax. Rear guns only. 3 dice roll 2,2,3 for no effect.

Turn 17

British won the initiative roll.

Graf Spee moved W before swinging NW to bring all guns to bear on Ajax.

Ajax copied the manoeuvre, while Exeter tried to close up at reduced speed.


Graf Spee vs Ajax.  Main guns at 8 hexagons. 10 dice. 1×4, 3×5, 3×6 for 10 hits. Ajax critical armour is 9, so she was destroyed.

Ajax returned fire before going down. 5 dice. 2×6 is 4 hits. Graf Spee took a third damage point and sank.

Plate 07

Final result.

The pocket battleship Graf Spee was sunk for the loss of two cruisers and a third severely damaged.

Using the game points, the Germans lost 21 and the British 2 x13 and (say) 12/2.

The British won the game by destroying the Graf Spee, but overall in the war would be 32:21 down.


As a solo exercise and a first foray into the rules, adapted or otherwise, I think it works as a game.  I will use this system if ever I progress on my “WW2 – the whole damned game” campaign.  I will continue work for our gaming group to play larger battles.  I have all the forces for Cape Matapan ready for basing.  Maybe one day…