Monday, July 16, 2012

"Worst Case Scenario #3" - Battle of Coronel - November 1, 1914

The Scharnhorst, Gneisnau and Dresden (1:2400 GHQ).
I put together this scenario a few years ago, being inspired by Robert K. Massie's brilliant WWI naval history, 'Castles of Steel'. 

A word of warning: This is a rather lopsided scenario. The British are all but  doomed to defeat, but the battle featured some poignant characters and has real guts behind it.  The German players will be sorely tested to do as well as von Spee while the British side will have to strive to see if they can come away better than Craddock. (I've added a 'what if' option to the British to even the odds somewhat.) The scenario seemed to be well-received the couple times I rolled it out - anyway, if you're interested give it a try and see what you think.


Painting of The Battle of Coronel.
At the Great War's outbreak in August 1914, Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, commanding the German East Asia squadron, considered his five cruisers to be in a very tenuous position. Germany, while having significant influence in the European theatre of operations, could project very little power into the Orient or the Pacific. Germany had only the pretence of an Asian 'empire', and so could provide no guarantee of supply to its ships cruising in those waters. Spee's ships required large quantities of coal in which to operate and the demands of re-coaling could not be met by existing German possessions or from its allies in the region.

Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee.
To complicate matters further, Spee had to contend with the possibility that Japan would enter the war against Germany (which it ultimately did) and would proceed to hunt him in the Pacific. Spee saw that he had two options open to him: either break up his command and order his ships to operate individually as commerce raiders, or remain together and attempt to break out of the Pacific as a unified force, and make their way back to the security of the High Seas Fleet in Germany. Being from the 'old school', Spee decided to keep his forces together and attempt to run the gauntlet back to friendly waters.

SMS Scharnhorst - von Spee's flagship.
Conversely, the British had their own set of problems. While they commanded a huge fleet on paper, the British possessed a far-flung empire, which divided both its resources and attention. The vast majority of England's modern warships where jealously husbanded in it's home waters to face the German High Seas Fleet, blockade Germany’s ports and to secure the critical Atlantic convoy routes supplying Great Britain. Also at this time there was a series of crisis occurring within the Admiralty. The First Sea Lord’s position was in chaotic transition and the German’s were in the midst of their historic dash across the Mediterranean to Turkey with the cruisers Goeben and Breslau.  

HMS Good Hope - Cradock's flagship.
So, through a tragic sequence of bungling and miscommunication it fell upon a polyglot force of old, mismatched ships under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock to track down and confront Spee's crack squadron of modern cruisers. Craddock, disgusted with the lack of support from the Admiralty, held no illusions to the chance of his success (much less his survival) but he hoped that with a little luck his squadron could maul Spee's force and give a good account for his command.

Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock.
Craddock left the Falklands in late October, turned the Horn on the 22nd and entered the Pacific in search of von Spee. On the afternoon of November 1, around 100 miles offshore of Coronel, Chile, the two squadrons sighted each other, closed and engaged.

I won't get into any great detail here but the historical outcome was pretty bleak for the British. Craddock's attack was considered a 'death ride' by many. He along with half of his squadron was sent to the bottom with virtually nothing to show for it. The older age of Craddock's ships, their green crews, the comparative small caliber of the British guns and the weather all conspired against his keen desire to at least damage the German squadron. It was the British navy's first defeat since 1812.

Von Spee's victory was bitter-sweet as he knew he would be hunted down and destroyed by the vengeful British. When, after Coronel, he was given congratulatory flowers by the German community in Valparaiso he commented, 'These will do nicely for my grave.' He was correct - von Spee, along with the majority of his squadron (including his two sons who served on the Nurnberg and Gneisnau), met their fate at the Battle of the Falkland Islands the following month. 

HMS Good Hope on fire before her main magazine exploded.

The Game:

The scenario is a 'what-if' that I've cooked up from my readings of the battle. Basically, it’s this: what if the Admiralty had not dithered in its planning and provided Craddock with the reinforcements he requested? Historically, the Admiralty had dispatched the modern armoured cruiser Defence and the pre-Dreadnaught Canopus to Craddock but for a variety of reasons these were not present with Craddock at the historical action. We’ll tests the theory that if Craddock was provided the Defence and Canopus for his sortie against von Spee he may have been more successful.

A few shots of one of our refights of Coronel (GHQ models painted by Curt, photos by Tim Brown)
The action will start with the opposing fleets first sighting each other's funnel smoke at around 26000 yards (15 miles). Spee's German squadron is composed of the two modern armoured cruisers Scharnhorst (his flagship) and Gneisnau, along with three light cruisers Leipzig, Nurnberg and Dresden. Craddock's British command is made up of his flagship, the old armoured cruiser Good Hope, two other armoured cruisers, the Monmouth and the Defence, the pre-Dreadnaught battleship Canopus, the light cruiser Glasgow and the armed merchantman Otranto

Elements of both squadrons closing for short-range fire.

Victory Conditions

Crushing Victory: Disable or sink the Gneisnau and the Scharnhorst.
Victory: cause at least 7 victory points (vp) of damage to the German squadron.

  • SMS Gneisnau (5 vp)
  • SMS Scharnhorst (5 vp)
  • SMS Dresden (2.5 vp)
  • SMS Leipzig (2.5 vp)
  • SMS Nurnberg (2.5 vp)

Crushing Victory: Cause 12 vp of damage upon the British squadron and don’t lose either the Gneisnau or the Scharnhorst.
Victory: Cause 15 vp of damage upon the British squadron with no more than 5 vp loss.

  • HMS Good Hope (5 vp)
  • HMS Defense (6 vp)
  • HMS Monmouth (4 vp)
  • HMS Canopus (5 vp)
  • HMS Glasgow (3 vp)
  • HMS Otranto (1 vp)

Fleets should begin the engagement at a distance equivalent to 26,000 yards apart.

The British Squadron on approach.

The Weather

Begins Fresh,
Force 5,
Wind Speed at 20 knots,
Maximum visibility is 26,000 yards / identification at 20,000
Start Time = 5:00 pm
Darkness Falls: 7:30 pm

Exchange of fire between the Gneisenau and the Glasgow.
Ship Notes (Optional Scenario Rules)

  • While the Canopus was rated as having 12” guns they were of a very early type and as such were regarded to have the same ballistic properties of a 9.2” gun
  • If the British decide to have the Canopus begin with them they will be limited to its maximum speed (15 knots) if they wish to keep in formation.  Otherwise the Canopus will arrive on turn 8 + D10 behind the main fleet.
German Gunery
  • Spee’s squadron were crack gunners, to the extent that several of the ships had been given awards personally by the Kaiser in fleet competitions.  Adjust the German gunnery as you see fit to reflect their expertise. In terms of 'General Quarters: Fleet Action Imminent' (the ruleset we use) all German ships will cause a singe hit on a roll of 7 in addition to their regular gunnery results. 
British Green Crews
  • Several of the British ships present (HMS Canopus, HMS Monmouth, HMS Otranto) were crewed with naval reservists hurriedly put to service at the start of hostilities.  While their seamanship was of good standard many had very little experience in firing their main guns. Adjust the British gunnery as you see fit to reflect their expertise. To reflect this in 'General Quarters III: Fleet Action Imminent' HMS Canopus, HMS Monmouth, HMS Otranto all roll a D20 instead of a D12 for their gunnery.
Rough Seas
  • The weather made it too dangerous to use guns located in casemate batteries as they ran the risk of being flooded. Those ships with casemate guns will not be able to utilize them (this will have great impact on HMS Good Hope).


  1. Nice summary, I always feel sorry for Craddock as he seems to get a bad press. There doesnt seem to be much he could have done better though, what with the admiralty and Canapus feeding him false reports and the expectation that RN forces would always engage a foe if there was even a remote chance of winning.

    As you said above though, I think his only aim was to use up the Germans irreplacable shells and potentially cause lucky damage that could lead to Spee being forced to scuttle one of his ships after the action.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, I've always had a lot of sympathy for Craddock as he seems to be a man trapped by expectations and the situation. It is a battle that brutally underlines what can happen if there is a gap in technology and training between the combatants.

  2. A wonderful scenario idea,I love it.....

  3. I agree Coronel makes a good scenario (I've fought it a couple of times). I like the balance provided by the victory points - although you might want to change the terms as I don't think that the British public would respond to the loss of the Good Hope and Monmouth in exchange for a German cruiser as a "Crushing Victory".



    1. Thanks for the comment Peter! We'll have to give it a go again sometime in the future.

      In regards to the British conditions for a 'Crushing Victory' remember that the requirements are not for a single German cruiser but for wrecking BOTH the Scharnhorst AND the Gneisnau. This is a pretty tall order even with the addition of the Canopus and Defense.

  4. I remember playing the Germans in this scenario and getting absolutely lit up! Stupid British Navy....

    1. I can't remember how that game unfolded but the Brits must have been rolling Vegas...

  5. What a great scenario, I don't know too much about WWI Naval battles, but funnily enough I watched a TV programme about the Scharnhorst and Gneisnau only yesterday!

  6. Oh, very cool! I'll have to get the title of that programme from you to see if I can source it here.

  7. Interesting and enlightening scenario.

    I must confess, naval gaming has never really grabbed me, probably as I don't know so much about it!

    1. There is a lovely starkness about naval gaming as its mainly just about the ships and the rules. Its also quite accessible hobby-wise as it doesn't require a huge investment in models or terrain. I really recommend you picking up 'Castles of Steel' as its a very good read and a great primer for the Dreadnought period.

  8. Nice scenario - amazing to see these two european powers coming to grips on the otherside of the world in the Pacific!

    Great to see those big ol' Dreadnoughts! The last time the "Battleship" still ruled the seas, before the advent of true air power...

    I like the scenario, and by setting realistic goals, its still possibly for the Historical loser to come out with a 'win' in the game...

    1. Thanks Scott (and welcome back from your holidays)! Yes, I really enjoy the challenge of asymmetrical scenarios - both in their design and playing them. They break from that slavish (and anachronistic) attitude that war should somehow be fair or 'even'. To me a well-designed scenario should provide conditions/objectives that all the players find enjoyable playing out to their conclusion.

  9. It's a good one Curt. Thise darn Germans can sure shoot! Of course you always turn it around when you do the Falklands encounter...

    Now where exactly did i put my collection of ships....??

    1. Thanks for the comment Dave. Yes, the Battle of the Falkland Island is pretty rough for von Spee.

  10. I have always liked this type of games, and your scenario is very interesting.

    Very nice models too.

    1. Cheers Juan! Yes, its a nice break from land-based gaming as its relatively simple to set up and get playing.

  11. Hello, I was talking with Tim in his blog, and he said me that you probably knows where could I get those explosion markers.

    Could you help me?


    1. Hi Slorm. If you're referring to the 'splash' marker shown above they are dead easy to make. I just use a couple different sizes of flat-head wood screws and then coat them with Liquitex acrylic 'resin sand' gel (you can get this stuff from any art store - I get mine here in Canada from Michael's). Once the liquitex is dried I just paint them green, then drybrush with pale blue and then give them a final drybrush of white for the foam effect. I seal them with a gloss coat and then base them on thin platicard in groups of 2 or 3. I think I did around 30 of them in one night while working on other stuff.

    2. Curt

      It sounds like your splash markers could be a "how to" post. I think that Slorm may be interested in the plastic acrylic markers like we used for the Tariga game (I'd be curios where you got them too).



  12. Yes, I'll have to consider giving a short 'blurb' on the 'splashes' sometime in the future. As far as the plastic explosion/splash markers are concerned, those are from Litko . I find they look good for more modern games but are a bit anachronistic for anything blackpowder or earlier.

  13. Great writeup, Curt. I feel a lot of sympathy for the British commander. This looks like a scenario I could easily run here in Winnipeg - just a few ships on both sides.

    How complicated are the 'General Quarters: Fleet Action Imminent' rules? With no one else here running pre-/WWI naval actions, I want to use a fairly simple set of rules.

    1. Yeah, Craddock was delivered a pretty raw deal. You have to give him credit for him trying to do the honourable thing but it was at a very high cost.

      Actually I ran this scenario for the guys in Winnipeg using GQIII a few years ago. It seemed to go alright but the rules are not the most 'quick play' set out there. You'd want to make sure you're getting the dreadnought 'flavour' from a quick play set (i.e. coal-fired engines, early or non-existent radio communication, guns which outstripped optics, etc.)


Thanks for your comment! As long as you're not a spam droid I'll have it up on the blog soon. :)