Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Battle of Coronel (Game Report)

On the 1st November 1914, the first naval engagement of the first world war took place off the coast of Chile. A German force comprising of the armoured cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and the light cruisers Leipzig, Dresden and Nurnberg delivered a crushing defeat on a British force comprising of two Armoured cruisers, the Monmouth and Good Hope, a modern light cruiser, the Glasgow and an old converted liner, the Otranto. Back in 1914 The Good hope and Monmouth were both sunk with complete loss of life - some 1600 men. The Germans had 3 men wounded.

On Sunday night we re fought the engagement with two 'what if' differences. Firstly we fought the battle during daylight, rather than twilight, and the pre-dreadnaught 'HMS Canopus' also joined the British force - back in 1914 it did not arrive on time.

The German force, commanded by Stu, deployed in two squadrons - the two armoured cruisers forming one, the three light cruisers the other. The British, commanded by myself, also deployed in two squadrons - again, the two armoured cruisers and the light cruiser forming one, SS Otranto and HMS Canopus forming the other.

The British Armoured Squadron, led by Good Hope steamed north, keeping the approaching German fleet on their starboard side. The Canopus, leading the Otranto, headed East bringing the Germans onto their port side.

The German squadrons headed south and as the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau came into range they pounded HMS Monmouth who took two critical hits to the engine room, significantly slowing her down and effectively removing her from the battle. Monmouth left the formation and limped west out of range.

The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau then started taking fire from the Canopus, causing the German pair to focus all their attention on the old battleship. The German light cruisers then steamed towards the British Cruiser squadron in order to shield the Scharnhorst and Gneienau.

Immediately the gunners on the Good Hope went to work and after only two rounds of fire SMS Nurnberg succumbed slid beneath the waves - first blood to the British.

The Canopus' gunfire hit both the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau causing fires on each ship, however the return fire pounded the Canopus, knocking out all her port side secondary armament. Eventually the accurate fire from the Scharnhorst hit the fore battery, the stacked cordite was ignited and the Canopus disappeared in a huge explosion. On seeing this the Captain of the Otranto steered a course south away from battle and to safety.

Meanwhile, HMS Good Hope turned it's guns on first the Dresden and then SMS Leipzig. The Dresden exploded and quickly sank and the Leipzig finally succumbed to the flames of the multiple fires burning throughout the ship. Chalk up two more ships to the Good Hope.

The remaining German ships swung around and headed straight for the Good Hope with revenge in mind. Although their gunfire was accurate, it caused little damage, however a critical hit on the main battery of the Scharnhorst caused the ship to explode and quickly sink. The Gneisenau, seeing this, took the opportunity to turn east and steam rapidly away from the battle.

A major victory for the British, with medals a-plenty for the crew of HMS Good Hope! The inclusion of HMS Canopus had quite a major effect on the German battle plan, drawing all the fire from the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, allowing the Good Hope to take on the German light cruisers at optimum range.

We used the rule set 'Naval Thunder', which both commanders agreed, played out really well.


  1. No offense intended but in real life Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were destroyed by intense fire from 12 inch guns for several hours and finally sank, it is hard to believe that Good Hope's old 9.2 inch guns manned by reservists could destroy Scharnhorst in only a few shots. Also the German strategy of willingly sailing between the two British forces and sending light cruisers to fight Good Hope all on their own is pretty hard to believe. I'm afraid to say but your simulation seems rather unlikely.

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  3. Four years late! Just read your report whilst working on models of the combatants for a later game. I have to say I disagree with the earlier comment, and based on research through copious resource materials and a bit of wargame experience the battle result seems fair and plausible, certainly thrilling. We wargamers do have something of a tendency to stick it out when all is falling apart around us, so the heavy losses on both sides seem about right. For instance, during our recent refight of the Battle of the Yalu, the Chinese recovered from their initial losses and proceeded to destroy the Japanese main force, which nevertheless stuck it out as did the Flying Squadron until more than fifty per cent losses caused a reappraisal and retreat. So, both British and German forces' continuation of this fight to the bitter end poses no problems for me.
    As far as the effects of 9.2" fire against the Scharnhorst is concerned, I am totally happy with that. Most rule sets use an appreciation of actual effects in combat against different armour and target types to give a fair simulation on the tabletop, and in point of fact those heavy guns were not of a particularly old type at all, having been designed in the late 1890s to pierce battleship casemate armour at close range - dealing with armoured cruiser belts was well within their capability. Perhaps it's also worth pointing out for other readers' benefit that the German armoured cruisers at the Battlke of Falklands were running at full steam from the British squadron; thus the twelve-inch fire was from fore turrets at long range against fast, evasive targets, with only a few chances for wing turrets to engage - that's why it took hours to destroy Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with such heavy guns, not a measure of their strength or armouring at all. Also very nice to see a Drake class cruiser doing what William White designed the class for, ie; running down and killing commerce-raiding cruisers, and doing it well.
    Poor old Canopus, her armour was no better than Good Hope's, so if she'd not been there, one wonders whether the outcome might have been the same as in the historical battle; yes, her presence definitely would have made a difference. Ultimately i would be fascinated to see what would happen if HMS Defence had been sent to join Cradock, thus freeing up Monmouth to join Glasgow in hunting the light cruisers whilst Good Hope and Defence fought the two Scharnhorsts - about as fair an alternative scenario as it's possible to envisage.
    Great report. Bravo.