If I’d told friends and colleagues I was planning a WW1 centenary wargame for Autumn 2017, I think most of them would have guessed at a Cambrai game, ’cause there’d be loads of tanks and they know I like tanks! They’d all have been wrong!
The Battle Of Moon Sound took place on 17th October 1917. It might sound like a made-up name for a fantasy battle of some sort, but it was a real battle. It was fought between ships of the German and Russian navies acting in support of their land forces fighting for control of the island chain that lies across the entrance to the Gulf of Riga, close to the Estonian coast. Tactically it was a German victory, because it forced the Russians to relinquish control of Moon Sound, the route that they had been using to move ships in support of the Russian army operating along the continental coastline of the Gulf Of Riga. But the two Russian pre-dreadnought battleships gave a good account of themselves against more modern German battleships and the Russian battleship Slava was only scuttled because she had been damaged enough to take in too much water too let her escape through the relatively shallow dredged channel of Moon Sound! My inspiration for a wargame came from the excellent book by Gary Staff, “Battle For The Baltic Islands 1917”.
I didn’t have the ships to refight the naval battle, but I’ve got a reasonable amount of WW1 German and Russian land forces in 20mm scale. The Germans landed on the island of Osel on 12th October 1917 and subsequently captured the islands of Moon and Dago. So even though I played a land-based game, it was played on the centenary of the Battle Of Moon Sound (17th October 2017) and it did have a ship in it!
In the game, Russian forces are trying to withdraw from Osel to Moon, via the causeway connecting the two islands (described in Staff’s book as a stone dam). If they can do this, they can be shipped to safety to those parts of the mainland controlled by the Russians. Most of the Russian forces are demoralised and just trying to get away! The Germans have captured the Osel end of the causeway and brought up some coastal minesweeper/torpedo boats to support their troops, who are waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
I had to build myself a causeway section that matched my existing road and coastline scenery and at the same time I modified an early-1900s period torpedo boat I had and added some new crew figures (as shown here). One end of the game layout was a strip of sea, with the land connected to the island of Moon (off-board) by the causeway. A German torpedo boat, A30, guarded the German flank and covered the causeway, while two German infantry battalions occupied buildings and abandoned Russian fortifications in the area. The Germans were supported by an infantry gun and light mortar and were expecting the arrival of a further infantry battalion. A German naval liaison team had also called for supporting fire from the 305mm guns of the battleship Kronprinz, but this could not arrive until the battleship could manoeuvre close enough inshore to be in range (much of the sea area around the islands is quite shallow).
At the start of the game the Russians (myself) had managed to withdraw halfway across the table and had just come across the Germans blocking their escape across the causeway to Moon (my mate John was in charge of the Germans). The leading Russian battalion shook out into a skirmish formation and started to engage the Germans, while the rest of the demoralised Russians either tried to pull themselves together or scarper! As the Germans moved to face this threat, a Russian infantry attack, led by an armoured car, advanced across the causeway from Moon, taking the Germans completely by surprise and causing them casualties!
Russian elation at the success of this move was quickly ended however, when torpedo boat A30 put a high explosive round into the armored car, killing the crew and setting it on fire! Although the supporting Russian infantry tried to take cover behind the burning wreck, A30 and the German infantry around the causeway wiped them out to a man!
In the meantime, while most of the rest of the Russians were trying to get off the road and into the woods to make their way round the Germans, a Russian heavy machine gun team had managed to get into action from the wooden barn next to the road and was engaging the enemy. Unknown to them though, this building was the intended target for battleship Kronprinz (as indicated by a small plastic traffic cone on the roof of the model barn), although the latter had still not reached a suitable firing position!
Return German fire soon knocked out the Russian MG and the Russian infantry trying to come into action also started taking casualties. At this point, German reinforcements arrived and started moving towards the rear of the retreating Russian column. Despite the Russian commander being killed by a shell from A30, the Russian 76.2mm gun at the rear of the column managed to come into action and start inflicting casualties on the arriving German reinforcements.
By this time, however, Russian casualties had mounted and the troops remaining decided to surrender. The Germans had won, and only taken light casualties. It was a good game, but hinged on the really lucky shot fired by A30 that destroyed the Russian armoured car. Even immobilized, the latter could still have kept enough of the Germans occupied to let the retreating Russians get closer to the causeway. Since a lot of tanks in WW1 were destroyed by direct hits from HE rounds though, the rules I have to reflect this seem to work quite well – it’s harder to penetrate armour with HE as opposed to AP (armour-piercing) but anything that does get through causes a lot more damage!
Greatest threat to the Germans in the later stages of the game might well have been from battleship fire support, but this never arrived. Although the potential scatter from a miss was large (because it was off-board, long range fire) the area of effect of a 305mm round was BIG, with a 12″ diameter casualty zone! I sort of arbitrarily fixed this diameter based on the smaller artillery guns that I use!
Just remains to see if I’ve got enough time before the end of November to build myself a stack of British Mk IV tanks for refighting Cambrai!