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Sink the Bismarck!

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

A History-as-Game Example of Play for the Naval System in Frank Chadwick's ETO

It is difficult for a wargame to get the "moving history" on the game map perfect, but Frank Chadwick's ETO really strives to get it close. Within the scale of these games, we have composed an extended example of play showing the daring raid of the German Battleship, Bismarck, and its companion Raiding Cruiser, Prinz Eugen. You will see that using the game's systems and mechanics, the story comes out pretty darn close.

NOTE: The illustrations in this article are playtest graphics. This is not the final game art. The map shown is the Trans-Oceanic map for transit between Europe, the USA, and around Africa to the Mid-East.

May II ’41: Meeting in Bergen, Norway

The German BB Bismarck and CR Prinz Eugen sailed from the Baltic Sea Zone to Bergen, Norway, and must Refit.

May II ’41: Home Fleet Deployments

The UK Home Fleet, primarily in Scapa Flow, deployed in response to this existential threat as follows:

  • Denmark Strait: CA [Cruiser Squadron 1: Norfolk and Suffolk]

  • Iceland Passage: BB Hood, BB Prince of Wales, and CL [Cruiser Squadron 12: Arethusa, Manchester, Birmingham] join the MS unit keeping the USA Pipeline open

  • Scapa Flow: Home Fleet HQ marker [Repair Mode] and Making Harbor there this turn: BB King George V (Depleted), and CL (Depleted) [Cruiser Squadron 2: Galatea, Aurora, Kenya, Hermione]

  • Irish Sea: CV Victorious and BC Repulse

  • Western Approaches: BB Rodney holds in place and continues its Patrol Mission along with an MS unit

  • Gibraltar: Atlantic Fleet HQ marker [Intercept Mode], CV Ark Royal (Depleted), and BC Renown

  • North Atlantic: Two MS units keeping the USA Pipeline open

  • North Central Atlantic: BB Ramillies holds in place and continues its Patrol Mission

With the German threatening in Norway, the British scramble their defenses.

May III ’41: The German Raiders Set Sail

Both Depleted German Naval units in Bergen Refit. The Bismarck Refits for free using the Major Port’s ability to Refit any one Naval unit per turn. The Prinz Eugen, however, requires a Rush Refit in order to sail out this turn; that costs the Axis 1 Free Stuff and ½ FP to make it ready to sail right away.

Now Ready, they are equipped as Raiders for ½ FP each (paid for out of the Axis Arctic FP pool), the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen sail from Bergen. They take the long way around the UK, sailing out through the Norwegian Sea and continuing to the Denmark Strait Sea Zone.

The German U-boat units move from the Western Approaches to the North Atlantic questing for Allies Merchant Shipping (MS unit) tonnage. They would fail to find them.

The Hood and Prince of Wales Intercept into the Denmark Strait (instead of waiting to move in during their turn) and join their CA [1] (already there). The search is on!

Moves and countermoves: the Bismarck sets sail.

The Battle of Denmark Strait

In the Denmark Strait, a Search roll of 1 yields a General Engagement during the Axis Naval Resolution Step. Going into this Engagement, the UK had the Advantage (6 Propeller icons to 3 German).

Nothing happens prior to the exchange of Surface Fire with all forces deployed in their Battle Lines. The Allies rolled poorly garnering only 3 Hits, while the Germans rolled well and scored 4 Hits.

Placing every Surface Fire Hit scored (thanks to being Advantaged), the Allied player allocated all 3 of their generated Hits to the Bismarck, while placing the 4 German-generated Hits are applied as 2 each to both the Prince of Wales and the Hood (while thinking, “What could possibly go wrong with that?”).

Its Damage Control roll of 4 left 0 Confirmed Hit on the Bismarck, while a Damage Control roll of 1 for the Prince of Wales leaves it with 1 Confirmed Hit; it is Depleted and forced to Retire, so it sets sail for Scapa Flow and, being Depleted before it Makes Harbor, it must Repair instead of just Refit.

The mighty Hood, however, rolled a 5 for its Damage Control (vs. its Damage Control Value of 3, thus failing to negate any Hits). When assessing the Serious Damage of its 2 Confirmed Hits, the Hood rolls doubles and so it is Sunk and placed on the Morale mat; the UK will lose 1 Morale Point (but recover it 2 Personnel Points, the personnel is mostly land-based) from the Hood’s tragic demise.

Poor UK rolls and decent German outcomes have left some very long, bearded faces at the UK Home Fleet.

The Battle’s Aftermath

Because they are Raiders, the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen need not Retire after firing their shot (432.1) so, in the Aftermath, the Axis player has an interesting decision to make. Knowing they were lucky in this Engagement, if they press on with their plan to Raid into the North Atlantic, they might not be so lucky next time and they will be further from a clear return route back to Norway. So, should they plan a safe return to the fjords or plunge forward with their plans?

Well, there are no enemy Warships in the North Atlantic (just juicy Allied merchant ships ripe for the sinking). Noting that their Luftwaffe’s Condor Air unit is Available and two U-boat units are already present to help, the Victorious Raiders seize their opportunity to exploit into the North Atlantic.

Another bout of decent luck is all we need to send more good news for the Führer.

Well begun is halfway done for the Germans. For the Allies, it is a disaster of the highest order!

However, for the British, the calamity in the Denmark Strait has evolved into a crisis in the North Atlantic and all energy is now bent on hunting the Bismarck!

SIGNAL FROM BRITISH ADMIRALTY TO KING GEORGE V: “Bismarck must be sunk at all costs and if to do this it is necessary for King George V to remain on the scene she must do so even if it subsequently means towing King George V.” – First Sea Lord Dudley Pound on behalf of Winston Churchill

May III ’41: UK Countermoves

  • Iceland Passage: At Scapa Flow, the Home Fleet HQ marker [Repair Mode] makes Ready both King George V and CL [2] as the Prince of Wales languishes in Repair, but as this just-mended TF is three moves away from reaching the North Atlantic (1 to enter the Iceland Passage and 2 more to enter the North Atlantic), they instead sail to the Iceland Passage and are joined by the Victorious which enter from the Irish Sea.

  • Denmark Strait: The surviving CA [1] considers gamely pursuing the German Raiders into the North Atlantic but that might be fatal. Instead, they stay behind the Bismarck and keep its door back to Norway challenged; it is promptly joined by the Repulse (arriving from the Irish Sea, too late to participate in the Battle of Denmark Strait).

  • North Atlantic: Judging this Sea Zone to be too hostile and knowing that the German Condor (Fw-200) Air unit is Available in West Europe, the Allies leave this Sea Zone to the wolves (and wolfpacks). Their priority is leaving the required 2 MS units there to maintain their Pipeline to the USA and hope for the best (i.e., “Keep calm and carry on”). If they added a Patrol Task Force (TF) to this Sea Zone, it would only make it more likely to confront the Germans again at a disadvantage. Reluctantly, so the Admiralty chooses the better part of valor in the North Atlantic.

  • Western Approaches: Remains guarded by Rodney. Should the Germans emerge Victorious from the North Atlantic, there would be hell to pay if they were able to exploit from there into the Western Approaches. Therefore, a Warship must be left to watch that door and prevent any such Aftermath Exploitation.

  • North Central Atlantic: For the same reason, the Ramillies maintains its position in the North Central Atlantic. The MS unit from the Western Approaches enters this Vast Sea Zone knowing it will be harder to find in searches, but now the USA Pipeline must be traced through the North Atlantic, to the Iceland Passage, and through the Irish Sea (it looks very narrow and tenuous with the oceans full of enemy warships!).

  • Gibraltar: The Atlantic Fleet HQ marker [Intercept Mode], Refits the Ark Royal, which remains in place with Renown ready to conduct Interceptions from that port at two Sea Zones distant should the Raiders turn back toward Europe.

May III ’41: Raiders of the North Atlantic?

Naval Sequence of Play card. The Search Value modifiers.

During this UK Naval Resolution Step in the North Atlantic, the Search Value is 4:

+2 for all searches; -1 in a Vast Ocean; +1 for the Convoy TF (the Allies have one); +1 for the (Patrol or) Raid TF (the Axis having either of these two Missions present, their Raid TF); -1 for the Allies applying their Search Tech advantage to hide; +1 for the Axis wanting their Submarine TF to seek; and +1 for the Axis Naval Air Support (NAS) from their Fw-200 flying in at eXtreme Range from West Europe to seek.

The Search roll result is a 5 so there is no Naval Engagement, nothing happens. (A roll of 4 would have allowed their Air unit to strike with its blue Torpedo; a roll of 3 would have added ASW attacks and U-boats to the fray, and a roll of 1 or 2 would have allowed the Raiders to participate as well.) The failure to initiate any Air, Submarine, and/or Surface Combat – which would give the Germans an opportunity to sink Allied merchant shipping – is, in grim reality, a great loss to the Axis.

The German Navy’s plan to amass horrendous British merchant losses is thwarted by the Search die roll and this singular opportunity is lost.

The German's big break into the North Atlantic fails to find the enemy.

May IV ’41: Postcards from Berlin

On the Axis turn, it is decision time. Although having unlimited supply (from their Raid! marker’s gray supply drums), Hitler’s High Seas dynamic duo could scour the world’s Oceans in pursuit of prey; eventually, however, the turn would come when they suffer a Confirmed Hit and must Retire. Not wanting to end up like the Graf Spee (scuttled off of a Neutral Naval Base in Uruguay, South America), the Axis consider: How much “gauntlet” is the Bismarck willing to run on its way back to harbor in Europe? The options to avoid being shot to pieces (442.1.2) by a long-range Retirement are to either turn around and set course back toward Norway or continue south and east to a Naval Base in France (Brest or St. Nazaire).

The decision is made: the Bismarck will sail on to France (and hope that the Allies have the same Search failure that the Axis just suffered and so escape without a major incident). She sails to the Western Approaches and must stop there being Challenged At Sea (420.4.2) by the presence of Rodney. Prinz Eugen moves into the North Central Atlantic Sea Zone to continue Vast Ocean Raiding (joined the U-boats which will feel a real supply pinch soon) and is Challenged At Sea by the presence of Ramillies.

The British are keeping the German’s pathways well-guarded.

May IV ’41: British Reaction: Swift and Strong

In their Reaction Step, the UK intercepts from the adjacent Iceland Passage Sea Zone to the Western Approaches: Victorious, King George V, and CL [2]. In addition, from Gibraltar, intercepting two moves (thanks to their Fleet HQ marker there being in Intercept Mode; 241.4.3) through the Eastern Atlantic and on to the Western Approaches, the Ark Royal and Renown join in the hunt.

The British close the trap and sink the Bismarck!

May IV ’41: Sink the Bismarck!

The Search roll result is a full Naval Engagement which is very grim news the Raiding Bismarck. The Air Strikes from the Ark Royal and Victorious results in multiple Hits, only one of which is not negated by Bismarck’s Damage Control, and so she is flipped from that Confirmed Hit to show her Depleted side. In the array of British Surface fire (with values of 4, 3, 3, and 1), the Bismarck is Hit multiple times, sufficient to inflict Serious Damage (432.4.3) and, when assessing it, the roll of multiple dice reveals a set of doubles; the Bismarck is sunk!

No UK ships received Confirmed Hits in the exchange from the Depleted Bismarck’s value of 3.

Later, UK Admiral John Tovey remarked, “The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy and she went down with her colors flying.”

The Flight of the Prinz Eugen

Ultimately, the Germans sail the Prinz Eugen and their U-boat units on the following turn from the North Central Atlantic to France through vacant Eastern Atlantic and Bay of Biscay, Making Harbor at Brest. The UK had mostly rearranged its Naval units back to port for Refit, and so the return of the Germans to Brest was uneventful.

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Alan Emrich
Alan Emrich
Dec 20, 2020

Jay is correct. We are playtesting the Naval System very thoroughly with THE MIDDLE SEA and, so far, it is producing very credible narratives and outcomes.


Gerald Johnson
Gerald Johnson
Dec 20, 2020

The Italians will get their action on the maps for The Middle Sea.

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