Superbattle: Cherbourg 1904

Last weekend I had the honour to take part in another Superbattle - the fictional Battle of Cherbourg, which saw the Russian and German fleets take on a combined Anglo-French force in the English Channel in 1904.  This has been the culmination of many months of patient planning - long time readers may remember a similar game in 2014 played using Battlefleet 1900 rules - since then, I have got more into the fast play version Quickfire, which is better for fleet actions, and have spent a lot of time working on a new Russian fleet.  Last Saturday, with all the planets aligned, we had five people together in one room to play out this climactic battle.

Some of the features of a Superbattle are that it will be written up into an alternate history "factual" account, incorporating all of our characters and actions (like I did for our ECW campaign, FPW game, and several others).  We also had some participation from a few patient blog readers, who acted as the navy ministers for the various combatants and gave the players real dynamic objectives to achieve.

A lovingly-painted Channel Fleet ready to go into action

Another feature was realistic command and control - players were forbidden from discussing tactics during the game, each you were allowed to send one signal, written on a post-it note in only two words.  This meant there were some real moments of misunderstanding and confusion between the admirals, as well as some rather hilarious ones as the evening wore on.

I won't try and relate all the twists and turns of the very complicated battle, I'll just share a general diagram of how it went and a brief summary, and focus on the pictures!  Basically, the Allies won.  The Russo-German fleet inflicted some heavy damage on the Allies, sinking three battleships and a large armoured cruiser.  But the effort to break through into the Atlantic was completely thwarted, both Imperial flagships were sunk, and the commander Admiral Köhler was killed when he went down with his ship.  The Allies also won decisively on points, achieving their secret objectives and securing a clear victory.

(Oh, and both the oil paintings were done by the fantastic Jane Dunn)

The Teams


Vice Admiral Nakhimov (Ed), leading a Russian fleet of varied quality - in reality, exactly the fleet which was at Tsushima.  My orders were written by the navy minister Admiral Avelan, superbly played by Paul.  Nakhimov's flagship the Aleksandr III was sunk, but Nakhimov escaped to fight another day.  A quote from the orders Paul wrote:

"Fate has yielded to us a great opportunity to wrest control of the Atlantic from the English, who have become smug and overconfident. While the War against the upstart and perfidious Japanese in the East is of concern to His Majesty, it is clear that the current crisis pertaining the the fishing fleet incident is one entirely of the English Admiralty’s doing.  They mean to demand and humiliate us, and in doing reaffirm their position of power while building an alliance with the Japanese. This arrogance will be their undoing."

"Your Primary Objective is to destroy more Capital ships than you loose, and preserve at least half of your Battle Squadron Strength so that we may have sufficient combat power available to prosecute the War against the Japanese. I also wish to utilise the opportunity to demonstrate the technical prowess of the Russian engineers and generate foreign revenue through sales. This would be most effectively achieved if you demonstrate the capabilities of the torpedo armament of your screening forces by destroying an enemy Battleship."

Russian Result:  
  • Destroy more capital ships than you lose - achieved for 25pts (Aleksandr III and Acheron lost, Rodney, Carnot and Jauréguiberry sunk)
  • Sink a battleship with torpedoes - failed 



Rear Admiral Sir Donald Windsor Evans (Dan), second in command of the Channel Fleet with four powerful armoured cruisers.

Admiral Evans' flagship HMS Drake faced the concentrated fire of both the Russian and German main squadrons, and it was soon out of action.  Rather than abandoning his post, he remained on board and personally directed the damage control efforts, until at the last second the ship suddenly capsized and took its gallant commander down with it.

Dan's powerful squadron also included the Diadem, which - in our fictional scenario - was the ship the Russians fired on in a re-imagined Dogger Bank Incident, precipitating the whole sorry crisis.

Vice Admiral Lord Derby (Mike), commanding the Channel Squadron.  Lord Derby headed up a battle line of four powerful, if slightly outdated battleships.  His leading ship the Rodney was sunk by gunfire, although the flagship Renown survived almost unscathed.  His orders were written by Lord Lansdowne, played by the fittingly-titled Admiral Drax.

"The task ahead of you is of an import so significant to His Britannic Majesty’s Fleet that I cannot emphasise enough the seriousness with which you must attend to your orders below. It is of supreme import that you carry the day – should you fail to do so, the detrimental effect upon the control of our Imperial  trade and maritime influence simply cannot be overstated."

"Supplementary to the inevitable lift to the Country’s public  morale that your imminent Victory must bring, I am given to  understand that His Majesty Himself has taken a keen interest  in showing the Kaiser just what he risks in provoking thus the brave Jack Tars of Royal Navy. That upstart von Tirpitz evidently needs to taste real British mettle lest he get any further nonsensical ideas above his station.  I commend you to the day’s work, Gentlemen; God Save the King."

British Score:
  • Sink the Acheron - achieved for 30pts 
  • Preserve the Renown - achieved for 20pts
  • Capture a battleship - failed
  • Sink a battleship with torpedoes - failed


Vice Admiral Meunier (Kieran).  Meunier's powerful battle line of seven capital ships proved an unapproachable force, and their whithering fire precluded all chance of an Imperial victory.  With Zzzz providing some excellent orders, he was the backbone of the Allied fleet.  Zzzzz, in true style, got very un character here - I haven't the least idea what any of it means:
"Comme l’héritière de la tradition navale fier de la France, il est important que nous soutenons pleinement l’alliance avec la Marine royale anglaise en veillant à ce que nos ressources sont toujours disponibles ; Si appelés par nos alliés ou de poursuivre la gloire pour la France elle-même."
French Score:  
    • Preserve flagship - achieved for 20pts
    • Preserve half the fleet - achieved for 20pts
    • Prevent enemy from reaching board edge - achieved for 15pts
    • Destroy more cruisers than lost - achieved for 15pts



      Admiral Anton Köhler (Ollie) commanded a German fleet, headed by the fictional SMS Acheron. Putting up a valliant fight, little did he know that one of the secret objectives was to sink the Acheron. When it finally started to slip beneath the waves,

      Köhler voluntarily gave up his 3+ "survival" dice and elected to go down with his ship. Dai wrote his fantastic orders, playing von Tirpitz."

      "Your objectives as I see them should reflect as I see it the German Kaiser in this situation is making more of a "show of power" in regards to potential future conflicts with Britain or France (And potentially cementing further any alliance with Russia), rather than actually joining this event to "Defeat their Western enemies".

      "The fleet sent by Germany is pitifully underpowered in comparison to the French, Russian and British and whilst could make for a good support option for the Russians, left to hold it's own it will easily get swept aside (Especially if the untrustworthy Russians double-cross us and leave us to a grizzly fate.) [What! Is there no trust any more?! Ed.]"

      German Score:
        • Ensure half the fleet survives - achieved for 20pts
        • Sink a battleship with torpedoes - failed


          The Photos

          Pre-battle selfie.  I'm such a bighead.  Any UK taxpayers, I'm sorry to say that part of the Army's salary budget goes towards my supply of fantastic uniforms.

          Dan getting into the spirit of things.  Given his eventual fate, this photo now seems troublingly prescient...

          The beginning of the game!  Doesn't look like much yet...

          The glorious Russian fleet!

          Dastardly allies, plotting away...

          The single Russo-German line (coming in from the left) makes its turn at around 4,500 yards from the enemy.

          The Russian fleet - you can see where the armoured cruiser Burya has sheered off from the fleet with heavy damage.

          British Admiral signalling: Make Smoke!

          Blowing on the dice always makes them roll better, as the German admiral knows.

          Oh dear.  It's all falling apart, the Imperial fleet is breaking up into small detachments, its 'T' well and truly crossed.

          The damaged Burya is left behind.

          The wonderfully-painted British fleet had some strange signals flying...

          And some which, despite their downright lack of respect for the gravity of the situation, led to some very amusing interludes...

          The Russian and German admirals.

          The proud victors!

          It's not often you get to play games on this scale, and this was, without exaggeration, something I've wanted to do for years. I made a touching speech to the players at the time, which I'll repeat here: Thank you. For putting up with all my panicked over-planning before the game, indulging me by playing a period I truly love, and for giving me one of the most memorable evening's wargaming in my life.

          And a special thanks must go out to the blog readers, Dai, Drax, Zzzz and Paul, who participated so enthusiastically and gave the campaign an added human dynamism. Each one of the players independently told me that it was one of the game's most memorable aspects. Thank you all - we will be doing something like this again, and I will try to include more readers in the next one.


          1. What an incredible game! Thanks to Ed for the extensive planning, and to Dan, Mike and Kieran for proving worthy foes! The orders from the admiralty was an excellent touch and thank you to all who took part in that (apologies to Dai for the hash I made of my secret orders!). All in all, one of the top games I've played

            1. Thanks, it was an honour to serve with you! Although I didn’t realise you suspected that I might leave you high and dry, reading that last line of the orders!

          2. Could you please tell us what constituted the German fleet besides the Acheron?

            1. Of course. The German flag squadron consisted of the battleships Acheron (fictional), Braunschweig, Wittelsbach and Brandenburg. There was a scout squadron of the protected cruisers Kaiserin Augusta and Arcona, and finally a reserve squadron (which wasn’t on the table) of Hela and Wacht.

            2. The Russian fleet, which was operating in concert with the Germans, is here (with pictures)

          3. A fantastic game, one of my all-time favourites, thanks for all of the hours spent organising this and being a worthy opponent. I shall be doing a post or two of my own on the superbattle. Vive la France!

            1. I can’t wait to see that blog post. It certainly was a memorable game... we just need a rematch in a few years now...

          4. Fantastic- loved the blog posts. It is this sort of thing that makes gaming great imo.



            1. Thank you Pete, I’m really glad you enjoyed reading about it. When the book has been written I’ll do another blog post - drop me an email and I’ll stick a copy in the post if you like.

            2. That would be great- thank you very much. I'll enjoy reading it.



          5. Love it. Absolutely love it!

            Hearty thanks and congratulations to all involved, and thanks for the invitation to join in!

            1. Thanks Drax! It was great to have you on board for this one and I'm glad you enjoyed taking part. Now it only remains to plan the next one...

          6. What a great looking game! The fleets look magnificent in their formations.

            Thanks for including me - it was a lot of fun to participate, particularly while I was myself dislocated from my gaming buddies and models. Now take the remainder of your fleet through to the Pacific so we can defend our Far Eastern territories!

            1. Thank you Paul! As soon as I started writing the scenario, I knew I had to ask you to take part. Yes, a reimagined Tsushima next... although this time I think the Denmark Strait is a more sensible option... and sorry for bungling this one Admiral - we'll get those dastardly Allies next time.

          7. Wish I could have been more involved, but I put into this smashing scenario what I could.
            Sounds like all had a really fun time and I enjoyed being able to offer input for the Germans, even if they were soundly trounced! Good stuff Ed, thanks.

            1. It was fantastic to have participation from players all over the world. This comparatively simple set of orders was just the beginning, and with the concept proved we can move on to progressively more insane and megalomaniacal schemes... Really glad you were part of it mate.

          8. Marvelous ! Formidable !

            Vive la France !

            1. *Shakes fist while babbling something in Russian*

              Thanks for taking part mate!

          9. Awesome! That looks like it was an absolute blast - good stuff!

            1. There certainly was a blast - in the magazine of the Alexander III! Ha, thank you, it was a great game.


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