Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Hunt for the Markgraf - Year One

AN OVERVIEW OF THE CAMPAIGN SO FAR

For over a year, my friend Mike and I have been playing a linked series of themed games with our fleets, focusing on a campaign between the Russian Coalition and the Prussian Empire in the North Sea. As we reach the end of the first year, I thought it was time to write a short summary of the battles, and some hints as to the direction the campaign will be taking!
The campaign so far - the line marks the passage of the Prussian fleet as they retreat from Lofoten Listening Station in the north, falling back to Utisira, Kvitsøy and finally to Stavanger. A strong of brutal defeats would leave them trapped and the Byfjorden blockaded. There, the Russian fleet would dash themselves against the defences of the mighty port, and their blockade broken as the mighty Markgraf finally revealed itself!

The Markgraf would then lead several reaver fleets into the North Sea, attacking convoys and Grand Coalition oil fields around the Shetland Islands. Journeying northward to the Faroe Islands, the vessel would be attacked by the Federated States of America and a Dreadnought of their own, the immense Dortmunder. Though victorious, the Markgraf would be heavily damaged, forced to withdraw.

Harried by the piratical Black Wolf Mercenaries, the Prussian fleet would be forced to head south. Luring the pursuing Russian fleet into the path of the Teutonic Order at Midbrødøya, they would then move across the Skagerrak and invite their allies, the Kingdom of Denmark to defend their territorial waters at Agger.

In the wake of these bloody engagements, the Markgraf and its escort would begin their final journey to Prussian waters, and the safety offered there...
PROLOGUE
The summer of 1871 saw the rise of the infamous Karl-Ehrhart Grunner, now Baron Grunner, with his first campaign patrolling the shores of the North Sea. Travelling far north with his Wolf Pack in an attempt to disrupt Russian naval support for the Kingdom of Britannia, Grunner declared his personal vendetta against Admiral Ivan Ushakov at the start of 1871, in a moment of audacity that would come to define his career.

In the ensuing Spring, the two played a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Baltic, their fleets clashing five times in three months. At a huge outlay in manpower and resources that almost cost him his position and his life, Grunner finally cornered his foe off Stavanger.

In a fourteen hour engagement and with the aid of mercenary pirates, Grunner crippled and prized the great Dreadnought
Dzerzhinsky, taking the Admiral as his prisoner and forever earning the enmity of the Russian Coalition. The acquisition was taken to a hidden base north of Stavanger, where Prussian scientists would strip the ship of its technological secrets and salvage the hulk as a new warship.

The Dzerzhinsky would reappear almost a year later, refitted, repainted and rechristened as the Markgraf, a potent symbol of Prussian naval superiority and a top priority for the Russian retaliation. It would spend the next years of the War hidden; the Prussian Empire would not risk losing their grand prize.

Used as a propaganda symbol, the rechristened Markgraf would be a stain on the honour of the White Navy, one they would commit huge resources to hunting down and recovering, or, if need be, destroy. 


For many months, nothing was heard. Vague reports of sightings and manoeuvres reached the Russian Admiralty, but nothing palpable. The opening days of 1873 Russian spies uncovered information on the location of the vessel, unconfirmed reports stating that a secret port near Stavanger was housing the immense ship. 

Reacting with unusual speed, the Russian Coalition formed a huge warfleet at Severomorsk to smash down the Scandinavian coast line, aiming to cause as much damage as possible and lure the Markgraf out into open water. The White Banner Northern Fleet slipped out on a war footing - their first target the listening station at Lofoten. 

OPENING ENGAGEMENTS
9th January, 1873 -  Lofoten Listening Station

The Russian Coalition launches their fleet! The first encounter in the renewed Russian offensive costs the Prussian Empire dearly, and with the raid on the Lofoten Listening Station, the Russian Task Group has their first insight into the location and status of the Markgraf. Calling for reinforcements, the fleet pauses for repairs
24th January, 1873 - Attack on Utsira Refuelling Station

Moving south, the Russian Coalition identify their next target - a refuelling station they can seize and exploit for further actions in the future. The Russian fleet smashes through the defences of Utsira and scatters the defending Prussian fleet, their Wolf Pack more suited to attacking convoys in open water than holding an island-port from a well-armed and armoured enemy battle fleet. Nonetheless, they have suffered even more damage taking the port, and would need longer refitting and repairing than initially expected.
12th March, 1873 - Interception at Kvitsøy

In the aftermath of the raid on Utsira, the Russian fleet had the opportunity to refit and refuel before their grand attack upon Stavanger. In the days that followed, they were joined by reinforcements from the Barents Sea - a carrier group and gunships that would bring powerful gunnery to the depleted White Banner Northern Fleet. They launched their attack at Kvitsoy.

Few could have predicted the 46th Interdiction Group would be broken so quickly, battered aside by the rams of the Russian capital ships and stymied by conjured walls of ice. Though leaderless with the loss of their Commodore, the Russian fleet sailed on towards their target and brought their bombardment vessels forward to begin the shelling of the port.

As their attack began, the survivors of the Interdiction Group rallied and turned about, ready to punish the arrogance of the White Banner Northern Fleet. The attack on Stavanger would go ahead, but the Prussian fleet commanders vowed it would not go uninterrupted
20th March, 1873 - Breakthrough at Byfjorden

The Prussian 46th Interdiction Group had been battered aside at Kvitsøy, but their speed and experience negotiating the treacherous rocks of the Byfjorden allowed the surviving vessels to quickly encircle and entrap the Russian fleet, moving to block their advance in the narrowest region of the rock-strewn passage

The attack is a disaster. The Prussian 46th Interdiction Group are finished after the debacle in the Byfjorden, their abortive ambush smashed asunder by the Russian Bombardment Group and their vanguard. Their sacrifice would buy the defenders of Stavanger some small amount of time as the Russian fleet attempted refits and repairs on their damaged carrier ships, but Bombardment Group Slava was still mere days away from shelling the port out of existence. The Prussian Empire and its Danish allies were rapidly running out of time.
Bombardment Group Slava prepares to bombard Stavanger, hoping to flush out the Markgraf
29th April, 1873 - The Siege of Stavanger

Anticipating strong resistance, the White Banner Northern Fleet moves against Stavanger in the early hours of the 29th April, 1873. Leading the attack are squadrons armed for naval engagement - Bombardment Group Slava would move into range once the defenders had been smashed aside. The Russian vanguard negotiated the dense minefields of the Byfjorden and quickly came within sight of the walls of the port - but also into range of the defending fleet.

The Battle of Stavanger was hailed as a decisive victory for the Prussian Empire and their allies; the White Banner Northern Fleet had been dealt a blow that would cripple their operations in the Skagerrak for months and, crucially, the location of the Markgraf remained secret.
BLOCKADE OF STAVANGER
26th June, 1873 - Hubris in the Byfjorden

Following the defeat at Stavanger, the Russian fleets forms a blockade to deny the Markgraf any chance to enter the North Sea. After several weeks of stalemate, a small column of Russian ships based around the assault carrier Ulyanovsk breaks formation and advances beyond the protection of the blockade, gathering speed toward Stavanger once more. Ignoring the risks of this potential feint, Baron Grunner gathers what frontline-worthy warships he can find and pounces, into a Russian trap!

The Russians play their hand and destroy several of Grunner's warships, including his immense Fleet Carrier, but at great cost. Battle Group Ulyanovsk is lost, taking with it a significant portion of the White Banner Northern Fleet's blockading strength. They must rely on their arcane Glacier Generators to form a blockade of ice, rather than ships
THE MARKGRAF RETURNS! 
16th July, 1873 - Smashing the Blockade at Bru

Trapped behind a wall of ice, Grunner plays his hand and finally reveals the Markgraf! The immense vessel smashes through the blockade and scatters the Russian fleet before it

Grunner and Grönemeyer's attack smashed the Russian blockade at Bru, and the ice soon retreated without their arcane technologies. The Markgraf, wounded and awash with the blood of dozens of sailors both Prussian and Russian, had finally, truly entered the War, and would lead the battered survivors of Stavanger out of the Byfjorden and into the North Sea. There, they would meet their reinforcements from the south and scour the Norwegian coastline of the Grand Coalition
31st July, 8173 - Action at the Magnus Oil Field

The Prussian fleet moves north, receiving reinforcements and attacking the Grand Coalition-held oil fields at Magnus. The Kingdom of Britannia appeal to the Russian Coalition for aid in defending Convoy GM-334B, but their desire to destroy the rogue Dreadnought overwhelms their oaths, and they abandon the convoy to attack the Markgraf.

Their fleets smashed and the convoy ransacked, the power of the rogue Dreadnought Markgraf had been made abundantly clear. The Britannian Admiralty was livid - rather than hunting down and destroying their lost vessel, the Russians had enraged it, drawn it out into open water, and opened a new front for the Britannian Navy - one they could ill afford as the War escalated in the Atlantic, the Channel and territories beyond.
Ignoring the convoy fleet and leaving it to the mercy of the Prussian Wolf Pack, the Russian squadrons concentrate their attack on the Markgraf. They fail in their attack, their defeat exacerbated by the loss of the convoy
September 11th, 1873 Engagement in the North Atlantic

The Federated States of America order the 17th Reserve Fleet to engage the Markgraf, hoping the Enterprise-class Dreadnought Dortmunder will have the firepower to finally bring it down. Arrogant in their attack, the American fleet is broken and their Dreadnought ruined. Nonetheless, the Markgraf is severely damaged and limps away from the battle in need of urgent repair
5th November, 1873 - Ambush at Visund Oil Field

Heavily damaged after the encounter with the Dortmunder, the Markgraf is forced to hide amid the oil fields while awaiting reinforcements. Intercepting encrypted calls for aid, the Black Wolf Mercenaries leap at the chance to capture the infamous Dreadnought, and send a fleet of raiders to the Visund Oil Field.

Their attack is brutal, crippling a great deal of the surviving Prussian fleet, destroying the Elbe-class Fleet Carrier Kaiserin Elisabeth II and capturing the Sturmbringer-class Submarine U-113, flagship o
f Submarine Commander Grönemeyer. For all their losses, the Prussians cause immense casualties on the mercenaries and defend their prize, fleeing south before they can regroup
The Black Company drag their prize away - the loss of Sturmbringer U-113 will be sorely felt
Donner Squadron 

Assigned to escort the Markgraf and protect it from aerial threats, Donner Squadron proves its worth several times over, and commands fear and awe across the North Sea theatre. Responsible for the destruction of several capital vessels during the summer of 1873, the commander of Donner Squadron is awarded the highest honours of the Prussian Empire, and granted a title and lands
November 21st, 1873 - Melee at Midbrødøya

The Markgraf is forced to flee south along the coast of Norway. Baron Grunner lures the Russian fleet into the waters of Prussian-Scandinavia, where they draw the ire of the Teutonic Order. Descending from their Keeps and striding into the water, the Hochmeister-class Dreadnought-Robot Carolus Rex engages the Moskva-class Dreadnought Poltava and two Borodino-class Battleships in close combat. It destroys them all, but is lost in the violence.

The Markgraf escapes once more, leaving both the Russian fleet and the Baronial Court of the Teutonic Order smashed on the rocks
Encountering the Søværnet

The Markgraf and escorting Prussian fleet meets with the Danish Navy in the Skagerrak, and are escorted into their territorial waters for refit and repair under orders from Baron Grunner
9th December, 1873 - Aggression at Agger

The Russian fleet pursues the Markgraf into Danish waters, losing their quarry but diverting their fleet to attack the Sturginium refineries at Agger. Their they engage the Danish fleet. The superior close gunnery and manoeuvrability of the Danish fleet is made clear as they surround and bring down the Russian ships, achieving a bloody victory and allowing the Markgraf time to slip further south. The Kingdom of Denmark resents their use as a shield against Russian aggression, but their complaints fall on deaf ears
***
So there we are, a good number of big games - some driven by the narrative and featuring unusual lists and deployments, others using the Ironclad Tournament Pack by Drachenfutter and some just using the mission cards by Spartan Games. The majority of the games were played at 1,500pts, though a few went higher with the inclusion of the Dreadnought Markgraf or in the case of special scenarios like the Siege of Stavanger or the attack of the Teutonic Order.

The current standings look like the Prussian Empire have made a big comeback with the emergence of the Markgraf, the Hochmeister-class Dreadnought-Robot and the Donner Squadron, and the updated PDFs may have played a role in these latest victories! Five wins for the Russian Coalition, and seven wins for the Prussian Empire... ouch. The early wins of the Russian Coalition have become distant memories now, but I think they will have their revenge soon enough.

Until the next instalment...

Thanks for reading,

George





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