|Steel Fleet||Scouring the Seas Designer's notes|
The description of the armoured cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth (a 'County') as 'obsolete' or 'aging' will often be encountered as explanation for the defeat at Coronel. While it is true these vessels were both launched in 1901 and placed in reserve by 1913, and were both older than either Scharnhorst, this superficial characterisation somewhat misses the point. Either Kaiserliche armoured cruiser could theoretically defeat any 'County' on their best day, though on that same occasion Monmouth could easily show a Scharnhorst clean heels; where swifter light cruisers pursue in theory the Monmouth could turn and overpower several with her numerous 6" quick-firing guns.
The early 'County' cruisers were built as swift hounds; armed and armoured no more than necessary to comfortably overpower their intended prey, the light cruisers which they were just fast enough to overtake; but not so costly that the Royal Navy couldn't afford the significant number needed to protect trade along the sea lanes of a vast Empire.
In company with Good Hope and AMC Otranto at Coronel, however, Monmouth didn't flee, and it is unclear if this was even seriously considered. The unresolved issue of her best speed on 1 November 1914 obviously bears heavily on this judgement and is discussed elsewhere; notwithstanding this might be a problem of doctrine as much as equipment.
The Good Hope's case is less clear; her Drake class carried almost the same belt as the contemporary pre-dreadnought Canopus, of the finest Krupp cemented armour, and was originally considered capable of operating with the fleet and slugging it out, albeit briefly, with stronger and better armoured opponents. In fact this misapprehension of her capabilities is an early example of the same thinking that dogged the battlecruisers throughout their controversial careers. Notably the Drakes also carried little protection other than the same 6" armour belt; which exposed the same weakness of insufficient deck armour against the new gunnery capabilities of improved accuracy at long range and consequently plunging fire.
Perhaps the sudden explosion of Good Hope which seems to have destroyed her should be reconsidered in this context as the first warning of a serious oversight of doctrine and design which would later prove even more costly and discouraging.
Ironically, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were even more outclassed in gunnery range and power by HMS Inflexible and Invincible as the German ships had outclassed Cradock's squadron, with much the same result.
That this would make for interesting games with potential for teachable moments is as much a challenge for the designer as it is dependant on the insight of the players into the resources at their disposal. Beyond added scenarios with optional orders of battle to mix things up there are still some nuances which, while readily apparent to the respective commanders at the time, have been almost overlooked by history.
In Steel Fleet, for example, it is an imprudent German commander whom allows the Cradock's two main vessels to bring their substantial quick-firing 6" batteries within range; the smothering fire of Lyddite or common shell can quickly disable the fire control of more powerful ships, penetrate thinly armoured decks and casements or start troublesome and distracting fires.
The vulnerability of the British battlecruisers to plunging fire is not as deadly at Falkland Islands as it was to prove in action subsequently at Jutland. That the Scharnhorst class' 21cm guns would expose this vulnerability seems unlikely, doctrinally, due to the limited elevation (16º) of her casement guns. However a full two-thirds of her broadside, in her two twin turrets, can elevate to 30º, putting plunging fire just within play and adding an interesting twist to what seems at first glance a one-sided contest.
Could Cradock have declined action and retired if AMC Otrano wasn't hobbling his freedom of action? Probably, given approaching night and the distance initially separating him from von Spee, but it is not a given, nor is it clear that Cradock should have assumed he could; von Spee's squadron was credited with 22 knots at Falkland Islands some weeks later.
Likewise, also at Falkland Islands, HMS Kent, Monmouth's sister ship, ran down the newer light cruiser SMS Nürnberg, a smaller vessel also built for speed, much to everyone's apparent surprise and the Kaiserliche's loss.
We have done a lot of digging to come up with the maximum speeds for the game and they have as much to do with how long a vessel had been at sea and when the last boiler maintenance occurred as how well she performed as built.
Shaun Appleby 07 August 2014
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