Welcome to Forces of Fame, the new regular series in which we’ll be taking a look at units from across all of our systems. We’ll be focusing (as the name suggests) on units that are particularly well-known, describing some of their history, and breaking down why they’d make a fine addition to any wargaming collection.
I must admit, I did agonise a little over which unit to start with. Given our enormous range, there’s certainly no shortage of legendary forces to choose from! In the end, however, I decided to apply the time-honoured principle of ‘go big or go home’, and today we’ll be looking at quite possibly the most (in)famous capital ship of the Second World War – the Bismarck, pride of the German Kriegsmarine.
Designed in the 1930s as a response to the French Richelieu-class and secretly built far larger than her advertised displacement in order to circumvent the Washington Naval Treaty, the Bismarck completed in 1940 as the largest European battleship to see service in the war. Fast, huge, and with a lethal main battery of four twin 15” turrets, Bismarck’s short career included arguably the two most well-known engagements of the Atlantic theatre. On the Victory at Sea tabletop, she provides a fearsome foe for any Allied admiral and a vital heavy asset to Kriegsmarine players.
Coming in at a hefty 450 points, Bismarck is the ideal centrepiece for any Kriegsmarine force, giving what was historically a rather lacklustre surface fleet the punch to take on the battleships of the Royal Navy’s vaunted Home Fleet – provided she is properly supported and well handled! Her 15” main battery is capable of handling any ship the Allies care to throw at her, and the extensive secondary battery (a dozen 5.9” and 16 4.1” guns) will make short work of any incautious destroyers that might stray too close. Able to withstand a frankly staggering amount of punishment in close, Bismarck is nevertheless best kept at range to make best use of the Plunging Fire rules – German admirals should at all times hope to emulate the uncanny luck of the real-life vessel’s fatal hit on HMS Hood (which we’ll discuss shortly!) and of course beware biplanes in the night!
Bismarck’s operational career comprised only one sortie, known as Operation Rheinübung (Exercise Rhine), but between the 18th and 27th of May 1941, she cemented her place in naval infamy. As befits such a well-known series of events, Bismarck’s short life is the focus of no fewer than three separate scenarios in Victory at Sea – her brief but deadly encounter with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales, the pursuit by the vengeful Royal Navy, and her brave but ultimately doomed final stand in the face of overwhelming odds. While the last stand of Bismarck can make for a valuable test of just how good of an admiral one really is, I find the Battle of the Denmark Strait to be an excellent introductory scenario with almost limitless replay value.
This scenario, found in the Victory at Sea rulebook is an excellent stand-up fight between two reasonably equally-matched forces. Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen have been intercepted in their sortie by the HMS Prince of Wales, a brand-new King George V-class battleship, and the ageing but beloved HMS Hood, revered as the ultimate symbol of British naval superiority but by this stage in her career thoroughly worn out. Historically, this battle was an unlikely victory for the Kriegsmarine that sent shockwaves throughout the naval world, but were it not for the perfect convergence of ballistics and weather, it could have gone very differently indeed! This makes it a perfect test of ship-handling and admiralship for new and veteran players alike – every time I’ve played it, it’s come out differently (although for anyone familiar with my dice-rolling skills this isn’t particularly unexpected!). With only four ships required, it’s quick to get on the table, and can be played through without having to set aside too much valuable painting time!
With Combined Arms on the horizon, there’s been something of an arms race here at Warlord HQ as we gear up for our staff campaign. Our resident meister of all things German, Customer Service’s Conor T, has upped the stakes considerably in the European theatre with his Bismarck (pictured below) – time for me to break out HMS Warspite, methinks! Having this mighty vessel in his collection means he’ll be a tough opponent once the campaign begins, and the threat of Bismarck means we’ll have to take his naval assets seriously until we’ve sent her to the bottom – if we can!
Terrify your enemies and embolden your allies – add the mighty Bismarck (and maybe her sister ship, Tirpitz) to your Victory at Sea collection today or start a brand new Kriegsmarine fleet with the superb value Start Collecting Bundle (which just so happens to contain Bismarck)…