Devlog #13 - Strategies & Tactics for Naval and Air Forces

Welcome back Everybody! The Truce is over, the troops are back in their trenches, and that can only mean one thing- it's time for the first Devlog of 2020.

Though it won't be the primary focus of today's Devlog, many have asked for a summary of development in 2019 just as we did in 2018. In short, the summary is steady progress. Every day the game takes more of the shape we've been trying to create- a Grand Strategy game which will be more in-depth compared to the Mod, containing additional features to help us create a more accurate and enjoyable Great War scenario. To give a good example of what we mean by that, today's Devlog will be a direct sequel to December's, focusing on Naval and Air Strategies and Tactics.

When the HMS Dreadnought left the dry-docks of His Majesty's Naval Base in Portsmouth for the first time, the world of naval engineering changed forever, though the world of naval doctrine had been anticipating such a development a few years in advance. In 1904 at the Battle of the Yellow Sea, the Japanese fleet spearheaded by a large group of Pre-Dreadnought Battleships exploited their advantages in range and firepower (like the two 305mm twin guns equipping the battleship Mikasa and Shikishima) to rain fire on the First Pacific Squadron- their inability to join the Battle of Tsushima the next year as a result of the sustained damage was a major factor in the famous Japanese victory over the Russian Imperial Navy that day.

The Dreadnought was a product of the period's emerging naval thought. Admirals demanded a ship that had heavier guns, better range, and better armor than competing designs, and for the decade leading up to the first world war, that's exactly what they got. Soon, every other ship type had to adapt. Armored Cruisers designed as cheap supplements to Capital Ship firepower had to grow to be able to even hope to be able to penetrate Dreadnought armor, and the Battlecruiser was born. Meanwhile, the smaller ships had to become focused on mobility and torpedoes, as a good torpedo could be just as deadly as any battery of fire at quite a lower cost- if a higher risk.

For the first time, more complicated roles emerged for ships rather than just screen ships and line ships. Vessels designed to do one or two specific jobs effectively rather than just add to perform recon or add to a general volume of fire made the business of war on the seas a far trickier affair, as now poorly-trained "gentleman" captains could no longer rely on the classic advance and fire techniques that had dominated the seas for the last centuries.

Formations became more complex, as captains had to be wary of an enemy Dreadnought's line of fire and spreading their projection of power while still staying close enough to each other. Breaking from and returning to a formation was a far riskier venture, as a single barrage from even a Battlecruiser could instantly send an old Torpedo Boat on scouting duties to the bottom of the sea.

The Royal Navy did its utmost to block the North Sea access to the Hochseeflotte and keep it in the Baltic Sea. The Central Powers attempted to pick off and destroy isolated Entente ships and squadrons, though indecision and fear or reprisal typically foiled these plans, with only a few bold actions from both the German and Austro-Hungarian navies recorded during the War. The only real confrontation between Battleships came at the indecisive Battle of Jutland, where the Kaiserliche Marine failed to break the British blockade.

The numerical advantage of the Grand Fleet was not a coincidence. It was the result of the Two-Power Standard Doctrine adopted by the British Admiralty to maintain a number of warships at least equivalent to the combined forces of the two largest fleets in the world.

As a result, naval thought in World War I became less focused on decisive battles and more focused on small-scale skirmishes and convoy raiding. The Entente had to face the challenge of creating and maintaining escort fleets for their various merchant ship routes all throughout the world, all being harassed by a weapon which made its true debut as a naval weapon in World War I, the dread U-Boot, which could sneak past enemy blockades into the open seas and hunt anything it wanted if no one was there to stop it.

The war in the air is a completely different story. Just as the fleet entered the war with the idea of mass conflict and constant skirmishes and battles yet ended for both sides as more of a supporting arm of the army, air power was initially seen as solely a minor supporting arm of the army and navy. Reconnaissance was to be the order of the day, with bombing and fighting seen as ideal but technologically impossible at the time.

Captain Bertram Dickson, the first pilot of the Royal Flying Corps, ended up having a prophetic prediction. In the early 20th, he made the observation that though air power at the time was limited, very soon air superiority would be as major of a theater as the ground operations were, and that whoever controlled the skies would have a significant advantage going forward. His prediction was correct, the first bomb had been dropped by Italian pilot Giullio Gavotti in 1911 on Turkish positions, which was followed by several more over the course of the Italo-Turkish War. Bulgaria and Romania quickly imitated these efforts, and in 1913 the first purpose-made Bomber was designed in Romania (though produced in the United Kingdom).

Quickly, the advantage of Bombers became realized, and quickly, purpose-built Fighters replaced Recon Planes with Light Armaments. Just three months after the beginning of the First World War, the first confirmed air-to-air kill is made, and as a result of both developments, theorists, hobbyists, and pioneers quickly begin to lay down Strategies and theories surrounding the use of aircraft in warfare. Their Tactics were most famously used by the first aces- Godwin von Brumowski of Austria-Hungary, René Fonck of France, Billy Bishop of Canada, and of course, the feared Manfred von Richthofen of Germany, otherwise known as the Red Baron.

This rapid development was closely linked to the technological improvements that evolved at a frenetic pace throughout the War. This was notably the case with the appearance of the first twin-engine, the first four-engine Bombers (such as the Zeppelin Staaken R. VI or the Ilia Mouromets) and this was confirmed latter with the first all-metal aircraft.

In Fields of History, the war at sea may pan out differently. You may find yourself in a position of attempting to fulfill the Pre-War ideal of drawing the enemy fleet into grand, decisive engagements, or you may be in the situation seen historically where your fleet needs to play more of a supporting role focused around commerce raiding. No matter which way it goes, Fields of History's Naval Strategies have you covered:

  • Submarine Warfare gives your Submarines innate bonuses to help them raid and support the fleet in battle
  • Fleet Concentration focuses on positioning and timing on concentration vs. dispersion to make sure you have as many ships as you need every time
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare will allow your ships to better spot and subsequently deal with their undersea foes
  • Maritime Power Projection ensures that ships in the ocean stay organized and ready for battle at any point- great for a worldwide fleet
  • Control of the Sea increases the effectiveness of your Patrols, allowing you to quickly find and deal with anything you might face
  • Fleet in Being makes your ships more threatening, especially defensively, which may make your opponent just decide to stay home and not even try to engage
  • Prolonged Naval Operations allows your ships to better stock and ration provisions for long voyages more efficiently to make those long trips nicer to pull off
  • Commerce Raiding gives your fleet insight on the habits of merchant ships, giving them advantages when dealing with them

Conversely, Air Warfare is practically destined to become a major theater of warfare, with the Strategies focusing more on what you'll be prioritizing with your new Air Wings.

  • Aerial Reconnaissance trains your pilots in tracking and conveying what's actually going on down below, making their Recon Flights more useful
  • Air Combat Manoeuvring is essentially your air force's playbook during air combat, allowing the use of cleverly-performed stunts during dogfights to outshine opponents
  • Tactical Bombing focuses on the always vital mission of dropping bombs directly onto enemy troops as well as back-line installations
  • Strategic Bombing makes your Bombers better suited to damage and even destroy enemy buildings, such as Factories
  • Formation Flying makes your planes more efficient during the cruise from Airstrip to Combat Zone, as well as gives them better spotting capability.
  • Offensive Counter-Air gives your pilots better training on what to actually do when the enemy is in their sites, making your fighters in particular far deadlier
  • Basic Fighter Maneuvers prioritizes the non-combat side of maneuvering, allowing your pilots to avoid accidents more often during operations, landing, and takeoff
  • Air Basing Capabilities lower the time your planes have to stop between Missions, as well as making them more durable and reliable due to better maintenance.

Just like with the Ground Forces, you can assign a Tactic to an Admiral or a Wing Commander. However these leaders can only adopt one Tactic at a time. As a result, the choice of Tactics is a far more long-term prospect, since adopting a new Tactic effectively takes some time. 

Like the Ground Tactics, the Naval and Air Tactics will be represented in the same way in the game. As you can see in the screenshot above, you will be able to unlock the following Tactics and assign them to your Wings Commander. With each its pros and cons.

Hopefully, that gives a clear indication on the depth and scenario accuracy we're striving for in this game, as well as given you an insight on how to dominate the Seas and Skies of History. With that being said, though, Strategies and Tactics are all well and good, but only one piece of the puzzle. Next time, We'll take a more in-depth look at the at the worst Napoléon's nightmare: The Royal Navy.
See you next time! Just make sure an Admiral doesn't catch you snickering at the word "Poopdeck" before then.

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