Further Reading: Naval Warfare in the Age of Dreadnoughts

By Charles Ellis 08 Jan 2020 0

We’ve written a fair bit about games like Rule the Waves and today, Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts here on Wargamer. The former is a game that offers the same draw as grand strategy games, while providing that granular depth and strategic decision making all wargamers love. The latter is an excellent modern take on the tactical and technical realities of naval warfare at the turn of the 20th century.

But naval warfare during the “golden age” of big ships is hardly a popular topic, and there aren’t many games that deal with warfare during this age. For those of you then who are interested in learning more, a ‘Further Reading’ list is in order. Below are three recommendations for books that might interest you if you want to learn more about the subject matter. Each book approaches the topic from a different angle, and while some may end up enhancing your game experience, others simply provide a bit more context and scene setting.

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Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1992)

Author: Robert K. Massie
Pages: 1040
Buy: Amazon

DreadmassieKaisers, Politicians and Admirals, this book is all about the people. Relatively light on the technical details, Dreadnought delves into the world surrounding the beginning of the Anglo-German naval race. A race that may well not have happened, so one might surmise, were it not for a certain Kaiser Bill deciding that the ideal navy for Imperial Germany was not a fleet of torpedo boats, but the High Seas Fleet that took the doctrine of: “Fleet-in-Being” to such a degree that it remained as such when it mutinied one hundred years ago next month.

Dreadnought covers an impressive amount of territory. Many of the decisions that can take place in Rule the Waves are recognisable, ranging from the activities of various governments and the social reforms they enacted simultaneously with the dreadnought race to the sometimes less than helpful desires of the Kaiser and other government figures. If you want to add some personality to the numbers and decisions playing out, look no further.

Castles of Steel (2005)

Author: Robert K. Massie
Pages: 880
Buy: Amazon

CastlesmassieArguably the sequel to Dreadnought, whilst Castles of Steel’s subtitle of: “the Great War at Sea” doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny (what about the Baltic and the Black Sea?), you’d be hard pressed to cover a work that covers the adventures of Britain (and to a lesser extent France) and their German enemies in trying to break, respectively, a trench deadlock and a blockade, with perhaps limited success on both counts.

It is the progress of the war that we are interested in here. The problems of the Royal Navy trying to keep the situation both at home and abroad in the face of German ships, poor communications and, not least, Winston Churchill, I know I find close to my heart after dealing with raiding ships and tiresome colonies. Other aspects, less covered by Rule the Waves, will also be interest. British code breaking efforts during the Second World War have tended to obscure their efforts during the Great War. Nonetheless, the often quite successful efforts of the admiralty’s Room 40, which were often ignored by their supervisors, emphasises how much the period was one of transition. 

The Rules of the Game (1996)

Author: Andrew Gordon
Pages: 708
Buy:  Amazon

rulesgameandrewWe’ve looked at the world, we’ve looked at the war, now let’s focus upon a specific navy, and, conveniently a single battle. Jutland is the most prominent of the handful of fleet actions fought during this period. While Castles of Steel offers a superb account of the battle, Rules of the Game goes a step further in providing the most detailed account of the battle I have encountered, as well as doing its best to explain why Jutland was decidedly not the second Trafalgar that all the Royal Navy dreamed of.

To do so, it moves beyond the battle and looks back on two generations of the Royal Navy and the very Victorian world that they grew up in – a world where the commander and second-in-command of a fleet rammed each other’s vessels because neither was willing to reverse course to avoid collision. The inner workings of high command is a subject that gets less attention in popular history than it ought (perhaps because a lot of it is simply so bureaucratic and ordinary), but if you’ve ever wondered why your 16th Destroyer Flotilla has decided to completely ignore your orders and charge the enemy guns blazing for no reason in the middle of a fleet action, The Rules of the Game is a good place to start.


There we have it, three books that, taken together, offer three quite different views upon a fascinating era. They are heartily recommended for any person interested in the period, and often times when playing Rule the Waves, I cannot help but feel their influence upon the game’s design. Whilst I am eagerly awaiting its sequel, I cannot help but feel a touch of sadness at knowing what the future held for the big gun battleship.



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