Steam, Steel & Shellfire by Paul Davison

Issue: 20
System: Space 1889
Publisher: GDW

Steam, Steel & Shellfire
by Paul Davison

My learned friends and fellow members of our esteemed society, I have the greatest honour to present before you this paper, most recently placed before me by our fellow member Mr. Paul Davison...

Maybe, if this illustrious journal and this article had been occurring 100 years ago in the year 1884, then maybe the above opening comment would have been appropriate, to recapture the Victorian feel. I feel it is appropriate now also.

I have a deep passion for Victorian Naval Wargaming so naturally I play Space 1889, Sky Galleons of Mars and Ironclads and Ether Flyers. It is truly an excellent wargame system from an aero-naval viewpoint. Some Naval Wargamers may beg to disagree but I put it to them, which other system can accurately mix forts, submarines, mines, torpedoes, naval vessels from 10 tons to 10,000 tons+, flying craft from Airships to Liftwood flyers, as well as almost every other conceivable means of warfare at sea for the entire Victorian period, and earlier periods can be played or mixed in with surprising ease, as we shall see.

It is my intention to produce a number of Articles on some of the fantastic and bizarre Naval designs produced in the Victorian period, the majority of these designs never realised reality in any form, in fact most were pure flights of fancy, given respectability by the learned method of their proposal to the scientific Victorian mind. Though some actually did become real and saw service in the armed forces.

I propose to describe these vessels and ideas from a technical viewpoint and also provide game statistics for them, so they can be used in Sky Galleons/Ironclads.

Now, while I have just stared that this game system is truly excellent, much research has shown me that to give a more realistic result to the combat, and also give certain little-mentioned concepts the prominence I feel they deserve, I propose to list a number of rule changes which I now use in all my games. I'll explain why I've done it and of course they are optional to all you fellow members out there, but my designs and statistics will incorporate them. I feel all of them are both realistic and reasonable and do not compromise the simplicity of the basic game.

I'll name General Rule amendments GR and all special rules relating to particular designs will bear the initials relating to the content of that design, e.g. circular vessels are CV.


Since the draught of a naval vessel governs if it may run aground in shallow water it can be important to know the draught of your vessel in a battle. Ironclads and Ether Flyers (IAEF) gives this as a function of mass divided by hull size, giving either shallow, medium or deep vessels. This is fair enough but some designs do not work using this system, so I propose the following:


Vessels' draught if known in feet can be fitted into the following categories: Shallow (0 to 9 feet); medium (9 to 18 feet); deep (over 18 feet). The draught calculation in IAEF still stands if the actual draught is not known.

Crew Factor

The crew factor given in the basic rules (which if exceeded due to hits in battle causes a morale test) leaves a little to be desired and seems to unfairly favour large tonnage vessels since it is the same as the mass of the naval vessel or the hull size of flyers.

Some small tonnage vessels have relatively large crews and this needs accounting for, so I propose:


In addition to the normal crew factor of 1 crew factor for each full mass point (250 tons of ship) add 1 crew factor for each of the first four 50t parts of the ship.

e.g. 500 t ship (mass 2) crew is 2 + 4 = 6

e.g. 250 t ship (Mass 1) crew is 1 + 4 = 5

e.g. 100 t ship (mass (2)) crew is 0 + 2 = 2


The crew factor for flyers is not based upon hull size but is calculated using normal naval methods based upon tonnage and rule GR.2.

e.g. 400 t flyer (mass 1) crew is 1 + 4 = 5

e.g. 200 t flyer (mass (4)) crew is 0 + 4 = 4

This puts flyers and ships on equal terms, which is as it should be.

Broadside Ship Crew Factor (also applies to flyers)


Since the crew factor is derived from the mass of a ship you would expect the actual crew on a ship to be roughly proportionate to the displacement, well it is with one major exception.

Broadside ships of all sizes have proportionately more crew in relation to displacement than all other ship types, between two and three times as many crew.

So, once a crew factor is arrived at using previously mentioned means;

  • for broadside ships/flyers with one or two main gun decks running for the majority of the ship's length double the crew factor.
  • for broadside ships/flyers with three or four main gun decks (typically the Napoleonic HMS Victory) running for the majority of the ship's length triple the crew factor.

Maximum Crew Factor


The maximum crew factor allowed is 50 in all cases.

Final Crew Factor

The format and usage of the arrived at crew factor from previous sections is subjected to the following format change:

CF / CF x 80% / CF x 60% / CF x 40%

e.g. crew factor is maximum of 50, the final factor used on a ship record sheet is

50 / 40 / 30 / 20

When a morale test is needed due to the leftmost figure being exceeded by crew hits, the morale test is done normally, then regardless of the result the leftmost figure is crossed off and the next time a morale test is needed the new leftmost figure is used, down to the last figure which applies to all tests thereafter.

This rule covers casualties accumulating and having increasing effects on morale.

Crew Location

On the hit location table a roll of 3 or 4 produces a crew hit, while this works well, it falls down on close scrutiny and simply doesn't work for certain types of naval vessel. For example it assumes exposed crew are hit at all times; what happens when the target is a totally armour plated monitor ? The answer is that the crew are not exposed but protected by armour. So, I propose:


Crew location is simply determined for each ship from a choice of 3 locations:

  • Open: Crew exposed on the open decks or in the unprotected below-deck areas.
  • Batt (or Turret): Crew on vessels with large protected battery gundecks, where it is obvious a lot of crew will be in these areas.
  • Belt (or Flyer Hull): Crew on vessels with little superstructure where most crew would be in the hull around water level or below water.

On the ship record sheet mark two crew locations. One corresponds to a roll of 3 on the hit location and the other to 4 rolled.

Typical examples for main ship types would be:

  • Broadside ships: 3 OPEN; 4 BATT;
  • Central Battery Ships: 3 OPEN; 4 BATT;
  • Turret Ships: 3 OPEN; 4 TURRET;
  • Turret Monitor: 3 OPEN; 4 TURRET;
  • Sloop/Gunboat: 3 OPEN; 4 OPEN;
  • Aerial Gunboat: 3 OPEN; 4 HULL.

To actually cause the crew casualty from the hit, the armour in the above location has to be penetrated. An "open" location is unarmoured.

If an armoured location is rolled as above, but from the top or end of a vessel, then deck or bulkhead armour will apply appropriately.

Some of the proportionate crew locations may not fit well with certain ships, as always common sense should prevail and your own judgement should come into use on the whereabouts of most crew on your particular vessel/flyer.

Armour Values

These few rules which follow may not go down well with those who do not do any of their own research but simply use games stats as listed in IAEF "Ships of the World". Put simply, there are lots of anomalies in the aforementioned section of IAEF which if left unaddressed, lead to some very peculiar results in combat: such as Ironclads being easily sunk by old wooden warships. Try fighting HMS Warrior against two steam wooden line of battle ships and see how long it lasts.

Basic Armour Calculation


Using the values given in the Soldier's Companion which are approximately correct, calculate the armour value including any fractional result as follows:

  • Wood: 50 inch thick is Armour value 1
  • Iron: 3 inch think is Armour Value 1
  • Compound Steel: 2 inch thick is Armour Value 1
  • Krupp/Harvey Steel: 1 inch thick is Armour Value 1

Calculate the primary Armour Value ignoring wood backing etc.

ROUND UP fractional values over 0.2 then ADD 1 for final AV (the additional 1 added covers backing, shell, frames, packing, infill, splinter protection, rubber, kamptulicon, etc.)

Example 1: Warrior belt 4.5 inch Iron = 4.5/3 = 1.5 AV rounded up to 2, then +1 = 3

Example 2: Compound Steel belt 6 inch thick = 6/2 =, 3 AV + 1 = AV 4

This method gives a much more realistic result in game terms.

There are a number of points which need clarifying:

  1. where armour is shown as two separate plates set apart, simple add these two thickness' together then find the AV +1.
  2. where the armour is a compound of iron with steel face plate, take the total thickness as compound to find AV +1.
  3. The old Napoleonic style Line of Battle ship gains AV1 from its stout wood sides plus 1 for frames etc. giving AV 2 to its belt and battery. The bulkheads are AV 1 only.
  4. Some rare vessels have two primer armour thickness', i.e. a rock filled space faced with iron. In this case calculate both AV for each substance, but add +1 to one armour only.

Sloped Armour

Since numerous vessels derive additional protection from the slope of their sides (e.g. the Confederate casemate rams of the Civil War) the question of slope and ballistic protection needs to be addressed as it is not accounted for in IAEF.

The question of sloped armour for flyers does not apply since different altitude fire means constantly changing the angle of shot impact, and in any event the Armour Value of Flyers is abstract.

So the change in armour value for ships with sloped armour stands, as ships are almost always at the same level as each other and projectile trajectories are relatively flat (i.e. fall of shot at less than 15 degrees at long range). Flyers firing at ships always hit the deck, as do howitzers.

To calculate belt, battery or bulkhead armour which is sloped:


To find the final AV of sloped armour multiply the thickness in inches of the armour before calculation of the AV thus:

  1. around 60 degree slope from the horizontal = thickness x 1.25
  2. around 45 degree slope from the horizontal = thickness x 1.5
  3. around 30 degree slope from the horizontal = thickness x 2
  4. around 22 degree slope from the horizontal = thickness x 3
  5. around 15 degree slope from the horizontal = thickness x 4

This gives a thickness in inches to use in the AV calculation, to which 1 will be added.


CSS Atlanta with 6 inch iron sloped at 36 degrees from the horizontal would fall into band C since 36 degrees is nearer 30 than 45 degrees; thus 6 inches x 2 = 12 inch iron = AV 12/3 = 4 + 1 = AV 5. (using the original rules would give only AV 2 - a big difference).

Deck Armour

Due to the close ranges most battles were effectively fought at in this period, armour positioned horizontally as a deck can be much more effective than its thickness belies.

Yet its treatment in IAEF leaves a lot to be desired and if the stats in IAEF are to be believed then even the decks of the most modern battleships are totally ineffective. So I propose the following drastic changes:


Plain wooden decks are not classed as armour unless the thickness exceeds 10 inches without beams etc.

Deck armour values are now given as a two part figure e.g. 2/1. The first figure is the deck protection against conventional low angle attack, e.g. ship guns at long range.

The second figure is the protection against high angle attack e.g. fire from flyers which are airborne, also fire from howitzers, either surface mounted or flyer mounted.

The second figure of the AV is always 1 less than the first.

Deck Armour value calculation:

Once the thickness of deck is known, multiply that thickness by three to give the figure used in calculating AV for the deck, bearing in mind the type of material it is made of; then once a final AV is arrived at, add 1 to cover the backing, deck beams, etc.

Example 1:

Ship with 2 inch iron deck: calculation - 2 x 3 = 6 inches then 6/3 = 2+1=AV3. Noted on the ship card as 3/2. That is 3 against low angle attack/2 against high angle attack.

Example 2:

Ship with 3 inch Krupp Steel deck: calculation is 3 x 3 = 9 inches then 9/1 = 9+1= = AV 10. Noted on ship card as AV 10/9

Turret Armour

Due to the ballistic shape of almost all turrets and barbettes and conning towers in this period, e.g. circular in plan view, the chance of a shot not hitting dead centre of a turret and being deflected is quite high, and should be accounted for.

Turret Armour Calculation


The Armour Value (AV) of a circular structure is now a six figure number which represents the rationalised armour thickness' covering hits in six locations across the breadth of the structure. When a hit is taken roll a D6, then move across the AV figures to find the respective thickness at that hit location.

e.g. OLD turret AV = 4. NEW turret AV = 4/4/6/6/8/D

if hit, a roll of 2 on a D6 would hit AV4; a roll of 3 on a D6 would hit AV6; a roll of 6 on a D6 would mean the shot is deflected automatically.

To calculate the new Turret/Circular structure AV, take the final AV from the previous calculations and multiply by the following:

x1 / x1 / x1.5 / x1/5 / x2 / Deflected

e.g. old armour value 6 is new 6/6/9/9/12/D


  1. Circular structures which have sloped sides use initially the final AV after slope addition, then the following multiplier instead of the previous one:
    x1 / x1 / x1 / x1.5 / x1.5 / Deflected
  2. This method of AV use can apply to large circular structures such as circular hulls, though not usually larger than 150 feet diameter.

Sloped Deck Armour (as side protection)

Some ships, notably protected cruisers, were fitted with deck armour which is flat in the centre of the ship and sloped down towards the ship's side. The sloped deck provides the same deck protection as the horizontal deck against high angle attack, but also affords a degree of protection from low angle fire hitting around the vulnerable waterline area (where the belt armour would usually be).

Since this armour is internal some damage will always be done even if a hit fails to penetrate, but the effect will be minimised.

Where existing ships have this feature, most good naval books will quote deck armour as, for example, 2 inch on the flat 3 inch on the slope. It is this slope which we are interested in here.

An armour value derived from this slope counts as an internal belt.

Calculation of Sloped Deck/Internal Belt AV


If the angle of slope is unknown, assume it is 22 degrees from the horizontal.

Calculate the armour value (AV) as usual for sloped armour.

e.g. a Protected Cruiser with a deck (Iron) 2 inch on the flat and 3 inch on slopes:

Ordinary deck calculation = 2 inch x 3 = 6 inch/3 (for iron) = AV2 +1 = AV3 Deck

Internal belt calculation = 3 inch at 22 degrees = 3 x 3 = 9 inch/3 (for iron) = AV3 +1 = AV4 Internal Belt.

Hits on an internal belt which do not penetrate do half damage in all cases