Zeppelins Over London - WW I Airships (1916 AD)
Fast And Easy Rules for Students

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By Pete Pellegrino (Naval War College)

Historical Background:  At the outbreak of World War One, lighter-than-air technology was older than other aviation technologies and showed much promise.  The heavier-than-air aircraft of the day were still very flimsy affairs, barely strong enough to carry one or two people, while dirigibles were able to carry large bomb payloads over great distances.  As the war progressed both the German Navy and Army each built their own airship fleets to bomb England.  The airships would leave Germany at dusk and arrive over England by the cover of night.  Cities could be easily spotted by their street lights and the bombs would be dropped.  Early in the war there had been no defense against the zeppelin raids. High angle guns designed for shooting at aircraft were practically non-existent.  English pilots would pursue the zeppelins across the night sky but they had little chance of catching them.  Operating at a considerable altitude, the zeppelin could out-climb and nearly out-run the airplanes chasing it.  To make matters worse, if a pilot did manage to catch up to the airship, the zeppelins were bristling with machine guns.  Those that were able to press home an attack did little more than to put a few small holes in the zeppelin’s tough outer skin.

It is now spring of 1916.  Improvements in anti-aircraft artillery and airplane performance have begun to threaten the zeppelins’ invulnerability.  While British arms manufacturers are busy developing incendiary and explosive ammunition (which would seal the fate of the flammable hydrogen filled zeppelins), the ammunition will not be widely available until the summer.  The RAF 39 Squadron, flying the Bristol B.E.2c fighter and established to defend London from zeppelin raids, has just received word that a large formation of zeppelins is approaching the city! 

Objective: The British players must attempt to shoot down as many zeppelins as they can before the airships move off the end of the board or time runs out.

Design of Rules: This set of rules is based on Matt Fritz’s “Bombers Over Germany – WWII Bombers” game with minor changes for WWI aircraft.

The Models: Here are some simple top-down paper airplane models you and print and use in color (Zeppelin.png and BristolBE2c.png) or black and white (Zeppelinbw.png and BristolBE2cbw.png).  In order to distinguish the zeppelins, they should be numbered LZ-1, LZ-2, etc.  Likewise leave room on the biplane counters to put an aircraft serial number such as 4112, 4113, etc.  The counters should be scaled such that a zeppelin is 3 times longer than a biplane.  A biplane should fit within one 3” hex.

Board: The battle is played on a 7.5' x 5' hex map. The hexes should be about 3" in size and can be drawn by creating and tracing a template made from cardboard or card stock.  The grain of hexes should run from end to end so that biplanes and zeppelins can fly straight the full 7.5' length of the table.

Deployment: Zeppelins should start in Modified Box Formation at one 5’ end of the hex map with the BE2c fighters grouped together in divisions of four at the opposite end.  Enemy aircraft must start at least 8 hexes apart.

3 divisions of airships (4 zeppelins each)

Great Britain
5 divisions of Bristol fighters (4 BE2c biplanes each)

The Rules

Sequence of Play:
1. Zeppelins Move
2. Zeppelins Shoot
3. Fighters Move
4. Fighters Shoot

Aircraft in Hexes: Aircraft should be positioned in their hexes so they face one hexside, not a corner. Only one aircraft is allowed in each hex, but aircraft can move through other aircraft during movement as long as they don't end up in the same hex.  Zeppelins occupy three hexes.  During movement a fighter must always move at least one hex; it cannot stay in the same hex.  Zeppelins can remain stationary.

Zeppelins Move: Zeppelins can move forward (or backward) three hexes.  Compared to the smaller biplanes, zeppelins were slow to turn.  When turning, zeppelins first move forward one hex, pivot 60 degrees, then move only one more hex forward.  Zeppelins cannot side slip.  Movement is counted from the center of the zeppelin.

Zeppelins Shoot: Zeppelins have five machines guns in the gondolas. Zeppelins can shoot once at EVERY biplane that is within two hexes of any of the three hexes occupied by the Zeppelin unless the line of sight to the biplane is blocked by another Zeppelin. Zeppelins always roll 2 dice when shooting at biplanes and score hits on a roll of 4 - 6.

Recording Damage: It takes 5 hits to shoot down a fighter, and 20 hits to shoot down a zeppelin. The hits should be recorded by adding or removing markers on the aircraft, or a written record can be kept. When an aircraft is shot down it is removed from the board.

Fighters Move: Bristol BE2c biplane fighters can move three hexes. Fighters can move ahead or side slip, and can include one turn of 60-degree (one hex-side) in their move.  

Fighters Shoot: Biplanes can only shoot at zeppelins that are in the line of hexes directly in front of their nose.  Their maximum range is 3 hexes.  They may only fire at one target.  If another biplane blocks the line of sight to the zeppelin they cannot shoot.  They roll 3 dice at targets 1 hex away, 2 dice 2 hexes away, and 1 dice 3 hexes away.  Hits are scored on rolls of 4 - 6.  When attacking from close range (1 hex away), there is the chance of starting a catastrophic fire on the zeppelin.  Of the three dice rolled, one must be a different color (preferably red).  The three dice are rolled simultaneously.  In addition to any damage resulting from 4 - 6 rolls, if a 6 is rolled on the special dice, a fire has started.  Fire is indicated by putting a cotton ball on the zeppelin.  Each fire causes 5 points of damage each turn AFTER it is started.  Fires cannot be extinguished! 


Dice Rolled

Hits on roll of 4-6














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Dark Autumn: The 1916 German Zeppelin Offensive; http://www.richthofen.com/dark_autumn/

The Zeppelin at War; http://www.ciderpresspottery.com/ZLA/wwi/Zep_at_war.html

The Zeppelin Raiders; http://www.acepilots.com/wwi/zeppelin.html