Photograph: Taru Laakkonen, Maritime Museum of Finland.

Navy game

Object of the Month - October 2018

The Maritime Museum of Finland expanded its collections with an entire navy in June 2018: a collection (SMM102018:1-) owned by M.Sc.(Eng.) Ossian Enkvist (b. 1936), comprising 423 ship models, was added to the national collection.

The collection is particularly interesting because of the context of its use: the model navy has been used to play a naval war game since the late 1940s, when strategy games were quite a marginal leisure activity among civilians. Originally, Enkvist became initiated into the navy game in Sweden where he spent a few years of his childhood. In the Stockholm-based, centrally located club rooms of the association Sveriges Flotta, founded in 1905, intense naval battles were fought every Tuesday. The navies, built at a scale of 1:1250, met on a large, chequered game table. Politicking was sometimes continued with virtual weaponry also in the homes of the boys bitten by the gaming bug. The games could span days and take over the apartment’s entire floor surface. If a get-together was not possible, a “lighter” version could be played with postcards. The fascination with simulated naval battles was surely enhanced by the fact that the conflicting parties were modelled on actual navies. This enabled alternative outcomes for historical battles as well as the creation of hypothetical scenarios for existing navies. It is not surprising that a similar game has been utilised in the training of naval officers.

The game was based on a simple premise. First, the players chose a country whose navy they would command. As the game progressed, the players took turns moving their ships while keeping a keen eye on their opponents’ advancement, attempting to anticipate their intentions. The in-game leader was in charge of the game as a whole, with a calculator in hand. The most important features in terms of the game had been calculated for each ship according to their real-life counterparts, meaning that each ship’s speed on the grid was accurate in relation to the others. After moving the ships, the players had the opportunity to fire cannons and use depth charges or torpedoes, for example. Each ship had a calculatory buoyancy value which was reduced by hits. When the buoyancy value had dropped by 50%, the ship’s speed and weapon efficiency dropped by 50% as well. When the ship ran out of buoyancy points, it sank and was removed from the game. However, the functions were not limited to moving the ships and using weapons. A player could protect their own ships by, for example, using a smoke screen created by a fighter. On the game grid, this was represented by paper sheets folded into a “V” shape. Besides ships, players could use airplanes and submarines as well. Naturally, the latter would not be visible on the grid; their movements were only known to the “admiral”. However, opponents had a chance to reveal the location of the threat beneath the surface if they had escort vessels equipped with sonic detectors at their disposal.

Game accessories were bought as well as self-built. Indeed, most of Enkvist’s ship models have been crafted by himself and his brother Ernst. They found examples in navy calendars and Sveriges Flotta association’s monthly publication containing ship drawings at the “Viking” scale used in game models (the name derives from a German company, Viking, which manufactured scale models). In models built by the Enkvist brothers, the ships’ hulls are carved from a solid block of wood. On top of it, deck buildings made of thin wood panels have been added in layers. Paper and piano wire have been used to craft the details. Tin models could be serially produced in home circumstances with the means of a plaster cast.

The young model builder would never forget his participation in a scale model exhibition, organised by the museum Tekniska Museet, at the age of 13. The exhibition was also visited by Gustaf VI, King of Sweden, who was in awe of Enkvist’s models: “Only 13 years old!”. With his reward money of 25 crowns, Enkvist bought himself a proper scale model builder’s toolkit, including vices and pliers.

Ossian Enkvist’s interest in ships and shipbuilding was not limited to this leisure activity smelling of hobby glue. He completed his military service in the navy where, when his talent was spotted, he was assigned with drawing ship silhouettes for an intelligence agency. Later on, Enkvist studied to become a shipbuilding engineer and took his career further by building ships at a scale of 1:1.

Timo Kunttu

The features of each ship have been recorded in the ship cards, such as their speed, buoyancy points and weaponry. Photograph: Taru Laakkonen, Maritime Museum of Finland.
In addition to warships, civilian vessels could be used in the game. Lowermost in the photograph is the smallest model crafted by Ossian Enkvist: a sailboat only 3 millimetres in length. Photograph: Taru Laakkonen, Maritime Museum of Finland.