Many historical analogies have been brought to bear on the current conflict between the Imperium and the MBC. From barbarians at the gates of Rome, to Vietnam-style guerilla war, history is full of parallels to current events in EVE. While all these analogies are good, one historical analog is missing that applies well to the current situation. A major talking point about the war so far has been about the Imperium’s reluctance to use its Capital and Supercapital forces to engage the MBC. The situation, both on the strategic and tactical level, presents similarities to the naval fighting during World War One. How fitting that as we approach the one hundredth anniversary of the largest naval battle of the First World War that so many of the themes that dominated naval thought from 1914-1918 are present again in the wonderful universe of EVE Online. The best application of this analogy is to look at the risk-versus-reward aspects of using capital forces – both those that sailed the seas of Earth, and those that fly the skies of New Eden.
Historical Refresher: The First World War at Sea
The Battle of Jutland as painted by Montague Dawson
Most common history of the First World War revolves around the battles on land. Yet, the naval component also had quite the importance on the conflict. The majority of the naval action was the British Royal Navy against the German Hochseeflotte. From the British efforts to stop the Battlecruiser Goeben from making it to Turkey in August 1914, to the largest battle of the war at Jutland 100 years ago, finally ending with the scuttling of the Hochseeflotte in Scapa Flow, World War One saw naval conflict between the Entente and Central Powers across the globe. Wikipedia has a good list of the various major and minor naval battles. It is important to note that the only battle involving full engagement from both sides’ capital forces is the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Outside of Jutland, only a small number of battles involved limited numbers of capital ships. Most of the minor battles in question did not involve ships larger than cruisers. This has to do with the tremendous risk of losing said capital ships.
The practical effect of losing capital ships is straightforward. At the time, capital ships were the primary way of dealing with other capital ships. Weapons like the submarine and airplane that would eventually transform naval warfare were still in early stages of development, and had yet to eclipse the big gun as the final arbiter of naval power. The number of capital ships played a major role in deciding when they should be used, as having additional numbers was useful on both the strategic and tactical level.. Additionally, the time replacing a loss could take was a consideration. Constructing a World War One era battleship or battlecruiser took years, not counting any technological or bureaucratic work. So in the event of any losses, a replacement would not be available in the short or medium term. With time, numbers could be restored, but the enemy force could press their newfound numerical advantage or smaller gap. The risk of losing the numbers fight was accompanied by another major factor.
Politically, the concept of having a modern capital fleet was both a point of international prestige and a potential domestic disaster. Ten years prior, Russia and Japan fought a war over disputed parts of China and Korea. At the beginning of the war, Japan succeeded in destroying much of the Russian Far East Fleet at Port Arthur. In response, the Russian Baltic Fleet was sent around the world to restore Russian naval supremacy in the region. The plan did not work, and the Russian fleet was all but destroyed by the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Tsushima. The resulting political instability inside Russia from the loss of her entire effective navy, and consequently the war, was massive. Both the UK and Germany had invested much more political capital into their respective naval forces than Russia. A loss like the Russians suffered would have dire political consequences. As Winston Churchill so explained in comments about Admiral John Jellicoe, commander of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet at Jutland, “[He is] the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon.” The only situations in which either side would risk their fleets would be if they had a chance to deal a knockout blow to the other. These two factors contributed greatly to how capital forces were used during the First World War.
Relations to EVE
While it would be difficult to try and write ether the Imperium or the MBC as either Germany or the UK, we can draw several historical parallels between various actions so far in the war. To date, we have not seen any battles between the supercapital fleets of either side. While the inner workings of either side’s supercapital forces are secret, aspects of policy are public. It has been stated in several sources, including several times in most of The Mitanni’s Fireside Chats, that the Imperium does not want to give the MBC any supercapital fights similar to B-R. The risk associated with such a supercapital action far outweighs any potential rewards from a victory. As such, we have only seen limited use of supercapitals in situations that have a large reward compared to the risk.
As covered in many sources, including this article,the evacuation of the supercapital fleets belonging to LAWN and BSTN was beset by some odd circumstances. CO2 has been accused of attempting to trap moving Imperium Supercaptials with interdiction ships logged off at POS’s CO2 had staged for the operation. Whether the alleged attempt to trap the moving capitals is true, the move presented the MBC an opportunity to do so. A significant chunk of the Imperium capital forces would be isolated, and if they were trapped, they would either be destroyed alone or the rescue force would be fighting at a disadvantage. This was a missed opportunity for the MBC, as any engagement would likely have been favorable to them with numbers, at least for a time. This parallels several battles of the First World War where one side, either through planning or circumstance, laid a trap for the other that did not come to fruition. Most notable would be the Scarborough Raid, where a superior Hochseeflotte force declined to engage a small subset of the Royal Navy capital forces. The opportunity to destroy an isolated part of the Royal Navy was a goal desired since the beginning of the war. The Battle of Dogger Bank, where the Royal Navy declined to pursue and destroy the Hochseeflotte Battlecruisers, is another example. In all instances, though either luck or poor decision making, the balance of power was not altered in a decisive way. Decision making regarding major assets like supercapitals deals a lot with the perception of risk. All of these situations were an acceptable risk for those attempting to pull off the traps, as they stood an excellent chance of being in an advantageous possession throughout the engagement. Whether the attempt failed due to poor communication, bad intelligence or dumb luck is irrelevant
The Imperium supercapitals that have been destroyed in ganks also represent an application of acceptable risk on the MBC’s part. When caught on their own far from the core of the Imperium supercapital forces, these ships have fallen quite rapidly. Due to that distance, the risk of striking such assets and wiping them out was minimal compared to the inculcation that the MBC can strike with impunity achieved by killing them. There is a striking parallel here to the Battle of the Falkland Islands, in which the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible slaughtered the German armored cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau. The Royal Navy knew the declaration of naval supremacy over the South Atlantic from sinking the two German ships would outweigh the risk of losing two of its battlecruisers. In both cases, the ships lost were not of significant importance from a material standpoint, but the outcome of the engagement had great influence on the perception of both the event and the war.
The decision not to use the Imperium supercapital fleet has become a point of great discussion. Without knowing the specifics, the common assumption is that the MBC supercapital forces outnumber their Imperium counterparts. Some of the more reckless uses of MBC supercapitals in recent weeks are likely derived from this, as should the Imperium supercapital forces be baited out, The MBC will be in a favourable position. The political and propaganda victory that would result from a decisive clash would tilt the war in the favor of the winner. The risk of losing such a class is huge, neither side can afford this in the short or medium term. In the long term the swing of momentum from such a battle would even out. The galaxy however, would look much different. As long as both sides maintain their supercapital fleets, the major players will not change. Because of this, the opportunity for such a decisive battle is rather limited.
The role of the Supercapital fleet in Aegis Sov is very important. Unlike previous sov systems, the majority of the work necessary to contest sovereignty can be done by ships that would meet the traditional definition of a cruiser. Ships that can contest sov with little material risk are handling the bread-and-butter work quite well. Risking Supercapital assets to contest the day-to-day fights over sovereignty would be a tremendous risk for very little reward over using the ships that are already doing it. The propaganda victory that would follow losing such assets contesting sovereignty would be massive. Neither side can afford such a hit in their ability to claim victory. This is clearly evident in publicly available information from the Imperium side. While there is not as much information available on the MBC side, it is likely that similar conclusions have been reached. As with past major engagements, like B-R and Asakai, external factors outside of the sov system would likely be the catalysts for such an engagement during this war. The newly added Citadels could be one such catalyst.
We are still in the opening stages of this conflict. While large gains on the MBC side have generated cries of victory, the Imperium’s strongest group has yet to fold. As long as both sides have their supercapital forces waiting to strike, any gains or losses will be temporary. A supercapital fight in this war on the scale of B-R or Asakai would mark the turning point when the eventual victor becomes clear. The supercapital FCs on either side hold the fate of this war in their hands.
Much like Admiral Jellico, they are the only ones who could lose the war in a TiDi-filled afternoon. As with the First World War, both sides must carefully examine how the risk of using such assets compares to the possible gain from doing so. Should the clash come, and with it a clearer picture of how the war will end, what will it look like? Will it be a Jutland-like battle, with lots of pomp and circumstance heralding a tactical victory for one side, but with little change in the strategic reality? Or will it be a Port Arthur or Pearl Harbor, a daring strike risking it all to take out a unready enemy force? Perhaps it will be a Tsushima, with one fleet crushing the other just before the end of a long journey that will destabilize the loser? Maybe it will be a Sariago Straight, the last gasp of a dieing power that can no longer hold back the inevitable tide of defeat? Whatever the results of the battle, and the war, we are writing our own history books. It might be fitting if a clash between supercapitals comes on May 31, 100 years after Jutland.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Robby Kasparic.