Thursday 29 October 2009

Colonial Corner: Russian Advances Towards the North West Frontier of British India Part 1

By Ted Herbert
From Wargamer's Newsletter 119 February 1972

Ted Herbert is a stalwart of the Victorian Military Society, and wrote their (now out of print) Handbook of Colonial Wargaming. (I don't have this, in case anyone has a spare copy looking for a new home). At some point Ted became more often known as Edwin, and wrote the Second Anglo Boer War book in the Wargaming in History Series, published 1990, and two excellent Foundry books, Small Wars and Skirmishes 1902-18, published 2003, and Risings and Rebellions 1919 to 1939, published 2007, illustrated by Ian Heath.

I was intrigued when I came across these two articles, as I always had a similar project in mind when looking at the Jacklex adverts from the Harrow Model Soldier Shop in Airfix Magazine, to use their Russian figures.

This kind of article - well researched and written, with a slightly off beat subject - was always inspirational. Now I must go and look out those Jacklex Russians.

Colonial Corner: Russian Advances Towards the North West Frontier of British India Part 2

By Ted Herbert

from Wargamer's Newsletter 120 March 1972

The second and concluding part

Wednesday 21 October 2009

A year with the Don

Don Featherstone republished this article of his from Wargamers Digest March 1962 in Wargamer's Newsletter 111 in June 1971. A fascinating insight into a formative year.

A Wargamer’s Year

by D. Featherstone

Back in 1962, when wargaming was in its infancy, most of the British wargamers knew each other personally, their friendship and enthusiasm is recalled with nostalgic warmth. Reading through the March 1962 issue of War Games Digest I came across the following article which amply revives the feeling of those days. This month's cover picture of myself and daughter Sally was taken in the same year.

Sitting idly reviewing the events of the past year, I was struck by the amazing number of interesting things that have happened to me wargames-wise since December 1960. I have always realised that the hobby had brought me untold pleasure but did not anticipate so many varied events resulting from collecting model soldiers and fighting battles with them.

JANUARY. Waited with some interest to see who won a rather comic race between Commercial T.V. and the British Broadcasting Corporation, both trying to be first to screen in magazine programmes some filmed stuff taken in my wargames room. Commercial T.V. won and made a very good job of animating cavalry and artillery with a most realistic background of battle noises. The B.B.C. did a more restrained job - but both of the programmes resulted in a lot of correspondence with would-be collectors.

FEBRUARY. Interviewed by the Manchester Guardian, the Daily Herald and the American Forces paper Stars and Stripes, all with pictures, and all calculated to win friends and influence people with wargame interests. Carried on with the campaigns of January both in my house and at Tony Bath's battlefield - think I won the Franco-Prussian War about here! But I lost Rome in the Punic War.

MARCH. Five lights, two cameras, six technicians, a director, interviewer MacDonald Hastings and myself crowded into my small wargames room to film the usual set-up for B.B.C's "TONIGHT" programme. Set-up - the fight for Little Round Top, questions were the usual novice type and the resulting film again brought letters.

Exciting phone call from C.B.S. of New York who seemed to think I was the man they wanted to make a scale model of Gettysburg battlefield not less than 6' x 3' and two days in which to do it! Succeeded, took it down to the home of Field Marshall Montgomery where it was used in the film he made for C.B.S. with Henry Steele Commager, discussing the American Civil War. A most stimulating day spent in and around Monty's Desert caravans and marvelling at the Great Man's effervescence!

Continued Thursday night battles with Tony Bath - don't recall what we did here but those Romans carried on losing the Punic War.

APRIL. The Month of the Convention - great, stimulating, provocative, and inimitable. But we hope to have another one next year! Appeared on T.V. with Brigadier Peter Young when we gave publicity to the Convention.

Asked by Hutchinsons the Publishers to write a book on War Games - began book.

Stonewall Jackson began to chase up the Valley followed by Bath's Federals - in spite of doubling on my tracks, the Union boys were a little too much for me!

MAY. Visited Warwick Hales and Peter Pringle in Chatham, where a most interesting weekend was spent discussing the usual hobby subjects. Watched a demonstration Napoleonic battle between Warwick and Peter, learned some new curses and varied lines of argument over rules. Fought Warwick next morning with Peter as umpire - good battle in which history was altered when I discovered an even stronger defensive formation than the British Square!

Drove to Bristol with Roy Blackman to see Lionel Tarr, whose modern set-up and application never fails to amaze me. Learned a lot, returned home very stimulated and full of admiration for this great stalwart of our hobby.

Continued fighting battles with Tony Bath - won and lost about my usual number. Wrote book in spare time.

JUNE. Peter Young visited me and we spent a very hot Sunday fighting a wargame between Federals and Confederates. At the end of it I knew how Peter had become a Brigadier, won so many medals and stayed alive during W.W. II - but it was good hard and drawn battle! Anyway, we fought to my rules!

Continued with book, fought more battles with Tony and spent a week on holiday, during which I found a shop that sold Airfix model tanks so bought and made a dozen of them en masse during the spare times off the beach!

JULY. Had a most interesting Marlburian battle at Peter Young's house, when he cunningly made himself Umpire and I fought a three-cornered battle with Ian Bale and David Nash. It lasted from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. when I conceded the game, I attach no blame whatsoever to the gargantuan quantities of excellent food provided by Mrs. Young and liquor by the Brigadier. He also bore me no malice for so violently arguing about his rules - he was the most flexible Umpire!

Spent a lot of time chasing photographers taking shots of staged battles for the book.

AUGUST. Events this month were a little crowded off the screen by the arrival of another little Featherstone - a boy this time who, up to time of going to Press, shows absolutely no aptitude for wargaming.

Book nearly completed - photographers go bankrupt and make life even more difficult.

SEPTEMBER. Visited Bill Gunson at his home in North Wales - he was home on leave from Kuwait. Drove 256 miles each way, glorious scenery, then drove another 120 miles to find a shop in that uncivilised part of the world that sold Airfix figures! Bill's army had not arrived from Kuwait but he had bought lots of modern plastic stuff on his way home via Germany, so we decided to buy some boxes of 00 gauge figures and fight a modern battle (I wasn't going to drive over 500 miles and not have a wargame!).

Finally got them in Llandudno - and had our battle on a dining room table and a large side-board 18" higher so that an intriguing sloping terrain was used!

Book went to publishers - I received part of the advanced royalties! Fought more battles with Tony and lost more than I won!

OCTOBER. Bill Gunson drove 256 miles to spend weekend with me (highly delighted because he did it half-an-hour quicker than I did!). Aided by Carl Reavley (home from Aden) Roy Blackman and Tony Bath, we fixed up the wargame to end all wargames.Using an 'L' shaped table 16" x 12' x 6' and with two armies of 1,200 men each, we fought for about nine hours, with a beer and cheese buffet on one side of us - no result and a fervent urge to fight small scale battles in future!

Tony and I began the Boer Revolt 1885 - in which the Boers aided by a Zulu rising on the West of the Province, attempt to throw the British out of Natal. The British being scattered in various towns and garrisons find it hard to concentrate, but aided by gunboat and landing party made a good fight of it.

NOVEMBER. Boer Rising still going strong - Tony curses the civilians and live stock he has to shepherd to safety and my Boers (masquerading as Confederates) have a couple of small successes but two big defeats.

Soldier Magazine send down Staff Photographer and we have great fun faking shots for article in January edition. Carry on fighting battles with Tony at his house - Jungle Warfare now!

Lot of time spent sorting out fabulous collection of SAE 30mm stuff bought from Bill Gunson (who has now gone over to 20mm figures). Details of surplus stuff elsewhere in book.

DECEMBER. Sit here typing this stuff for the March WGD. Boer Rising still going on - Tony has got a very fair Native rising going in his mythical Continent and my savages had fun last week raiding settlements and cutting throats of soldiers disguised as women settlers!

Note; During this past year, I have also endeavoured to earn a living (my wife and children have become accustomed to such luxuries as food and clothing), read a large number of books on military subjects, painted and made a considerable number of figures, done some high class swapping with various fellow collectors and carried on a large correspondence with other enthusiasts. Life doesn’t get tedious, does it?

The Don gets playful... Wargamer's Newsletter 111 June 1971

Well it made me laugh.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Guest Writer of The Month - Don Houghton

A real find - another article by Don Houghton, author of the series "At the Colonel's Table". The phrase "a thinking wargamer" was a frequent refrain in Don Featherstone's comments on those of whom he approved... and I'm not sure about Rachel Welch, either.

Don Houghton

Not only an enthusiastic and thinking wargamer but a professional T.V. script-writer who writes such series as "Dr. Who" and "The Flaxton Boys". Don wrote "At the Colonel's Table", perhaps the most successful series ever to appear in Wargamer's' Newsletter. The contribution that appears below is in the same class.


Extract from Campaign Diary. Monday, the 14th:

I'm worried about the 27th of Foot - the Inniskillings. Not just mildly worried or apprehensively worried - but sick-worried. It's absolutely no consolation to me to know that Wellington felt the same way about them on the eve of Waterloo. He was to learn the next day how they would perform. By all reports they didn't do too badly. As for me - I shan’t know for the best part of a week. Not till next Saturday.

Of course, I have no one to blame but myself. I've loft them formed up in a sort of lopsided square defending the southern approach to a small bridge. The battalion's position is overlooked by a hill. And sitting on top of that hill, looking very smug, very dangerous and very superior, are a Regiment of Cuirassiers, two squadrons of Polish Lancers and the biggest damned Regiment of Carabiniers you've ever seen! And I have a horrible suspicion that there are some infantry forming up behind them. Probably the Imperial Guard Grenadiers. It would be just my luck. The Guard invariably have a strong battery of Artillery in support...

Trouble is - my Inniskillings are such a rag-tailed mob. All shapes and sizes. Some Hinton Hunts, a sprinkling of Minifigs, a few old Alberken and at least four or five figures that defy any identification. And their uniforms are really a disgrace. I must have painted the majority of them in one heck of a hurry -or perhaps when I had a hang-over. The whole battalion should have been shipped back to its depot months ago. Years ago. For example, there is a Sergeant in the Fourth Company, a great towering oaf (I think he started life, in better days, as a Hinchliffe) who, for some inexplicable reason, parades himself in green facings and silver lace. He looks odd amongst the buff and gold of his colleagues. And he will persist in drawing attention to himself by continually falling flat on his face, despite the fact that, like all the others, he is supposed to be firmly stuck to his Company tray. I wonder what Regiment he’s a fugitive from? Only in the ranks of the Innlsklllings could a deserter find sanctuary!

And I don't like their Colonel. Never have. He rides that ridiculously small horse of his with a decided (and perpetual) list to starboard. He’s got so much tarnished bullion on his uniform (ostentatious devil) it’s a wonder to me that dwarf-nag of his doesn't give up the ghost and spread eagle itself beside the Adjutant — who doesn't even boast a horse.

On top of all that their Regimental Colour isn't a colour anymore. It's more of a chipped dull grey shade with specks of buff clinging onto it here and there - and, as far as I know, they've never owned a King's Colour!

And this is the battalion I've left holding an important, a vital bridge, a direct access to my Reserve Division. could so easily have sent in the splendid Coldstreamers. Now there's a Regiment. A joy to behold. A full complement of fine Rose figures, beautifully and painstakingly painted by an expert in Colne, Lancashire. Every musket at just the right angle, every button shining. Just the sight of them advancing is enough to scare the living bejasus out of a faint hearted opposition.

Or the 95th Rifles. I could have sent them. Not as immaculate as the Coldstreamers - but they've got an exemplary battle record. And they're lucky with the dice.

Yet, despite their Colonel, and the derogatory things I say about them, I must admit to a sneaking affection for the Inniskillings. At least they've got character. Well anyway, they look different. Individualists, obviously. No geometrically dressed ranks for them, no uniformity in size or shape and they'll never find a picturesque home in a colourful diorama on retirement. They'll just slog on, battle after battle, campaign after campaign. And I suppose they'll finally end their days ingloriously - at the bottom of my 'spare-parts' box.

I wonder if other wargamers get as emotionally involved with their troops as I do? It makes for lousy Generalship, that's for sure. I remember one battle - a close run thing - wherein I withheld the 12th Light Dragoons from the fray, simply because they are my favourite cavalry unit. They were amongst the first figures I painted myself (in the days when I had the time to lavish on that sort of thing) and every single trooper is as perfect as I was capable of making it. Probably more by luck than good management, I managed to get just the right sheen on the coats of the horses. And the flashing sabres are all silver-leafed. How there's dedication for you. (Today I don't attempt to paint anything more complex than a simple cannon - and I usually make a fair old hash of that.) It took me nearly a month to outfit the whole Regiment - and just about cost me my eyesight. Anyway, I lost that particular battle - but I had the satisfaction of knowing that the 12th Light Dragoons escaped the carnage in the same pristine, undiminished perfection in which they arrived on the field of battle. I couldn't bear to think of their glittering ranks torn by shot and shell. (Unlike the 95th they have always been notoriously unlucky with the dice.)

Then there's my Brunswicker Regiments. I'm over-cautious with them, too. Possibly a subconscious desire not to offend or embarrass our Allies. But they're a characterless lot anyway - always scowling, their black uniforms dull against the scarlet of the other infantry... Or maybe it's because their morale factor is so abysmally low. They take a delight in vanishing at the first whiff of powder. They arrive on the field all dark and ominous - and then they're gone at the merest glimpse of a French uniform. But back to the Inniskillings. They've given me a hell of a day. I had a production conference this morning. An important one. Can't remember a thing that was discussed or a single decision that was taken. The notes I jotted down are of no help. They concern alternative deployments for the Inniskillings - rather than ideas on how to keep the production budget down. My Director is worried about a £500,000 film - I'm concerned about the fate of ten moth-eaten Companies of raucous Irish soldiers. A motley bunch of Hinton Hunts, Minifigs, Alberkens, and some unidentifiable figures. Good grief, the whole battalion doesn't weigh more than 20 ounces!

Hold on, though - supposing I was to bring up that reserve battery of Horse Artillery to cover their left... It's a disease, not a hobby. I mean, one could so easily find other, less absorbing pastimes. I could collect Jacobean chamber pots - or pictures of Rachel Welch. Or become an authority on the emerging Outer Mongolian jazz groups. Or run for Parliament. Or take up Morris dancing... Or collect pictures of Rachel Welch. The things I could have done with all those lost hours...

But on Saturday I'll know the worst. We'll resume the table-top battle then. My home is in Herefordshire and I'll drive all the way down to Northamptonshire - my Wargame opponent lives there - I'll have a worried, hurried lunch, get a lousy attack of indigestion as a consequence, and then, with frayed nerves, I'll move to the battlefield and watch helplessly as the Inniskillings meet their fate. My opponent is an ex professional soldier. Retired a full Brigadier. Cool as a cucumber - and deadly in command of French cavalry. He'll send in those bloody Cuirassiers, and the Lancers, and the Carabiniers - and any spare infantry he happens to have knocking around in the vicinity. And they'll be Imperial Guardsmen. Bound to be.

It’s his turn. The Inniskillings are waiting patiently. And I have to live through the next four and a half ghastly days. I wish I could parley. I wish I could call a truce – if only for humanitarian reasons. I wish Donald Featherstone had never sent me that encouraging letter years ago, extolling the delights of Wargaming. I wish he’d never got me hooked on this business. I wish he’d introduced me to heroin instead. I wish…

Extract from Campaign Diary. Monday, the 21st:

A week later. It’s a glorious day. The sky may be full of black clouds, it may be teeming with rain and blowing a gale – but for me, it’s a glorious day and my heart sings.

The Inniskillings held. My opponent sent down the Lancers and Carabiniers – but held back the Cuirassiers, for some unexplained reason. The Inniskillings met their murderous attack – and repulsed them! Gloriously. I even feel a mild twinge of affection for their lopsided Colonel. They gave me a breathing space. Miraculously.

Time enough for me to send in the magnificent Coldstreamers, supported by the dashing 12th Light Dragoons, to relieve the battered but unbowed Inniskilling square. Even that monstrous sergeant in the Fourth Company kept his feet.

Unfortunately the Coldstreamers and the Light Dragoons were cut to shreds as soon as the Cuirassiers joined in. And, of course, I lost the battle.

But the Inniskillings held.

Guest Writer of The Month - Charlie Wesencraft

An interesting insight into the wargames scene in the early 1970's comes from this piece by Charlie Wesencraft, and Don Featherstone's introduction to it, from Wargamer's Newsletter 133, from April 1973. The reference to the onion dome church may raise a smile with anyone who remembers Terry Wise's article on building such a church in Airfix Magazine. I think he used a less organic material.

BORODINO '73 - A Battle Report. (But not a very loud one).

by Charlie Wesencraft

(There are a number of really first-class blokes around in the wargaming world – and most of them seem to live at the other end of the country so that we meet all to rarely. Perhaps that is why we think so much of each other! Anyhow, I only see Charlie about once a year and in 1973 it was at Great Missenden where it was revealed that he has lost none of his enthusiasm, friendliness, knowledge and capacity for beer! Up in Durham, Charlie is industriously propagating wargaming by frequent talks and demonstrations in schools and clubs. Editor.)

In all its long history Great Missenden Abbey in Buckinghamshire has never witnessed such an event. Over fifty wargamers and would-be wargamers had gathered together from all parts of England - there was even one from Paris! There were seven ladies present including a grandmother who remembered p[laying wargames on the floor with her brother, using H.G. Wells’ rules and had in her time visited Custer’s Indian battlefields and the original Bucket of Blood Saloon and another lady who asked me in muted tones, at the height of the wargame "What are Infantry?" I explained that they were the ones without the horses "Well then, what are the Light Infantry ?” "The plastic figures, madam" I answered, not wishing to offend.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with the Battle of Borodino. Actually, the battle was to be merely the highlight of a very full weekend spent studying "War and Peace" as seen through the eyes of the Department of War Studies, Sandhurst. The course was directed by David Chandler, assisted by Mr. A. Brett-James; Dr. C.J.Duffy and Mr.M.J.Orr. Three of these four had been the military advisors to the recent B.B.C. series.

Throughout a weekend when the head barely touched the pillow, we were led through the 1812 Campaign, discussed Tolstoi's motives for writing his book; fought blow by blow through the actual battle; examined maps of Russia printed in 1812 and argued out the tactics with magnificent hindsight. Oh, what Napoleon could have done with us! (Shot the lot probably!)

The pièce de resistance was a wargame version of the battle itself that lasted all Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The Russians were led by a one-eyed Kutusov, sometimes known as Don Featherstone (the other eye was focused on the rules which one felt he never quite understood). He was ably assisted by a team, more enthusiastic than skilful, all willing to hold back the French. One stout fellow ill his early sixties, who had never seen a wargames table in his life, was promoted General on the field in honour of his fantastic dice throwing. You could tell I was on the Russian side by the snow on my boots!

The French were led by Sandhurst’s Michael Orr, who wishes to remain anonymous. Sandhurst rules were used and the Umpire was Sandhurst’s David Chandler. In spite of all this they proved to be perfect gentlemen and did not stop us winning - or perhaps it was because our team sat up most of the night plotting and planning after we had seen the Umpire and Napoleon retire with a bottle of whisky - or it may have been our six-throwing genius!

Being Sandhurst trained, the French tried to put into effect the right flanking attack as suggested to Napoleon - the real one - by Marshal Davout, but being truly British 'they didn't really press it home as we hadn't actually attacked them first. The only time the stiff upper lip slipped was when Don offered Napoleon a mint which so surprised him that he was heard to ask if it was poisoned! Don was most taken back, but it was noticeable that for the rest of the game Napoleon played with his hand inside his waistcoat, resting upon his stomach. Then Don almost blotted his copybook by firing a howitzer at Napoleon, but fortunately only threw a one, so most players failed to notice.

Apart from the mint, a glorious touch of flavour was added to the terrain by placing a peeled onion on top of the church tower in Borodino village, to make it look really Russian. This eventually caught fire - the church, not the onion, but it was never quite resolved as to whether the rules said that the French should evacuate the church or would they have been drawn back by the smell of the cooking onion.

A scale of one figure to every five-hundred - no, its not a misprint - was used and we were all most cheered when 500 Generals fell leading a massive French cavalry charge0 (This was when we promoted our stout friend).

By the end of the game the French had lost 100 points (50,000 men) whilst the Russians had lost 73 (36,000). (Real battle - French 30,000; Russians 44,000). The Russians still held their entire front, Napoleon still held his stomach, the stout fellow still held his one-sided dice and I held that it had been a tremendous week¬end .

The last I saw of Don he had his back to a wall, with a young enthusiast asking him for rules for Samurai! Again, this has nothing to do with 1812, but when wargamers gather, all history is their oyster.

Thank you Tolstoi, thank you David Chandler and team for a job well done.

Springwood Models Plastic Napoleonics

I first came across Springwood Plastic 20mm Napoleonic figures on Will's Wargames Blog.I don't remember them at all from the time. I've now been able to follow a trail about them from Wargamer's Newsletters from 1972 to 1974 - these items are reproduced below. I've left the SEGOM ad from the same page attached to their 1972 advertisement - more of SEGOM, possibly, anon. For a look at the actual Springwood figures, follow the link above to Will's blog.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Gereard de Gre Collection: Wargamer's Newsletter 154 January 1975

Another set of pictures from Wargamer's Newsletter of Gerard de Gre's collection, again of 20mm Alymer figures.

Wargame Books - Charlie Wesencraft's Practical Wargaming

Recently published in a new edition by John Curry, one of the less well known but very influential early wargaming books was Charlie Wesencraft's Practical Wargaming. Here is the original flier for the book, plus a characteristic review by Don Featherstone from Wargamer's Newsletter from December 1974.

Monday 12 October 2009

Jack Alexander - Junks and Korean warships

A very welcome "junk e-mail" arrived today with these pictures of Jack Alexander's junks and Korean warships, based on illustrations from the Osprey book. Jack made an original and then cast each of the 'spikes' on the Korean Turtle ship and made the small guns for the other Korean ships. So that the Junks can be used across a wide period, he also made 'oar' sections to slip over the gun ports.

I think these pictures are truly remarkable, thanks to Alan for sending the pictures and to Jack Alexander for agreeing to their posting.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Bellona Landscape and Battlefield Diorama Pieces

Until I scanned in this catalogue I had forgotten just how many of the vacuun formed Bellona pieces I have owned at times. I think my first was the American Civil War log fort; I always aspired to Bunker Hill and the English Civil War star fort. Long out of production, they still sometimes crop up on e-bay and elsewhere. I also had forgotten that Armtec accessories were from the same stable. I believe that previously Bellona had been under the wing of Deltorama - I will look out some of their adverts from Wargamers Newsletter at a later date.

The price list seems to be from January 1983.

Some similar scenic items are available these days from