Ancient wargames notes in Airfix Magazine long, long ago

By Rob Morgan

We seem to have started a serious discussion on the subject of using Airfix 1/76th scale figures and their potential for conversion, so perhaps it’s time to offer a few memories of the articles that cropped up in those august pages more than 50 years ago. Not merely because the figures are still available and the content of the articles is still very much of use to the modern wargamer. On we go.

My collection of the magazine begins with Volume 1, No. 1, which was 60 years ago. That’s right, 60. I bought the bound volume of the first year long afterwards, but it doesn’t contain a single wargames piece. My serious purchase of it began in early 1964, and I suppose I have about 40 percent of the issues from then to 1970, and short runs after that up to the mid-Seventies. Well, fond as I always have been of model making and wargaming, one or two other matters dropped in as the years slipped by: beer, girls, work and then marriage — they did get in the way a bit! Some material in copies surviving in my attic would be of great value to the Airfix-oriented armchair general, so, let’s see what I can come up with.

Jim Rohrer’s excellent set of questions drew me to the series entitled Roman Friends and Foes,produced by Bob O’Brien between (roughly) October 1968 and late 1969. These articles were regarded highly at the time, and are worth re-consideration now. There were notes on War Elephants, on Roman Artillery (that was very good!), on Nubians, and on a range of obscure tribes and groups — dealing with  making camel lancers from the newly issued Arabs set, with  Asiatic Archers and with ubiquitous slingers and pikemen from the Airfix Robin Hood set — two very easy designs to convert — you can get 15 slingers from a single Robin Hood set, and/or 10 pikemen. There were Roman auxiliaries and allies too.

A couple of articles stand out, and for those with the inclination to track them down can I strongly suggest the issue from December 1968, with the O’Brien series article entitled Part 3 – German Tribesmen.” This was a two-page illustrated article in which the Airfix Robin Hood set (and do take a look at them on the Plastic Soldier Review site as Jonathan Aird suggests) is used to create an entire German force of basic vigorous tribesmen. All that was missing was the war dogs, nowadays not a problem. Later, the series dealt with a small force of German horsemen, but they were a little more complex. This article gets 10 out of 10 from me! The German force (opposed by Airfix Romans) was photographed in a substantial wargame campaign that was to be found in John Tunstill’s legendary Miniature Warfare magazine soon afterwards. Now if you can find that!

The second article in Bob’s series I will mention, being of immense value is from May 1969, “Part 8- The Picts,” very sound research work, and even better modelling! It actually uses the Tarzan figures set as well as the Robin Hood set, to make a useful small Pictish raiding force, with boats! More unusually, the Picts were provided with a few cavalry, from the Red Indians set. The detail in this text was splendid for the time, and even now requires little addition to improve the raiders modelled.

From time to time, articles on converting the Airfix Roman Mile Fort into a more substantial defence site, and on dealing with making a part of Hadrian’s Wall, appeared.  But, as Jonathan says, one or two of the conversions didn’t work, even in an era when the shelves of the model shop contained little for the wargamer to work with.

One article I have stands alone. In November 1972, Ron Wood produced a piece on an early Egyptian Warship named Rameses, which seems to be the first in a planned series called “Ancient Warships.” I can find no others, so if any reader decides to hunt down a few of these interesting magazines and comes across any other ancient warship, do share it!

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3 Responses to Ancient wargames notes in Airfix Magazine long, long ago

  1. jimr says:

    Rob,

    Following your lead, I was able to pick up sets for Romans, Robin Hood and some French cavalry on Ebay. The Romans arrived already. My standards are lower than yours regarding period detail, so I would shamelessly use the standing figures with spears as pikes. 🙂 The swordsmen, like archers, can be used in a variety of eras.

    I hope to get slingers, archers and perhaps a levy from Robin Hood.

    The French cavalry were a gamble. My problem with horses is getting them to stand up if they do not come with a base.

  2. jimr says:

    Speaking of unearthing treasures from the past, Stuart Asquith’s articles on comfortable wargaming, published in the LW under Miscellaneous, are apropos: here is an extract:

    “Figures
    I have previously mentioned the Airfix sets of HO/OO figures. The first period in which all three service arms – artillery, cavalry and infantry – were represented by this company was for the American Civil War. Numerous conversions were possible, with the resultant figures being used to represent either different units, or to serve in different periods such as the Franco-Prussian War. I well remember a fascinating series in Airfix Magazine (perhaps the commercial magazine of its time) in 1970 in which R C Gibson suggested conversions of Airfix figures into types suitable for the Seven Week War of 1866.
    …..
    I fondly recall re-creating Don Featherstone’s ‘A Punitive Expedition to the Pushna Valley (North West Frontier of India 1936)’ as featured in his book War Game Campaigns (Stanley Paul 1970). Airfix WW2 Eighth Army figures formed the British troops, while the Bedouin Arabs provided the opposition as indeed they did for Don in the original action. The Airfix Foreign Legion Fort provided the focal point for the British assault and assorted vehicles, possibly including the 1/87th scale Roco Minitanks offerings, were pressed into service.

    Today’s purist and – not meant unkindly may I say – spoilt war gamers may baulk at such ‘liberties’ with figures, but in those days (say mid 1960s to early 1970s) it was the norm rather than the exception to adapt ‘almost suitable’ figures into scenarios outside their correct historical period. “

  3. Peter R. Barkworth says:

    I can add to Rob Morgan’s post about the Airfix Magazine articles on ships; the December 72 article by Ron Wood was ” the Philistine ship Goliath” – a vessel of the Sea Peoples, then the Phoenician bireme Melkart, followed by “The Greek trireme Achilles” and in March 1973 “the Greek pentere [we’d say quinquereme] Agammemnon”.
    I bought lots of old Airfix Magazines from a shop in Halifax about 30 years ago for a few pence each – I could never afford it as a child- and then cut any useful articles out and have kept them in an A4 file ever since.
    There were so many conversions; Peter Nash did a long series on WW1 German and British conversions, John Sandars’ (a famous solo wargamer) WW2 8th army conversions and Terence Wise’s Napoleonic conversions. George Gush showed you how to make 16th century reiters from French cuirassiers, gendarmes from Sheriff of Nottingham knights and landsknechts from 8th Army riflemen!
    A few years later in “Battle for Wargamers” magazine a man called Peter Linnell showed you how to make lots of Roman Republican legionaries, Successors, Cretan archers, Balearic slingers from Airfix Romans and Robin Hood figures plus Tibetans and others from the WRG “Armies and Enemies of Ancient China” book. If you were hard up for cash, then you could with some glue, patience, pins and plastic card make most armies you needed, but most of us aspired to metal figures. Strange really, as I went back to plastics about the same time as I bought the Airfix Magazines.

    Regards

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