An army I’d probably never build

By Rob Morgan

A little while ago, I wrote a few lines about Charlemagne on the table-top, and alongside that particular Osprey title on my bookshelves was another well written David Nicolle Osprey Men-at-Arms with the inevitably magnificent Angus McBride plates. Number 222, published in 1990, is “The Age of Tamerlane.” This note is in part a review of that, in part a few thoughts on the astonishingly complex medieval world in wargaming.

It’s useful to record that Tamerlane (also known as Tamburlane, or Timur the Lame), was born in 1336, about the time the 100 Years War started, and his dynasty collapsed around 1494, a little after the time Columbus got to the Americas and the Wars of the Rose ended.

This Osprey is complex in some ways. The time-line lists warlords, princes and battles that weren’t familiar to me 15 years ago, which is when I bought the book for £1.99 in the Oxfam shop, and still aren’t now! Nicolle describes the career of a conqueror of vast tracts of land from Mongolia to Turkey and the Holy Land, leading almost unbeatable forces, and inflicting amazing savagery on scores of states and kingdoms. He and his Timurid forces were of Mongol origin, but were even more rigidly controlled.

The description of his world is followed by an account of Tamburlane’s army, of its organisation and strategy and tactics. Remarkably, this Osprey contains a section rarely found in the series, “The uses of terror.” Hm? An account of the siege warfare practised is very readable, but I was disappointed that Tamburlane seems not to have possessed gunpowder weapons in his lifetime, though some arrived later.

Like so many medieval Asian rulers’ military establishments, Tamburlane’s failed with his death. Though fragmented, the “empire” lingered on, but slipped away from conquest and from power. There’s a short note on the use of elephants after 1400, which was a significant change in military tactics, but, this late, Nicolle makes no mention of guns, a pity. The next section “Foes of the Timurids” deals with two powerful enemies, the Ottomans and Mamluks. Nicolle refers to the Osprey Men-at-Arms 140, on the former and he provides a general account of conflict, rather than of specific battles or even campaigns. The book ends with some notes on weapons and armour and a reading list in French and English which would take some unearthing and indeed some enthusiasm to read. There are gaps, well, some major aspects missing from the description of what must have been one of the world’s most effective, and ferocious army systems, and when you read Nicolle’s text you’ll see what I mean. The title’s worth examining, but ultimately you’ll ask yourself would you build a Timurid army, and as a deeper question, does this title give you enough information to recreate this army on the table top?

This is an unusual title of course, and was a subject covered quite early on in the Osprey series. The line drawings and illustrations are on the whole rather less than inspiring, but of course Angus’ eight colour plates make up for a lot! Both Tamburlane’s armies and some of his many enemies are dealt with, and that’s where to start — well, the only place really!

The plates are lovely. And though there are only three foot soldiers portrayed, the cavalry, which was Tamburlane’s strength, is represented by nine figures. The enemies of the Timurids feature on three of them and so give the chance of providing light forces for smaller actions. Possibly.

I looked at the usual option turned to by seasoned wargamers, the plastic figures, first of all. The impression in this Osprey follows the Mongol Road, big, swift moving mounted armies, long distances and quick battles. At least that’s how I read this part of the world in this period of history. The easiest way to create the Timurid army of Tamburlane is to select figures from the ranges of Mongol armies. By select, I mean follow Angus’ plates, of course. Sadly, in 20mm plastic there are few packs around. Strelets pack MO28 is one of the best, 48 dismounted Mongols of which around 10 to 20 will be of use, but there are no levies or peasant infantry types in this pack. I searched in vain. Zvezda’s Mongol pack 8003 has 10 infantry and one is a splendid charging spearman; you get four of them! Italeri’s Mongols are all cavalry, many cataphract, which is good news, and Zvezda’s Golden Horde is a very attractive group of horsemen, and early in the period.

A better bet, though more expensive, is 15mm in metal. Museum Miniatures makes a Timurid Army, 96 pieces, and not cheap! However, you can add to this from careful selection of figures in the 15mm Mongol and Asian ranges of Donnington, and Essex and especially Irregular Miniatures. That’s the best way to acquire this army, I suspect, though infantry will always be a problem, and for early gunpowder weapons or siege equipment you’ll need some imagination. Camels are needed too, well, apart from transport. The description of warfare in the Osprey suggests that these armies were used to large campaigns and substantial battles, and raids. So perhaps the best option might be Irregular’s smaller scales, 6mm seems ideal (well, as ideal as I’d be prepared to go), using a cross section of figures from the Dark Ages range and the Samurai & Asian range (no, not the Samurai!). That would give a decent sized army for a big sweeping raid across the steppes, butt as always with those scales, lacks the character of the individual figure.

Finally, I did enjoy reading this Osprey title, as always the pairing of this artist and writer provides a sparkling read, but at the end of the day, would I venture in Tamburlane’s wake? No, I don’t think so. Mind you, I have no doubt that out there among the readership there’s someone with a decent Timurid army, waiting to invade China or march to Constantinople or Damascus, or even bathe its feet in the Mediterranean. If so, I’d love to read about it.

Posted in Periods - Medieval | Leave a comment

Here’s a new Sample Article

This month’s sample article from previous issues of Lone Warrior is “Adventure Awaits” by Kevin White. The article is about his experiences with 1:1 adventure gaming in the Pulp era, think Indiana Jones or John Carter on Mars. A set of rules is included.

It’s on the Sample Articles page.

Posted in Periods - Pulp era, Periods - Science fiction | 2 Comments

Review of ‘The English Civil War Armies’ added

Jonathan Aird has reviewed an older Osprey title, “The English Civil War Armies,” but finds it’s still a good read with valuable information for the period.

His review is on the Ospreys at a Glance page.

Posted in Periods - Pike and Shot | Leave a comment

Airfix Magazine and Airfix 1/76th-scale figures

By Rob Morgan

To continue where, well, more or less where, I finished in my previous note, there was a substantial number of series dealing with the conversion, upgrading and the general potential of the Airfix small-scale wargames figures during the 1960s and 1970s. Scale, of course, could be an odd thing. Some of the sets, British Paratroops, and US Cavalry, for instance, were around the modern 25mm scale and other sets ranged down to the original World War II British and German Infantry sets of 1961 which were frankly around 15mm by today’s standards!

Sometimes, either through zeal, or because there was so little else, the article writers mixed larger and smaller figures together. No matter, at least not at this distance in time! Having suggested a few places to look for ideas for using Ancient ranges, it might be sensible to just give a hint of what else appeared in the splendid and frankly invaluable pages of the magazine for those of us wargaming in the old days.

I mentioned the ‘Roman Friends & Foes’ series by Bob O’Brien, and this drew to an end, sadly with article number 9 in June 1969, when he provided a ‘Miscellany’ of figures which had me reaching for the craft knife. Bob, however, was to be found in Military Modelling a couple of years later. I have a single copy from January 1972, which contains ‘Fiddling with Romans,’ on re-positioning the legionaries in the Airfix set. Sound stuff, but the Gaulish swordsman he knocked up from a Commando figure with parts of one from the Robin Hood and one from the Tarzan set proved too tricky for me! The next month Bob tried his hand at the Thracians …I know no more.

The other series which appeared ranged over two millennia.  In April, May and June 1967, C. Jones (who may be a member of the SWA) tried his hand magnificently at the Crimean War in three articles: British, Russians and setting the scene. He used Airfix Cowboys, ACW Artillery, Arabs, Wagon Train and a few other sets. Very well put together indeed, and a chance to show modelling skills.  He, and I’m assuming he was male, followed on in July to September with a short series I still find valuable, on “The Zulu War.” The first article dealt with the British and colonials, using the new-ish World War I German set and Wagon Train and Cowboys; then the native forces, both Zulu and Natal Native Contingent, from the Red Indian, set as it was then known. The third article covered matters like wagons, ordnance and heliographs, skilled writing and modelling all round.

Immediately after that, Michael Blake dealt with the American Civil War in a series which ran, if I recall, for four months. October dealt with infantry, this part I loved, the colourful opening-stages gear on both sides; next cavalry; then ordnance and engineers, and he finished off in January 1968 with what he called ‘Other Departments,’ medical staff, bands and musicians, quartermasters, and a delightful note on mountain artillery. He even covered sailors and marines. All were made using only Airfix figures, from all of the Western packs, as well as Zoo and Tarzan and WWI Germans. I’d buy a publication with that series in if it was published today.

Then in 1970, “The Seven Week War” turned up, written by Robert Gibson. Look it up, it took place between 30 Prussian and Austrian-led states in the summer of 1866, less than two months of fighting. Again, conversions and modelling were extensive in terms of the sets used, and well worth a thought if you’re a 19th Century modeller with an eye to something different. Robert didn’t let you down. Most of the army contingents, infantry, jagers, cavalry of all sorts from hussars to uhlans, as well as auxiliary and service troops. The series ended in November 1970 with Part 6, which dealt with an overview of the campaign.

In 1971 Robert Gibson turned up again, dealing with 1815, or Waterloo, as we tend to call it in these parts. I have only one or two of the articles and don’t know the extent of the series, but they tended to be single-page where others had been two-page spreads, and I feel they were intended to support the several packs of Airfix figures produced in the time before they appeared.

One word of warning. In 1972, a long series on Renaissance warfare written by George Gush began. Interesting, quite readable and in its own way a fine series. George dealt with everything imaginable, from the Swiss, to Landsknechts, artillery, Spanish Infantry of the Tercio, Irish (a good piece) and Scots, to Henry VIII’s army, the Swedes, French and even the Muscovites. Plenty of art work and line drawings, plenty of emblems and heraldry, but not something which dealt with conversions and figure making in any sense. George stopped short of that. A pity, I thought.

Posted in Periods - General history, Wargaming | 6 Comments

More on banana oil

By Brian Cameron

Oddly, a day or so after my last post, a friend asked me about banana oil, which prompted me to look into the subject. You can get the genuine article here:

However, it’s worth noting that banana oil is a form of amyl acetate which is used in nail varnish. So it’s actually little more than a varnish. Back in the ’70s I did various conversions of 1/32nd-scale Western gunfight figures using plasticene and coated them with polyurethane varnish, all the rage for varnishing figures then. Despite the handling in games and the passage of time. the figures are still intact now. So I’d suggest a coat of varnish to provide a hard skin on it.

An alternative would be to use something like Milliput which will fully harden.

Posted in Wargaming | Leave a comment

Banana oil and wargaming!

By Rob Morgan

Yes, now that takes me back! Brian Cameron is quite right, several of the old Airfix articles on modelling 20mm plastic figures contained instructions on ‘fixing’ additions with banana oil. I recall being given advice by an older aircraft modeller, who worked entirely with balsa and tissue, to use the stuff on plasticene, which I wanted to use to fill the centre of small model boats. It worked, but smelled odd and I know it ruined the paint brush.

I’m almost certain this product was made by Joy, the company that sold a vast range of  model-making sticky materials. The oil came in two forms. No.1 was thick and No.2 thin, and they also made plastic wood! Those were, obviously, far off, simpler days.

I’ll save the dip into the site Brian suggests, but for those who decide now is the time, can I suggest three valuable infantry pack conversion articles in Airfix Magazine which I think have great value even now. If you get the chance, read them, and you’ll find a range of useful and straightforward additions to build up your World War II forces.


In the April 1965 issue, starting on page 232, Chris Ellis deals with WWII Japanese Infantry equipment. He provides plans and scratch-build information for two guns, including the little Model 92 howitzer, along with several mortars, mg’s, anti-tank rifles and some oddities, including rifle shields, which several armies possessed in WWII, including the Japanese and Italians, but which never appear on the table top. A lovely read this article, and given the content of the Airfix Japanese Set, provides a lot for the wargamer. It’s also useful if you’re building one of the Chinese puppet forces run by Imperial Japan — easy conversions from the soft-capped figures in the set.


February 1966 saw “Modelling the Red Army,” page 176. Chris Ellis created a mass of Soviet troops and gear, simple conversions from the Airfix Wagon Train, lend-lease jeeps and carriers, and additional Winter War figures from the Arabs set (still works for me!) and Confederate troops. Very competent modelling of snipers in this short article. March 1966 continued, page 206 on, with Red Army guns and wagons. If you’re reading this, Jim, take a look at the two-gun conversions from the ACW Artillery set drawn here — magnificent! Chris made a Tkchanka machine gun cart and a command wagon too. I am actually still using my conversions of the guns over 50 years on.

While you’re in the pile, don’t forget December 1964’s issue. Chris Ellis dealt with the 8th Army in North Africa, pages 106 on. Some lovely little conversions from the Airfix figures, most simple cut and glue work, and super-detailing, it’s also a sound reminder of what there was and wasn’t available then. We as wargamers owed a lot to Chris Ellis, who later edited the magazine, of course.

Posted in Periods - World War II, Wargaming | 2 Comments

Airfix Magazines

By Brian Cameron

Anyone who is enthused by Rob Morgan’s comments can find a selection of issues on the Internet Archive:

I remember many of the articles about converting Airfix figures (and have copies of some), often using plasticene and the use of a mysterious ‘banana oil’ to set it — I never did track it down as a boy. An excellent magazine which provided much inspiration. I was very pleased some years ago to meet the editor, Chris Ellis. I’m pleased to say that he’s still quite active, particularly in railway modelling.

Posted in Other blogs, sites, Wargaming | 1 Comment

Scruby catalog from the ’90s now on-line

James Camilli has provided a copy of a catalog from Jack Scruby’s Soldier Factory dated  1997. It’s interesting to note the changes from older Scruby catalogs. The later one is focused almost entirely on larger-scale figures, such as 54mm, rather than the variety of smaller scales in the earlier days. Mr. Camilli has also provided some further observations on Scruby’s endeavors:

“As for the Scruby/Soldier Factory catalogue, I remember that it was basically the same from year to year (circa 1990s), with only minor additions or subtractions. For example, one item that appeared only temporarily was Jack’s Nile River Gunboat. This apparently was made by the same carpenter that made his wooden toy soldier castles. It was beautiful to look at, over two feet in length, and had an upper and lower deck with metal fittings and railings. It came with artillery pieces and Gatling or Gardner (machine) guns, and Jack suggested to customers that they crew it with some of his hollow-cast W.M. Britains reproductions. These might be Royal Army, Royal Navy, or Royal Artillery figures, wearing either Sennet (straw) hats, sun helmets, or standard navy caps.

“Generally, what I liked about Jack Scruby is that, although he was a very knowledgeable military historian, nevertheless I think he knew that this hobby is basically about playing with toy soldiers and having fun. And this attitude is reflected in his figures, which have a Victorian charm to them and were often finished with a high-gloss coating and were posed often in non-combat positions, such as ‘standing at attention,’ ‘standing on guard,’ ‘marching at the slope,’ etc. These are the same sorts of figures that you see in Dylan Thomas’ famous ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ story, and are different from today’s matte-finish ‘blood and guts’ all-action figures. It’s too bad that Jack’s toy soldier business came to an end after his death. But the good news is, we still have toy soldiers and we can still have fun with them!”

The catalog can be found on the Reviews page.

Posted in Wargaming | 2 Comments

Like what you see?

As part of some wider-ranging discussion about enabling more feedback for this website, we’ve now added “Like” buttons to the blog. At the bottom of each post and comment, users will now find a gray “thumbs up” icon. If you like what you’re reading, you can just click the icon and your appreciation will be noted.

You can only “Like” a post or comment once. The gray box turns red to remind you that you’ve already voted there. If you click the red button a second time, it will erase your original Like.

Anyway, try the Like buttons; it’s easy to get the hang of it. And our contributors will also appreciate your approval.

Of course, we still need your longer comments on posts here too.

There will be more announcements about other feedback options, both on this website and in Lone Warrior as well.

— Lone Warrior website administrator

Posted in Lone Warrior website, What's new | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Solo wargaming, Wargaming | 3 Comments