Fred Jane: One hundred years on

One hundred years ago today Fred Jane – prolific author, expert on naval matters, and the inventor of one of the early naval wargames – was found dead at 26 Clarence Parade, Southsea, Hampshire.

A young Fred Jane contemplates his Naval War Game.

John Frederick Thomas Jane was born in 1865 in Richmond, Surrey, and was the son of the Reverend John Jane. He went to school in Exeter, and after attempting to join the Royal Navy (he failed to get a place in the training ship Britannia due to an undisclosed health problem) and the British Army (he failed the entrance exam for Royal Military College, Sandhurst) he moved to London to try to make his living as a pen-and-ink illustrator and writer. He started out living in an attic in Gray’s Inn Road, Holborn, and in quite a short time he built up a reputation as a illustrator and writer of navy-related stories. This culminated in him being a special correspondent for several publications and taking part in a cruise aboard HMS Northampton in 1890.

An illustration of HMS Northampton drawn by Fred Jane.

His illustrations appeared in many different publications, and some of them had to be produced at short notice and without him actually being able to see the subject!

By 1892 he was married and two years later he was living in a basement flat in Chelsea. By then he had already begun to draw some of the illustrations that would eventually appear in his ALL THE WORLD’S FIGHTING SHIPS.

The title page of the 1898 edition of ALL THE WORLD’S FIGHTING SHIPS

His style of illustration was such that the main recognition features of a ship were easy to see, and each was annotated with a short description that graded its armament, armour, and speed.

An example of a page from the 1898 edition of ALL THE WORLD’S FIGHTING SHIPS. One of the ships illustrated is HMS Northampton, and it was included – along with the other ships on this page – ‘for completeness’ as Fred Jane assessed her as being obsolete and of little or no fighting value.

In subsequent volumes, the illustrations were replaced by side and plan views, photographs, and – when it was necessary – silhouettes.

A page from a later edition of Jane’s FIGHTING SHIPS. This page is devoted to the Admiral-class battleships, and the silhouettes have been included to aid the identification of individual ships in the class when seen at a distance.

It is interesting to note that the side and plan views showed not only the location and firing arcs of each ship’s (or class of ships) armament, but also the areas that were armoured and the thickness of the armour … which was information necessary for both serving naval officers and people playing Fred Jane’s Naval War Game!

Jane’s Naval War Game evolved over a number of years, and was finally presented at a meeting of RUSI (the Royal United Services Institute) in June 1898, just before the first edition of the rules were published.

The title page of the first edition (1898) of THE JANE NAVAL WAR GAME.

It was subsequently revised, and new editions were published in 1902, 1905, and 1912.

The game proved to be very popular, and campaigns as well as individual battles were fought during the run-up to the outbreak of the First World War.

A Jane Naval War Game taking place in the George Hotel, Portsmouth in 1903. It is being staged by the Portsmouth Naval War Game Club.

Special sets of model ships were created for certain customers, including that made for His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexander Mihailovitch of the Imperial Russian Navy.

The set of ship models specially made for His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Alexander Mihailovitch of the Imperial Russian Navy

As can be seen from these examples of a ‘target’ …

A ‘target’: the class of battleships shown are from the French Charlemagne-class, and the different sizes of ‘target’ are for 2,000 yards, 3,000 yards, and 4,000 yards.

… and ‘scorer’ …

A ‘scorer’: the damage already done to this member of the Charlemagne-class has been annotated on the ‘scorer’ by an umpire. Considerable damage seems to have been done to the ship’s superstructure but she does not appear to have been holed below the waterline and her main armament seems to be intact.

… they were obviously related to the illustrations used in various editions of Jane’s FIGHTING SHIPS.

What is less well known about Fred Jane is that he was a writer of several science fiction novels, an avid early motorist, a supporter of the use of aircraft, and a prospective Member of Parliament! (He failed to get elected.)

Fred Jane in later life.

Fred Jane was a man of vision … and someone that I wish that I had been able to meet.


27 Comments on “Fred Jane: One hundred years on”

  1. Amazing and informative, this article has enriched my day, thank you for sharing.

  2. KEV. says:

    Superbly written and presented Bob- fascinating history of Fred Jane…yes it would have been wonderful to be around at the turn of the 1900s…sounds a thoroughly fascinating man indeed – highly skilled and artistic. Thankyou for your excellent Post. Regards. KEV.

  3. I had no idea he lived in Southsea (my old stomping ground) – I note he does have a blue plaque though (right of the building in the link) and sounds like it was well deserved…!,-1.089209,3a,90y,27.26h,92.33t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1suIVoJFx5bl7D70kXs3XFDQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  4. Fascinating story on Jane and naval wargaming history.

  5. Tim Gow says:

    A very important man and a significant step in the evolution of Wargames.

  6. Solo wargaming-on a budget!

    It was a pleasure to research and write this blog entry, and I am very pleased that you enjoyed it.

    All the best,


  7. Kev,

    If you get a chance, read his biography. It was written by Richard Brooks, and covers his life in considerable detail.

    All the best,


  8. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    Southsea seems to be have been a bit of a Mecca for literary people. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started his career in Southsea and Kipling stayed there when he was a child.

    All the best,


  9. Jonathan Freitag,

    I am very please that you enjoyed this blog entry.

    All the best,


  10. Tim Gow,

    Fred Jane is one of those early wargamers that most people have heard about … but don't know much about.

    All the best,


  11. Indeed – knew about Conan Doyle – he had a doctors surgery just up the road from Fred Janes place as it happens, didn't know about Kipling, but our most famous literary son is probably Charles Dickens

  12. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    I should have remembered Dickens' link with Southsea as we share the same birthday!

    All the best,


  13. Chris says:

    Great writeup. I am tempted to play a game. Are the rules still published?

  14. Tim Gow says:

    Agreed. Richard Brooks's presentation on FTJ at COW a few years back was most informative. It is largely reproduced in John Curry's reprint of Jane's naval wargame.

  15. Chris,

    The rules are available from the 'History of Wargaming' Project.

    All the best,


  16. Tim Gow,

    I used some of the images from Richard Brooks's presentation in this blog entry.

    All the best,


  17. Tim Gow,

    You just managed to answer Chris's question before I did.

    All the best,


  18. Great post Bob! I didn't realize he was an illustrator and novelist as well. (our copies were always current editions for use in id-ing friends and ….not friends.., usually illustrated with photos.

    Seeing the examples of early illustrations gives me an even greater respect for the man.

    Have you read any of the novels?

  19. A fine 'potted' biography, Bob. I knew almost nothing at all about Mr Jane beyond his founding of the 'Fighting Ships' compendia, and that he designed a set of Naval war games rules.

    I am intrigued by his models warships. Are there any sources as to size, materials and modelling technique or style?

  20. Ross Mac,

    Fred Jane was a multi-talented man, and wrote four novels … none of which I have – as yet – read. They were:
    * Blake of the “Rattlesnake”: or, The Man Who Saved England: A Story of Torpedo Warfare in 189- (1895)
    * The Incubated Girl (1896)
    * To Venus in Five Seconds: Being an Account of the Strange Disappearance of Thomas Plummer, Pillmaker (1897)
    * The Violet Flame: A Story of Armageddon and After (1899)

    All the best,


  21. Archduke Piccolo,

    The models were made of wood and wire, and were 1:3000th-scale in length, but all other dimensions were over-scale to make ship recognition and picking the models up to move them easier.

    I made some myself some years ago from balsa, basswood, bamboo meat skewers, and thin plywood.

    All the best,


  22. Archduke Piccolo,

    To get some idea what my models look like, have a look at a blog entry I wrote in 2009.

    I hope that you find it useful.

    All the best,


  23. Always enjoy your History of Wargaming and Old School posts.

  24. Jonathan Freitag,

    I am very pleased to read that! I hope that I can continue to inform and entertain you and other regular blog readers for many years to come.

    All the best,


  25. Unknown says:

    Hi there – wondering if you know of any war game sets made just post WWI featuring german and british ships. Paper slips glued to the model bottoms had spaces to write in offensive and defensive values. Any info would be great! Thanks!

  26. Unknown,

    The naval wargame you describe is unknown to me, but I'd be interested to know more.

    All the best,


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