Was Admiral Yamamoto was an early wargamer?

Whilst writing about the life of Fred Jane, I remembered a discussion that I had with Richard Brooks – the author of the official biography of Fred Jane – about the involvement of officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy in some of Jane’s early naval wargames.

Some years ago, whilst I was doing research into Jane’s Naval War Game, I acquired a photocopy of the 1901 edition of the rules. It included a section entitled REPORT OF A LARGE COMBINED TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC “WAR” PLAYED AT PORTSMOUTH AND ELSEWHERE IN MARCH, APRIL AND MAY 1900. Amongst the players listed as taking part is a certain “Rear Admiral” Yamamoto (i.e. a young Japanese naval officer stationed in the UK at the time) who commanding the Dupuy de Lomé, the Hertha, and the Jémappes during the opening moves of the war.

(It is interesting to note the following fates of these ships:

  • Dupuy de Lomé: Totally disabled in engine room
  • Hertha: Sunk by gunfire
  • Jémappes: Little hurt.)

It would be great to think that this “Rear Admiral” Yamamoto was in fact Isoroku Yamamoto … but unfortunately my researches seem to indicate that it cannot be. Yamamoto was born Isoroku Takano in 1884, and only became Isoroku Yamamoto in 1916, when he was adopted into the Yamamoto clan in order to ensure that the family name did not die out. Furthermore he did not graduate from the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy as a Midshipman until 1904, just in time to serve aboard the armoured cruiser Nisshin during the Russo-Japanese War. He was wounded at the Battle of Tsushima, and lost the index and middle finger on his left hand.

It would therefore appear that these two Yamamotos cannot be one and the same person … which is a great pity as it would have made for a great bit of wargaming trivia. That said, Yamamoto was a renowned games player and gambler (he is reputed to have enjoyed playing Go, shogi, billiards, bridge, mah jong, and poker) and the Imperial Japanese Navy used naval war games right up until the end of World War II, so he must have taken part in naval wargames during his career … but not in Portsmouth in the early 1900s!

A scene from the film ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!‘ showing officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy taking part in a naval war game prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Whilst it makes for a dramatic film sequence, it is doubtful that the participants would have sat in neat rows as shown in this shot. It is far more likely that the post-game debrief would have looked like this.


The London Wargames Section

My recent bit of wargaming ‘detective’ work rekindled my memories of the rules produced during the late 1960s and early 1970s by the London Wargames Section. I certainly owned copies of some of them, and used them for a time.

From what I can find out, they produced rules for the following:

  • Modern
  • Napoleonic
  • American Civil War
  • Greek Naval
  • Napoleonic Naval
  • Samurai
Image © Noble Knight Games.

The writers included John Tunstill, Bish Iwaszko, Ed Smith, Sid Smith, and Ken Smith, and were quite innovative for their time.

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.

Contemplating my naval

Before anyone decided to write a comment about the face that the title of this blog entry should read ‘Contemplating my navel’, the ‘mistake’ is deliberate.

The fact that I now own enough Hexon II blue hexes to cover an area of approximately 9′ x 4′ has yet again turned my thoughts towards naval wargaming. Now over the years I have done quite a bit of naval wargaming, and have done my bit to help to popularise both Fred Jane’s Naval War Game and Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game. I have also designed quite a few of my own naval wargames, including MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) and THE PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME.

Until recently the naval wargames that I have fought using my Hexon II hexed terrain have tended to be quite small affairs (one or two ships per side) …

… but now I can begin to think about somewhat larger battles.

With this in mind I looked back at some of the battles I fought on my Heroscape blue terrain tiles using MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) …

It is 1914 … and the Greek and Turkish fleets approach each other.

Whilst the Turkish cruiser chases its Greek counterpart, the two Turkish battleships close on their Greek opponents.

… and I have decided that this is the sort of action I could set up and fight. Now all I have to do is to build some suitable model ships.


Before going to COW2015 I attended the funeral of a fellow Freemason’s wife in Enfield, Middlesex. After the funeral – and the reception that took place afterwards – I drove on to Knuston Hall, Northamptonshire, where I arrive at just after 4.00pm. This is supposed to be the earliest time that we can check in … but it turned out that nearly a third of the attendees had already arrived, and the place was really bustling.

After collecting my room key and uploading my luggage, I joined the throng that had collected in the entrance hall. A bring-and-buy table (which functions on an honesty system and which works surprisingly well) had already been set up, and quite a few purchases were being made. (I managed to buy a ROCO StuG III for £1.00 … which was a real bargain!)

From my arrival until dinner time at 7.00pm I spent most of my time chatting to loads of people and making sure that newcomers to COW were settled in. I also managed to get the dates and cost of COW2016 sorted out. (It will be taking place from 8th to 10th July 2016, and the cost will be £5.00 more than this year.)

Friday Evening
After dinner everyone assembled in the Lounge, …

… where Tim Gow and I formally opened the conference and Tim introduced the plenary game DON’T LOOK NOW! Everyone was split up into teams of three and given access to a copy of a 1970s British Army Military Vehicle Recognition booklet. After what seemed a very short period of time, each team was then taken into the Panelled Room where some MILTRA terrain had been set up. (At one point MILTRA had supplied 1:100th-scale military vehicle recognition sets to the British Army, and Tim Gow had bought an almost complete set earlier in the year … and had designed the game around it.)

The teams – each of which represented a Milan anti-tank missile team – had to sit some distance away wearing military headgear …

… and had to spot any vehicles in amongst the terrain, identify them, and decided which to fire at … all in a couple of minutes.

Needless to say, this proved to be a lot more difficult that one would have expected, and although the team I was in did not come last, we were by no means the best either!

After the plenary I took part in Kiera Bentley’s new HUNTER RAGE game. This was designed in response to the current fashion for ‘celebrities’ to go hunting for big game so that they can have their photograph taken with their ‘kill’. The game even has its own Facebook page, where participants can publish their successes … or failures.

Each player has a Lego figure which they can arm from a selection of weapons. (I chose to arm mine with an RPG.)

They then go ‘hunting’. In my case I managed to miss my animal (a zebra) when I fired my RPG at it, but eventually managed to kill it when we had to fight hand-to-hand. A photograph of my figure and my ‘kill’ was then taken and posted on Facebook.

Other hunters were not so lucky, and several got trampled by elephants, rhinos, and other similar beasts. I am sure that some people might think that this game is in very poor taste … but the point of it is to show how stupid ‘celebrities’ that go big game hunting are by mocking their ‘achievements’ by turning the whole thing into a game.

Although I was quite dark by the time the HUNTER RAGE session had ended, Kiera, Chris Willey, and I then sat down and tried to design a game about rescuing migrants and refugees who were trying to get across the Mediterranean. It took us about an hour to do so … and we hope to get people to try it just before dinner on Saturday.

I then took a quick look around what else was going on, and managed to catch as glimpse of some of the action in Tom Mouat’s game DAUGHTER OF THE SKIES …

… and WD Display Team North’s COASTAL COMMAND game.

By this point in the evening I was feeling quite tired, but Nigel Drury managed to persuade me to try the new Finnish wargame WATERLOO 15 … and I am very pleased that I did so. This is an excellent decision-making game, and as Napoleon I just about managed to cause Wellington’s army to collapse just before my own did.

Saturday Morning
I spent the first half of the morning in Jim Wallman’s session entitled DESIGNING WARGAMES TO ORDER. He described his experiences of designing wargames for the British military establishment, and this led on to a general discussion about the wargame design process.

During the second half of the morning I spent some time trying to get my camera-carrying helicopter drone to fly … and gave up once I realised that the batteries I was using needed charging!

I then spent time talking to some of the other conference attendees about wargame designs we were working on. (This was not a programmed event, but is a frequent activity at COW and allows attendees to bounce ideas of one another.)

Saturday Afternoon
My afternoon was taken up with a LITTLE COLD WARS session that was run by Tim Gow. The scenario featured an air assault by Soviet Airborne troops on a NATO airfield that was defended by two Bristol Bloodhound guided missile batteries and a company of RAF Regiment soldiers.

Just over a kilometre away – in a nearby village – a French Reserve Infantry Regiment was stationed to provide a covering force in the event of an attack.

The Soviet air assault was not a total success, mainly due the very effective anti-aircraft coverage provided by the French force’s anti-aircraft gun.

Eventually the airfield was overrun, …

… although a French counter-attack did succeed in causing the Soviet attackers significant casualties.

The Soviet situation was made worse by the fact that the transport aircraft carrying the attacker’s ASU-57 self-propelled anti-tank guns and engineers crashed onto the wreckage-strewn runway.

The battle ended when a Soviet armoured reconnaissance force appeared only a few kilometres from the town …

… just as a light French armoured reconnaissance force arrived to support the remaining French infantry troops.

This was an excellent session, and yet again proved how enjoyable fighting battles with 54mm-scale figures on a lawn can be!

Before dinner Kiera and I did manage to persuade a few people to try out the migrant/refugee rescue game we had designed on Friday evening … and the participants certainly enjoyed taking part, even if the subject of the game was regarded as being a little dubious.

Saturday Evening
After dinner I managed to observe Phil Steele’s naval wargame, SINK THE BISMARCK!

The game is deceptively simple, but actually produces very interesting results and is ideally adaptable to any naval battle where one side is hunting the other. Whilst watching it I though of several such actions (the Battle of Coronel, the Battle of the Falklands, the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau to name just a few) and I suspect that modified versions of the rules may well feature at future COWs.

I then attended Jim Roche’s WATERLOO REVISITED session. Jim’s sessions have become a firm favourite over the years … and this year was no exception. He told the story of the Battle of Waterloo through the tunes and songs of the period, including such old favourites as ‘The British Grenadier’ and ‘Hearts of Oak’ and some lesser-known ones including ‘Veillons au salut de l’Empire’ (‘Let’s ensure the salvation of the Empire’) – Napoleonic France’s unofficial national anthem – and ‘Le chant de l’Oignon’ (‘The song of the Onions’), which was adopted by the French Grenadiers of the Guard as their battle song.

Sunday Morning
Once breakfast was over I set up my KRIEGSSPIEL 1914 session in the Lounge. The rules were a slightly modified version of those used in Professor Phil Sabin‘s original game.

The session went extremely well, and both sides ended up fighting each other to a standstill … although the Germans did not quite manage to advance as far as they did historically.

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the conference venue looking at what else was going on. I spent some time in Mike Elliott’s WAKING SHARK session …

… before looking in on Ian Drury’s BRAVE ADMIRAL BENBOW GAME.

Ian Russell Lowell was in the Library running a session about ancient playing cards that was not on the timetable … a not unusual occurrence at a COW!

Sunday Afternoon
After lunch John Curry delivered a talk entitled PADDY GRIFFITH – HIS RISE AND FALL. This outlined Paddy’s career as a military historian and wargame designer, and set the stage for the future publication of several compendiums of Paddy’s as-yet-unpublished work.

The final act of the conference was the Annual General Meeting of Wargame Developments. There were reports by the Conference Organisers, the Treasure and Membership Secretary, the Editors of THE NUGGET and THE NUGGET COLOUR SUPPLEMENT, and the three regional Display Team Co-ordinators. Elections for the forthcoming year’s Officers were also held, and several proposals for minor changes were made and discussed. The AGM was over by just after 3.45pm, and after tea and cake the remaining attendees began to disperse.

COW2015 was over; roll on COW2016!

Some metal 1:1200th-scale model ironclads

Some years ago I had the opportunity to buy some metal 1:1200th-scale model ironclads at a very reasonable price … so I bought them. The ships were:

HMS Inflexible

HMS Victoria

Two Brandenburg-class German pre-dreadnought battleships

I repainted these two models as the paintwork was in poor condition, and it has always been my intention that they would represent the Turkish Heireddin Barbarossa (ex-Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm) and Torgud Reis (ex-Weissenburg).

As yet none of these models has taken part in a wargame, but hopefully they will do one day.

Out of the Shed: 1:1200th-scale model warship kits

The crates I took out of the now-defunct shed are still providing me with lots of surprises, and the latest was the discovery of a large number of unmade 1:1200th-scale model warships.

Besides a lot of other kits (more of which will feature in a forthcoming blog entry), I found the following model warships in the crate:

  • 4 x Revell Miniships Roma-class Battleships
  • 9 x Revell Miniships HMS King George V-class Battleships
  • 1 x Airfix HMS Ark Royal-class Aircraft Carrier
  • 2 x Airfix HMS Suffolk-class Heavy Cruisers
  • 3 x Eaglewall HMS Norfolk-class Heavy Cruisers
  • 2 x Lindberg USS Houston-class Light Cruisers
  • 8 x Airfix HMS Cossack-class Destroyers

I already have several unmade kits of some of the warships listed above, and this means that I could easily indulge my desire to build significantly large fleets of warships for Fletcher Pratt naval wargames … should I so desire it.