As editor of the History of Wargaming Project, I am privileged to
receive collections of wargaming books, rules, magazines, unpublished wargaming
material and recollections from early wargamers on a regular basis. Recently, I
received a particularly interesting letter centred around Lionel Tarr from an
early wargamer (David T. Bradley). It is
reproduced with permission.
I apologise for getting in contact "out of the blue"
but have just finished reading the latest volume in your History of Wargaming
series - More Wargame Pioneers and I wanted to say how much I
enjoyed it. I was particularly interested in the section covering Lionel Tarr's
contribution to wargaming in general and the "modern" period in
Certainly it was Lionel Tarr, of all the wargaming pioneers from the
1960s, that had the greatest influence on the development of my wargaming
interests. I corresponded with him on-and-off over the years, he was always
ready with help and advice and I actually had the pleasure of meeting him.
I had played "Little Wars" with H.G. Well's rules and
my Britains toy soldiers, growing up in the late 1950s, but my wargaming
epiphany came in early 1960, after my father, who had seen an article in one of
the national newspapers about Jack Scruby, wrote a few letters and as a result
I received a copy of the first Don Featherstone edited issue of Wargamers
Digest. I read it to almost the point of destruction and I remember that
one of the (many) articles that caught my attention was a battle report by
Lionel "Into Odessa". In it he described the capture of the
port by his German forces from its Soviet defenders. The reference to tank
duels, street fighting, aerial bombardment quite seized my imagination. However
in those days none of the (very limited number) of wargame soldier
manufacturers seemed to make World War II figures. So I turned to my other
military history interest (like many others) the American Civil War.
As you are probably aware, assembling a wargame army in those days was
an exercise in patience and logistics, as the only suppliers were either in
South Africa or Visalia, California (Jack Scruby). Therefore delivery in
those pre-air freight days was by ship (and very slow ones at that)! Later that
year Wargamers Digest carried further articles by Lionel on his wargame,
his forces and methods, so I was able to explore this area while waiting for my
Civil War Armies to complete their voyage to South Yorkshire!
As it happened, there was in nearby Sheffield a model railway shop that
specialised in Continental manufacturers - Marklin, Fleishman etc., and to
complement these, they also sold scenic items, again from continental firms.
One of these was Roskopf who, alongside models of various railway related
vehicles, also produced a small range of 1/100 military vehicles, mainly post
war, but some WWII models. I started buying these so I managed to acquire two
small "modern" armies, supplemented by some Matchbox vehicles - a M3
half-track, a Saladin armoured car, a Ferret scout car and a Saracen APC.
Britains did a "OO" scale Centurion, a Sexton SPG and some lorries.
Then Airfix brought out their first 1/72 figure sets. The first was pretty
useless (from a wargaming point-of-view) - the Brigade of Guards band! However
another early set was of (British) modern infantry combat troops with officers,
radio operators and riflemen, sub-machine gunners and stretcher parties plus
some "wounded" figures.
They all appeared to be scaled down versions of a similar set of 54mm
figures produced by Herald. Paint could transform them into British (khaki),
German (grey) or Waffen-SS (unhistorical black). I had already written to
Lionel who had kindly provided me with a set (hand-written) of his rules. For
the actual games, I followed the example of the British war films of the period
- Ice Cold in Alex, The Red Beret Carve Her Name with Pride
etc. by just using British vehicles decorated with a black cross to indicate
the enemy - if it was good enough for J. Arthur Rank, it was good enough for
The next significant event was Don Featherstone's first Wargame
“Conference” at his house in Southampton in 1961. The event coincided with the
Bay of Pigs Crisis, but we were too busy to concern ourselves with that!
Lionel gave one of the talks, on how he operated his solo wargames
and I was able to talk to him and, like everyone in the wargaming fraternity at
the time, he was only too happy to give of his time and advice. I asked him
about his vehicles and he offered to send me some from his collection.
The models he sent me were incredibly crude by today's standards but at
the time I thought they were absolutely fantastic. Lionel sent me six in all.
For the Germans, a Tiger, a Panther (some of these can be seen in the
photographs for the World War II game in Don Featherstone's War
Games illustrating The Tank-Infantry Action on the St James
Road) and a StuG III. For the Soviets a T-34, a KV-1 and a Su-122. They
were mainly made of Plaster-of-Paris for the hulls, carved wooded turrets and
doweling gun barrels. The T-34 and Su-122 had doweling fuel tanks on their rear
decks and the latter even had a commander in the turret. The Soviet vehicles
were camouflaged in green. The German vehicles were similar except that the
StuG was all wood. The German vehicles were all painted black. At last I could
set some of my battles on the OSTFRONT.
I was intrigued by the point you make in your book that the early
wargame pioneers had not only done military service, they had fought in
a World War. Don Featherstone in tanks through Tunisia and Italy and Lionel at
Arnhem and then in German captivity. Real-life experience that informed their
wargaming and how they developed rule systems to portray it, in a totally
different way from today's wargaming generation. You might have thought such
experiences would put one off things military for life!
The other point that needs to be acknowledged is the amount of original
research Lionel had to do on weapons, vehicles, tactics and organisation, let
alone the details of the Eastern Front campaign. Now we can look at a host of
reference material providing the answers to all those questions. When Lionel
was assembling his wargame forces there was a minuscule portion of such
material and what there was, not particularly accessible.
I next became involved with Lionel in the 1963, the year I went to University.
In one of the first issues of Don's Wargamers Newsletter there was an
article by Lionel (which you reproduce in your book) on RETASOL. That didn't
last long and was succeeded by a more informal set-up called COSOL. I wrote to
Lionel asking if I could join in, and was assigned a section of the southern
portion of the Eastern Front. Unfortunately by the time I got the necessary War
Office General Staff maps, COSOL itself had also broken up. However Lionel
offered to act as my German directing opponent while I managed the Soviet
forces. So in the weeks before I went up to University, Lionel acted as
commander of my German forces on the approaches to the Crimea.
By that time things were better regarding on the availability of models.
Airfix had started producing their range of kits and I had some of these for
"Normandy" type battles inspired by Don Featherstone’s World War II
section in War Games. However there was still very little Eastern Front,
especially Soviet, equipment.
So, for the campaign for the Crimea, I was using 1/100 scale Rosfkopf
German and Soviet armour, supplemented by Denzil Skinner metal models at the
same scale, Airfix German infantry, and for the Soviets the British combat
group supplemented by Matchbox half-tracks and other armoured vehicles which
again can also be seen in some of the photos in War Games.
After university and post-graduate work in London, I joined the MoD as a
civil servant and attended meetings run by the London Wargaming Group. For a
variety of reasons wargaming was on the back burner for a while, but I did have
the pleasure of meeting "Bish " Iwasko - the doyen of modern
wargaming in the London Group and later John Sandars, through our joint
membership of MAFVA (Model Armoured Fighting Vehicles Association) and us both
working in the MoD, at the time John was a serving RN Lieut.-Cdr with a staff
appointment in Whitehall.
In the early 70's I again got in contact with Lionel. By then his
campaign had reached the banks of the Volga but he had no interest in making
the return trip to Berlin. He mentioned that he had offered his armies for sale
to Ed Saunders who had turned down the offer. I offered to buy them and he
accepted. Some weeks later some very large boxes were delivered.
In all it totalled some 90 armoured vehicles, 36 artillery pieces,
100 armoured and soft skin transport vehicles, 4 assault boats and 2
Fiesler Storch aircraft. Also some 1400 German and Soviet infantry
supported by 17 anti-tank guns, 20 machine gun-teams and 4 mortars (I had
to go out and buy some steel shelving units to house it all)!
All of the Plaster- of-Paris models had long gone and the majority of
the armour were from ROCO Minitanks who were, by then, widely
available in the UK, although Lionel had sourced his from Germany and Austria
some years earlier. Most of the vehicles were unpainted but en masse
they were certainly an impressive sight!
Over the years I played with them, replaced some and disposed of others.
I passed on the balance of the collection some time ago as the pressures of
family, household moves intruded. I wish I had hung on to more, as I am
now retired and have the time and space.
Along with the troops and tanks, Lionel also provided his rules and
organisation charts for his forces, these I have retained.
The rules in particular make very interesting reading. They reflect
Lionel’s latest thoughts and are more comprehensive than those you and Don Featherstone
printed. It is interesting to see how Lionel modified various aspects over the
The strike and defence values for tank combat he had abandoned and
replaced with a system based on details of armour protection for individual
vehicles and data for the penetrative power of various weapons on armour. The
element of chance was greatly removed. I think this was the influence of Carl
Reavley. In 1961 or 1962 Jack Scruby published Carl's set of modern
wargame rules in one of his edition of Wargamers Digest. They were
very comprehensive and even included helicopters, quite a novelty at the
time. No dice were used at all. Effects were based on tables and were
unmodified by any element of chance. Destruction and casualties were inflicted
by referring to tables of weapon effects on various targets at various
ranges - no exceptions.
I was also intrigued by other features in your book. I have some a copy
of Michael Korns Wargame rules. The data he collected is fascinating but as a
The picture of Tony Bath on page 52 (I think that is David
Chandler sitting on Tony's right) I am fairly certain was taken at the
Duke of York's Chelsea barracks for a massive refight, in 25mm, of
Waterloo - I think one of the earliest, if not the earliest, "mega-game"!
The photo of Tony Bath, with Charles Grant on page 41 taken in Don
Featherstone's wargame room during the Southampton get-together in 1962,
brought back many happy memories. I think I may even be the headless figure
standing on the stairs! The dress code for wargame gatherings in the early
sixties was sport-jacket and tie - a bit different from the hobby's
sartorial standards today.
I apologise for going on at such length. "Wargame nostalgia"
is a dangerous sentiment! Thank you again for your fascinating book and
allowing Lionel Tarr's contribution to the development to wargaming, and in
particular the inspiration he provided to many others, finally to be given the
recognition it deserves.