Unusual Airfix endorsement? Charles Grant, The War Game and Battle!

In my battered (and so affordable) copy of The War Game (1971) by Charles Grant, the final chapter XXX lists War Games Figures and Equipment –

After a roll call of eight 1960s now classic / vintage figure makers, the last at No. 9 is surprisingly Airfix Ltd. –

No. 9 Airfix Ltd, Haldane Place, Garratt Lane, London SW18

“It would be improper not to mention the products of this firm, whose inexpensive plastic war games figures (20mm to 25mm – they do vary) have started the career of many a junior and not a few senior wargamers.”

“They are quite the cheapest on the market (about 15p for boxes of 20 to 30 figures) and the war-gaming world owes Airfix a not inconsiderable debt.”

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The “war-gaming world owes Airfix a not inconsiderable debt” … true words indeed.

By 1970/71 when this book was written, Airfix had by the mid 60s issued horse and musket era figures for the American Civil War, the first Waterloo figures arrived in 1969 although the most suitable American War of Independence bicorne and grenadier figures for The War Game had yet to arrive, advertised in the Airfix Catalogue and Airfix Magazine for late 1971.

Had they been available, a few well placed Airfix box pictures of these AWI figures (as Featherstone did for the latest Airfix releases in his books) would have done much to make The War Game 18th Century era even more accessible to many war gamers.

Some of my childhood painted AWI Airfix veteran figures … recently flocked and based.

No Airfix figures appear on the hallowed pages of Grant’s The War Game.

Ironically all the photographs in The War Game book are of Charles Grant’s 18th Century figures, mostly Spencer Smith Miniatures in 30mm plastic that appeared to have vanished by 1971:

Chapter II – “The bulk of the photographs used in this work to illustrate various tactical points and battle narratives show 30mm figures. It is sad they are no longer obtainable, especially as they were do startlingly inexpensive that a few shillings would enable one to recruit a brigade or a regiment. They were immensely durable …”

Interestingly, just as Spencer Smith figures disappeared for a time, Airfix historical figures like the AWI sets often disappeared from the Catalogue and the shelves in the 70s and 80s.

I do recall that SSMs reappeared in plastic c. 1982 in the back pages of gaming magazines at affordable bag prices for me to buy a few ACW figures.

Plastic SSM figures from the 1960s are now becoming brittle with age, snapping at the ankle or hoof joint, like some 1960s Airfix figures also have.

These classic figures remain available, albeit in individual “and durable” metal from Spencer Smith Miniatures.

The War Game is still available / in print

https://kentrotman.co.uk/newbooks/the-war-game/

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Charles Grant and Airfix … WW2

Charles Grant’s Battle! WW2 Wargaming book has recently been reprinted with additional chapters from the first incarnation as chapters or articles in Meccano Magazine in the 1960s to 1970 when Battle! was first published in book form.

https://wargaming.info/2011/charles-grant-battle-practical-wargaming/

Screenshot: Some Airfix Russian figures converted into an Bazooka team.

Here is a Wargames Illustrated “flip through”of Charles Grant’s Battle! book on this short video on YouTube: photographs in the book clearly shows early Type 1 Airfix figures in action.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0JW9-pcLaw0

Screenshot from Battle: First generation or Type 1 Airfix German Infantry

A reprint of Battle! is available, recently updated with six Meccano Magazine articles not included in the original book, by Charlie M. Grant, grandson of Charles Grant. https://www.caliverbooks.com/bookview.php?id=20554

The “war-gaming world owes Airfix a not inconsiderable debt” … true words indeed.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 31 July 2021

10 thoughts on “Unusual Airfix endorsement? Charles Grant, The War Game and Battle!”

  1. I have recently re-equipped myself with copies of Grant’s “The War Game” and Featherstone’s “War Games”. I too was surprised to note Grant’s note about Airfix. I realised that I had imposed a (mis)perceived snobbishness about them from these elder statesmen of The Game. Featherstone in particular seems to have used a lot of Airfix figures.

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    1. Featherstone seemed to have a very close relationship with Airfix from War Games onwards.

      Other noted wargames authors of the time like Terry Wise used Airfix figures extensively. To me, using these pocket money figures, they made the books / rules / games accessible.
      I wonder ” and egg” how much the Airfix figure range of periods dictated the rules and games that people played or if Ancient – Medievals, ACW, Colonial and WW2 is just part of the gaming furniture to be endlessly reproduced in all scales.

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  2. The Spencer Smiths may have been durable for the time, but forty years on they’re brittle. I’ve got a few of Charles S. Grant’s books, and he’s apparently retired the survivors (though he brings them out on special occasions). He’s got new repro armies now, mostly Crann Tara and Perrys I think.

    I’ve built up a medium-sized collection of plastic 20mm Napoleonics, and have started basing them on left-over Wofun 15mm MDF bases.

    I’ve been thinking of picking up Battle! It’s not available in PDF, though a Meccano Magazine archive briefly had all the articles. I bogged down a few issues in. I’m trying to stick these days to games I’ll actually play or use the rule mechanisms from, though.

    Jon, read Featherstone’s Battles With Model Soldiers for his opinion of ACW Airfix of the time. He recommends a couple boxes of each (horse, foot and guns for each side) as a starter, and demonstrates three increasingly complex (but still very simple) battles with them. I still kick myself for not discovering wargaming as a child, because I bought a lot of Esci figures and never quite understood that they could be used for wargaming, despite the painting instructions on the boxes. It wasn’t until ten years later I discovered Featherstone, Wells and Young. Then Warhammer, and then I was off.

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    1. My Spencer Smiths 1980s plastics (attractively bought by the bag) are a tad brittle now, although metal replacements are available. No doubt in time this will happen to many of our plastic figures in the distant future, so best to get on and enjoy them now.

      I noticed that the Battle / Meccano Magazine website no longer has the links, due to a rights issue and possibly because the Battle! Book is available again in print.

      I found Featherstone’s early simple WW2 rules simple enough, much simpler than Battle! When I read a few of the Meccano Magazine articles a few years ago.

      I know what you mean about Esci, they seemed more like the diorama side of Airfix or for modelling. I bought each box of soft plastic Esci as they emerged in the early 1980s, mostly out of curiosity to see how they did their Waterloo figures or ACW. Some made it into games such as the Redcoats and Zulus, but most were just a painting exercise such as the multiple figure vignettes. They also seemed slightly out of scale with my earlier type 1 Airfix.

      I liked the Featherstone Battle with Model Soldiers / War Game approach that all you need is a few cheap boxes of Airfix to make a balanced small game. His War Game ACW Battle was played I think with Spencer Smith Miniatures, which is why I was delighted to find the SSM Miniatures on sale in plastic in affordable bags.

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  3. Great to see you giving Airfix their rightful place. Mr Wise’s “ Introduction to Battle Gaming “ first published in 1969 is full of Airfix figures and lovely conversions like the Mobile ram on p 82 along with two Airfix Roman archers in a plasticard Howrah on top of a Britains baby elephant. Mr Wise also features Airfix railway buildings and fences in the pictures of his battles.

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    1. The Wise Introduction to Battle Gaming book is one that I don’t think I saw (often) through the childhood branch library, but seems familiar from photos in the Airfix ACW gaming book.
      I like the fact that people were pushing the boundaries with conversions. Similar age to the Charles Grant book and Featherstone’s Battles with Model Soldiers.

      The vintage wargaming website has some Wise articles on converting Airfix railway buildings to Wild West ACW streets which can still be done as the Airfix Railway range is available through Dapol – one for the future!

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  4. Available as a reprint Mark from John Curry’s History of Wargaming

    The book includes using trains in games and has a love picture of first generation Airfix Germans being transported on a model railway wagon and in scratch built boats. A charming read and book of lovely photos drenched now in nostalgia.

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    1. Thanks Alan. Good to let people know about the reprint. I have a tatty second hand copy from 1971/2 picked up a few years ago (partly for the pictures!)

      Flicking through to the figure suppliers / scales in the Wise book , no 15mm mentioned at all – Still a year or two early for Peter Laing.
      “Railways add speed and adventure to a game” – found the Troops train photos you mentioned. Definitely one for my railway Gaming Sidetracked blog!

      Shame that Bellona are out of business but Amera do some nice vacformed bases in that style.

      The History of Wargaming project reprints are so useful and John Curry is an interesting and friendly chap to chat to on email, whenever I have sent snippets of Wargames history his way.

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  5. Nice article. Looking at that old black and white photo showing WW2 Airfix brings back so many fond memories of the early 1970s. I do wonder if it is just nostalgia however, I can’t help thinking it was my limited resources, and the limited range of products available in shops, essentially Airfix, which made the collecting more magical. (I had those type 1 Germans, and also the trees). Forty five years later and I’ve started raising new armies out of cheap, plastic figures because I like making/converting something interesting out of ‘bits’, I suspect thats my real hobby.
    Michael

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    1. I know what you mean about the black and white photo induced nostalgia (although sadly the B&W photos do not usually reproduce well).

      The ‘limited’ range of Airfix products in the 60s and early 70s made you more resourceful as a converter or painter, even when the intended figure conversions were eventually released by Airfix in time.
      That’s obviously where you learnt your passion for tinkering!

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