Old Time Tanks In War Games

While digging around for some long lost figures for Bill Protz, I came upon a model designed by Joe Morschauser, which in turn caused me to dig out my old issues of War Game Digest to locate this article…

War Game Digest, winter 1962
By Joe Morschauser

I have often wondered why there is such a separation between the modern and the Musket period war game. For some strange reason war gamers fight either Napoleonic or 1898 type musket games or are completely devoted to late WWII modern games. With the exception of one article by Tony Bath of England on 1930 period “modern” games, almost nothing has appeared in WGD or other war game literature on “between-the-wars” type war gaming. This I think is a crying shame.

The period extending from about 1920 to 1940 is loaded with exciting possibilities for war gamers. There were countless “little wars” during this span of time. The period was one of exciting experimentation in the use of armor and tanks and there was an almost obsessive desire on the part of all national commanders to avoid the trench slaughter that WWI had brought. Then too the depression of the 1930s put a brake on the designing and building of “big” heavy equipment so that most of these between-the-wars” wars were fought with small tanks, small guns and lots of the old musketry and guts of the pre-WWI days.

There is just no good reason why war garners should not re-fight: The Italian/Ethiopian War; The Spanish Civil War; The Russo/Japanese War of the early 1930s; The Grand Chaco War in South America between Paraguay and Uruguay; The Riff War of the French in North Africa against the Arab tribes, various British/Indian frontier actions; and The Sino-Japanese war which lead into WWII. Add to this the many “imaginary’ wars one can dream up like a Franco-British war in Africa or a Russo-British war in India and the war gamer has found himself a huge span which is almost completely ignored but one which is loaded with wonderful possibilities. The period joins the wonderful uniform possibilities of the past like those of the French Legion or the “pith helmet British” with such exciting things as fast little tankettes, truck-borne infantry and even an occasional (though very ineffective) airplane of the ‘egg-crate” variety.

But it is the little experimental tanks of the period which really add the “dash” to the game. In most cases these tiny buggies had hardly the fighting strength of a good, squad of infantry (which by the way could take care of them with grenades at close range). But these tanks or “tankettes” as they were called could dash around the battlefield, help scatter demoralized enemies or act as a mobile “pill box” at a critical road junction. The Vickers/Carden Loyd designed in 1928 by Sir John Carden is a typical example. Weighing only 2 1/2 tons, carrying armor no more than a third of an inch thick and mounting only a single heavy water-cooled machine gun, they were a far cry from the Tigers, Panthers or Stalins of WWII. But these tankettes were used by almost every major nation in the world — Russia, Japan, the Czechs, Poland, France, Italy, China, various South American countries and of course by Britain. Completely inadequate for “modern war” as we think of it today, they served with distinction in all the actions mentioned in the paragraph above.

The Bren Gun Carrier of WWII British infantry forces grew from the Vickers/Carden Loyd. Some of you probably have used some of these in your earlier war gaming days with Britians soldiers for that firm made a 54mm scale model of the BGC. What many probably don’t know or may not remember is that the Vickers/Carden Loyd tankette or machine gun carrier as it was also called, was also made by Britians, in miniature 54mm scale of course. However, since that particular model was discontinued, there has been nothing on the market for war, gamers to use in “between the wars” wars. And this may well be the reason why war gamers ignore this period. One can get Tigers,
Panthers, Shermans and a variety of late WWII period tanks but no little tankettes.

I myself searched and searched for proper models to use with 20mm scale figures for a “between the wars” war I have had in mind for many years. Finally in complete frustration at the lack of any equipment (except the “off scale” Authenticast models which are not made any longer) I designed my own. I’m no great shakes as a designer or model-maker but I have managed to turn out an adequate “war ‘game” miniature in 20mm scale of the Vickers/Carden Loyd 1929 tankette. This particular model had head covers for the crew of two, thus it is a completely protected tank.
How does one “organize” such tanks in a “between the wars” war game? It’s not at all difficult if you use the Roster System of mounting your troops on trays. Each tankette is given the firepower of an infantry tray and of course fires its machine gun the same amount as an infantry tray or squad (or team as I call them). The Infantry can fight back at close range with grenades (destroying the tankette) and all heavy machine guns or other heavier weapons can destroy the tankette with a hit. Thus your tanks in such a game are not all-powerful (as they tend to be in a WII modern game once all anti-tank guns or weapons of the infantry are gone). This means of course that one does not send these little buggies racing into the teeth of a heavily-defended enemy infantry position without support. The tankettes are actually cavalry. They have speed (35mph) and firepower and shock power, but their speed and mobility, not their protection in armor, are their important points. And of course, like cavalry, they can battle each other with their fire-power for their heavy machine guns will cut through the armor, just as a carbine bullet will cut through a chasseur’s breastplate.

“Old time” tanks, meaning “between-the-wars” tanks used in war games can provide war gamer a with a lot of fun. I’m looking forward for example, to an Anglo-French African war using same. (French version of Carden Loyd was called the Cheniellette and was used as an “under fire'” supply tank as well as a recon. vehicle). The King’s African Rifles and the “Casablanca Zouaves”, each supported by tankettes may soon be fighting at Fashoda on the Nile. I suggest other war gamers might like to try similar actions with “Old Tine Tanks” in a “between-the-wars” war game.

After posting the preceding, I though that you might also like to see the Scruby catalog listing for this figure.
This picture is from the 1967 Scruby catalog (I’ll work on a better scan). Models are currently available for $5.00 each