Monday, 9 February 2015

Over Open Sights

Now, many of you know that I have what can be charitably termed an antiquarian nature.  This, and my interest in the transitional (ie, from sail to steam) period of naval thinking in the second half of the nineteenth century was behind my decision to stock publications of the History of Wargaming Project over on Diplomatist Books.

It will come as no surprise then that the first of these (really quite interesting) publications I've set to read was John Curry (ed), Over Open Sights: Early Naval Wargaming Rules 1873-1904.   This book republishes and examines naval wargame rules presented at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). between those dates.  They are
  • Lt Castle RN: The Game of Naval Tactics (1873)
  • Capt Colomb RN: The Duel (1879)
  • Lt Chamberlain RN: Game of Naval Blockade (1888)
  • The Fred Jane Naval Wargame (1898)
Now these games are interesting in themselves (Bob Cordery has reported on some games of Lt Chamberlain's rules over at the Wargaming Miscellany, do have a look), but they weren't produced in a vacuum: the fact that they were presented at RUSI indicates that they were meant as professional tools.  I was therefore interested in what a theologian would term their Reception.  Did they change naval thinking?  Were they indicators of great things for these bright young thinkers?  The success of Jane's game is well-known, and Columb is a familiar name to those interested in naval tactics of the period, but what of Castle and Chamberlain?

Off to the book-shelves!  A quick check of the Naval Who's Who 1917 found no entry of Castle (it turns out that he died in 1916) and only a single line entry for Chamberlain - that he was the inventor of the Game of Naval Blockade (1888).  Disappointing, but it showed that the game was still worth mentioning in a professional publication some 30 years later.

Perhaps these junior officers had been commended for there initiative?  Fortunately naval officers service records are available to download from The National Archives' website - perhaps there wa a note of Their Lordship's Approbation?  No there wasn't.  Both had fairly routine careers.

William McCoy Fitzgerald Castle appears to have been very highly regarded by his superiors.  He is commended for his zeal and command of several languages - no mention of his tactics game though.  He was promoted to captain in 1885 and retired in that rank in 1898, at the time of his death in 1916 he was a Vice-Admiral on the retired list.

Henry Chamberlain had a much shorter naval career.  He retired in the rank of Lt-Cdr in 1880 due to poor health and became a lecturer in naval and military history.  He was probably helped there by the fact that his father was an admiral and he was nephew of Field Marshal Sir Neville Chamberlain and Gen Sir Crawford Chamberlain.  In fact his family connections proved to be the most interesting thing I could see about him.  One brother was a leading Japanologist and the other a racialist writer - much regarded by the Nazis - who married Wagner's daughter and became a German citizen in 1916.

And there I was going to leave it, until two rather stunning co-incidences occured, which threw a very interesting light on Castle and his game.

...and I shall write about that tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Damn! Bought the Paddy Griffiths title just after Christmas. >:O(

    Never mind, just scanned you list and ther're others . . . . :O)


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