Friday 31 July 2020

The Collection of Eric Knowles and some Turkish Delight

Some of the Austrian navy from the SE Asia campaign. It looked nice but met a ignominious end despite using Russian dreadnoughts for target practice....

I met up (observing the appropriate social distancing conventions) with Bill Knowles yesterday to take delivery of what will be the final part of the first phase of the great disposal of his father’s collection. By way of clarification this means the last of the 18th century stuff, the Napoleonic collection and some other assorted bits and pieces.

The Napoleonic collection was rather a late entry into the lists in that it did not form part of the initial disposals. In fact much of this only came to light when Bill was moving boxes around. Eric Knowles took part in the famous 1965 refight of Waterloo featuring Donald Featherstone and Tony Bath amounts others, taking the role of Picton. Much of Eric’s Napoleonic collection is Waterloo period and there are some rare old gems in terms of the figures. Time has not been kind to the collection in that most of this was in deep storage for nigh on 50 years and experienced several house moves. As a result units are completely mixed up, figures are off their bases and inevitably there are some casualties. It will be a major undertaking to sort this lot out but sort it I will.

There was also the remnants of Eric’s unpainted 20mm WW2 Russians - mostly gun crews and support stuff - and also a complete 14th Army for Burma.

A couple of painted late 17th century Spanish and Venetian cavalry units and some assorted camp follower/ camp scenic bits and pieces more or less completed the picture, apart from an innocuous looking paper box tucked to one side with a couple of Airfix 1:1200th scale Prinz Eugen boxes.

I was intrigues by these as they sat forlornly on the floor of Bill’s garage, the dust of ages adorning them and with the writing pale and faded.

Turkish destroyers - metal models from god knows where although I remember the large B97 types being sold at Eric’s shop. Actual Turkish ship names were used but as I recall we very soon ran out of these as the navy I was using was far larger than anything the Turks ever had!

I looked, and looked again. Sure enough, the boxes contained some of the Turkish ships I painted, converted and scratch built for Eric’s Fletcher Pratt WW1 South East Asia naval campaign fought after the conclusion of the Madasahatta campaign at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 80s.

I am not going to lie but seeing these again after some 40 years actually brought a lump to my throat.

Note the monitors - converted from 1:3000th scale Queen Elizabeth class dreadnoughts and named after something from Mark and Mindy! The submarines are Minifigs but I could not tell you what anything else is or was before Eric got his hands on it!

The collection was not complete as Bill has further boxes of Eric’s ship collection stored elsewhere but this lot somehow found its way to Bill’s amongst all the other stuff. The capital ships and a some of the cruisers are still to be found but it really gave me a boost having these in my hands once again.

A selection of cruisers, again Eric had heavily converted some models, the origins of which are lost in the mists of time although both Airfix and Eaglewall plastic kits featured. Note the small cruiser in the bottom right hand corner.

The Turkish seaplane tender Omar Khayham. This started life as cheap ‘made in Hong Kong’ type toy so my role was merely applying the paint - Eric would routinely pass over a box of models that he had made to be painted so all of these models received their plumage from me. I was rather pleased with this one as it is the only 20th century warship I have EVER painted with a camouflage scheme!

The Omar Khayham looking rather dashing in her rather German 1941 looking paint scheme....

Although Eric provided the lion’s share of the models for the Turkish navy - my role was primarily painting them and preparing the Fletcher Pratt ship cards - I did produce a few of my own. The cruiser you see above one one of two that I built (the other being the Hamedieh) using the hull from an Airfix 1:1200th Tribal class destroyer. By inverting the hull and levelling the sides you were left with a really useful flush decked hull with a rather splendid ram bow. Both of these models came from a single pack of Tribals (there were two in a pack). Neither of these models were historically accurate but they looked close enough to what they should have and not only had the correct number of funnels but also guns in the right places! I was really pleased with them and even after some 40 years I would not be ashamed of putting these on the tabletop!

 Another view, because I could! The guns were metal but everything else was plastic. The boats came from the spares box. I got a little carried away with the fore and aft tripod masts but they looked good!

Aside from the Turks there was also a box containing most of the Austrian fleet (See the picture at the start of the post) which for the most part started life as conversions or straight paint jobs using the range of warships that Minifigs briefly produced.

Much of Eric’s collection has brought back many fond memories for me but this lot has really struck a chord, mainly due to my own involvement. I will look forward in due course to seeing what other ships surface (or should be submarines?) but for now I will think back to the days when the Turkish navy sailed proudly across the South China Sea whilst avoiding the allies....


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


I recognise some of the ships in the Austrian fleet, especially the Minifig DREADNOUGHT that I converted into a coastal defence ship (SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf) for Eric.

I like the way he had converted the Triang Minic Daring-class destroyers into light cruisers ... and your two conversions were outstanding! Turning the Tribal-class hulls over was inspired, and well up to the sort of standard Eric set. He had a knack of looking at something and seeing all sorts of potential that others just could not see, and you did the same.

All the best,


Ray Rousell said...

Austrian and Turkush Navy! That's not something you see every day!!!

David Crook said...

Hi Ray,

The South East Asia WW1 campaign contained many things, some consider to be unnatural....The Italians, Russians, Japanese, Americans, Germans and the Royal Navy all featured.

It was enormous fun in a mad, anarchic story of way.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

I did not know you worked on the Austrians although I do recall you made a number of models for Eric that saw gallant service.

Eric’s creativity was legendary and as you rightly say, he could see things that others may not have done with some of ships so for you to include me in the same conversation is high praise indeed for which I thank you!

There is a lot more to come from this collection and I hope we can be sharing some more memories of what was enormous fun sooner rather than later.

All the best,


Graham C said...

That's something special to have these find their way to you. They don't look in too bad a condition either. I remember spending hours in the reference library making notes of various ships etc to enable their use in the Fletcher Pratt rules and also to allow us to scratch build models from Naldo and Lino tiles!
Looking forward to seeing more of the finds

David Crook said...

Hello there Graham C,

I remember when Eric said was in charge of the Turkish fleet - I was hugely disappointed at the time until I visited the local reference library and looked at the 1914 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships. I photocopied the entire section and this was the start of my lifelong interest in matters Turkish!

Eric was incredibly creative and he churned out all manner of ships from the Airfix 1:1200th range as well as some old Eaglewall kits. He would happily chop up metal models and used bits and pieces across the scale spectrum.

It was great fun as it was all so over the top!

All the best,


'Lee. said...

Hello David, glad to see that you are keeping busy.

Those little ship models are wonderful things.

I am fascinated to read that there is much more of the Napoleonic collection, some from the 1965 Waterloo game, still to come! Given the resurgence of interest in vintage Napoleonics there should be good homes to be found for them. I would just love to be able to peer into those boxes to see what's there, must be a treasure trove for collectors.

David Crook said...

Hi ‘Lee,

Many thanks old chap - much appreciated! It was a long time ago for sure but I remember the fun we had making all manner of ships and certainly in Eric’s case with additional levels of imagination applied!

As I recall I scratch built a couple of cruisers and a battle cruiser and it was enormous fun doing so.

I will be posting pictures of the Napoleonics as they get sorted but it will take a while. Time has not been kind to them but there are some gems to be seen and of course, let us not forget the historical interest surrounding the collection.

All the best,


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

This post is a treasure
Forty years on and still looking good!

David Crook said...

Hello Geordie,

Many thanks old chap! Was that me or the ships?

All the best,