Anarchy in the UK: The Siege of Sidney Street


The Siege of Sidney Street and similar events

ABOVE: Anarchists break out of their hideaway and head towards Jubilee Way via Sidney Street and the warren of alleyways.

INTRODUCTION

The title has nothing to do with the Sex Pistols and their music but refers to the Siege of Sidney Street in the East End of London in 1911. This was a gun battle between troops and armed police on one side and Latvian anarchists on the other. The Latvians had shot five policemen when their attempted robbery of a jewellery shop, in Houndsditch, had been foiled on the 16th December 1910. Two of the officers were lightly wounded but the other three subsequently died of their wounds. 

During the following two weeks, several gang members were apprehended and wanted posters were issued for the remainder. Eventually an informer told the police that the last members of the gang were hiding inside 100 Sidney Street. Forces were mobilized on the morning of 3rd January 1911 and the siege began. If you are not familiar with these events reference material abounds on the internet and many books have been written about the subject. The highlight of the siege was filmed when Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, visited the scene at the height of the gun battle. (Incidentally, the film has recently been colourised.) If you want to bring a real sense of atmosphere to this article and to any game based upon it you can view the newsreel film on a number of websites including YouTube.

Winston at Sidney Street

WEAPONRY

Although the anarchists were hopelessly outnumbered they had the upper hand in the first couple of hours because they had the latest Mauser C96 and Dreyse 1907 model semi-automatic pistols. They were opposed by a largely unarmed police force; police stations in the Metropolitan region held few firearms and were unquestionably outmatched by the modern weapons in the hands of the gang. 

The police had old Webley six shot revolvers and Martini model rifles fitted with Morris tubes, which reduced their caliber from .450 to .230 for training purposes. (I expect the ammunition was cheaper! Ed.) As matters progressed they also acquired a motley collection of shotguns and rifles, many of them loaned by the public. The police were hampered by the fact that they were not allowed to open fire unless they themselves had been fired upon. Stones were thrown at the windows of the gang’s hideout in order to attract their attention and open some sort of dialogue. However, the response was a rattle of gunfire and the siege began. 

CALL IN THE TROOPS

Ultimately troops were deployed and from that moment on the insurgents’ fate was sealed. The soldiers involved were Scots Guards dispatched from the Tower of London and they were quickly deployed many of them lying prone in the street and others in whatever corners, nooks and crannies presented themselves. Eventually, fire broke out in the building where the anarchists were holed up; it may have started because of the number of bullets fired into the building and it soon raged unchecked as firefighters were held back by gunfire. The surviving anarchists later perished in the blaze.

 

GAMING SIDNEY STREET

The historical events spanned a period of three weeks with just two anarchists barricaded in their hideaway and this would give a very unsatisfactory game: not what I wanted! These were the determining factors in developing my scenario which played out very simply. Police officers on Grove Street would challenge two miscreants by the jewellers shop next door to the Crown and Anchor; they would then give chase, staying just outside the effective range, until they fell upon the anarchists’ hideaway. 

Matters would then focus upon the actual siege. Police and troops would be on standby because of earlier events; after four moves reserves would be activated. Troops would enter Sidney Street through the railway viaduct shown on the map and police reserves would make their way from both Jubilee Way and Nelson Street. The ensuing firefight would continue until one of the following victory conditions were met: 

 


Troops deployed under the viaduct and along Sidney Street.

MODELING & SCALE

I considered basing a game on these events because I wanted to try something different and with more unusual modeling challenges. At the time I was severely restricted in terms of available gaming space and these highly localized events seemed to pose a practical option. Decision made I set to work reading and viewing photographs and film clips. This gave me a real “feel” for what I was trying to achieve and highlighted the first problem, that of scale

I did not want to entertain the mammoth task of building and painting an Edwardian townscape in 28mm for what was always going to be a fairly small-scale game. However, if you prefer 28mm there is a wealth of suitable buildings in the increasing range of MDF models becoming available. Likewise, there are useful figures in this scale either from pulp and sci-fi ranges, or from a number of Jack the Ripper sets. Additionally, there is an extensive range of figures and equipment for the Very British Civil War game. 

I did consider all of this – and various other alternatives for scales – but eventually settled upon 20mm for the simple reason that there is a wide variety of suitable, and readily available buildings, in the Metcalfe range of ready cut card kits. They are designed for model railway layouts and are OO scale which equates very nicely with 20mm or 1:72 and 1:76 figures. The buildings are printed in colour on good quality card which minimizes the need for painting. They even come with pre-printed clear acetate glazing sheets; just press out the pieces, assemble with balsa cement and add the glazing. The buildings are mostly quite generic in terms of their historical period and I used duplicates of several models in order to obtain the built-up feel that I required. 

To give them a more Edwardian look I scoured the internet for examples of period posters and enamel advertising signs which I printed off and glued into place. (Incidentally, during the game, the “Hand of God” moved some of the structures to allow access for the camera!) Gas lamps came from Merit model railway accessories (lots on eBay: Ed.) and other street furniture came from various sources. The scenic backdrop of a typical townscape was obtained from Peco’s extensive range: another model railway supplier.

The “Nest of Vipers,” anarchists give fire from their hideaway.

FIGURES

Having settled upon the 20mmm scale figures came from the Airfix First World War British Infantry but of course there are many other alternative suppliers should you wish to diversify. Anarchists were painted up from a box of Civilian Volunteers for the Boxer Rebellion of 1900; they are manufactured by Red Box, a Ukrainian Company, and were obtained through eBay. I used them straight from the box with the exception of one female figure who was to become a bomber: I gave her a petrol bomb modeled from a scrap of plastic rod and “green stuff” epoxy putty for the flames. 

I also used figures from this set to make four detectives to bulk out the police force. The police themselves were made from second hand figures obtained at a wargaming show. (I am afraid that the seller was unable to enlighten me as to the origin of these particular figures so you may be in for a challenge in obtaining something similar). The Police wagon was obtained from a model railway supplier, it was a GWR One Horse Station Bus repainted and given the addition of a simple sign. Finally, the omnibus and other vehicles came from various ranges of diecast models. In all I found that I had perfectly useable forces for my game with a handful of vehicles and just 46 figures: ten anarchists, four detectives, 15 policemen and 17 soldiers.

Police reserves arrive on Sidney Street by way of a viaduct on Nelson Street.

RULES FOR ANARCHY

There are no rules that specifically cover this scenario, those which proved most useful to me were Setting the East Ablaze! Warfare in the Back of Beyond 1917-1926. They are available from Partizan Press and run into 60 pages but the version I used was freely issued on the internet as a pdf dating from 2012. Even this detailed version of 32 pages went far beyond what I needed and I gradually cut out whole swathes of material including the Action Card and Leadership Systems. My attention centered upon the following sections: Unit Designation and Movement, Firing, and Morale

 

MOVEMENT


Note: For firing soldiers are marksmen: four may also be designated as snipers

 

FIRING

The essence of the game is a straightforward firefight with the authorities increasingly gaining the upper hand the further the game progresses. Figures are equipped exactly as depicted upon the models and the mechanics of firing were kept as simple as possible.

 

TAKING HITS

As casualties are inflicted a unit’s firepower is obviously reduced but the question of morale is also raised. At the start of the game, each unit is assumed to have a morale factor of two: following each move in which a casualty is inflicted the unit’s morale is tested. Bowl a d6


If a unit fails a morale test it receives a marker: one marker and the unit is suppressed, cannot move towards the enemy and has a minus one firing modifier; two markers and the unit also tries to retire, it may only fire when fired upon; three markers and the units routs, it moves one move directly away from the enemy, if this is not possible it surrenders.

Police reserves take up position along Sidney Street.

OTHER SCENARIOS & SETTINGS

Whilst this is very much a stand-alone game it did spark my interest in a number of similar events which could provide quite other unusual scenarios. In 1911 there were riots in Tonypandy in Wales when miners – some of them reportedly armed with shotguns – wrought havoc in the town. There was one fatality when a miner injured in a police baton charge died from his injuries a few days later. Churchill eventually had to send in the army; troops arrived just as the Glamorganshire Constabulary, supported by the Bristol and Metropolitan forces, managed to get things under control and the troops did not therefore see action. 

Discontent and strife among returning soldiers after the end of the First World War caused many politicians to fear that the country was on the brink or revolution. In January 1919 there were huge strikes in Glasgow resulting in troops and six tanks being dispatched to protect key points in the city. Although there were no fatalities the strikers quickly christened the events as Black Friday. 

Back to the East End of London and in October 1936 there was a series of events known as the Battle of Cable Street. The Whitechapel street was the venue for a march by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists; the march was violently opposed by anti-fascist protestors. The police tried to keep the two groups apart and troops were put on standby. The General Strike of 1926 also saw troops called onto the streets of the United Kingdom and made ready to enforce law and order. Considerable civil unrest and instances of arson went hand in hand with the Suffragette’s cause; in the years just prior to the First World War they conducted a bombing campaign across the country. Explosive devices were placed in many locations including Westminster Abbey, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England, the National Gallery, numerous railway stations, homes of prominent politicians and many other locations. 

Final moments as the anarchists are caught between groups of police and soldiers.

If the activities of these genteel ladies do not spark your interest then what about the Irish Republican Army? It is often forgotten that during the 1920s the IRA conducted an extensive campaign of military actions across the United Kingdom and many of them can furnish the scenario for an unusual and absorbing game. 

One example, just to whet your appetite, is the attack on the Town Moor Aerodrome on the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne. In April 1921 an IRA unit overpowered the airport staff and, using explosives sequestered from supporters in the local mining community, managed to destroy a hangar and two aircraft before the authorities were able to react. Any of these events can be used as the basis for other interesting, if essentially small-scale games, and the effort expended in making the models described here is therefore not wasted. In particular, games with such limited parameters give plenty of opportunity for the development of characterization if that style of gaming appeals to you. 

Police continue their chase down alleys to the rear of Sidney Street.

CONCLUSIONS

What is my verdict on this interesting – if obscure – game? Well I have to be brutally honest here, weigh up the pros and cons and say that as a game the potential is extremely limited. On the plus side, I wanted something that I could play out in the very small space of one square meter that I had available at the time and to that extent it certainly fitted the bill. Still on the plus side the project required a minimal outlay in terms of figures and equipment but there is a big proviso here. The actual events attracted huge crowds of onlookers and reporters and it was simply impractical to model such large crowds; even had I done so they would have added nothing to the game except clutter up my restricted gaming space.

I felt that I wanted a slightly different modeling challenge from my usual projects and the early twentieth century buildings met that criteria exactly. I also aimed to produce something that played very simply and quickly in an hour or so, but which would still stimulate interest and again I think the project delivered what I was after. The gradual paring down of the rules to the elements given here makes for a perfectly playable game. A slightly more detailed but simple one-page play sheet is freely available on my blog.

Despite any shortcomings that I have noted the game is undoubtedly an interesting one and is ideal for involving younger players or providing an excellent participation game for shows. On the whole the project has been a fascinating and totally absorbing one, leading me to explore several often ignored and dark corners of our history. I hope that it has given you food for thought and leads you to experiment and develop your own projects. 

 

LINKS

Glenn Clark’s Blog: glennswargames.blogspot.co.uk 

Card Buildings: metcalfemodels.com

Words, map and photography by Glenn Clarke

 


This article originally appeared in Issue 444 of Miniature Wargames. Pick up the latest issue here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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