Welcome to my blog!

News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Afghans and the British army in India.

 I am a bit behind on the painting schedule having spent a very pleasant week away in the Lake District. However, the first Afghan tribesmen are now done. These are 10mm figures from Pendraken, which I will use against my Zulu and Boer War British for the 2nd and 3rd Afghan Wars. I will use The Men Who Would Be Kings rules.

First up a unit of tribesmen.

Then two units of irregular infantry. This is the first time I have used a white primer for a very long time. I found a very old tin of GW Skull White in the garage, which surprisingly worked the first time.

For reading inspiration, I picked Britain's Army in India by James Lawford off my to-read shelf. It has been gathering dust there for some time. 

It isn't directly relevant to the Afghan Wars because it covers the early British presence in India. From the early guard units in the East India Company warehouses, up to the Battle of Buxar in 1764. It is a detailed narrative history of the campaigns with quite a bit on how the Sepoy and European units were organised and deployed. As well as the varied Indian armies of the period. The Mughal Empire operated in name only during this period, and there is a bewildering array of Indian armies to choose from.

I have suitable figures for this period in 28mm as GDWS did several display games a few years back. The Indian armies are very colourful, although I recall some very late nights finishing them in time for the first show. Those were the days!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Soldier of the Queen

 This is the first in Max Hennessy's fictional series on the Goff family. It is set in the second half of the 19th century and the hero is Colby Goff, an officer in the 19th Lancers based in Yorkshire. Not a bad choice for a fictional regiment as the 19th Light Dragoons did convert into lancers in 1816, although they were disbanded in 1821, long before this book begins. 

So, where to start a book about British lancers? Balaclava 1854 of course, where the young Goff is with the Light Brigade in the Crimea. He of course survives, albeit wounded. A recovery back in the family home at Braxby (actual place by the way) in Yorkshire and some, well described, but routine regimental duties. 

Partly to avoid the marriage advances of a local girl, he is off to America as a correspondent with the Morning Post to follow the American Civil War. He starts on the Union side and then moves to the Confederate cavalry of Jeb Stuart. He gets a bit hands-on for a British officer, but it makes a better read!

Back home after another wound, he meets the up and coming General Garnet Wolseley who sends him to France to observe the Franco-Prussian War. He manages to get to both sides and ends up in the massive cavalry battle at Mars-la-Tour. Later he is in the Paris Commune. If this all sounds a little unlikely, it actually isn't. British, and other nations, officers in the late 19th century often swanned about Europe turning up in other people's wars. A number wrote books or at least articles on their adventures.

Back home he followed Wolseley to the Ashanti Uprising becoming one of his famous 'ring' of acolytes. I was hoping he might turn up in the Russo-Turkish War next. However, instead, he was off to South Africa to take on the Zulus. 

This is an entertaining romp around 19th century warfare. Not a bad nighttime read with just enough facts to make the fiction bearable. I can't say I will follow this series through but not a bad read.

I sold off my Crimean war figures some time ago. However, the Zulus are a project half completed after my visit to Zululand last year, and the lancers are done.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Rebels on the Niagara

 This is a book by Lawrence Cline that I picked up on my visit to Canada last year. It covers the Fenian Brotherhood's invasion of Canada in 1866. There was a further effort in 1870, which together make up the last invasion of Canada.

The Fenian Brotherhood was a large membership organisation in the USA, largely made up of recent immigrants and those of Irish descent, committed to supporting Irish independence. After the American Civil War, a significant number of Irish Americans had gained military experience and the Brotherhood decided that this could be put to good use with an invasion of Canada to put pressure on the British Empire. At this time Canada had not become the confederation it is today, and the colonies were organised separately. 

The book explains the various debates that took place amongst the organisation, which resulted in splits and some disorganisation, as well as a shortage of funds to finance the invasion. Whilst they had significant political support in Congress and elsewhere, which chased the Irish vote, the US government was not supportive. Diplomatic relations, which had been strained during the Civil War, was fairly positive. 

Gathering weapons was not a huge problem in the USA given the gun ownership laws and culture. This didn't stop the US authorities from making some efforts to impound weapons. Both sides gathered intelligence, both in Canada and the USA. The Brotherhood was infiltrated by spies and even in the USA, it is difficult to hide gatherings and drilling of armed men. The actual movement of troops is even more difficult to hide, not that many of the participants made much effort when it came to security. Trains bound for the border were full of men drinking, singing Fenian fight songs, bragging and generally showing little concern for security.

The Fenian strategy was, to put it mildly, ambitious. They planned multiple incursions, an approach that well-trained armies of the period would have found challenging.  Communication problems were exacerbated by no access to the telegraph or railway systems. Little attention was paid to logistics, hoping to live off the land, which given the military experience of the commanders, seems very strange. It is important to emphasise that the plan was to seize and hold territory, not simply to raid.

The main attack was in the Niagara area and had some early success at the 'Battle' of Ridgeway when the Canadian militia launched a premature attack on the Fenian forces. Really just a skirmish with casualties on either side in single figures. However, as the colonial authorities got their act together, and the promised Fenian reinforcements failed to arrive, they decided to fall back on the disused Fort Erie. The remaining force was evacuated by ship, only to be captured and arrested by the US authorities. A further invasion was tried in 1870, this time in Quebec province. It was halted by a better prepared Canadian militia at Eccles Hill.  

While the invasion had a minimal impact on Irish independence, it was a factor in driving the confederation of Canada in 1867.

This is an interesting story but I think I can manage to avoid an outbreak of wargamers disease over this campaign. There is a board game from Last Legion if you are so minded.

A few pictures of Fort Erie as it is preserved today.


Monday, 7 September 2020

Fighting in Hell

 This is another book that has been sitting on my 'to read' shelf for some time. Edited by Peter Tsouras, he uses a number of studies written by former German generals for the US Army after WW2. The focus in this book is officers who had extensive experience of the eastern front. They are written by Germans and from a German point of view, translated but not interpreted by American personnel. They provide an interesting insight into combat on this front.

The main study is written by Erhard Rauss on Russian combat methods, followed by his views on the effect climate had on combat in European Russia. The other studies are on warfare in the far north and combat in forests and swamps.

One of the biggest surprises, to me at least, was how ill-prepared the German military was for fighting in the East. The General Staff had taken no interest in the history of wars in the north and east of Europe. I naively assumed their much-vaunted efficiency would have included the possibility that German troops might at some stage be required to fight in these regions. At the very least you would have thought some hurried work would have been commissioned in late 1940 when Hitler first indicated that he was considering such a move.

This is vital because, as General Rauss puts it, 'he who steps for the first time on Russian soil is immediately conscious of the new, the strange, the primitive. The German soldier who crossed into Russian territory felt that he entered a different world, where he was opposed not only by the forces of the enemy but also by the forces of nature."

Putting to one side the racial stereotypes that you might expect from a German officer of the period, these are fairly objective studies, albeit omitting the atrocities they also committed. All the Russian tactics are covered, supplemented by examples from actual operations. These include a number that I have never heard of, including the practice of setting large areas of forest on fire. One German brigade was nearly wiped out by a fire on the Luga River in 1941.

Like the editor, the description of the fighting in the snow reminded me of Laurence Oliver's haunting commentary in the World at War television series. I haven't read much about the war in the far north, the Continuation War, in Finland. Apparently no German tank or self-propelled gun ever saw service north of the Arctic Circle. The description of how the German troops adapted to the conditions is fascinating, as is the way the Russians had learned from their mistakes in the earlier war.

This is not your usual narrative military history book. The focus is on tactics and logistics, both on land and in the air. A rare insight into the mechanics of fighting in what really must have been hell for the soldiers on both sides.

Sunday, 6 September 2020


 Rob Anderson and Mark Fry have written this supplement ('Libertad' is 'freedom' in English) for the Blitzkrieg Commander rules covering the Spanish Civil War. You will need the core rules as well to use this supplement. It is available as a 35 page PDF download from Wargames Vault for $6.60.

There are a few rule amendments to reflect specific features of this conflict including fixed formations and improvised street barricades. They have simplified the bewildering array of armoured cars that were deployed by both sides into those with and without AT capability and the rest. There is also a rule for Molotov Cocktails.

Then we get five scenarios with some very nice maps drawn by Henry Hyde. These include some well known and lesser actions.

The meat of the supplement is the army lists, which include all the many factions that made up both the Nationalist (Rebels) and Republican (Government) armies. These include a brief description of the faction and then the Blitzkrieg Commander statistics. They also have a few special rules and equipment.

There are plenty of excellent books on this conflict to expand your reading. More recently these have included books that focus on the military history of the war. Charles Esdaile’s ‘The Spanish Civil War: A Military History’ is a recent contribution, and Alexander Clifford 'The People's Army in the Spanish Civil War', which focuses on the wider People's Army, not just the International Brigades. I have seen a positive review of a new book by Giles Tremlett 'The International Brigades' in the latest edition of the BBC History magazine. Their History extra podcasts also have the prolific SCW author Paul Preston being interviewed in their series 'Everything you wanted to know...."

I have 15mm and 28mm armies for the Spanish Civil War. The 15mm armies were initially based for a similar Flames of War supplement but work equally well for Blitzkrieg Commander. You can, of course, use Italian WW2 forces and tanks from early war German and Soviet forces. No Pasaran!

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Anglo-Afghan Wars 1839-1919

 A bit of a break from WW2 with a book that has been sitting on my reading shelf for some time. Not that I wasn't interested, it's just that it might spark a burst of wargamers disease and I have quite enough projects!

Warfare in and on the borders of Afghanistan during the period and beyond was common. However, there are three specific campaigns covered in this book - 1839-42, 1878-81 and 1919. As the author puts it, "The wars were marked by varying degrees of political and military incompetence and brilliance". Most of them were also unnecessary, as the causes had often disappeared by the time troops were dispatched, and diplomacy would have been a better solution.

The First Afghan War is probably the best known, not least because of the outstanding paintings, many of which can be seen in the National Army Museum. This is a good example of incompetence, exemplified by the retreat from Kabul in January 1842. A force of 690 regulars, 3,800 sepoys and sowars, and 12,000 camp followers attempted to fight their way through the mountains of Afghanistan in winter. One doctor survived to reach Jalalabad. The painting of the last stand of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment at Gandamak says it all.  

The Second Afghan War was shaped by the 'Great Game', played out between Russia and Britain over Central Asia. Not for the first time, colonial administrators reverted to military action when diplomacy would have delivered the buffer states that both sides needed. Militarily this conflict involved a regular army on the Afghan side, including 62 regiments of infantry, supplemented by the traditional irregular tribesmen. The British had learned some lessons from earlier conflicts and had learned to capture the high ground before sending long columns through the infamous passes. The signature disaster was the Battle of Maiwand on 22 July 1880. 

The Third Afghan War, and probably the least well known, was fought just after WW1 when most of the best units of the Indian Army had been fighting elsewhere. British units were mostly territorial replacements who understandably wanted to go home, not fight in Afghanistan. In addition, the local militias largely collapsed. The British made up for this with technology. Not just artillery and machine guns, but aircraft. The Afghan 'invasion' of India was repulsed, although they gained their key demands in the peace treaty. 

A particular strength of this book is the way it brings out the common themes in the campaigns. The Afghan geography and distribution of its people, as well as the climate that ranges from sub-zero in winter to 110F in summer. This breeds a particularly tough people, made up of many different tribes with little love of central government, particularly when it is imposed on them from outside the country.

These are challenges that still face modern armies, as the Soviets and NATO have found. 

Needless to say, I have been powerless to stop another outbreak of wargamers disease. Having painted British armies for the Zulu and Boer Wars, I can do most of the Imperial side. An order has been placed with Pendraken for hordes of Afghan tribesmen - plenty of white paint will be required!

Friday, 4 September 2020

Operation Hardihood

My painting this week has been focused on the 1943 reinforcements for the Turkish Army - my latest project in 15mm. 

Operation Hardihood was the British code name for support to Turkey in 1943 in the form of British formations, military equipment and broader economic assistance. The equipment provided was in response to a very long list of Turkish requirements, which one American official in Ankara said, to supply the Turks with everything they wanted would be like ‘feeding an eight course dinner to an eight-day-old baby’. Churchill urged his planners to do their best to supply the Turks even if this caused some ‘slight indigestion’. He argued that Turkey’s port and transportation systems would limit what could be supplied.

The Allied Lend Lease equipment supplied to Turkey as part of this programme would largely come from surplus stocks in North Africa. I have chosen the main ones for my army, using 3D models from Butlers Printed Models, supplemented with crew from Peter Pig and Battlefront conversions. The models require a fair bit of cleaning up, although most of the spare material from the process peels away quite quickly using plyers. You are left with robust models for the tabletop and very little assembly.

First up are the Valentine III and Valentine IX tanks. These became the main battle tank of the Turkish army with 230 supplied in total. They equipped the armoured brigades facing a possible German and Bulgarian invasion through Thrace.

Next, some support from the USA in the form of 25 Sherman tanks and 222 Stuarts, which were used for the light tank companies of the armoured brigades.

150 Dingo scout cars were provided for the reconnaissance companies, along with 59 Bren carriers and a large number of jeeps and other trucks.

One of the biggest gaps in Turkish capabilities was anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. The British supplied significant numbers of 6pdr ATGs and 40mm Bofors AA guns. Had Turkey entered the war these would have been supplemented by Allied units. 

The Turkish army had a multiplicity of artillery pieces, mostly of WW1 vintage. The towed 25pdr and the Bishop SPG went to the armoured brigades first.

The British provided extensive training on these weapons. However, training reports indicated that only about 20% of this was actually absorbed. Providing modern equipment was unlikely to be enough to turn the Turkish army into an effective fighting force. A view interestingly shared by the Turkish CinC in a report to the Turkish political leadership.

One of the achievements of Turkish policy was the ability to secure military equipment from both sides. In September 1942 Turkey was granted a loan of 100 million Reichsmarks for arms, linked to the essential export of chromite from Turkey to Germany. Among other military supplies, this bought 34 Pkw IIIJ and 37 Pkw IVH tanks. These were known as T3 and T4 in Turkish service and equipped the 6th Tank Regiment, held in reserve at Ankara. Here is a T4.

Finally, Butlers also do the Citroën-Kégresse, an obscure and strange-looking interwar French armoured car which was supplied to Turkey. I was pleased to find a stat for this in Blitzkrieg Commander because I wouldn't know where to start!

That will do for this project for now. I would like to try a few conversions in 28mm for use in Bolt Action, but that will be for the future.