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


Monday, 20 May 2019

Death on the Don

Death on the Don by Jonathan Trigg chronicles the destruction of Germany's allies on the Eastern Front during WW2.

With the exception of Italy's contribution, this is mostly the story of Hitler's Balkan allies; Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the puppet Croatian state. The author outlines the reasons these states were drawn into the Axis and while their limited economies were ill-equipped for modern war, they did provide important raw materials to the German war machine. Bulgaria kept out of the invasion, limiting their contribution to security duties in Yugoslavia.

Operation Barbarossa was a massive undertaking for the German army and the Balkan states provided much-needed manpower, even if they lacked modern equipment, particularly tanks. The Czech built Panzer 38(T) was the ubiquitous tank of these armies, supplemented with French R35's - all of which would be outclassed by Russian armour.

After the failure to capture Moscow, Hitler decided to turn south in Case Blue. This involved several Romanian, Hungarian and Italian armies and led to the Don River and Stalingrad. They mostly came under Army Group B, commanded by a General with possibly the longest name I have ever seen - Maximillian Maria Joseph Karl Gabriel Lamoral Reichsfreiherr von Weichs zu Glon!

Other wonderful anachronisms included squadrons of sabre-wielding Italian cavalrymen, from the Savoia Regiment, led by white-gloved officers, charging Soviet infantry, HMGs and artillery - successfully!

As Von Paulus's 6th Army was sucked into Stalingrad it was the allies who protected his flanks. The problem was that the allied divisions were thinly stretched with limited reserves. The main front line was little more than widely dispersed foxholes with few anti-tank guns. Divisions on paper had been reduced to binary two regiment formations and even these were well below establishment. Supplies were also limited, with inadequate winter clothing and food.

Despite these shortcomings, many units fought much better than popular myth would have it. There was stubborn resistance from many units and counter-attacks by the armoured units. However, in the end, the Russian steamroller broke through and surrounded Stalingrad.

The cost in men and material was enormous for the small countries concerned. Few prisoners survived the Soviet POW camps, although the author reminds us that Soviet prisoners fared no better and the treatment of Jews and other minorities in these countries was appalling. What remained of the armed forces disintegrated and had to be withdrawn from the zone of operations. Some did regroup and took part in the defence of their countries from the Soviets before they surrendered.

This book describes military folly and tragedy. It also describes great bravery and personal sacrifice. The story is well told and shows a more complex picture of the allied armies.

For the wargamer, most of the armies are available in the popular scales. Great Escape Games have brought out Italians in winter uniforms. Warlord are currently promoting their new Hungarian range.

I have a small Romanian force in 15mm, which hasn't seen the light of day for a while. The new edition of Blitzkrieg Commander might be a good excuse if I can find them. I don't have any Hungarians, other than this rather nice 15mm armoured car.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Modern Russians

Much as I enjoyed the Royal Yugoslav Army project, it was good to make progress on something else with Carronade out of the way. One of those projects is the modern period in 20mm using the Bolt Action adaptation, published by Jay's Wargaming Madness.

I needed some more Russians for various current day scenarios. My last effort at modern camouflage was too fine, I think this goes too far the other way, although it is at least identifiable. The models come from the Liberation Miniatures range.

First up we have two sniper teams. The bushes I picked up at Carronade. They are from a Portuguese company called Gamers Grass.

Then two rifle squads, a command team and artillery spotter.

Finally, some support teams including a mortar team, HMG and SAM.

On the modern theme, I picked up a copy of Strategy & Tactics March-April 2019 issue at Carronade. The feature game is 'Red Tide South'. A hypothetical 1980's Cold War invasion of Italy by the Soviet Union. The starting point would have been Hungary and most invasion routes would go through neutral Austria and Yugoslavia. Assuming those countries remained neutral, the NATO forces would rely on the Italian Army, supported by US units in the region, mostly marines from the 6th Fleet.

The terrain facing the Soviets would be very challenging if they had to fight their way through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Until they reach the north Italian plain.

I am not a big fan of board wargames, I generally find them too complex. However, the maps are useful for campaigns and this one is particularly good.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Edinburgh Castle

I had a work meeting close to Edinburgh Castle yesterday and realised I hadn't looked around for years. A grand way to spend your lunchtime, before the summer tourists arrive in massive numbers!

Apart from the castle itself, there are no fewer than three military museums inside. The Royal Scots, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and the National War Museum.

This view from a gun battery shows just how dominant a site the castle is.

I recently reviewed a new book on Sir Ralph Abercromby. Many of the photos in the book come from the museum.

And sticking to the Napoleonic theme, the museums are home to a number of original paintings you will recognise from prints etc. Like this one of Waterloo.

Ensign Ewart of Waterloo fame is buried outside the castle.

And this is the original standard he captured.

The castle is also home to the National War Memorial for the 1914-18 War. Each regiment has a section inside, which reminds us how many extra battalions were recruited during wartime.

And this exhibit is a reminder that warfare didn't end in 1918. This Caucasian dagger comes from a deployment to Georgia between December 1918 and April 1919.

Possibly the oldest soldier ever to serve in the British Army. Sargeant William Hiseland was 89 years old at the Battle of Malplaquet.

This standard was taken by the Japanese in 1942 and turned up in a Singapore junk shop in 1949.

Finally, this banner was flown by the 23rd New Zealand infantry battalion at Galatos on Crete in 1941. I was in that very village only last week. 

If you are in Edinburgh, the castle and its museums are certainly worth a visit.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

For God and Kaiser

My holiday poolside reading was Richard Bassett's book on the Imperial Austrian Army, 'For God and Kaiser'.

This substantial tome (nearly 600 pages) has been sitting on my reading shelves for some time. I was a bit nervous about selecting it for a holiday read. Would it be too dense and hard work for a holiday? I needn't have worried, this book is both magisterial and readable - not always a combination in my experience.

He might have subtitled the book, 'The Habsburg Army', because in essence throughout its long history that is what it was. The boundaries of the Habsburg lands shifted, but the army's role was always to support the dynasty.

The author starts in the 17th century with the 30 Years War. On the 5th June 1619, Archduke Ferdinand was rescued from Protestant noblemen in the Hofburg by Imperial Cuirassiers - an element of the army that was to be one of its strongest elements for several centuries. We then have a mix of narrative history with an analysis of the various reforms. Through the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic period and into the later 19th century. The story ends with WW1 and the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This is a sympathetic history of the armed forces. In most periods they started badly but got better - not dissimilar to the British army of the times. We remember the Seven Years War for the Prussian Army and Frederick's triumphs, but the Austrian reforms left them in a stronger position by the end of the war. Archduke Charles was one of the best generals of the Napoleonic wars, who had the misfortune to come up against Napoleon at his best.

The author picks out a number of similar consistent themes. Despite its early years, and the Habsburg Catholicism, the army was largely indifferent to religious belief. Anti-Semitism was a penal offence under Franz-Joseph and Jewish officers were a common feature in many regiments.

Military strategy was often cautious. No general wanted to hazard annihilation - the army always had to be able to fight another day. This meant few gambles were taken and Austrian armies often failed to pursue defeated enemies. Between 1620 and 1918 it won more than 350 victories, a number far greater than its defeats.

I really enjoyed this book, improved by the Cretan sun. If you want to understand the big picture of the Imperial Austrian armies, you could do no better than this book.

I can probably field just about every Austrian army on the tabletop. They were almost always a key player in the Balkans. Here are just a few examples.

Imperial Cuirassiers from the start of the story

Croat horse - the Military Frontier was an important source of soldiers

Dragoons in their traditional role
Foot regiment during Eugene's wars in the Balkans
1848 Honved

19C Jager

Early WW1 Hussars

WW1 infantry

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Carronade 2019

Today was the annual Falkirk wargame show, Carronade. As usual, well organised by the Falkirk Club in a good venue.

There was a good range of traders, and as our participation game was quieter than usual, I was able to spend more time making my wallet lighter. I picked up the new version of Blitzkrieg Commander and some much-reduced copies of Strategy and Tactics with a Balkan theme. The flea market generated some purchases, including some nice French Napoleonic Dragoons and some 20mm modern armour. Plus paint, bases etc.

Our participation game was Breakout from Zara, Italians invading Yugoslavia in 1939. The array of unusual weaponry entertained many guessing what they were!

The supply depot objective for the Italians to capture.
There were plenty of games, display and participation. Here are some of those that caught my eye.

Thanks again to Falkirk for a good day out and promoting the hobby so well.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Minoans and more

Yesterday's trip across Crete took us to the Palace of Knossos, the centre of the Minoan civilisation.

This is the number one attraction in Crete for good reason. The site is remarkable, although the reconstructions by the British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans are controversial. My own view is that they add to our understanding of the site, even if they are in places speculative.

Next stop was the Archeological Museum, which has many artefacts from Knossos and other Minoan palaces. Some, like this Bull are truly amazing.

Here a few of the weapon collections.

A short way across town is the Historical Museum, which starts after antiquity. Quite a lot on the Byzantine period, for which we don't have a lot of written sources. The WW2 section has plenty of information, well presented, but not many exhibits. The best section is the Venetian period and the siege of Candia, the Venetian name for Heraklion and the island as a whole. I hadn't appreciated how big the old city was until I saw this relief map in the museum.

There is a good room on the various revolts against Ottoman rule.

The one post WW2 exhibit I did like was this bell, converted from a bomb. The island wasn't short of metal after WW2!

Finally, the Venetian Sea Fortress down at old harbour. This has been extensively renovated, with a museum inside.

These are what is left of the galley sheds.

They have a few cannonballs left over from the siege!


For more on the epic siege of Candia, I would recommend Bruno Mugnai's book 'The Cretan War, 1615-7', published by Helion.