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. I hope you find it helpful and entertaining.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108

Self evidently a book with the title ‘The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108’ is going to be on my must read list. The story of the Normans in Italy, as brilliantly told by John Julius Norwich, inspired my interest in the Normans much more than the Norman conquest. A Sicilian-Norman army served me well for many years on the wargames table.

It is one of history’s great stories. How a handful of Norman knights made their way from mercenaries to rule impressive and multicultural kingdoms.

Norwich covers the Norman conquest of Italy and Sicily, but says little about Robert Guiscard’s invasion of the Byzantine Empire in the Balkans. Georgios Theotokis in this new study (in affordable paperback) covers similar ground in his description of the events in Italy. He describes the Norman and Byzantine institutions and their respective armies. He also covers a neglected subject, the navies of both sides.

The invasion of the Balkans is covered in just two chapters, less than a quarter of the book. In fairness, he covers all the primary sources and therefore there probably isn’t much else to say. None the less, the title is a bit misleading.

The most famous battle is Dyrrhachium 1081, which GDWS did as a display game at the Glasgow Wappinshaw show in 2005. Not forgetting the role played by Guiscard’s wife Sichelgaita in rallying the Normans.

This is a solid academic study, although far removed from Norwich’s glorious narrative that reads more like a work of historical fiction. If you have read nothing about this period, I would read this book first and then move on to the story telling master that is John Julius Norwich.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

IPMS Glasgow Modelfest

I didn't have enough time today to get up to Forfar for Skelp, so I went to the Glasgow Modelfest IPMS show at Bellahouston. Some very fine modelling on display and picked up some paints and other bits and bobs. 

Here is a selection of the models that caught my eye.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Sharp Practice 2 - India

My latest Sharp Practice game takes us back to the 18th Century, with the British in India fighting the Mughals around the time of Plassey in 1757. Another opportunity to use my new Deep Cut desert terrain mousepad mat.

These are the army lists, 52 points a side.

The Mughals are grouped around the village with infantry in the centre and cavalry on the flanks. 'Clive' positions his best regulars on the left with his sepoys on the right.

Three units of Mughal horse storm across the table and hit the British regulars on the left flank.  However, the sturdy redcoats held firm and repulsed the charge. I found a rule I had missed in the last game that says cavalry have to rally off shock after falling back, before advancing again. This makes cavalry a bit weaker, other than in the first charge. There are lots of rules like this dotted around the book. I feel the need for a process chart coming on.

The sepoys were not so sturdy. Swept away in the first charge.

The centre exchanged fire at range to limited effect, before the left wing Mughal cavalry swung around to seriously weaken the British centre.

The game petered out after that largely because of officer wounds. Another rule I didn't play properly last time. It can very quickly reduce the initiative level of officers, making it difficult to do anything. Of course the alternative is to keep officers out of the way!

Overall, another interesting game. In comparison to 'The Men Who Would Be Kings' rules, it is a lot slower and the SP2 has quite a bit of detail that you forget when not playing regularly.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Waterloo - The French Perspective

My latest reading has been Andrew Field’s book ‘Waterloo: The French Perspective’.

It’s an old adage that history is written by the winners and that is certainly true for Waterloo. It is even alleged that Wellington supported a smear campaign against Siborne because his research questioned parts of the Duke’s version of events. The author of that allegation, Peter Hofschroer, also wrote a book on the Waterloo campaign, the second volume of which is called ‘The German Victory’. The Duke really would have turned in his grave at that!

Waterloo was of course a massive battle in terms of the men involved, even if the battlefield wasn’t that large. However, even walking it 200 years later, I was struck by how difficult it was see all parts of the battlefield - there was no Lion monument in 1815! Added to which you have the general’s curse on any black powder battlefield, smoke.

For this reason, even the memoirs of those present, can only cover a relatively small part of the battlefield. And that’s before any historical revisionism comes in.

Andrew Field has done a wonderful job pulling together French perspectives of the battle. It gives a very different picture of the battle and questions what those of us brought up on the classic British histories have come to believe about the battle. He doesn’t claim to have discovered radically different ‘truths’, but he does offer some very different explanations.

For example, I always understood that the action at Hougoumont, drew in greater numbers of French troops from Reille’s Corps, almost to Blenheim proportions. In this book it is argued that many more Allied troops were engaged in the vicinity of the farm, bringing each side up to similar numbers. There also appears to have been two, if not three, break ins.

Field also discusses the type of column d’Erlon used in his attack, suggesting that the wide formation was influenced by his experience of fighting the British in Spain. They certainly did not come on ‘in the same old way’. This still leaves open the wisdom of experimenting in such a crucial battle, but he does explain the problems in coordinating the classic cavalry, artillery and infantry combined arms assault. Similarly, the great cavalry charges were not entirely without precedent and may have been forced on Napoleon by the arrival of the Prussians. 

Field goes on to examine the other key elements of the battle - La Haye Sainte, the sunken road, Planchenoit and the commitment and formation of the Guard. Liberally quoting from French and Allied sources. 

This is a fascinating book and an absolute must for the Waterloo collection.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Men Who Would Be Kings

First try yesterday of the latest Osprey Wargames rules, 'The Men Who Would Be Kings'. These are written by Daniel Mersey, the author of Lion Rampant and have a number of design similarities.

These are quick play skirmish rules for the colonial period - roughly Sikh Wars to the Boer Wars. Skirmish in this context means 40-50 figures a side, more for the native armies, although there is 'skirmish kings' options to play with half sized units. There is also a very useful solo gaming chapter called 'Playing against Mr Babbage'.

A Field Force consists of a around five units, each of which has a leader, the competency of which is diced for in each game. A European force might consist of regular infantry and irregular auxiliaries. Infantry units have 12 figures, cavalry 8 - while tribal units are 16 for foot and 10 for horse. There are rules for artillery, but they are assumed to be light mountain guns or machine guns.

Each unit is diced for in the activation phase, needing to equal or exceed the leader's command factor. If passed, the unit can take one action - move, double, skirmish, shoot, attack etc. Some are free actions, like regulars can always fire without dicing - tribal units can always attack. Shooting and combat are straightforward rolls for each figure, having to equal or exceed the units firing factor. Cover and other factors are accounted for in the number of hits needed to kill e.g. long range and soft cover needs two hits. If a unit suffers casualties it takes a pinning test. Pinned units have to rally next move rather than take an active action.

For my trial game, I decided on a more obscure colonial conflict. The Ottomans occupied the Middle East from the 16th Century until the 20th Century. Egypt strayed in and out of the Empire, but the core lands in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and modern Iraq had Ottoman garrisons throughout. The Arabian Peninsular was also garrisoned, although control of the interior was patchy at best. There were major wars with the Saudis and lower scale conflicts with the Kurds and Bedouins. Policing actions were commonplace, very much at the scale these rules are aimed at.

The army lists are set out below for the Ottomans and an Arab field force of the standard 24 point size.

The game was a simple encounter game around a a small village. The Ottoman regulars held off the Arabs on the left, but the Arab right wing swept around the village rolling up the Ottoman line.

The rules played very well and like Lion Rampant they are simple mechanisms, yet subtle in their application. This was perhaps an unusual game given the number of tribal cavalry on the table. Cavalry are possibly a bit strong, with infantry needing two hits per figure. I am not sure what the justification is for this and it certainly made the Bedouin and Arab cavalry very difficult to beat. Other than that, the rules provided a quick game, with plenty of colonial flavour. It's certainly faster play than Sharp Practice 2. I will be playing more of this.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Sharp Practice 2 - Jacobite Rebellions

I do enjoy an alternative history, and my latest reading has been Year of the Prince by George Kearton. 

As he says in the introduction, for over 50 years at the beginning of the eighteenth century, thousands of Britons would not drink to the health of their regnant Royal Family. Instead, after passing an open hand surreptitiously over their glass, they would drink a toast to “The King over the Water”; a reference to the heirs of the exiled House of Stuart. The final Stuart attempt to regain the throne failed in 1745. But what if history had turned out differently?

I won't ruin the book for you, but it's a good short read and not too fanciful. Like many events in history, it only takes a small a bit of luck, bad weather etc to create a very different outcome.

As I am exploring Sharp Practice 2 at present, this was an opportunity to dust down the forces I did last year for the 300th anniversary of the battle of Sherrifmuir 1715. This was an earlier Jacobite rebellion and involved the legendary Rob Roy, an ideal character for Sharp Practice. I also fancied trying the rules out in a town setting.

We start with some preliminary baiting. A bare arsed highlander taunting the lowland Scots militia. Should they hold their first fire for a bigger target?

Rob Roy is getting a little frustrated here with these Jacobite gentlemen, who are not rushing to support his clansmen's charge. Too many tiffin breaks!

Here we have the highland charge from both angles. The tomahawk rule works well.

And finally, a celebratory drink for Rob and his men. Job done!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Game of Thrones - The Riverlands

Time to return to other painting projects after doing little other than Pancho Villa.

For Game of Thrones, I have switched from Saga to Lion Rampant rules. That means six figure cavalry units. I had some spare Lord of the Rings figures to bulk out the Lannister's and the Stark's.

Next stop is some allies. The Riverlands went both ways and looking at the last episodes of the TV series, I was struck by how so many of the cavalry looked like Border Reivers. So I picked up some Foundry Reivers at a recent show. The pistols had to be shaved off, but otherwise fine. A (sort of) Tully flag from Battle Flags finishes them off. Next stop some infantry.