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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

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Sunday, 22 October 2017

The War in the West

As my current wargame project is the 1940 campaign in France, I thought it was time to dig into the history a bit more. My source was James Holland's new history 'The War in the West'. Volume one covers the period prior to the outbreak of war until the German invasion of Russia in 1941.


If you are looking for a narrative military history of the early war period, this isn't it. Instead the author takes us behind the scenes looking at the underlying strengths of the combatants. In many ways it is as much an economic history as a military one.

For example, while I was aware of the limited mechanisation of the German army, I hadn't appreciated how limited mechanisation was in Germany. Civilian car ownership was far behind Britain and France and therefore so was the infrastructure in terms of motor manufacturers, petrol stations, mechanics etc. Even if the German army had the vehicles, they would have had to train an army of drivers and support units from scratch.

This was also reflected in shortage of raw materials. There was food rationing in 1939 Germany, and simply not enough raw materials to produce enough aircraft and tanks to match Britain, never mind its empire and allies.

I also hadn't appreciated how early the USA had started rearming and switching its huge manufacturing capacity from civilian to military use. Their ruthless standardisation was in stark contrast to the myriad of vehicle types in use in Germany. Even the massive war booty became a problem for Germany due the problem of spare parts.

James Holland also highlights Hitler's poor strategic decision making, even in the early war period. A good example is the decision to invade Crete, an island with no real strategic significance, compared with Malta.

This is a fascinating new book that gives the reader a very different perspective on WW2. A short war was Hitler's only hope of victory and Britain's determination to fight on meant that wasn't going to happen. It may not have felt that way during the Blitz, but victory for the allies was the only likely outcome.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Scythians

A gap in my work trip to London today enabled a quick visit to the Scythian exhibition at the British Museum. Very glad I did, it is superb!

The Scythians were a related group of nomadic tribes who inhabited the steppes from about the 9th century BC until about the 1st century BC. Scythia was the Greek term for the grasslands north and east of the Black Sea and Herodotus is our primary text. This is supplemented by archeological finds, which form the basis for the exhibition. 

The Scythians were among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare. They kept herds of horses, cattle, and sheep, lived in tent-covered wagons, and fought with bows on horseback. As the exhibition vividly portrays, they developed a rich culture characterized by opulent tombs, fine metalwork, and a brilliant art style.



At their peak, Scythians came to dominate the entire steppe zone, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to central China in the east. Creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire, although there was little that could be called an organised state.

The exhibition consists of items lent by the Hermitage Museum in Russia. Peter the Great did much to encourage the archeology and you are treated by a very fine portrait of the Tsar as you enter the exhibition. Thanks to Roman and Greek propaganda we have been taught to regard these tribes as barbarians. When you look at the craftsmanship of the exhibits you can what nonsense this is. The broaches and belt buckles are exquisite and evidence of an advanced culture.



Thanks to the Siberian permafrost, there are even fragments of clothing on display, as well as some weaponry and armour. The British Museum has done a fine job of displaying these artefacts, together with CGI backdrops of the Steppe and sound effects. The exhibition book is a very weighty and pretty expensive tome. I can't help thinking the museum would have done better with a more modest booklet, aimed at the general reader.



The British Museum is of course always worth a visit. I don't think I have been there since my schooldays, certainly an omission on my part. Putting to one side the controversy over the filched Greek and Egyptian exhibits, they alone are worth a visit. 


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Roman Army Units in the Eastern Provinces

A new Osprey on a Balkan subject is an easy purchase and read, while I work through weightier tomes. This study by Rafaele D'Amato covers Roman units in the Balkans and further east, from 31BC to AD195.

The author starts with a brief chronology of the eastern provinces during this period, highlighting why they were so important to the Empire. He then identifies the distribution of units and their bases. This includes the legions and the more numerous Auxilia cohorts. This is a complex picture, with the Auxilia in particular being used as garrisons on the frontiers and lines of communication. He also lists locally recruited Numeri and Nationes, largely used for paramilitary policing duties.


The largest part of the book covers the arms, equipment and clothing in the different provinces. It is here were you can see the local influences, including units and equipment that you don't normally associate with the Roman army. This part of the book covers the latest archeological finds, which show these local influences. For example, in Macedonia there are strong Hellenic influences with muscled corselets, and in Dacia, the falx and draco standards.

Of course, the colour plates are what attract wargamers in particular to the Men At Arms series. The artist Raffaele Ruggeri doesn't let us down with superb artwork.

I am off to Serbia next week and plan to visit several Roman sites. On my last visit to Belgrade (Roman Singidunum), I remember an early morning visit to the Kalemegdan fortress overlooking the Danube, imagining what a Roman legionary might have been thinking as he gased through the mist into the Barbaricum over the river. I also hope to get to the remains of Felix Romuliana, Galerius's planned retirement palace. No less than 17 Roman emperors were born on what is now Serbian territory.

Here is one of them, in the imperial purple, with some fellow commanders in 28mm.






Monday, 9 October 2017

WW2 Senegalese Tirailleurs

My painting schedule has slipped considerably in recent weeks, but I have at least made a start with the French army for the early WW2 campaigns.

The first unit are Senegalese Tirailleurs. These were colonial infantry, initially recruited from Senegal, French West Africa and then throughout the French colonies in Western, Central and Eastern Africa.

There were five regiments of Senegalese Tirailleurs stationed in France at the outbreak of war. The 2e division colonial senegalese was deployed permanently in the south of France.

Senegalese and other African tirailleur units served with distinction at Gien, Bourges and Buzancais during the axis invasion. German troops indoctrinated with Nazi racial doctrines expressed outrage at having to fight against "inferior" opponents and at Montluzin Senegalese prisoners were executed.


Surprisingly for WW2 units, there is some confusion over the exact shade of khaki for French uniforms. I tried the Flames of War guide colours as they helpfully give Vallejo codes, but it was far too light. So after looking at the advice on the forums, I settled for British uniform mixed with some brown. The tirailleurs have the distinctive Coupe-Coupe, a heavy bladed knife.

The figures are 28mm from the Warlord range.