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, 18 August 2018

Modern British in 20mm

On a bit of a roll with the brush this week, on my modern project in 20mm. 

I have finished the first part of my British battlegroup for Bolt Action, ready to take part in interventions in Europe. There is a Challenger supported by two Warriors. These are diecast/plastic models, and very good they are too. Sadly, no shortcuts for the infantry. Each Warrior has two fire teams totalling eight men each. The figures are from the Liberation Miniatures range again.

My trusty 'The Modern British Army' is a bit out of date, so some new reference books were needed.

Osprey Elite 202 'The British Army Since 2000' provides a good starting point. Anything illustrated by Peter Dennis is always worth buying. The latest edition of 'The British Army Guide' is packed full of detail.

Osprey also have another book in the same series that looks at the British army in Afghanistan between 2006-14. Again illustrated by Peter Dennis. While I am not planning to do this campaign, it does give a good description of tactics and deployment.

Next up some Russians.

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Walls of Byzantium

As ever I am a sucker for historical fiction set in the Balkans. James Heneage has started a series that I will be drawn to with the first book 'The Walls of Byzantium'.

The hero is the relative of a Varangian who fled Constantinople in 1204 with some form of treasure that he is supposed to have deposited in Mistra. I visited this city in May during my tour of the Peloponnese and it is stunning.

The castle at Mistras

The city below

The story proper starts in the Spring of 1392, just as the Ottomans are putting pressure on Constantinople. Our hero, Luke Magoris, lives in the coastal rock city of Monemvasia, nominally Byzantine, but run by the trading family the Mamonas. They have judged that the Ottomans are the rising power and are secretly collaborating with them.

Our hero is forced to flee the city and ends up in the Aegean island of Chios, ruled by Genoese families. The island has a number of trading advantages, not least the production of mastic. Our hero is drawn into the intrigues between the Mamonas family, Venice, Byzantium and Ottomans. There is some romantic interest as well.

This all culminates in the crusade and Battle of Nicopolis in September 1396. A major Ottoman victory at which our hero is of course present.

This is without doubt a complex tale, with many sub-plots. However, it is told well and has all the key ingredients of good historical fiction. Perhaps not in the same class as Cornwell, but well worth a read. I will follow the series through.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Back to the future in 20mm

Like many wargamers of a certain age, I started the hobby using 20mm Airfix figures. I recently decided to start moderns at small battle/skirmish level. My first thought was 28mm, but when I saw the fabulous ranges of diecast/plastic models in 20mm from a variety of suppliers at very reasonable prices - the choice was made.

I have been picking up a number of models at shows and on ebay. For infantry I have started with the RHModels range and first off the painting bench are some generic East European 'rebels' that will do for a variety of conflicts.

Some Russian armour, not quite state of the art, to go with them. Firstly a T62 tank supported by a BTR60 and BMP.

And finally the venerable T55, one of my favourite tanks.

Being a wargames butterfly, I didn't fancy a completely new rule set. So I alighted on a modern variant of Bolt Action. Published by that amazing wargame blogger, Jay's Wargaming Madness. It's a beautifully produced QRF that keeps broadly to the core rules, so are easily picked up. He also has army lists for all the main nations.

Jay recently published unit summaries for Song of Ice and Fire, before I had even painted my first unit! Some guy!

Next up with be a British intervention force. A Challenger and two Warriors have been purchased and a couple of infantry squads undercoated. The Osprey camo is going to be a challenge!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Threave Castle

I paid a visit to Threave Castle today, which is near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway.

It's about 20 years since I was last there and it remains one of the most pleasant castle sites to visit - even my wife enjoyed it. It is somewhat larger than the usual Scottish tower house and is situated on an island in the River Dee. You walk through some fields on a good path to the landing stage, where a boat takes you on a short trip over to the island.

The castle was built in the 1370's by the wonderfully named Archibald the Grim. He was a Black Douglas and his family held the castle until they were deposed in 1455 after a siege. The castle only fell by bribery. The added artillery fortifications were effective and are probably the first of their kind.

It then became a royal fortress before being given to the Maxwells. They held the castle until besieged during the Bishops War. The Covenanters demolished part of the castle, but it may have been repaired for use as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars.

This is the classic view from the river bank.

This photo from the island and the excellent information boards, shows the artillery fortifications in front of the tower.

The castle could be supplied from this small harbour on the river.

And finally what is left of the interior. Upper floor and then the lower floor.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Some painting done!

My painting schedule has gone hopelessly awry in recent months. Plenty of excuses, but little output.

A show is always an incentive and Claymore provided the push to get at least a few of the newly arrived Song of Ice and Fire figures on the table to supplement my conversions.

Here is Clegane 'The Mountain'. Yes he really is big, even allowing for the heroic 28mm proportions of these figures.

Then some knights of Casterly Rock.

Led by the Mountain to show how big he is.

Before these figures arrived I was getting some long standing bits and bobs out of the lead pile. So I finished these WW2 28mm personality figures this week. Kenneth More, playing the Beachmaster in The Longest Day was a Salute giveaway in 2014. Winston and the Bren gunner were freebies with long forgotten purchases.

And finally some Blue Moon German spies etc that I bought for my Very British Civil War games. Another system that deserves some dusting down.

Having got the painting bug, I have made a start on my 'moderns' project. Watch this space.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Claymore 2018

The Edinburgh wargames show, Claymore, is one of the highlights of the Scottish wargames calendar. Held in an excellent venue at the Edinburgh College in Granton and hosted by the South East Scotland Wargames Club.

Thankfully it wasn't too hot a day as the venue can be very stuffy in both main halls. It seemed a little quieter than usual, but a bit more space around the tables was very welcome. I picked up a range of paints and terrain materials as well as some additions to my 20mm moderns project and a weighty tome on the Bulgarian army from the Helion stall.

My club, GDWS, did a participation game based on Game of Thrones, using a simplified version of Lion Rampant rules. The figures came from my collection of converted ranges and the first unit from The Song of Ice and Fire game.

There was a steady stream of players for the game so I didn't get much time to look at the other games. Being the second big Scottish show of the year, many of the games were the same as at Carronade, but none the worse for a repeat showing. Here are those that caught my eye.

Thanks to the SESC for yet again organising the event.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

A Song of Ice & Fire

Well it has arrived! Late, but not as bad as some Kickstarters I can think of. I refer of course to the Game of Thrones tabletop miniatures game - 'A Song of Ice and Fire'.

The starter set comes with the slim rulebook, cards, tokens and measurement sticks for the game. I bought this primarily for the figures, but the rules look pretty straightforward and interesting, so I will give them a go.

The starter set gives you enough figures for a small battle game between House Lannister and House Stark. The main characters plus four units on each side.

House Lannister

House Stark
I also bought some extra character figures for both houses and some neutral figures. These are based on the books, not the TV series, for obvious licensing price reasons.

Not forgetting the Lannister knights.

And the Stark bowmen.

I thought some other factions might come in handy and the House Bolton figures looked great. Here are the Flayed men and the Bastard Girls.

I have been playing Game of Thrones using Lion Rampant for some time, as you can see from earlier posts with this tag. I converted the figures from a number of ranges as well as using a couple of Dark Sword character figures. This photo shows a size comparison with my converted Lord of the Rings figures and some Front Rank English archers. The figures in the game are taller, but not as chunky as most 28mm figures. They are hard plastic and come as one piece holds, not assembly required. And very good they are too.

Finally, if you are going to the Claymore show in Edinburgh next Saturday, you can try your hand with House Lannister. The GDWS participation game will be using my figures. Even an outside chance that I might paint a few of the new ones.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Paul of Yugoslavia - Britain's Maligned Friend

This is a sympathetic biography of Prince Paul Karageorgevic, who was the Regent of Yugoslavia for a fateful seven years before the coup d'etat of March 1941 and the subsequent Axis invasion.

Born in Russia in 1893, due to his father's exile. In 1903, after the murder of King Alexander, he followed his uncle, the new King Peter, to Belgrade. He was educated in Lausanne, Belgrade and finally in England at Oxford.  His interests were in the arts, although he returned to Serbia at the outbreak of WW1. He arrived in poor health and despite his uniform, played no military role in the early success against the Austrians, or the subsequent retreat to Corfu and the Salonika campaign. He spent most of the war in England on health grounds.

King Peter's health meant that Serbia was ruled by the Prince Regent Alexander, who subsequently became King. Paul married Olga the sister of King Constantine of Greece in 1922. His relationship with King Alexander was mixed and he had very limited official roles. This meant he gained little experience in the complexity of Yugoslavian politics, which were based around trying to keep the disparate nation together. They also faced territorial claims from just about every country surrounding the new kingdom.

In 1934, King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles, and due to the heir King Peter's age, Paul became Regent. He also sought to keep the country together, with a succession of governments, all of which failed to resolve the differences between Serbia and Croatia. Mussolini supported the Croatian resistance and an Italian invasion was not out of the question, if Ethiopia had not kept him busy. Hitler made diplomatic efforts to encourage links with Yugoslavia and discouraged Mussolini, even after Paul voted in favour of sanctions at the League of Nations. The loss of Italian markets meant economic links with Germany became more important. Britain could not offer the same access, or modern armaments. 

In June 1939 he made a state visit to Germany and resisted efforts to get him to join the Axis, or at least sign a treaty. Hitler, in a moment of pique, suggested to Mussolini that Italy should invade Yugoslavia. This almost irresistible temptation had to be turned down because Mussolini was unprepared for war that August. For wargamers, this might make a very interesting 'what if' campaign.

After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Paul discussed with the French and the British the possibility of an allied landing at Salonika. In effect a copy of the WW1 strategy. Salonika was crucial to Yugoslavia as her only outlet to the sea outside the Adriatic, once Albania was in Italian hands. Weygand turned the idea down because it would take three months to get French forces in position. The British were keener on creating a Balkan Entente, including Turkey. A particularly unrealistic policy that reflected Britain's inability to effectively support their allies in the region. Again some interesting 'what if' campaigns here.

Paul even sought a rapprochement with the Soviet Union when the British were again unable to supply weapons and equipment. Yugoslavia did supply the Greeks with horses and other materials during their conflict with Italy. They also blocked German attempts to supply the Italians through Yugoslavia.

This takes us to the fateful events of March 1941. Hitler effectively gave Paul an ultimatum to support the Axis, or face invasion. The British urged him to fight without promising any effective support. British intervention in Greece was inadequate to save the Greeks, let alone supply and equip the hopelessly divided Yugoslavian armed forces.

The Crown Council reached the conclusion that there was no option other than join the Axis and Paul assented. He believed he was doing so under conditions that would have protected Yugoslavia. However, he was inevitably regarded as a traitor to the allied cause, a view that dogged him for the rest of his life.

This sparked a long planned coup d'etat by Serbian officers, which used King Peter, who was just short of his 18th Birthday as cover. Paul made no real effort to resist the coup and was probably relieved to leave the country. SOE had a modest role in the coup, but it was largely exaggerated. Paul and his family went into exile via Cairo, to Kenya and later to South Africa. 

Hitler responded with an invasion of Yugoslavia, which collapsed with minimal resistance. Followed by a vicious occupation and civil war. Much of this was unfairly blamed on Paul, particularly by elements in the UK Parliament and the press. He died in France in 1976.

Prince Paul was undoubtably ill equipped for a role that he never sought, or one that was intended for him. He should have spent his life in the comfortable existence of a minor royal, dabbling in art and other leisure pursuits. However, Yugoslavia was largely ungovernable during this period and the country's geo-strategic position left it with few options. Churchill was happy to propose totally unrealistic options, without providing any practical support.

This is a sympathetic biography and the reader is left with some sympathy for Prince Paul. Even more sympathy for the country in ruled for seven years. For me, it flagged up aspects of pre-war diplomacy that I was only vaguely aware of and is certainly worthy of further research.