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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

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Hellenic Navy during the Cyprus conflict 1974

 In 1974 Greek and Turkish troops did engage in Cyprus, but a direct war between the two countries was narrowly averted. The Greek military junta was undoubtedly prepared to go to war, but the military leaders argued that Greece could not win such a conflict. Even when the junta was replaced by the civilian leadership, there was a plan to reinforce the island by sea after the Turkish intervention, when it seemed clear that the Geneva peace conference would fail. Britain and the USA also worked hard to avoid a conflict between two NATO allies that would seriously affect NATO's southern flank. Greece left NATO and didn't rejoin until 1981 over perceived US support for Turkey during the Cyprus conflict.

The Hellenic and Turkish navies did not engage during the conflict, but they very nearly did. So, I have been building a Greek fleet to game 'what-if' scenarios. For example, early in the conflict, a Greek convoy assembled at Rhodes but was recalled. This intervention led to the friendly fire incident where Turkish aircraft sank the Turkish destroyer TCG Kocatepe, believing it to be a Greek ship. 

In 1974 the Hellenic Navy was equipped with similar US-supplied ships to the Turkish Navy. One of the factors that led to the Kocatepe incident. The last cruiser had been discarded in 1964, leaving destroyers as the major surface ships. There were six ex-US Fletcher Class ships, built in 1942-43 with four 5" guns, six 76mm AA guns and torpedos. They were also beginning to receive modernised WW2 destroyers, one of the Allen. M. Sumner Class and four Gearing Class. They also had four WW2 era ex-US Cannon Class destroyer escorts. The submarine fleet consisted of two ex-US Balao Class and one ex-US Tench Class upgraded to GUPPY configurations. Four modern submarines in the form of West German Type 209 were just completed, known as the Glavkos (Glafkos) Class in Greece. The Hellenic Navy also had a variety of landing ships, corvettes and MTBs.

Ex-US Fletcher Class, HS Velos, is now a museum ship (Picture Wikiwand)

Glavkos (Glafkos) Class submarine (Picture Hellenic Navy)

I decided to go for the Crete convoy scenario for the first tabletop encounter. On 14 August 1974, the Greeks asked Britain to provide air cover for a naval convoy (with a division of 10,000 troops) coming from Crete, as the Hellenic Air Force aircraft had insufficient range to cover such a convoy all the way to Cyprus. The British refused as it believed more Greek troops on the island would simply increase the risk of a direct conflict with the Turkish Army. The Greeks did consider a quick dash under cover of night, although given the distance involved (783km), the convoy would have to travel some of the journey in daylight, exposed to Turkish bombers. The Turkish Navy also had ships tasked with stopping such a convoy from reaching the island.

Unlike the Turks, the Hellenic Navy would have access to ports on the south of the island so could use a variety of ships to transport the troops. They are escorted by two Fletcher and two Gearing Class destroyers for this scenario. Three Greek submarines are also shadowing the convoy. The Turkish Air Force spots the convoy and has a limited opportunity to attack at long range during daylight. Three Turkish Navy Gearing Class destroyers with three submarines plot an interception course. 

The addition of submarine and surface warfare was a bigger test of the Naval Command rules I used last time. These fleets are essentially the WW2 era; even the modernisations are pre-missile age, so there was nothing too complex to handle. 

The Turkish airstrikes were not very effective. One landing ship crippled but the destroyer escorts survived. 

Surface fleet gunfire caused only limited damage, but the submarine attacks were devastating. Two destroyers on each side sink.

The next move results in another Greek destroyer being sunk by submarines. Time to head back to Crete!

The Naval Command rules were not too complex. Not sure I have understood the number of weapons firing, but otherwise they are playable.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Castle Campbell

 This week, it was our daughter's birthday, and part of the celebrations involved shopping. I managed to extricate myself from that joy to pop down the road to make my first castle visit of the year. I haven't been to Castle Campbell, in Dollar Glen near Stirling, for many years. It was called Castle Gloom when it was built in the 15th-century but became Castle Campbell when taken over by that family as their lowland pad, far from their lands in Argyll. The clan base is Inveraray Castle, although today's castle is an 18th-century castle-style house. The magnificently situated Kilchurn Castle is more representative of the period.

The castle is situated near the top of a glen, not as defensive as it may seem because it is overlooked by Gloom Hill, where I took this photo.

However, defence wasn't the primary purpose of this castle. Being near the royal castle at Stirling and not far from Edinburgh, it was where the Earl of Argyll would entertain and plot, safe from casual violence, if not a serious siege with gunpowder weapons.

The Campbell's were pretty good at plotting, and the eighth Earl became a Marquis in 1641. However, he later picked the wrong side, backing Cromwell and was executed for treason at the Restoration. The castle was burned in retaliation for hosting English troops, and while the family regained its status, including a dukedom in 1701, it was never restored as a family home.

The castle is significantly larger than the typical tower houses of the area. 

The original main hall

This was the site of the new main hall, sans burnt roof!

A model of the castle at its high point.

There is a fine view from the castle over the village of Dollar and this part of Clackmannanshire.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Operation Meghdoot - India's War in Siachen 1984-2020

 The Siachen conflict has to rate near the top in the list of pointless conflicts. Once described as 'two bald men fighting over a comb'. The highest battlefield in the world, where casualties (2,700 so far) from cold-induced illness and accidents are far more common than combat. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj explains why a disputed ridge line holds such strategic significance for India and the fighting over many years, which has yet to be resolved.

The Siachen Glacier is 700 square kilometres of ice mass situated in the eastern Karakoram Range of the Himalayas. The Saltoro Ridge above the glacier rises from 17,880 feet to 25,330 feet. Its strategic benefit for India is that it enables them to threaten the Karakoram Pass, a crucial artery between China and Pakistan. The borderline in this area was never demarcated adequately at the partition, and the author describes how an accidental map discovery started the Indian claim.

BBC map

The book clearly sets out the background to the conflict and its particular challenges for the Indian and Pakistani armed forces. India has invested much more heavily in specialised equipment and formations. 102 Infantry Brigade, known as the Siachen Brigade, has 3,000 men, supported by 3rd Infantry Division assets. Battalions and special forces are rotated through the brigade to give many troops experience operating at these altitudes. Pakistan's X Corps is responsible for their units in the area, and again battalions and special forces rotate as necessary. 

Both armies have purchased specialist equipment for the troops involved and support weapons, including mountain artillery. Resupply is a significant challenge as only a few helicopter types can operate at these altitudes and even then with tiny payloads. For example, the Indian Cheetah helicopter can carry only two soldiers and rations. The Pakistan positions are somewhat lower and can be supplied by the larger Puma helicopters.

Operation Meghdoot was aimed at pre-empting a Pakistani incursion based on intelligence that leave had been cancelled, lines of communication laid, high altitude equipment purchased and the tone of protest notes about Indian patrols. The plan was to establish a forward logistical base using a company plus one platoon of local Ladakh Scouts, then secure a position on the glacier and the ridge. This was launched on 13 April 1984 in minus 30 degrees celsius. Pakistan responded with its own Operation Ababeel. Serious fighting started on 22 June with Pakistani troops attacking uphill on an open ridge. This failed, and they lost 25 casualties. This was followed by a series of military engagements in 1985 and the years after that, with significant losses on both sides. After that, combat flared up infrequently, but both sides had to be prepared. The Kargil War in 1999 also impinged on the conflict as it could have cut on India's supply lines to Siachen.

Fighting has been rare in the 21st century, but accidents and medical conditions still result in casualties. Although both armies are now better equipped and trained to cope with the extreme conditions, albeit at a high cost. 12 Indian infantry battalions are rotated each year, which means some 15-20,000 troops have the joy of freezing up there. In 2012, the two countries came close to a demilitarisation deal, but it collapsed due to mutual suspicion. Tensions between India and China in the region is an added complication.

This looks pretty challenging to game on the tabletop for the wargamer, although the numbers fighting are quite small. For much of the year, the terrain is snow and ice, so a white mat over terrain would do. There are several WW2 ranges, particularly Finns and Soviets, in snowsuits, but they don't look much like the modern kit and the rifles are wrong. Possibly less of an issue in smaller scales, such as Pendrakens 10mm Finns. Korean War figures are another possibility, and from the photos in the book, troops don't wear snowsuits all the time. I have some way to go with my India-Pakistan project before I get to 1984 and beyond, so time to think about it.

Friday, 14 January 2022

Bohemond of Taranto

 The Normans in the South is one of the great stories of history, brought to life for me in the books of John Julius Norwich. Georgios Theotokis has picked out one of the most interesting of the many characters in the story, Bohemond of Taranto.

He came from the Hauteville family, son of Robert Guiscard. His father put his first wife, Bohemonds's mother, aside, technically because of the degree of kinship, but actually for a more favourable marriage to bind the Lombard lords to his cause. While technically a bastard, he was still brought up as a knight and became one of his father's most trusted commanders. Normans, or more accurately northern French as one in three were not actually from Normandy, fought in all the regional conflicts as they built up a power base in Southern Italy and then Sicily. 

Fighting for and against the Byzantine Empire encouraged the next big leap, the invasion of the Balkans. It was here that Bohemond considered the possibility of taking the Byzantine throne. This part of the story is told in another of Georgios' books, The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108, although, as I say, the sources for this campaign are limited. Despite being defeated by the Normans at Dyrrhachium and elsewhere in Greece, the Empire under Alexios hung on.

After his father's death, Bohemond contested the succession, but his brother was backed by Roger of Sicily, who came to his support with large numbers of his Muslim troops. The Norman-Sicilian army is one of my favourites of the period. None the less Bohemond did carve out a chunk of Southern Italy, including Taranto.

But this was never going to be enough for the restless Bohemond described as 'always seeking the impossible'. The First Crusade was a new opportunity to carve out more lands, and you can imagine Alexios' joy when Bohemond arrived as one of the Crusade leaders. His experience in the region, particularly fighting Turkish horse archers, made him the true military leader of the First Crusade. He captured Antioch and carved out the territories in that area for himself and his close family. Finally, he found a decent excuse not to hand it back to Alexios!

When he needed to get back to Europe to seek support, he got around the Byzantine blockade in a coffin. A great story in itself. He got to France and married the King of France's daughter, leaving Antioch in his nephew Tancred's hands. Which handily meant he could get out of another treaty with Alexios. The wily Byzantine's had met an equally wily foe.

He died in Italy on 7 March 1111, and his body is in a mausoleum in Canosa. A cathedral he helped design, not accidentally in a Byzantine style. Bohemond's longing, even in death, to equal the glory and prestige of the Byzantine emperors is palpable in his choice of a final resting place in what was, essentially, a copy of the imperial mausoleum in Constantinople.

The author argues that 'Bohemond was, beyond any doubt to my mind, a great soldier with vast experience in fighting overseas. His aggressive strategy in every operational theatre he was active in speaks volumes about his daring character and dynamism that he wished to portray throughout his life.' It's hard to disagree with that view. He had great successes and failures, perhaps summed up by the inscription on his mausoleum (which I must try and see):

'He thundered over the earth. Since the universe submitted to him I can't call him a man; I won't call him a god.'

A good excuse for a picture of my Norman knights!

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

German and Soviet guerrilla warfare manuals

 Two for one in this review of reproductions of WW2 manuals on unconventional warfare. First up is the German Army Guerilla Warfare Pocket Manual 1939-45, edited by Charles Melson.

This manual covers a couple of German publications. Arthur Ehrhardt's 1935 Kleinkrieg (Guerilla War) and the High Command's own 1944 Bandenbekamfung (Fighting the Guerilla Bands). The Germans had a particular hatred of guerilla war that went back to the Franco-Prussian War and their strategic need to fight short wars, avoiding wars of attrition. This is summarised by the doctrine 'Against an open foe fight with chivalry, but to a guerilla extend no quarter.'

In WW2, the Germans faced a number of resistance struggles, but the most challenging guerilla warfare was in the Soviet Union and in the Balkans. Ehrhardt's book was first published in 1935 and reprinted and updated during the war. It drew extensively on German experience of irregular warfare from the Peninsular War to WW1 in the Balkans. He highlights the tactics used and the responses devised by local commanders. The High Command developed these into a series of directives during the war, which ranged from encouraging local collaboration to genocide. 

The methods would vary depending on local circumstances, 'whatever succeeds is right' said Hitler in 1942. These included an emphasis on command and control, passive and active measures. The wargamer will find the instructions for the deployment of 'hunter' units as providing the basis for tabletop actions, as they involve platoon to company-level operations. Infantry squads would include local guides and were supposed to operate for up to two weeks without re-supply. The idea was to imitate the fighting techniques of guerilla bands, supported by aircraft, artillery and armour. Like traditional German doctrine, encirclement-annihilation operations were preferred. The manual includes diagrams of both tactics and methods.

On the other side of the hill, I also picked up a copy of Lester Grau's The Red Army's Do-It-Yourself, Nazi-Bashing Guerrilla Warfare Manual: The Partizan's Companion, 1943. As David Glantz points out in the introduction, while the Soviet leadership espoused guerrilla war, they did not want the common people to rise against the Germans. Even in these perilous times, the Soviet government wanted control. This meant the initial efforts inserted groups into rear areas achieved little. They learned from this and created local units led by military officers. The 1943 manual was designed to train guerillas to a common standard. Individual partisans can read it but are really intended for squad and platoon-level instruction.

Partisan warfare was very effective. Soviet historians credit the partisans with tying down 10% of the German army and killing almost a million enemy soldiers. Some 1,100,000 men and women served as partisans in 6,000 detachments. There was a central command to coordinate these detachments, and in 1943 they provided some 60,000 rifles, 34,300 submachine guns, 4,200 machine guns, 2,500 antitank rifles and 2,200 mortars along with ammunition and hand grenades.

After the war, the manual continued in publication and was used in several national liberation struggles. The partisan leader, Panteleimon Ponomarenko, lectured at a secret school for Arab revolutionaries at Novoe Nagoronoe some forty miles outside of Moscow, as late as 1974.

The manual is a practical guide to a wide range of guerilla warfare techniques. It covers explosives and weapons used by the Soviets and the Germans and tactics, hiding from aircraft and how to hide and store supplies. It is liberally laced with rich Soviet WW2 language, 'Partisans force the German occupiers always to be on their guard. They do not let the Hitlerite scoundrels rest by day or night, by creating an unbearable environment for them.'

These guides are a handy way of understanding how guerilla warfare was undertaken in WW2. First, remembering this was a particularly brutal conflict, with little quarter on either side.

SS units like the locally recruited Handschar Division mainly were used for anti-partisan operations. These are 28mm models from Warlord using alternative heads.

Yugoslav partisans could be equipped with heavy weapons like this 120mm mortar.

Monday, 10 January 2022

Commando Subaltern at War - with the Partisans

 As a follow up to reading the semi-official history of 43 Royal Marine Commando, I have been reading William Jenkins' memoirs of his service with this unit in Yugoslavia and later in northern Italy. This is a personal account rather than a broad sweep of the operations.

Jenkins was a replacement officer who joined 43 (RM) Commando on the island of Vis in August 1944. He and others replaced comrades who were casualties during a battle with the Germans on the island of Brac. One of the toughest actions the Special Service Brigade on Vis fought during the campaign. 43 (RM) Commando also lived up to their Royal Marine heritage by providing small boarding parties operating off MTBs and MGBs that attacked German supply boats.

He took part in 'Floydforce' operations in Montenegro, which aimed to support the Partisans blocking the German retreat from the Balkans. His unit landed at Gruz harbour near Dubrovnik a week after the Germans had abandoned the town in October 1944. They headed down to Montenegro to cut off the 21st Mountain Corps, coming up from Albania. They had a battery of eight 25pdrs and a couple of 75mm howitzers to shell the narrow road. There are some excellent pictures of how these were dismantled and carried on mules in the book. Not to mention the 'challenges' of working with mules!

Jenkins goes into more detail about the operations he was involved in, including blocking the inland route to Niksic. He highlights how the locals helped the Partisans repair roads, often with their bare hands, aided by that fine British invention, the Bailey Bridge. He also acknowledges the role of the Balkan Air Force in inflicting damage on the retreating Germans.

The second part of the book covers his role in the assaults around Lake Comacchio in northwest Italy in March and April 1945. This was really a conventional infantry battle rather than a commando operation. He does include an interesting appendix on the Axis opponents, the 162nd (Turkoman) Infantry Division. This division had volunteers from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazak, Turkestan, Iran, Afghanistan and others. This combination must have created more than a few command challenges. They were collectively called 'Turks', although I doubt the Armenians were much chuffed about that!

This is a valuable addition to my collection of memoirs covering the war in the Adriatic. It includes pictures I haven't seen before, some taken by a Partisan photographer that he managed to track down in a shop after the war. The maps are decent as well.

This reading inspired me to tackle a 1/72 Revell kit of a Croatian Air Force BF-109G that I picked up at a modelling show before Xmas. I am a bit fingers and thumbs with kits, but this one is relatively straightforward and fits together nicely. In addition, the Croatian markings make it a distinctive model for the tabletop. 

I think it has spotted the Partisan camp! With two 7.92mm machine guns and two 20mm auto-cannon, this aircraft could do a lot of damage. 

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Turkish Navy in the Cyprus 1974 conflict

I have added a naval dimension to my Cyprus 1974 project. A vital element of the conflict was the ability of the Turkish armed forces to project military power over the sea lanes from the mainland to Cyprus. After the 1964 and 1967 crises, Turkey recognised that its naval capacity was inadequate for the task.

The modern Turkish Navy (Türk Deniz Kuvvetleri) was created in 1920 with a small fleet to defend a long coastline. In 1947 Turkey signed an aid treaty with the United States and joined NATO in 1952. This led to the supply of former British and US ships, which formed the backbone of the fleet. By 1974, these included ex-US Fletcher (five ships), Allen. M. Sumner (two ships) and Gearing class (five ships) destroyers. A strategic aim of producing their own warships led to the Berk class frigate being built at the Gölcük Yard, based on the USN Claud Jones frigate design. The submarine fleet consisted mainly of the ex-US Balao class. The unmodified versions were being phased out in the early 1970s and replaced by conversions to the Guppy IA, IIA and III standards. Ten of these submarines had been acquired before 1974. 

Turkish Destroyer Adatepe. Ex-Gearing Class

The absence of harbours under Turkish control in Cyprus meant the Turkish Navy had to develop a significant landing craft capacity to put troops onto beaches. After the 1964 crisis and the Johnson Letter, the US refused to include landing craft in their military aid package and Turkish efforts to secure them from other sources also ran into difficulties. In 1965, they established a Landing Craft Command (Cikarma Gemileri Komutanliği), initially based at Gölük on the Sea of Marmara, and then moved to Mersin in 1973. Mersin was the naval base closest to Cyprus.  

This command included five British WW2 LCTs and 12 locally built landing craft. In 1967, they got around the US restrictions by purchasing two 650-ton landing craft tanks (LCT) from Britain and an 8,500-ton carrier ship from Denmark. They also bought two ex-US LST 511 class Landing Ship Tanks that Germany had converted into minelayer ships and converted them back into LSTs in 1972. Finally, in 1973, they acquired the ex-US Terrebonne Parish class landing ship tank (LST) (USS Windham County, renamed TCG Ertugrul). 

Naval officers were trained in amphibious operations with a new training programme. They also attended amphibious operation courses in the US for the first time in 1970. Full-scale amphibious exercises were conducted annually in Iskenderun Bay, and units joined similar NATO exercises. 

Modern naval warfare is pretty complex and often takes place many miles apart. However, this was less of an issue in 1974. The Turkish fleet has WW2 style tasks of defending the landing ships and naval gunfire support for the landings. The Greek Cypriot National Guard only had a few fast attack craft, but there was also the possibility of an intervention by the Hellenic Navy and/or Air Force.

So, I searched for modern naval rules that don't require a science degree! I have settled on Naval Command by Rory Crabb. I'm not saying they are simple rules, and I haven't got into the really modern period yet, but they do appear playable.

So far, I have painted up the Turkish fleet and some aircraft. The models are from Navwar in 1/3000. Four Gearings, two Fletchers, Berk Frigate and LSTs.

The game scenario is the protection of the convoy taking the assault troops to Cyprus from the Turkish port of Mersin. The LSTs are protected by the four Gearing Class destroyers. In this scenario, the military junta in Athens got their way and persuaded the military chiefs that Greece should actively intervene by attacking the convoy with Hellenic Air Force (HAF) jets. Not straightforward because even from Rhodes, Cyprus is only just in combat range for some HAF aircraft types, including the Delta Dagger and the handful of Phantoms that were just arriving. 

The first challenge would be finding the convoy. While the Greeks did have reconnaissance aircraft like the RF-84F, they didn't yet have sophisticated radar-equipped maritime reconnaissance patrol craft like the  Orion. I have assumed they did spot the convoy, and three flights arrived. However, under the rules, you still have to detect the enemy ships once on the tabletop, and the first flight failed that test. The second Phantom flight passed and avoided the AA fire to land its bombs on the TCG Kocatepe. Curtains again for that unfortunate destroyer, as in 1974 it was also sunk, albeit by mistake by Turkish aircraft. 

The third flight detected the convoy but was shot down by AA fire as it attacked the leading LST.

Next up will be the Hellenic Navy, and we can try some surface actions. I also have some post-74 ships, thanks to a less than subtle Xmas present request. Then I suspect I will wish I had studied science rather than law!