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, 17 August 2019

Fortress Budapest

I got back into painting mode this week, always difficult after the crash painting challenge for a show game. Time to start on a new project, Fortress Budapest. A pal, the wargames equivalent of a drug dealer, kept going on about them and I succumbed to some purchases at the Lakeland show.

The first unit I have painted is a standard Honved infantry section. Pleasantly simple to paint as well.

I have a parachute assault unit on the painting table and after that some armour and support weapons. I'll take a breather after that given that you can use German units to bulk it out. I also have a few Soviets in the box and this could be my excuse to get some Romanians in 28mm.

The Warlord supplement is a very nice piece of work. Crammed pack of interesting scenarios for 1944-45. Although I might use some of my units for the 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia.

For a detailed history of the siege, I would recommend 'Battle for Budapest' by Krisztian Ungvary, published by Tauris. This author had access to German and Soviet archives and takes the reader through the battle week by week. With plenty of illustrations and maps.

Budapest itself is well worth a visit. The citadel has a museum with exhibits from the siege period.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Battles and Battlefields of Ancient Greece

This is a book I wish I had owned for the last 20 years! Jacob Butera and Matthew Sears have written an excellent guide to the battles and battlefields of ancient Greece. Mind you; it's a weighty tome, so you might want to leave it in the car as you walk the field.

In the preface, the authors rightly stress the importance of visiting battlefields to understand what happened. I have probably visited more than most, and my understanding has often been challenged by what I have seen. What you thought was a gentle hill, turns out to be a steep climb, or it becomes evident that a general could not possibly have seen a particular flanking move.

As an introduction for the general reader, there is a concise chapter on ancient Greek and Roman warfare, which explains the development of warfare during this period and also the contested evidence. Historians still argue over the way Hoplites fought, and the truth is that we will never know for sure. Such is the joy of history!

The book divides Greece up geographically, which is sensible for what is meant to be a travel guide. Starting with Athens and Attica, the usual starting point for tourists, then moving to central Greece, northern Greece and finally the Peloponnese.

In all, twenty battles are covered. These include all the famous ones like Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Chaeronea - as well as less well-known actions such as Mounichia.

The format is a brief introduction followed by general directions to the battle site. Then a reasonably detailed historical outline to the battle and detailed advice on the best places to view the site, including GPS references. Finally, recommended reading including the ancient and modern sources as well as journal articles. There is extensive use of satellite images of the topography with the ancient deployments drawn over.

This book will undoubtedly be going with me on my next visit to Greece.

And let's have some Greek 28mm figures from my collection to go with it.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Armies of the Hellenistic States 323BC to AD30

'Armies of the Hellenistic States 323BC to AD30’ by Gabriele Esposito (Pen and Sword) is a grand tour of the armies in the eastern Mediterranean from Alexander to the domination of Rome.

He starts with a brief explanation of the military revolution instigated by Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon. A combination of the pike wielding phalanx and heavy cavalry overwhelmed the hoplite armies of the Greek city states. He then shows how Alexander developed this army in his conquest of the Persian Empire.

There is a short chapter on the military history of the period and the events after Alexander's death with the creation of successor states, led by his generals, the Diadochi. There are better books on these wars, including, Bob Bennett's, 'The Wars of Alexander's Successors'. However, this is really context for looking at the organisation of each army. 

Most of these will be familiar. The Antigonid, Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms had a core of Macedonian troops who were given land in return for military service, known as kleruchs. As these died off, they were replaced by their sons, although each state increasingly made use of native troops as well. This gave each army a distinct look, with the Seleucids probably being the most diverse. A reason why they are popular with wargamers!

Mercenaries remained an essential element of these armies. They were recruited from Greek states and were generally reliable and widely used as garrison troops. There were also many sought-after specialists like Cretan archers. Non-Hellenistic tribal societies provided large numbers of mercenaries, including Thracians and other Balkan tribes. The Celtic (Galatian) migration through the Balkans and into Anatolia, also provided a ready source of manpower.

Perhaps more interestingly, the book then turns to the less well-known states of the region. These include Epirus, Pontus, Bactria, Israel and even the fringes of India.

There are of course books on most of these states and their armies. What's different is using reenactors (Hetairoi) to 'model' the dress and equipment of each troop type. This is done in full colour on almost every other page, which results in a high-quality publication.

Sadly, the text is not quite up to the same standard. The use of overly long paragraphs makes some chapters hard going. A few charts would also be a better way to set out the organisational detail.

However, this book is worth the very reasonable price for the colour plates alone and therefore complements other publications.

Like most ancient wargamers I have a Seleucid army - mine is in 28mm. It has just about every troop type known to the ancient world.

Thursday, 8 August 2019


A work trip next month is taking me to South Africa. So, there will be a bit of a theme to my posts as I plan to visit at least some of the battlefields of the Zulu and Boer wars.

My grasp of the Zulu wars don't go much further than Michael Caine and Stanley Baxter and the less well known Zulu Dawn. I am remedying that starting with Saul David's 'Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879".

What little I thought I knew is debunked in this book. For example, I don't need to practice 'Men of Harlech' because very few of the defenders of Rorke's Drift were Welsh and would be unlikely to know the words either. The 24th Foot did become the South Wales Borderers, but not until 1881. In 1879 most would have been recruited from the slums of Birmingham. The film might not have been quite as memorable with lots of Jasper Carrot types!

Chard and Bromhead were not rated very highly by their respective commanders. Bromhead's Colonel described him as a 'hopeless soldier due to his unconquerable indolence'. Mind you, as the Major who should have been commanding at Rorke's drift abandoned his post, he wasn't the worst officer in the regiment, and he did pretty well. Partially deaf or not.

The Zulu War need not have happened at all. It was deliberately provoked by Sir Bartle  Frere, governor of Cape Colony and the British commander, Lord Chelmsford, went along with him. It could also have been concluded earlier, but by then Chelmsford was desperate for a big victory to cover up for the disaster at Isandlwana. It was quite shocking the lengths that his officers went to to cover up his errors and scapegoat Colonel Durnford.

The book is very well written as well as researched. It gives a clear account of the campaigns as well as the political context, in Britain and South Africa.

Needless to say, I won't be able to visit the battlefields without wanting to wargame them. So, I have already made a start. I used to have them in 15mm, but unusually for me, sold them some years ago. I have therefore decided to do this war in 10mm and I picked up two Pendragon army packs at Claymore, which should get me started. I have the Osprey Elite on the Zulus and have added the Osprey Warrior on the Brits and another MAA on the volunteer units.

From the photos and drawings it was clear that few troops remained in parade ground condition as in the film. A Sergeant of the 24th at Rorke's Drift wrote that his men were in rags, "some with no boots, some with their jackets and trousers patched with sheepskins and all kinds of things." I am not sure how I will reflect that in 10mm, but we will see.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Claymore 2019

It's August, so it must be Claymore - Edinburgh's premier, well only, wargames show. And it was another fine show put on by the South East Scotland Wargames Club, who as usual did a great organisational job.

I was stuck at our game most of the day, with a steady stream of players participating in the GDWS game - Battle of Riverrun. I must try and remember that Game of Thrones has a lot of adult content so lots of kids haven't seen it. None the less, castles and dragons remain a winning combination!

I only had time for a quick tour around the stalls. Chatting to them, they were doing good business, even if they felt the numbers were a bit down in the afternoon. It is the first Saturday of the football season. I picked up a couple of Zulu Wars army packs from Pendragon, more on this new project to come. Plus a few books on the same theme.

It was also a pleasure to say hello to Henry Hyde, up to the show for the first time. I will look forward to hearing what he thought in his report.

There were a number of very nice looking games. Here are those that caught my eye.

Starting with this Balkan game, similar to one we ran a few years ago. GDWS members being astonished that someone else was doing this. I did point out that the Balkans and Game of Thrones are pretty similar!

This naval battle definitely caught the eye.

I have no idea what this is, but very colourful.

Grand strategic Eastern Front.

I think this was also at Carronade, but worth a second go.

Austro-Prussian if memory serves. 10mm works well for this conflict.

This was a very long table full of Hueys and other Vietnam stuff.

This To The Strongest game was next to us, full of the very nice Claymore Castings figures.

And finally, Tradeston with ADLG. They even had the rule book out!

Friday, 26 July 2019

Game of Thrones - part......

I have been on something of a painting roll since returning from holiday. As always the deadline of a wargame show helps. This time it is Claymore on 3 August in Edinburgh. The GDWS game will be the Battle of Riverrun and you are very welcome to take a command and play along for as long as you want. Lannisters v Stark/Bolton/Tully alliance.

First off the bench were the last of the Lannister guard units. I was getting more than a bit bored painting these.

Then the Bolton Cutthroats. These are some of the better figures in the range and look the part.

These constitute a Stark 'Bidower' unit. I use Lion Rampant rules for this 'period'. I used some leftover figures for this. Some nice irregular movement bases arrived this morning from the very efficient folk at Warbases. I also used the new GW contrast paints with these for the first time. I am not convinced they do much to speed up painting, but I have only used one so far.

And finally, a couple of figures to pad out my Stark horse. The CMON game has four cavalry figures per unit, so I need some extras for Lion Rampant.

Astonishingly, that is it nearly done. Just some odd figures to paint next week and we are there. I would have liked some Lannister crossbowmen, so will be on the lookout at Claymore.

Hope to see folk there - it is a bit cooler up here for those south of the border looking to escape! Come and say hello and roll a few dice with us.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Operation Cicero

We read a lot about successful Allied espionage operations in WW2, but rarely about Axis operations. Operation Cicero was one such operation, which took place in the Turkish capital Ankara in 1943. 

Cicero was the code name for the British Ambassador's valet, who photographed top-secret documents that the Ambassador kept in his personal safe and document boxes. He sold them to the Germans through his handler, L.C.Moyzisch, who was an attache at the German embassy. Moyzisch wrote his account of the affair in a 1950 book, which I recently found a copy of in a second-hand bookshop.

Cicero's motives appear to be largely financial. He was paid some £300,000 for around four hundred photographed documents. Some of these were very important, including partial notes of the Moscow, Tehran and Cairo conferences. He also handed over a document that mentioned Operation Overlord, although not what it meant. However, the Germans did discover that Turkish deception plan for Overlord from another document.

The Germans appear to have made limited use of this intelligence, partly because of turf wars in Berlin. Ribbentrop suspected that the documents were false, even after it was obvious they were genuine. He had a personal antipathy to the German ambassador in Turkey, Franz von Papen, who had been the German Chancellor.

This book is, of course, one person's account. Von Papen suggests in an annexe to the book that there is more to the story, although he confirms the main facts. Cicero was subsequently identified as Elyesa Bazna, and he wrote his own account in 1962. He was never caught by the British, leaving the embassy in April 1944 when the British recognised that the embassy was the source of the leaks. He lived in Turkey after the war and later moved to Munich. He died in Germany in 1970, aged 66. 

They say treachery never pays, and in this case, they may be right. Most the money he was paid was in counterfeit Sterling and he spent a short time in a Turkish prison as a consequence. He tried unsuccessfully to get the West German government to reimburse him in the 1960's!

This is an interesting story that tells us a bit about Turkey in WW2 and the way German intelligence services operated. 

A film based on this book was released in 1952. It was titled 5 Fingers and Bazna, renamed Ulysses Diello, was played by James Mason. I haven't watched it yet,(it's on YouTube) and it was nominated for two Academy Awards.