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

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Sunday, 23 June 2019

The History Behind Game of Thrones

There are a lot of settings that can make a good claim to being the history behind Game of Thrones. In this book, David Weinczok makes a good case for Scotland.

While Game of Thrones is of course fantasy, it has very few fantasy elements, other than the odd dragon of course! There are no orcs, elves and all the other Tolkienesque features. There is also very little magic. It is essentially a medieval setting, and there are plenty of historical examples to pick from, many of which have similar dramatic elements. 



George Martin himself has said that his main inspiration was the novels of the French writer Maurice Druon, based around the dynastic fight for the French throne in the 14thCentury. I have read one of these and found them hard work, but I can see the connection. The American writer Jamie Adair has a blog which offers many possible historical links, not least the Wars of the Roses. In this context, David Weinczok is possibly making too greater a claim for Scotland. Nonetheless, it’s fantasy, so why not. 

He starts with the geography of Scotland, which certainly has a passing resemblance to Westeros. In particular the Isles, which match the Iron Islands better than any part of France or England. Scotland has plenty of castles, although interestingly George Martin only identifies a small number in his books. Even if it is reasonable to assume that he only mentioned those that had a role in the story. Of course, France, Wales and England have castles as well. The author, who in his Twitter alias as 'TheCastleHunter’ has visited a lot, highlights more than a few matches.

His section on the players makes some good connections. Somerled of the Isles, Douglas, Edward I and the Caledonians resisting the might of Rome. The connection with dragons is a bit tenuous - Mons Meg may have changed siege warfare, but it wasn’t the battlefield winning weapon a dragon can be in Game of Thrones.

He is on stronger ground with the connection to events like the Declaration of Arbroath, the Black Dinner and the Glencoe massacre. Both of which similarly broke the law of hospitality to the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones.

While the connections may be a bit stretched at times, this is a novel way to tell Scottish history. Personally, I think the Balkans could make a reasonable basis for Game of Thrones but would have to accept it probably wasn't at the forefront of George Martins mind.

I really enjoyed this book. It may irritate some, but if you like Game of Thrones and Scottish history, you will find it hard to put down.

It did at least motivate me to get back to painting my Game of Thrones armies. We are doing a game, the Battle of Riverrun, at the Edinburgh Claymore show in August. If you are going, come along and throw some dice for the Lannisters or the Starks as your preference dictates.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Summer of Blood: The Peasants Revolt 1381

Last weekend was the anniversary of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. When I saw this marked on my radical calendar, I realised that my knowledge of this event didn't go much further than the Mayor of London killing the leader of the revolt, Wat Tyler, at Smithfield.

A Kindle offer of Dan Jones's book on the subject, Summer of Blood, for less than a pound, was an opportunity to rectify this gap in my historical knowledge.



While Wat Tyler led the Kentish rebels, the revolt actually started in Essex in reaction to attempts to collect the poll tax. The causes went much deeper and probably started with attempts to restrain wages and work mobility as a consequence of the Black Death. The government needed ever greater amounts of cash to fund the Hundred Years War against France and started to tax groups that previously had been exempt. This built on deeper resentments about the unequal society and the legal system.

I hadn't appreciated how extensive the revolt was, covering much of the home counties, or how extensive the damage was to London. The rebels killed a long list of establishment figures and burnt their properties. The young Richard II was left with a pretty poor set of advisors and limited resources to put down the revolt, as the effective ruler, John of Gaunt, was dealing with the Scots.

The rebels eventually over-reached themselves with their demands and the revolt started to run out of steam. The counter-terror was every bit as vicious with thousands being killed in revenge. The rule of law, always somewhat partial in medieval England, was abandoned as the country was decorated with mutilated bodies.

Eventually, a Great Pardon was issued and the country started to recover. The poll tax was quietly abandoned and further regressive attempts to fund the war ended. The events of 1381 clearly had a significant impact on the young king, who was eventually deposed in 1399 after a pretty disastrous reign.

The revolt was one of many uprisings across Europe in the medieval period. They all had different causes, but they demonstrated that ordinary men and women could articulate and act collectively in their own cause.

Dan Jones has written a very readable account of the revolt, well worth the very modest outlay.

Most wargamers have a few peasants to add to armies or just decorate the battlefield. I can't see many starting a collection for this conflict, but there are no shortage of figures if you want to. Here are some of mine for the period in 28mm.





Sunday, 16 June 2019

The Great Game: Waterloo Replayed

It's the weekend before the Waterloo anniversary, and what better way to spend it than with a wargame of the battle with some 22,000 figures.

This long-awaited project, the initiative of Professor Tony Pollard, took place this weekend in the Kelvin Gallery at the University of Glasgow. The scale was 28mm and the rules Black Powder. It was played over four long tables, a method used by similar big games, but a little challenging at first sight if you are not used to it. The terrain was a printed battle map of the actual battle with the major buildings very recognisable across the table.

The picture below is of the main action on Sunday morning, taken from the Prussian end of the battlefield. It looked like good progress was being made, thanks to timed moves, essential for a game of this size.





In the gallery overlooking the game, there were a range of games you could participate in, or if like me, have a natter with some old wargaming pals. It certainly attracted a number of folks who had drifted away from the hobby and were considering a return. Just the inspiration we need.






And plenty of re-enactors on hand, including these Prussians who entertained the tourists outside.


All in all, a great advert for the hobby. And for a good cause - Waterloo Uncovered.


Saturday, 15 June 2019

Setting the East Ablaze

This is Peter Hopkirk's account of the events in Central Asia after the Russian revolution in 1917. As the revolution failed to spread to western Europe, Lenin turned east towards British India and China. In many ways a continuation of the 'Great Game' that Britain and Russia had played in Central Asia for most of the previous century.


This is a good example of the old cliche that truth is stranger than fiction. Our story starts with eccentric British agents on the Silk Road attempting to disrupt the Bolshevik advance as the White armies withdrew. They had some entertaining adventures but appeared to achieve little as the Bolsheviks took over cities like Tashkent and used them as a base to train revolutionaries from India and elsewhere.

Some of the new Soviets caused Lenin a few headaches. Not least at Suizran, which ordered the nationalisation of women! The logic was that the bourgeoisie had taken all the most beautiful women.   Lenin quickly ordered this order withdrawn.

Other colourful characters included the former Turkish General, Enver Pasha. He brought together a number of Muslim bands known as, Basmachi, who had the support of the local population and fanatical courage. Until the numbers and firepower of the Bolsheviks wore them down.

The most bizarre figure was the Russian Baron Ungern-Sternberg, rightly known as the Mad Baron. Starting out as a Cossack commander, he raised a Mongol and White Russian army of some 6,000 men.  He was supplied by Japanese, who had plans of their own in Asia. He hated all Bolsheviks and Jews and committed some of the worst atrocities of the conflict, planning to plant an 'avenue of gallows' from Mongolia to Moscow. After creating chaos he ended up in front of a Bolshevik firing squad.

There were many other characters, but you get the gist.

For the wargamer, this is the territory known as the back of beyond. The Copplestone range of 28mm figures captures the spirit of the period brilliantly.  Partisan Press also publishes rules (Setting the East Ablaze) and scenarios for the period.

It's not a period I have gamed, but I do have some suitable figures including these Cossacks. It would be even better if I could find the rest of them!


And I have some Russian infantry.


Monday, 10 June 2019

The Norman Commanders

This is Paul Hill's look at the men who led the Norman armies between 911 and 1135. While all aspects of Norman warfare are covered, the author believes that what makes the Normans different from their contemporaries was leadership at all levels.



I have more than a soft spot for the Normans. My Sicilian/Norman army for WAB was probably the best army I have used on the tabletop. Solid infantry, plenty of firepower, skirmishers and of course the charging Norman knights. The author believes Bohemond was the greatest leader. My own vote would go to Roger I, closely followed by Guiscard.

In this book, we get a short description of the rise of the Normans from their Viking beginnings. This covers not just Normandy, but the astonishing achievements in Italy.  This story is told in much more detail by John Julius Norwich in his brilliant book, 'The Normans in the South'.

We then get chapters on the main commanders, with commentary on their careers and command skills. They all had different strengths and some weaknesses, which are brought out well.

Part 3 covers battles and campaigns. The author has chosen six battles in the north and five in the south to illustrate the different tactics used by the Normans. This leads to the final part, which includes chapters on organisation, horses, logistics, training, strategy and battlefield tactics.  We don't have reliable sources for all of these subjects, but the author makes some reasonable assertions based on what evidence there is.

The Normans certainly adopted the tactics of those they fought when it suited them, including dismounting. This is part of the reason I like the pragmatic Roger I. They did draw on classical and Roman manuals like Vegitus, but did much more. They engaged in battle when they had to, but were equally adept at achieving their strategic aims by other means.

The author does a persuasive job of ditching the view that their achievements were a matter of technological development. The only novel thing about the Normans was that they were consistently good over a long period. They had outstanding leadership skills, not just the commanders, but down to small units. This did give them flexibility that was uncommon in the period. As the author concludes, "The consistent success of the Normans in warfare is attributable to the qualities of the men who led them."

The Normans fought in the Balkans against the Byzantine Empire and I have written a feature article on these campaigns in Balkan Military History if you want more. The figures below are from my 28mm collection.



You can currently pick up the e-book version at Pen and Sword for a bargain £10.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Dalmatian Bridgehead - Cruel Seas scenario

I have finally got round to painting some more ships for Cruel Seas. The new additions include Warlord's armed trawler, a tanker, two Fairmile MGB/MTBs and some landing craft from the Scotia range.





When researching in the National Archives, I came across a WW2 file (WO201/1582) describing a planned attack on the Dalmatian coast, which would make a good ‘Cruel Seas’ scenario.

The plan, codenamed ‘Knockholt’, is dated December 1943 and refers to a joint British and Partisan operation to not just raid the coast, but to establish a bridgehead on the Dalmatian coast between Split and the River Neretva. Options included the small harbours at Omis, Baska Voda, Makarska and Podgora. These are places that modern tourists to Croatia may be familiar with. Omis has a fine castle, and the Makarska Riviera is packed full of hotels.

Anyone who has visited this coast might wonder why establish a bridgehead there. The coast is dominated by mountains with limited access to the hinterland. In another file, I came across a memo from Middle East Command that refers to a Partisan plan to establish a bridgehead at Dubrovnik. They opposed this because this would primarily access Montenegro, rather than Bosnia. The concern was that the Partisans would focus more on the Chetniks there than the Germans.

The main attack would be carried out by Tito's Partisans, not earlier than 15 February 1944, over 15 days. There would be a diversionary attack by British Commandos against Split, Sibenik or Dubrovnik. Air superiority was regarded as essential, both to neutralise enemy airfields and to provide fighter cover.

All the shipping and equipment would come from the allied base on the island of Vis, via Bari in Italy, possibly with some dumping of supplies on nearby islands. Hvar and Brac would be the obvious choices. Equipment included 12 armoured cars, 96 lorries, US 75mm mountain guns, mortars and other support weapons. Needless to say, this would require a large number of landing craft as well as covering naval forces. The plan assumed one of these small harbours would be captured.

It is not clear to me if Operation Knockholt was actually carried out. Michael McConville, who was on Vis at the time, doesn’t mention it in his memoirs (A Small War in the Balkans). The type of initial raid he describes as happening during this period appeared to be very limited reconnaissance operations. Certainly nothing on the scale described in the planning documents. Fitzroy MacLean in his early liaison trips to the mainland describes Baska Voda as being in Partisan hands, but again no mention of this operation.  Sadly, MacLean's memoirs rarely have any dates. Another liaison officer, Deakin, also doesn't mention it. Neither is there any reference in naval history. 


Christopher Chant’s ‘Codenames’ website describes it as ‘Implemented’. So, it may be that as a mostly Partisan operation, one of many, it just wasn't covered by British writers. Either way, it makes a decent scenario.  

On to the tabletop. I gave the Partisan convoy two Fairmiles and two Vospers as an escort to supplement the Partisan armed trawler. Four E-Boats are lying in ambush.


I haven't quite got the hang of sailing. Most of the game was spent trying to avoid collisions! As you can see it got a bit crowded in the narrows.


The Germans nearly got through to shoot up the landing craft, but the last E-Boat was sunk before he could activate that move.


I really like these rules. Even as an obvious landlubber!

Monday, 3 June 2019

Assyrians completed

Always nice to actually finish a project. The second half of my 15mm Assyrian army includes the cavalry and chariots.

I have never had a chariot army before, other than a couple of small Celtic ones. These are serious four horse heavy chariots, with a general element.


Then the heavy cavalry with bows and another general.


Finally the Arab camelry and Scythian horse archers.


Time to get the full army onto the tabletop. The opposition was Classical Greek, the oldest army I have. I designed the army for ADLG rules, but I will also use them for To the Strongest.



Unusually for a new army, they actually won. The Assyrian shooting ability enables you to weaken a spear army before getting into combat. The right-wing chariots won comfortably as did the centre. The cavalry on the left ran out of space and lost out to spears, but by then the game was done.


This has scratched the Biblical itch, although I really need another Biblical army as wargamers disease strikes again! Now, who do Egyptians......