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
or on Mastodon @balkandave@mastodon.scot, or Threads @davewatson1683

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Air War in the Balkans

My latest reading has been 'Over the Balkans and South Russia 1917-19' by H.A.Jones MC, published by Grenhill Books in 1987. Picked it up in a Wigtown bookshop last week. Wigtown is Scotland's official book town and whilst not on the scale of Hay on Wye, it has certainly come on a lot since my last visit over ten years ago.

This is primarily the story of 47 Squadron of the RAF that provided air support to British forces in the Salonika campaign. It demonstrates how air support developed during WW1 albeit with the second line aircraft that were sent to the Balkans. Artillery spotting was the main task together with some light bombing of enemy airfields and supply dumps.

The author also covers the attacks by German and Bulgarian aircraft. For another good book from the German side I would recommend War Flying in Macedonia by Heydemarck. Long out of print but you might get it through the library.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War is my new project for 2010. Of course like any wargamer this doesn't mean I have finished my current projects! Peter the Great's Russians are done. The Salonika campaign is making good progress but still need some strengthening of the Central Powers - mostly Bulgarians and Austrians. I also intend to add a British army to the Napoleon in Egypt - but perhaps that counts as a new project!

Anyway, why the Spanish Civil War? I have always been fascinated by this prelude to WW2 and in particular the British volunteers in the International Brigades. I have had the honour to meet a few of them and hear their stories. 35,000 volunteers from all over the world volunteered to fight fascism, more proportionally from Scotland, hence my direct interest.

My interest was rekindled last year by Daniel Gray's book Homage to Caledonia that tells the story of many of those Scottish volunteers. Not really a military history, it instead gives the political and social context that is essential for any understanding of this particular conflict. I have just finished reading Franco's International Brigades by Christopher Othen that tells the story of the support the Fascist dictators gave Franco, together with the proportionally smaller numbers of overseas volunteers and of course the Moors.

A couple of years ago I picked up some units for both sides in 15mm at a bring and buy - mostly Peter Pig I think. These will form the starter force of the project. Next stop is some armour and aircraft and more International Brigade figures. Watch this space.

22nd Battalion of the International Brigade


Wargames Recon

I received a complimentary copy of a new wargames magazine this week Wargames Recon. The economics of magazine publishing must be improving for someone else to join what looks like quite a crowded market.

My first impressions are positive. This is a glossy, well produced magazine in the modern style with plenty of eye candy to accompany solid text. There is a strong emphasis on product reviews that I always find helpful. Some quality contributors as well from this very obviously Geordie led enterprise. They include Ray and Mark from Under the Bed Enterprises. very pleasant and knowledgeable guys, so anything they are involved in is worth a second look.

So I for one will be taking out a subscription and wish the Geordies well.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Siege of Plevna

A pal pointed me in the direction of this clip on YouTube that depicts the Russians storming Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. It is taken from the film Turkish Gambit that is based on the second book from the Adventures of Erast Petrovich Fandorin series of novels written by the Russian author Boris Akunin.

Sometimes described as the Russian James Bond, I would describe him as more of an intellectual investigator. Either way the books are an excellent read, full of period colour and the Turkish Gambit is particularly good. I had no idea it had been made into a film. As there are sub titles I must try and source a copy.

There is an excellent museum at Plevna in modern day Bulgaria, complete with a wonderful panorama painting of the battle. On my last visit an English speaking guide was on hand to give a detailed explanation - first class and highly recommended.

All this might even inspire me to dust down my 15mm armies for this conflict. Russian Guard below.

Monday 15 February 2010

The Great War

Club game this Sunday was a Salonika campaign scenario using Warhammer Historical The Great War rules. A British battalion against a mixed German and Turkish battlegroup. Both had cavalry and artillery attached.

Only played a few games with these rules so far - so learning as we go. They are very brutal. Units caught in the open don't last long, which is fair enough, so make sure your tabletop has plenty of terrain. Field guns are not that effective but mortars and heavy machines guns are. Close range i.e. within 12" rifle fire is as well.

Once we played a couple of turns the rules clicked into place and moved quickly. A 1000 point game lasted less than 3 hours so very playable. Next time out we will try an attack on a fixed position.

Some of my new units - Russians, Greeks and Italians didn't get on the table in the time we had, but I have put pictures on my Salonika page, with a taster below.

British 18lb Field Gun

Greek Evzones

Russian Infantry

Thursday 11 February 2010

Scotland - Serbia link: Dr Elizabeth Ross

A rare Scottish link with the Balkans in the Scotsman newspaper with an article about Dr Elizabeth Ross who died in a Serbian military hospital in 1915.

Dr Ross, was from Tain and one of the first women in Scotland to gain a medical degree. She died of typhus in a military hospital in Kragujevac, Serbia where she had been treating  First World War casualties. 

After qualifying as a doctor, no mean feat for a woman in 1901, she worked in Persia and then as possibly the world's first female ship's doctor. In 1914 there was a desperate need for doctors and nurses in Serbia after the Austrian invasion and with other projects such as the Scottish Womens Hospitals, which were travelling to the region at the same time, Ross borrowed money from an old servant in order to make the trip.

When she arrived in late January 1915, she volunteered to go and work in a typhus hospital in Kragujevac. The place was in a mess when she arrived and there were no nurses. She survived less than three weeks dying on 14 February 1915 aged 37.

She was remembered quietly, both by her family (including a neice who still lives in Tain) and in Serbia. In 1977 the local Red Cross in Kragujevac restored her grave. She is buried next to two British nurses who also died in Serbia of typhus, Mabel Dearmer and Lorna Ferriss. In total 22 British women lost their lives to typhus in Serbia during the First World War, attempting to aid wounded soldiers. In the early 1980s, after the graves had been restored, the town started holding commemorations at the graveside, and over the years they began to gather momentum, attracting bigger crowds, and becoming an important date in the town's calendar. Meanwhile similar celebrations started to spring up across Serbia.

The tradition will continue this Sunday, the 95th anniversary of her death.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Salonika Campaign WW1

Completed some new editions for one of my current wargame projects, the Salonika Campaign of WW1.

I have always been interested in this campaign after reading 'The Gardeners of Salonika' by Alan Palmer, sadly long out of print. I have collected a fair number of books and there is an excellent Salonika Campaign Society with its journal The New Mosquito.  For an introduction I would recommend Under the Devil's Eye by Alan Wakefield, published by Sutton in 2004.

I had dabbled a bit with this campaign in 15mm, but Warhammer Historical The Great War rules got me started in 28mm. I picked up some Germans, Turks and British at a bring and buy before getting stuck in seriously with the Greeks, Italians and Russians that I purchased in the USA at Historicon. Still some more work to do on these before doing something about the Tiger Miniatures Bulgarians gathering dust in the pending box.

In the meantime a nice German command base.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Hussite Handgunners

I don't have a Hussite army but I couldn't resist the Kingmaker handgunners at a show last year. Whilst the figures are nice, the real selling point is the shields and their fabulous designs. These are from the Little Big Men range. 1st Corps have now taken over Kingmaker. They do some monster war wagons as well.

I thought the raised boss would be a real problem, but a couple of snips with the sissors at each end and then tapering down with a steel rule before applying water sorted them.

Any way I am very pleased with them, although not sure what I will use them for. Probably appear as mercenaries in one of my 15th Century Balkan armies. Now there is a surprise!

Sunday 7 February 2010

Wargames Illustrated

Finished the February edition of Wargames Illustrated. There are mixed views in my club since this publication was taken over by Battlefront, the Flames of War people.

Several say it has just become a house magazine for Flames of War on the Games Workshop, White Dwarf model. Not sure I agree. Yes, there is a lot of FoW content but it is easily adaptable for other WW2 rulesets. Plus there is plenty of non FoW content as well. I particularly enjoyed the Battle of Stresow piece by the Borders Reivers Club. There is colonial, napoleonic, vietnam buildings and the usual reviews. Plenty of non FoW advertising as well.

So for the present I for one will carry on.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Drazki - Balkan Wars torpedo-boat

"Drazki", the legedary torpedo-boat that saw service in the Balkan Wars, and one of the most valuable exhibits in the Naval Museum in Varna, could collapse at any moment due to problems with the foundations. The cash strapped defence ministry is unlikely to come to the rescue so the museum has made an appeal to the citizens of Varna.

The "Drazki" was one of six torpedo boats ordered by Bulgaria. They were built in France, and transported overland in sections to Bulgaria, where the final assembly took place. "Drazki" was launched in the autumn of 1907, and commissioned in early 1908. During the Balkan Wars, "Drazki" entered fleet history after successfully, at almost point-blank range, torpedoing the Turkish cruiser Hamidie, and crippling her. "Drazki" is now the only preserved example of this class of ship, worldwide.

No details of how overseas donations can be made, but if I hear anything I will post. The museum is run by a group of enthusiasts who deserve support.

The Snake Stone

My latest reading has been The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin. I am not normally a reader of crime fiction but this book is set in Istanbul 1838. The author is an historian who has written a very readable history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizon. It is the second book in this series. I have read The Janissary Tree and would recommend that as well.

The main character and detective is Yashim the Enuch. I won't spoil the story other than to say it involves Byzantine treasure and several murders. The author really knows his way around 19th Century Istanbul and weaves in the sights and the polyglot peoples of this wonderful city. Lots of Balkan interest here both Ottoman and Byzantine and the Gallipoli battlefields are a reasonable drive away.