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

Saturday 29 January 2011

Empire of the Moghul

Brothers at War is the second book in the Empire of the Moghul series by Alex Rutherford. This follows on from the story of the dynasty's founder, Babur, in the first book. His eldest son Humayun takes over but has to face the rivalry of his three half brothers who want the empire to be split up between them.

As a consequence they fail to unite when the Empire is threatened by a rebellion and Humayun is driven from India to seek support from the Shah of Persia. With military support from the Shah he recaptures Babur's original base in Afganistan from his brothers. When the warring factions in India break apart he grasps the opportunity to recapture the Moghul lands and reestablish their rule. The irony is that after this epic struggle he falls down the steps of his observatory and dies. Such is fate!

I raved at the first of this series and I cannot fail to do the same for the second. The history itself is of course truly epic and Alex Rutherford brings it to life with great story telling skills. I cannot recommend this series too strongly. Time to get my 28mm Moghuls out of the box ......

Sunday 23 January 2011


I popped down to Dumfries yesterday for Albanich the first Scottish wargames show of the year.

This is a small local show that none the less attracts a good range of traders. I picked up a number of smaller items I needed. I had bought a very nice Spanish/Italian 15mm building at a show last year, very suitable for my SCW project. Some more would be good but I forgot who did them. And there they were, sold by Rif Raf Miniatures, so a village of them is taking shape. I also got some nice entrenchments for FoW along with grass tufts and some more bases from the excellent Warbases. Warlord Games had their latest and Aventine Miniatures had some very nice Republican Romans and Indians with some fabulous elephants.

The theme of the show was A Very British Civil War (AVBCW). This is produced by Simon Douglas at Solway Crafts who organises the show. For those not familiar with the concept it is an alternative historical outline of events of 1936-38 that begins with a decision by Edward not to abdicate. They have produced some excellent source materials, flags etc and you use whatever rules you like.

I have been attracted to the concept but have resisted. However, yesterday I gave in and bought the books. You can use Great War Warhammer rules for this and a number of my WW1 figures will be suitable for starters. I suspect a worker militias will be my starting point.

There were a number of well presented games on this theme to tempt anyone in, certainly someone as weak willed as me! Below is a snap of the South East Scotland game. The terrain surface is teddy bear fur. Cheap and robust according to the Edinburgh lads.

Again this was a good show, well worth the journey.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Open Days

Glasgow and District Wargames Society held its annual double header and open days this weekend. This is the opportunity to play big games that take longer than the normal afternoon. We also open the doors to any member of the public who wants to find out a bit more about wargaming and what the society has to offer.

I was primarily involved in testing the scenario Somerled's Last Stand that will be our main demo game this year. A big 5000pt WAB game based on Somerled's last battle at Bargarran in 1164. We learnt quite a bit about WAB 2 rules and how it impacts on fighting a battle in difficult terrain. We concluded that we probably made the terrain too difficult as it made the light infantry Islemen very difficult to beat and the outcome was a resounding victory for them. If that had been the historical outcome we would probably be speaking Gaelic not English today!

The above are my Iselsmen with the big man on the hill representing Somerled's right hand man Saor McNeil. They sent several units of Norman knights packing.

There was also a FoG competition using smaller 650pt armies on a 5' x 3' table. This provided quick games. There was also a big WW1 game using PoW, Blitzkrieg action in France from the WW2 boys and a couple of Fire & Fury games. George Dick's 15mm Arthurian army (see below) is one of my favourites.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Pyrrhus of Epirus

Just finished Jeff Champion's book on Pyrrhus of Epirus. His claim to fame is that he defeated the Romans in two major battles and was rated by Hannibal as the second greatest general after Alexander. His name lives on with the phrase 'Pyrrhic victory'.

The author starts with an overview of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 3rd Century BC and of Epirus itself. At this time the state was a loose combination of tribes with the King's role primarily that of war leader. Epirus covered large parts of modern North Western Greece and Southern Albania.

Pyrrhus spent much of his youth in exile. This was the period of the Successors and war between them was the norm, dragging in other states. He developed into an brave and capable commander before returning to Epirus as King. He probably inherited a modern Macedonian style of army based on the pike armed phalanx supported by cavalry and elephants.

The rest of the book takes us through his main campaigns. Firstly his conflicts with neighbouring Macedonia and then, at the invitation of the Southern Italian states, with Rome. His famous 'Pyrrhic victories' at Heraclea and Asculum are covered in detail. He then campaigned in Sicily against Carthage before returning to Italy, this time to lose against the Romans at Beneventum. His final campaigns were in Greece, culminating in his death in battle against Argos and the Spartans. 

A fitting end for a King who was almost continually at war. Whilst he was undoubtedly a great battlefield commander his strategic outcomes were poor. Too many campaigns were not seen through to the end and his diplomatic skills in maintaining allies were weak, even allowing for the shifting alliances of the period.

This is a book I would highly recommend. The author has a good writing style and effectively deals with the limited sources in way that retains readability for the general reader. I have spent some time in the Epirus region and it is well worth a visit with plenty of sites of interest for the historian.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Russia's Balkan Entanglements

Another gift from Santa was Barbara Jelavich's tome on Russia's Balkan Entanglements 1806-1914.

This is a primarily a diplomatic history of Russia's 19th Century engagements in the Balkans. Starting with the Napoleonic wars and ending with WW1 and the subsequent collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Imperial Empires. The period included no less than five wars with the Ottoman Empire from which Russia gained minimal territorial advantage at considerable expense. The author concludes that emotional commitments played a significant part in driving Russian policy. The irony is that an autocratic regime supported, what we would today call liberation struggles, at an economic cost that contributed to its own downfall.

I was about to say that the military operations are given cursory attention. However, that would be overstating the case. They are barely mentioned. Whilst this is not a military history, a reader not familiar with these conflicts would struggle to follow events.

This is not an easy read, not least because the author quotes primary documents at length. It does give a detailed understanding of both the internal Russian considerations and the diplomatic exchanges between the Great Powers. The author also threads the theme of the motives for Russian engagement throughout the book. The analysis is excellent, if the presentation is a little turgid.

One for the real Balkan enthusiast now it is available at a reasonable price in paperback. Not for the general reader.

Monday 3 January 2011

Cross and Crescent in the Balkans

Santa was very good to me in the books department. The first to be read was David Nicolle's Cross and Crescent in the Balkans.

This is the story of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. He covers the early history of the Ottomans and the chaotic world at the time. The decline of Byzantium, divided Islam and distracted European states all contributed to the extraordinary rise of this dynasty from a small tribe to superpower status.

This is not a simple narrative military history. The author gives a fair amount of social history that puts the Ottomans in context and explains their resilience. Not least the loyalty of Christian vassals in the Balkans. He also gives some detail of the Ottoman military and administrative system as well as their remarkable comeback after the defeat by Timur at Ankara in 1402.

The military history is outlined and expanded with a somewhat selective treatment of the major campaigns. The Crusade of Nikopol and the Siege of Constantinople get several chapters each. However, the battle of Maritsa plus the first and second battles of Kossova are virtually ignored. This is a bit disappointing as this prolific author has written detailed accounts of Nikopolis and Constantinople in the Osprey campaign series.

With that exception this is still a good overview of the period, written in the David Nicolle's very readable style.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Punic Wars

Happy New Year! May your dice always roll 6. Well for most rules anyway.

It is traditional at this time of year to review projects and plans for the coming year. My main project will be Lord of the Isles as this will be our main display game for this year. Mostly Scots spearmen outstanding. I will no doubt add the odd unit to the WW1 Salonika campaign armies as particular figures catch my eye. I am also enjoying my first few games of Flames of War, so I anticipate some expansion of my Spanish Civil War armies and rebasing the Greeks and Italians. As for actual gaming there will be the club FoG, FoGR and WAB competitions. Plus I want to play more Black Powder, Warhammer Great War and FoW. That should be more than enough to keep me busy!

Just completed the monthly update for Balkan Military History. The main new piece is in the outside the Balkans section with my 28mm Punic Wars armies. The Carthaginians were my first proper wargames army, although I was somewhat shocked to calculate that this was some 40 years ago.

Those Garrison figures have long been sold off and replaced with a bit of a mixture of figures and units gradually picked up or painted when the mood took me over the last ten years or so.

These Spanish foot are some of the best. 

and these Libiyan spearmen are not bad. Later additions from the 1st Corps range I think.

I suppose we have to show some miserable Romans as well........