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

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Three Elegies for Kosovo

The 28 June was the anniversary of the first Battle of Kosovo in 1389. On the Field of Blackbirds the Christian army of Serbs, Albanians, Bosnian and Walachian troops were defeated by the Ottoman army of Sultan Murad.

There are few reliable contemporary records of the battle and this has been compounded by the religious and nationalistic significance the battle has been given by the Serbs. The Ottoman forces were split into the usual three sections. The centre commanded by Murad himself with the foot; the right by his son Bayezit with the European Sipahi cavalry; the left by his other son Yakub with the Anatolian cavalry. The core of the Ottoman army consisted of Turkish troops although there would have been contributions from Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian vassals.

Prince Lazar's army included a core of Serbian troops including his son-in-law Vuk Brankovich together with the Bosnian leader Ban Tvrtko and other contingents including Croats, Wallachians and Albanians. The Serbs occupied the right wing and the allies on the left with Vukovic commanding the reserves.
 The conduct of the battle is clouded by contrary claims. Ottoman historians claim the Serbian charge on the centre was disrupted by baggage camels while Bayezit's right wing broke the flank and rolled up the Serbian forces. Serbian historians claim Vuk Brankovich abandoned the field at a critical moment exposing Lazar's flank, leading to the Prince's capture. Sultan Murad died in or after the battle in any one of several claims including by another Serbian hero Milos Obilic who stabbed him whilst kneeling in submission. Lazar was beheaded along with other Serbian leaders.

What is certain that although the battle was an Ottoman victory the Sultan's elder son Yakub also died in the battle and therefore Bayezit had to establish the succession by returning to Anatolia. Serbia lost more ground, most leaders becoming Ottoman vassals (including Lazar's son and Brankovich), but did not finally lose its independence until 1459.

My reading for the anniversary was Ismail Kadare's Three Elegies for Kosovo. Three short stories about the battle and events that surrounded it. Kadare is a great writer and he offers a different take on this symbolic battle.

The Serbian army is my current FoG army in our club competition. I fear I am no more successful in using it than Prince Lazar. However, at least I get to keep my head!

Gusar light cavalry

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Balkans in the journals

Lots of Balkan interest in the wargame and military society journals this month.

The latest edition of the New Mosquito has several excellent articles on the WW1 Salonika campaign including a description of the actions involving the Derbyshire Yeomanry on the Struma front. Another on the actions of a RHA battery plus the work of the Kossovo Day Committee in the UK during WW1. The anniversary of this battle is later this month.

The lead article in this month's Slingshot covers the reign and Balkan campaigns of the Roman Emperor Decius AD249-251. He fought the Goths, fairly incompetently, including the defeat at Abrittus in AD251. He squandered the first real elite Roman cavalry army.

Arquebusier has a piece on the Olaschin campaign of 1696. Friedrich Augustus, Elector of Saxony commanding the Imperial army was defeated by the Ottomans. Another of his less than successful encounters. 

Finally The Foreign Correspondent has a translation by Richard Brooks of a visit to the battlefield of Grivitza 1877. The author accompanied the Russian army on this campaign.

Bumper editions for the Balkan historian and many thanks to those authors who contributed articles to these non-commercial publications.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Dobro Pole 1918

My latest reading has been Balkan Breakthrough: The Battle of Dobro Pole 1918 by Richard Hall.

Dobro Pole is not likely to be on many WW1 battle lists. However, it should be as it was arguably one of the most decisive Entente victories of the war.

Dobro Pole was a key Bulgarian defensive position in Macedonia. By September 1918 the Macedonian front was largely held by Bulgarian forces following the withdrawal of German units to the Western Front. The Bulgarian army was poorly supplied and morale was low. The Entente forces saw an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough and launched an attack with Mainly French and Serbian troops. The attack was successful and the Bulgarian retreat turned into a rout with large numbers of troops heading for home. There were insufficient competent troops to mount a counter attack and reinforcing Austrian and German troops arrived too late. The defeat quickly led to the collapse of the entire front and Bulgaria's withdrawal from the war.

This book covers the background to the war in the Balkans and the campaign in the run up to the battle. The actual battle is covered in just a couple of chapters. The real value of this study is that it views the conflict from a Bulgarian perspective. This is a well written study of the battle that that led to the collapse of the Central Powers in the Balkans and hastened the end of the war.   


Tuesday 7 June 2011

Spies of the Balkans

Long drive down to Devon and back was an opportunity to listen to the unabridged version (9.5hrs) of Alan Furst's book Spies of the Balkans.

This is an historical spy novel based in Salonika in 1940. The lead character is a special police officer who handles sensitive cases. As war grows nearer he becomes involved in the events that will lead to the Italian invasion and then the German occupation of Greece. In between he helps run an escape route for Jews fleeing Germany and his travels take him all over the Balkans.

The author weaves the history of the period into the story like an historical novel and puts elements of the detective thriller in as well. It was a great listen and really made the miles fly past. Recommended.