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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
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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

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