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

Monday 31 December 2012

Russo-Turkish War & Rasputin

Fought a small Russo-Turkish War 1877 skirmish yesterday. Three companies of Turkish Nizam with artillery and cavalry support against a similar Russian and Bulgarian Legion force.

I used Black Powder rules with infantry and cavalry in skirmish formation and it worked very well. I made the Russian and Bulgarians 'stubborn' but classified the Krenk rifle as a carbine to reflect the shorter range. The firefight was pretty inconclusive as both sides had light cover in the extensive woods. The Russians clinched the action with a successful charge on both flanks, but not without several rounds of hand to hand combat.

I got into this period in 28mm 'thanks' to a pal who bought me a few packs (in the tradition of the drug dealer!) of the excellent Outpost Miniatures at Claymore. The stand was behind our display game, so of course I couldn't resist a few more. I have a further pile of metal that needs some brushwork, as that equally evil Jeff at Outpost keeps adding to the range. Even asking me what new figures I would like! I think I foolishly mentioned 1876 Serbs would be useful, stop me please!

And Rasputin you ask? As he was born in 1869 he was barely a child in 1877. Well, we have a new cat and his name is Rasputin, or Razzy for short. He has taken a far too close an interest in wargaming. Wandering over the battlefield he managed to knock over several Turks, so at least he knew which side he was supposed to be on! Earlier in the week he got into the study and on top of my figure collections to tip over a box of, now lance less, German lancers. Where is the super glue.......

Saturday 29 December 2012


As the New Year beckons I usually start with a look at forthcoming centenaries. Mainly as inspiration for display games in the coming year.

I suspect the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden 1513 will be the big UK centenary and we have started to think about it. Many figures already in GDWS member's collections, but we are going to need more pike armed Scots. You could include the battles of Novara, Spurs and La Motta of the same year. 

The Thirteen's were not big in the Balkans with the obvious exception of the continuing Balkan Wars. The Fall of Jannina and then Edirne signalled the end of the First Balkan War. But then the Bulgarian's kicked it all off again in June 1913. Jannina is a city well worth visiting and it has the period Fort Bezane as well.
Less well known is the Battle of Camurlu, near Sofia, fought on 5 July 1413 Between Musa and Mehmet I to decide which son of Bayezid I would unite the Ottomans. Mehmet won with Byzantine support. An excuse to get out lots of Ottomans is one I am unlikely to miss during the year.

On a medieval theme Louis the Bavarian defeated his cousin Frederick I of Austria at the Battle of Gamelsdorf in 1313. Or a chance to use the Spaniards again because Simon de Montfort beat Pedro II of Aragon at the Battle at Muret in 1213.

The Napoleonic Wars continue to generate a range of options. Vittoria, Leipzig and the Pyrenees to name a few. The War of 1812 continued with several interesting actions although I prefer the South American Wars of Liberation. Bolivar's invasion of Venezuela and the Battle of Barbula on 30 September 1813.

Cheating slightly, the ACW has a number of 150th anniversaries including Chancellorsville, Chickamauga and of course the big one, Gettysburg.

That should be enough to keep anyone busy!

Friday 28 December 2012

Knight's Move

The Knight's Move (Operation R√∂sselsprung) was a combined airborne and ground assault by the Germans on Tito’s headquarters at the Bosnian town of Drvar in May 1944. Operation R√∂sselsprung involved the 500th SS Parachute Battalion (Captain Rybka) making an air drop on the town while several ground force columns (XV Mountain Corps) converged on Drvar, supported by the Luftwaffe.

Faulty intelligence meant the paras attacked the town rather than the nearby cave that housed Tito's HQ. By the time they realised the error, partisan units arrived to make the attack a costly failure. Tito escaped before the ground troops could close the trap.

David Greentree has written a very good history of the operation for Osprey in its Raid series. As you would expect from Osprey, it includes many photies and several excellent colour maps.

Santa has been good in providing some 28mm metal Soviet and partisan types to supplement my VBCW workers who can make the shift to Yugoslavia quite easily. Iain from Flags of War is working on the Paras and I have some ground troops. Any ideas for Prinz Eugen fez wearing figures would be welcome. We are considering this as one of GDWS display games in 2013, so expect more on this theme.

I have also written a longer piece on the operation for the New Year, Balkan Military History update. My holiday reading is 'Terror in the Balkans' by Ben Sheperd, so I am likely to bore the pants off my loved ones on the subject as well!

Monday 17 December 2012


This is the first of Robyn Young's take on the Robert the Bruce story.

She starts with the death of King Alexander and the Bruce's formative years. Then his time at the English court is played out in some detail before his return to Scotland. Firstly, supporting Edward and then his conversion to the Scots cause. This volume ends just after the disastrous battle of Falkirk and the falling out between Bruce and Comyn.
The narrative sticks fairly closely to what we know of the period, although this is limited. What does come over is the complexity of Robert the Bruce and his shifting allegiances. There is good historical note that explains the historical deviations.

I picked this up because I really enjoyed this author's  Brethren trilogy. This story is not quite so dramatic but it is well written and has everything you would expect in the best historical fiction. I will read on.

Sunday 18 November 2012

More Bolt Action

We had another go at using the Bolt Action rules today for a Very British Civil War battle.

Just under 1000 points a side which gave us 5 infantry squads a side plus supporting tanks and armoured cars. Mostly woods in the centre of the table which meant lots of close combat. The rules regard an attack within 6" as a surprise attack and that means no defensive fire. Big advantage for the attackers as they go first. Close combat is very bloody with the losing side destroyed.

My copy of the first Bolt Action supplement, Armies of Germany, arrived this week. The army lists are laid out like the ones in the rules, but with more detail. Beautifully illustrated with Osprey colour plates and models. Just what I need for the Tito raid project we are planning for next year. More details will follow as the project takes shape.

I will leave you with a couple of photies of today's opponent the Solemn League and Covenant. This first is the League command unit and the second is the Boys Brigade squad. These are from Iain's collection with his own great flags at Flags of War.

Sunday 11 November 2012


On Saturday we trekked up to the Kirriemuir Club show, Targe. One of the smaller Scottish shows, but usually well supported and well organised. Although as my alarm went off at 4:30am, my enthusiasm was somewhat dulled!

Our display game was Fort Ticonderoga 1777 - American War of Independence in 28mm using Black Powder rules. The actual battle was a rather tame affair with St Clair abandoning the fort when he realised the British had taken the high ground dominating the fort. So our ‘what if’ scenario assumes that St Clair was not aware of the full strength of the British forces and decided to take the initiative after his troops were forced off the outlying defences. So instead of abandoning the fort he counterattacks.

In this refight he did rather well. Knocked Fraser's Brigade off the hill and fought off the main British force. The game played well and looked good on the table. Most of the figures came from Andy McGeary's collection and very able paintbrush. The fort and redoubts were recycled from the ones I built for our game a few years ago on the Danube.

Lots of people came up for a chat about the game and the rules which is always one of the best aspects of putting a game on at a show. I also picked up a few useful items at the Bring and Buy, so a very worthwhile trip. Just need to catch up on some sleep!

Sunday 28 October 2012

Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece

The Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece

My latest reading has been Philip Matyszak's, Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece.

The book starts with some very nice maps and a good overview of Greece in 221BC. We are then presented with the wider Mediterranean context including the Punic Wars and the wars of Alexander's successors.

The detailed narrative covers the three Macedonian wars and the internal conflicts within Greece. Or how Rome started to acquire its eventual empire in the eastern Med. The crucial battles of Cynoscephalae and Pydna include a discussion on why and how the Roman legion defeated the Macedonian phalanx.

This is a conflict I had limited knowledge of, other than the main battles. This book is an excellent introduction and very well written. Highly recommended.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Clydeside reinforcements - T26

I returned to the Very British Civil War today at the club. This time using Bolt Action rules with 1000 points a side. My Clydesiders against Iain's League of St Andrews.

My Clydesiders received some fraternal reinforcements this week in the form of a T26 tank from the Soviet Union, with 'volunteer' tank specialists. It did very well in its first outing, knocking out an enemy tank and supporting the final push to victory over the bourgeois posties, Covenanters and others that make up the League.

Scotland is not of course the first time the T26 has been exported. It first arrived in Spain on 12 October 1936, when a force of 50 landed in Cartagena commanded by Brigadier Krivoshein. They were quickly in action in the defence of Madrid. The T26 was not a very robust design and most were out of action being repaired by December. After that they were husbanded for special operations, although infantry cooperation was abysmal throughout the Spanish Civil War.

Despite these difficulties the T26 was probably the best tank in the Spanish Civil War, at least until the BT5 arrived. The Nationalists captured so many that one was attached to each of their Pkw I units. The 45mm main gun outclassed anything the fascists could supply. Around 281 were supplied in total. The T26 remained in Spanish army service until the 1960's.

The model comes from the Empress Miniatures range. Painted a neutral green with dry brushing earth and a coat of Devlon Mud. While it is an excellent model, the parts are not a great fit and needed a lot of work to get them to fit, particularly the gun barrel. At £19 a go they could do better. Some instructions wouldn't go amiss either. I would have struggled without the excellent Osprey, Spanish Civil War Tanks.

Bolt Action rules worked well for the game. Although we will probably add some chance cards next time.

Sunday 14 October 2012

The Balkan Wars - 100th Anniversary

A hundred years ago this month, the First Balkan War began. On Oct. 8, 1912, Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and invaded Albania. Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia followed suit as part of the Balkan League. By March 1913, their campaigns had effectively pushed the weakened Ottomans out of the Balkans. However, by July 1913, Greece and Serbia would clash with Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, a bitter month long struggle that saw more territory change hands and many more lose their lives.
In military terms these conflicts were a prelude to the far greater slaughter that was the First World War. Ariel bombardment, trench warfare and the machine gun all played a similar role as they would in the later conflict. The Balkan states were pawns in a much bigger game of great power rivalry. Serbian nationalism, backed by Russia, put the two ultimately at odds with Austria-Hungary, triggering World War I. However, “The Balkans were not the powder keg, as is so often believed: the metaphor is inaccurate,” writes Balkans historian Misha Glenny, in his book, The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999. “They were merely the powder trail that the great powers themselves had laid. The powder keg was Europe.”
The Balkan Wars 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War (Warfare and History)
I have a number of resources relevant to this conflict on the Balkan Military History website. The armies in 15mm, a bibliography, a feature on the key early battle of Kumanovo and travel tips are spread across the travel section.

If you want to read more I would recommend Richard Hall’s, ‘The Balkan Wars 1912-13’ as a good overview. For the Ottoman army, Edward Erickson’s, ‘Defeat in Detail’ is excellent. For wargamers, Alexander Vachkov’s, ‘The Balkan War 1912-13’ is in an Osprey style format with good colour plates and plenty of photographs.

Finally, we should never forget that the Balkan Wars erased a generation of Serbs, Greeks, Montenegrins and especially Bulgarians, who suffered a 25% casualty rate. Not to mention an estimated 100,000 Turks.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Strategos: Born in the Borderlands

Strategos - Born in the Borderlands

My latest fiction read has been Gordon Docherty's, Strategos.

It is set in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire in 1046. The Seljuk's are threatening with raids and full blown invasion. Our hero Apion has been orphaned and brought up by a former Seljuk commander turned farmer. He joins the Thema forces and with remarkable speed is promoted to command positions. In between there are several sub-plots involving agents of the Emperor.
This book had a number of good reviews that attracted me including, "The author does seem to choose periods of Imperial history which are not obvious choices for the setting of heroic fiction. Similarly his heroes tend to be disadvantaged, almost fatally flawed, when we first encounter them, but they come through in the end."

I think this is fair comment. It certainly does make a change from Imperial Rome as the setting. However, I did struggle at times with this book. The characters were perhaps a little too well developed and I was left wondering if he was going to get on with the story. I put it down several times, to read other books, a sign that I was not totally enthralled.

It is good value on the Kindle at £1.99, so please don't let me put you off if this is your period.

Monday 24 September 2012

War in the East

It's a holiday weekend in the West of Scotland so took advantage of the rare fine weather to get outdoors. Shot my best round of the year on the golf course on Friday, drove down to Wigan to see Fulham grab a fine away win, then overnight in the Lake District for some walking on Sunday. Topped this by getting engaged to my partner Liz as well!

But another highlight was a parcel with my review copy of Quintin Barry's book War in the East published by Helion. This is a military history of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78, one of the most interesting Balkan conflicts of the 19th Century. An added pleasure is that it includes several photos of mine, taken at the battlefields today.

There is only one word to describe this book, magisterial. This is the first military history of the conflict in English for over a century and it has everything you would expect. A detailed text covering the war on land and sea, coverage of the major and minor battles, together with all the context you need. Plus, something modern historians sometimes miss, lots of orbats. It also has lots of period illustrations (nearly 300) and maps.

Even I drew the line at taking this with me on a romantic weekend away, so I haven't read it yet. However, a skim read this morning was a joy.

I have the armies for this conflict in 15mm and a current, slow moving project, has been to add 28mm units using Outpost Miniatures stunning range. This is just the incentive I need to crack on.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Bolt Action

Bolt Action is a new set of WW2 rules published by Osprey and Warlord, primarily for 28mm figures. My copy arrived yesterday and I played my first game today.

Bolt Action: World War II Wargames Rules
A typical force is a reinforced platoon made up of three or more squads with a tank and support weapons. Artillery and air support are delivered by attached spotters and observers. 

The basic game system is very straightforward and quickly learned. Each unit has a special dice and the order of movement is selected by the simple expedient of picking the dice out of a cup. In the early stages units generally do what you want. But as they come under fire and suffer pinning points, you have to pass morale checks to get them moving and firing. Firing and assaults are also fairly straightforward with a couple of simple charts and only limited modifiers. While the game system is simple it has a subtlety of play that makes you use the tactics of the period.

The hardback rulebook has high production values, clearly laid out with plenty of eye candy. Some irritations though. No index, something I find inexcusable from a professional publishing house. It also needs an order of play sheet, FoG style. That's because there are several important add on rules in different chapters, like the effect of headquarters and medics that you are likely to forget. There are four army lists with the rules and it is pretty easy to adapt these to your existing armies. But the inevitable supplements are on the way.

My test game had three squads of Tito's partisans attacking two squads of Italians in a mill with woods and gentle hills around. Just MMG and mortars for support to keep it simple. The inexperienced partisans started well, but quickly found it difficult to keep moving once they started to take casualties and the attack petered out after 4 turns.

Despite the irritations I think Warlord are on to a winner with these. They won't please the purists as too much detail is abstracted. But as someone who likes to play different games, that suits me fine. I can see me using these for VBCW as my recent games with A World Aflame have been less than satisfactory. The quirky use of every dice in the box, coupled with old style long lists of modifiers, was entertaining retro the first time, but now simply bores. I have been planning a new project on the partisan war in Yugoslavia and these rules are just the incentive I need. Recommended.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

WW2 Greeks in 15mm

I'm afraid my painting productivity has dropped off since the holidays. Work and other commitments conspire to get in the way of the hobby. Plus having a show to prepare for is a great way to get me to step up a gear.

Anyway, David Burns of Burns Miniatures had sent me some review samples of his latest World War Two Greeks, this time in 15mm. These looked great unpainted and unlike the 28mm versions I can always use another unit for my FoW army.

So a quick paint job and we have a rifle platoon. These are in the 'Italian' uniform that many units wore in 1940. Most of my other figures are in the earlier more traditional Greek uniform or the later British battledress. There are also more colour variants in the books and photos than I can keep up with. So this time I have gone for the whole 'Italian' option favoured by the FoW supplement 'Burning Empires'.

What I really like about these figures are the poses and animation. Even in 15mm they look active. David's figures are usually sold through Rif Raf miniatures, but they don't appear to be up on the site yet. So apologies if I am teasing you all!

Monday 10 September 2012

Byzantine Imperial Guardsman 925-1025

Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen, 925-1025: The Taghmata and Imperial Guard

This is the latest Osprey Elite (No.187) on Byzantine Imperial Guardsman 925-1025.

It covers the units of the Taghmata and Imperial Guard of the period. Most people think of the gradual decline of the Empire, but in fact this period was one of considerable success. It overcame Bulgarian and Rus invasions through the Balkans and Islamic enemies from the East. By Basil II's death in 1025, what we call the Byzantine Empire, ruled from the Danube to the Euphrates. They would have called themselves Romans or Rhomaioi.

The regiments of the Taghmata were an important part of that success. Raffaele D'Amato takes us through the organisation of each unit and how they were commanded. This is followed by a chapter on weapons and equipment. As you would expect there are excellent colour plates and the book includes many photos.

Must have for anyone interested in the Byzantine army.

Sunday 12 August 2012

A World Aflame

Played my first game of the new interwar rules 'A World Aflame' today at the club. These are written by Paul Eaglestone of Empress Miniatures and published by Osprey. Our trial run was a battalion size game of Very British Civil War between Red Clydesiders and Scottish Government forces in 28mm.

These rules have a retro feel to them. A bewildering array of dice including a return for an old favourite, the average dice. Some nice set up features including dicing for officer grades and ammo levels. These can be replenished during the battle from reserves by carrying or trucking them. Unlike most wargames it makes you think about not firing all the time, particularly at long range. Realistic too, as many SCW memoirs I have read mention critical ammo shortages.

Forces are very like the Great War rules we have been using for the period. Three 8-10 figure squads and support weapons for a company. Two or three companies to a battalion with attached artillery. There are a couple of starter army lists and a scenario to get you going.

Movement can be at different speeds and there is a variable element. Who goes first is by initiative rating plus dice, one unit at a time. Bit complex and untidy this part and the effect is that better trained troops go first. Firing is by individual figure although you can speed matters up through firing by squads. The effect is pretty bloody with no saving throws, but the game moves quickly. Similarly for melee. Artillery firing is particularly good as the mechanism makes firing at blocks of troops very bloody, but difficult to hit individual targets. I managed to land fire on my own troops in the first round! There are rules for everything you would want including aircraft, boats, tanks and Heath Robinson improvised vehicles.

We didn't use chance cards in the first game, but they are a small variable and shouldn't dominate the game. The production quality is what you would expect from Osprey and a very reasonable price wise at £9-12 depending on supplier.

There is a bit of paper recording of matters like ammo levels that might put some people off, but we are used to playing PoW, so that's nothing new. Overall we enjoyed the game and it felt right. We might make a few tweaks to the factors, but will certainly play again. Chinese warlords against an allied intervention force in a months time.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Hitler's Gulf War

My latest reading has been Barrie James's book, 'Hitler's Gulf War'. This covers the fight for Iraq in 1941.

In 1941 Iraq was in the British sphere of influence, with an army largely trained by the British and a friendly government. This changed following a coup by Axis sympathisers, led by Rashid Ali and the Mufti of Jerusalem, together with politicians and army officers in what was known as the 'Golden Square'. The 1 April coup was to be followed by Italian and German intervention in support of the Iraq army.
Hitler's Gulf War: The Fight for Iraq 1941
The only British forces near enough to Baghdad where at RAF Habbaniya, 55 miles away. They consisted mainly of training aircraft and some poorly equipped soldiers. None the less this force fought off the larger and better equipped Iraqi army until a relief force arrived. This force was a hotchpotch of units and equipment (including Glubb's Arab Legion) that marched over 500 miles of barren desert to relieve the airfield and capture Baghdad. German and Italian intervention came through Vichy Syria in the form of air support (ME110 and HEIII's). However, not in sufficient strength to make a decisive difference. The Germans were otherwise occupied with the invasion of Crete.

The author tells this impressive story with a fast paced narrative. It reads more like fiction than fact. But fact it is. Some great characters as well.

All doable on the tabletop. The Flames of War supplement 'Burning Empires' is a good starting point for units and would be my choice of rules for this campaign. Might struggle with some of the aircraft types that I certainly hadn't even heard of.

Wednesday 8 August 2012


Maurice - Cover

Played my first game of Maurice. This is Sam Mustafa's latest game covering the 18th Century wars.

Dusted down my Adler Seven Years War collection and deployed the Prussians and the Austrians.

These rules are full of different concepts from other sets covering the period. I suspect you will love them or hate them.

The key feature is that the game is driven by action cards that are necessary for almost everything other than volley fire. It does give some interesting command dilemmas as you can only do one each move. Do I deal with a key combat or use my cards to bring up another force? This is fine as a game, but I am not sure it gives me the period feel. It is possibly just too random. Here I am displaying my prejudice against card driven games. I have similar criticisms of Two Fat Lardie games, particularly Sharpe Practice.

There are also no command structures. A 'force' can vary from move to move as the player wants, albeit constrained by having to be of the same type, formation and of course you need the requisite number of cards. I didn't play the optional 'notables' rules so that may help. It doesn't feel quite right to me without brigades etc, or even centre and two wings.

The combat and firing mechanisms are straightforward  and seem to work well. Army morale is based on points that reflect the deterioration of your army as units are destroyed. Although there are some random elements that seem unnecessary to me.

The production values are excellent and I like the campaign options including imaginary nations. The game is well supported on the web site with a good forum. Essential as some basics are not well explained in the rules. I fear a case of author and experienced play testers assuming knowledge.

Overall, you can say I have a number of reservations. However, I will persevere with some more games before coming to a final view. For those who want to try the basics there is a free lite version on the website.

Sunday 5 August 2012


Excellent day out yesterday at the Claymore show in Edinburgh. Telford College is a good venue, although more than a bit warm, if like us you are stuck in the Atrium.

Our display game Las Navas de Tolosa went well with the Alomohads doing at lot better than last weekend's trial game. It started badly for them with the left wing collapsing, thanks to some awful morale tests. However, the centre and right both held the all important first charge of the knights. After that numbers told. The Almohad counterattack fared no better against the Christian foot and that's when the game finished. More photies on the GDWS web site.

There were a number of very good games at the show and photies of those that took my eye below. Also good trade support. I bought some more trees from Last Valley and other bits and pieces. Caliver had pre-publication copies of Osprey's "The World Aflame" interwar rules that I have been eagerly awaiting for Very British Civil War purposes. Test game coming up at the club next Sunday. I also bought 'Maurice' as several pals have been raving about them and if the rain keeps me off the golf course today, I might dust down my SYW armies. The SAGA 'Northern Fury' supplement also found its way into the bag as an excuse to get my Scots out along with Hail Caesar medieval army lists and a few other books. No new figures grabbed me, just as well given the painting list!

Thanks to the Edinburgh club for putting on another good show.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Almohad Foot

There has been the usual last minute rush to get our display game ready for the Claymore show in Edinburgh this coming Saturday. We are doing the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa 1212.

The trial run at the club on Sunday confirmed that more infantry were needed to blunt the first attack of the Spanish and crusader knights as happened in the historical clash. The solution came in the form of my paintbrush and credit card. 

The prompt delivery by the Beast of some Berber spearmen gave me the chance to put together this quick paint job. There is an option in the army list to make them 'stubborn',which together with an Imam and shooters all around gives them at least some chance of holding off the knights. The flags are from the 'Flag Dude' that I picked up at Salute.

Then the credit card and a summer sale at Hinds Figures produced this unit. A bit further East than most Almohads, but they give a flavour of the very varied recruiting grounds for this army.

The battlefield is fairly bare plain other than a small village and the Almohad camp. I already have suitable items for these with the addition of some banners, courtesy of my update to the latest version of Photoshop. A feature of the last stage of the battle was the Christian knights attacking the camp defended, according to Christian sources, by black troops chained together to stop them running away. This sounds to me like propaganda as there was no lack of motivation in the Almohad army and the Caliph was unlikely to be guarded by reluctant troops. More credible is a chain line as a cavalry obstacle and that's the interpretation I have gone for.

With lots of wire spear cut offs left over from the Berbers, some MDF and a sortie to EBay jewellers for some 'antique' chain, we have the raw materials. Construction was fairly straightforward and plenty of rust pain to finish the job. The Navarre legends have it that the chain was gold and such a chain appeared on their flag after 1212. I think that was also unlikely so I slapped at least some rust over the chain as well.

With excellent timing the film El Cid was on BBC 2 last week. I can almost recite the script word by word I have seen it so often! Plus Michael Portillo is doing a BBC radio series on Islamic Spain. Well worth a listen.

If you are going to Claymore on Saturday, pop over and say hello.

Monday 30 July 2012


The other half of my holiday fiction reading has been 'Eagle' by Jack Hight. This is the first of a trilogy about Saladin. Arguably one of greatest commanders the Middle East has seen.

This first volume starts from his childhood and covers his training and early life. His appointment as an Emir of a border garrison and his rise to fame in the service of Nur ad-Din, Sultan of Syria. This part of the story ends with Nur ad-Din's defeat by Baldwin of Jerusalem at Buthaia.

The author keeps fairly close to what little we know about Saladin's early life and the events of the period. The major variation is the insertion of a Saxon, John, who is captured at Damascus. He becomes Saladin's slave and then commander of his personal guard after saving his life.

Jack Hight is an excellent writer of historical fiction. I raved about his first book, Siege, based on the siege of Constantinople and this is just as good. Recommended.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Lion at Bay

My summer holiday reading included Robert Low's 'The Lion at Bay'. This is the second in the Kingdom series covering the Scottish wars of independence.
This volume covers the demise of Wallace, the murder of Comyn and the crowning of Bruce. It ends rather strangely by only briefly covering the wilderness period, no spider and the rest here.

As the author has pointed out many times the historical sources are limited. So a writer of historical fiction is entitled to make his or her own judgements. Low gives Bruce the benefit of the doubt over the death of Comyn, but implicates him in the betrayal of Wallace. Right on both counts in my view, but wont be popular with some.

The narrative rattles along as Bob Low is a great story teller. There is a gritty style to these books with a great period feel. You get a real feel for the period, warts and all. Although he has toned down the Scots language, presumably in response to criticism of the first volume. There is a useful glossary of the more obscure terms.

An excellent read, highly recommended.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Knights of Santiago

Another gap in our Spanish armies for the display game for Claymore is some military order knights. They formed part of the decisive final charge at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, so we had to have a unit. Sadly, our extensive collection of knights didn't run to the Spanish orders. So back to the Beast for suitable figures and we selected the Knights of Santiago. There are some nice shield decals for this range and our resident flag man Iain from Flags of War is working on the banners. The brushwork is again from Andy McGeary.

The Knights of Santiago were formed sometime before 1164 when they were given the frontier town of Ucles. The Pope recognised the order in 1175. They were a more relaxed order in that knights were allowed to marry and hold personal possessions.

They quickly became the major military order in Spain with some 1000 lances in 83 commandaries. They also had lands in Palestine, France, Hungary and England. They fought in most of the actions that constituted the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. They still exist to this day, under the control of the crown, based in the monastery at Ucles.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Las Navas de Tolosa

My focus is now shifting to the Claymore show on 4 August. The GDWS display game this year will be the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa 1212.

Why you may well ask? Well, I like an anniversary theme for display games and El Cid is one of my favourite films of all time. Sophia Loren looking magnificent has nothing to do with it of course! This is somewhat later than the classic El Cid period, but not a lot had changed.

This is the 800th anniversary of the battle, known in Arab history as the Battle of Al-Uqab. It took place on 16 July 1212 and was a key turning point in the re-conquest of medieval Spain from the Moors. The Spanish forces were led by King Alfonso VIII of Castile joined by the armies of Sancho VII of Navarre, Pedro II of Aragon and crusaders from across western Europe. The Caliph al-Nasir led the Almohad army, made up of troops from the whole Almohad Empire and the Iberian Peninsula.

The army lists are nearly finished. A balance of the figures we own and, as usual in a medieval battle, limited sources. We should have around 6000pts a side for WAB, that's over 600 28mm figures. The handout is written and will be up on the GDWS website soon.

I have a few more figures to paint, it needs a lot of Berber spearmen! However, Andy McGeary's paint brush came to the rescue with additional units that give a real period feel for the game. I just finished basing them this morning.

First we have some Spanish infantry. These are well equipped and organised so they will probably stand as a guard unit in the army lists. They are from the Crusader El Cid range.

Then Spanish light horse or Jinetes. Again from the Crusader range.

And finally a unit of Spanish knights that I picked up on EBay.

The building and cross are Grand Manner.

Coming next, when the bases dry, will be the Knights of Santiago.........

Friday 20 July 2012

Seelowe Nord refought

In January I posted a review of Andy Johnson's first book 'Seelowe Nord'. This is a fictional account of the German invasion of Britain in 1940. The difference is that the author treats the landings in Kent as a diversion for the main effort on the Yorkshire coast.
I thought this was a brilliant book in itself, but it also makes a different early WW2 scenario.

I had most of the British with the addition of the Home Guard, and as my recent postings show, I have been busy with the Germans. The first tabletop outing was completed today, the Battle of Rushton Parva.

The battlefield has the village in the centre with a bunker defending the road. Hills on the left and a stream and woods on the right. A decent, but not overly strong defensive position as the British forces only have time for a hasty defence.

The British commander places the Home Guard platoon in the woods on his right, a regular platoon in the village and another on the reverse slope on his left. ATG in the bunker and carrier platoon in the woods on the far left. His tank platoon in reserve and a 25pdr troop to call up for fire support.

The German plan was to pin the centre with tanks supported by infantry. Then envelop both flanks with infantry platoons supported by SPGs and armoured cars. 

The attack in the centre started well with a well aimed shot destroying the bunker. But after that HMG and rifle fire cut up the supporting infantry and the Panzer II's are no match for the Matilda.

The attack on the right destroyed the carriers and captured the wood, but an assault was pushed back.

The infantry on the left succeeded in pushing the Home Guard out of the big wood. However, by this time the Brits were able to reinforce the stream defence line and there was no chance of a breakthrough into the village.

The game was played using Flames of War rules and the Blitzkrieg supplement. 1500pts a side. Enjoyable game, with plenty of other scenarios suggested by the book that I highly recommend.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Gebirgsjager in the Balkans

Just completed the July 2012 update of Balkan Military History.

The main feature article is Gebirgsjager in the Balkans. A short history of the Gebirgsjager and their involvement in the Balkans campaign of 1941.

On a related theme I received some review samples of the latest releases in the Rif Raf Miniatures range of 28mm WW2 Greek figures. I am particularly excited about the mountain gun that looks excellent. They have also released a 15mm range, just in time to do battle with the Gebirgsjager on the Metaxas Line. I suspect they will get some brush treatment first. 

Sunday 15 July 2012


More Gebirgsjager off the production line. Just about there with this project, certainly enough to field a 1500pt Flames of War company.

First we have the remaining infantry platoons numbers 2 and 3.

Then we some light mortars, integral to the platoons.

Then the infantry guns. 75mm

and finally the pioner platoon

I have a few odds and sods left to base. Plus I need some AA and mountain artillery to finalise.

These are all Battlefront products. As I have said before assembly can be a bit fiddly, although that wasn't an issue here. The detail and animation are very good. One small point I don't like is the thickness of the bases.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

More Gebirgsjager

More Gebirgsjager churning off the summer production line.

This time we have the pioneer platoon.

 Followed by 37mm anti-tank guns.

San Martin

I have just finished reading John Lynch's biography of the Argentine General Jose de San Martin.
San Martin: Argentinian Soldier, American Hero
San Martin is best known as the commander of the Army of the Andes that crossed that mountain range, defeated the Spanish Royalist armies and liberated Chile. He then went on to liberate at least part of the Royalist stronghold of Peru before he met up with the northern Liberator Simon Bolivar, the subject of Lynch's previous book. He effectively retired from the liberation struggle and retired to France. His house in Bolougne is a museum to him today.

San Martin was a complex individual. He learned his military trade in the Peninsular War in Spain before returning to Argentina, the place of his birth. While he was a key player in the liberation of the Spanish colonies in South America, he was a conservative and a royalist politically.

This is a biography of the man rather than a military history. But a well written study that puts the campaigns into context. His military achievements reflect his considerable leadership skills.

I took an interest in San Martin a few years ago when we took his Andes campaign as a theme for a series of demonstration games in 2007. I built his Army of the Andes and his Royalist opponents in 28mm scale, mostly by simple conversions from other ranges. Details and pictures are on my web site and details of the demo games on the GDWS site. I dusted them down a year or so ago to play using Black Powder rules and they worked very well.

There is now a range of figures in 15mm by Grenadier Productions run by a real enthusiast for the period, John Fletcher, who has also written an excellent guide to the campaign. There is a good Liberators Yahoo group as well. 

A few photies from my collection.