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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 19 February 2014

The first Schiltron

The first Scots schiltron makes it off the painting bench for the Bannockburn project.

These are Black Tree Design figures. Quite a lot of flash on these figures, often in those annoying places you only spot, after you have started painting! None the less the detail is excellent, making painting very straightforward. The spears are moulded on, a big plus for me as I have boxes of figures with spears I am constantly gluing back on. Yes, I do glue before painting, but wear and tear on the wargames table wins out every time.

The spears look a little short for Scots, but I take the view that there would have been a range of spear lengths in the Scots army. I certainly don't go along with the pike classification option in one popular ruleset. However, I am getting prepared for the inevitable punter at the first wargames show, who will tell me, with absolute certainty, that I have got some aspect wrong. The fact that our sources for what the army actually wore and fought with are virtually non existent, won't put them off!

Given the number of figures needed, I decided to open the tin of army painter quick shade that has been sitting in a draw unopened for a year or two. I have been using inks or GW Devlon Mud wash for most of my recent painting.

I'm fairly pleased with the result, certainly a lot quicker than the two or three stage method I usually adopt. I use a brush application as I tried dipping some older figures and the effect was a bit OTT. Although it has breathed some new life into some of my earlier, more basic painting efforts.

Sunday 9 February 2014

WW1 and the Battle of Cer Mountain

Other than Bannockburn, the other major anniversary this year is the start of World War 1 and that is clearly of Balkan interest.

The spark that started the war was of course the assignation of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. It has become a fashionable during this anniversary to debate who is to blame for the war. I would argue that this is pointless as the causes are multiple and complex and can’t be placed at the door of one country or incident. Having said that, Serbia clearly has some responsibility given their involvement in the assignation, so Serbian government plans to erect a statue to Princip in Belgrade is at best in bad taste. The incident that led to the death of more than 10 million soldiers is nothing to celebrate and I doubt if many of their families will see the 'injustice' in Princip not having a monument.

While the Austro-Hungarian priority ought to have been defeating the Russians, they split their forces and invaded Serbia. The bombardment of Belgrade is fairly well known, but the main Austrian forces were in Bosnia and invaded from the West crossing the Sava and Drina rivers. The decisive battle was around Cer Mountain where a numerically inferior Serbian army routed the Austrians. Often just a footnote in histories of WW1, Max Hastings covers this campaign well in his new book ‘Catastrophe’. 

I have the armies in 15mm, based for Great War Spearhead rules and these allow big battles to be fought. I have also been experimenting with Bolt Action and the picture below shows a small scale action with four sections of Austrian infantry supported by cavalry and artillery attacking Serbian positions. These rules worked well, and I will experiment further with 28mm figures.

Monday 3 February 2014

Bannockburn 1314

This year is the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s (or De Brus when I am winding up Nationalist pals!) great victory at Bannockburn on 23/24 June 1314. It makes a change for me doing a project based on a battlefield that I can visit easily, rather than some obscure part of the Balkans.

Obviously, this will be a big anniversary here in Scotland. The visitor centre and the Bruce statue is undergoing a major refurbishment (with state of the art 3D experience) and there will be a range of events. The archeologists have also been busy and are due to publish a new report prior to the anniversary date. I suspect it will be a popular display game on the Scottish wargame show circuit and GDWS will add to that with our planned game, based on the less well known first day of the battle. We are aiming for the Carronade show at Falkirk on 10 May. Very appropriate as the English army marched through Falkirk the day before the battle.

As always we start with the research. Despite the many books written on the Scottish wars and the battle itself, the primary sources are very limited and confusing. There is even controversy over where the battle was fought. The traditional site for the main action on the second day, as set out by Oman and others, is now regarded as unlikely in favour of the Carse further to the East. Just as well as the archeologists will struggle to get beneath the housing scheme. We do not protect our battlefield sites well!

I have started with Peter Armstrong’s Osprey Campaign book, not least for the excellent maps and drawings. Osprey’s MAA 151 is also helpful, as always primarily for the colour plates and illustrations. Aryeh Neusbacher’s book is well written and nicely illustrated, but the content has been criticised. Not least by Chris Brown’s book that analyses the sources in some depth and, to my mind at least, provides the most credible description of the battle so far. There are a couple of new books out, and no doubt more to come, that I haven’t got round to reading yet.

Fortunately for us, the first day of the battle is less contentious. The advance guard of the English army, commanded by the Earls of Hereford and Gloucester charge Robert the Bruce’s schiltron at the ‘entry’ to the New Park, a wooded hunting park in those days. They are repulsed after a fierce fight and this is where the famous single combat between Bruce and de Bohun takes place. 

Meanwhile, Clifford’s force takes a more easterly route skirting the New Park, it is thought, along ‘The Way’, through the Wood of Balquhiderock towards St Ninian’s Kirk. Moray’s schiltron may not have seen them until quite late due to the wood and he advanced to intercept. There are two possible sites for this clash, but either way the English were repulsed and the bulk of the force is likely to have returned to the main body of the army that was arriving late afternoon and evening.

I use the word ‘English’ army as a generalisation. Our modern understanding of national sentiment should not be transplanted to medieval times. The English army included many Scots. Not just the Balliol/Comyn faction that Bruce had usurped for the throne, but many notables from south-east Scotland who sided with the English King. 

The next step is building the armies, in 28mm of course. We have done a number of feudal battles in recent years so some figures will transfer easily. The story that a unit of Templars fought for Bruce is almost certainly fantasy, but its a good story and a few of those we painted for the Battle of Muret last year might sneak into the line! The main painting task is the Scottish schiltrons. I have one unit, but others will be added from Old Glory, Claymore Castings, Front Rank, Black Tree and Curtey’s to give plenty of variety.

Scenery is quite straightforward with woods and burns (streams) being the dominate characteristics of the site, as well as St Ninian’s Kirk.

Anyway, less talk and more painting is needed if this project is going to get off the ground!

Sunday 2 February 2014

Flames of War - Chinese Nationalist WW2

My initial Chinese army for WW2 is now complete and ready for the tabletop. They are based for Flames of War.

By the 1930's the Chinese army fighting the Japanese was reasonably well organised. It had two basic uniforms; grey/blue padded for the winter and light khaki for the summer. As the war went on supply became more difficult and uniforms would have become faded. Helmets and caps came in many shapes including the German 1935 model, reflecting the German advisors and other equipment.

I have gone for the grey uniform, with a number of variations in shade and colour, largely to differentiate them from other armies. The figures are from the Eureka range, but be warned they are not cheap. There are three sections of infantry, rather too well supplied with support weapons. Two mountain guns, a 37mm ATG, HMGs and Mortars. When I return to this project, more infantry will be needed.