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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

Saturday 29 March 2014

Islesmen at Bannockburn

The latest unit to join my Scots army for Bannockburn is a unit of isles men led by Angus Og MacDonald. 

We are pretty sure that islesmen and highlanders from the west coast fought at Bannockburn in Robert the Bruce’s division. However, we have little idea if they fought with their traditional weapons or were trained to fight with the spear like the lowland Scots. So I have compromised with spears in the front ranks and the two-handed Lochaber axe in the back rows. The figures are from Claymore Castings range and the flag is produced by Flags of War.

The Kingdom of the Isles during this period had been brought into the mainstream realm of Scotland well before Bannockburn. However, they were far from united in the Bruce cause. In broad terms the MacDonalds supported Bruce, while the MacDougalls supported Baliol. I stress in broad terms because there is strong evidence that members of both clans fought on both sides. 

Angus Og himself was, like Bruce, an adherent of Edward !st. until 1206. It is likely that his shift in allegiance had more to do with the traditional feud with the MacDougalls, than the patriotic motives ascribed in the poems of the period. Angus Og gained from the alliance as the tide swung in favour of Bruce, including his Argyll campaign that shattered the power of the MacDougalls in 1307. He was rewarded with grants of land in Lochaber, Morvern and Ardnamurchan in 1314. His son and successor also gained Mull and Tiree. 

Andrew McDonald’s ‘The Kingdom of the Isles’ is a good read if you want to know more about the western seaboard of Scotland during this period.

It certainly made a change from painting lowland spearmen!

Sunday 9 March 2014

Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29

As a break from the Bannockburn project I have been reading ‘Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29’ by John Fletcher. 

This is in the Osprey essential histories series that aims to give a broad overview of particular conflicts. This subject is a real challenge for the format, as the wars of liberation ranged over a huge geographical area and also lasted some 20 years. 

The author’s approach has been to set the conflict in the context of the Napoleonic wars and Spain’s decline that had huge implications for its overseas empire in south and central America. The nature of the colonial empire with its ‘caste’ system and the importance of trade in developing the resistance to Spanish rule.

The respective armies are given a brief overview with Spanish regulars and militia fighting an array of colourful troop types from cowboy Gauchos and Llaneros to freed negro slaves. The fighting is summarised in the chronology and by region and it is probably here that the restricted space is most challenging.

This is a very interesting conflict and I hope this introduction encourages greater interest in it. There are a number of excellent histories and the author’s own series of booklets provide everything the war gamer needs. There are limited ranges of suitable figures in 15mm and 28mm. In fact more than when I did the army of San Martin and his crossing of Andes for a series of GDWS display games. I covered these campaigns in an article in Wargames Illustrated in 2007.

Spanish Line Regiment Don Carlos


Sunday 2 March 2014


In this 700th anniversary year we can expect a string of publications on this battle. I have just finished reading David Cornell's new book 'Bannockburn - The Triumph of Robert the Bruce'.

This is the author's first book, although he spent several years studying the Anglo-Scottish wars while completing his Ph.D. at Durham University.

The first third of the book describes the Scottish wars and the the internal power struggles in Scotland in the period before 1314. This is important, not only for context, but as an explanation as to why Robert the Bruce decided to take the highly risky strategy of a pitched battle with the English army and their Scottish allies. The internal politics of England are also covered. This also partly explains Edward's urgency to cross the Bannockburn at the end of the first day of the battle. A move that forced him to fight on ground that was far from suitable for knights.

Given the sparsity of sources for the battle itself, there is little that's new in this book. The author largely goes with the modern view of the battle site, with the second day being fought either on the Carse or the Dryfield, someway to the East of the traditional site. He does make a credible case for Moray's advance guard being further forward in the Torwood itself, but accepts it is purely conjecture.

Finally, the book covers the aftermath of the battle and the long struggle before a lasting peace treaty was signed.

While there is little new in this book, it is very well written. Some may not like the style that has elements of historical fiction writing, but I think it adds to the readability. Highly recommended.