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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

Tuesday 25 November 2014

19th Century skirmish wargames

I have been looking for a set of rules to play skirmish games of up to around 50 figures a side. This is primarily for the Russo Turkish War of 1877.

I have now tested two options, Bolt Action and Terrible Swift Sword.

Bolt Action may seem a bit out of the time line, but I have played WW1 games very successfully with these rules. The basic mechanisms are very elegant and has the advantage that I and other gaming partners can pick them up and play quickly. In the trial game I made a few changes, such as shortening the rifle range, but it certainly played very well. If I go with this, I will need to think up some national characteristics and tweak the weapons to reflect important differences between the Russian and Turkish armies.

Terrible Swift Sword is a Sharpe Practice variant for the Amercian Civil War. I'm not a huge fan of card driven games, but the fun narrative behind Sharpe Practice won me over and we have had some really good games. The trial game didn't really work as it is too period specific. Russians and Turks don't really fit the U.S. cards that are the key to the game.

On balance I think I will go with Bolt Action, but not ruling out doing some cards for TSW and giving it another go when I have more time.

Here are a few pictures of the game. Three ten man infantry squads a side, together with a cavalry troop and light artillery.


And finally, when the Turks looked as if they might have the upper hand, our cat Rasputin intervened. At least he recognised which side he was supposed be on, positioning himself in the Russian lines. However, you might note a bit of 'blue on blue' - c'est la guerre!



Sunday 23 November 2014

Chaldiran 1514

This year is the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Chaldiran that took place on 23 August 1514. The Ottomans led by Selim 1st decisively defeated the Persian Safavids led by Shah Ismail.

Selim came to the Ottoman throne by overthrowing his father Bayezid II and winning the subsequent civil war against his brothers. The Persian Safavids were Shia Muslims and encouraged a revolt in Ottoman Anatolia. Selim put down the rebellion with great force and advanced on Persia. The Safavids were also being invaded by the Uzbeks in the east, so they retreated in the face of the Ottoman army. The Ottomans caught them at Chaldiran in modern day northwestern Iran.

The Ottomans deployed their heavy artillery and Janissaries behind a barrier of carts. The Safavids attacked the Ottoman wings with their cavalry in an unsuccessful effort to avoid the Ottoman firepower. The Safavid army was primarily armed with traditional weapons and suffered heavy casualties as a consequence.

After their victory the Ottomans captured the Safavid capital Tabriz, which they pillaged and then abandoned, but secured permanent control over the far eastern part of Anatolia and also over northern Iraq. Shah Ismail did not take part in any further military engagements for the rest of his reign, delegating the fighting to his generals.

The Safavids learned from this battle and adopted firepower infantry and artillery in addition to their traditional horse archers, many of whom were actually Turkish tribes.

Here are some Safavids from my collection.

Foot archers

Camel gunners


Musketeers (reforms after Chaldiran)

Qizilbashes (Elite cavalry)

The figures are mostly from the Essex range.

Sunday 16 November 2014

The Empty Throne

The latest Bernard Cornwell book will always be high on my reading list and 'The Empty Throne' did not disappoint.

This is Book 8 in the Warrior Chronicles set in Anglo Saxon England, featuring our hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

The historical context is the death of the Mercian ruler, with no legitimate heir. His wife is the obvious choice, but women rulers were rare, to put it mildly. Uhtred is wounded and a sub plot is his journey to recover the sword that wounded him. While the 'English' are divided the Vikings step up their raids on the west coast from Ireland. As usual the book ends with a grand battle, this time on the walls of Chester.

I am frankly running out of superlatives to describe Bernard Cornwell's writing. It is simply a book that you can't put down - the very best in historical fiction.

Sunday 9 November 2014

WW1 Serbian Boys

I am always interested in military history links between Scotland and the Balkans, so this story in today’s Scotsman newspaper caught my eye.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh has posted on its website the first instalment of what will be a four-year project designed to chart the stories of 27 Serbian boys, aged 12 to 17, who were taken in by the educational establishment in 1916.
These boys had experienced the harrowing ‘retreat’ over the Albanian mountains to the coast and then on to Corfu.
The sporting interest comes from the boys playing rugby, creating a Serbian team. They are credited with bringing the game to Serbia after the war.
The last surviving ‘boy’ was Dimitrije Dulkanovic who explained when interviewed in his eighties: “The prime of our lives were spent here in this beautiful country with your grandfathers and grandmothers. At that war time we were homeless and parentless so our gratitude to Scotland and the Scottish people will last till the end of our lives.”

Good story and well done to the school for recording it.