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 August 2015

Sd.Kfz. 234/2 Puma

I was following a thread on a bulletin board about roughly 20mm Russian tanks and a Matilda available at some branches of The Works. Thinking, as did others, why are they never done in larger scales for Bolt Action

I was in Beverley, Yorkshire over the weekend at a wedding and decided to stretch my legs with a walk around the town. Passing The Works branch I popped in to see if they had them. They didn't, but they did have a few very nice Puma armoured cars. No indication of scale, but obviously bigger than 20mm. No manufacturer either, although they are made in China.

On getting them home and measuring up, they appear to be roughly 1/45 scale. A bit big for 28mm, but not absurdly so. They are marketed as 20 Panzer Division, Sudetenland 1945. They look pretty accurate models to me and will look good when weathered. At £10 each, I hope there are more in this range.

Three views of the model with a 28mm German infantryman, so you can make your own mind up.


Wednesday 26 August 2015

Sheriffmuir project - Highlanders

Well you can't have a Jacobite uprising without some Highlanders.

These are Warlord figures from their boxed set. They are a bit stereotypical I suppose; bare arse, drinking etc. But for this skirmish project they provide a bit of everything.

I also used one of the flags they provide because the Stewart of Appin Regiment was at Sheriffmuir. Stuart Reid's book provides an appendix listing what we know of the Jacobite regiments.

He says they were led by Robert Stewart of Appin and appeared to have 260 men on the roll, but only 180 were drawing rations by 22 November. They are described as 'but ill armd' - I suppose they mean the beer tankards that my guys brandish!

Next up either the lowland foot or some horse.


Wednesday 19 August 2015

Sheriffmuir 1715

I do like an anniversary for wargaming inspiration. This year is the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715.

On 6 September 1715 the Earl of Mar declared for the Jacobite cause. He collected an army of about 12,000 and captured Perth. The government army of around 4000 was led by the Duke of Argyll and included lowland Scots and English troops, mostly based in Stirling.

After a period of skirmishing, on 10 November Mar lead his full army south. Argyll responded by moving his army to Sheriffmuir, near Dunblane and the two armies met on 13 November.

Argyll was seriously outnumbered by the now albeit smaller Jacobite army. Argyll's right wing attacked, and managed to drive the Highlanders back, but his left wing was overwhelmed. By evening, both armies were seriously reduced, and although Mar had a great advantage in numbers, he refused to risk the entirety of his army, allowing Argyll to withdraw.

Both sides claimed victory, but it was a strategic victory for Argyll as he had halted the Jacobite advance. Mar’s supporters drifted away and his army dispersed. On 23 December, James Stuart, the Old Pretender, landed at Peterhead, but was unable to rouse the disheartened army. The revolt in England also ended in defeat at Preston.

For more on the battle there is a new book by Stuart Reid that I reviewed in February. It includes all we know about the units that fought in the battle, although that is far from complete.

My wargame project is a skirmish one, largely based on the various actions that took place in Fife in the period running up to the battle.

The first unit is painted and based. These are government troops mostly from the Front Rank range. I will be using the Donnybrook rules.



Sunday 16 August 2015

The Serbian Army in the Wars for Independence

I have just finished Dusan Babac's 'The Serbian Army in the Wars for Independence against Turkey 1876-1878', published by Helion Books.

In 1875, a number of revolts against Ottoman rule broke out across the Balkans. The Bulgarian revolt was quickly and savagely subdued, but the fighting in Herzegovina and Bosnia continued. Taking advantage, the two semi-independent Principalities of Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed their independence and declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 18 June 1876.

The Serbian army commanded by the Russian General Cherniaev, adopted an ambitious plan of attack. The army was poorly equipped, despite an influx of volunteers. The southward advance was halted and the Ottoman commander Abdul Kerim concentrated 40,000 troops at Niš and advanced up the Morava valley towards Aleksinac. Cherniaev had less than 30,000 men, stretched across a long position and the Ottoman’s concentrated their attacks routing the Serbian army. 

A one-month truce allowed peace negotiations, but when these broke down a renewed Serbian assault was repulsed and an Ottoman counter attack forced the Serbs back to Deligrad. With Russia threatening a war a peace agreement was reached. 

War broke out again when Serbia took advantage of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to capture large areas of Old Serbia. The subsequent Congress of Berlin recognised full Serbian independence within expanded borders, although not all the areas the Serbian army had occupied.

This is a beautiful book, lavishly illustrated with prints and photographs. It covers everything you could need to understand the Serbian army of the period. Organisation, weapons and most importantly, uniforms are comprehensively covered. 

I am not aware of any wargame figures for this period. The basic uniform isn't much different from Romanian troops (even some ACW, French and Russian figures could work), with the big exception of the distinctive forage cap. A bit of work on the kepi with a file might work, at least in 15mm or smaller. Ottoman's are well provided for in 1877 ranges.

As a history of both wars it is more limited. It is written solely from a Serbian perspective and it desperately needed maps. The author of course knows the country, but the general reader will need a good detailed map of Serbia to follow the text.

There is very little written in English on these wars and therefore this is a much needed study. Recommended.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Taken at the Flood - The Roman Conquest of Greece

The second half of my poolside holiday reading was Robin Waterfield's history of the Roman invasion of Greece.

He starts with the Roman's early involvement in the Balkans, largely due to piracy on the Adriatic. This led to wars against the Illyrian's that led into Epirus, Macedon and mainland Greece.

Greece during most of this period was not the united entity of Alexander's time. It had reverted to warring cities and leagues of states that the Roman's carefully manoeuvred, as much by diplomacy, as by war. The author argues that Rome adopted a policy of remote control. Even when they defeated their opponents, they usually withdrew. It wasn't until the end of the period when Rome was in absolute control, not only of Greece, but Asia Minor as well, that direct rule with garrisons became a feature of Roman rule.

This book covers all the decisive battles of the period, Pydna, Thermopylae, Cynoscephalae etc. Perhaps not in the detail I would have liked, although there are sections on the armies and the legion v phalanx debate. The book is much stronger on the Roman strategy and its impact not just on Greece, which was economic ruin, but also on how the plunder and new wealth impacted on Roman society. Sowing the seeds of its own decline.

This is very readable book on a subject that has received less attention than the Punic wars. Recommended.

Tuesday 11 August 2015


The city of Pula (Pola Italian) in Croatia, was the main naval base of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. There is plenty to see reflecting its varied history. Primarily Venetian influence until it became part of the Hapsburg Empire in 1813. Then back to Italy after WW1, before becoming part of Yugoslavia after WW2.

The Roman influence is most obvious in the well preserved amphitheatre.

 The Venetian star fortress dominates the city and incorporates a small museum.

The best example of Austro-Hungarian fortifications is Fort Bourguignon. This is south of the city and tricky to find. Go through the reception barrier at Hotel Splendid and turn sharp right into their car park. You will see a pyramid structure on top of the hill and the fort is next to it. The guide book says that there are galleries with details of the fortifications around the city, but it was closed. I suspect the lack of signs means this is permanent.

If its medieval castles that interest you, there are several north of the city around Pazin. This is Pazin's medieval castle, the setting for a Jules Verne novel.

A ruin at Sumber.

and finally Krsan Castle.

Monday 10 August 2015

Battle of Caporetto 1917

The beautiful Soca Valley in Slovenia is a tourist playground today, with mountain walking, paragliding and watersports. However, in 1917 it was the site of the Battle of Caporetto, one of the war’s most savage battles.

The Battle of Caporetto (also known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo) saw combined Austro-Hungarian and German forces decisively break through the Italian line along the northern Isonzo, catching the Italian defenders entirely by surprise. Nine Austrian divisions were supplemented by six German divisions giving them local numerical superiority at the point selected by the German army for the offensive.

Supported by a heavy artillery barrage of high explosives, gas and smoke, and the use of infiltration tactics, the combined force broke through the Italian lines and progressed a remarkable 25 km by the close of the day. Local counter attacks had limited success and the Italians were forced to retreat all the way back to the River Piave, just north of Venice. The Italians lost some 300,000 casualties (90% prisoners), and virtually all their artillery. Six French and five British divisions were rushed to Italy to shore up the Italian line.

For the visitor today, there is an excellent award winning museum at Kobarid (Caporetto). Three floors of exhibits and a 20 minute documentary.

What strikes you from the relief maps and photos in the museum is that the front lines were high up in the mountains. It seems inconceivable that troops could fight at these altitudes, particularly in winter. There is a long distance walking path that follows the old trench lines, for the very hardy enthusiast!

We finished the day off at the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Kluze. Built in 1882, on the site of earlier castles, it dominates the pass between Bovec and Tarvisio in Italy. There is a museum inside the fortress which is well worth a look.

In 1904 the Austrian’s built an additional artillery position, Fort Hermann, just above the fortress. There is a path up to it, although I wouldn’t recommend the direct route up the side of the mountain that troops in a hurry used. Look carefully at the photo and you can see the iron ‘ladder’ they spiked into the rock.

If you have time there is another fortress at the other end of the front lines at Tolmin.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Military Frontier castles

I spent yesterday in the Military Frontier that used to cover most of Croatia and northern Bosnia - separating the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.

For around three hundred years militias on both sides faced each other and conducted a small war in between the formal conflicts. The troops were variously labelled Hajduks, Vojnuks, Martelosi or Grenzer. It was more formalised on the Croatian side where the Grenzer settlers had special privileges and restrictions to provide a defensive buffer. Later they also provided useful regiments for wars away from the border.

My trip started at the Croatian city of Karlovac, formerly Karlstadt. This was the military headquarters of the Croatian part of the military border. It's now a busy industrial city and not much remains of the star shaped fortifications that surrounded the old city. However, there is the older castle of Dubovac to the west of city that is in excellent condition and provides a great view. Sadly, despite arriving within the published opening hours, it was closed.

After a quick stop at the Croatian Homeland War Museum, at what was formerly an outpost for the fortress, we drove through the border area. For the benefit of wargamers the terrain is overwhelmingly forest. There are even still a few scars on the buildings from the Homeland War, twenty years ago.

The next castle is just over the border into Bosnia at Velika Kladusa. The old castle has been extensively renovated and is used as holiday apartments with a function area for weddings. A very helpful young English speaking member of staff took us around. There are a few WW2 era artillery pieces in the grounds, used again in the Homeland War.

Finally, further down the road towards Bihac, there is Ostrozac. This really is a magnificent and very large Bosnian castle. When I last visited in 2006 there was some restoration work going on. Sadly, not much progress appears to have been made, but the essential features of the castle remain.

A word of warning if you fancy a trip here, allow plenty of time. Don't expect too many helpful road signs! Essentially, you have to drive into the towns and think, where would I build a castle here? Then drive around side roads until you come across it. A picture on the iPad is helpful when seeking help from the locals - who I have always found very friendly and helpful. If a bit bewildered as to what you are doing!

For further reading look no further than Gunther Rothenberg's two volume history on the military border. Long out of print I'm afraid, but your local library may be able to get a copy. However, this paper, The Krajina Project: Exploring the Ottoman-Habsburg Borderland, by R J Carlton and A Rushworth, is well worth a read.



Croatian Homeland War Museum

I came across this little gem at Turanj, just outside Karlovac, on the road south towards Bosnia yesterday. The plan is to build a full museum, but at present there are a number of external exhibits that are well worth a visit.

The Croatian Homeland War was fought from 1991 to 1995 between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and after 1992 local Serb forces. A majority of Croats wanted to leave Yugoslavia while many ethnic Serbs living in Croatia, supported by Serbia, wanted Croatia to remain a part of Yugoslavia and attempted to conquer as much of Croatia as possible.

After they failed to do this, Serbian forces established the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia. After the ceasefire of January 1992 and international recognition of the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state, the front lines were entrenched and combat became largely intermittent. In 1995, Croatia launched two major offensives known as Operation Flash and Operation Storm which ended the war in its favour.

Here are a few photies of the current exhibits. Starting with the information board.

The tank line up. T55, Sherman, M36 and two Hellcats.

Then a couple of improvised armoured cars

I think this is a Yugoslav built OT recce vehicle, looks like the ones I have models of.

A 203mm Howitzer on the left and apparently a British 90mm AA gun on the right.

Finally, my favourite photie, a Mig 21 'over' a Strasko armoured tractor.



Tuesday 4 August 2015

Uskok's of Senj

Northern Croatia for this year's Balkan travel fest with a focus on the military border between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. First stop has to be Senj, home of the Uskok's. This is somewhere I have long wanted to visit, having written an article about them many years ago in The Arquebusier journal, together with an army list for DBR.

The name Uskok comes from a verb meaning ‘to leap over’ and originally referred to men who rejected Ottoman rule and crossed over to Christian lands. They originated in the fortress of Klis which guarded the pass above the port of Split around 1532. After an heroic defence, the death of their leader Petar Kruzic caused them to capitulate to the Ottoman besiegers. They were allowed to withdraw and moved north settling in the Dalmatian port of Senj around 1537.

The Uskok's used a type of light galley known as a Bracera. These mostly had eight oars and a crew of 24 to 36. The larger Bracere were twice this size. They could cover 100 sea miles in a night and were more manoeuvrable and of lighter draught than their largely Venetian prey. Robbing the Venetians was more profitable than attacking the Ottomans, but it led to their downfall when the Venetians declared war and the Habsburg's were forced to relocate them.

The castle is in excellent condition and houses a cafe and a museum with some excellent exhibits. I'll post more pictures on the web site when I get home.

The Uskok's were first relocated to Otocac, which is inland from Senj and was an important base in the Military Border. Sadly, the ruins of the castle are not even marked on the local tourist map. The airfield has an old C47 Dakota, sort of on display. Or at least I hope it's not in service!

For more on the Uskok's, you can read my original article on Balkan Military History and I strongly recommend Wendy Bracewell's book. Old Glory do figures in 28mm.


Sunday 2 August 2015

Siege of Shkodra 1478

My poolside reading for today, some way further up the Adriatic coast, was The Siege of Shkodra by Marin Barleti, a local priest in 1504. It covers the Ottoman siege of Shkodra, which is in Northern Albania, in 1478, led personally by Mehmed the Conquerer. This epic siege was one of his few failures.

The original book was in Latin, later translated into Albanian. The recent English version was translated and edited by David Hosaflook and includes translations of the Albanian edition's introduction and notes. It also includes accounts of the siege from early Ottoman historians, new scholarly notes, the historical context by Prof. David Abulafia, new maps based on the information in the book, and appendixes including Barleti's chronology of battle events.

This is not objective history. Barleti wrote the book for a Venetian audience and they financed the defenders. They arguably also later sold them out! He also clearly made up most of the speeches, or at least embellished them. However, the modern version provides some context and the equally biased Ottoman sources.

What you end up with is a really good description of a savage medieval siege. It reminded me of the semi fictional work, The Siege, by another Albanian author, Ismail Kadare, and he must have been influenced by it.

I visited the site of the siege a few years ago. Very impressive ruin today and you can see what a strategic position it commanded and why it was so important.

Oh, and let's have some of my Albanian wargame figures as well!



Saturday 1 August 2015

Claymore 2015

Just a very quick visit to Claymore today. Flying out on my honeymoon, coincidently from Edinburgh Airport! Heading to the Balkans of course, as I type this from our hotel in Croatia.

So just time to say hello to folk and purchase a few essentials. Some Warlord French and Polish Napoleonic line infantry for my Peninsular project, together with some Perry cannon. A few books and foam storage.

The Wargamer's bride got into the spirit with the Durham lads 54mm Napoleonics. If my eyesight doesn't improve I might be joining them!

First stop of course was the GDWS display. Arial Dystopian Wars. Got an honourable mention in Wrgames Illustrated this month.

Then a few more games, some old and some new, that caught my eye.

Starting with a Balkan game, Gallipoli.

Then Iain (Flags of War) from our club with this ECW game

The Sally 4th team showing off their very fine buildings here

Not sure what this snowy naval scene is, but it's very good.

This looks like another day out for the Hydaspes game.

Ditto for these fine buildings.

And the Phoenix lads with Lion Rampant.

As usual, thanks to the Edinburgh lads for putting a fine show on.