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

Friday 30 December 2016

1859 - Second Italian War of Independence

I decided to give Sharp Practice 2 another go over the holidays. Also an opportunity to dust down another PoW army I haven't used for some time, the Sardinian's and Austrian's of 1859.

Having lost the First War of Independence, Sardinia/Piedmont provoked the Austrian's into invading and so dragging their French allies into the conflict. The war came to a conclusion at the Battle of Solferino 21-14 June 1859, when the Austrian's were defeated and Lombardy became part of the new Italian state.

I am still struggling a bit with the structure of the rules. If you don't play them regularly there are lot of bitty rules that it is easy to forget. The QRFs aren't a lot of help, so I think the solution is a process chart. I did a similar one for Bolt Action.

Anyway, a few pictures of the game. From memory the figures are mainly Frei Korps. Some are the early soft metal versions - hence the missing bayonets and often more serious surgery!

And the army list for the game.

The battlefield of Solferino is also well worth a visit. Much of the battlefield is as it was and there are several monuments and a museum. 


My fiction reading this holiday has been Robert Conroy's Germanica.

This is alternative WW2 history. The essence of the story is that Goebbels escapes to the Alpine redoubt with enough troops to be a significant threat. The allies are war weary and the domestic pressure for peace is building.

We get a bit of the strategic overview, including the neglected role of Switzerland during the war. The action on the ground is based around OSS operatives across the border in Switzerland and a US captain with the leading US infantry division.

In fact, Hitler opposed the concept until it was too late in April 1945. Despite support amongst some in the German high command, it never got off the ground. However, the concept did concern allied planners who concentrated resources to cut off retreating units from going there.

It is a least an interesting 'what if?'. What would have been the allied reaction to the potentially heavy casualties involved in attacking narrow Alpine passes. Particularly if Germany had a viable atomic bomb as a deterrent.

The author makes a decent go at the alternative history and makes a readable human story around the main characters. Perhaps not the best historical fiction, but if alternative WW2 is your thing it is worth a read. Some obvious scenarios here for those buying into Warlord's Konflict 47 rules.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Austro-Hungarian Cruisers and Destroyers 1914-18

The final part of the Osprey pre-xmas Balkan trilogy is Austro-Hungarian Cruisers and Destroyers 1914-18 by Ryan Noppen.

The Austro-Hungarian navy suffered from pre-war budget restrictions, particularly as the Hungarian parliament saw little value in the navy. However, much of the modern day Croatian and Montenegrin coastlines where part of the empire in 1914 and had to be defended.

Before the war the Austro-Hungarian empire had developed a significant merchant marine that required an expanded navy. This took the navy from a coastal defence force, to one that could project power overseas - or at the very least fly the flag. For example, the cruiser Zenta took part in the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion in China and the relief of Peking. After promising work for the Hungarian yards at Rijeka, a more balanced fleet was developed.

The author describes the cruiser and destroyer classes constructed primarily in the Adriatic shipyards, but with a few ordered from Britain. It is largely a story of catching up with developments in other navies, with armour and guns getting heavier and larger. By 1914, even the most successful designs, like the Huszar class destroyers, were considerably smaller than their opponents. None the less, they often held their own.

The strategy for the capital ships was of a 'fleet in being' and it spent most of the war in port, covering the Northern Adriatic. The lighter ships had a more active campaign and the author describes the main actions in the second part of this book. Initially raiding and bombarding the Italian coast, they quickly dominated the Adriatic despite the larger forces arrayed against them.

The action moved to the Southern Adriatic at the end of 1915, when the navy attempted to stop the Serbian evacuation to Corfu from Albanian ports. This led to the Battle of Gargano and other sorties against Durazzo. While they failed to stop the evacuation, the capture of Mount Lovcen and the collapse of Montenegro, meant that the Southern Adriatic base of Cattaro (Kotor) was fully operational.

This led to a series of actions against the allied Otranto barrage, a series of light ships, often British trawlers, who attempted to keep U-Boats out of the Mediterranean.  The barrage was largely a failure, assisted by the Austro-Hungarian attacks. Most famously, the Battle of the Otranto Straits in May 1917.

By 1918, levels of discontent in the navy were high, culminating in the Cattaro mutiny. However, the lighter ships remained loyal until the end of the war. The remaining ships were allocated to the allied powers, renamed or scrapped.

Osprey Vanguards can often be rather dry technical descriptions of weapon systems. That isn't the case here, with a clear description of strategy and a concise narrative history of the naval campaigns. This is supplemented with a fine collection of photographs and some lovely artwork by Paul Wright. Not just the technical ship plates, but a couple of action paintings that would grace any art gallery.

You can visit the main ports today.

Pula is part of modern Croatia and has a small naval museum up in the old Venetian fortress above the harbour. For Austro-Hungarian fortifications, I recommend Fort Bourguignon  further down the coast. But be warned, it's not easy to find.

The very best examples of Austro-Hungarian fortifications are around Kotor (Cattaro) in modern Montenegro. The forts below defend the entrance to Kotor Bay. There is also an excellent maritime museum. Kotor is certainly the most stunning place on the Adriatic, an absolute must visit place.

and the stunning Kotor Bay itself from Mount Lovcen. Think Norway with great weather!

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Byzantine Naval Forces 1261-1461

Part two of Osprey's end of year Balkan spree is Byzantine Naval forces 1261-1461 by Raffaele D'Amato.

After the fall of Constantinople to the army of the Fourth Crusade, the recovering Byzantium recognised the need for a strong naval force. While they relied on allied or mercenary ships, primarily from Genoa, they also created their own forces.

These were built around three regiments.

The Gasmouli lived in and around the City and were of mixed Latin and Greek parentage - the name may actually mean 'bastard'. They were certainly ferocious warriors, described by one western source as 'hungry for carnage and death' - and much more besides! They served as marine soldiers and were lightly armed.

The marine Tzakones were originally recruited from the Peloponnese, specifically ancient Lakonia. They supplemented the Gasmouli as marines.

The third unit were the Prosalentai. These were native Romans, recruited from small peasant freeholders. These were the oarsmen of the fleet and each settlement probably provided a fixed number of men.

The ships of the fleet included Dhroman's with bow turrets for troops. Then Trieres, a three oar-level galley and Moneres, a galley with a single level. These were supplemented by a variety of transport ships and lighter fishing type vessels. The fleet's main base was in the Propontis district of the City. There were also provincial fleets at Thessaloniki, Lemnos, Tenedos and on the Danube. The strength of the fleet varied considerably, but at time of war could be as large as 200 ships.

The author takes us through the limited sources of the period, to describe how the fleet was organised and manned. This includes an overview of the main operations and three representative naval actions. The troops manning the fleet are covered in some detail including their weapons, dress and other equipment. This includes the evidence for the use of Greek fire. Peter Dennis provides the usual high quality colour plates.

With the current wargaming trend towards skirmish games, this book should inspire small scale raiding actions of the period using Lion Rampant or similar. The wicked Venetian's being the main enemy. There are no specific figure ranges that I can find, but Byzantine marines wore a wide variety of helmets and other equipment, so most medieval ranges will provide some suitable figures.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

World War II Croatian Legionaries

Osprey had a bit of a Balkan splurge prior to xmas, providing me with a pile of holiday reading.

I started with World War II Croatian Legionaries by Vladimir Brnardic. You might think the Croatians have had quite a bit of coverage, but this title is about Croatian troops who served under Axis command, not those who served in the Croatian defence force or the Ustasha militia.

These Croatian's were literally under Axis command, with almost all the officers and many of the NCOs being German, or at least ethnic Germans who lived outside the Reich. It started with the Croatian legion, the 369th Reinforced Infantry Regiment and then grew into three infantry divisions - 369th, 373rd and 392nd. They also provided significant troops for the Waffen-SS divisions - 13th Handschar and 23rd Kama mountain divisions.

The Germans also recruited Croatians into air force and naval legions, as well as German-Croatian police units for internal security operations.

Even the Italians got in on the act. The Croatian state, somewhat reluctantly, provided troops for the Italian-Croatian Legion, a light motorised battalion.

The author takes us through the service history of each unit. The focus of their service was against the Partisans in Yugoslavia, but several also fought on the Eastern Front. The 369th Infantry Regiment was destroyed at Stalingrad and the Italian Legion was completely wiped out on the Chir River line in December 1942.

Being an Osprey book, there are photo-realistic colour plates by Viseslav Aralica and lots of period photographs. The Croatian's wore German and Italian uniforms, with the main distinguishing feature being the distinctive Croatian red and white chequered badge. Wargamers can therefore use axis models and just paint the badge on. Not easy, but someone may do a transfer. Warlord do Fez capped heads for the Handschar division (see below from my collection).



Monday 26 December 2016

Open Combat revisited

My Xmas game was an opportunity to revisit Open Combat since getting the nice new glossy hardback and dice as part of the kickstarter. For those not familiar with these rules, They allow you to point up all sorts of historical and fantasy skirmish forces, creating balanced games between genres if you want.

The game also allowed me to get my newly painted monsters from the Conan board/figure game on the table. I like the board game, but I suspect I will get more use from the figures using Open Combat and Dragon Rampant.

Here we have a couple of demons.

and then a rather tasty giant snake.

Then, onto the game itself. My merry band of adventurers included a first outing for my Frostgrave wizard and his apprentice. Together with Bugman and his dwarf rangers. Some of my very first fantasy figures from the old Citadel range.

We had a cunning plan for grabbing the jewels from the demon fort. Bugman would distract the Demon knights and the big hairy demon, while the wizard and apprentice sneaked into the fort.

It started well, with dwarf crossbows weakening the demons. The Open Combat dice are useful, but not essential, as the rules are very simple and the QRF covers most of it.

But they soon got a bit too close for comfort. Crossbows down and get stuck in with the axe - the slope was useful too.

Meanwhile, the sneaky attack on the fort got disrupted when the giant snake slithered out of the wood. Those fangs are to be avoided! Glad I paid for the nimble and evade skills for our magic pair.

The Demon king hopped out of the fort to join in.

After that it was a slogging match. Sadly, both wizards died a fate worst than death, but Bugman and the boys saved the day. Held the hill and killed enough to reach the demon break point. But it was a close run thing!

Not sure they will accept these demon jewels as payment for a well earned pint in Bugman's Brewery, but the dwarfs will no doubt be persuasive....

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Chosen Men

'Chosen Men' is a new set of skirmish rules for the Napoleonic Wars, written by Mark Latham and published by Osprey. Mark used to work with Warhammer Historical and produced Legends of the Old West and Trafalgar. More recently he wrote the Osprey fantasy rules, Broken Legions.

These are genuine skirmish rules with one model equalling one man. A typical unit is led by an officer and consists of 4 to 9 figures. A typical standard 350 point game on a three foot square table would have three units a side. (see roster below). The game is designed for 25mm figures, although I can’t see any difficulty in playing with other scales. Think Sharpe skirmish episodes, for the sort of game these rules are aimed at. Timely for me as my beloved being away on a course recently allowed me to work through the Sharpe boxed sets on Virgin!

The game starts with both sides rolling for initiative and war strategies. This gives a one off action that is played immediately or can be saved. In my test game the rifle unit was delayed a turn and the French light infantry had to undertake a command test when they strayed near the table edge. The idea is to represent the battle going on around this skirmish.

The action phase allows players to activate a unit alternatively, so you can pick your most vital unit first. Actions are move, charge, fire etc and each one costs a TAC point. Better units have more points, but as you can only use one action per move and can’t move and fire, I didn’t find this very restrictive. Movement is 6” for foot and 10” for horse, although a double move is an additional D6. The default formation is skirmish, but you can form into line and column if you want, with commensurate factor gains. You can also order a hold action which allows a delayed action later the phase. This allows you to react or fire in response to enemy movement. Firing is a straightforward accuracy roll to hit followed by damage rolls based on the units resilience . 

The next phase is melee, with weapon and unit melee factors and an ‘old style’ table to calculate the score to hit. Again, hits are converted into damage based on the units resilience. Most figures have one wound, but officers and cavalry have 2 or more. Then you apply combat resolution factors to find the loser who takes a command test.

Finally, there is the recovery phase, which involves rallying and moving fleeing units and checking victory conditions.

There are optional commander traits and strategies that you can purchase for army list points. I didn’t use them, but they clearly add some colour to a game, without being too overwhelming. There are also special rules like ‘crack shot’ and ‘devastating charge’, which again give additional factors in appropriate circumstances. The army lists are restricted to the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns, but it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt them for other nations. You also get six scenarios.

The production quality is typical of the Osprey games series. A logical process and plenty of photo’s. However, there is no quick reference sheet, which means a lot of page turning. With all the special rules, your copy of the rules is going to be well thumbed. It really needs a decent process chart, otherwise you miss important rules.

These rules plug a gap in the Osprey series, for the period up to ‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’ colonial rules. However, the mechanisms are very different. It’s probably competing with Sharp Practice 2. If you don’t like card driven games, or the Lardies more random approach to unit activation, these rules might be for you.

My test game was a simple Peninsular action with light troops and cavalry. The standard game will probably be done and dusted in 90 minutes or so once you have a handle on the rules. If this a new period, then you only need a small number of figures. Significantly fewer than Sharp Practice. 

Finally, some eye candy from the test game.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Glory, Hallelujah!

'Glory, Hallelujah!' is the title of the Back Powder supplement for the American Civil War. I bought it some time ago, but I have just got around to using it.

So what do you get for your £20, or usually cheaper? You get just about everything you need to game the ACW. A description of the armies, equipment and tactics - as well as masses of eye candy for uniform reference. There are optional rules to supplement Black Powder and plenty of army lists and scenarios. Even special rules for forts and river operations.

The production quality is nothing short of sumptuous. Even if you don't use Black Powder rules, this book is well worth the price.

So onto the battlefield. I used my collection of 15mm figures for this game. I collected them gradually over many years and they are based for Fire and Fury, a rule set I never really liked. The special rules played well and gave a real feel for the period.

The objective was to capture the town. The Rebels got there first and held off two counter attacks.

I toured the Eastern battlefields of the ACW a number of years ago, en-route to Historicon. They are some of the best preserved battlefields I have visited and a credit to the staff involved. Here is my picture of the site of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.

Thursday 8 December 2016

Panzer III

I have been making some further efforts at reducing my lead pile, or in this case plastic pile. The victim was a Rubicon 28mm kit of the German Panzer III. I say victim, as kits are not my favourite projects, I am at best all thumbs.

The Panzer III was intended as the primary battle tank of the German forces. However, when it initially met the Russian KV-1 and T-34 tanks it proved to be inferior in both armour and gun power. To meet the growing need to counter these tanks, the Panzer III was up-gunned with a longer, more powerful 50-millimetre (1.97 in) gun and received more armour but still was at disadvantage compared with the Soviet tank designs.

Despite my reservations about kits, this was very straightforward, with all the essential bits like tracks being one casting. Very clear instructions and all parts numbered - no need to try and guess how it goes together from a photo! A vast improvement on the Warlord/Italeri model that was nothing short of a nightmare and simply not robust enough for a tabletop model. Rubicon also give you a generous decal sheet.

I purchased mine from Scott's Models in Glasgow. Support your local model shop, or they are unlikely to be around when you need that pot of paint.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Malaya and Singapore 1941-42

The Japanese invasion of Malaya and the fall of Singapore in 1941-42 was a military disaster of unprecedented proportions for the British Empire. Mark Stille covers the reasons for this very well in the Osprey Campaign No.300 'Malaya and Singapore 1941-42'.

From Churchill downwards this was not Britain's finest hour. The strategic assumptions were wrong and Churchill even failed to deliver on his own poor plan. On the ground, the British Empire commanders failed to take advantage of their material superiority in important categories through poor planning. The consequences were a staggering 138,708 casualties, 130,000 of which were prisoners of war. In contrast the Japanese 25th Army used intelligent planning and relentless initiative to keep the all important initiative. Tanks played an important role, but it was the Japanese infantry who really delivered the victory.

This campaign was one of my recent wargame projects, so I have read a number of detailed campaign histories and memoirs. Mark Stille has written a very good concise history of the campaign with lots of quality photographs and the excellent illustrations by Peter Dennis. What Osprey do better than other publishers is excellent maps, both of the campaign and the key battles. If you are thinking of doing this campaign on the tabletop, this book is an ideal starting point.

This represents a typical action during the campaign, using Bolt Action rules and 28mm figures.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Flame Bearer

A new Bernard Cornwell book is always a must read, and The Flame Bearer, the latest in the Last Kingdom series is no exception.

Our 'hero' Uhtred is now based in Northumbria, where his son-in-law Sigtryggyr rules. Northumbria is under pressure from the Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, who aim to create England, and the Scots from the North.

Uhtred is besieging his family home of Bebbanburg, held by his cousin. He has to abandon the siege to support Sigtryggyr and successfully foils an attempt by a Wessex nobleman to break the truce. This buys a year or two for Northumbria, but more importantly, time for Uhtred to capture Bebbanburg.

Being Cornwell, this is no simple siege. We have the Scots, Norse raiders, a mad Bishop and the West Saxons all playing a role. They all come together in an epic final battle at the Bebbanburg fortress.

No expletives are too extravagant to describe any Cornwell book. He is the master of historical writing and this title is up to his very high standards.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Killiecrankie 1689

A short autumn break in Perthshire was an opportunity to visit a battle site I haven't been to for a number of years, Killiecrankie.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 wasn't accepted by many in Britain, including most of the Highland clans, who remained loyal to the Stuarts. Most Lowland Scots supported William and Mary and followed the English Parliament in supporting him as King. This predates the Treaty of Union, so Scotland had its own monarchy and institutions. 

The Jacobites rallied around John Graham, Viscount 'Bonny' Dundee, who joined Lochiel, Chief of Clan Cameron, who was raising the clans. Dundee was pursued by General Mackay, who commanded a government force of around 3,500. Dundee gathered those clans who had arrived at the muster, some 2,400 men, and blocked Mackay's advance at the Pass of Killiecrankie, just north of Pitlochry.

The two forces exchanged fire and then Dundee ordered a charge. When the lines met, the government troops were "swept away by the furious onset of the Camerons". The advance and charge was masked, leaving the redcoats with insufficient time to fix their plug bayonets. Mackay's force fled, suffering some 2000 casualties. 

However, around one-third of the Jacobite force was killed, including Dundee. The Jacobite advance continued until it was stopped by government forces at the Battle of Dunkeld. After which the rebellion dissolved. 

The position of troops on the battlefield today is difficult to identify. There are two modern roads and railway that now go through the pass. However, there is a visitor centre, open in summer months and a path down to the 'Soldiers Leap', where a redcoat is said to have leapt over a ravine to escape from chasing Highlanders. 

And finally, some 28mm figures from the period, from my collection.

Sunday 13 November 2016

WW2 Italian Infantry

Another dabble into my pile of lead box brought out some 28mm Italians. I could do with another squad of infantry for my Bolt Action army to fight the Greeks, so off they went to the painting desk.

I am not sure when I picked these up, but I think David Burns of Burns Miniatures gave them to me. They came in a plain blister pack, but look as if they are from the Black Tree Designs range. Now these can be a bit hit or miss, but these Italians are very nice with great definition. Ideal for a simple paint job and a wash. 

Sunday 6 November 2016


Probably my first fantasy read was one of the Conan books, created by the American author Robert E. Howard in 1932. I bought most of them including the later editions developed by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. They have long been donated to Oxfam, but I recently bought an anthology of them for next to nothing in Kindle format. Of course, we also have Arnie Schwarzenegger doing his best with the concept - although I admit I actually enjoyed Conan the Barbarian, if not the sequels.

I recall the Meeples podcast referring to a Kickstarter game based on the books, but didn't follow through as I rarely play board games. A pal at the club did and pointed out that this was a hybrid figure and board game. He went for most of the stretch goals that brings an impressive collection of miniatures. We played the game last Sunday, and impressed, I bought the core box on eBay.

With the core box you get two double sided playing boards, with a village, ship, tavern and castle settings. This is the ship board I used in today's game.

The box includes the rules, tile cards with the essential stats and counters. Plus the real selling point, 74 hard plastic figures, fully assembled. They include four heroes, including Conan, various other character figures, monsters and basic troops such as pirates, guards and Picts. The figures are large 28mm, actually 32mm from base to eye. Here a few Photies and as you can see, they are well sculpted with excellent definition for painting.

The game mechanics are not complex and a game last around 90 minutes once you have a grasp of the rules. I can see me using the figures for other game systems, Open Combat in particular.