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 25 January 2016

Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution

This year is the centenary of Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, the last invasion of the USA by foreign troops. It sparked a punitive expedition by US troops led by General Pershing, with actions at Parral and a larger battle at Carrizal on June 21 1916. The American forces failed to capture Villa, but they did keep him out of trouble and gained some useful, if not exactly comparable, combat experience before they shipped out to Europe.
Osprey do the attack on Columbus and the consequences in their Raid series.
This title gives you a brief background to the raid, the action itself and the details of Pershing's expedition. Villa was a hero and military genius to some and a common criminal to others. The author's view is that he was somewhere between the two.
This action led me on to a more detailed look at the Mexican Revolution. Again Osprey provides the basics with their Elite series ' The Mexican Revolution 1910-20'.
The Mexican Revolution began as a movement of middle-class protest against the long-standing dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911). The first uprising was led by Francisco Madero who was elected President in October 1911. After that there is a complex series of rebellions and coups. There is a good summary by Alan Knoght at History Today.
Villa became a serious player in the conflict because his Division of the North was an effective military unit, at times closer to an army than a division. In 1914, allied with another faction, the Zapatista, he captured Mexico City. However, in the end the Constitutionalists, led by Alvaro Obregon, triumphed using modern tactics and equipment. Villa insisted on frontal cavalry charges against entrenched opposition, who by 1915 had learned the lessons of the Western Front. The raid on the USA was something of an afterthought, probably aimed at securing weapons and supplies. Villa accepted an honourable retirement in 1920, but was assassinated on Obregon's orders in July 1923.
The attractions of the period are colourful characters like Villa and Zapata and exotic troop types. Think westerns with machine guns, artillery, a few armoured vehicles and aircraft. My favourite is the tactic of loading a train with dynamite and percussion caps and sending it unmanned in a town to cause chaos before the attack. Railroads were absolutely key to the conflict.
For the US forces, Osprey also do 'The US Army 1890-1920' in the MAA series.
This does appeal to me - just a decision as to scale. Bolt Action in 28mm was my first thought, but perhaps a few more figures in 15mm.
Must finish those Napoleonics first though. Inspired by a very good weekend of gaming at our club's Open Day. We refought the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro in 28mm using Black Powder. Another option for the Mexican Revolution - Viva Villa!

Saturday 16 January 2016

Viking Storm

A new author for me is Julian Brazier who has written a new take on the Alfred the Great story in his novel Viking Storm.The story broadly follows the historical record, such that it is, with Viking armies conquering Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. Next is Wessex and the young king Alfred is betrayed by his own nobles then driven to the remote marshes in Somerset to regroup. He organises a comeback rallying the Fyrd and defeating the Vikings led by Guthrum. The cakes get burnt and all the usual elements are touched on.

The twist in this version is that Alfred finds unlikely allies in Constantinos, a Byzantine soldier and diplomat and his bodyguards who all find their own reasons to fight. These are professional cavalry in a war fought mostly by foot militia and they add a new dimension to the Saxon forces.

It's not easy to find a new take on such a well known story and the author does it well. The story rattles on at a good pace, with plenty of action and several sub plots. A good read.

Sunday 10 January 2016

GoT - Lannister Pikemen

I have started to use my Game of Thrones armies for Lion Rampant as well as SAGA. This requires some additional troops for the standard 24pt army.

A box of Perry Miniatures, European Infantry 1450-1500 provides some 40 figures in a huge variety of combinations at outstanding value for money. The big downside of this variety is assembly, but Perry's are not bad and it didn't take that long.

The first unit up assembled and painted is a unit of pikemen. I settled for a simple one stage painting followed by army painter dip. This is quick and easy and produces a decent result.

You can pad out a Game of Thrones army with almost any medieval figure, either as feudal troops or sell swords. I did that at the club today. Tywin Lannister and his unit of knights performed miserably in both games, but the new pikemen held their own. Some crossbowmen next I think.


Saturday 9 January 2016

Battle of Bataan 1942

One of those ‘on this day’ tweets reminded me that the siege of Bataan started at this time in World War Two. Over the holidays I had been sorting out some old pre-digital photo albums, including my trip to the Far-East in 1993.

The Battle of Bataan was fought between 7 January and 9 April 1942, after the Japanese invaded Luzon along with several islands in the Philippines. General Douglas MacArthur, consolidated all of his Luzon-based units on the Bataan Peninsula after the original beachhead defensive plan failed. By this time, the Japanese controlled nearly all of Southeast Asia and the Bataan peninsula and the island of Corregidor were the only remaining Allied strongholds in the region. Filipino and American forces engaged in a fighting retreat southward that ended on the fortress island of Corregidor on 9 April. The delay cost the Japanese valuable time and prohibited immediate victory across the Pacific.

While I was in the Far-East I visited the Philippines and the island of Corregidor, which has a museum and well preserved fortifications.

The top picture is Corregidor and the bottom the Bataan peninsular

War memorials

The Malinta Tunnel that goes under the rock at Corregidor and housed the army HQ, hospital and other services

Battery Way

Battery Hearn. Its 12" WW1 era gun had the longest range  and engaged in counter battery fire right up the peninsular

Battery Crockett had two positions equipped with 12" cannon

No US or Filipino figures my collection, but I do have these 28mm Japanese.

Monday 4 January 2016

One ridge, two bridges

Another fill in job completed on the early war Germans in 15mm with some more rifle teams. I was thinking about a Seelowe Nord scenario, when it occurred to me that my Nomonham 1939 Russians would also work for a Barbarossa scenario.

This month's Miniature Wargames offered a suitable scenario, based on an 1809 battle. The essence of the scenario is a ridge at one end of the table as an objective. However, half way across the table is a river with two crossing points. So the Russians have to decide how much of their force to commit at the river crossings and the Germans where to direct the Schwerpunkt. The game was played in 15mm using Flames of War rules.

The Russians decided on a forward Defence with an armoured reserve behind the wood and artillery on the ridge. The Germans dummied to the left crossing but put in the main effort on the right.

The Germans force their way across the river but lost a lot of armour. Must remember how light early war German tanks are!

Would never have got there without priority air support from the Stukas.

This is a good scenario for a range of periods. The Miniature Wargames article includes ancient, horse and musket as well as WW2. A good end to my holiday gaming - back to work tomorrow!


Friday 1 January 2016

Looking forward (and back) in 2016

Happy New Year! The New Year is a time to look back, and more importantly, to look forward.

My blogging slipped a bit last year, but I still managed a post per week on average. Looking back on some of the rule sets I tested, not all have met the test of time, despite my original enthusiasm. However, I did complete my new projects for the year, covering Sheriffmuir 1715 and the Second Serbian uprising 1815.

I have also just completed the first stage of the rebuilding of the Balkan Military History website. After 18 years it needed a clear out and a new platform. It has a new home at www.balkanhistory.org and the old site will be an archive while I slowly work through the massive amount of content accumulated over the years. The new platform is much easier to update, so expect more news updates than the old monthly cycle.

My projects for this year are in the main some filling in. Expanding my Game of Thrones armies for Lion Rampant or Saga, in anticipation of the new TV series in April. More Bolt Action troops for Yugoslavia and some WW2 15mm fillers. The big job is French Allies in 28mm for the Peninsular War – Poles, Italians and Wild Geese. 

As usual I will take a look at centenaries for project inspiration. This year’s Balkan centenaries are interesting, but fortunately I have most of the armies already.

The last British troops evacuated Gallipoli on 9 January 1916. After the Brusilov offensive in June, Romania declared war against the Central Powers. Not a great success this one and I don’t know any figure manufacturer who does WW1 Romanians, so that may deter me. 

Mainstream WW1 interest will no doubt focus on the Somme (July) and Verdun (Feb) centenaries. It is also the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa v Pershing could provide some interesting skirmish games. On a skirmish note, the Easter Rising could provide a challenge for the model-building specialists and I expect to see the Dublin Post Office on the show circuit this year.

Nothing much happened in 1816 as the world recovered from the Napoleonic Wars - although the Bombardment of Algiers, marked the beginning of the end for the Barbary pirates.

1716 brings a special Balkan centenary, with the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Petrovaradin on 5 August. I have done Prince Eugene’s famous victory on the Danube before and this will be an opportunity to dust down the armies and the fortress I built.

On 10 January 1616, Sir Thomas Roe presented credentials to the Mughal Emperor Jahangir - opening the door to the British presence in India. I feel an opportunity to dust down my Mughal armies here. 1616 was also when Cardinal Richelieu was appointed, turning France into a centralised state – although for wargamers an excuse for some Three Musketeer games!

The Ottomans and Persians were still at war in 1616 and there was a little known victory for the Safavids at Lake Gokce in Armenia. Not even sure of the date, but I have these armies in 28mm. The Uskok War 1615-18 was also continuing between Venice and the Habsburgs. After my summer visit to Senj, I must use this as an excuse to get my Uskoks onto the table.

A century earlier the Ottoman’s did somewhat better. In July 1515, Sultan Selim invaded Mameluk Syria and defeated them at the Battle of Yaunis Khan in October.

Medieval centenaries include the 5 July 1316 Battle of Manolada in the Peloponnese. This was an Angevin win for Louis of Burgundy over Ferdinand and the dreaded Catalan Company. Back in England a century earlier, the First Barons War was being waged. This included the little known French occupation of London and half of England by Louis VIII. King John’s death in November 1216 allowed William Marshall to recover the royal cause on behalf of Prince Henry. Richard Brooks, ‘The Knight Who Saved England’ is a good read on this conflict.

In July 1116, the Doge of Venice defeated Stephen II of Hungary who attempted to relieve Zadar and other towns in Dalmatia - bringing the Adriatic coast of modern Croatia under Venetian control for 700 years. This might inspire me to take a closer look at early Venetian armies.

In 1016 some of my favourite historical characters, the Norman mercenaries in Southern Italy made their appearance. They were hired by Melus of Bari to attack Byzantine-held Southern Italy. The books of John Julius Norwich are just brilliant on this subject.

Going right back into ancient times we have the Battle of Mardia in December 316AD. Constantine I defeated his rival Licinius and Valerius Valens near the town of Harmanli in modern day Bulgaria. 

However, the big anniversary for ancient gamers must be the Battle of Cannae. On August 2 216BC, Hannibal’s 40,000+ Carthaginian army defeats a Roman force of 70,000 led by consuls Paullus and Varro. This was the classic double envelopment, and in my view, the finest victory by the greatest general of all time.

So, plenty to pick from in 2016 centenaries. Not too much painting required for me – although Pancho Villa is very tempting and I have already ordered the Osprey’s!

P.S. On a positive note my football team, Fulham, has a new manager from the Balkans. By some coincidence Slavisa Jokanovic was born in Novi Sad, which is the city next to Petrovaradin. I hope that is a good omen for what's left of the season!