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

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Dardanelles and Salonika 1916

2015 was the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, although the final evacuation took place in 1916 and the naval campaign went on until the end of the war.

The naval campaign is covered well in my Easter reading of Dan Van Der Vat’s ‘The Dardanelles Disaster’, which looks not only at the naval actions, but also the political and land actions as well. I read his story of the Goeben’s escape to Turkey in ‘The Ship that Changed the World’, some years ago, and very good it is. His essential thesis is that by embroiling Turkey into World War 1, the war went on for two years longer than it might otherwise have done.

Moving on to this year’s WW1 Balkan centenaries, we have the allied advance out of Salonika leading to the British led campaigns at Dorian and in the Struma Valley. The Struma Valley campaign provides some good scenarios for WW1 games that are manageable. As wargamers we are spared the attention of mosquitos, which were the abiding memory of British troops who served there according to memoirs. The British army newspaper was even called ‘The Mosquito’.

The French and Serbs, with some Italian and Russian support, successfully advanced into what was then Serbia by capturing Monastir. These offensives had the effect of forcing the Germans to shift troops from the Western Front, while Verdun was raging, to bolster the Bulgarian army. 

I have covered these campaigns in a feature article at Balkan Military History. It will also be the basis of the GDWS display game at the Carronade wargames show in Falkirk on 7 May. Lots of 28mm figures in a pretty open WW1 game, at least by 1916 standards.

I will be covering some of the physical ground this summer on a trip to Macedonia. So expect plenty of photos of what’s there to be seen, although I will also cover the WW2 campaigns over similar ground and a bit of ancients as well.

Monday 28 March 2016

Napoleon's Irish Legion

The latest reinforcements for the French in my 28mm Peninsular War project, comes in the form of Napoleon’s Irish Legion. A bit exotic, but French line units are just too boring.

The French acquired a number Irish recruits from their abortive 1798 and 1801 rebellions, and there were plenty of Frenchmen of Irish descent given the long tradition of Irish troops in French service.

The Irish Legion mustered at Morlaix in Brittany in December 1803. They were organised as a light infantry battalion. The first casualty was caused by a duel, something of a regular occurrence!

They had rear echelon duties in the Ulm and Prussian campaigns, followed by garrison duties on the Channel coast, before being posted to Spain in 1808. The creation of a second battalion resulted in the Legion being reclassified as the Irish Regiment in December 1808. In April 1809 it was expanded to the full four battalions, although this diluted the national character of the unit, which attracted recruits from all over Europe.

In Spain, two battalions formed part of Junot’s 8th Corps in the Army of Portugal. It then spent six months fighting guerrillas, before distinguishing themselves at the sieges of Astorga and Cuidad Rodrigo.

They were part of Massena’s failed invasion of Portugal and were present at Bussaco. Their losses during the campaign meant they formed only one battalion after they reached the lines of Torres Vedras. This battalion formed the rear guard in the retreat from Portugal and fought at Fuentes d’Onoro in 1811. The rest of the year was spent on counter-insurgency, before losing its national designation on becoming Third Foreign Regiment in August 1811.

The main attraction of the unit for me was the green coat with yellow – a dash of colour amongst the blue. The figures include a few left over Warlord French line, supplemented by Front Rank. Metal and plastic give a bit more weight to the base on the table as well. The flag is the Irish Regiment version, not the earlier legion, and comes from the Flags of War range.

Friday 25 March 2016

John Bellany and the Scottish Women Hospitals

Scottish artist John Bellany was inspired by the story of the Scottish Women's Hospitals (SWH) to create a large series of paintings and drawings. Some of these have recently been on display in the Scottish Parliament.

The driving force of SWH was Dr Elsie Inglis, one of the very first women to become a doctor in the 1880's. When she offered her services to the War Office she was dismissed with the words 'My good lady, go home and sit still'. Other countries were not so reticent and the SWH units went to France, and my particular interest, Kragujevac in Serbia. While this story is less well known in Scotland, anniversary events are held in Serbia every year.

You can purchase a book of the exhibition in the Scottish Parliament shop and the Scots Makar, Liz Lockheed, has written a special poem for the occasion.

Here are a few photos from the exhibition.

Sunday 20 March 2016

The Vistula Legion

My Peninsular War project takes a step forward with reinforcements for the French in the form of the Vistula Legion.

The Vistula Legion was formed from Poles in Italian service and was transferred to French service in 1808. It was organised on French lines and its depot was at Sedan. All men of the Legion were Polish except for the company clerks, the fourriers, battalion adjutant non-commissioned officers, and paymasters who were to be French.

The 2nd and 3rd infantry regiments of the Vistula Legion participated in Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 and were joined by a regiment of Lancers. The Legion grew to a force of 16,000 men. They took part in a number of actions, including the siege of Saragossa and the Battle of Talavera in 1809. They mostly fought in the eastern provinces under Suchet and their final action was at Sagunto in October 1811.

Probably their most famous action was at the Battle of Albuera in May 181, when the Vistula lancers destroyed Colborne's British infantry brigade. By February 1812 all Polish units were on the Ebro, before joining the army for the invasion of Russia. Polish casualties in Spain were around 40,000 in a bitter campaign with atrocities in both sides.

The infantry figures below come from the Warlord range. The lancers, and command figures are Front Rank, artillery are Perry Miniatures.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Images of War: Battle for Greece and Crete

Any book with the title 'War in the Balkans' is likely to have me reaching for my wallet and this was no exception.

The series 'Images of war' from Pen and Sword had passed me by until I saw this title, which covers the battle for Greece and Crete 1940-41. Each chapter has a potted history of a section of the campaign, rarely more than 4 pages. The strength of this series is the use of rare photographs from wartime archives. In this case mostly from German, Australian and British sources. This means the section on the war in Albania is a bit light, but the German invasion period is excellent.

Lots of pictures of the A10 cruiser tank, including one of close support version. I've always liked the look of this tank although it had a shocking record for mechanical reliability. The British lost more to track failure than German gunfire.

A few other gems include captured Yugoslavian Renault R35's and a Skoda T32 tankette that I hadn't seen before. Lots of photographs of Marmon-Herrington armoured cars that served with the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry.

There are also a few pictures of Vickers Light tanks, including those that defended Crete. Just the job, as I picked this one up at Albanich last Saturday!

Saturday 12 March 2016

Albanich 2016

I was in Dumfries today for the Albanich 2016 show. I haven't been for a couple of years as it clashes with a work commitment, so a welcome cancelled meeting gave me the opportunity to make the journey.

This is a small but enjoyable show, early in the show calendar, that attracts some nice games and a good range of traders. It's a bit of a trek for most gamers in Scotland, but that is balanced by being more accessible for gamers from the north of England.

I picked up some Border Reiver figures from Foundry for my Game of Thrones project, some character figures from Colonel Bill as well as some scenic items from Warbases and Figures in Comfort. And some very nice 28mm painted US WW2 figures and a Vickers light tank from Solway Miniatures.

The painting competition had some lovely entrants, I particularly liked the Gordon at Khartoum diorama.

A demo game for the 'To the Strongest' rules was popular.

The Glasgow Tradeston lads had a nice 10mm Spearhead game of Tobruk 1942.

A big ECW game of the Battle of Edgehill

A simple but effective participation game, El Dorado, for those old enough to remember the atmospheric Herzog film, Wrath of God.

The French Wars of Religion in 15mm.

And last, but certainly not least, was this Very British Civil War urban fight. With some nice aircraft models as well.


Wednesday 9 March 2016

Legionary - Gods and Emperors

My latest fiction read is the latest, and possibly the last, in Gordon Doherty's fine Legionary series.

I love classic historical fiction and one set in the Balkans is always going to be a must read. In this case the setting is Thracia in 378AD. A fateful year for the Roman Empire as Fritigern and the Goths control the region outwith the major towns and cities. Emperor Valens brings his legions back from Persia and heads for Adrianople. The Romans are heavily defeated and the Goths and their successors will go on to spread across the Empire as far as Spain.

The book follows the broad thrust of the campaign and captures the tensions and splits in both camps. Will the Western Emperor, Gratian, come to the aid of the east - or will the Gothic horde split up into tribal interests.

The focus is on a group of veteran Centurions who are drawn into the campaign and the intrigues of both emperors. The historical detail is well researched, but doesn't take over the story that moves on at a good pace.

An excellent read.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Battle of Manolada 1316

One of a number of interesting Balkan anniversaries this year is the Battle of Manolada. It was fought on July 5, 1316 at Manolada, on the plains of Elis in the Peloponnese region of Greece. The combatants were Louis of Burgundy and Ferdinand of Majorca. Both some way from home and fighting over Achaea, or what was left of the Latin Kingdom by this time.

Ferdinand formed his troops in a forest, but was forced into the open when Louis’s troops burned the trees. The Majorcan troops then charged with around 500 cavalry that broke the first Burgundian line; commanded by John Orsini, count of Cephalonia. The second line, commanded by Louis, defeated the Majorcan charge, and Ferdinand was dismounted and inadvertently slain before he could be taken prisoner.

I have drawn together what little we know of this battle in an article in Balkan Military History.

I refought the battle using Le Art de la Guerre rules and there is an army list in the article on BMH. A pretty straightforward battle with no great tactical subtlety. It was hard to see how Ferdinand could have won, so I am still struggling to understand why he didn't withdraw and join up with his allies in the Catalan Company - not to mention his Spanish reinforcements. I suspect we will never know.