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

Saturday 27 August 2016

Cold War Commander - Greek/Turkish border

Recent events in Turkey reminded me to dust down my 1/300th micro armour collection of modern Turkish forces, together with the Greeks, for a fictional (I hope) clash on the border. 

Greek-Turkish rivalries are long standing, and despite both being NATO members, they maintain significant forces on the common border. There have been many attempts to resolve their outstanding differences in the Aegean and Cyprus, but with limited progress.

It has been argued (Heraclides 2011) that this lack of progress is because various incompatible conflicts are but the tip of the iceberg. The real reasons for the impasse, the essence of the rivalry, are the historical memories and traumas, real or imagined that are part and parcel of their national narratives, together with their respective collective identities which are built on slighting and demonising each other.

The next question was, what rules should I use? My rules of choice for the modern period has been Modern Spearhead. It's a good system, even if the movement mechanism is a bit clunky. A game at a pals introduced me to Cold War Commander, the modern version of Blitzkrieg Commander. I bought a PDF version of both rules, but lost them when I thought iBooks backed up on the Cloud - warning, it doesn't! You can't buy a set at present because Pendraken have bought them and are planning to update them (sadly a delayed project), but I borrowed my pals spare copy.

Cold War Commander is a fast play system, with some fairly simple mechanisms that can be picked up quickly. Each command (typically a battalion) has a command value and you can move, fire etc by rolling below that value. When you get close, an initiative stage allows one move without an order. Each base (typically representing a platoon) has movement and firing stats on army lists in the rules. You roll a number of dice for hits and armoured units have a saving throw. Lots of abstractions, but the game flows quickly and I like them.

Onto the game. This is the table with the Greek armoured battlegroup nearest and the Turkish equivalents crossing the river. The objective is the small town. 

The Turkish infantry win the race for the town, but their supporting tank units are a bit slow.

This enables the Greek infantry to capture the town supported fully by their own tanks. Both sides had artillery and air support, but they didn't dominate.

I enjoyed this game, which has rekindled my interest in the period.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Sharp Practice 2: Austro-Turkish Wars - Peterwardein 1716

This month is the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Peterwardein in 1716. The Austrian's, led by Prince Eugene, defeated the Ottoman Turks. The Fortress of Peterwardein (Petrovaradin) is on the Danube, opposite the modern Serbian city of Novi Sad.

GDWS did a big display game of this battle at Claymore in 2006, as part of a series we called Eugene in the Balkans. With Sharp Practice 2 I thought I would dust down some of the figures and scenery.

Here is the table with part of the fortress on the left and the Ottoman siege works on the right.

Sipahis supported by light cavalry attacking an Austrian formation in the centre.

Janissaries and Arnaut skirmishers on the left engage with another Austrian infantry formation supported by Croats.

And on the right Austrian Dragoons and Croat Hussars engage more Ottoman cavalry.

The Sipahis as impact cavalry were too strong for the Austrian dragoons, although they lost too many casualties to successfully follow up into the Croats. The Jannisaries were defeated by the Austrian foot as were the Sipahis in the centre. All this seemed about right, albeit its only one game.

How to classify Ottoman units is a challenge in most Horse and Musket rules, particularly Jannisaries. I made them regular, but not controlled volleys and aggressive as well as ignoring the no bayonets rule, because of their swords.

My army lists are set out below and I would welcome any thoughts from other players. Thanks.

 This is a link to Serbian TV coverage (starts at 3:12) of the exhibition prepared for the centenary. Nice diorama as well.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

2017 War with Russia

My holiday fiction reading was '2017 War with Russia' by General Sir Richard Shirreff. He is a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. 

The book argues that under President Putin, Russia has charted a dangerous course that may lead to a clash with NATO. He is encouraged by the failure to stand strong in the face of Russian aggression and the cuts in NATO's conventional military capacity. It tells the story of how, thanks to a series of misjudgements and policy blunders, NATO and the West stumble into a catastrophic war with Russia. UK Defence cuts come in for particular criticism.

The scenario is a Russian invasion of the Baltic states on the pretext of defending the Russian minority population, as in the Ukraine. NATO fails to deter the attack due to political dithering and it is left to local forces to continue a guerrilla war. The counterattack is eventually pulled together and they choose to attack the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, to effectively barter it for the Baltic states. The attack is led by US units, assisted by a cyber attack from the UK.

The story is told at the strategic level through the NATO commanders and the political leaders. In parallel, there is a tactical story of a Mercian Regiment officer stranded in Lativa on a training mission and a Spetsnaz officer.

The political message is predictable from a former General with arguably only a limited grasp of the wider political context of defence cuts. However, whatever view you take of the politics, this is a good story, well told. Certainly a must read for modern wargamers. 

Saturday 13 August 2016

Sharp Practice 2 - Peninsular War

My second game of Sharp Practice 2 was in traditional Sharp territory - the Peninsular War.

Two 70 point armies. The 'French' were actually mostly Polish, Italian and Irish troops against a British force. Both sides had three leaders.

This is the tabletop after the deployment moves, British on the right.

The first clash was a cavalry battle between Polish Lancers and British Light Dragoons. The Brits won, but next move got canistered by the Polish artillery and fled.

The main Polish advance is met by skirmishing rifles and controlled volleys from the British line with artillery support. They didn't get very far.

On the left flank the Italians advanced through a wood and gave the Rifles and Highlanders a hard time. Score draw this one by the time the French morale had collapsed.

Good game, but now I am beginning to get a grasp of the rules, I need a better QRF. Too much flicking through pages.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

1914 Serbia Must Die

I am not a huge fan of board wargames, but I am inevitably drawn to one covering a Balkan subject. So, I was parted with my cash at Claymore for '1914 Serbien muss sterbien (Serbia must die)'. This was the jingoistic jingle shouted throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the outbreak of war.

For £36 you get a very nice map of northern Serbia and the surrounding regions (modern day Croatia and Bosnia), counters for the units at divisional level with some brigades and regiments, as well as supply and other game markers. 

The playbook offers four scenarios. An introductory scenario for the August 1914 Battle of the Macva, followed by the grand campaign and finally the Serbian counterattack over the Drina. The fourth scenario is an alternative history in which Russia does not intervene and the Empire is allowed a short punitive war with a significant numerical superiority.

Regular boardgamers will no doubt be familiar with the game mechanics of this type of game. For those who are not, it’s very hard going. The sample of play in the playbook is helpful, but you are still left with some overly complex mechanics which make for very slow play. However, I concede that it is a very good way of understanding the campaign. There is a decent bibliography, to which I would add Max Hastings' ‘Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War’, for a sense of the chaotic Austrian advance. I summarise the opening shots here, with some pictures of tabletop models.

I would have bought this game just for the map and counters - using them for a campaign that fights the battles on the tabletop. Otherwise, it’s one for the specialist boardgamers and a headache for everyone else.

Monday 8 August 2016

Battle of Evesham 1265

Heading back from a trip to my Mum’s we stopped off at Evesham, site of the decisive battle of the Second Baron’s War on 4 August 1265.

After the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Simon de Montfort held King Henry III and was the effective ruler of England. However, Henry’s son Edward escaped and gathered an army that challenged Montfort at Evesham.

Edward and the Royalists took position on the high ground just north of the town. Montfort was probably outnumbered two to one, so he decided to concentrate his forces hoping to drive a wedge through the centre of the Royalist line. However, the attack lost momentum and the flanks of the royal army closed in on Montfort's troops, massacring them.

Most of the baronial rebels were killed on the battlefield rather than taken prisoner and ransomed, setting a precedent that reached its conclusion in the Wars of the Roses. Montfort and one of his sons died fighting and King Henry was rescued.

The war petered out with a negotiated settlement that allowed rebel barons to buy their property back.

The battlefield is largely farmland and woods today and is marked by a battlefield trail and information boards, as well as an obelisk and a tower. The town has a small museum with a room dedicated to the battle, next to a largely ruined abbey. It also has a very well stocked model soldier shop!

I haven't gamed the battle, but we did a display game that featured Montfort's equally ferocious dad, another Simon, at the Battle of Muret 1213. For further reading I would recommend John Sadler's book on the Second Barons' War.

One of the monuments

An information board at the battlewell site

Looking down from the Royalist position

Saturday 6 August 2016

Claymore 2016

It was the Claymore show in Edinburgh today. A good collection of traders and a balance between display and participation games.

We did a participation game, a lot more effort than our more usual display format, but worth it. We had a steady flow of gamers for our 28mm game, Pancho Villa and the Gold Train. The outcome was two all, so the scenario was at least balanced. Very pleased to be in the Gym Hall as the Atrium can get very hot.

I only had time for one tour around the other games and traders, but these are the games that caught my eye.

Another nice Bolt Action game with good scenery.

The buildings in this game, Littleness Designs I think, were very nice.

The Falkirk club's massive Boxer Rebellion game.

ECW battle of York in 1644.

First time I have seen Cannae done in a way that shows off Hannibal's double envelopment so well.

This sc-fi game wins the prize for busiest table!

Custer's last stand always makes a good participation game

SAGA showing off their forthcoming battle rules, Swordpoint.

The Lardies on a similar mission with Sharp Practice

Kirriemuir with another big ancients game, Gaugamela.

Arnhem from the Aberdeen folks.

Spearhead Tobruk from Glasgow Tradeston.

And finally, League of Augsburg.

Numbers seemed pretty good and thanks to the South East Scotland club for putting the show on.

Monday 1 August 2016

Crimea - A History

My holiday non-fiction reading has been Neil Kent's, 'Crimea - A History'.

For Brits at least, our understanding of the Crimea goes little further than the Crimean War. Battlefields such as Alma, Inkerman and Sevastopol in the peninsular, appear as street names in just about every city in the UK - not to mention the Balaclava helmets that many of us still wore as kids in winter.

This year the Crimea hit the headlines again, with the Russian 'invasion' of the Crimea and its de-facto separation from Ukraine. Today the ethnic majority is most certainly Russian, the excuse for Putin's invasion, but it has not always been so.

The Greeks were one of the earliest to colonise the Crimea, followed by invasions from the Scythian's, Huns, Mongols and others. The Tartars were vital allies/subjects of the Ottoman Empire and spearheaded most of their assaults on Christian Europe. Russia used the Cossacks, primarily as a buffer against the Tartars, although even then there were significant Armenian and Jewish populations. It was only in the Soviet period that the Tartars were ethnically cleansed from the region and large numbers of Russians moved in. It was Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954.

Neil Kent has written a concise and very readable history of the region. Well worth a read.