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 28 March 2017

1848 - The Austrians

Next stop in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution project is the Austrian army.

The Austrian army recovered from a bad start to be successful on all fronts. It largely remained loyal to the Hapsburg's and ended the war with 648,000 men under arms and 1200 guns. However, the ethnic divisions may have suppressed, but it was a divide that would dog the army until the empire came crashing down in 1918.

A typical division had two or sometimes three brigades. A brigade had around four battalions and an artillery battery. Foot included grenadiers, line, jager and grenzer, who by this time operated as line infantry. There is a good description of their campaigns in 'The Army of Francis Joseph' by Gunther Rothenberg.

My first two units are jager and grenzer. All from the Steve Barber range.

Saturday 25 March 2017


When I first got interested in the Balkans, I started with the big general studies by Schevill, Jelavich, Fine etc. These describe the historical events, but don't give a flavour of the people and places. I am great believer in walking a battlefield to understand it, but the next best option is a good travelogue, as we can't visit everywhere. I read a wide range of these, many from the 1960's, when Yugoslavia was a popular destination for English language travel writers.

On this theme, I spotted a review for 'Border' by Kapka Kassabova. She grew up in Bulgaria, but now lives in Scotland. She has written about her travels in a rarely visited part of the Balkans - the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, broadly Thrace, although the ancient tribal area covered a much larger territory.

Like every good travel writer, she gives a bit of history to introduce each part of her travels and liberally sprinkles historical points in most chapters. This is a part of the Balkans that has seen huge upheavals in the past 200 years, with whole populations being moved both ways across the borders. Ethnic cleansing, before it entered common usage. It was also a hard border in the 20th Century, during the Cold War and even between NATO 'allies' Greece and Turkey.

The author spends some time in cities like Edirne, but most of her stays are in small villages. The locals tell their own story, often tragic. This is not a cheery read, but there are many tales of kindness, often from people who had little to give in the material sense. There are also some great characters!

It was Radio 4's 'Book of the week' and would probably be a good listen in audio. I struggled a bit after the first few chapters, but I am glad I persevered, it's well worth the effort.

Talking of Thracians, here a few ancient warriors from my collection. These are from the Foundry range, some of my very favourite figures.

Saturday 18 March 2017

1848 - The Hungarian Revolution

Another wicked figure manufacturer has dragged me into a new project. In this case Steve Barber Models and their new 28mm range ‘Europe in Revolution’ – specifically the Hungarian Uprising.

1848 was the year of liberal revolutions, sparked in France (although arguably Sicily), which ushered in the Second Republic. Over 50 countries were affected, even Britain where the Chartists sowed the seeds of later reforms. There was little coordination between the countries involved, but there were some common themes. These included demands for greater democracy, and press freedoms, with common cause between the working and middle classes against autocratic regimes.

Nationalism also played a part and that was the driver for the Hungarian uprising. The aim was an independent state separate from Austria, although initially retaining the Hapsburg monarchy. Hungary in 1848 was a much larger state than today and included many minorities that also wanted autonomy.

The Austrian’s spent the summer putting down revolts elsewhere in the Empire before a force led by the Croat commander, Joseph Jellacic, advanced on Budapest. He was defeated and withdrew towards Vienna, where he rallied with the main Austrian army and defeated the Hungarians. The Austrian’s counter-attacked, Budapest was captured in January 1849 and with Russian assistance most of the country was occupied. The Hungarian’s under Kossuth rallied new armies and declared against the Hapsburgs. However, in June 1849 a fresh Austrian and Russian offensive gradually retook all the Hapsburg lands.

The new Hungarian government had the support of some regulars and was in the process of creating a National Guard. However, they created a volunteer army called the ‘Honved’, which has different meanings in Hungarian including, ‘army’, ‘national army’, or just a patriotic name for a soldier. These volunteers were a mixture of peasants and workers with a leavening of better-educated young men. The first ten battalions were to become the elite troops of the army. The army went on to raise 75 battalions following conscription and recruitment from deserters. At its peak, the army raised 148 battalions (170,000 men), but equipment was limited with some battalions armed only with scythes.

Uniforms were a problem, even though the first battalions were supplied from central stores. Locally raised units were supplied from local sources leading to an array of uniform styles. These are covered in Ralph Weaver’s book ‘The Hungarian Army 1848-1849’, published by Partisan Press. For a more detailed history of the revolution I would recommend, ‘The Lawful Revolution – Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848-49’, by Istvan Deak.

The Steve Barber range includes three uniform types and an officer figure. I intend this to be a skirmish level collection (famous last words!), probably using ‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’, or ‘Sharp Practice 2’.

So, here are the first units and I look forward (I think!) to the range being expanded. Ralph’s book includes some wonderful potential models, including Polish and Tyrolean supporters.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Great War and the Middle East

This year is the centenary of the fall of Jerusalem in 1917 to the allied army led by General Allenby. My understanding of this campaign goes little further than the brilliant film 'The Lighthorsemen' which includes the famous charge of the Australian Light Horse at the Battle of Beersheeba with drawn bayonets.

So armed with my Xmas book tokens, my eye was drawn to a serious study of the campaigns by Rob Johnson, The Great War and the Middle East.

The author's speciality is the strategic context and that is obvious in the introductory and final chapters. He argues that the Middle East was not a sideshow to the Western Front. it was a crucial theatre of operations for the British Empire and the Ottoman and German efforts to undermine it. The post-war redrawing of borders is important to the present day. As David Lloyd George put it:

"When the history of 1917 comes to be written, and comes to be read ages hence, these events in Mesopotamia and Palestine will hold a much more conspicuous place in the minds and memories of the people than many an event which looms much larger for the moment in our sight."

This was far from the conventional wisdom in 1917, particularly in the General Staff, but I suspect Lloyd George would be happy with this book.

The operational aspects of the campaigns are not overlooked. The author takes a broad definition of the Middle East and includes the Gallipoli campaign, the Caucasus and the Arab revolt in his narrative of the war. He covers the failure at Kut and contrasts this with the later campaign, commanded by one of the new breed of industrial generals who understood the power of artillery and the importance of logistics.

He finishes with the post war conflicts and the implications for today's conflicts in Middle East.

This isn't a light or quick read. However, if you read one book on the war in the Middle East, then this is probably it.

And for the wargamer some Ottoman artillery from my 15mm collection.

Sunday 5 March 2017

That pile of plastic

My gaming productivity has dropped significantly recently, busy time at work. So I thought I would dip into the pile of plastic in the 'to be painted someday' box every wargamer has.

First out were some Hyenas from the Conan game. Nice simple paint job these. The GDWS participation game at Carronade in May will be using the Conan figures in a Dragon Rampant adaption. The challenge will be to rescue the Princess from the castle guarded by a priest of Set. Testing the game in a couple of weeks, so watch this space.

On the subject of shows, don't forget to support the Dumfries show, Albanich, next Saturday. I know it's a bit of a trek for many, but it is usually worth the effort.

Next up are some reinforcements for my Caucasus 1942 project. Some Russian 120mm mortars (Plastic Soldier Company), should beef up the Soviet firepower in the absence of mass T34s and other kit. I need some more infantry, but couldn't face painting more bland Russians. So I have decided to go for a Naval infantry company. That arrived this week, adding yet again to the pile!

And finally, some Gebirgsjager. You can never have enough!