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

Wednesday 31 May 2017

The Assassins

No, not the Ismaili medieval sect, for that you need James Waterson's book. This is Alan Bardos's fictional account of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo - the spark that started the First World War.

The author sticks pretty closely to the events that led up to the assassination - plumping for the middle ground between the differing theories on Serbian involvement. In short, a group of young Bosnian Serbs are funded and equipped by elements of the Serbian intelligence service, who help them to get into Bosnia and carry out the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg throne.

He shows very clearly the poor organisation and the equally negligent Hapsburg response. Even the actual shooting was almost accidental.

The one big difference is the insertion of young British diplomatic clerk into the story. Sent off into the Balkans by his boss, who's wife he was carrying on with, to write a report, or more likely get himself killed. The hapless clerk is recruited by a Hapsburg official and infiltrates the assassins group. To say this is somewhat far fetched, is something of an understatement!

However, if you suspend credulity for a few hours, this is an entertaining read.

My photo of the street in modern Sarajevo where the Archduke was shot. And there is a small museum that is worth a look. 

Monday 29 May 2017

Lake Trasimene 217BC

This month, in 217BC, Hannibal pulled off one of his greatest victories over the Romans at Lake Trasimene in the modern day Umbria region of Italy. A family holiday this week brought me within range of the battlefield.

Hannibal is the ancient general I most admire. Others may have been more victorious, but few had his leadership challenges, commanding a largely mercenary army in a campaign that took his army over the Alps and onto Rome's own territory. It was also my very first wargame army.

The previous year 218BC, Hannibal had consolidated his position amongst the Gauls and defeated a Roman army on the Trebbia. He wintered north of the Appenines and chose a particularly difficult pass south, which meant the two Roman armies waiting for him could not combine. The route took him through the marshy Arnus river basin, where he lost an eye to infection and made the journey on the remaining elephant.

He passed close to the camp of the Roman Consul Caius Flaminius at Arretium (Arrezo), ravaging Roman property to provoke him. However, Flaminius resisted the temptation and followed Hannibal down to Lake Trasimene, hoping to catch him between his and the other Roman army.

A view of the hills surrounding the northern end of the lake.

Hannibal spotted the opportunity the ground north of the lake offered him. He positioned his veteran foot on a hill, the site of the modern village of Turo, tempting Flaminius to attack. As the Roman army began to deploy from march columns, Hannibal signalled the flank attacks using Gaulish foot and the combined Punic cavalry. His light horse sealed the trap.

Some 15,000 Roman troops were killed (including Flaminius) and probably another 15,000 were taken prisoner. Hannibal released Rome's allied troops as part of his strategy to encourage them to break away from Rome. Hannibal lost around 1500 men, mostly Gauls.

There is some contention over the exact site of the battlefield, but the modern consensus favours the Sanguineto basin as the killing ground. There are 12 information boards at various stages of what is called the Hannibalic Path. They are very well done, with descriptions of the troops and key stages of the battle. The signposting could be better, but you can walk or drive around the route.

One of the twelve information boards

This picture is taken from what is thought to be Hannibal's command post, from where he signalled the attack. Yes, my 'world tour' Hannibal T-Shirt got some proper use!

No statue of Hannibal, but there is one of Flaminius. He comes in for a lot of criticism, but it's hard to see what else he could have done but attack. His failings and that of most Roman commanders of the period was poor reconnaissance.

This is an excellent battlefield to visit, as it's fairly easy to visualise and the local authorities have done a good job of presenting it to the visitor. Just south of the battlefield, is the lovely medieval town of Castiglione del Lago. A good place for some lunch and a fine medieval castle to visit as well.

Saturday 27 May 2017

La Spezia Naval Museum

The Italian naval base at La Spezia houses a small, but very fine museum that focuses on special forces and other technical aspects of naval warfare. 

The main exhibition hall has one of the two man human torpedoes that were so effective in WW2.

It also has some wonderful ship models, from Roman galleys, to Renaissance galleys and later 18th and 19th century sailing ships.

Upstairs there is a fabulous collection of ship figureheads, including several British ones.

In another exhibition hall there are a range of gun turrets and other weaponry.

And finally, outside there are various ships cannon and other equipment.

There are very few signs in English, so you have to make do. Nonetheless, well worth a visit.

You can also see the modern naval base, with old and new frigates on show.

The surrounding area has a fine array of medieval castles, reflecting the 200 year conflict between Genoa and Pisa. This one at Lerichi, is particularly impressive. 

Sunday 21 May 2017

Bolt Action - Campaign Sea Lion

Operation Seelowe is one of my favourite WW2 campaigns, so purchasing the new Bolt Action supplement was a no brainer.

And very good it is too. It starts and finishes with an explanation of the German plans and how it might have turned out. There is much of the 'What if' in this supplement, which won't please the purists, but the rest of us will love it.

There are lots of new British units, including the Royal Navy, Local Defence Volunteers and of course Captain Mainwaring and the Home Guard.  Longbow armed rural patrols, may be stretching it a little, but apparently they did exist. There are lots of auxiliary units, strange artillery and armoured vehicles. Not forgetting an armoured train, minefields and an array of fortifications.

For the Germans we have Brandenburger units, Abwehr agents and the British Union of Fascists. Their new equipment includes various invasion barges, amphibious tanks and gliders. Finally there are ten scenarios and a campaign.

Fans of the Very British Civil War genre will find lots to like in this supplement and many of the figures will come in useful. I would also recommend Andy Johnson's book, Seelowe Nord, which is a fictional account of landings in Yorkshire.

I haven't played much Bolt Action recently, but this supplement will certainly get me back into the fold.

One of my Seelowe Nord games in 15mm

Vickers light tank in 28mm

The Duchess's Hussars - why not!

Sunday 14 May 2017

Carronade 2017

Thanks to the Falkirk club for organising another great show - Carronade 2017.

Carronade is one of the two big shows in Scotland held each year - helpfully a few months apart. The venue is a large secondary school that has several halls and canteen facilities. This accommodated 35 games and 40 plus traders.

This year seemed busier than normal and the organisers confirmed that with the numbers coming through the door - a positive sign for the hobby in Scotland. Our participation game was certainly non-stop, with hardly a gap between games and even squeezing in a quick version before closing. Usually you can start breaking down before 4pm, but not this year.

This means I didn't get much time to look at the other games and only bought a few bits and pieces. But what I did see was first class.

Starting with our GDWS game that required players to rescue the princess from the castle using Conan and his war band. The rules were a cut down version of Dan Mersey's 'Dragon Rampant'. It worked really well, with players picking up the essentials very quickly. The Princess got rescued six times, but a few were close run things.

The Princess rescued again - with the priest of Set getting his just deserts

We spared no expense with the prizes!

Here are some others that caught my eye.

French Indian War, if I recall using Muskets and Tomahawk rules

The Men Who Would be Kings - great rules, we will be using these for our game at Claymore

The Aegean 1941 - I have always wanted to try some games based on this campaign

Old school 30mm Seven Years War from the Tyneside visitors

I'm not a big sci-fi fan but this Dropzone Commander game was visually impressive

Spanish Civil War - No Passaran comrades!

No idea how Antares plays - but it certainly has colourful foliage

The Grahams are a raiding in the Border Reivers game. Lovely tower model

Great Northern War from the League of Augsburg

Hundred Years War - with some Scots fighting for the French

Ramilles, showing how small scales do big battles well.

Sunday 7 May 2017

Soviet Naval Infantry

My Soviet infantry for the Caucasus 1942 project needed some reinforcements. I couldn't face painting another pile of brown Soviets, so I turned to the naval infantry who played a significant role in the campaign. The Osprey campaign book has a great colour plate featuring them defending the Proletary cement factory.

The Soviet Navy contributed almost 100,000 sailors to roughly 30 infantry brigades fighting on land. As the war progressed, these naval infantrymen were assimilated into regular Red Army formations. However, in the Caucasus in 1942 they were primarily naval personnel transferred into land formations. Often with minimal training, they learned on the job. They also had fewer support units, particularly artillery, than normal rifle brigades.

My figures are from the Battlefront range. The basic uniform was black, although many also had blue shirts. A nice quick paint job for these four squads. There is enough in the pack for four more and some sub-machine gun squads.

And onto the tabletop. I haven't tried the new Flames of War rules, but they are a set that need a lot of playing and I don't do much 15mm WW2 these days. So I returned to Iron Cross, a much simpler fast play set of rules for the period. There are some gaps, but a bit of common sense can plug those.

The German mountain troops with tank support struggled to make progress up this river valley, particularly after the Soviet ATGs quickly knocked out the tanks - hurra!

Friday 5 May 2017

Rebellion's Forge

This is the third in the 'Blood of Kings' series by K.M.Ashman. The setting is Wales in 1109, a country divided into a number of independent Welsh kingdoms and a substantial English presence. There is a truce between the English King Henry and the Welsh kingdoms, but revolts and unrest are commonplace.

A number of characters in the second book continue to play a role, most notably Prince Nesta who was married off to an English knight, and her brothers who organise different rebellions. The Welsh kings are torn between the realpolitik of protecting their kingdoms and moral support for rebellion.

The story appears to follow very broadly what we know of the period, which is not a great deal. It has small scale actions, rather than big battles - coupled with intrigue and treachery. The story is told well by an accomplished and fairly prolific author. I will keep reading this series.

For the wargamer this is definitely Lion Rampant territory. The rules fit this type of warfare really well.