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 29 July 2017

Byzantium Triumphant

The Byzantine army generally doesn't get a good press. Its many failings over the centuries tend to dominate the memory, with the possible exception of Belisarius. This book by Julian Romane, offers a correction for the period 959 to 1025.

It was by no means a stable period. It starts with the reign of Romanus II whose general Nicephorus conquered Crete and defeated the Muslim armies in the East. When Romanus died unexpectedly young the heirs apparent were five and two years old, creating the space for Nicephorus to take the throne. The author explains very clearly the power structures in the Empire that allowed him to gain control.

A new campaign in the East resulted in the conquest of Cilicia and then campaigns in Italy and the Balkans. The conflict with Bulgaria is a recurring part of the story during this period. The soldier emperors of the period often came from families like the Phocas whose lands were in the East and had little time for the City. It all ended badly with his murder and replacement by John Tzimiskes.

Tzimiskes was a popular and successful emperor. The main campaign of the period was against the Rus, led by Svyatoslav, who had occupied parts of Bulgaria. The Byzantine victory at Dorystolon, ended the campaign and brought the Rus into the Orthodox sphere of influence.

John died in 976 and as Basil and Constantine were of age they took the throne. Two emperors might appear to be a recipe for chaos, but in practice it worked well. The two brothers trusted each other - Basil was the soldier and Constantine the administrator. They faced a rebellion almost immediately from Bardas Skleros, another military family from the eastern themes. He had some success in the East, but was unable to advance to Constantinople.

It was Basil who instituted the Varangian Guard and used it to squash another revolt in the East, this time led by Bardas Phocas. He went on to break up the great houses and defeat the Fatimids in the East. He also defeated the Bulgarians, led by Tsar Samuel, in campaign that ended at the Battle of Kleidion. His claimed blinding of 15,000 prisoners, brought him the title Basil the Bulgar Slayer, but the author argues that at most it was 1500.

The two emperors left the Empire in its strongest position for 500 years, both internally and on the frontiers.

Most of the book is a straightforward narrative history of the period. However, the final third includes appendices on the sources, the development of the army and the role of the Great Palace. The appendix on the organisation of cavalry is particularly good.

Overall, this is a very good military history of the period.

Let's finish with some axe wielding Varangians.

Friday 21 July 2017

Operation Sea Lion - Buildings

I was reviewing the 28mm buildings I have that are suitable for WW2 Britain and decided I could do with a few additions.

All the immediate searches pointed to an impressive array of MDF buildings. I realise that I may be in a minority here, but I just don't like MDF buildings. They don't have the depth I am looking for, and however detailed, they still look, well wooden.

My preference is for resin, but there is a surprising dearth of options. Plenty of buildings suitable for pre-20th century, but I have many of these already, some of which will still work for WW2. In the end I settled for two from the Magister Militum Battleground range. Their Georgian House and European 19/20th century house fit the bill. Be warned these are hefty buildings, the Georgian house in particular.

They paint up well, with plenty of detail and most importantly depth. These look and feel like real buildings. I am looking forward to getting these on the table in the next few weeks.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Blood and Blade

This is the third in the Bernica Chronicles series from Matthew Harffy.

The setting is 7th century Northumbria. King Oswald is seeking to strengthen his alliances with a marriage to the daughter of the King of Wessex. Our hero Beobrand goes with him and is tasked with escorting the new Queen back to Northumbria. This involves travelling over Mercia where the Queen is captured, willingly, by the son of the King of Mercia.

Beobrand chases them and recaptures the Queen. He then rejoins King Oswald who is fighting the Picts and besieging a fortress, which gives the traditional climatic battle ending. You do need to read these books in sequence as the sub-plots have a thread which wouldn't make much sense otherwise.

This is a good as the second book in the series. Very difficult to put down and I have already ordered the fourth book for my holiday reading.

This is a period when Christianity was just becoming established in Britain, but pagan beliefs were still widespread. So a good excuse for digging out one of my favourite vignettes.

And lets have some Saxon warriors as well. A perfect unit for Lion Rampant.

Saturday 15 July 2017

Fleet Air Arm Museum

A trip down to see my family in Devon was an opportunity to revisit the excellent Fleet Air Museum at Yeovilton.

It has been four years since my last visit. The layout is broadly unchanged, with four halls of aircraft and other exhibits, plus the carrier experience that takes you on deck and around the island of a fleet carrier. However, there were a number of new exhibits that I don't recall from last time.

It's not cheap at £16 for an adult, largely because we inevitably compare this with the largely free national museums. However, for two to three hours entertainment is still good value. I only got an hour or so, in exchange for what is laughingly called 'retail therapy' at the nearby Clarks Village, but still worth while. Highly recommended.

I certainly don't recall this WW1 armoured car before.

The US Corsair in British service

The Skua

Mightily impressive and huge carrier models

Harrier now under Concorde

Overview of the WW1 hall.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

The Cross and the Curse

This is the second in the Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy, set in 7th Century Britain. A pretty good setting for a historical fiction writer, as we know very little about it! This pre-dates the Vikings, but is after the Arthurian period.

The story is set in Northumbria and our hero Beobrand is part of King Oswald's forces seeking to destroy the Waelisc (native Britons) invaders led by King Cadwallon. Unusually for this genre, the story starts with major battle. Our hero, a simple warrior, somewhat implausably suggests a night attack to the King and ends up capturing Cadwallon, who is then executed by Oswald. In return for his service he is given his own lands and collects a war band. He has a few problems with his Pict neighbours and has various other adventures and tragedies, but I won't spoil the story.

Historically, there was a battle at Heavenfield, which was important in leading to the domination of England by the Anglo-Saxons. Christianity was beginning to take root amongst the Anglo-Saxons and the establishment of Lindisfarne is also part of the story.

I found the first book in the series a little slow to start with, but it warmed up, and this book is full throttle. Everything you expect from historical fiction in the Cornwell tradition. I have just started the third book, so further reviews shortly.

I am planning to adapt my Age of Arthur figures for some Lion Rampant small scale actions of the period. Here are some Welsh spearmen taking on early Saxons.

Sunday 2 July 2017

Campaign Sea Lion reinforcements

Really enjoying Warlord's latest Bolt Action supplement 'Campaign Sea Lion'. My 28mm British troops are primarily for the Far East and mid-war Mediterranean, so they need some BEF reinforcements.

The first new unit is a BEF infantry platoon. Nice variety of figures in this Warlord pack, including a Bren and loader.

I haven't used snipers much in my Bolt Action games, but I liked the look of these in Ghillie suits.

Next up some more vechicles.