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 24 February 2018

Fort York - Ontario

I am currently on a work trip to Ontario, Canada. So, an opportunity to see some of the military history sites.

First stop is Fort York, somewhat incongruously situated amongst the skyscrapers of modern Toronto.

It was not always like this. The governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, ordered the construction of a garrison on the present site of Fort York in 1793. He wanted to establish a naval base to control Lake Ontario because of a war scare with the United States resulting from Britain's alliance to the native people of the Ohio Country, who were engaged in a brutal conflict with the Americans to preserve their territories.

In 1807, Anglo-American relations began to deteriorate again, so the fort was strengthened in 1811. In 1812, the United States declared war and invaded Canada. On 27 April 1813, the U.S. Army and Navy attacked York with 2700 men on fourteen ships and schooners, armed with eighty-five cannon. The defending force of 750 British, Canadians, Mississaugas, and Ojibways had twelve cannon. The British withdrew but blew up the powder magazine causing heavy American casualties.

The British rebuilt Fort York, and in August 1814, it was strong enough to repel the U.S. squadron when it again tried to enter Toronto Bay. In February 1815, word reached York that the War of 1812 had ended the previous December. It was good news: peace had returned, and the defence of Canada against American invasion had been successful.

The fort is very well preserved despite being squeezed between a motorway and the main railway line. But the real strength is the exhibits inside.

Very much worth a visit.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Royal Armouries Museum

IA work trip to Leeds this weekend was an opportunity for a brief visit to the excellent Royal Armouries museum. 

This photie probably doesn't do justice to the Hall of Steel which is the first exhibit you see. It goes all the way up the museum floors, so you get a closer look at each level.

The oriental sections have displays of arms and armour from India to the Middle East. The Mughal elephant is particularly impressive

Of course I couldn't miss the Ottoman exhibits including this Spahi.

Some Scottish interest with this collection of weapons used in the Jacobite revolts.

And a Waterloo confrontation.

The main war hall has this impressive display of arms and armour covering a hundred years or so.

The full size Pavia diorama is one of my favourites

Some early machine guns, included a couple I hadn't heard of

Finally, a wargame diorama of Agincourt. Not quite how I understood the battle developed, but impressive none the less. You can also look through their database to see if your family were present. There was a John (my proper first name) Watson who served as an archer. However, given my branch of the Watson's hail from Scotland, we were more likely to be the French ranks!

Oh, and just to wind up my Yorkshire wife, a Wars of the Roses longbowman. I was born in Lancashire, so I do like to remind her who won!

Great museum, free entry, very interactive, so good for the kids. They also do lots of living history. Highly recommended.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Niagara 1814

In 1814, the USA launched its last invasion of Canada. The main battleground is over the route many thousands of tourists trek over every year to see the Niagara Falls, most not realising the historical significance of the area.

The War of 1812 is seen as a bit of forgotten offshoot of the Napoleonic wars. They were of course small scale actions compared to the titanic struggles in Europe, but still of interest. The more so for me, as I am visiting nearby Toronto to speak at a work conference in a couple of week's time, so I am planning a visiting the battlefields.

To get a better understanding of the conflict, Osprey comes up with the goods, in Jon Latimer's study of the campaign. He explains the background to the campaign and the chronology. In essence, the Americans saw a small window of opportunity for their modest armed forces, before large numbers of British veterans from the Peninsular War became available for service in Canada.

The total size of the forces on both sides added up to around a division, two infantry brigades with artillery support and a handful of cavalry. Both sides had a mixture of regulars and militia, all of which performed well in some pretty serious fighting. Both sides had a small number of native Indian irregulars.

The campaign took place in the strip of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The area was heavily forested with small settlements and agricultural land. Fortifications played an important role, mostly earthworks, with some stone and timber reinforcement.

The main actions of the campaign were at Chippawa, Lundy's Lane and Fort Erie. None were decisive and peace was agreed at the Treaty of Ghent, based on the status quo ante bellum. As a consequence, Canada remains a separate state to this day.

For the wargamer, the campaign doesn't require a huge number of figures. Most Napoleonic players will have suitable British troops and the Americans are widely available in all scales.

Sunday 4 February 2018

The Siege of Tsingtau 1914

I am a sucker for an obscure conflict, so the 'Siege of Tsingtau' by Charles Stephenson, just screams at me from the bookshelves.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Germans had acquired the port of Tsingtau on the east coast of China. It was their main naval base in the Far East and it was left to the Japanese to evict them. Partly out of their obligations to the Entente cause, but also in support of their own strategic objectives in the region.

The Germans were late to the colonial scramble, but they had acquired a small number of Pacific islands. The Bismarck Archipelago is a bit of a hint, but names that became famous in WW2 such as the Marianas, Marshall, Caroline and Pelew islands, were all German territory. To which they added Samoa later. The limitations of coal powered ships, created a need for coaling and wireless stations on even the most uneconomic of overseas possessions.

The German East Asiatic Squadron was a powerful force, commanded by none other than Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee. It included two modern armoured cruisers and four light cruisers. British and Australian forces were modest, with the exception of the modern battle cruiser 'Australia' and had a huge area to cover. The main aim of German naval forces would be commerce raiding and the light cruiser 'Emden' caused huge damage before being caught. However, Spee recognised that his coaling stations would be quickly knocked out and Japan's entry into the war, with its large fleet, made his position hopeless. He headed home via victory in the Coronels and defeat in the Falklands.

The author, having set out the context, focuses on the siege. The Germans had fortified Tsingtau, but Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck had insufficient troops for a defence in depth. Essentially, he had two naval battalions supplemented by reservists who arrived as best they could from all over the Far East. A total of just over 4,000 men. The Japanese (General Kamio) deployed a division (three brigades) supported by extensive artillery. They were joined by a small British force, including a battalion of the the South Wales Borderers. A total of 40,000 men.

With their recent experience at Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War, Kamio had a clear plan for capturing Tsingtau. This involved heavy artillery preparation as cover for sapping, an approach which would have been recognised by Vauban. Only when a breach was achieved would an infantry assault be risked.

There would be a number of firsts in this campaign. Most notably the use of aircraft by both sides, in reconnaissance and also bombing. There was even some limited air to air combat.

The Japanese ground away at the German defences, and once the mains water supply had been captured and the big guns knocked out, they surrendered on 7 November. Outnumbered ten to one, this was inevitable from the outset. The Japanese took over the territory, there was no question of it reverting to China.

This is a really interesting book about an episode in WW1 that is little understood. It also had long term consequences, which the author explores in the final chapter. Consequences that were only resolved, with great bloodshed, in WW2.

Saturday 3 February 2018

French WW2 armour

Limited time for painting at present, not helped by a bout of the flu. However, my Bolt Action early war French now have some armoured support.

First up is the AMD Panhard 178 armoured car. It was designed as a long-range reconnaissance vehicle for the French cavalry, although it also served in motorised infantry divisions. It looks a fairly modern design, somewhat ahead of its time. In practice it was quite small, under-armoured and gunned (25mm) for the envisaged strategic role.

Early production was slow, but 219 were delivered at the outbreak of war. This rose to 370 by the time the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Germans used around 190 of them in their own units during the invasion of Russia. They also adapted 43 of them as railway protection vehicles, able to drive on tracks.

Next is the Renault R40, light tank. This was a development of the R35 and officially known as the R35/40, even though they look quite different. The R40 had a 37mm gun which was decent enough for the period and was the first French tank to have a radio as standard. However, like most French tanks of the period it was too slow. Around 130 were produced and served in 4th DCR as well as a reformed Polish cavalry brigade.

Both models are Warlord resin kits. Construction is pretty straightforward and, unusually for Warlord, some thought has been given to lugs for assembly. Although the parts needed a fair amount of work to get them to fit together. Why, oh why, they can't provide a decent connection for the guns on their models, I really do not know. Many expletives and superglued hands later, I eventually managed it!