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 28 July 2018

A Song of Ice & Fire

Well it has arrived! Late, but not as bad as some Kickstarters I can think of. I refer of course to the Game of Thrones tabletop miniatures game - 'A Song of Ice and Fire'.

The starter set comes with the slim rulebook, cards, tokens and measurement sticks for the game. I bought this primarily for the figures, but the rules look pretty straightforward and interesting, so I will give them a go.

The starter set gives you enough figures for a small battle game between House Lannister and House Stark. The main characters plus four units on each side.

House Lannister

House Stark
I also bought some extra character figures for both houses and some neutral figures. These are based on the books, not the TV series, for obvious licensing price reasons.

Not forgetting the Lannister knights.

And the Stark bowmen.

I thought some other factions might come in handy and the House Bolton figures looked great. Here are the Flayed men and the Bastard Girls.

I have been playing Game of Thrones using Lion Rampant for some time, as you can see from earlier posts with this tag. I converted the figures from a number of ranges as well as using a couple of Dark Sword character figures. This photo shows a size comparison with my converted Lord of the Rings figures and some Front Rank English archers. The figures in the game are taller, but not as chunky as most 28mm figures. They are hard plastic and come as one piece holds, not assembly required. And very good they are too.

Finally, if you are going to the Claymore show in Edinburgh next Saturday, you can try your hand with House Lannister. The GDWS participation game will be using my figures. Even an outside chance that I might paint a few of the new ones.

Friday 20 July 2018

Paul of Yugoslavia - Britain's Maligned Friend

This is a sympathetic biography of Prince Paul Karageorgevic, who was the Regent of Yugoslavia for a fateful seven years before the coup d'etat of March 1941 and the subsequent Axis invasion.

Born in Russia in 1893, due to his father's exile. In 1903, after the murder of King Alexander, he followed his uncle, the new King Peter, to Belgrade. He was educated in Lausanne, Belgrade and finally in England at Oxford.  His interests were in the arts, although he returned to Serbia at the outbreak of WW1. He arrived in poor health and despite his uniform, played no military role in the early success against the Austrians, or the subsequent retreat to Corfu and the Salonika campaign. He spent most of the war in England on health grounds.

King Peter's health meant that Serbia was ruled by the Prince Regent Alexander, who subsequently became King. Paul married Olga the sister of King Constantine of Greece in 1922. His relationship with King Alexander was mixed and he had very limited official roles. This meant he gained little experience in the complexity of Yugoslavian politics, which were based around trying to keep the disparate nation together. They also faced territorial claims from just about every country surrounding the new kingdom.

In 1934, King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles, and due to the heir King Peter's age, Paul became Regent. He also sought to keep the country together, with a succession of governments, all of which failed to resolve the differences between Serbia and Croatia. Mussolini supported the Croatian resistance and an Italian invasion was not out of the question, if Ethiopia had not kept him busy. Hitler made diplomatic efforts to encourage links with Yugoslavia and discouraged Mussolini, even after Paul voted in favour of sanctions at the League of Nations. The loss of Italian markets meant economic links with Germany became more important. Britain could not offer the same access, or modern armaments. 

In June 1939 he made a state visit to Germany and resisted efforts to get him to join the Axis, or at least sign a treaty. Hitler, in a moment of pique, suggested to Mussolini that Italy should invade Yugoslavia. This almost irresistible temptation had to be turned down because Mussolini was unprepared for war that August. For wargamers, this might make a very interesting 'what if' campaign.

After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Paul discussed with the French and the British the possibility of an allied landing at Salonika. In effect a copy of the WW1 strategy. Salonika was crucial to Yugoslavia as her only outlet to the sea outside the Adriatic, once Albania was in Italian hands. Weygand turned the idea down because it would take three months to get French forces in position. The British were keener on creating a Balkan Entente, including Turkey. A particularly unrealistic policy that reflected Britain's inability to effectively support their allies in the region. Again some interesting 'what if' campaigns here.

Paul even sought a rapprochement with the Soviet Union when the British were again unable to supply weapons and equipment. Yugoslavia did supply the Greeks with horses and other materials during their conflict with Italy. They also blocked German attempts to supply the Italians through Yugoslavia.

This takes us to the fateful events of March 1941. Hitler effectively gave Paul an ultimatum to support the Axis, or face invasion. The British urged him to fight without promising any effective support. British intervention in Greece was inadequate to save the Greeks, let alone supply and equip the hopelessly divided Yugoslavian armed forces.

The Crown Council reached the conclusion that there was no option other than join the Axis and Paul assented. He believed he was doing so under conditions that would have protected Yugoslavia. However, he was inevitably regarded as a traitor to the allied cause, a view that dogged him for the rest of his life.

This sparked a long planned coup d'etat by Serbian officers, which used King Peter, who was just short of his 18th Birthday as cover. Paul made no real effort to resist the coup and was probably relieved to leave the country. SOE had a modest role in the coup, but it was largely exaggerated. Paul and his family went into exile via Cairo, to Kenya and later to South Africa. 

Hitler responded with an invasion of Yugoslavia, which collapsed with minimal resistance. Followed by a vicious occupation and civil war. Much of this was unfairly blamed on Paul, particularly by elements in the UK Parliament and the press. He died in France in 1976.

Prince Paul was undoubtably ill equipped for a role that he never sought, or one that was intended for him. He should have spent his life in the comfortable existence of a minor royal, dabbling in art and other leisure pursuits. However, Yugoslavia was largely ungovernable during this period and the country's geo-strategic position left it with few options. Churchill was happy to propose totally unrealistic options, without providing any practical support.

This is a sympathetic biography and the reader is left with some sympathy for Prince Paul. Even more sympathy for the country in ruled for seven years. For me, it flagged up aspects of pre-war diplomacy that I was only vaguely aware of and is certainly worthy of further research.

Defending Falmouth - Pendennis and St Mawes.

A trip to Cornwall this week was an opportunity to visit Falmouth with its impressive defences of the natural harbour known as Carrick Roads. Pendennis and St Mawes castles sit on the headlands either side of the entrance to the estuary.

Falmouth is a relatively new town, but the River Fal goes up to the city of Truro. It wasn't until the threat of invasion in 1538 that Henry VIII ordered the building of artillery forts to guard the coast including the Carrick Roads, which had become an important base for privateering. Both positions were upgraded, including land defences, during the Elizabethan conflict with Spain. A Spanish plan to capture Pendennis in 1597, caused the government to strengthen the castle and its garrison.

The defences were not tested until the English Civil War. Falmouth was an important port for the King and his fleet. After the Royalist defeat at Bovey Heath in March 1646, St Mawes was captured and Pendennis besieged. The defences were too strong to be assaulted and the garrison only surrendered when their supplies ran out.

The castles became somewhat dilapidated in the 18th century, but were repaired during the American War and then the Napoleonic wars.  Pendennis became an important supply depot for Wellington's army in the Peninsular. 

A further period of decline ended at the close of the 19th century with the installation of modern artillery. By 1888, the castles had breach loading guns and a submarine minefield also defended the entrance to the 'defended port' status that Falmouth gained.

In WW1, Falmouth yet again became an important supply port, but other than the sinking of a German submarine off Falmouth in September 1915, it saw no action. In 1940, Falmouth was in the front line of coastal defences against a German invasion and new six inch guns were installed, together with quick firing 6pdrs. German MTB's were the main target, although the port suffered from air raids.

The army left the castles in 1956, and they are now cared for, very well, by English Heritage.

The view from St Mawes towards Pendennis. 

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Bovington Tank Museum

The Tank Museum based in Bovington Camp is the museum of the Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Tank Regiment. Bovington and the nearby ranges at Lulworth, are the place the modern army trains in the skills required to drive, maintain and fire all types of armoured vehicles. As they have since October 1916.

I used to work in Dorset and regularly visited the museum. I have not had the opportunity, until last Saturday, to visit the renovated museum. It is without doubt even better and having visited both Aberdeen in the USA and Saumur in France, its main competitors, it remains the best the world.

The main hall tells the story of the tank from its first use in WW1 to the present day. Another hall takes the story back even further, including the Leonardo Di Vinci designs. For most tankies, the WW2 hall will be the most impressive, including its collection of prototype designs, many of which did not see action - for good reason! 

The Valiant

The Tortoise

A new innovation, since 2015, is the tank factory. It shows how a tank is built from the design stage through to the production line. There is also a special exhibition on Afghanistan. The new museum has a dedicated centre for vehicle conservation and an outdoor arena.

My favourite section is the Tiger Hall, with a Tiger, King Tiger and Elephant on display. 

There are too many other AFVs to cover, but here a few that caught my eye.

The Advanced Armour Composite Vehicle Platform

I appreciate that Bovington isn't the most accessible place for a a museum, but it is well worth the effort if you can get there.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Edward's 'Ring of stone' in North Wales

A trip to North Wales was an opportunity to revisit some of the finest castles in the UK.

In the 13th century, North Wales was controlled by the Welsh Prince, Llwelyn ap Gruffudd. Edward and his Marcher lords sought to bring the independent Welsh territories under their control. In two campaigns, in 1277 and 1282/1283, Edward reduced the territory of the Principality of Wales and then completely conquered it. Most of the conquered territory was retained as a royal fief, and these lands subsequently became the territorial endowment of the heir to the English throne with the title Prince of Wales.

Edward sought to secure his new lands with a 'ring of stone' - large castles, all of which can be seen and visited today. James of St George was Edward's master-builder, and he used the most advanced defensive features of the day, to build the castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

I didn't have time to visit Beaumaris, which is over the Menai Straits in Anglesey. Although it's imposing outline can be seen as you drive down the opposite shore to Conwy. I spent more than one childhood holiday in this area and Conwy castle never fails to impress. The railway bridge which runs by it was also constructed in 'castle' style.

Caernarfon Castle is worth spending the most time at. Construction started in 1283 and like the other castles is a World Heritage Site.

The current Prince of Wales was invested inside the castle, the grounds of which are substantial. The information boards and audio visual introduction is very good.

Not only is this castle impressive in its own right, but it includes the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. 

Not forgetting the regimental goat, who is on the muster, not a mascot.

Finally, we reached Harlech Castle. This isn't as grand as the others, but it is my favourite, perched on a rock above the sea. The song 'Men of Harlech' (think of the film Zulu) was written about the siege of the castle during the Wars of the Roses.

Like all these castles, it could be supplied from the sea, a huge problem for the besiegers who didn't have a strong navy during the rebellions against the rule of Edward and his successors. Today, the sea is some distance away, with a fine golf course in between. Sadly, not enough time to play it.

So, four castles, well preserved and presented. Highly recommended.

And for contrast, here is a typical Welsh castle of the period. This is near Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Battlegroup South

A wargame show in a museum is a very special event and Battlegroup South, held in the Bovington Tank Museum this weekend, is no exception.

A holiday in the area was an opportunity to pay my first visit to this show. I used to work in Dorset, so I am very familiar with the museum, but I haven't been back for over 25 years.

There were some 25 games and 30 traders spread around the museum. There was more room than I expected, but it is a different experience to a normal show when the stalls are next to each other. This photo gives an idea of how the games fit around the exhibits.

Difficult to tell how well supported the event was as wargamers mixed with the usual Saturday museum visitors. However, there was plenty of discussion around the stalls and hopefully the games might draw a few more into the hobby. I certainly left with more than a few packages!

There was an understandable 20th century emphasis with the traders and games. Here are a few that caught my eye.

I'll do a separate post on the museum itself. Hugely impressive.