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

Friday 30 November 2018

GoT - House Clegane painted

I have not had a lot of time for painting in recent weeks and the primed House Clegane Mountain Men have been staring at me across the painting bench. You don't argue with The Mountain!

This unit comes with the base 'Song of Ice and Fire' game and consists of ten mountain men (hint, they are big!) in three poses, plus a standard bearer and an Assault Captain. Nicely sculpted figures, with no assembly required.

House Clegane support the Lannisters of Casterly Rock and their lands are southeast of the rock itself.

I have also dabbled for the first time in 3D printed models. My 20mm modern British forces lacked some essential vehicles. Butler's Models do a Scorpion and a Viking all-terrain vehicle. The Scorpion is a very nice model. The Viking came with a lot of flash, but it is easily clipped off. Both painted up pretty well and required no assembly - always a big plus with me.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Anglo-Saxons at the British Library

Time for one last visit before catching the train home from London - The new Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library.

The Library has brought together manuscripts and some other artifacts to illustrate the story of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms in England. From the early settlements, through the collection of kingdoms to the development of England. It ends with the Doomsday Book, following the Norman Conquest.

An early Anglo-Saxon book illustrating the God Woden
The introduction of Christianity brought monks and writing skills, not to mention beautiful illustrations.

While Bibles are there in plenty, there are also charters and chronicles that show the development of the English state and the use of the early English language.

I have read modern versions of some of these books, but there is something very special about seeing the originals, even if Old English and Latin are largely beyond me! An original of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles is very special.

Here is Asser's, Life of King Alfred. Uhtred would not be as impressed as me, for those who remember the early Last Kingdom series!

The exhibition ends with the Anglo-Danish King Cnut and the Doomsday Book. Also a very fine sword of the period.

The exhibition ends on 19 February 2019. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

Friday 23 November 2018

Ashurbanipal - King of Assyria

Back to the British Museum yesterday for the new special exhibition on the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal.

King Ashurbanipal ruled Assyria 669-631BC from his capital city of Nineveh, opposite modern day Mosul in Northern Iraq. This was one of the cities occupied by IS in the recent conflict, with consequential damage to the historic site. His rule marked the greatest extent of the Assyrian empire, which bumped up against Egypt in Palestine, Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the mountains of western Iran.

The exhibition includes artefacts from across the globe, presented brilliantly by the museum staff.

We know quite a lot about this period thanks to the archeological findings, which include fragments of what must have been a huge library. The Assyrians documented their activities in chronicles and had a well organised bureaucracy.

The exhibition is an excellent primary source for wargamers, with many depictions of the cavalry, infantry and chariots that made up the Assyrian army of the period.

There are also other Assyrian artefacts in the museum relating to earlier rulers, which show the development of the army over the centuries.

The one event that is shrouded in mystery is Ashurbanipal's death. However, we do know that the empire crumbled soon afterwards under pressure from all sides and probably internal rebellion.

Overall, this exhibition is well worth a visit. Foyles bookshop is far too close to the museum for safety, so with a couple of Osprey's, I am ready to consider a wee excursion into the biblical period!

Thursday 22 November 2018

RAF Museum London

Being semi-retired means a trip to London for work reasons can be extended to catch up with some hobby interests. One museum I haven't visited for many years, is the RAF Museum at Hendon in North London.

It reopened earlier this year with new exhibition halls and very impressive it is too. The school kids were clearly enjoying it as well, with plenty of interactive stuff to get them engaged.

The entrance hall gives you an overview of the 100 years of the RAF, including some very realistic cut outs of RAF personnel. I was just about to ask this one something before I realised!

The entrance hall includes the shop and cafe. Sipping a coffee under the wings of a Sunderland flying boat, reminds you of just how big these aircraft were.

Then on to the WW1 hall which has fine collection of the aircraft of the period. Getting close up gives you a feel for how exposed the pilots and other air crew were.

The next hall jumps somewhat in chronological terms to include the modern jet fighters.

The museum isn't just about aircraft. The RAF Regiment is recognised as are the naval craft used to rescue pilots from the sea.

Finally, the main halls, crammed full of WW2 and later aircraft. The US Air Force hanger at Duxford is very impressive, but this really is the business. Here are just a few, starting with the obscure - The Stranraer Flying Boat.

The Lightning because it was one of the first Airfix kits I built.

 The Falco and the Kittyhawk, just because they look great!

Can't leave out the Stuka.

The Chipmunk because it's the only RAF plane I have actually flown in and, very briefly, flown.

Finally, the Vulcan because, well it is the Vulcan!

It is hard to do justice to the range of exhibits in a short blog post, but I hope it encourages other to make the trip. You won't regret it.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Alexander and the Baltic Landeswehr

I was in the Guards Chapel in London last July and came across the memorial to Field Marshall Harold Alexander. He is best known as the Supreme Allied Commander in Italy from September 1943 until the end of the Second World War. He was commissioned into the Irish Guards and there is a very fine statue of him outside the Guards Museum.

With my usual fascination for obscure conflicts, I noticed that his list of commands included the Baltic Landeswehr 1919-20. What on earth was an Irish Guards Colonel doing commanding what sounds like a German unit in 1919?

It has to be said that details of the Latvian conflict are a little thin on the ground. The Royal Navy’s intervention is well covered and I have a decent book on the Estonian War of Independence. 

However, we do know that Alexander was part of Sir Hubert Gough’s Allied Mission to the Baltic (an interesting character in his own right) tasked with removing Germans from the region and supporting the Baltic States against Bolshevik efforts to recover this territory. Fighting in the region was very confused with German forces trying to establish territory for themselves and local Germans (known as Balts). There were also nationalist units controlled by the newly formed Baltic States and the Russian White and Red armies.

The Baltic Landeswehr was originally commanded by a German of Scottish descent, Major Alfred Fletcher, who largely replaced native Latvians with Germans. After their defeat at the Battle of Wenden in June 1919, the allied mission negotiated the Strasdenhof armistice, which saw the withdrawal of German troops. Alexander took over the Landeswehr in July 1919, which left him in the bizarre situation of commanding a brigade sized force officered by his ex-enemies on the Western front.

The most detailed account of his service I have found is in Nigel Nicolson's biography 'Alex: The Life of Field Marshall Earl Alexander of Tunis' (London 1973). He spoke good German so there was no language difficulty and he started by removing the Germans, but not the Balts. He reorganised his command into three battalions and a cavalry squadron.

By October, he was in the front line undertaking major raids against Bolshevik positions. He then persuaded the Landeswehr to stay in position when a civil war was going on behind them. This loyalty held even when he was wounded in an attack on the village of Lievenhoff and spent two weeks in the hospital.

A major offensive was launched in January 1920, which liberated most of Latvia. The Landeswehr played a key role in that campaign, advancing 100 miles in 20 days and capturing over 800 prisoners. The opposition was not strong, but the weather was appalling.

Alexander was something of a romantic - a sort of Baltic Byron. He even considered purchasing an estate and staying in Latvia. However, the peace treaty resulted in the Landeswehr becoming a regiment in the new Latvian Army and he headed for home.

There are a few photographs of Alexander in the uniform of the Baltic Landeswehr knocking around the web.


Mark Collins posted these on Twitter. I doubt if those were regulation mittens!

There is a collection of mail sent by the British forces attached to the military mission. Most British troops understandably wanted to go home at the end of the First World War. There was also plenty of political opposition amongst the ranks and at home against the allied military intervention in the Russian Civil War. I did rather like this card, although perhaps not the most romantic effort to say, 'so get on with it'!

Overall, an interesting story that clearly had a big impact on Alexander. He met a number of his Balts again during the Second World War in Italy and later, when Governor General of Canada, secured visas for some of them.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Battle of Loudoun Hill 1307

Those who have watched the new film 'Outlaw King', will be aware that the film culminates in the Bruce victory at the Battle of Loudoun Hill on 10 May 1307.

I enjoyed the film, which thankfully didn't repeat the embarrassing nonsense that was Braveheart. However, it was not without its historical inaccuracies. The film portrays Edward I's death before the battle when he actually died some two months later. We also had Edward II stomping across the battlefield, when not only was he not the king, but it is highly unlikely he was there at all.

So what do we know about the battle?

After his coronation and the disaster of Methven in June 1306, Bruce traveled around the west of Scotland, rebuilding his forces and alliances. In 1307, he conducted a guerrilla war until he had sufficient troops to take on the English occupation army and their Scots allies. It is important not to view these wars through modern nationalist eyes. This was also a civil war between the Bruce and the Comyn families, which Edward exploited for his own purposes. In the feudal world, a man owed loyalty to his family, not his country.

Bruce's forces won a victory at Glen Trool in March 1307. Over very rough ground, it is likely to have been little more than a skirmish. None the less, it caused Edward's commander in Scotland, Sir Aymer de Valence (Brother in law to the murdered Comyn) to gather a larger force and advance into the Bruce Earldom of Carrick (largely modern Ayrshire). This was a mounted force with estimates varying between 1500 and 3000 strong.

Bruce picked a strong defensive position and had around 600 spearmen. The road narrowed through boggy ground, which Bruce strengthened with ditches and stakes. Crucially, Valence had no bowmen so was forced to charge the spearmen frontally over a narrow frontage which negated his numerical superiority. The first division failed and the resulting confusion caused the rest to flee the battlefield. Bruce was unable to pursue on foot, so casualties were fairly low on both sides.

The significance of Loudoun Hill was not the scale of the victory, but rather the propaganda value. Even more important was the death of Edward I, which is resulted in his heir having to concentrate on matters in England. This allowed Bruce to win the civil war and prepare for the next proper invasion, which culminated in Bannockburn.

The battle scene in the film itself was pretty accurate, given it was filmed in a park north of Glasgow, with the distinctive Loudoun Hill superimposed. No woad, tartan, tree trunk pikes, or the missing bridge - as in Braveheart!

I live fairly near the battlefield and have passed through it many times. Usually on the start or end of a long journey south, so I have never properly explored it. Inspired by the film, I set off last Friday to rectify that. It was a suitably misty morning, very atmospheric for the task in hand.

We don't know exactly where the battle was fought, but Historic Scotland's battlefield inventory gives a decent estimate. The battlefield has had some modern development - a couple of farms, small reservoirs, a sand quarry, and a disused railway. The modern A71 largely follows the Roman Road, which is likely to be the road described in the sources. The ground around the hill is very rough going with the River Irvine cutting through it. This leaves really only one likely site near Allanton Farm and the sand quarry. Probably not exactly where it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map. As you can see from this photo, the ground is very flat in the eastern approach to the battlefield.

I decided to have a look at the likely site from different angles. Starting with Loudoun Hill itself.

This is the view of the site from the ridge below the hill or the northern view.

Then I approached the site from a spur of high ground above the river from the east.

And finally, from the road itself or the southern and western view.

Walking a battlefield is one experience, refighting the battle on the tabletop is another. I collected a 28mm army for this period in order to complete a display game for the Bannockburn 700th anniversary in 2014.

Valence's first division advances. As our main source for the battle, the chronicler John Barbour relates: "Their basnets were all burnished bright and flamed in the rays of the sun and their shields, spears and pennons lighted up all the field."

And finally, the clash of spear and knight.

The film is a worth a watch, but as ever, it's always worth visiting the actual battlefield.