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 31 August 2019

Bulgarian Air Force in WW2

Alexander Mladenov and pals have written a history of the Bulgarian Air Force in the Second World War, published by Helion.

The Bulgarian Air Force at the outset of WW2 was a modest force, equipped with largely obsolete aircraft. Bulgaria joined the Axis on 1 March 1941 and declared war on Britain and the USA nine months later. However, it didn't declare war of the Soviet Union. This meant its role was limited to occupation duties in Yugoslavia, and later, air defence against Allied bomber raids in Bulgaria and elsewhere in the Balkans.

There was a small indigenous aircraft industry, which turned out a small number of recce and ground support aircraft. These 1920's designs were still operational by the outset of the war. Slightly more modern designs came from the Caproni factory in Kazenlak. By 1937 Bulgaria had thrown off the post WW1 treaty restrictions on the air force and took delivery of German aircraft including the Heinkel He45b and Arado Ar65F. They also acquired some Polish PZL and German Dornier Do17 bombers.

The German invasion of Czechoslovakia and France enabled the purchase of second hand Letov S328 recce aircraft, Avia B 71 bombers and D.520 fighters. It wasn't until later in the war, when allied bombers could reach the Balkans, that the Germans gave any priority to Bulgaria. By 1943, the Bulgarian 'Dogan' bi-plane fighters were hopelessly outclassed and BF-109's provided the effective air defence of Sofia.  The D.520 was still a decent fighter against bombers. Other German aircraft supplied to Bulgaria included Stukas, AR 196 floatplanes, Fw 189 recce and Ju 52 transports.

When the Soviet steamroller entered Bulgaria the country switched sides, and German aircraft took part in ground attacks against the retreating German army. Soviet types only started to replace these aircraft at the end of the war.

The strength of this book is in the lavish use of photographs and nine pages of colour plates. I confess to finding the description of air warfare hard work, and this book is no different. Air operations are described in some detail for all stages of the conflict.

This is probably the final word on the Bulgarian Air Force during WW2. It has everything you could want to know and more.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Churchill War Rooms

I have tried to see this museum a few times, but the queues have always been ridiculous. However, today I was in good time for a meeting at Westminster and as there was no queue, I took the opportunity for a look around.

In essence, this is the WW2 bunker that Churchill and the war cabinet moved into when the bombs started dropping on London. You see the cabinet room, meeting rooms and the operational rooms.

The map room is particularly good. With statistical reports etc.

Pins and cotton in WW2! In fact, I recall running an early wargame campaign using similar materials pinched from my Mum's sewing box. The atmosphere must have been horrendous as folk were obviously allowed to smoke. Mind you, I suppose no one was going to stop Churchill.

And of course, Churchill's bedroom where he famously dictated letters etc. And smoked!

There is also a Churchill museum, which has some interesting exhibits covering the highs and lows of his controversial career. Not to mention his childhood wargame collection!

I should warn that this is not a cheap admission (£22 for an adult), but some other IWM sites are free so I suppose it balances out. It is worth a look.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

National Army Museum

I was down in London today on business with a couple of hours to spare, so I popped along to the National Army Museum next to Chelsea Barracks. I haven't visited since the refurbishment.

There was a special exhibition of the official wartime poster artist Abram Games. He produced some striking posters that I don't think I have seen before, including earlier ones supporting Spanish relief during the civil war.

Towards the end of the war his posters on the theme 'Your Britain - Fight for It' encouraged the troops to think about the post-war settlement.

Churchill banned some of them and Games's retort was:

The troops of course had the last word in the 1945 election!

While the museum has all the latest interactive stuff, there is still room for proper exhibits and paintings.

I took a particular interest in the South African war exhibits. 

 Compare that Khaki with the Osprey Boer War plates!

Straying into the Sudan for this fine display.

And finally, Siborne's Waterloo is still there. As controversial in his day as Abram Games!

Sunday 25 August 2019

More Hungarians

I've been on a bit of a painting roll. Allocating an hour or two most evenings during the week makes a  big difference. As a consequence, the WW2 Hungarian project is complete - for now!

First up we have the parachute assault section.

Then the support units - mortar, HMG, command and spotter.

A Csaba armoured car. Named after a son of Attila the Hun, more than 100 of these were built in Hungary before and during WW2. They were armed with a 20mm cannon and a co-axial MG. This is the Warlord model. It is a resin model, I won't buy their awful plastic kits. It went together pretty well other than the usual problem with lugs for the guns. They have made a bit of an effort with this one, but as my teachers used to say - could do better!

Turan II medium tank. This is the later model with a 75mm gun. Still obsolete by the time, it entered service, but a big improvement on the MkI. This is a 3D printed model from P&G Miniatures. This is an excellent, robust wargame model. It comes in two parts and arrived with virtually no flash. Very impressed and will be a return customer.

I see Warlord have just brought out an ATG and crew, so I will probably return to this project. However, I need to start work on some opponents - the Soviets!

Saturday 24 August 2019

The Boer War

The second tranche of books for my South Africa trip focuses on the Boer War, sometimes called the Second Boer War.

I picked up a copy of Thomas Pakenham's 'The Boer War' in Hay-on-Wye at Richard Booth's Bookshop. Richard Booth died this week, and the Guardian obituary pays a fine tribute to the founder of Hay-on-Wye as a book town. He was, without doubt, a British eccentric of the best kind and my bookshelves are full of books from than lovely town in the Welsh borders.

My knowledge of the Boer War is relatively limited. I did think as I surveyed this hefty tome of 659 pages, why the Osprey essential histories wouldn't do the job! However, I am glad I didn't because, despite its length, this is a very readable study of the conflict. Pakenham spent eight years researching this book using original sources. It is genuinely a 'magisterial' piece of work. 

No one comes out of his analysis particularly well. That includes the politicians in London and South Africa, or the Generals. Like the Zulu War, this was mostly an avoidable conflict, avidly promoted by imperialists like Cecil Rhodes (and his 'Gold Bugs') and Alfred Milner the High Commissioner for South Africa. I was agnostic about the campaign to take down Rhode's statue at Oxford University, but I am slightly more sympathetic after reading this book. 

The leaders of the two Boer states were not much better as their actions played into the imperialist's hands. As a consequence, some 22,000 Imperial and Colonial troops lost their lives, together with 7,000 Boer troops. A further 18,000 to 28,000 Boer men, women and children died in the concentration camps. There are no accurate records of how many Africans died, but it was probably more than 12,000 'black Boers' and an unknown number who served with the Imperial forces. The so-called 'White Man's War', was nothing of the sort on either side.

This was supposed to be a small war; the type the British army was used to fighting across the Empire. By the end of the war, a staggering 365,693 imperial and 82,742 colonial troops fought in the conflict, against 87,365 Boers. Sadly, the military lessons of the war were ignored. It wasn't the marksmanship of the Boers; it was that the smokeless, long-range, high velocity, small-bore magazine bullet from rifle or machine gun, plus the trench, had decisively tilted the balance against the attack and in favour of the defence.

I have decided to wargame this conflict in 10mm, initially using the Pendraken range of figures. So, my reading has also included two Osprey titles; The Boer Wars (2) and Boer Commando. These cover all the main troop types, with the usual mix of concise text and colour plates. 

Saturday 17 August 2019

Fortress Budapest

I got back into painting mode this week, always difficult after the crash painting challenge for a show game. Time to start on a new project, Fortress Budapest. A pal, the wargames equivalent of a drug dealer, kept going on about them and I succumbed to some purchases at the Lakeland show.

The first unit I have painted is a standard Honved infantry section. Pleasantly simple to paint as well.

I have a parachute assault unit on the painting table and after that some armour and support weapons. I'll take a breather after that given that you can use German units to bulk it out. I also have a few Soviets in the box and this could be my excuse to get some Romanians in 28mm.

The Warlord supplement is a very nice piece of work. Crammed pack of interesting scenarios for 1944-45. Although I might use some of my units for the 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia.

For a detailed history of the siege, I would recommend 'Battle for Budapest' by Krisztian Ungvary, published by Tauris. This author had access to German and Soviet archives and takes the reader through the battle week by week. With plenty of illustrations and maps.

Budapest itself is well worth a visit. The citadel has a museum with exhibits from the siege period.

Monday 12 August 2019

Battles and Battlefields of Ancient Greece

This is a book I wish I had owned for the last 20 years! Jacob Butera and Matthew Sears have written an excellent guide to the battles and battlefields of ancient Greece. Mind you; it's a weighty tome, so you might want to leave it in the car as you walk the field.

In the preface, the authors rightly stress the importance of visiting battlefields to understand what happened. I have probably visited more than most, and my understanding has often been challenged by what I have seen. What you thought was a gentle hill, turns out to be a steep climb, or it becomes evident that a general could not possibly have seen a particular flanking move.

As an introduction for the general reader, there is a concise chapter on ancient Greek and Roman warfare, which explains the development of warfare during this period and also the contested evidence. Historians still argue over the way Hoplites fought, and the truth is that we will never know for sure. Such is the joy of history!

The book divides Greece up geographically, which is sensible for what is meant to be a travel guide. Starting with Athens and Attica, the usual starting point for tourists, then moving to central Greece, northern Greece and finally the Peloponnese.

In all, twenty battles are covered. These include all the famous ones like Marathon, Salamis, Thermopylae and Chaeronea - as well as less well-known actions such as Mounichia.

The format is a brief introduction followed by general directions to the battle site. Then a reasonably detailed historical outline to the battle and detailed advice on the best places to view the site, including GPS references. Finally, recommended reading including the ancient and modern sources as well as journal articles. There is extensive use of satellite images of the topography with the ancient deployments drawn over.

This book will undoubtedly be going with me on my next visit to Greece.

And let's have some Greek 28mm figures from my collection to go with it.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Armies of the Hellenistic States 323BC to AD30

'Armies of the Hellenistic States 323BC to AD30’ by Gabriele Esposito (Pen and Sword) is a grand tour of the armies in the eastern Mediterranean from Alexander to the domination of Rome.

He starts with a brief explanation of the military revolution instigated by Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon. A combination of the pike wielding phalanx and heavy cavalry overwhelmed the hoplite armies of the Greek city states. He then shows how Alexander developed this army in his conquest of the Persian Empire.

There is a short chapter on the military history of the period and the events after Alexander's death with the creation of successor states, led by his generals, the Diadochi. There are better books on these wars, including, Bob Bennett's, 'The Wars of Alexander's Successors'. However, this is really context for looking at the organisation of each army. 

Most of these will be familiar. The Antigonid, Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms had a core of Macedonian troops who were given land in return for military service, known as kleruchs. As these died off, they were replaced by their sons, although each state increasingly made use of native troops as well. This gave each army a distinct look, with the Seleucids probably being the most diverse. A reason why they are popular with wargamers!

Mercenaries remained an essential element of these armies. They were recruited from Greek states and were generally reliable and widely used as garrison troops. There were also many sought-after specialists like Cretan archers. Non-Hellenistic tribal societies provided large numbers of mercenaries, including Thracians and other Balkan tribes. The Celtic (Galatian) migration through the Balkans and into Anatolia, also provided a ready source of manpower.

Perhaps more interestingly, the book then turns to the less well-known states of the region. These include Epirus, Pontus, Bactria, Israel and even the fringes of India.

There are of course books on most of these states and their armies. What's different is using reenactors (Hetairoi) to 'model' the dress and equipment of each troop type. This is done in full colour on almost every other page, which results in a high-quality publication.

Sadly, the text is not quite up to the same standard. The use of overly long paragraphs makes some chapters hard going. A few charts would also be a better way to set out the organisational detail.

However, this book is worth the very reasonable price for the colour plates alone and therefore complements other publications.

Like most ancient wargamers I have a Seleucid army - mine is in 28mm. It has just about every troop type known to the ancient world.

Thursday 8 August 2019


A work trip next month is taking me to South Africa. So, there will be a bit of a theme to my posts as I plan to visit at least some of the battlefields of the Zulu and Boer wars.

My grasp of the Zulu wars don't go much further than Michael Caine and Stanley Baxter and the less well known Zulu Dawn. I am remedying that starting with Saul David's 'Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879".

What little I thought I knew is debunked in this book. For example, I don't need to practice 'Men of Harlech' because very few of the defenders of Rorke's Drift were Welsh and would be unlikely to know the words either. The 24th Foot did become the South Wales Borderers, but not until 1881. In 1879 most would have been recruited from the slums of Birmingham. The film might not have been quite as memorable with lots of Jasper Carrot types!

Chard and Bromhead were not rated very highly by their respective commanders. Bromhead's Colonel described him as a 'hopeless soldier due to his unconquerable indolence'. Mind you, as the Major who should have been commanding at Rorke's drift abandoned his post, he wasn't the worst officer in the regiment, and he did pretty well. Partially deaf or not.

The Zulu War need not have happened at all. It was deliberately provoked by Sir Bartle  Frere, governor of Cape Colony and the British commander, Lord Chelmsford, went along with him. It could also have been concluded earlier, but by then Chelmsford was desperate for a big victory to cover up for the disaster at Isandlwana. It was quite shocking the lengths that his officers went to to cover up his errors and scapegoat Colonel Durnford.

The book is very well written as well as researched. It gives a clear account of the campaigns as well as the political context, in Britain and South Africa.

Needless to say, I won't be able to visit the battlefields without wanting to wargame them. So, I have already made a start. I used to have them in 15mm, but unusually for me, sold them some years ago. I have therefore decided to do this war in 10mm and I picked up two Pendragon army packs at Claymore, which should get me started. I have the Osprey Elite on the Zulus and have added the Osprey Warrior on the Brits and another MAA on the volunteer units.

From the photos and drawings it was clear that few troops remained in parade ground condition as in the film. A Sergeant of the 24th at Rorke's Drift wrote that his men were in rags, "some with no boots, some with their jackets and trousers patched with sheepskins and all kinds of things." I am not sure how I will reflect that in 10mm, but we will see.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Claymore 2019

It's August, so it must be Claymore - Edinburgh's premier, well only, wargames show. And it was another fine show put on by the South East Scotland Wargames Club, who as usual did a great organisational job.

I was stuck at our game most of the day, with a steady stream of players participating in the GDWS game - Battle of Riverrun. I must try and remember that Game of Thrones has a lot of adult content so lots of kids haven't seen it. None the less, castles and dragons remain a winning combination!

I only had time for a quick tour around the stalls. Chatting to them, they were doing good business, even if they felt the numbers were a bit down in the afternoon. It is the first Saturday of the football season. I picked up a couple of Zulu Wars army packs from Pendragon, more on this new project to come. Plus a few books on the same theme.

It was also a pleasure to say hello to Henry Hyde, up to the show for the first time. I will look forward to hearing what he thought in his report.

There were a number of very nice looking games. Here are those that caught my eye.

Starting with this Balkan game, similar to one we ran a few years ago. GDWS members being astonished that someone else was doing this. I did point out that the Balkans and Game of Thrones are pretty similar!

This naval battle definitely caught the eye.

I have no idea what this is, but very colourful.

Grand strategic Eastern Front.

I think this was also at Carronade, but worth a second go.

Austro-Prussian if memory serves. 10mm works well for this conflict.

This was a very long table full of Hueys and other Vietnam stuff.

This To The Strongest game was next to us, full of the very nice Claymore Castings figures.

And finally, Tradeston with ADLG. They even had the rule book out!