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

Monday, 26 September 2022

Kos

We are staying on the Greek island of Kos this week. One of the Dodecanese Islands is a stone's throw from Turkey, or these days potentially something more lethal! It is more than a bit warmer than Scotland, but pleasant breezes here on the beach. Or, more accurately, my wife is on the beach while I retreated to the bar!

Yesterday, I walked around Kos Town. This is an ancient Greek island. In Homer's Iliad, a contingent of Koans fought for the Greeks in the Trojan War, and the 'Father of Medicine,' Hippocrates, was born here. 

One of the best collections of Mycenean weapons I have seen  in the Archeological Museum

The Persians occupied the island for a while, and Kos was held by the Ptolemies, who used it as a naval outpost to oversee the Aegean. Then the Romans arrived, and there are plenty of their (and Greek) remains in the town and the Museum.


The number one attraction is the Nerantzia Castle. It occupies the spit of land that forms the natural harbour. There would have been Greek and Roman forts to guard the harbour, but the castle was built at the end of the 14thC by the Knights of St John, who leased the island from the Genoese. From the outside, it doesn't look that impressive. The walls look pretty low, although the modern port berths are probably higher.


However, when you go inside, the real strength becomes evident with the second line of walls. These look more Byzantine to me in parts.



If you look carefully, you can see coasts of arms carved into the walls and several are displayed inside.


 In 1566, the Ottomans captured the town and held it until 1911. Orlov turned up with the Russian fleet in 1773 but failed to capture the castle. There is still a small Turkish population on the island and a few signs of the Ottoman period.


There was a massive earthquake in 1933, which destroyed much of the town. The Italians had captured the island during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911, and there are several surviving examples of Italian 1930s architecture in the town. 


The Italians held the island until 1943, when the Germans captured the island after a very brief British landing. This is the 'Churchill's folly' Dodecannese campaign. I will hire a car later this week and visit the battlefields. I hoped to get to Leros, which held out a little longer, but the ferry times would only give me a few hours there. Another time. We will be going to Bodrum on the Turkish coast tomorrow, where there is another fine knights castle.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Cairnryan Military Railway

 I popped into the annual exhibition of my local model railway club last weekend. I am always impressed by the standard of modelling and grateful that wargaming doesn't require me to understand electronics! I picked up a book from one of the stalls on the Cairnryan Military Railway by Bill Gill.

Cairnryan Port is just down the coast from me, and I had no idea it was built as a military port in WW2. Today, it is the terminal for the disgraced company P&O Ferries, so I drive past but don't use it.

After the fall of France, many ports came within the Luftwaffe bomber range, so another deepwater port was needed in case the Clyde in Glasgow or the Mersey in Liverpool became unusable. Various sites were considered before settling on Loch Ryan. What became known as Number 2 Military Port was built on its northern shore at Cairnryan between 1941 and 1943. There were three piers and a total of 1.5 miles of quayside, with a railway network which connected to the main line at Stranraer. It was never extensively used as the Clyde and Liverpool stayed open during the war. However, it was used to move men and materials to Northern Ireland, and American troop ships docked there.

It was built by military labour from the Royal Engineers and the Pioneer Corps. The scale of the operation was huge, with five groups of sidings to accommodate two thousand wagons. This required a large engine shed and coaling stage, not to mention several army camps to accommodate the men who built and operated it. The site was a bit short of amenities. When the 600-strong crew of HMS Phoebe came ashore looking for the local pub, they were told there wasn't one. And as an afterthought, a crane operator said the last train for Stranraer had just left!

This port was used to dump unused ammunition in the Beaufort Dyke after the war. An issue that came up recently when Boris Johnson came up with the notion that a tunnel should be built between Scotland and Northern Ireland. This involved hundreds of ammunition wagons, including gas shells and particularly nasty German nerve gas. Shells were supposed to be defused, but eight Royal Engineers were killed when a case was mishandled. One consignment of gas shells broke loose on a stormy night when passing through Girvan, a small town north of the port. This might have been the rail disaster of the century had a sharp-eyed signaller not switched the points just in time. 

There isn't much to see today, and what there is overgrown and sometimes dangerous. However, the author guides the visitor to what remains and the site features on the Solway Military Trail. One of the 'Austerity' Class locomotives that worked the line has been refurbished and operates at the Bressingham Steam Museum in Norfolk.

I suspect this book won't be on many people's to-buy list. However, it has local interest and further afield if you are interested in military railways.

The pier at the port (IWM)


Friday, 23 September 2022

The Murder of Admiral Darlan

 I found this book in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, which intrigued me because I knew very little about the French side of Operation Torch - the Allied landings in French North Africa in November 1942. While the book's title refers to one aspect of that story, the book covers much more. The author, Peter Tompkins, served with the Allied Psychological Warfare Branch in North Africa and witnessed many of the events he describes.

The background to the story was the efforts to ensure that the Allied landings commanded by Eisenhower did not face military resistance from the Vichy French forces. These forces were significant if poorly equipped. However, fighting would undermine the liberation message and delay the advance into Tunisia, cutting off Rommel's retreat from the Western Desert after El Alamein. 

So, the Allies looked to find French military leaders who would play ball. Weygand was an early option, although he was never very keen. The Germans distrusted him and even sent General Huntziger to North Africa to collect a dossier on him. Admiral Darlan had his plane sabotaged on the return trip! The Americans, specifically their diplomat on site, Robert Murphy, worked hard to build a network of sympathetic French officials. They settled on Giraud, who had escaped from a German prison camp. But, you may ask, why not de Gaulle? After the shelling of Mers-el-Kebir and Dakar, the French African Army disliked the British and viewed de Gaulle as a British puppet. 

The problem for Murphy and his team is that they could not reveal the date or details of the landings for security reasons. The landings were delayed, so even the last-minute efforts were less than adequate. The conspirators did manage a partial coup in Algiers, but there was significant fighting elsewhere, particularly in Morocco. French troops received contradictory orders, and commanders kept referring decisions back to Petain in Vichy. 

Admiral Darlan, as commander of the French Navy, had no formal role in North Africa, but he had arrived there just before the landings. He ended up heading the French administration while Giraud commanded the army, being equipped for fighting in Tunisia. The rest of the book contains the plots and counter-plots between the various French factions. These included the claimant to the French throne, pushed forward by the royalist faction. Eisenhower could have done without this as the Tunisian campaign faltered. 

Admiral Darlan was assassinated by a young army officer, Fernand Bonnier, who clearly had help, and assumed that the new administration would free him. However, he was quickly tried and executed. Even his deathbed confession was hushed up. Giraud reluctantly took up the political role and was reconciled with de Gaulle after the Casablanca conference. 

An interesting side story about that big Allied conference was that Spanish agents radioed Berlin with the venue, suggesting the Luftwaffe bombed it. However, 'Casablanca' was literally translated into 'White House', a little out of the range for German bombers. On such minor details are wars won and lost!

The final chapter outlines an astonishing conspiracy going back to the 1920s and 30s. A key player in the story was Lemaigre-Dubreuil, who was part of Murphy's early network. He was part of an extreme right-wing network in France that was behind the unsuccessful Cagoule coup in 1937. They also connived with German industrialists to undermine the French military effort in 1940 as part of a plan to create a fascist bloc across Europe. So, if you thought de Gaulle was bad, it could have been worse! 

My edition was published in 1965, so you will need to badger the library or get a second-hand copy. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read.

28mm French Senalagese Infantry



Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Lions of the Desert

 This book is Samuel Marquis's take on the Western Desert campaign in WW2. Technically it is historical fiction, although I would describe it as 'faction'. He tries to stick to the historical story while inserting dialogue.

The backdrop is the Western Desert campaign from the arrival of Rommel and the Afrika Korps, to the Tunisian finale. However, there is a focus on the creation of the SAS by David Stirling, including their daring raids in the rear of Axis lines and Operation Condor. This was the German spy mission to Cairo, which has been the subject of many books and films. The best known is probably Ken Follett's, The Key to Rebecca, (made into a 1989 TV movie) and Len Deighton's, The City of Gold. There have also been memoirs published by the key players, including Major A.W. Sansom, the head of British Field Security in Cairo (I Spied Spies, 1965), and Johannes Eppler, the German spy in the Operation Condor affair translated as Operation Condor: Rommel’s Spy.

All of these accounts are significantly inaccurate. In some cases the authors embellish their role, and in others they relied on those accounts. Other interesting participants include Anwar el Sadat, the Egyptian Army officer, nationalist, and later President of Egypt. As the author says, the Condor story needs no embellishment. The real-life protagonists, while admittedly more prosaic than their highly fictionalised doppelgängers, are still fascinating in their own right. The author also has the benefit of the declassified files, which were released in 2006.

He tells the story through the eyes of six of the main historical figures. Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling, founder of the SAS. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the legendary Afrika Korps, who nearly succeeded in driving the British out of Egypt. Then the more exotic figure of Egyptian Hekmat Fahmy, the renowned belly dancer, regarded as a Mata-Hari-like German agent in previous accounts but a more intriguing and ambiguous character in real life. Then the on-the-ground protagonists, Major A.W. “Sammy” Sansom and Johannes Eppler, aka Hussein Gaafar, the notorious, if incompetent, German spy of Operation Condor. Finally, Colonel Bonner Fellers, the U.S. military attaché in Cairo, who was privy to critical Allied secrets in the North African theatre and inadvertently played an important role in intelligence-gathering activities for both sides in the campaign.

The historical afterword is somewhat longer than most works of historical fiction. He presents the true historical legacy and ultimate fate of the seven primary historical figures in the book. Cairo was the proverbial 'nest of spies' in WW2, and I have read some of these files in the National Archives for my own research. As is often the case, the historical facts can be as fascinating as fiction. This book bridges the gap very well.

The Matilda tank in 15mm.


Friday, 16 September 2022

Roman army Units in the Eastern Provinces (2)

 This is a new Osprey by Raffaele D'Amato on the Roman army in the east during the 3rd century AD. This is the period after the 50 years of anarchy with the accession of Diocletian, the first of the Illyrian emperors. The focus here is on the Balkans, so it's a no-brainer for me.

 


You get everything you would expect from the Men-at-Arms series for your modest outlay. An introduction to the period and a chronology. Then how the military was organised. There were still recognisable legions in this period, with similar names, although numbers and unit types were changing. 

The legions were distributed according to the threats, with the Dacian border having perhaps 10% of the total strength. At least until it was largely abandoned in the 270s. The Balkan defences were then strengthened along the Danube. A helpful table sets out where each legion was based and similar charts for the Auxilia and Numeri.

The arms, equipment and clothing get detailed treatment, supported by the usual colour plates. This is the meat of the book. The latest archaeology is discussed by region, including several Balkan finds. All are well illustrated. There are some interesting variations on the standard legionary that I hadn't seen before, as well as the auxiliaries. A Syrian infantryman with a long spear and javelins caught my eye. There are also some of the more exotic Roman units of the period, including dromedarius.

There is an extensive bibliography if you want to read more. Overall, more than just an introduction. All you really need to build a wargames army of the period with plenty of options. There isn't a lot on tactics, but that is available elsewhere.

On the subject of the Romans, I would highly recommend listening to James Lacey being interviewed about his new book, Rome: Strategy of Empire, on the New Books in Military History podcast. Not just a military strategy but also a focus on what made the empire tick. Not least the economics that sustained the legions and the devastating impact of the civil wars.

28mm cataphracts from my collection


Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The Ottoman Army of the Napoleonic Wars, 1784-1815

 Books on the Ottomans during the Napoleonic wars are a bit like buses. First, nothing for ages, then two come along at once! Well, not quite at once, but Chris Flaherty's book on the uniforms, tactics and organisation of the Napoleonic Ottoman Army came out in 2020. This new book by Bruno Mugnai complements Chris's book, as it is stronger on the written sources, while Chris concentrates more on the uniforms. 


There are four main parts to the book.

The first section focuses on the Ottoman Empire, the 'Sick Man of Europe' as it was known, although that phrase tended to be more widespread later in the century. There is an interesting discussion about the decentralisation of the empire and the power of the ayans (local notables), like Pazvantoglu Osman and Ali Pasha. Mugnai argues that this period demonstrates the interdependence between local power-holders and the Porte. He also points to the large distances from the centre to the borders, which made centralised control on the western model challenging. Losses of between 25% or even 50% were not uncommon during the campaign. Finally, there is a complete discussion on attempts at reform and the power struggles that negated almost every effort.

The following section discusses the armies of the Sultan. This covers both the regular units of the standing army, most famously the janissaries and the myriad local troops. He also discusses the introduction of western technology and tactics, primarily with French assistance. This includes the New Order Army and how it had to be developed in secret. Finally, the chapter on auxiliary troops is excellent, as this is probably the least well-covered part of the army.

The third section covers the wars the Ottomans fought during this period. These were extensive in both Europe and the Middle East. It always annoys me when wargame army lists ignore the Ottomans. When I pointed out this omission to one author, he replied that the Ottomans didn't fight during the Napoleonic wars! He was a bit shocked when I sent him a long list! They are all covered here, including some that I had missed. The author uses this section to discuss how Ottoman tactics developed and adapted to different conflicts. In particular, how Ottoman cavalry tactics were no longer able to withstand confrontation with the west and the failure to coordinate cavalry, infantry and artillery. 

Finally, a section on Ottoman dress, equipment and ensigns. Chris Flaherty's book covers this in more detail, but it rounds off the book. 

As you would expect from a book in this series by Helion, it is lavishly illustrated, including a batch of colour plates. I fear my 28mm janissaries look too parade ground based on these plates, although my 15mm figures are better balanced. The plates and discussion about the Nizam-i Cedid uniforms make me think it's time for a rethink.

Overall, this is excellent. It isn't a light or a quick read, but one I will return to frequently.

Some of my 28mm Ottoman auxiliaries. Mainly from the Dixon range.

I am currently painting Albanian and Montenegrin figures for this period. Here are the first Albanians who served in the Ionian Islands with both the French and the Russians. A lot more to do, but these at least look as if they have been on campaign.






Sunday, 4 September 2022

The Last Torpedo Flyers

 This is the wartime memoir of Arthur Aldridge, an RAF pilot who flew the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber, although it could also carry a bomb load and mines. Attacking enemy ships in a plane as slow as the Beaufort often felt like a suicide mission to many of the pilots who flew them. This is the story of one of those courageous pilots.

The Beaufort wasn't one of the RAF's more successful designs. More were lost through accidents and mechanical failures than were lost to enemy fire. The Beaufort was adapted as a long-range heavy fighter variant called the Beaufighter, which proved to be much more successful.

Arthur Aldridge volunteered for the RAF in 1940 and spent a year in training. This included night flying, although it was so dangerous that pilots got as much 'night flying' in as they could before dark! That didn't reduce fatal accidents by much. It wasn't just confusing for the RAF. When Aldridge was based at Chivenor in Kent, a Junkers 88 landed on their runway thinking he was in the north of France. At least the RAF gained a fully functioning aircraft to test.

The first major challenge was the Channel Dash when major German surface ships broke out of Brest and sailed back to Germany. While they benefited from poor weather, it was still a comedy of errors, and the few aircraft that found the convoy did so more by luck than judgement. The Beaufort typically flew in at fifty feet and then rose to 70-80 feet to release the torpedo. Aldridge came out of the murk and saw one of the battle cruisers less than a thousand feet away. With only seconds to react, he released his torpedo. While he understandably missed, the Germans were just as surprised and didn't get much AA fire off at him. Others were not so lucky.

The craziest mission was a planned attack on the Tirpitz in Norway. The Beaufort didn't have the range to make the return trip, so they were told to fly into Sweden and hope to find an airfield or crash land into the sea. Both options meant almost certain death. This was a suicide mission, and pilots knew it. Thankfully, it was called off at the last moment when the Tirpitz slipped away using bad weather. 

Aldridge and his crew were sent to Malta, where they managed to sink an Italian cruiser, the Trento. As well as a cargo ship. Flying an aircraft when everyone on Malta was on starvation rations was pretty challenging. He lost forty pounds in weight, and he wasn't big to start with. Nevertheless, he won the DFC and Bar by the age of 21. He has some interesting observations on combat stress and how the RAF did or didn't handle it. The RAF suffered 3,000 cases of nervous breakdown a year during WW2. He was an NCO and highlighted the differences between how the different pilots were treated.

There were some non-military highlights. He got to meet the cricketer Wally Hammond, a boyhood hero. Then Squadron Leader Hammond was based in Egypt. Aldridge was there en route to his final, and relatively quiet, posting in Ceylon.

In many ways, this is a typical wartime memoir, with lengthy reminiscences about training and the time spent outwith combat. They are often interesting but not that great a read. This is no different, except he flew in one of the less glamorous aircraft types. However, they do Sawyer his 95% boredom and 5% sheer terror, which is just about accurate here. He never piloted an aircraft again after the war. Who can blame him!

Bristol Beauforts of 217 Squadron

Monday, 29 August 2022

Cheshire Military Museum

 The last stop on our family and friends road trip was Chester. This city has a long history, best known as the Roman town of Deva, of which the remains of the amphitheatre, baths and walls can still be seen.  


The later walls also saw action in the 16 months between September 1644 and February 1646 during the civil wars. The Sealed Knot have a plaque in the Roman bath gardens to commemorate the siege.

We are fortunate in the UK to have many regimental museums, often run by volunteers or charitable trusts. Chester has the Cheshire Military Museum in the old barracks. It tells the story of the Cheshire Soldiers from the 17th century to the present day.

Exhibits are displayed chronologically, with a mixture of uniforms, equipment and display boards. Cheshire had infantry and cavalry regiments who fought in most of Britain's major wars in every century.

 


While the broad sweep of history is interesting, the smaller exhibits are often the most interesting. Like this draughts board made by WW1 infantry out of postcards and stamps.

Or this Roll Book found at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli. 


This Croix de Guerre was awarded to the 12th Battalion for an attack on Pip Ridge in the Salonika Campaign, a particular interest of mine.


This is rare WW2 sight. A British cavalryman with a horse. This depicts a trooper from the Cheshire Yeomanry in the Syria Campaign of 1941.



 
Finally, for the wargamers, a nice diorama. The Scinde campaign, if I remember correctly.


Sunday, 28 August 2022

Jet Age Museum

We have been on what used to be pre-pandemic, an annual road trip to visit friends and family in England. This includes a few stops of interest, gardens for my wife and history for me. On the way down, we stopped at Ludlow with its very fine castle. 


Ludlow also has Dinham House, where Napoleon's brother Lucien stayed after being captured by the British on his way to the USA. He had fallen out with his big brother.


On the way back, we visited the Jet Age Museum in Gloucester, right next to the airport. This Museum opened its doors in August 2013 to house the Gloucestershire Aviation Collection. The Gloucester Aviation Company was taken over by Hawker before WW2 but continued to build aircraft under its own name. 

When the name Gloucester is mentioned, I think of the Gladiator, and they are building a replica based on recovered parts. However, before that, there was the Gamecock, which served in five fighter squadrons in the interwar years. It was also sold to Finland, where it survived to take on the Soviets in the Winter War. The museum has a lovely replica.

Then we have the Meteor, the first British jet fighter. The Meteor was a great export success for Gloster. Almost 4 000 examples were built,  serving 18 air forces. There were trainer and night fighter versions as well. And there are examples of these at the museum.


One Cold War fighter that had passed me by was the Gloucester Javelin. Britain's first delta-winged fighter was produced to take on Soviet bombers at high altitudes. Some 435 of these huge fighters were built.


In addition to the aircraft, there are engines, equipment and models, as well as information panels. The museum is open at weekends and is run by volunteers. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Sunday, 21 August 2022

For want of frigates

'Frigates!' cried Nelson, 'Were I to die this moment, want of frigates would be found engraved on my heart!' The frigate was big enough to carry significant firepower but fast enough to evade larger enemies. The light cavalry of the seas, patrolling, scouting and above all, fighting. As Nelson put it, 'The eyes of the fleet'. They often operated alone, while the larger ships of the line typically operated in squadrons or fleets blockading enemy ports. 

I have been building more ships for Black Seas to go with my Adriatic project. I only do the basic build as my fingers and thumbs can't manage to rig, but these are perfectly adequate wargame models, not fine ship models.

The focus has been on frigates and brigs, as they were the typical warships fighting in the Adriatic during the Napoleonic wars. Having said that, the Russians brought a fleet of ships of the line into the Adriatic, which were very effective in bombarding French forts. So here we have a Russian 3rd rate, a frigate and a brig engaging an Ottoman squadron. There were still plenty of frigate actions, and I would recommend the memoirs of Vladimir Bronevskiy, who served on one.


Most frigate actions were the interception of cargo ships. These involved either a shot across the bow or using the ship's boats to board. These don't make great games unless they are in convoys with warship escorts. Late in the war, the French used warships to carry vital cargoes.

One such attack is known as the Action of 29 November 1811. The commander of the Lissa squadron was Captain Murray Maxwell on the frigate HMS Alceste (38) with HMS Active (38), HMS Unite (36), HMS Acorn (20) and HMS Kingfisher (18). He received a signal that a French convoy was heading north from Corfu carrying a cargo of some 200 cannon to Trieste and set sail, leaving Acorn and marines at Lissa. The French convoy was commanded by Commodore François-Gilles Montfort on the Pauline (40), with Pomone (40) and Persanne (26). 

The French convoy was sighted near the island of Lastovo, and Montfort ordered his ships to make full sail to avoid pursuit. The Persanne could not keep pace with her faster frigates and broke off being pursued by Unite. The French ship, primarily a store ship, was heavily outgunned and surrendered after a token broadside. The main action developed into separate duels between Active and Pomone and Alceste and Pauline. Pomone suffered heavy damage, as did Active, with its captain (James Gordon) having his leg blown off. When HMS Kingfisher appeared on the horizon, Montfort decided that he could no longer protect the battered Pomone and sailed away in the Pauline, with the British ships too damaged to pursue. Instead, they concentrated their fire on the Pomone who, after losing her masts, surrendered. This ending is captured in the wonderful painting by Pierre Julien Gilbert.

I have been building some additional French and British frigates and replayed this action with the same outcome. Although I refuse to damage the ship models!



I have also been reading some mostly older books on frigate actions. This 1897 history of the Royal Navy, The royal navy: a history from the earliest times to the present, can be read on the internet archive. There are many good books on frigate actions. My latest purchase has been James Henderson's The Frigates. 


Frigate actions are an excellent way to get into Black Seas. 

Friday, 19 August 2022

Lion Rampant - Second Edition

 My copy of the new edition of Lion Rampant thudded onto the door mat yesterday. I say thudded because this is a weightier tome than the original standard Osprey softback. This is my favourite set of rules for small battles in the medieval period. 

For those not familiar with these rules, they are fast-play small battle rules written by Dan Mersey. You command a Warband, typically of five to seven units. Cavalry units usually have six figures and infantry twelve. There is a point system, but this is a scenario-driven game, raids, convoys etc. It doesn't take itself too seriously; the emphasis is on fun games that can be all over in an hour or so. Most games are played in 28mm, but you can play with any scale.

The mechanisms have spawned versions for later periods, including the renaissance and the horse and musket era. There is also a fantasy version called Dragon Rampant. Some of this learning has been imported into this new edition. There are also a couple of excellent supplements for the crusades and the Vikings, published by Edinburgh University.

So what's new, and what do you get for the extra hard cover dosh? Well, in terms of the rules themselves, not a lot. The basic mechanisms work well, so he hasn't changed them much. Some of the unit names have changed to reflect a broader historical period, back into the Dark Ages. And units failing a Wild Charge can still test for a move in the ordered activation phase. There is quite a bit of rule clarification, which adopts the many house rules some of us have been using. There is also a stack of optional rules, including playing with smaller and larger warbands, flanks, shieldwalls, weather and group moves. Unit variants introduce camels, chariots, and later troop types such as pikes and handgunners. 

I am surprised that the unit proximity rule from three inches to one is only an option. He rightly changed it in Pikeman's Lament, and the one-inch proximity is probably the most widely used house rule. The problem with three inches is that players started forming their units in columns to get them onto the table, which looked ridiculous. 

There are 16 scenarios and a simple campaign system. You also get many more sample 24-point warbands in this edition and some legendary fun ones like Robin Hood and his merry men. The production quality is all you would expect from Osprey. Lots of lovely artwork from their books and nice eye candy models. 

I suspect a few folks will complain that a lot of the extra fluff isn't necessary and has just added to the cost. The cynic might think the driver is - this is a very popular rule set, so let's produce a new higher value version. I believe the saying, 'you may think that, but I couldn't possibly comment,' may be apposite here! It is certainly less easy to use in this format, although many of us use our own club quick reference sheets, which have already been updated (thanks, Rab!).

Anyway, I personally don't begrudge the cost of a new edition that I enjoyed reading. I just need to find time to play it more!

On the subject of eye candy, I can now field my Vikings.

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Bushido Dawn

 This is the fourth of Andy Johnson's WW2 novels. I absolutely loved his first book Seelöwe Nord, which assumed that Operation Sea Lion happened on the Yorkshire coast. I played a very enjoyable mini-campaign based on it, with my Matilda tanks just stopping the panzers on the River Ouse. This book is based on the Burma campaign of 1942.

The book follows the invasion of Burma by Japanese forces and the retreat of British and Empire units to the Indian border. It wasn't Britain's finest hour, although the author in his historical note is kinder to the generals concerned than most historians have been. He fairly points out that the hastily put together forces were simply not equipped to deal with the experienced Japanese forces who could regularly outflank each defensive line. The command structure going all the way back to India didn't help. 

The author doesn't break the story down into conventional chapters. Instead, you get brief sections with military-style headings that tell you the where and when of each action. This is an effective way of clearly identifying when he shifts from the strategic to the operational and then the front line. In addition, this gives the reader a comprehensive perspective of the campaign at many levels. 

The Japanese side is told mainly through the lens of an infantry company. You get a clear picture of the ideology and tactics that were so successful in this campaign but sowed the seeds of later defeats. The British perspective is more detailed, and we visit a Yorkshire battalion and Indian and Gurka units. The procession of generals and the challenges they faced are fairly covered, with a limited look at the air war as well.

I really enjoyed this book. Some of the best WW2 fiction around. I hope he keeps going.

I have Japanese and British armies in 15mm and 28mm, painted mainly for the Malayan campaign. But with the exception of the Aussies, they work fine for Burma.






Sunday, 14 August 2022

Against All Odds - Pakistan Air Force in 1971

 I have long thought the Indo-Pakistan wars deserve more attention. Helion Books obviously believe the same as they keep feeding my interest! The latest is Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail's study of the Pakistan Air Force in the 1971 war.


Obviously, a Pakistani air force officer will find it challenging to be objective, but there are other studies of the Indian Air Force in this series for balance.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had performed well in the 1965 War, punching well above its weight. However, the Indian Air Force had remedied some of their problems and, as ever, would enter the war with a material advantage. The 1971 conflict was essentially about East Pakistan, or Bangladesh as it is now known. The geography alone created enormous problems for the PAF, and as other studies on the ground war have shown, the forward defence strategy was pretty optimistic, if not foolhardy.

The PAF had not stood still since 1965, although the US arms embargo created procurement challenges. Their biggest acquisition was 90 Shenyang F-6 fighters from China. This is the Chinese version of the Mig-19. They also wangled a way around the embargo by buying 90 ex-Luftwaffe F-86E (Sabre) jets. The most modern additions were 24 Mirage III from France. In total, they had 290 combat aircraft, of which 215 were operational. 

The PAF's strategic and tactical problems were not limited to the geography of a country split in two. Even West Pakistan lacked depth, which meant every air base was within easy strike reach. The lack of comprehensive radar cover only added to this problem. They did attempt to defend these bases with the side effect of drawing IAF attacks rather than their exposed lines of communication. The PAF's primary mission remained to provide air cover for the army's thrust into India, its only way of distracting the Indian army from its invasion of East Pakistan.

The PAF flew a total of 288 offensive counter-air sorties. 81 sorties (28% of the effort) were unsuccessful as the armament could not be delivered for several reasons. Five aircraft were lost during the missions, two during the day and three at night, amounting to a campaign attrition rate of 1.7%, which was considered within acceptable limits. The PAF had very few assets to support the heavily outnumbered Pakistan Navy and even had to resort to converting civilian airliners. Overall the IAF lost 60 aircraft to the PAF 27. However, the IAF flew many more sorties and more challenging ones. 60% of the IAF losses were from AA fire. A quarter of the PAF losses were on the ground due to poor dispersal practice at air bases. The bottom line was that the IAF numbers counted, as it did in the land war.

This book gives the reader a detailed account of the air war at a strategic and operational level. Masses of data and profusely illustrated, including colour plates for the modeller and wargamer. An excellent read and everything you need to reproduce the conflict on the tabletop.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

1945 Victory in the West

 This is Peter Caddick-Adams' study of the final campaign of WW2 in western Europe from the perspective of Allied land forces. My late war interests are in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Therefore my understanding of anything after the Battle of the Bulge and, of course, the Bridge at Remagen is limited. I vaguely thought this was primarily a grand charge across Germany - how wrong I was!


It would appear I am not entirely at fault for this ignorance. Montgomery, in his Memoirs allocated only ten pages to this campaign; Bradley and Eisenhower scarcely double that. One part I was familiar with was the harrowing pictures of the concentration camps, as Allied troops liberated the few remaining survivors. However, that is only one part of the story. There were also about 45,000 labour camps, where over 12 million foreigners were used as serfs, comprising 26 per cent of the entire workforce within Greater Germany. Many of these people were worked or starved to death; the 'slow-death 'amps for the still useful', noted one'GI, as opposed to 'quick-death'camps for the unwanted.' Not to men'ion the three million Russian POWs who died in captivity.

On the military aspects of the campaign, the operations in the south led by US General Devers, commanding the Sixth Army Group of Patch's SevePatch'sand de Lattre's FirLattre'sh Armies, were also new to me. He was less of a publicist than Montgomery and Patton, and he had the challenge of managing the French army with de Gaulle interfering from afar. After grinding their way through the High Vosges, he had an opportunity to cross the Rhine, but Eisenhower blocked it. Even Patton thought it was practical, but Eisenhower was perhaps overly cautious after Market Garden. As Peter concludes, 'For Devers, it was'probably a case of right solution, wrong time.' The achievements 'f Devers and Patch in stemming the German Nordwind offensive also remain remarkably little known. This story was repeated to a certain degree when it came to exploiting the bridge at Remagen.

Another under-publicised story was the Canadians' contribution in opening t'e vital Ways'y port of Antwerp. Thanks to the 'We Have Ways' podcast interviews, I was aware of this. Canadian casualties were 20 per cent higher than comparable British formations due to the days spent in close combat. The role of engineers in bridging the many rivers under fire is also an understated contribution to victory.

The politics of the French army is interesting, and the treatment of French colonial troops was appalling. De Gaulle needed these fighters but was equally determined there could be no hint that France had been rescued by her colonies. Battle-hardened Berbers, Senegalese and Cameroonians handed over their weapons, helmets and even greatcoats to former Resistance fighters. The young teenagers knew no discipline and had little training, but they were white. In his memoirs, de Gaulle described the goodwill of the United States as scanty, which was nonsense given the scale of equipment and training provided. There is also an interesting story of how the Ameri'ans whisked atomic scientists and equipment from the'Hitler'sthe Fren'h.

There is a snippet of interest to 'argame rule writers (Bolt Action in particular) who big up the MG42. Peter compares the Allied MGs favourably with this weapon, not least the advantages of the magazine-fed Bren. He concludes, 'Thus, the Allies had more of an equivalence against ‘Hitler’s bandsaw’ than most writers generally realise.' There are lots of snippets like this in the book. For example, the scale of Black Market theft was pretty staggering, with only 11 million of 77 million packs of cigarettes reaching US troops in Europe. Patton's reckless, and costly, raid to rescue his son-in-law is another. Or the comment of a US doctor that ‘It was really the Jeep that was Hitler’s secret weapon. I recall one hospital I visited had half its beds filled with victims of Jeep accidents.’

One of the reasons I thought the campaign in Germany was something of a parade was because of the strength and poor quality of most German units. In January 1945, there were 146 German divisions on the Eastern Front; in the West, there were seventy-nine. The following month, the Western Front had declined to 68, with 173 opposite the Russians as they neared Berlin. And not a single German unit was at full strength. However, there were significant pockets of resistance with some units fighting to the last man. Also, the one weapon system left in the Reich in abundance was flak guns of every size. As the Allies learned early the war, these could very very deadly ground attack weapons.

I'll stop as there is so much more in this book. I really liked the blend of the strategic down to the front line, which gives the reader a broad perspective of this campaign. I now have a better understanding of a campaign that was anything but a parade.

There were still a few of these around! (Swedish Tank Museum)


Saturday, 6 August 2022

Claymore 2022

I was off to Edinburgh today for the Claymore show, the only Scottish wargame show that has survived this year. As always, well organised by the South East Scotland Wargames Club. There appeared to be a good attendance with a good range of traders and games. The GDWS Battlegroup members volunteered for our game, which gave me a lot more time to see the games, chat with old friends and generally enjoy the show. My purchases were surprisingly few. Some 28mm late Austrians for my Adriatic project along with some British sailors, a ships boat and a few personality figures. Plus bases and paint. Not one book caught my eye!

The GDWS game was 'Holding Carentan'. A 15mm WW2 game using the Battlegroup rules, with its growing pile of scenario booklets.


I have bought into the Border reivers Kickstarter, so it was good to see Iain running a participation game.


I was very impressed with the terrain for the Injim River, a Korean war battle.


I'm not sure about the use of maps as terrain. I just can't visualise the terrain. However, this Bautzen game was certainly a spectacle.


At 28mm, more suitable for my eyesight, this Samurai naval warfare game had some excellent ships.


Also, at sensible scales. The Indian Mutiny.


And Bhagdad on the Rio Grande using Sharp Practice from the Falkirk club.



A naval game close to my current interests was Lemnos with Ottomans and Russians.


The Prestwick club had a popular Dragon Rampant game.


Strength and Honour, Mons Graupius in 2mm.


Bolt Action.

A nice 28mm ACW cavalry battle.


And finally, a superb big scale Battle of Pydna in 28mm.



A good day out and many thanks to SESWC for organising it.