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

Thursday 31 March 2022

Return of the Ottomans

 My fiction bedtime reading has been Return of the Ottomans, the first in the Smoke over the Bosporus series by Maciej Jonasz. The setting for the series is the modern-day Balkans (well, 2017ish), with a Turkish government set on re-establishing the Ottoman Empire. The style is more like John Hackett's Third World War than a Tom Clancy thriller, emphasising military operations.

The starting point is the burning of a mosque in Sofia after the alleged rape of a Bulgarian woman by a Muslim refugee. This is used by the Turkish government as a casus belli for the invasion of Bulgaria. After securing the Greek border, a Turkish army corps advances over the Thracian border. It faces delaying actions from Bulgarian mechanised and mountain units who inflict heavy casualties on the Turkish armour before breaking through one of the mountain passes and onto the Bulgarian plain. Meanwhile, the small Bulgarian air force is largely destroyed, and marine units land on the Black Sea coast at Varna. This allows for a secondary drive north of the Balkan Mountains along the Danube to develop a pincer movement on the capital Sofia.

The heavily outnumbered and ill-equipped Bulgarian forces continue to fall back, inflicting some damage but not halting the advance. That is until some other Balkan states decide to intervene at different levels. I won't spoil the story, but this inevitably leads to larger scale battles on both approaches to Sofia.

The author doesn't spend a lot of time on grand strategy. Instead, the focus is on unit-level actions. He takes a platoon or a company of Turkish and Bulgarian troops, gives them a personality, and then takes the reader through the actions they take. This varies from air force pilots engaging in dog fights to mechanised infantry taking on tanks with ATGW. There is enough discussion about the merits of different weapon systems to keep the most ardent tankie happy. There is also a bit on the intelligence war and the use of Turkish sympathisers inside Bulgaria.

Coincidentally, the new Bulgarian defence minister, only this week, has called for a significant upgrade in the Bulgarian military, saying, "We need a capable and combat-ready army that can protect us. We need to restore key military capabilities, but this means that serious spending must be done." These include the development of artillery support capabilities, acquisition of 3D radars, construction of an air defence system, unmanned aerial vehicles, multi-purpose diesel-electric submarines, ammunition for naval vessels, coastal missile systems and the acquisition of field communication equipment. These weaknesses are all highlighted in this, albeit fiction, book.

However, we should remember that this is fiction. The Turkish government does use its Ottoman heritage to expand its soft power reach into the Balkans and elsewhere. Dimitar Bechev's new book, Turkey Under Erdogan, clearly explains this. However, it is a giant leap to turn that into the Islamic fundamentalism described in this book. The Turkish Armed Forces may have moved some way from the secular principles of Kemalism, particularly since the botched coup, but not that far. Junior officers were already more relaxed about religion and the changing role of the Turkish military in politics, as Metin Gurcan's detailed study shows. NATO is also written out of the context for this book, which may be pushing the Cyprus analogy a bit too far.

So, despite my reservations over the context, this is a really well-written book. The action scenes are very credible, and it's a real page-turner. It is also well researched. I have already started the next in the series based on a Greek invasion of North Cyprus. Keep going, Maciej!

Onto the tabletop using 1/300 micro armour and Cold War Commander rules. I took one of the early scenarios from the book. A Turkish mechanised brigade advances over the border and into the pass where the dismounted Bulgarians are waiting. 

As in the book, they let the recon troop go through and focus on the tanks and APCs. The initial attacks are successful, and they withdraw before the Turkish artillery and air support arrived. Sound tactics until they run out of mountains!

Monday 28 March 2022

The Tragedy of HMS Dasher

 This book by John Steele demonstrates the value of our public library service, even for people like me lucky enough to own lots of books. I came across this book in my local library, which covers the sinking of the escort carrier, HMS Dasher, just off the coast near where I live. I do recall seeing the memorial but had very little understanding of this tragedy and the controversy that continues to this day.

HMS Dasher was one of six escort carriers built or converted in the USA under lend-lease. They were built on a standard commercial hull with a single aircraft lift and hanger. It housed 12 Sea Hurricanes or a mix of Hurricanes and Swordfish. Its armament included ten 20mm Oerlikon guns. HMS Dasher was converted from the cargo ship Rio de Janeiro. It had a crew of over 500. It served in Operation Torch and on Arctic convoy duties. It was known as an unlucky ship by the crew, who shared their concerns with families and friends. This class was known as 'Woolworth's Carriers', after the shop that rarely sold anything more than sixpence.

HMS Dasher sank at 16:48 on 27 March 1943 in the Clyde estuary between Ardrossan and the Isle of Arran. The destroyer La Capricieuse, the radar training ship Isle of Sark, and a couple of coastal vessels were in the immediate vicinity. The Clyde estuary is a fairly quiet stretch of water today, but in WW2, it was busy with cargo ships and transports sailing to and from Glasgow. Over 1900 ships were built on the Clyde during the war, and a further 23191 were repaired there. So, it was all the more remarkable that even allowing for wartime secrecy, this sinking is so little known.

The Board of Inquiry was inconclusive as to the exact cause of the sinking. However, it was clear that this was an internal event, not a torpedo or mine. We now know that there were no U-Boats in the Clyde that day, and the sea lanes were regularly swept. It seems likely that the petrol stowage was set alight, and this may have also triggered depth charges in the adjacent storage area.  The Board made a number of recommendations to improve safety in other carriers of this class. The Admiralty blamed the Americans for the design failures, and the Americans blamed the lack of British experience with bulk aviation fuel.

The book carefully assesses the evidence and adds other explanations, including the engine crank case blowing up, an electrical fault and a metal spark. Eye witness evidence from the coast points to an aircraft crash during landing. Whatever the reason and many questions remain, the survivors and their relatives carried these scars for many years. There has been an annual reunion at the memorial stone in Ardrossan since it was laid. At the end of the day, 379 lives were lost, and not through enemy action. We should remember them.

Saturday 26 March 2022

SU-152/ISU-152 vs Tiger

I literally have hundreds of Osprey books, but I wasn't entirely convinced about this Osprey Duel series when it first came out. In essence, they take two weapon systems and compare their development and then how they measured up on the battlefield. This new book, by David Greentree, uses two of the biggest AFVs on the Eastern Front in WW2. However, while they don't have the technical detail of the Vanguard series, or the campaign narrative of Essential Histories, the combination does offer the general reader something different.

Firstly, you get some campaign context. Weapon systems are not developed in isolation, and for the Germans, heavy Soviet AFVs like the KV1 came as something of a shock. So, in 1942, German designers were given six months to produce a Tiger. The SU-152 had a longer gestation period. It was originally conceived out of a need to destroy bunkers encountered in the war with Finland. Various options were tried before settling on the 152mm SP gun, and the first 30 were produced in February 1943. The ISU-152 had a better designed fighting compartment, although it almost always fired at the halt. Aimed fire rate was 2-2.5 rounds per minute.

There is a chapter on design and development, as well as technical specifications, which gives enough detail for most readers. The 'tankies' will want more, but that's what the Vanguard series is for. In December 1943, the SU-152 and ISU-152 were both produced at Chelyabinsk, with 46 ISU-152s made. On average, 100 would be produced every month from May 1944. In contrast, only 1348 Tigers were built (around 75 per month), due to the high production costs.

A typical combat deployment for the SU-152 was in four batteries of five, with trucks for ammunition supply. Some had an SMG company and a sapper platoon attached. Tiger battalions often had lighter tanks attached to protect the flanks, as well as recce, supply, engineer and signals platoons. The six independent Tiger battalions on the Eastern Front in May 1944 were used strategically in support of key operations. The combat chapter gives several examples of how both types were used in action. These include the Soviet Kharkov offensive of May 1943, which is sadly topical at present. As you would expect from an Osprey publication, these are accompanied by excellent maps. There are also vignettes on junior commanders from both sides.

Many German crews questioned the merit of having a few heavy tanks like the Tiger rather than larger numbers of other AFVs. However, senior officers and Hitler persisted with the Tiger and later the King Tiger. While Tigers were successful in supporting infantry against hordes of Soviet armour, they were less effective in breakthrough operations due to speed and maintenance issues. The presence of Tigers on the front also indicated where the point of main effort would be, and the Soviets developed multiple lines of defence to stop the Tiger from intervening decisively. This meant the SU-152 often came up against the Tiger because Tigers supported infantry formations. Its limited ammunition and slow rate of fire did not make it an effective AT weapon.

I found this book useful and a good read, although I am not convinced they can be described as in a 'duel'. Other books in this series match up clear cut combatants. For example, the M48 and Centurion in the Indo-Pakistan War. The ISU-122 was designed as a dedicated tank destroyer, arguably a better match up with the Tiger, although even the high explosive shell from the SU-152 was enough to blow the turret of a Tiger. The ISU-122 sometimes served in the same unit as the ISU-152. However, different ammunition types made supply more complex.

For the wargamer, this book provides all you need to reproduce typical actions involving these AFVs on the tabletop. 

I haven't got an SU-152, or a Tiger in 28mm. Too large for Bolt Action in my view. But I do have this SU-122 from the Butlers range. Not very cost-effective in Bolt Action but its a nice model.

It's in 1/200th that these beasts are best represented.

Monday 21 March 2022

Operation Allied Force 1999

The air war over Serbia in 1999, Operation Allied Force, hasn't had the coverage of the earlier air and ground campaigns in the former Yugoslavia. This new book in the Helion Europe@War series by Bojan Dimitrijevic and Lt-Gen Jovica Draganic is an excellent introduction to the campaign, lavishly illustrated including pages of Tom Cooper and Goran Sudar's lovely colour plates.

This campaign was fought over twenty years ago, but you can still see the impact today. As almost every Belgrade taxi driver I have travelled with reminds you when going past damaged buildings! The cause of the conflict, Kosovo, is also unresolved.

The Yugoslav Air Force was reorganised after the breakaway wars that ended in the peace accord of December 1995. At this stage, Montenegro was still part of the rump Yugoslavia. With the new air force (RV i PVO) limited to 155 combat aircraft and 55 combat helicopters, many of the older types were scrapped or sent to the Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum. A shortage of fuel and economic problems also resulted in a drastic reduction in flying time. 

The unresolved issues in Kosovo turned into open clashes between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces. James Pettifer's book is pretty comprehensive if you want more on this. NATO started the planning for a new conflict, and several exercises were held. Serbian military leaders warned their government that the armed forces were ill-equipped for such a conflict, a warning ignored by President Milošević. An initial peace deal broke down, and Milošević removed the leading Serbian commanders from their posts. He needed the war to explain to the Serbian people why he was losing Kosovo, an important cornerstone in the Serbian perception of its history and tradition.

NATO issued an ultimatum on 19 February 1999, and air and naval assets from member states arrived in the theatre. The Serbian planners had around 72 available Mig 21s and 14 Mig 29s. The strongest part of the air defence system was the four Missile Air defence regiments armed with SA-3, SA-6, Neva and Kub SAMs. There were also optimistic plans to use Mig 21s in the close support role in Kosovo. The USA provided the largest element of NATO forces based in Italian airbases and on the 6th Fleet. In addition, Britain and France provided significant air assets along with contributions from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark, Norway and Italy. The book includes clear maps showing the deployment of NATO and Serbian forces.

The early operations targeted a limited number of sites in support of political objectives to force Serbia back to the negotiating table. The Mig 29 interceptors were shot down, and cruise missiles took out major air bases as the RV i PVO scattered its planes. The hardened aircraft shelters provided little security. The SAMs had limited success, including shooting down a US Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. The pilot was recovered after spending seven hours on Serbian soil. The NATO commander General Clark indirectly praised the Serbian air defence while commenting on the effectiveness of both
sides during Allied Force, but he was obviously tremendously disappointed. The NATo response included the deployment of dedicated SEAD groups with the sole task of destroying the SAM batteries.

After the NATO summit in April, operations were stepped up, and it was claimed that 70 Serbian aircraft had been destroyed along with 40% of SAM-3 and 25% of SAM-6 systems. Airbases were attacked again, and the Golubovci-Podgorica base lost 26 Galebs. On 2 May, NATO cut off power in Serbia using a graphite bomb for the first time. Broader political and communications targets were added, and this led to the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Ground troops and attack helicopters started to assemble in the region.

The operation ended on 10 June after Milošević agreed to withdraw his forces from Kosovo and KFOR took over. The last European war of the 20th century was over. This volume covers the operations, and a second volume provides further analysis. One for the air warfare buffs.

For the wargamer, the air combat was more than a little lopsided. Of more interest was the battle against the SAMs. 

1/300 SA-6. The most common Serbian SAM was the S-125 Neva-M (SA-3 Goa)

Saturday 19 March 2022

Hitler's Forgotten Flotillas

 This book by Lawrence Paterson tells the story of the Kriegsmarine Security Forces (Sicherungsstreitkrafte) in WW2. These were the smaller ships, the minesweepers, submarine hunters, escort vessels and patrol boats that made up the largest element of the German Navy, even if much less well known than the capital ships or the U-Boats. They served in most theatres of WW2.

No navy can operate without minesweepers. The Kriegsmarine inherited Type 15/16 minesweepers from the Imperial German Navy, a ship type they were allowed to keep under the Versailles Treaty. When the new M35 class entered service, they were retained as training ships and tenders. German minesweepers were designed to be used flexibly in various roles and were often larger and better armed than other navies. The M35 had two 105mm guns and one 37mm and two 20mm AA guns. They also developed smaller Raumboote boats, similar to the better-known S-boats, although they also became larger and carried more weapons as the war progressed. For those like me who have struggled to sail even these manoeuvrable boats on the tabletop without crashing, there is a picture on page 11 of an R-boat turning on a sixpence!

As the war progressed, Security Divisions were created, grouping flotillas in the expanding theatres of war. Initially in the home waters, northern France, Norway and the Baltic. However, the expansion was constrained by manpower shortages, as the Kriegsmarine was a low priority. There was also a shortage of shipyards, even when some became available in occupied countries. In these theatres, the growing strength of RAF Coastal Command meant boats had to increase their AA guns. They also adopted strange weapons, including an anti-aircraft flamethrower to ward off low-level attacks. This was understandably unpopular with crews. The cypher used by small patrol craft was also cracked, so the RAF knew when coastal convoys were planned.

As German forces moved into North Africa, the Balkans and the Soviet Union, new Security Divisions were established. Headquarters were based in Bucharest, Philippopel in Bulgaria and Thessaloniki. New vessel types were developed, including the Siebel ferry, which may have been slow but did provide a stable gun platform. The Type D could accommodate a Tiger 1 tank. 

My particular interest was in the chapter on the war in the Adriatic. Here the security forces adapted captured vessels and used local dockyards to build the new craft. With limited offensive capacity, the Germans relied on minelaying. They used Italian ships and crews, although a number defected to the allies, and Croatian Ustase troops were also used. The shortage of boats made convoy defence challenging as the Allied air support could operate from Italian bases, and the Partisan stronghold on Vis became a base for Allied MTBs and MGBs. The arrival of the Royal Navy's 22nd Destroyer Flotilla significantly increased the capacity to intercept convoys and attack along the Dalmatian coast.

This is an excellent study of a little known branch of the Kriegsmarine, which deserves more attention.

This book should also be essential reading for Cruel Seas players. These are just the German boats you should see most often on the table. So, onto the table this afternoon. My opponent hadn't played before, so he took the German convoy sailing up the Dalmatian Coast. I was attacking with a Fairmile and two Vosper MTBs based out of Vis.

My torpedo attacks on the escort all failed to hit, which was particularly irritating as, for once, I did get the contact spot on. Meanwhile, the escort is packed with heavy weapons doing serious damage to my boats.

However, two torpedo attacks on the transport were more successful in sinking it. Job done. A tot of rum all round!

Monday 14 March 2022

Turkey under Erdoğan

 As I am off to Turkey in a few weeks, I thought now would be a good time to better understand modern Turkey. A new book by Dimitar Bechev covers Turkey under its current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His previous book on Russia in the Balkans was objective, balanced and a good read. He is also an insightful and often amusing commentator on Twitter. This book is written to the same high standard.

Bechev reminds us in the introduction that Turkey's transformation from electoral democracy to a competitive authoritarian regime was not the way it looked when Erdogan first came to power. It also has to be seen in the context of the long-term structural and institutional forces shaping Turkey's domestic politics and, by extension, foreign policy.

Erdoğan's rise to power with the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) came out of Turkey's 'lost decade' of the 1990s. An economic crisis, heavy military losses fighting the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and accession to the EU being blocked - topped by an earthquake that killed more than 17,000 people. The AKP and its predecessors championed the ordinary people against the establishment, promising to carry forward Europeanisation and economic reform while sweeping out the old elite. Even if the playbook was similar to a previous President, Turgut Özal. There is a blend between the market, Islamic piety, and some acceptance of ethnic diversity and clientelism.  

In the early period, Erdoğan was focused on EU membership, and Parliament passed many of the democratic reforms required of an accession country. This also suited the AKP as it reduced the military's role in Turkish politics. This is covered in more detail in Metin Gurkan's book, which shows that military attitudes were changing anyway. However, EU membership negotiations collapsed due to disputes with Greece in the Aegean, the Cyprus issue and opposition from major European states such as France. The EU's accession of the Greek Cypriot state, despite their rejection of the Annan Plan, was a tough blow.

The AKP benefitted from economic growth in the 2000s. GDP grew by 7.2% per annum between 2002 -07 compared to 2.4% in the 1990s. In foreign policy, the AKP argued that they could seek EU membership while also strengthening ties with its middle eastern neighbours and beyond, playing to its Ottoman legacy. Rather than a Western periphery, Erdoğan's Turkey imagines itself as the centre of its own universe spanning the Middle East, the Balkans and the Southern Caucasus, all the way to sub-Saharan Africa. This includes a growing military presence in Syria, Libya and even naval bases in Africa. More topically, it has incorporated stronger relations with Putin's Russia, including the purchase of Surface to Air missiles and the Turkstream gas pipeline. As other authors have described, they joined together in 'an axis of the excluded.'

The AKP's second and third terms (2007–15) boils down to how a Machiavellian leader grabbed power, dismantling institutional constraints that checked his unbridled ambition. Erdoğan did not miraculously turn from an exemplary democrat to a Putin lookalike overnight. He evolved over the years, although the failed military coup gave him the excuse to clamp down on the opposition strengthen control over the media and the other institutions of a functioning democracy. The amendments to the Turkish constitution created an all-powerful presidency, abolished the prime minister's office, and reduced the power of Parliament. There is nothing wrong in principle with a strong presidency, but Turkey's new constitution has few of the necessary checks and balances.

While all this sounds pretty grim, Bechev finishes with some optimism that democracy is not dead and even religious conservatism is on the decline. The opposition has made impressive gains in local elections, capturing four of the five major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara. The economy is in trouble, and even the tame media cannot hide every corruption scandal. Ramping up repression is the usual playbook of strongmen who are losing electorally, playing to the fault lines in Turkish society and its foreign policy challenges. However, complete separation from the West is not likely despite the rhetoric. Clear majorities within the country support continued membership in NATO, and economic hardship has broadened the appeal of the EU, which Turkey remains linked to through the customs union. 

Turkey is a beautiful country with great people and a stunning heritage. So, let's be optimistic yet informed. This book is a good starting point for that process.

I have been collecting more modern Turkish figures for my lead pile. However, current events have put me off painting these for the wargame table. So, this week's painting goes back to 1974 with 1/300 scale Hellenic and Turkish Air Force jets. There is only one recorded incident of Greek fighter aircraft intervening in Cyprus, which I suspect might have been friendly fire. Flight time over Cyprus for a fighter from Crete would have been around five minutes. However, the Turkish Air Force deployed a whole tactical force in western Turkey in case of Greek intervention. So, air battles over the Aegean was a possibility. Both air forces adopted the NATO standard camouflage during this period, which along with some crossover in aircraft types, would have been a challenge. I used slightly larger decals to help identification and to make it easier for my eyesight and large fingers!

Turkish Air Force Delta Dagger, F-100 and Starfighters

Hellenic Air Force Phantom and Northrop fighters.


Saturday 12 March 2022

On the Borderlands of Great Empires - Transylvanian Armies 1541-1613

 This is Florin Nicolae Ardelean's new book for Helion's Retinue to Regiment series on the armies of Transylvania 1541-1613. This is an Osprey style book, well illustrated, including colour plates.

Transylvania during this period was a borderland caught between the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans. Its rulers shifted their allegiances, depending on the shifting balance of power between the two empires. It also bordered Poland to the north and Wallachia and Moldovia to the south-east.

The Battle of Mohacs (1526) resulted in the fall of the Hungarian kingdom, completed with the capture of Buda in 1541. This defeat created the space for the Transylvanian Principality, albeit under Ottoman suzerainty. Rulers were, in theory, elected by the Transylvanian estates and then approved by the Ottomans. They paid an annual tribute and had an obligation to send troops when the Sultan requested them. The author takes us through the complex ethnic structure of the principality, the governance structures and the early rulers.

This complex structure is reflected in the military organisation. These included the nobility and their private forces. While the great nobles could afford heavily armoured horsemen, most Transylvanian nobles were light cavalry. Travellers of the period noted the similarity with Turkish cavalry of the period. These were of varying quality, and like other states of the period, mercenaries were becoming more common. The Szekely had provided border troops for the Hungarian army in return for privileged status. These traditional freedoms were gradually lost as the border changed, but they still played an important role in internal and external conflicts. Mostly German colonists, called Saxons, had similar privileges, although they served primarily as infantry. The Hajdud specialised in irregular warfare, and they also served as local garrisons receiving wages. They became an essential part of Transylvanian armies, primarily as infantry. The book has colour plates of the main troop types, although I would have preferred to see more about local troops than the better known standard mercenary types.

This was when fortifications of the trace italienne architecture gave something of an advantage to the defence. Transylvania had several key fortresses used to defend the border and as a base for raiding. Lipova even had a garrison of 300 Scottish mercenaries, who probably felt quite at home in the hilly terrain of their adopted country!

On my last visit, this is one of these fortresses, the well preserved Alba Iulia.

In addition, there were fortified towns like Brasov and Sibiu. Another distinct feature, which can still be seen today, are the many fortified churches. Mostly built by the prosperous Saxon communities in the south.
This example of a fortified church is at Saschiz.

The final chapter covers the campaigns, battles and sieges of the period. This includes all the main conflicts like the Long Turkish War (1591-1606) and the many internal rebellions. These campaigns show a transition from medieval traditions to the modern innovations of the period. Cavalry became lighter and infantry armed with firearms. Bastioned fortifications meant siege warfare was also important, although they rarely fell to assault.

Most wargame armies treat Transylvanian troops as Hapsburg or Ottoman units. Warfare was generally at a small scale, which makes these forces suitable for games like Pikeman's Lament. I have Ottoman, Polish, Wallachian and even Cossacks who all fought across Translyvania, along with the standard mercenary types. The main local troop types will mainly be found in the Ottoman figure ranges.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Eagles in the Dust - Adrianople 378

 This book is Adrian Coombs-Hoar's study of the Roman defeat to the Goths at Adrianople on 9 August AD 378. I will be visiting Edirne (the modern name for Adrianople) in a few weeks, so I thought now would be a good time to improve my understanding of the battle. 

One of the challenges in writing a book about a single ancient battle with limited sources is finding enough words to justify a book. So, the author does what most others do and gives us a history of the Goths and the Roman Empire in the period up the battle. However, the author hasn't overdone this, and we get a concise explanation of the preceding events.

The Romans had reasonable relations with the Goths before 367, and Gothic troops could regularly be found in Roman armies. Emperor Valens had campaigned against them after they provided troops to the usurper Procopius, but after three indecisive campaigns, they signed a peace treaty. Valens had one eye over his shoulder to the actions of the Sassanids in Armenia. The author argues that this is the key to understanding the battle as Roman resources were divided. He also argues that the death of Valentinian in the West meant that Valens lost his valuable advice and approval for his actions.

The Goths were themselves under pressure from the growing might of the Huns. Valens agreed to several Gothic tribes crossing the Danube and settling in Thrace. Not only would they economically boost the region, but they would provide cavalry for his campaigns in the east. However, the Roman commanders abused the Goths, even attempting to murder their leaders, and they rebelled. The indecisive Battle of Willows failed to crush the revolt, and Valens was forced to bring an army to Thrace.

There is some evidence that the Gothic leader Fritigern was close to reaching an agreement with Valens that would have returned matters to the status quo. This may be one explanation for some of Valens military decisions on the day. Either way, a battle developed between the Romans and the Gothic wagon camp. The returning Gothic cavalry tipped the battle their way, and by nightfall, two-thirds of the Roman army, including Valens, had been killed, with the remainder fleeing back to Adrianople. The city fought off a subsequent assault by the Goths, who went off to ravage easier targets across the Balkans.

Given my trip, I was particularly interested in the chapter on the battle's location. The most popular place is the modern village of Muratcali, ten miles northeast of Edirne. It meets many of the descriptions in the sources, but so do other sites. Short of a lucky archaeological find, we are unlikely to resolve this. Not least because earthquakes over the centuries may have changed the terrain. 

I also have Kulikowski and MacDowall's books on this period, which, together with this book, make up a decent resource if I have time to visit the likely sites. The new Balkan Wars museum is my first priority.

I have both armies for a refight. However, my Late Roman army is 28mm, and my Goths are 15mm. So no tabletop refight this week.

Thursday 3 March 2022

Celtic Blood

 This is a historical novel written by James John Loftus, set mainly in medieval Scotland during the reign of King Alexander II (1214-1249).

Our heroes are Seward, a Dane stranded on the Ross coast in the northern Highlands. he was taken in by the MacAedh clan (also spelt MacHeth), who became the more recognisable Mackay Clan today. He became a sort of squire to Morgund, the son of Kenneth Earl of Ross, who was killed, and the two were forced to flee south. The aim was to plead with King Alexander; however, they fled into England when they discovered he was behind Kenneth's death.

The author claims to have been influenced by the novels of Nigel Tranter, which attracted me to the book. Not that I don't have a long way to go with my own re-read of these! You can see the influence in his description of the journey over the mountains from Ross to Edinburgh. Although it was a little overdone for my taste.

In England, he gets drawn into the court of King John. Alexander had joined the rebels against King John, so, Morgund, a distant competitor for the Scots throne, was a useful asset. At this stage, you really need to know the period's history because the author does not help the reader with details of times and places. For example, our heroes get involved in these wars, but it's not precisely clear where and why. In fairness, there is a decent battle scene that does capture the confusion of a medieval battle.

Our heroes are then held by a Witch Queen and ritually abused. I found this chapter frankly absurd, adding nothing to the story. It was a relief in more ways than one when they escaped. When they arrive back in Scotland, they just happen to bump into King Alexander out hunting - as you do! But he didn't kill the King, which is just as well as Alexander historically had some way to go. Both our heroes ended up back in the north with Morgund's family. 

I'm afraid I struggled with this book. Most of the storyline was OK, but it was often lost in events that moved some way from the main plot. It also needed an editor to address the grammar style and tie the various elements of the book together. 

This period is quite popular in wargaming circles at present, with Footsore doing a lovely range of figures and their own rules. Sadly, this book didn't inspire me to get my figures for the period out.