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

Friday, 22 April 2022

Syria and Lebanon 1941

 This is a new Osprey Campaign book by David Sutton on a less well-known campaign of WW2, the Allied invasion of Vichy French Syria and Lebanon, Operation Exporter.

The Iraq revolt had highlighted to the British the risks of having a potentially hostile Syria in its rear as it did battle with Rommel in the Western Desert. The Germans had used Vichy French airfields in Syria to send supplies and fighters into Iraq, and Churchill, supported by de Gaulle, argued for an invasion. Wavell pleaded with Churchill not to be forced to open another front, as he was already stretched with commitments in Greece and relieving Tobruk. However, Churchill insisted, and Wavell had to cobble together a force for the invasion.

The lead units came from the 7th Australian Division, less one brigade that was besieged in Tobruk. They were supplemented by horse-mounted and lightly armoured cavalry regiments and the 5th Indian Brigade Group. Tanks and anti-aircraft weapons were fully committed to Operation Battleaxe, the relief of Tobruk. The Free French contributed a light division, some marines and a Circassian cavalry unit that defected from the Vichy forces. Six cruisers and eight destroyers provided the naval force for operations off the coast and a dizzying array of aircraft types that could be spared from Battleaxe.

The Vichy forces were a mix of regular and colonial troops, including Senegalese, Algerian, Morrocan and Tunisian units. There were also four battalions of the French Foreign Legion and two cavalry regiments equipped with 90 R-35 light tanks and an assortment of armoured cars. In addition, there was a small naval squadron of two destroyers and five submarines and a substantial air force of 130 aircraft, double those available to the Empire forces.  There is a complete order of battle and details of the units involved as usual with this series. 

The British plan was to advance in three columns from Palestine. De Gaulle claimed Vichy units would defect. However, not for the first or last time, this didn't happen and the Vichy commander, General Henri Dentz, offered a strong defence. This was primarily to give the Germans no cause to remove what freedoms Vichy France enjoyed. The main chapters cover the campaign in some detail. It certainly was a more challenging fight than the British and Free French expected with Vichy forces defending the river lines and frequently counter-attacking. The absence of tanks was a severe handicap, and Vichy aircraft effectively slowed the advance. Nevertheless, by early July, the Australian and British troops had captured Damascus and were close to taking Beirut. Indian forces had flanked the Vichy defences from Iraq and headed for Aleppo. A ceasefire was agreed on 12 July. 

This campaign was overshadowed at the time by the German invasion of the Soviet Union and has been largely forgotten since. However, with some 2,400 dead, it deserves better recognition. This book certainly achieves that. There are excellent maps and period photos, although I would have liked to see more on the Vichy forces, including some colour plates. There is no chapter on visiting the battlefields today, for obvious reasons!

For the wargamer, British and Empire forces can come from Western Desert armies, although these mainly were infantry battles in very different terrain from the desert. Except for the desert flank, which included a battle around the ancient ruins of Palmyra. So you can dust down some ancient scenery for this one. The French colonial troops are more exotic, including camel troops and spahis. Certainly not in my collection, but I see EWM do a pretty comprehensive range in 20mm. I will try and resist!


My 15mm British and Commonwealth forces in Greece would mostly work for this campaign. The Australians had Vickers tanks.

 


Sunday, 17 April 2022

Hisart and Rahmi Koc Museums

 The last of my Istanbul museum blogs - I promise! These are two private museums that you won't find in the main guidebooks, but they are very much worth a visit.

The first is the Hisart Museum, north of Taksim Square and the Military Museum, near the University. It has an extraordinary collection of uniforms, dioramas, paintings and models covering Turkish history throughout the ages. Five floors look like this, and this is only half a floor.


There are lifesize dioramas like these.




Large scale dioramas like these:



And all sort of militaria.



The other private museum is the Rahmi Koc Museum, out along the Golden Horn. It can best be described as a technical museum focusing on transport.

Planes.




Trains.




And automobiles.





Not forgetting ships, including a Tench Class fleet submarine.



Saturday, 16 April 2022

Yugoslav Armies 1941-45

This Osprey Men at Arms covers the Yugoslav armies of WW2, written by Nigel Thomas and Dušan Babac. This is a must-buy for me as one of the very few wargamers crazy enough to build a 28mm Yugoslav Army. An army that lasted eleven days is rarely appealing to the wargamer!


The first chapter covered the army in 1940. A short description of the organisation and deployment, followed by sections on the uniforms of each service. They have gone for a slightly greener khaki than I did, but in practice, there would have been many different shades. There is a potted history of the campaign, but this book is very much focused on uniforms. 

The next chapter covers Royal Yugoslav forces in the Middle East. This wasn't a happy story; riven with factionalism, they were relegated to secondary roles. The serious fighting was done by the various resistance armies. Firstly the Chetniks who failed to seriously engage the Germans and ended the war fighting with the Axis against the Partisans. The authors have not quite gone the whole revisionist line, popular in some quarters these days, but they are more sympathetic than many. 

The final chapter covers the People's Liberation Army, the most successful guerilla army of WW2. There is a potted history of the campaign and the organisation that developed from small units into a conventional army. Gaj Trivkovic's book 'Sea of Blood' is the final word on the partisans, but this is a decent overview. There was little uniformity in either the Chetniks or the Partisans, but the colour plates are a good starting point.

Osprey has done partisan warfare (MAA 142) and a Warrior (73) book on the partisans, so this is a bit of duplication. If you have these, then the new material is on the Royal Yugoslav Army, which has been poorly covered. As usual, you get plenty of illustrations and fine colour plates by Johnny Shumate.

My 28mm Royal Yugoslav army for Bolt Action.




Friday, 15 April 2022

Istanbul Military Museum

Of the many excellent historical museums in Istanbul, the Military Museum (Askerî Müze) is the must-see trip for the military history buff. It is based in the old First Army HQ in the Harbiye district of the city, just north of Taksim Square. It's hard to miss with this massive Ottoman-era coastal gun outside.


This is what I would describe as a content-rich museum. There are few of the interactive elements much beloved by modern museums, although a refurbishment is planned. Instead, you get some 10,000 exhibits displayed chronologically. I visit many museums, and this is unquestionably one of the world's finest military museums, not least because of its knowledgeable and helpful staff. 

There is a special exhibition near the entrance on the centenary of the Turkish War of Independence. This includes a fine diorama of the Battle of Cal Mountain, created by local wargamers, including Onur Buyuran, who painted the 20mm figures.   


I took nearly a hundred photos, which is a bit excessive for a blog post. So, here are a few examples, and I'll put up more on the website. There are paintings and dioramas as well as weapons and armour.

This massive diorama is in the 1453 room, along with the chain that defended the Golden Horn.

One of several Ottoman armour displays

Wargamers and modellers should note the curves on these bows.

Plenty of original uniform displays

There are enough firearms to equip an army!

I have been Tweeting some of the more exotic weapons, most of which I have never seen before.

A petrol driven machine gun!

An early 19thC heavy machine gun.

Gallipoli has its own room, with this diorama and a New Zealand flag.




Every Chief of the General Staff has a section in one of several rooms. This is Semih Sancar, who was Chief of the Turkish General Staff during the 1974 Cyprus operation. I have posted more of the Cyprus exhibits in yesterday's post.

Outside there is a massive collection of artillery, which is not open to the public at present due to the planned refurbishment. Some I recognise; others will need a bit of detective work. 

A 19thC cannon that appears to have some sort of magazine.

A personal favourite is this heavy artillery piece. Skoda, I think.

The collection includes many captured guns like this 1916 Russian field gun.

Most were supplied from overseas in the modern era, including this WW2 British 6-pdr ATG.

Lots of earlier Ottoman guns.


I'll finish with the only tank, a Russian T26, the mainstay of the Turkish armoured units at the outbreak of WW2.


There is a small shop with some good value if a bit challenging for your suitcase, publications.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

The Cyprus Gamble

 This is the second in Maciej Jonasz's 'Smoke over the Bosporus' series of modern fiction novels. The setting is a Turkish Government that has moved from soft power neo-Ottomanism to a hard power version. It is a bit fanciful, but it's fiction. In the first book Turkey invaded Bulgaria and, after initial success, was defeated after Serbia and Romania intervened. In this book, the Greeks decided to take advantage of the Turkish defeat with military operations in Thrace and Cyprus.


The book starts with a special ops team inserted into Kurdistan to arm the Kurds with ATGMs. On the basis that my enemy's enemy is my friend, they take part in several operations against Turkish forces in the east of Turkey. The aim is to tie down Turkish units that could be deployed elsewhere.

The next stage is an amphibious landing in Northern Cyprus to the east of Girne (Kyrenia). This invites a Turkish response met with a staged defence on the Kyrenia Ridge using armour and infantry. Here the Turkish armour has not been modernised much since 1974. So, it pits M48s against Leopards and infantry with Milan ATGMs. The aim is to encourage the Greek Cypriots to intervene and relieve them, which they do. The Cypriots have Russian T80s, outclassing Turkish armour and light infantry formations. Although as we have seen in Ukraine, the reactive armour doesn't seem to be quite as effective as portrayed in this book.

The main battles occur in Thrace, with Greek battlegroups crossing the Maritsa River in several places. They succeed in establishing a bridgehead in the south, which is exploited and subjected to Turkish counter-attacks. As with the first book, the battle scenes are excellent, and you really get a good feel for the importance of combined arms operations. This is another good read if you can suspend disbelief over the setting.

I read this book on the plane to Turkey last week, and I flew over and then drove through many of the battlefields described in this book. 

I was on the lookout for Cyprus-related exhibits on my museum visits. The Military (Army) Museum has a section on Cyprus, starting with the commanders.

This is the VI Corps commander, L.Gen Nurettin Ersin's helmet, a good example of the very distinctive helmet cover used during the intervention. Useful when distinguishing Turkish troops on the wargames table, particularly in the smaller scales.


Then some of the weapons that were captured during the conflict.




The Naval Museum has the regimental flag of the amphibious regiment that spearheaded the landings in 1974. Unfortunately, the painting is less impressive as it looks nothing like the landing beach and implies that troops just marched ashore - they didn't!



And a model and description of the destroyer TCG Kocatepe, which was sunk by friendly fire. The description understates the casualties and gets the translation slightly wrong, but at least it is covered. It is not unheard of for museums in all countries to gloss over embarrassing incidents!


Then the Aviation Museum, which has most of the aircraft types used in the Cyprus operation.

F-100 Super Sabre

Huey

Dakota

Finally, the private Rahmi Koc Museum. It has the Balao or possibly Tench Class fleet submarine, TCG Uluçalireis. This submarine operated off the coast of Cyprus in 1974.

 



It also has an M47 tank and a Dornier Do-28. This aircraft type brought the Airborne Brigade command team to Cyprus. It arrived an hour early because the Turkish planners had forgotten about Summer Time, and therefore the local militia didn't activate the landing lights.



Finally, the Hisart Museum has a couple of fine dioramas.