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, 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.


Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Ionian Mission

 Many years ago, I worked through most Napoleonic naval fiction writers, from C.S Forester to, probably my favourite, Douglas Reeman (Alexander Kent). As part of my Adriatic project, I sought relevant historical fiction as a break from archival research. I picked Patrick O'Brian's Ionian Mission just by the title. He has written over 20 books in this genre alone, the most famous being Master and Commander, which was made into a film of the same name, starring Russell Crowe.


O'Brian's hero is Jack Aubrey, with his friend, the ship's doctor Stephen Maturin. In this book, Aubrey has been promoted to senior captain commanding a ship of the line that has been sent out to reinforce the squadron blockading Toulon. After the first few chapters, I remembered why O'Brien wasn't my favourite writer in this genre. He loves the fine detail of life on board a ship of the period, which is described in endless detail. In places, it reads more like social history than an action book. 

In fairness, blockade duty was pretty dull, and it is broken up by one spy mission into France, although I wonder if a ship of the line would have been used on such a mission. The problem is that two-thirds of the book is taken up with the blockade. The bit I was interested in came much later when he shifted to a frigate (with supporting sloop) for a mission to the Ionian islands. There were French garrisons on the islands and neighbouring ports and competing Ottoman warlords at this time. Aubrey is tasked with choosing which one to back with artillery.

I won't spoil the story, but this part is told well and captures the confused power structures in the Adriatic. Having decided, he then has to fight one of the warlords at sea. 

In hindsight, I should have cut to the book's last third. But if you like your naval fiction fast-paced, this isn't the book for you. Below is my tabletop take on the final sea battle in the book, using Black Seas models and rules.