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

Tuesday, 21 March 2023


This is Sam Mustafa's new WW2 naval game. It's his attempt to balance gruelling simulations and fantasy-like abstractions. I am generally a fan of his games and play Lasalle2 and Rommel mostly. However, for WW2 naval, I have been playing Victory at Sea without the awful Warlord models, and it's been OK without really grabbing me. 

Shipping from the USA is a nightmare, so I downloaded the PDF version. You can get a printed version from Amazon, but after a few games, the QRF is enough with just the occasional reference to the laptop. So I will print off the main playing rules pages, 30 odd pages. Fleet lists, data cards for each ship class and markers are downloaded from Sam's Honour website. You can use any scale of ships - I use NavWar 1/3000 scale models.

I have only played the basic game so far. That is limited to surface actions without submarines and aircraft. You dice each turn to see who may choose either: Move First and Shoot First - OR - Move Second and Shoot Second. This is a clever mechanism; ideally, you would probably want to move second and shoot first.

Movement is very straightforward. There are three speeds for most ship types, and you can make one turn up to 90 degrees at any stage. Faster and slower speeds have a shooting impact, but there are times when you need to slow down to keep in contact with the enemy. Putting your ships in formation gives certain advantages, and I assume this is to encourage players to use actual naval tactics of the period. For those with smaller tables, there is, in effect, no table edge as you can scroll the table.

Shooting and torpedos have slightly different rules. However, the basic principle is applying difficulty factors (range, speed etc.) and dicing to hit with the weapons on the data cards. Then dicing for damage and the possibility of critical hits. Almost everything is marked on the data cards, so the table is clear. Damage is marked off in boxes until the ship is crippled or sunk.

The rulebook comes with a basic scenario and extra rules for night fighting etc. There is also an open architecture, as in Sam's other rules, so you can add ship classes and tweak them as you want. I used it to tweak the German data cards to accommodate the Turkish Yavuz battlecruiser.

Submarines, aircraft, carriers and a campaign system are in the second part of the rules called Halsey. This is because aircraft add a different range context, which is better reflected in the campaign system. There is much more complexity here, including spotting, transport ships etc. 

For the main playtest, I deployed the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz with two destroyers against two Italian heavy cruisers and two escorts. This is the Italian naval contribution to Operation Gertrud, the Axis plan to invade Turkey in 1942-43.

Both squadrons are in line ahead formation, although heading in different directions. 

Both Turkish destroyers are sunk, but the Italians suffer damage as well.

The Yavuz sinks one of the cruisers and cripples a destroyer.

As the Italians ran out of torpedos, they were unlikely to sink the Yavuz and disengaged. The Yavuz was holed and slowing but also made it home. Score draw to the Turks.

The basic game plays very well. It provides a quick game with the feel of the period's naval action. The Halsey campaign system looks more complex and will require more time to follow and play. But I will have a go. Overall, another good set of rules from Sam Mustafa.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

 This is Lawrence Durrell's story of his time in Cyprus before and during the early days of the EOKA campaign during 1953-56. A bit of background reading for my next book project.

Durrell's most famous work is The Alexandria Quartet of novels, but for military buffs, he is probably better known for his escape from Corfu, via Crete, after the fall of Greece. He was in Rhodes at Liberation and later served in the British Embassy in Yugoslavia. He was not a big fan of Yugoslavia, which is reflected in his spy thriller, White Eagles Over Serbia. Despite his service with the Foreign Office and being regarded as one of the finest British writers of his generation, he fell foul of British immigration law and was refused citizenship because he was born in India. Very topical!

He arrived in Cyrus, staying in Kyrenia (Girne today in Northern Cyprus) and then the village of Bellapaix. The ruined Abbey that dominates the village was the scene of fierce fighting in 1974. He describes the Abbey, a stunning site in the mountains that dominate that coastline. As well as life in a sleepy, predominantly Greek village. Most of his friends and contacts are Greek, which is unsurprising given how many years he had lived on Greek islands. You could describe this as a travel book as he describes other sites on the coast, including the magnificent St. Hilarion Castle. 

My picture of the castle on a recent visit

He later took a job with the British colonial headquarters as a press officer when Greek support on the island for Enosis with Greece was building, not least because of a virulent propaganda campaign by the Greek government. It hadn't at this stage turned into a terrorist/liberation campaign against the British, but he can see how attitudes are changing, at least in urban areas. Something his colonial colleagues seemed impervious to. The somewhat vague promised constitution was described by an anglophile Greek as 'something for the Zulus'. Attitudes were not far removed from the British 1887 guide that described Cypriots as 'an indolent, careless mimetic people, but without a spark of Turkish fire, without a touch of Grecian taste.'

As the EOKA terror campaign begins, Durrell describes the downward spiral to chaos, not only in attacks against the British but also against Greek 'traitors' and increasingly against the Turkish minority. The two communities may have been largely segregated but rubbed along without violence. Durrel witnessed the various fruitless attempts to reach a negotiated solution during this pre-independence period. 

He eventually decided it was time to leave. 'I was, I realised, very tired after this two years' spell as a servant of the Crown; and I had achieved nothing. It was good to be leaving.'

Probably not a book for military buffs, but if you want an elegant description of Cyprus during this period, this is pretty good.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Anzac Soldier v Ottoman Soldier

 This new book by Si Sheppard in the Osprey Combat series looks at the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns of WW1. 

My immediate reaction to this was not another book on Gallipoli. My bookcase already groans with them, and this is a rare example of the Turkish archives being much more open. I picked up some detailed studies based on them during my last visit to Turkey. I am less familiar with the Palestine campaign, although Rob Johnson's book, The Great War and the Middle East (2016) is very good. So, the first question is what is there that the general reader might find that is new?

Well, the context chapter has an excellent map, something often missed out in other studies, which highlights the ambiguous Ottoman strategic objectives in declaring war. Nationalism and modernisation seem a poor reason for war. However, as the conflict proceeded, the Ottomans had to defend their territorial integrity, face down the Arab Revolt, and opportunistically go for some pan-Turanism expansion on the Russian front.  

There is a substantial chapter on the two sides with some nice colour plates. A reminder that Australia had a volunteer army that included a staggering 416,809 men enlisting out of a population of fewer than five million. There were 98,850 men from New Zealand – 79,302 volunteers and 19,548 conscripts – from a pool of approximately 250,000 men of eligible age in 1914. This may partly explain Australian attitudes to uniforms, equipment and discipline. Five times more Australian troops were behind bars than other Empire troops!

A key problem for the Ottomans that I had not fully appreciated was the logistical challenge. For example, enlisted men were required to bring their own uniforms (or at least appropriate clothes that could serve the function of uniforms) and good shoes. According to a report by the commander of the 17th Division, more than half of the troops were still wearing civilian clothes even as late as mid-1915. By September 1918, rations had declined to 125g of bread and beans in three meals. In contrast, they were trendsetters in organisation, introducing the triangular division before others. However, attempts to copy German small unit tactics often resulted in expensive bayonet charges, not least because they lacked the educated NCOs vital to the German tactics.

The bulk of the book covers three battles; Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli, and Beersheba in Palestine. While these are well-written and nicely illustrated chapters, they don't offer much that is new. Inönü is often criticised, as he was by the Germans, for his handling of Ottoman III Corps in the battle. However, this is a more balanced recognition that he held out until nightfall and extracted a significant proportion of his troops under great pressure. This battle included the famous cavalry charge by the Australian Light Horse, brilliantly portrayed in the film The Light Horsemen.

Overall, if you haven't read much about the Ottomans and ANZACs in WW1, this is a good introduction. For those who have, you will find some interesting snippets and fine illustrations. Osprey books are good value for money, so you may think it is worth it for that.

Some of my 28mm Turkish infantry.

Friday, 17 March 2023

Island at the Edge of War

 My latest bedtime reading is a novel by Roger Malone, Island at the Edge of War. The setting is the Adriatic island of Korcula, or Curzola, as it was called by the Venetians who occupied it at the time. It is set in around 1570, just before the Battle of Lepanto. The island is twinned with Rothesay in Scotland, not far from me. Today, Korcula is a popular tourist destination, just off the Croatian coast, not far from Dubrovnik, with Korcula Town being the main attraction.

The story is about a young peasant boy, Damir, who lives near the village of Blato, which is at the island's western end. He and his family farm olives and make olive oil. The village is regularly raided by pirates based on the Dalmatian coast. Damir takes olive oil to Korcula Town when it is attacked by the Ottomans. An assault they successfully fight off with little assistance from the Venetian governor (Rector), who flees when the Ottomans arrived.

When Damir arrives home, he finds a young boy hiding near the coast. He appears to be Ottoman, but how he got there is not clear. I won't spoil the story by saying who he is because that becomes a critical element of the story as Damir and his friends attempt to return him to the Ottomans. Their journey takes them to the mainland and the Ragusan town of Ston and then to Dubrovnik. 

If you like your historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell style, this may be a bit tame. However, it is an exciting and well-told story with some action and plenty of twists. The title 'Adriatic Tales Book 1' implies there will be more. As I am off to this coast in May, it made timely background reading.

The fortifications at Ston were built to protect the valuable salt pans. A bit of a climb, but worth a visit.

Ottoman galleys of the period

Friday, 10 March 2023

Sailor of Liberty

 My latest bedtime reading is yet another Napoleonic naval adventure, although not the Adriatic for a change. It's a wonder I don't get seasick in bed! What's different about this book by J.D. Davies is that it's about the French Navy. 

Our hero is Philippe Kermorvant, and the action is set in 1793, at the height of the Terror. Contrary to the publisher's pitch, he was the son of a minor French aristocrat, which would typically be a bit challenging in the France of this period. However, his father was also a philosopher with radical ideas, exiled to North America. His mother was English, albeit estranged from her husband. 

The young Phillippe joined the fledgeling US Navy during the American revolution and then fought in the Russian Navy. He, therefore, had the much-needed experience to offer when he returned to France. Despite this, he nearly ended up under the guillotine twice before taking command of a French frigate operating out of Brest. 

I won't spoil the story, but it has all the elements you would expect from naval fiction in this genre. Politics, some love interest and battles on land and sea. The difference is the challenge of commanding a ship without the strict discipline of the Royal Navy, where leadership has to be earned, and the crew are a long way from the necessary effectiveness. In addition, the French Navy of the period lost most of its experienced officers, and their replacements were either recruited from the ranks or from the merchant marine. 

Davies strikes the right balance between the detail of sailing a ship of the period and keeping the story flowing. He also captures the period well and the unique challenges facing French captains. Overall, an excellent read and as the reader is left in suspense at the end, I suspect there will be more.

A French frigate and brig for Black Seas.

Monday, 6 March 2023

Newark Air Museum

The added attraction of a visit to the Hammerhead wargames show is the Newark Air Museum, which is almost next door. They have two main hangers and many more aircraft in outside displays. The collection's focus is post-war aircraft, mostly military but civil as well.

The first display you see is the magnificent Vulcan.

Another helicopter that hung from my ceiling as a kit-building teenager, the Wessex.


My favourite post-war fighter. I have several models in Turkish colours.
 This F-100D Super Sabre was in French service.

Dassault Mystere

Not all British aircraft, either. Two Russian workhorses. The Mig-23 and Mig-27

And Swedish fighters, which I hadn't seen since my last trip to Sweden.

The Chipmunk trainer is a bit of nostalgia for me. The first plane I ever flew in as an Air cadet.

Then some classic British post-war aircraft.






And there is much more to see at this museum, with more aircraft, engines and other displays. Well worth a visit.

Sunday, 5 March 2023


 I made my first visit to the Hammerhead wargames show at Newark Showground yesterday. I went a bit further than I would usually travel for a show, but I linked it with visiting some family in Nottingham. There were a few castles on the way and back as well.

The venue is a large well-lit hall with plenty of free parking. I arrived just after kick-off, and the queue went down quickly. Unlike the York show, there was a focus on games. A few big games, but plenty of smaller participation ones, and a DBA competition, which a pal was playing in. You could easily have spent the day playing participation games.

That doesn't mean there was any shortage of traders. Most of the big names and a few smaller ones were there. They also used the table hire system for the bring and buy, and I picked up some 15mm armour, an LCVP, and a very nice 28mm Old Guard unit. As well as some bits and pieces from traders.

There were a few games I had seen before, but a lot of new ones as well.

28mm harbour and siege game. Very nice medieval cogs.

Predator game. Lots of jungle.

Very British Civil War. I must dust down my figures for this.

An imposing Indian fort.

Napoleonic Epic on the Warlord stand. This looks decent at this scale of game.

Lake Peipus. Teutonic knights in 28mm.

If you wondered where all the Wings of Glory models went. Here is the answer!

The new ancient naval rules that came with Wargames Illustrated.

I know nothing about these rules, but it looks like a manageable game size.

Borodino on hexes.

Multiple participation games.

Italian Wars

And finally, Wargames Illustrated ran the painting competition. Some pretty impressive brushwork.

It was a long drive for me, but I enjoyed the show. It also has the excellent Newark Air Museum nearby, which I'll do a separate blog on.

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Leopold I of Austria

 This biography of Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705) by John Spielman is not a new book but one I picked up during one of my recent second-hand bookshop rummages. When you think about Austria in this period, you tend to gravitate towards someone like Prince Eugene. The subject of a recent biography by James Faulkner. Despite being the Holy Roman Emperor, he has been somewhat eclipsed by the great generals of the period and his longstanding opponent Louis XIV of France.

Leopold was elected Holy Roman Emperor, a loose confederation of predominantly German states, which were famously described as being neither Holy nor Roman, in 1658. He did not have his problems to seek. Internally, the Empire was always short of cash, and its conservative influences resisted reform economically and politically. Militarily they often faced war on two fronts, with the french in the west and the Ottomans in the east. Leopold's advisors were typically split between the westerners and easterners.

Leopold was not noted for being decisive. A profoundly religious man ruling over a Catholic state but with significant protestant enclaves and fiercely protestant states with the Empire. His response to a crisis was often prayer, and he even strongly believed in miracles. He often needed one!

The Spanish succession was a constant theme as they were a family interest. Charles of Spain lasted longer than many expected, but without a direct heir. This eventually led to war with France, and he lived long enough to see the great victory at Blenheim. His succession looked at risk in the early years, and he lost two wives. However, he eventually managed nine children.

In the east, the focus was on recovering Hungary and dealing with frequent revolts and civil wars in that troubled country. The high point was the defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683, although Leopold left the city before the Ottomans arrived. The Austrians and their allies pushed the borders back to the Danube in the following years, including Prince Eugene's decisive victory at Zenta. 

While Leopold was no strategist and did little personally, Spielman argues that Leopold helped to build the alliances that provided the troops and cash necessary to achieve victory. Securing these new territories was a challenge passed on to his descendants.

You can pick up a copy of this book at a reasonable price, and I suspect libraries stock it. It is worth a read for a different perspective on the period, and Spielman tells the story well.

Austrian infantry slugs it out with the janissaries. 28mm figures from my collection.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Jester's Fortune

 My bedtime reading remains in the Adriatic of the Napoleonic Wars. The latest is from Dewey Lambdin, an author I had never heard of, whose hero, Alan Lewrie, sails into the Adriatic in this book in what looks like a long-running historical fiction series.

This adventure is set in an earlier Royal Navy excursion into the Adriatic during 1796. Napoleon has taken command of the Army of Italy and is about to storm across northern Italy. Admiral Sir John Jervis did send a squadron of six frigates into the Adriatic in early 1796 under Captain Taylor. However, that squadron is reduced to four ships in this story, including our hero on HMS Jester. 

They are sent to fly the flag and intercept French shipping. They use Trieste as a base, the Austrian naval headquarters, and the author reasonably describes the appalling state of the Austrian navy of the period. They also regularly visit Venice, a sad shadow of its former greatness. The same applies to their bases in the Adriatic, with threadbare garrisons and rusting cannons.

The history is soundly based, although you may want to pass over the author's rather bizarre historical rant about the Balkans generally after this period. The point of which is unclear. In addition, I doubt this book will sell well in Montenegro, as the author believes it 'was almost totally Muslim'. This would have shocked the staunchly Orthodox Montenegrins, ruled by a Prince-Bishop!

Putting these issues to one side, the story is well told. The squadron sails up and down the coastline, taking French prizes and interdicting their supply lines. There is a subplot when they recruit Serbian pirates to unofficially join them, capturing a Brig for their use. This ends poorly but introduces a few colourful characters and plenty of Serbian folklore.

I am not a fan of Napoleonic naval authors who feel the need to describe the fine detail of sailing a warship of the period. It's very tedious when we want to get into the action. Lambdin gets the balance right on this point, although he does somewhat drag out the port visits. The finer points of Austrian cuisine can be left to period cookbooks.

Overall, a good read if you are into this genre. 

Some of my 1/700th ships of the period.

Sunday, 19 February 2023

Blood Red Skies

 I wanted to add the air combat dimension to my Turkish WW2 scenarios. My first thought was Wings of Glory, but it is difficult to get hold of a copy and more suited to individual air combat. So, I decided to give Warlord's Blood Red Skies a go. Unfortunately, Warlord is currently only selling Midway as their starter set, but I picked up the earlier Battle of Britain set, nearly new, on eBay.

The starter set has all the rules, tokens and scenery you need to get started, along with a squadron of Me109s and a squadron of Spitfires. Six planes make up a squadron. Unfortunately, the plastic on the aircraft is a bit soft, resulting in some bent wings, a problem they have sorted out with the newer squadron boxes. I also picked up additional squadrons of Fw190 and Yak-1s at Vapnartak.

They are 1/200 scale models and attach to a unique stand with three settings, advantage, neutral and disadvantaged, which are crucial to the rules. They paint well and come with decals, although I needed to buy some for the Turkish Air Force, courtesy of 1-94 Enterprises, sold by Pendraken in the UK. Needless to say, 1/200th decals are not easy to apply.

Turkish Spitfires

German Me109 and Turkish Fw190

German Fw190, including the Hartmann Ace model

This gives me the basics for Operation Gertrud scenarios, the German invasion of Turkey. It was a vital concern of the Turkish Government that entering WW2 would expose Istanbul, with its wooden houses, to German bombers. Belgrade illustrated the risk, so the British offered AA guns and Spitfires. The Germans also sold the Turks 70 Fw-190s. 

In October 1944, the Soviet 17th Air Army arrived in Bulgaria. It was poised to support a Red Army advance across Thrace to seize bases on the Straits. A long-standing Russian objective. This army had several regiments of Yak-1 fighters.

As for the game, well, the rules are pretty simple. I played the first game with four Me109s being intercepted by 5 Turkish Spitfires. The Germans had the more experienced pilots, as the Turks would not have seen combat.

The aim is to manoeuvre your planes into a position of advantage (primarily height) and ideally behind the enemy plane. Not easy to achieve, even with more skilled pilots. The skill level does help to dodge hits and gives a better chance of moving first. A typical move is 7", and the shooting range is 6", so you can play a game on a small mat. I played this game on 3'x3'. 

Victory to the Germans on this occasion, although the Turkish pilot skill level needs more aircraft to balance it up. I'll try with the Fw-190s in the next game. Overall, I enjoyed the game, which will do the job for a relatively modest outlay.