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

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Air Power and the Arab World - 1939-41

 As obscure Second World War forces go, this book covers some of the most obscure air forces around. The prolific David Nicolle and Air Vice Marshal Gabr Ali Gabr describe the Arab air forces of the early war period.

There were not many genuinely independent Arab states during WW2. Syria, Lebanon, Algeria and Morrocco were French with various degrees of autonomy. The British had a treaty with Egypt, Iraq, a mandate for Palestine, and the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia was independent and neutral but had a tiny air force. 

The Royal Egyptian Air Force had support, fighter and light bomber squadrons. They were equipped with 18 Lysanders, 36 Gladiators and 15 Audax. Supplies, training and spare parts relied on the British, who didn't trust elements within the regime, particularly within the air force. The force expanded to 149 aircraft in May 1940, although many were unserviceable. While the Egyptian military elite felt that Britain was treating their country like a troublesome child. Despite the terms of the Anglo–Egyptian Treaty, the Second World War saw an effective British reoccupation of Egypt.

Despite their nominal neutrality, Egyptian airmen provided useful cover in areas where Axis forces were less of a threat. This included good cooperation with the LRDG from their bases either at Almaza on the edge of Cairo or at Suez. They also manned AA defences. Most Egyptian military losses were suffered by air defence units around Alexandria, and at the end of 1940, a conservative estimate of Egyptian casualties was put at 201.

The Royal Iraqi Air Force was substantial with older British planes like the Audax and Gladiator and more modern Italian aircraft, including the Breda Ba.65 and SM.79 bomber. They were also in the process of buying Douglas DB.8 bombers from the USA. However, it could have performed better in the Iraqi Revolt, even with German and Italian reinforcements.

The Imperial Iranian Air Force was even more powerful, with five large squadrons of Hawker Fury and Hind fighters and a squadron of Audax light bombers. However, these were obsolete when faced with the Soviet and Allied invasions.

As you would expect in this series, the book is profusely illustrated and has pages of lovely colour plates of early war aircraft. They may not have done a lot of fighting, but the story is still an interesting one. However, even I am unlikely to attempt reproducing them on the wargames table!

Monday 23 January 2023

Vichy Air Force at War

I am drawn to books about Vichy France recently, or maybe it's just obscure WW2 forces. I recently picked up this 2011 book by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell as a remainder copy, although I see it is still available in the Kindle format. It covers the Vichy Air Force that fought against the Allies in several WW2 campaigns.

The French aviation industry in the interwar period supplied more aircraft than any of its competitors, and they were still in service in air forces worldwide when war broke out. The Potez 542 was the fastest bomber in Europe, and the Bloch 210 was the first to beat the 30,000 feet ceiling. I have always had a soft spot for their fighters, including the Dewoitine 501, the first fighter with a cannon firing through the propeller hub. The Bulgarian Air Force used the Dewoitine 520 to defend against Allied bomber raids until quite late in the war. The French Air Force was itself substantial, with the aircraft industry producing 619 combat aircraft every month by May 1940 and buying 170 American planes per month. They faced the Luftwaffe with 4,360 combat aircraft, although poorly organised for war, and many squadrons were based in the colonies. When the Armistice was being signed, those aircraft which could flew to Algeria.

The Dewoitine 520 is my favourite French WW2 fighter (on display at Le Bourget).

It was in the colonies that the Vichy air force fought against the Allies. Firstly, at Mers-el-Kebir and Dakar as the British sought to sink the French Navy. The land-based French fighters outmatched the Fleet Air Arm's Swordfish and Skuas. Even the American Curtiss Hawks were faster. The Italians also attacked French Somaliland in East Africa before the Armistice and then largely kept out of the subsequent campaign until overrun in December 1942 by the British.

The Iraq revolt was supported by the Germans and Italians, who used French bases in Syria. French aircraft attacked Royal Navy ships off the Lebanon coast, and the grateful Germans released 7,000 French PoWs and cut the occupation payments. The British responded with attacks on French airfields in Syria, which led to several air combats against French fighters. 

This led to the Allied invasion of Syria, Operation Exporter. This proved to be a much tougher campaign than expected, and the Vichy air force played an important role in its defence. This is covered in more detail in last year's Osprey Campaign book. Additional squadrons were flown in from Algeria. At the end of the campaign, again, as many as possible sought to escape, mainly via Athens. Of 273 aircraft, they lost 169 planes to all causes. The British lost 41.

In the Far East, Vichy France largely came to terms with the Japanese. Churchill was particularly angered by the use of French bases by Japanese torpedo bombers, which sunk the Prince of Wales and Repulse. I was surprised to learn that France and Thailand fought a war between October 1940 and 9 May 1941, another for the obscure conflict folder. Operation Ironclad was the Allied invasion of Madagascar in 1942, primarily to stop the Japanese from using the main harbour to intercept convoys. Russell Phillips has written an excellent history of the campaign. The French only had a handful of Potez 63-11s to defend the island.

Finally, there was Operation Torch, which involved some initial clashes with Allied air forces. The French had upwards of 500 aircraft in North Africa. While French fascists fought on the Eastern Front, the Germans were less keen on collaboration pilots. Presumably, on the basis that a pilot could just fly off to the Allies. The Legion des Volontaires Francais (LVF) included around 50 pilots, but these mainly served in ground roles.

Most of the campaigns in this book have been covered in other publications. However, the focus on the air force and its aircraft are interesting and well worth the read. At under a fiver on Kindle, it's a valuable addition to the library of obscure WW2 armed forces.

I have French colonial troops in 28mm, but no aircraft.

Saturday 21 January 2023

Conan: Blood of the Serpent

 My latest bedtime fiction reading has been a new Conan book, written by S.M. Stirling, a prequel to one of Robert E. Howard's original tales, Red Nails. This is a nostalgia trip for me as I devoured most of the Conan books as a teenager. The original Howard books and later work by L. Sprague de Camp and others.

In this book, Conan is a member of a mercenary unit employed by Stygia to protect a far-flung outpost with nearby gold mines. The unit has a broad mix of characters, including one of Howard's best characters, Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. Definitely one of my teenage fantasies! They get into scraps with the Stygian nobility, always a risky business and the commander sends them on a mission to get them out of town. They are scouts for a relief convoy to a gold mine that goes spectacularly wrong. I won't spoil the story, but Valeria, followed by Conan, leaves the unit and ends up in the palace setting of Howard's Red Nails, reproduced in the book.

Stirling is an experienced fantasy writer, and he broadly keeps to Howard's style, albeit a little more politically correct than the originals. Most of the fight scenes involve wild animals of various types, given the 'African' setting. This is proper sword and sorcery fantasy, and being Stygian, it involves a lot of snakes. While the writing is very descriptive of the location, it perhaps lacks the raw action of Howard's originals, but it is still a good read.

Conan has been used as a wargame setting. I have a decent figure/board game with ship and tavern settings that came with 72 hard plastic large 28mm figures. I have not played the game often, but the figures have come in useful in games of Dragon Rampant, Rangers of Shadow Deep and Open Combat. I also used them in a GDWS participation game, Conan and the Princess, at Carronade in 2017. The setting for Conan is Hyboria, which Tony Bath adapted for his famous ancients campaign, all explained in the WRG publication, Setting up a Wargames Campaign.

Conan, aided by a Frostgrave wizard, takes on the priest of Set to rescue the princess.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

Barbarossa: How Hitler Lost the War

 This is Jonathan Dimbleby's bestselling study of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. This isn't a military history of the campaign but rather a focus on the grand strategy, including the broader political, economic and diplomatic contexts. If you are looking for the detail of military operations - this isn't the book for you.

As the title suggests, his thesis is that the Eastern Front broke the Third Reich on the battlefield. The seeds of that defeat were sown in Hitler's decision to launch Operation Barbarossa and his increasingly incoherent micro-management of the campaign.

There is a lot of context, 133 pages before a shot is fired. This covers the wider war before the summer of 1941, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the reasons for Hitler's decision to invade. This is often portrayed as inevitable because of Mein Kampf, Lebensraum, and the clash of ideologies. However, Dimbleby rightly teases out the nuances that by no means made war inevitable. He also reminds the reader of the extensive commercial and military exchanges between the two countries before and during WW2. At the very least, the timing of the campaign was brought about by competing interests in the Balkans. It was the breakdown in negotiations in November 1940 that led to the Fuhrer Directive to invade. Where I beg to differ with Dimbleby is his view that the Balkan campaign delayed Operation Barbarossa. Modern studies point to the weather that summer and the fact that few of the divisions used in the Balkans were required for Barbarossa. 

The thorny issue of why Stalin ignored the warnings from the British, and his own generals, that Hitler was about to invade is well covered. Stalin distrusted the British and Churchill, in particular, for sound reasons from his perspective. Gabriel Gorodestsky's groundbreaking study, using Soviet and German archives, is excellent on this. Moreover, the Soviets had few allies in the British establishment besides Stafford Cripps, who had been dispatched to Moscow. One minister openly said he 'hoped the Russians and Germans would exterminate each other.' 

He also briefly touches on Hitler's broader strategy, including an attack on Turkey (Operation Gertrud) to catch the Middle East in a pincer movement. But, as ever, Hitler understood the economics of war better than military strategy.

The savagery of the war on the Eastern Front is graphically covered in the book. Few of the three million Soviet prisoners survived the war, civilians were routinely killed, and their villages burned down. The Holocaust may not have started on the Eastern Front, but it was implemented there with grim barbarity. This was not limited to the SS. The Wehrmacht was complicit throughout the campaign.

A critical military decision was the focus on Moscow. Championed by key generals, but Hitler vacillated. By the time that show got on the road, winter and the lack of preparedness struck the German soldiers. Important though this was, it was the failure to understand Soviet resilience and the scale of their resources in manpower and manufacturing that was the fundamental failure of Barbarossa. The Germans lost a million men, and the Soviets around 4.5 million. However, the Soviets were growing in strength by the end of 1941, while the Germans could not replace those losses with equivalent manpower. 

While the book focuses on grand strategy, the individual stories are preserved. Dimbleby uses personal accounts from both sides to illustrate the attitudes and horrors of this conflict. It is an excellent read and reaches the correct conclusions. It was on the killing grounds of the Eastern Front between June and December 1941 that the fate of Nazi Germany was sealed.

Some of my 28mm Soviet command figures.

Saturday 14 January 2023

Northumbrian castle trail

 I was travelling down to Newcastle today, as Fulham are playing at St James Park tomorrow - my nearest away game. As the trains are a shambles on a Sunday, I decided to drive and have a look at the castles on the way. I last visited this coast a long time ago.

My first stop was Lindisfarne. Famous as the first recorded Viking raid on the priory, a job Henry VIII finished off! This isn't really a castle. It was a Tudor fort built to keep my ancestors from Scotland away, and then much altered by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1901. Still, it looks the part.

The castle

Ruined priory

What looks like WW2 tank traps nearby. Hard to believe anyone thought the Germans would land panzers this far north.

The must-see castle on this coast is Bamburgh. For The Last Kingdom fans, this is Bebbanberg. The current castle is medieval, besieged during the war of the Roses, and much renovated by the Armstrong family. There is a small museum to their better-known armaments business. Their cash did an impressive job.

View from the south

A later crossbow. Part of a fine collection of weaponry.

A good collection of armour as well. Here are a couple of pikeman's corselets.

A large model of the Vickers Light Tank in desert camo. 

And the final castle of the day was Dunstanburgh. A bit of a hike in the wind from Caster village. 

I finished my trip for today at Alnwick. Sadly the castle is closed, but I'll do Warkworth tomorrow morning. They have an excellent second-hand bookshop in the old station building (Barter Books), with fantastic cake. A few purchases were made, including a biography of Leopold 1 that I hadn't seen before. 

I hope my wife doesn't read this. She may notice the asking price for this wargame classic and look more carefully at my bookshelves!

Thursday 12 January 2023

Post-Roman Kingdoms

This new book by Raffaele D'Amato in the Osprey Elite series covers the Dark Ages kingdoms in Gaul and Britain between 450 and 800. This is a challenging subject to write about, given the limited contemporary sources and archaeology. Particularly in Britain, where the later romantic fantasies about King Arthur can muddy the waters.

This is really two books in one, covering Gaul and Britain. There were solid links, but the narrative is quite different. The first two chapters cover the historical background, the kingdoms that developed when the Roman state left and the military organisation. On Arthur, the author goes with what he argues is the general consensus that, after Ambrosius, a leader named Artorius or 'Arthur' fought against the Saxons in the first part of the 6th century. Modern studies suggest that he was a Romano-Celtic warlord, probably bearing the title Dux Bellorum (war-leader), who led armoured cavalry against the invading Saxons; Collingwood compares him to a Late Roman cavalry commander. I can go with that!

I am less familiar with post-Roman Gaul, which split into different kingdoms as well, including Brittany and Armorica, which also appear in Arthurian tales.

The chapters on equipment and dress thankfully reflect my wargame armies of the period. Spear, sword and shield troops dominate, dressed in long-sleeved tunics, with puttees and a long cloak. Helmets were difficult to make and were probably limited in rank and file units. Better troops had scale or ringmail armour. Gallo-Roman nobles were often splendidly dressed, with more than a few painting challenges. A passage in The Dream of Rhonawby from the Mabinogion describes three horsemen wearing on their heads: 'A golden helmet with precious... stones in it, on top of the helmet an image of a yellow-red leopard, with two crimson-red stones in its head.' The colour plates are excellent, in a crisp painting style by Andrei Negin. 

There is very little on battlefield tactics. Mainly because we know very little. More complex Roman manoeuvres probably lasted only a short time, although disciplined cavalry charges are mentioned in the sources. 

This is a period that is popular with warmers. At GDWS, we played a fun campaign based on the WAB Age of Arthur supplement. Late Roman armies mostly work as well with some additions. There is a lovely colour plate of a Strathclyde crossbowman based on archaeological findings near me, which I might have a go at. Overall, a handy book, which wargamers will find particularly helpful. But be prepared for arguments if you use them in public!


Some of my 28mm infantry of the period

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Teutonic Knight v Lithuanian Warrior

 This is the latest in Osprey's combat series, in which they look at two troop types that faced each other. I was initially sceptical about this series, concerned that it was an excuse to rehash material already covered in other series. For example, there is already a book on the Teutonic Knights in the Warrior series.

However, the Warrior title is pretty general and doesn't cover the less well-known Lithuanian forces. The authors are also different, and Mark Galeotti arguably brings a more modern perspective, particularly on the actions of the Teutonic Knights towards the local population. This was criticised in its own time, let alone today.

The book breaks down both troop types, helped by glorious colour plates. The Lithuanian warriors started to look like western knights in this period, although more lightly armoured. How this played out is examined by looking at three battles - Voplaukis 1311, the siege of Kaunas 1362, and Grunwald 1410. The latter is also known as the Battle of Tannenburg and is the subject of a title in the Osprey Campaign series. I suspect the first two actions will be less familiar. The siege is an interesting action, although it does not do much to highlight the two troop types that are the subject of this book. Teutonic castles also have their own books in the Fortress series.

The analysis chapter is interesting and points to the shift from fighting pagan tribes to organised states like Lithuania and Poland. The Teutonic Knights adjusted their strategy to reflect this, but it also pointed to redundancy. By the end of the period, they were not Crusaders at all.

As you would expect, the book is well illustrated, with colour plates and excellent maps. I spent a week driving from Lithuania to Estonia many years ago, visiting the remains of the castles. So, I have been interested in them historically and on the wargames table for a long time. At GDWS, we did Tannenberg as a display game in 28mm back in 2010. Others may feel there is insufficient new material here to justify this book. However, if you don't have the other Osprey books, this is a good introduction to the subject, and Mark is an excellent writer.

My Teutonic Knights in 28mm.

Thursday 5 January 2023

Almughavars and The Catalan Company

 Earlier this year, I started to paint a box of Fireforge Almughavars. After painting 12, the remainder sat in the to-do box until the New Year holiday when I decided to finish the job. Fireforge offers a box of 24 plastic figures with an extensive range of optional heads and weapons. The faces could do with more definition, but otherwise, they are very nice sculpts. I am not a big fan of assembling figures, but these fit together well with plastic glue. 

A former Templar and pirate, Roger de Flor, founded the Catalan Grand Company in 1302. They had been fighting against the Angevins in Sicily and were hired by the Byzantines to fight the Turks. The company initially consisted of around 1,500 horse and 4,000 Almughavar infantry. They defeated the Turks in Anatolia and were recalled to the Balkans to defeat the Bulgarians.

After they were reinforced from Spain, the Emperor became concerned about their power and arranged for Roger de Flor to be assassinated. The Byzantines attacked the remaining troops, but the Catalans regrouped and defeated them at Apros in 1305. The company then devastated Thrace and Macedonia in what became known as the Catalan Vengeance. Next, they were hired by the Duchy of Athens, which failed to pay them, so they attacked and defeated the Duchy at Kephissos in 1311. After that, they held and expanded the Duchy of Athens until they were defeated by the Florentines in 1388.

They built the army around a core of Almughavars. Originally Aragonese hillmen from the Pyrenees, they would have included veterans from many different peoples across Spain and the Balkans by this period. They were particularly effective at utilising rugged terrain - supported by knights, allied light horse and Greek archers.

Almughavars are particularly difficult to classify in wargame armies. In the To the Strongest army list I wrote, we agreed on Javelinmen with a special rule replacing one javelin with a shock missile to give them more punch. In Lion Rampant, I went for the Warrior classification, which allows them to fight in rough terrain and be effective in combat. The problem is the lack of armour, which, as you can see from the models, they certainly had, and no shooting with javelins. ADLG goes for Medium spearmen impact, which is another compromise. The fundamental problem is that they had a variety of capabilities, which is difficult to pigeonhole in one classification.

Catalan knights are like any other of the period. However, Lion Rampant has a helpful upgrade called Motivated, which allows easier standard moves because the unit has less of a snooty attitude to the grunt work of small-scale battles. Mercenaries don’t generally do snooty! The lighter cavalry has a similar problem to the Almughavars. They were javelin armed but were quite happy to get stuck into hand-to-hand combat. This reminds me of Numidians, that are also difficult to classify for the same reason.

I got them onto the tabletop this week for a game of Lion Rampant. A 24-point game which gives two units of Almughavars, one of knights and one of light cavalry. The opponents were Byzantines with Varangians, knights, Vardariot light cavalry, citizen militia and some skirmishers.

There is an immutable rule of wargaming: having spent hours painting a new unit, they will fail badly on their first tabletop encounter. The Almughavars kept to that rule, running away from the Varangians after a drawn combat. The other unit pushed back the militia but was then hit by the Varangians. Game over!

If you want to read about the Catalan Company, I recommend The Catalan Vengeance by Alfonso Lowe. Paul Burton also wrote a helpful article in Slingshot (July 1997, Issue 192) on how to represent them on the tabletop.

Wednesday 4 January 2023

The Mosaic of Shadows

 This is historical fiction written by Tom Harper. It is the first of his Crusades series, based in Constantinople, when the First Crusade arrived in 1096. The author studied medieval history at Oxford University, and the level of historical detail shows in his writing. 

Essentially, the crusaders made their way to Constantinople by different routes. The Byzantines expected a smaller force, especially wary of the Normans that they had recently fought against. The Emperor insisted on an oath that they would hand over former Byzantine lands they captured en route to the Holy Land. Only then would he ship them across the straits and provide large-scale supplies. This led to a stand-off, which is the backdrop to the book.

Our unlikely hero is Demetrios Askiates, a former soldier with a reputation for investigations. He is summoned to the Palace by Krysaphios, Chamberlain to Emperor Alexios. There was an attempt on the Emperor's life when an assassin fired a powerful crossbow at him, killing a member of the Varangian Guard.

The commander of the Varangian Guard is Sigurd, an Anglo-Saxon exile with no love for the Normans. He provides the muscle for the investigation that takes us around the city and outside to Galata and the neighbouring countryside. The suspects range from court officials and nobles to crusader leaders. I won't spoil the plot as usual, but we are kept in suspense until the very end.

The author includes evocative descriptions of the city and the lives of those who lived in it. You can almost smell the streets and houses of the different quarters. It has plenty of characters to match and decent action scenes as well. However, it is a robust medieval crime mystery rather than a Bernard Cornwell. Not my usual bedtime fiction reading, but very good.

My 28mm Varangian Guard of the period.

Tuesday 3 January 2023

The Sultan's Fleet

 This new book by Christine Isom-Verhaaren covers the Ottoman navy from the Empire's beginning to the early 18th century. Essentially the galley era, although sailing ships had become an important part of the fleet by the end of this period.

While the narrative is chronological, the focus is on senior seafarers. Some will be familiar to readers, like Kemal and Piri Reis or Hayreddin Barbarossa. However, others are less well known. Partly because their exploits are perhaps less newsworthy, and we have fewer sources.

The Ottoman Turks did not have much of a naval tradition until they expanded to the Aegean coast. Here they inherited an earlier Seljuk presence that included naval shipyards. The Byzantine naval forces were being run down in this period, unwisely relying on the Genoese for maritime assistance. The fate of Constantinople depended on control of the Straits, a lesson the Ottomans would also forget in later centuries. The stand-out naval leader was Umur of Aydin, who developed a maritime presence in the region, albeit mainly for raiding rather than winning major naval battles.

The capture of Gallipoli in 1354 was crucial to Ottoman naval development. This allowed Ottoman forces to cross the Dardanelles. Kara Mürsel was given this province, and from Gallipoli, they expanded along the Sea of Marmara. Control of the Straits also facilitated the capture of Constantinople in 1453, and Mehmed expanded the navy to face the strongest fleet in the eastern Mediterranean, Venice. Mehmed recognised the importance of naval expertise rather than simply shifting land commanders onto a ship. The tension between court officials and seafarers was an issue throughout the period covered by this book.

Piri Reis is one of the best-known Ottoman sailors because of his beautiful maps. However, his uncle Kemal Reis was the more successful naval leader. In this period, Ottoman influence was developed along the North African coast, challenging Spanish expansion in the western Mediterranean. This was developed by Hayreddin, better known as Barbarossa, and his brother Oruc. The naval expertise developed on the Barbary Coast often led to the command of the Ottoman navy in the eastern Mediterranean. In this chapter, the author covers the men of the Sultan's fleet. The oarsmen were mainly peasants, not slaves, frequently recruited from rural areas with no maritime tradition. There were sailors and soldiers, including Janissaries, who fought on ships and on land. 

If there is one naval battle we all know, it is Lepanto. Its significance is often debated, but the most significant loss was sailors rather than ships that could be quickly replaced. Sipahis were less keen to serve at sea because they would be gone longer than a typical campaigning season. Hayreddin's successors, including Kilic Ali Pasha, Uluc Hasan Pasha and Cigalzade Pasha, highlight the different backgrounds of Ottman admirals. 

The final period covered by the book was one of transition. While the Ottomans captured Crete, the wider naval war was less successful. The appointment of Mehmed Köprülü as Grand Vizier is seen as a turning point in Ottoman history, but less so for the navy, which suffered from frequent leadership changes. Venice had started to build and hire sailing ships for their fleet by the end of the 17th century, but so did the Ottomans on a smaller scale. Reforming regulations were introduced, although they were not consistently implemented. The Ottomans found it challenging to make the adjustment to a professional navy. Too often, palace favourites had been appointed as admirals over naval experts. After the war with Venice, the fleet declined to mainly be an anti-piracy force. It was the arrival of the Russians that started the next phase later in the 18th century.

This is a fascinating and readable history of the Ottoman navy and those who sailed its ships. 

Some of my 1/700th scale Ottoman galleys for games of Black Seas.

As an aside, this is the 500th book review I have written on this blog. I dare not think how much time I have spent reading and writing about these books!

Sunday 1 January 2023

Happy New Year!

 Here's wishing everyone a Happy New Year! 

2022 was a decent year for me. We avoided the plague and kept in reasonably good health. I have managed to keep my work down to a couple of days per week, allowing more time for my historical writing and wargaming.

On the wargaming front, I actually finished a few projects, but of course started new ones! The Turkish and Hellenic navies in 1/3000 for the 1974 conflict completes that project for now, although I would like to follow that through to more modern times, but so far I just have the modern Turkish forces. Building a 1/72 scale Super Sabre added the air dimension to my 20mm figures and took me back to my early teens and Airfix aircraft. I also painted the air forces in 1/300th.

The next big project was the Adriatic in the Napoleonic wars. I started with the Balkan troops in French service, including more Albanians. They have appeared in several games of Black Powder as well as Rebels and Patriots. I have played a lot of Black Powder at the club this year thanks to a new member who is very keen on the period. I have also built up my Black Seas fleets of the period with more Royal Navy and French frigates, as well as Ottomans and Russians. Still more than a few of these in the painting pile to do. Painting Napoleonics is a slow process, but I did finish the Russian 1806 expeditionary force in the Adriatic in 28mm. Musketeers, Jagers and artillery, have added to our tabletop campaigns. I am currently painting Royal Marines and sailors for landing actions.

The Kickstarter, Border Wars arrived just before Xmas. I quickly painted up the starter set figures and played a few games. I have also used the rules for Balkan border wars of the same period.  

There have been a few distractions on the journey. Some shirtsleeve 28mm British for the WW2 campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean. Great Northern War Swedes in 28mm, as an adjunct to my Ottomans of the period. And a few more that I have probably forgotten.

My Battlechat podcast interview with Henry Hyde was a lot of fun. Chatting for a couple of hours on all matters Balkan.

My main project for the coming year is still the Napoleonic Adriatic. More British marines and Austrians as well as a building a harbour for them to attack. This will be the GDWS participation game at Carronade in May. So I have some time - famous last words! The aim is to convert that harbour into a WW2 version for some 1943-44 raids by the British and Partisans, probably for Claymore in August. I also aim to return to the Indo-Pakistan wars.

On the subject of shows, it has been a quiet year with only Claymore in Scotland, good though it was. I did make a few sorties south of the border to York, Leeds and Stockton. The latter was a first time for me, and very good it was too. I plan to get to York in February, and Salute is back in April, on the date of a Fulham home game as well.

I usually manage to read at least one book per week, and I see that I am close to having reviewed 500 on this blog. There have been some cracking books this year. Some of the best include Alexander Mikaberidze's new biography of Kutuzov, Bruno Mugnai's The Ottoman Army of the Napoleonic Wars, and Gaj Trifkovic's Sea of Blood - Partisan Movement in Yugoslavia 1941-45, which is a truly awesome piece of research. Henry Hyde's Wargaming Campaigns is another I will be returning to regularly.  

My own writing has made progress this year. A few journal articles and my first full-length history book, Chasing the Soft Underbelly, is due out soon. I actually wrote it in 2021, but publishing delays post-pandemic have slowed progress. I signed off some lovely artwork before Xmas, so hopefully soon. I am currently writing a wargaming supplement for the book, which should be ready soon after the main book comes out. I have signed a contract with Helion for two more books, one in 2023 and another in 2024. In the gap, I wrote a book about the Napoleonic Wars in the Adriatic, which should be published in March or April. I also met my target of an average of two blog posts per week in 2022.

Finally, I do like to travel. My overseas trips this year included a great trip to Istanbul in April, an extended work trip to Sweden in June and Kos in the Aegean in October. As well as a few trips around the UK. Nothing planned yet for 2023 other than the family trip to the Lake District.

That's me. I hope your hangover is not too bad this morning, and I look forward to seeing what our hobby brings in 2023.