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. I hope you find it helpful and entertaining.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Ottoman Cycle - 2 & 3

Holiday travel enabled me to read the next two books in S.J.A.Turney’s, Ottoman Cycle.

The first was the ‘Priest’s Tale’, where our ‘hero’ Skioros leaves Crete (Candia) on his journey of revenge against the Sultan’s brother Cem, who is an exile in the Vatican. He blames him for the death of his brother. His ship is captured by Ottoman pirates and he and his comrades are taken to Tunis to be sold as slaves. They escape and make the long land journey with Tuareg traders across North Africa and then across the straits to Spain. The story ends with him being separated from his companions by accident and ends up with Columbus sailing for the New World.

In the second book, ‘The Assassin’s Tale’, he has returned from the Americas and rejoins his companions who agree to help him in his quest. They join a Condottieri lance commanded by one of their group and fight their way across Italy, before being engaged by Cesare Borgia in the Vatican. This gives them access to Cem, albeit with the complication that the French King has his own plans for him.

It’s difficult to badge this series as its not a conventional swashbuckling historical fiction in the Cornwell mode. The characters are very well developed and the historical research is evident. The second book brilliantly covers the complex machinations of 15th Century Italian politics. Perhaps more importantly, its a great read with lots of twists in the tale and certainly no shortage of action. I particularly like the way the main character develops across the three books. Recommended.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Opening of the First World War

Today is the 100th anniversary of the opening declaration of what would become the First World War.

Matthew Seligmann explains the process from regional squabble to World War in his article in today's 'The Conversation'; "With the exquisite turn of phrase for which she was so highly regarded, Barbara Tuchman once likened the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia of 28 July 1914 to an example of “the bellicose frivolity of senile empires”."

The early battles of the war have not received much attention in the English language with the focus on the western front and the great battles in France. The centenary publications have at least begun to change that and I have outlined the early actions and a reading list in a recent feature article in Balkan Military History.

My post on return from holiday, includes a free Flames of War supplement for WW1 in this month’s Wargames Illustrated. It looks good and I might give it a go later this week.
Here are my 28mm early war Austrian Hussars as a taster.

And some Serbian infantry in 15mm

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tour around Vis

This month's Balkan Military History features a tour around the Croatian Island of Vis.

I outline the history of this island that has such an interesting story because of its strategic position in the Adriatic. Greeks, Romans, Venetian, French, British and Austrian's have all used its natural harbours as a base for their fleets.

They have all left their mark and because the island was a restricted military zone, much of it hasn't been lost to commercial tourism. This is the entrance to Vis Bay, defended by Fort George on the left and Hoste Island in the centre. You get a real feel for the natural bay from this angle.

My tour takes a chronological look at the military history sights.

Plenty for the rest of the family to do as well, with secluded beaches, natural attractions and fine food and wine. The local Pag cheese is particularly good - my suitcase groaned with the amount I brought home!

It's also very good value as a holiday destination.

In wargaming terms, I am adding some British commandos to my 25mm Partisans. Bolt Action will be ideal for the small scale island raids the British forces engaged in. Similar scenarios will work for the Napoleonic period as well.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Yugoslav navy and Vis

The Croatian island of Vis is a good place to see installations of the former Yugoslav National Army (Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija) or JNA, because this was a closed military zone until the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The JNA (technically it's forerunner) was formed in 1941 from partisan units and became the national army after the war. It was organised into four military regions of which Vis came under the Split Naval Region. Of the JNA's 680,000 soldiers, more than 180,000 were conscripts. In 1990, the army overhauled its basic force structure, replacing the divisional infantry organisation with the brigade as the largest operational unit. Twelve infantry divisions converted into twenty-nine tank, mechanised and mountain infantry brigades with integral artillery, air defence and anti-tank regiments.

The Yugoslav Navy included nearly eighty frigates, corvettes, submarines, minesweepers, and missile, torpedo, and patrol boats in the Adriatic Fleet with an establishment of around 10,000 sailors and marines. They developed a submarine-building capability during the 1960s. In 1990, the main combat were three Heroj class submarines armed with 533 mm torpedoes. Two smaller Sava class submarines entered service in the late 1970s, but two Sutjeska-class submarines had been relegated mainly to training missions by 1990. They also had midget submarines.

On Vis, you can visit a submarine pen in a cove near Vis town. We did it as part of a military tour organised through the Paiz Travel Agency. This is the best way to see installations as you need an off road vehicle and a local guide to find everything. Our guide Robert, was very knowledgeable.

The two ports in the island, Viz and Komiza, would have been full of ships during this period, instead of today's private yachts! The navy had ten Osa class missile boats and six KonĨar class missile boats. Four Vukov Klanac-class coastal minesweepers built on a French design, four British Ham class minesweepers, and six 117-class inshore minesweepers built in domestic shipyards. This was a coastal protection navy, so larger ships were limited to four Soviet Koni class frigates.


Almost every cove on the island has some form of gun battery like this.

There are also more extensive gun positions that you can visit on the tour, like these.

You can also visit the former rocket base and the nuclear command bunker. This is a big complex in the centre of the island that could house up to 600 troops in the event of nuclear war. It was so secret that even the locals didn't know what it was. Apparently this was one place the guards would shoot on sight if you got too close!

The fleet left Croatia in May 1992, when the navy sailed off Vis island to Montenegro and the JNA was formally dissolved.



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Napoleonic Lissa (Vis)

I am holidaying on the Croatian island of Vis (formerly Lissa). Furthest out of the Adriatic Islands, only 60 miles from Italy, it has been a strategic position throughout history. Originally occupied by the Illyrians, the Greeks founded a colony, then the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Austrians and finally Yugoslavia and Croatia.

The British used it as a naval base for their Adriatic fleet in the Napoleonic wars. Vis town is a natural harbour and easily defended with four forts on the surrounding heights and one in the harbour that the Austrians improved when the island was handed back to them.

Three of the forts are simple Martello towers, here is one of them.

The main fort that protects the harbour and a possible landing from a cove along the coast, is Fort St George. It was also improved by the Austrians, but the entrance has the original British markings. A group of locals have formed a trust are repairing the fort at present, taking out the 1950's JNA concrete emplacements. There is a small room with some WW2 items, but I'll cover that in a WW2 blog.

I outlined the history of British involvement in an earlier blog post. The key naval action was the Battle of Lissa 1811, when a small British frigate squadron, defeated a much larger French and Italian force that included 500 troops for an invasion. The battle is covered well here.

The British commander was Sir William Hoste and the small island at the entrance to Vis Bay is named after him. He is also credited with bringing cricket to Vis, a tradition that is maintained to this day.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Hannibal: Fields of Blood

This is the second of Ben Kane's Hannibal series. He tells the story of the Second Punic War through the lives of a Roman and a Carthaginian family, who become, somewhat unlikely, entwined.

This book takes us through Hannibal's greatest victories in Italy - Lake Trasimene and Cannae. The Carthaginians are commanders of veteran Libyian spearmen who re-eqiuip themselves with Roman gear to great effect. The main Roman character leaves the cavalry and ends up as a Hastati legionary.

Ben Kane is a great story teller and this book is very difficult to put down. I am writing this some 60 miles from the Italian mainland where these battles took place, finishing it in a thunderstorm, not unlike some of those described in the book!


Saturday, 19 July 2014

More Game of Thrones

Next off the painting bench in my SAGA Game of Thrones project are the Lannister Knights. These are 'hearthguard' in SAGA terms and represent the household troops of the House of Lannister.

I also managed some games during the first week of my holiday. This included a return to Andy Johnson's book Seelowe Nord, as inspiration for a Flames of War game situated in Yorkshire.

A Gebirgsjager Company with tank support attacks a village held by a British rifle company and a Home Guard unit. A sneaky Fallschirmjager landing in the rear of the village finished off the Brits on this occasion.