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.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Empty Throne

The latest Bernard Cornwell book will always be high on my reading list and 'The Empty Throne' did not disappoint.

This is Book 8 in the Warrior Chronicles set in Anglo Saxon England, featuring our hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg.



The historical context is the death of the Mercian ruler, with no legitimate heir. His wife is the obvious choice, but women rulers were rare, to put it mildly. Uhtred is wounded and a sub plot is his journey to recover the sword that wounded him. While the 'English' are divided the Vikings step up their raids on the west coast from Ireland. As usual the book ends with a grand battle, this time on the walls of Chester.

I am frankly running out of superlatives to describe Bernard Cornwell's writing. It is simply a book that you can't put down - the very best in historical fiction.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

WW1 Serbian Boys

I am always interested in military history links between Scotland and the Balkans, so this story in today’s Scotsman newspaper caught my eye.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, George Heriot’s school in Edinburgh has posted on its website the first instalment of what will be a four-year project designed to chart the stories of 27 Serbian boys, aged 12 to 17, who were taken in by the educational establishment in 1916.
These boys had experienced the harrowing ‘retreat’ over the Albanian mountains to the coast and then on to Corfu.
The sporting interest comes from the boys playing rugby, creating a Serbian team. They are credited with bringing the game to Serbia after the war.
The last surviving ‘boy’ was Dimitrije Dulkanovic who explained when interviewed in his eighties: “The prime of our lives were spent here in this beautiful country with your grandfathers and grandmothers. At that war time we were homeless and parentless so our gratitude to Scotland and the Scottish people will last till the end of our lives.”

Good story and well done to the school for recording it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dystopian Wars - Ottoman Empire

Dystopian Wars is popular at my club, GDWS, and having played my first game the other week, I can see why. The Victorian science fiction genre is attractive, as are the very fine models and a decent rule set.
So, what fleet should I go for. In the absence of an obvious Balkan state, no models for the Greeks yet, it of course has to be the Ottomans. The decision was made when I saw a nicely painted starter fleet on EBay, so I wasn't just going to add them to the metal pile!
This is 750pts under the rules and gives me a nicely balanced force that I can add to later.

The Commodore will reside on this Sadrazam Class battleship.

Supported by a squadron of these Fettah Class cruisers.

And some frigates from the Mizrak Class.

I will probably add to the force with some non-skimming ships. Then consider an opponent. The Greeks are the obvious choice if the models appear, but otherwise it will have to be the Russians.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Game of Thrones - House Stark

My painting schedule has drifted off in the last month. Busy at work and I have spent my spare evenings rebuilding the Glasgow and District Wargaming Society website. I am very pleased with the result. Please give it a visit and if you do Facebook and Twitter give us a follow there as well. I have used Weebly for this site and I am very impressed with the software.

What painting I have done is to complete my Saga Game of Thrones army for House Stark.

Ed Stark commands this force, with a figure from the Dark Sword range. A bit big for 28mm, but you can get away with this for a command figure.

The Stark and Lannister armies got their first run out on Sunday at the club. The Starks won and so Ed still has his head!

 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Long Turkish War

Soldiers and Weapons is a new series to me, published by TheSoldier Shop in Italian and English, splitting each page in half. The format is similar to Osprey, with plenty of illustrations and quality colour plates. I got my copy from Caliver Books.

No.24 is on the Long Turkish War 1593-1606. After a short introduction there are chapters on the Ottoman and Transylvanian armies as well as good description of the Austro-Hungarian forces on the military border. Military operations are in the final chapter covering the main actions and the small war that continued either side of formal operations.



The colour plates are excellent and cover all the main troop types. They include a plate of a Scottish infantryman belonging to a company based in Transylvania in 1596. This is a Balkan-Scottish link I was unaware of. It seems Stefan Bathory in Poland originally hired them. They served at the siege of Temesvar and then the garrisoned the Prince of Transylvania’s residence at Gyulafehervar. The uniform was similar to Scottish troops of the period.

Warlord Games have just released some Croat cavalry for the Thirty Years War, which would be fine for this period as well.

Somewhat tangentially, I dragged my beloved on Friday night to see the film ‘Dracula Untold’.  I had some modest hopes for this film as it at least appeared to be set in the correct historical context. The introduction was pretty accurate, describing the early years of Vlad Tepes. Sadly, as far as history goes that was it. The story disintegrated into a horror movie plot with Vlad doing a deal with a Vampire in return for superhuman powers to fight off the Ottomans, single-handed!


The portrayal of Wallachian/Transylvanian troops wasn’t too bad, but the Ottomans were too uniformed and disciplined. None the less it wasn’t a bad film and Luke Evans looked the part as Vlad. His interview at least shows that he understood the historical context and that the real Vlad is to this day regarded as a national hero in Rumania. Worth a look for entertainment value, even if not for the history.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Hannibal: Clouds of War

This is the third in Ben Kane's Hannibal trilogy and is another gripping read.

It follows two unlikely friends, one a Roman and the other a Carthaginian, as they fight in the Second Punic War. The last book ended in the Battle of Cannae and the surviving legions are dispatched to Sicily. Inevitably our Carthaginian hero is also dispatched there by Hannibal to support their ally Syracuse. The book ends with Roman siege and of course the main characters meet up, albeit briefly.

I thought I knew quite a bit about the Punic wars, the Carthaginians were my first wargames army. I also associate the Sicily theatre more with the First Punic War. So I found the historical context interesting.

As with Ben Kane's other books, there is a close attention to historical detail without it slowing up the pace of book. It has all the elements you look for in the best historical fiction. The history, action, treachery and the personal interaction. Recommended.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Somerled and the Battle of Renfrew

I attended the Somerled and the Battle of Renfrew conference today, held in the fine setting of Renfrew Town Hall. For those not familiar with Scottish town halls, many were built in the baronial style, and Renfrew is a particularly fine example.

My particular interest in this local battle goes back to a GDWS display game in 2011, Somerled's Last Stand.

Somerled, King of Argyll and Lord of the Isles died at the Battle of Renfrew otherwise called, Bargarran, Knock or Inchinnan in 1164. His Islesmen, Manx and Irish allies were defeated by a Norman/Scots army led by the High Steward, Walter Fitz-Alan. We actually know very little about the battle or the forces involved, so the game was somewhat conjectural.

The first session by Ted Cowan gave us some background to the period and, for me at least, confirmation that we have very few sources. Then Denis Rixson reviewed the evidence of the West Highland galleys that were an essential element of the armed forces of the isles. Birlinns were smaller versions of the classic Viking longship, more suited to the economy and warfare of the isles. He has a new book out on the subject.

The main primary source for the battle is a later poem, 'The Song of the Death of Somerled and the Sacking of Glasgow'. Dr Alex Woolf has a paper analysing the poem and what little it tells us about the battle.

In the lunch break we had an excellent original musical interlude from the Renfrewshire Youth Music Initiative. A haunting tune that beautifully captures the battle.

In the afternoon David Caldwell talked about Somerled and the Lordship of the Isles. Again, we have limited sources. It is likely that he came from Ireland in about 1130 to lead a brilliant campaign to recapture Argyll from the Norse and eventually became King of Argyll. David outlined the likely strongpoints and administrative structures.

Derek Alexander gave us an archeologists perspective with a description of what the area looked like in the 12C and an overview of the key players. The favourite site is on the Knock, Kemp Howe in Moor Park housing estate, but no real hard evidence. What we do know is that the victory enabled the Steward's to expand across the west of Scotland.

Really interesting day, pulling together what little we know about a little known battle that had important consequences for the development of Scotland.