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.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Salute 2016

That's another Salute come and gone. We will pass quickly over my trip to Brighton the night before for the footie - grim on all counts. I am not a huge fan of Scotrail, but all is almost forgiven after travelling on Southern!

Fortunately, Salute didn't disappoint. The Warlords have cracked the queuing with the scanning and it was straight in. First a trip around the games, and very good they were. Then the traders. With no game at Craven Cottage in the afternoon, I had a couple of hours more than usual to empty my wallet. Flying back was a bit of a limitation, but I did remember to bring a larger cabin bag.

My purchases included the new Black Powder supplement for the ACW and the FoW Pacific war supplement for the Japanese. Other than that it was bits and bobs, the items you don't see often at other shows, particular scenic items. In particular, I had more time to look at the huge array of fantasy figures and pick up some interesting additions for my historical and fantasy armies. The imagination of game designers in coming up with new settings is truly amazing. 

Here are the games that caught my eye.

First off is the Essex Gamers massive Vietnam War game utilising the mega Ron Ringrose collection.

The first game I saw on entering the hall was this Hammers Slammers game. Not my thing but the terrain was good.

Then Iron Cross the new WW2 rules that I recently reviewed. I think the buildings are from 4 Ground.

Very nice Frostgrave setting.

This Mexican Revolution game got me excited as this is the GDWS participation game at Claymore in August. However, this is in 20mm not 28mm, so no figure inspiration.

There were a lot of Martian games this year to go with the Steampunk theme.

Impressive Seven Years War game. Kunersdorf I think, a rare Frederick defeat.

I love these 54mm Napoleonics. If my eyesight deteriorates further I could be heading in this direction!

Impressive big scale age of sail with a well modelled land element.

This really looked like I imagine the Battle of Agincourt, with masses of French queuing up to attack.

They must have used a huge amount of snow flock for this Winter War on ice game

Lovely buildings in this Peninsular War game of the Battle of Adrados - al a Sharpe's Enemy, before you hunt through Chandler!

On the subject of buildings this town scene was very good too.

A fictional Seven Years War battle of Willhelmstadt with lovely scenic boards.

This was the better of the Kings of War games

But this one wins the prize for the busiest table I think I have every seen.

Finally, a shot from a stall selling big scale toy WW2 from a firm called Cobi. These are just brilliant. If it hadn't been for the baggage limitations I would have bought these for summer games in the garden!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Viva Villa!

The Pancho Villa project has got off the starting blocks. Well the first two units painted at least!

The plan is to paint up two armies in 28mm (Villistas and Federales), suitable for Bolt Action. At present that is looking like at least 3 infantry squads, a cavalry squad, artillery and HMGs for each side - although it will probably grow! I'll need a target, so we are going to do this as the GDWS participation game at the Claymore show in August. That should be plenty of time - he says boldly!

After much internet research, I also have a railroad van that, with a bit of conversion, should do as a game objective. Also a model of a Wright biplane - the Villistas converted 75mm shells for rudimentary bombing runs. I suspect we will need some house rules for this one!

Below are the first two units. On the left we have a dismounted squad of Pancho Villa's elite unit (don't wargamers always paint elite units first!), the 'Golden Ones'. They wore a distinctive olive green uniform, so at least they will be easy to spot on the tabletop. On the right we have some Federales, in the later khaki uniform.

These are from the Old Glory range. The sculpts are a bit basic, but there is nothing intricate about these troops. A block paint job, followed by an ink wash, gives a suitably grubby appearance. I also have some slightly larger and chunkier Outpost figures that will need to populate different units.

I'm off to Salute on Saturday, so I am hoping to pick up some more suitable figures for irregular units. Really looking forward to this one. I get a bit more time at the show because Fulham are playing the night before in Brighton. Possibly the furthest away game a Scottish based Fulham could possibly travel. I'm not as confident of a result on Friday as I am on Saturday!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Palmyra and its Empire

Coincidentally, as Palmyra has been in the news following its ‘liberation’, I have been reading Richard Stoneman’s book ‘Palmyra and its Empire’. This is the story of Palmyra and in particular, Zenobia’s revolt against Rome in AD269.

While archaeological evidence on the site goes back to Neolithic times, the city is first documented in the early 200’s BC. It became part of the Roman Empire in the first century AD (although it retained considerable autonomy) and was an important buffer between the Roman’s and successive Persian states.

The city’s wealth came from trade caravans that travelled along along the Silk Road. Trade wealth enabled the construction of huge projects, such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, and the distinctive tower tombs. The Palmyrenes were a mix of races with close ties to the nomadic tribes that occupied the area around the city. Unlike the impression one gets from modern pictures, it was probably a good deal more fertile in ancient times. The city’s inhabitants spoke Palmyrene (a dialect of Aramaic) and its culture produced distinctive art and architecture that combined eastern and western traditions.

The book takes us through the history of the city, explaining its strategic position, its structure of governance, religions and the reason for its wealth. It’s more than halfway through the book before we get to Zenobia.

Her husband Odaenathus had defeated the Persians and strengthened the city’s position. On his death Zenobia effectively took the throne and launched successful military campaigns into Roman Arabia and Egypt. The high point was an invasion of Anatolia that reached as far as Ankara.

The Roman’s were otherwise occupied when much of this expansion occurred, but when Emperor Aurelian was able to respond, his legions defeated Zenobia at the Battles of Immae and Emesa in 272AD. Zenobia escaped the subsequent siege, but was captured and ended her days in Italy. 

The following year the city rebelled and massacred the Roman garrison. Aurelian returned and raised the city. It never really recovered, but the ruins remained until Isis captured the area from Syrian government troops and destroyed a number of buildings. A very brave curator Khaled al-Assad saved many antiquities - paying the ultimate price by being beheaded for refusing to give them information.

Palmyran armies consisted of cataphracts, horse archers and foot archers. There is a FoG army list for them in 'Legions Triumphant' and they are also covered in Osprey MAA 243 'Rome's Enemies (5) The Desert Frontier'.

Stoneman’s book was first published 1995. I picked up my copy second-hand quite cheaply and it appears to be still available. Well worth a read to get the history behind the news.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Iron Cross

I was listening to the Meeples and Miniatures interview with Great Escape Games about their new WW2 rules, Iron Cross. Sounded like my sort of fast play game, so I bought a copy.

The big selling point is simple mechanics. Each side gets a command token for each unit in their orbat. After dicing for initiative, the active player activates a unit by using a command token and then move, fire or a combination of both. The non-active player can react (interrupt the activation) by using one of their command tokens and rolling usually 3+ on a D6. If they roll a 6 the initiative shifts to them. Otherwise the active player keeps activating units until they hand over the initiative to the other player. The idea is to try and keep a few command tokens for reactions when needed the most.

Firing requires a base score of 5+ on a D10, with a few modifiers. There are no ranges, the basis being that weapons could reach across the table. There is a plus 1 modifier for close range. It's a bit more complex for armour by cross referencing gun and armour factors, but still straightforward. Each unit has a morale value and when it has exceeded that in hits, it is destroyed. Although you can use company morale checks, at command token cost, to recover morale.

There is no heavy artillery or aircraft, although scenarios can include preliminary bombardment. There are mortars and special rules for some units, but not many. An infantry unit is assumed to have all it needs. There is also no close combat - short range shooting does this.

The production value is high. Almost everything you need, including orbats, is in the 32 page booklet. My only complaint is that it could have done with more orbats. 1944 may be popular, but limits others. Having said that, it wasn't difficult to guess values for early war armies. You can use anything for tokens, but there are some nice ones made for the game by 4 Ground.

My test game involved German infantry, supported by mortars and three tanks, attacking a British held town. The British infantry have two cruisers attached for support as well as a mortar and a 25pdr.

Here is the table with the Germans at their starting point.

The British in the village await the assault.

After the second turn the German armour is in trouble, but the infantry are trying to get around the flanks.

After the third turn, it's all over for the Germans. The British tanks have counterattacked effectively.

It played very well. The mechanics may be simple, but the key to the game is thinking about how to use your command tokens. It needs a well thought out plan and while you can move and fire every unit in a turn, in practice you need to keep command tokens in reserve.  This really is a game were you play the period, not the rules.

You can use any scale of figures. I used 15mm, as my FoW bases work well, the orbats will as well. This is a game I will certainly play again.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Dardanelles and Salonika 1916

2015 was the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, although the final evacuation took place in 1916 and the naval campaign went on until the end of the war.

The naval campaign is covered well in my Easter reading of Dan Van Der Vat’s ‘The Dardanelles Disaster’, which looks not only at the naval actions, but also the political and land actions as well. I read his story of the Goeben’s escape to Turkey in ‘The Ship that Changed the World’, some years ago, and very good it is. His essential thesis is that by embroiling Turkey into World War 1, the war went on for two years longer than it might otherwise have done.

Moving on to this year’s WW1 Balkan centenaries, we have the allied advance out of Salonika leading to the British led campaigns at Dorian and in the Struma Valley. The Struma Valley campaign provides some good scenarios for WW1 games that are manageable. As wargamers we are spared the attention of mosquitos, which were the abiding memory of British troops who served there according to memoirs. The British army newspaper was even called ‘The Mosquito’.

The French and Serbs, with some Italian and Russian support, successfully advanced into what was then Serbia by capturing Monastir. These offensives had the effect of forcing the Germans to shift troops from the Western Front, while Verdun was raging, to bolster the Bulgarian army. 

I have covered these campaigns in a feature article at Balkan Military History. It will also be the basis of the GDWS display game at the Carronade wargames show in Falkirk on 7 May. Lots of 28mm figures in a pretty open WW1 game, at least by 1916 standards.

I will be covering some of the physical ground this summer on a trip to Macedonia. So expect plenty of photos of what’s there to be seen, although I will also cover the WW2 campaigns over similar ground and a bit of ancients as well.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Napoleon's Irish Legion

The latest reinforcements for the French in my 28mm Peninsular War project, comes in the form of Napoleon’s Irish Legion. A bit exotic, but French line units are just too boring.

The French acquired a number Irish recruits from their abortive 1798 and 1801 rebellions, and there were plenty of Frenchmen of Irish descent given the long tradition of Irish troops in French service.

The Irish Legion mustered at Morlaix in Brittany in December 1803. They were organised as a light infantry battalion. The first casualty was caused by a duel, something of a regular occurrence!

They had rear echelon duties in the Ulm and Prussian campaigns, followed by garrison duties on the Channel coast, before being posted to Spain in 1808. The creation of a second battalion resulted in the Legion being reclassified as the Irish Regiment in December 1808. In April 1809 it was expanded to the full four battalions, although this diluted the national character of the unit, which attracted recruits from all over Europe.

In Spain, two battalions formed part of Junot’s 8th Corps in the Army of Portugal. It then spent six months fighting guerrillas, before distinguishing themselves at the sieges of Astorga and Cuidad Rodrigo.

They were part of Massena’s failed invasion of Portugal and were present at Bussaco. Their losses during the campaign meant they formed only one battalion after they reached the lines of Torres Vedras. This battalion formed the rear guard in the retreat from Portugal and fought at Fuentes d’Onoro in 1811. The rest of the year was spent on counter-insurgency, before losing its national designation on becoming Third Foreign Regiment in August 1811.

The main attraction of the unit for me was the green coat with yellow – a dash of colour amongst the blue. The figures include a few left over Warlord French line, supplemented by Front Rank. Metal and plastic give a bit more weight to the base on the table as well. The flag is the Irish Regiment version, not the earlier legion, and comes from the Flags of War range.

Friday, 25 March 2016

John Bellany and the Scottish Women Hospitals

Scottish artist John Bellany was inspired by the story of the Scottish Women's Hospitals (SWH) to create a large series of paintings and drawings. Some of these have recently been on display in the Scottish Parliament.

The driving force of SWH was Dr Elsie Inglis, one of the very first women to become a doctor in the 1880's. When she offered her services to the War Office she was dismissed with the words 'My good lady, go home and sit still'. Other countries were not so reticent and the SWH units went to France, and my particular interest, Kragujevac in Serbia. While this story is less well known in Scotland, anniversary events are held in Serbia every year.

You can purchase a book of the exhibition in the Scottish Parliament shop and the Scots Makar, Liz Lockheed, has written a special poem for the occasion.

Here are a few photos from the exhibition.