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.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Second Serbian Uprising 1815

This year is the 200th anniversary of the Second Serbian Uprising that led to autonomy from the Ottomans for Serbs living in the Belgrade Pashalik.

After the first Uprising there were attempts at reconciliation under a new governor, Suleyman Pasha. However, by 1815 repression had returned and this resulted in the Second Serbian Uprising, led by Milos Obrenovic, starting on 23 April 1815. He was another pig farmer, but he learned from the first uprising and avoided major military confrontations with the Ottomans. His strategy was to negotiate a deal with the Ottomans.

Not that he didn’t raise forces and fight battles. When elected he famously said, "Here I am, here you are. War to the Turks!". There were actions at Cacak, Ljubic, Palez and Dublje before the Ottomans were driven from the Pashalik.

We don’t know a great deal about these actions. They appear to have been mostly defensive actions by the Ottomans who defended entrenchments that were stormed by the Serbian forces. On several occasions, negotiated surrenders ended the action with the Ottomans withdrawing leaving any cannon behind. The strategy was not to repeat the barbarity of the first uprising, to make a negotiated peace possible. For example at Dublje, the Bosnian Pasha was captured after his army fled. He was treated well, given presents and allowed to return home.

In mid-1815, the first negotiations began and agreement was reached on a form of partial autonomy. The Ottomans were wary of the Russians after Napoleon’s defeat and were busy with unrest elsewhere in the empire.  In 1816, formal documents acknowledged the Serbian Principality under which they paid a yearly tax to the Porte and had a garrison of Turkish troops in Belgrade until 1867. However, it was, in most other matters, an independent state.

Here are a few Serbian troops of the period. They looked pretty similar to the Greeks, so I used the new 28mm range by the very talented Steve Barber. 

On the tabletop with this skirmish game.

There is a more detailed feature article on this conflict in this month's Balkan Military History.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Master of War - Defiant Until Death

My holiday fiction reading has been David Gilman's, Defiant Until Death in his Master of War series.

This is the saga of Sir Thomas Blackstone, who rose from a humble archer in the English army of the Hundred Years War, to be knighted after the battle of Crecy.

This book takes the story on onto the Poitiers campaign, with our hero holding towns in Normandy and getting involved in plots against the French king. This leads to his friends being butchered by the King and his family threatened by a character called the Savage Priest, who commands a band of routiers.

The climax of the book is the Battle of Poitiers, unusual for the period in that longbowmen played a less significant role in the victory due to a shortage of arrows - something few wargame rules replicate. It ends in a further battle in Northern Italy when our hero of course kills the Savage Priest. As Blackstone takes his band of warriors into Papal service, the next book will presumably cover Italian warfare of the period.

This is epic historical fiction. Numerous sub plots, some romance, plotting and of course plenty of action. Well researched and written, this is all you could ask for from the genre. Recommended.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Wargamer's Wedding

I got married to Liz on Saturday and as we held the ceremony in the garden of our home there was the opportunity to set up a wargame for our guests. When I say garden, given it's Scotland in July, we covered it front and back with marquees. However, we luckily got probably the only sunny day - a D6 there!

It was a small skirmish game based on the Battle of Jarama in the Spanish Civil War. The figures are 28mm and we used Bolt Action rules. Not much time to play it, but the handout explains what war gaming is all about.

Oh, and the wedding. Here's me and the new Mrs Watson. The tartan for my kilt is a new one in support of the UK military charity, Help for Heroes.

And my favourite wedding present from my wargame pals. Absolutely amazing, thanks lads.

And finally, an essential at any Scottish wedding, the piper. Neil is associated with the Royal Tank Regiment, very appropriate for me!


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Ottoman naval matters

My latest reading has focused on Ottoman naval matters, albeit from very different periods.

First, we have the Ottoman Age of Exploration by Giancarlo Casale. The author takes us through the various stages of Ottoman naval activity that mainly focused on the trade routes from the Middle East to India and South East Asia. Starting in 1512 with Selim the Naigator and completing the narrative in the early 1600's.

Ottoman naval activity was in part defensive - defending the Red Sea against Portuguese incursions, but then expanded, somewhat fitfully, depending on the enthusiasm of Ottoman officials from the Sultan down. Control of the spice trade was particularly important, given the fabulous prices such delicacies attracted in Europe.

I have to say I struggled a bit with this book. As is often the case with what was originally a PhD thesis, the quality of the research outshines the readability. None the less, the subject is an interesting one and for the wargamer gives a new opponent for those Ottoman galleys. And the Ottoman maps are also wonderful.

Second, we have Ottoman Navy Warships 1914-18 by Ryan Noppen. This Osprey, in the New Vanguard series, concisely describes the warships of the Ottoman navy and the actions they took part in. I was familiar with the actions in the Dardanelles having visited the forts and naval bases. In particular the minelayer Nusret's achievements in sinking or seriously damaging several allied battleships. I was less familiar with the naval actions in the Black Sea. Many of these revolved around Russian attempts to interdict Ottoman coal convoys. It was the lack of coal that most restricted Ottoman naval action.

The Ottoman navy had a disparate mix of ships at the start of WW1, built in Germany, France and Britain, partly as compensation for uprisings in the Empire. With the exception of the infamous Goeben, the navy even with German help, didn't really achieve its potential. It did however stop the superior allied navies from bombarding Istanbul, an action that might have knocked the Ottoman's out of the war.



Sunday, 12 July 2015

Spanish Civil War

These are somewhat belated reinforcements for my Bolt Action Spanish Civil War armies in 28mm. Belated because I had planned to finish them the Falkirk show, but life etc intervened.

First up we have some Republican infantry with an ATG.

Then some rather nice female militia, the Miliciana.

And finally, the opposition in the form of Morrocan troops.

All figures are from the Empress range.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015


My latest reading has been 1864, which I bought before the I knew the TV series was to be shown on UK television.

The book is much more of a narrative history of the war than the TV series. Understandably for a wider audience, the TV version puts much greater emphasis on the human interest stories, and has a modern day look back that frankly didn't add much to the story. Despite that, I thought the battle scenes were very well done and was up to the standards of Nordic drama we are getting used to.

The story of the War of 1864 is pretty extraordinary. To the modern reader the idea that Denmark would provoke a war against the might of Prussia and Austria, seems absurd. Of course it was a tragic miscalculation, but not quite as absurd as it looks today.

Denmark had sort of triumphed in The First Schleswig War between 1848 and 1852. However, the problem of largely German duchies, particularly Holstein, being part of Denmark was not resolved. The Danes had done little to modernise their army after the war and this time they had little international support. The woeful Danish political leadership provoked the war by integrating the Duchy of Schleswig into the Danish kingdom in violation of the 1851 Treaty. Bismarck couldn't believe his luck and mobilised the more modern German and Austrian forces.

The book and TVs series cover the evacuation of the outflanked Southern defence line at the Dannevirke and the fatal defence of the inadequate position at Dybbol. Prussian artillery heavily outnumbered the Danish artillery and Denmark was forced to sue for peace. As a result of the peace settlement, the land area of the Danish monarchy decreased by 40% and the total population reduced from 2.6 million to 1.6 million.

I probably enjoyed the book more than the TV series, although both were very good.

The British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston said: "Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it". Well, we all understand it a lot better now!



Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bloody Big Battles

I played my first game with Chris Pringle's newish rule set for 19C warfare, Bloody Big Battles, yesterday.

Chris's rules are always worth a look, going back to Warring Empires, the mechanisms of which were expanded into Principles of War, which I used to play a lot of.

The title is apt because this is firmly aimed at the big battles. A unit is a brigade or division of 3 or 4 bases, which means you can play the biggest battles of the period on a normal tabletop. A day is typically three turns, although that can include four rounds of firing but only one, albeit generous, movement per side. It means you need to think out your plan carefully, particularly as the random element means your troops might not move at all.

Firing is typical of the author's previous rules with factors and a table for outcomes. Similarly for assaults. They are pretty straightforward, with no need for micro managing units at this scale. A game is easily playable in an evening.

There are scenarios in the main rule book for the Franco-Prussian War and there is a separate booklet of scenarios for other 19C campaigns. These are well set out and means you can quickly get units onto the table.

Chris did send me a draft of a Balkan War scenario. Sadly, some building work in the house means my table is currently occupied, so I could only try them out on a reduced size game. It was Bulgarian v Turk with a couple of Corps on the Turkish side, defending against a four division Bulgarian army. My 15mm Balkan War armies are based for Spearhead and that works fine for these rules.

This is move one, which didn't go quite as the Bulgars planned. Their game plan was to pin the Turks in the fortifications and go for the high ground. However, most divisions moved slower than planned.

Move two went well on the right, with a Bulgarian division pushing the Turks off the hill, but slower in the centre, with the supporting division stopping.

The final move of the first day saw the Bulgars capture the hill in the centre as well. Although at some cost.

The rules then cover night actions, which in the main are an opportunity to regroup. In this case the Turks would have called it a day, or rather night, and pulled back.

I enjoyed these rules and will certainly play more of them. I'll still use Black Powder for the tactical games, but these do exactly what it says on the tin.