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, 19 April 2014

More Scots

Two more Schiltrons of Scot's spearmen for the Bannockburn project. One more left to base and that will be enough for our Carronade participation game. Still some bits and pieces to do, including more longbowmen and knights. However,  for once I feel actually ahead of schedule and might actually get some gaming in over the Easter break.

I'll be giving them a run out at the club tomorrow against the Teutonic Knights.

A bit of a mix of figures. Certainly Claymore Castings, plus Black Tree, Curteys and Front Rank from memory. The big flags are from Flags of War and the Earl of Lennox is from CitadelSix. A new firm to me. The foil banners work well, but I am not convinced by transfers for flags. The shield artwork is first rate, slightly spoilt by poor quality transfers that chip very easily. But they plug a gap in this period.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Salute 2014

My annual trek down to London yesterday for Salute and some footie in the afternoon. A vital three points for Fulham made my day!

The queue on arrival was mega but as I had an advance ticket it progressed quickly. Nice freebie figure this year that I might for once actually paint.

The trader fest was impressive with more alternative universes than I could imagine. I assume there is a market for all this, or I hope so as the effort, artwork and models are impressive, even if it isn't my thing.

I suppose my abiding memory of this year's Salute is the smell of MDF. It was everywhere with buildings and bases to models. I am not a big fan of MDF buildings, not enough depth for me, although I accept the upper end of the genre are pretty good.

A very good range of games and here are those that caught my eye.


Carlist Wars - Lots of very nice Perry's figures.
Punic wars in I think 54mm
Victorian steampunk
Quartarmain quest
WW2 Keren
This was an impressive MDF village
Painting competition
Demo for the new SAGA supplement. Problem with the printer meant not on sale. I picked up the dice though.
And again this time in Belgium.
Dien Bien Phu


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Opening shots of World War One

My Easter update of Balkan Military History is now complete with a feature article on the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia - 'The Opening Shots of WW1'.

The first shots of the war were fired at Serbia and the people of Serbia paid a huge price for the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand. Suffering the highest casualties of any nation in the Great War.

The early war campaigns have received very little attention in English language histories of the war and I point to what reading there is including Andrej Mitrovic's book, 'Serbia's Great War'. Today's Independent newspaper has a particularly gruesome set of pictures of Austro-Hungarian atrocities during the war.

I am planning to expand my 28mm armies for the early campaign and some figures have arrived from Tiger Miniatures and Old Glory. Early war Austrian's are a bit of a challenge at present with Renegade Miniatures out of action, but I will be keeping an eye open at Salute this Saturday. Looking forward to the show, followed by an absolutely vital home game for Fulham at the Cottage.

My Austrian Hussars and Infantry in early war colourful splendour!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

English and Welsh Longbowmen

When I started the army list for our Bannockburn participation game I realised that I didn't have enough longbowmen. I am a big fan of Front Rank figures and their offerings, if perhaps a little too well equipped for Bannockburn, were an easy decision.

Painting these made a change from Scots spearmen and I was delighted that the bows are part of the casting. Having wrestled with gluing a mace on the figure I am painting for Thomas Randolph for several evenings, this was a real pleasure! Skulking at the back of this unit are two English command figures. On the right is Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and to his right is a more generic figure that I will probably use for Robert Clifford. The church will become St Ninian's Kirk and comes from Caliver's Battlefield Buildings range.

English and Welsh longbowmen were an important part of English armies of the period, even if they hadn't reached the fame that they would achieve in the Hundred Years War. The technology and training were the same, but English commanders were not. At Bannockburn they forgot the lessons of Falkirk and charged the spearmen before allowing the longbowmen to soften up the schiltrons. Clifford, De Bohun and Valence were all at Falkirk, but it appears they had forgotten the lessons. 

Noble arrogance is the common explanation for ignoring the socially inferior foot soldiers, before impetuously charging unsupported. It's possible, but that doesn't explain Falkirk or an equally important battle in 1295, when the Earl of Warwick defeated Welsh spearmen at Maes Madoc with a well coordinated attack by archers and knights. There was a time gap, so they could have forgotten the lessons of these actions and Edward's army at Bannockburn was large, but of poor quality. 

A more credible explanation in my view is that the English knights camped on the Carse without their archers because they expected Bruce to withdraw. His advance on the second day of the battle left the English archers on the fringe of the action, rather than coordinated with the knights. 

This is a bit of a problem for war gamers refighting Bannockburn because an English commander knows how to win. This therefore requires some scenario planning to make it difficult for the English commander to use too much historical hindsight.

On the subject of archers, the Scots are often portrayed as being armed with lighter hunting bows. However, we know that the Scots also used the longbow, importing them via the Hanseatic ports. Their inferiority was down to smaller numbers.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Islesmen at Bannockburn

The latest unit to join my Scots army for Bannockburn is a unit of isles men led by Angus Og MacDonald. 

We are pretty sure that islesmen and highlanders from the west coast fought at Bannockburn in Robert the Bruce’s division. However, we have little idea if they fought with their traditional weapons or were trained to fight with the spear like the lowland Scots. So I have compromised with spears in the front ranks and the two-handed Lochaber axe in the back rows. The figures are from Claymore Castings range and the flag is produced by Flags of War.

The Kingdom of the Isles during this period had been brought into the mainstream realm of Scotland well before Bannockburn. However, they were far from united in the Bruce cause. In broad terms the MacDonalds supported Bruce, while the MacDougalls supported Baliol. I stress in broad terms because there is strong evidence that members of both clans fought on both sides. 

Angus Og himself was, like Bruce, an adherent of Edward !st. until 1206. It is likely that his shift in allegiance had more to do with the traditional feud with the MacDougalls, than the patriotic motives ascribed in the poems of the period. Angus Og gained from the alliance as the tide swung in favour of Bruce, including his Argyll campaign that shattered the power of the MacDougalls in 1307. He was rewarded with grants of land in Lochaber, Morvern and Ardnamurchan in 1314. His son and successor also gained Mull and Tiree. 

Andrew McDonald’s ‘The Kingdom of the Isles’ is a good read if you want to know more about the western seaboard of Scotland during this period.

It certainly made a change from painting lowland spearmen!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29

As a break from the Bannockburn project I have been reading ‘Wars of Spanish American Independence 1809-29’ by John Fletcher. 

This is in the Osprey essential histories series that aims to give a broad overview of particular conflicts. This subject is a real challenge for the format, as the wars of liberation ranged over a huge geographical area and also lasted some 20 years. 

The author’s approach has been to set the conflict in the context of the Napoleonic wars and Spain’s decline that had huge implications for its overseas empire in south and central America. The nature of the colonial empire with its ‘caste’ system and the importance of trade in developing the resistance to Spanish rule.

The respective armies are given a brief overview with Spanish regulars and militia fighting an array of colourful troop types from cowboy Gauchos and Llaneros to freed negro slaves. The fighting is summarised in the chronology and by region and it is probably here that the restricted space is most challenging.

This is a very interesting conflict and I hope this introduction encourages greater interest in it. There are a number of excellent histories and the author’s own series of booklets provide everything the war gamer needs. There are limited ranges of suitable figures in 15mm and 28mm. In fact more than when I did the army of San Martin and his crossing of Andes for a series of GDWS display games. I covered these campaigns in an article in Wargames Illustrated in 2007.

Spanish Line Regiment Don Carlos


Sunday, 2 March 2014


In this 700th anniversary year we can expect a string of publications on this battle. I have just finished reading David Cornell's new book 'Bannockburn - The Triumph of Robert the Bruce'.

This is the author's first book, although he spent several years studying the Anglo-Scottish wars while completing his Ph.D. at Durham University.

The first third of the book describes the Scottish wars and the the internal power struggles in Scotland in the period before 1314. This is important, not only for context, but as an explanation as to why Robert the Bruce decided to take the highly risky strategy of a pitched battle with the English army and their Scottish allies. The internal politics of England are also covered. This also partly explains Edward's urgency to cross the Bannockburn at the end of the first day of the battle. A move that forced him to fight on ground that was far from suitable for knights.

Given the sparsity of sources for the battle itself, there is little that's new in this book. The author largely goes with the modern view of the battle site, with the second day being fought either on the Carse or the Dryfield, someway to the East of the traditional site. He does make a credible case for Moray's advance guard being further forward in the Torwood itself, but accepts it is purely conjecture.

Finally, the book covers the aftermath of the battle and the long struggle before a lasting peace treaty was signed.

While there is little new in this book, it is very well written. Some may not like the style that has elements of historical fiction writing, but I think it adds to the readability. Highly recommended.