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. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

Monday, 29 March 2010

Ottomans in FoG

Second half of our club FoG competition started yesterday. The first half was limited to pre-Feudal armies and now we have shifted to the later forces.

My choice not surprisingly is firmly in the Balkans with an Ottoman army and Serbian allies. My hope is that the Serbs will give the army a bit a punch that will complement the flexibility of the Ottomans.

Best laid plans and all that. My opponent fielded a Plantagenet army with wall to wall longbowmen, knights and some spearmen. My Serbian nobles charged up to his knights with all the elan they were famed for. And you guessed it, the commander got killed and they all ran away!

However, the Ottomans are made of sterner stuff. The Janissaries formed up with support from Voynuks and Ilyars and punched their way through his longbowmen. The Timarots kept their head and knocked out his lighter cavlary and then a unit of knights and the infidels were routed. 19-6 to the Ottomans in FoG terms.

So a good recovery from disaster and a lesson to me and my bias towards mounted armies that infantry are important, particularly superior types with the shooting and fighting expertise of the Jannisaries.

The Prow Beast

This is the latest adventure of the Oathsworn from the pen of my wargaming opponent Robert Low. This is a Viking saga told by a man who really knows his history and in particular how his characters lived and fought.

I wasn't as keen on the last book, because I felt Bob got a bit carried away with the camp fire tales at the expense of the main story. It therefore lacked the pace and action that I look for in historical fiction.

No such reservation with the Prow Beast. Full bloodied action and a real feeling that you are with Orm and his crew as they sally into the borderlands between the Holy Roman Empire and the Slavs to the East. Orm takes on other Vikings and an array of tribes that even I only vaguely recognised. The book culminates in an epic siege of a plague ridden fort where our heroes (of sort) fight of an army of Pols. Great stuff and highly recommended.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Vlad - the Real Dracula

Just finished C.C.Humphreys novel of the real Dracula, Vlad. This is the first novel I have read by this author who appears to be better known for the Jack Absolute series.

This is historical fiction at its best. A well researched history that keeps as close to what we know about the real historical figure, yet written with a great fast paced dialogue. The real Dracula was of course Vlad Tepes known as The Impaler after his favourite form of execution. Contrary to myth a form of execution that originated in the west - not the East. Dracula is a play on Dracul, or Dragon the knighly order he belonged to. It was of course Bram Stoker who created the vampire version, although in fact he did very little research on the original.

The novel takes us through Vlad's early years as a hostage in the Ottoman court, through several periods as Prince of Wallachia until his final defeat by the Ottomans. To this day Vlad is a national hero in Romania and many would welcome his success in stamping out crime - even if his methods were a bit robust by modern day standards!

In 2004 the GDWS display game The Real Dracula was based on Vlad's most famous battle the Night Attack. We used WAB rules as we had playtested the WAB supplement. I provided the Ottomans and the Wallachians came courtesy of my pal and fellow GDWS member Liam Entwistle. Liam is getting married today to Aileen in Glasgow so congratulations to them both. I will probably not mention to Aileen (or the priest for that matter!) Liam's interest in this period at the celebrations later!
Vlad Tepes as painted by Liam Entwistle


The wedding. Note Liam's period kilt. No Victorian tourist stuff for him.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Guillou - Crusades Trilogy

Missed my wargaming fix this weekend as I am streaming with a cold. Particularly annoying as we have our open FoG competition Schiltron and a club day today when we were going to try Black Powder rules with my Napoleon in Egypt figures. The cold started when I was up in Stornoway on business; given the usual hospitality on the islands, it is obviously a myth that whisky cures a cold!

My hotel room overlooked the old harbour and it isn't difficult to imagine the galley fleets of the Lord of the Isles docked there. I say galleys, but these would have been Berlinns, small galleys with up to 18 oars that were the mainstay of the largely independent Lordship of the Isles. Nigel Tranter's fictional account of the life of Somerled is a good introduction to this period. For a real history I would recommend 'Kingdom of the Isles' by R.McDonald. I have never built a wargames army for this period but Viking types are a good starter. For a card cut out model visit the Comunn Birlinn site.


Carving of a Birlinn at Finlaggan

Anyway back to the subject of this blog. Being ill I finished my latest book The Road to Jerusalem by Jan Guillou. This is the first of his crusades trilogy and was made into a film in 2007. It tells the story of Arn de Gothia from his upbringing in 12th Century Sweden to becoming a Templar knight.

This series has had some good reviews, but I regret I can't agree with them. His early life in a monastery together with the domesticity of medieval Sweden doesn't exactly make a racy read. The action is an occasional diversion from this. The back cover describes the book as "An epic tale of bloody battles and deep held beliefs, of forbidden love and heroic people" - frankly this is seriously overhyped, particularly the 'bloody battles' bit.

The author clearly knows his subject - but he could have spared us a lot of the detail. After sleeping with two sisters he is banished to join the Knights Templar at the end of the the book. The rest of the trilogy therefore holds out more promise, although the pedestrian writing style will need to improve to tempt me to complete the trilogy.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Hobilar and the Longbow

Just finished reading the latest edition of Hobilar, the journal of the Lance and Longbow Society.

There is a particularly good article by Paul Reeve, Longbows and Bowmen and the End of the Medieval Army. Paul gives an overview of longbow use and sets out comparisons with the gun in terms of range, accuracy, rate of shooting and impact. He also addresses some of the fables around guns and armour such as armour made arrows useless; and it takes a lifetime to earn the bow and day to fire a musket.

His conclusion is that the decline of the longbow had more to to with other military and social factors such as the decline in the popularity of military service. It was also a matter of training given the lack of shooting drill compared with the musket's use in practice and the regularisation and integration of the later musket armies.

As always this debate will go on and I expect a response from the longbow advocates in the next edition. Thankfully only time travel will end this type of historical debate.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Normans

Just finished my monthly update of the Balkan Military History website. The feature army this month is the Normans.

The Norman adventure in the south is a great story and Normans served as mercenaries in the Byzantine army as well as against them. Most famously in 1081 when they invaded the Empire in modern day Albania at dyraccium (modern Durres).

Not just a great story but also a good wargame army. Heavy knights with a ferocious charge supported by a solid spearman base and quality missile firing with bows and crossbows. I like the Sicilian version that gives you light horse archers as well.


These are from the Gripping Beast range.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Field of Glory - Byzantine

It was Field of Glory competition day at the club on Sunday. I was fielding my Early Byzantine's against a Pontic army.

The Pontic's won the initiative and went for mountain terrain. This resulted in a cluster of steep hills in one corner and they dug in there. My cavalry army couldn't operate in there and there is no way in the rules that cavalry in two ranks can ride up shoot and evade to tease them out. Bit of a weakness in the rules in my opinion. An actual Byzantine army of the period would have done just that. Alternatively the might have galloped up, then shot them up dismounted. However, in the rules you can only dismount at the start.

So a stalemated draw after a few moves. Day not wasted though as we played another game in agricultural terrain. Good balanced game that looked as if it was going against the wily Byzantines, until they recovered to snatch victory. Belisarius triumphs again - although you just know the Emperor Justinian won't thank him!

On the subject of Byzantium I am enjoying a series of podcasts 12 Byzantine Rulers by Lars Brownworth. A really good introduction to the subject.