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, 26 July 2013

Montenegro

I have published an overview of my recent tour of Montenegro at Balkan Military History.

I can't recommend this country for a visit strongly enough. Plenty of historical interest and enough to keep the family happy with the weather, pool and beach. It is certainly cheaper than most European destinations when you get there, although flights, accommodation and care hire are similar.

The main military highlights included the Austrian forts built in the 19th Century to defend their main naval base at Cattaro (Kotor). The old fortified Venetian towns like Kotor, Perast and Budva. Plus, up into the mountains to the old royal capital Cetinje.

The museums are small but interesting. Here are a few of the exhibits at the excellent Kotor Maritime Museum.



 
 
and some more, this time from the National Historical Museum at Cetinje
 




 


Thursday, 25 July 2013

CornwellFest



My holiday fiction reading has been a catch up of Bernard Cornwell books. I can remember the day when I would buy hardbacks of his books as published. However, these days I have been a bit slow, not because his writing isn't still superb, but simply because there is so much good historical fiction that has followed in his wake.

My first catch up was with the ongoing saga of Thomas Hookton, the English archer in the Hundred Years War, in '1356'. Essentially this is about the Poitiers campaign, possibly the least well covered of the three great English longbow victories of the conflict. Perhaps also forgotten, that in this battle the men at arms played a big role.

Our hero starts the book commanding his Free Company on mercenary duty in France. He falls foul of the church authorities and gets involved in a search for a sacred relic, the sword of St Peter, la Malice. As always, damsels have to be rescued and great characters come and go before we reach the climax at the battle itself. This is classic Cornwell, written at great pace, strong characters and nearly impossible to put down. And I wouldn't have, had it not been for the distraction of Montenegro.

death_of_kingsMy second Cornwell book was Death of Kings. This continues the story of Uhtred, a pagan Dane, sort of in the service of King Alfred the Great at around 900AD, during the off and on conflicts with the Vikings. Again, it has all you would expect from a Cornwell book. Our hero is of course an anti-establishment figure as much at war with the church as with the Danes. More damsels to be rescued, much treachery, all culminating in a big battle scene. All inspiring me to get the SAGA boards out before my holiday ends.

My non-fiction read was 'Realm of the Black Mountain' by Elizabeth Roberts an excellent one volume history of Montenegro. My holiday companion as I toured the country. More details of that trip will be on Balkan Military History when I finish writing it up.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Guarding the Bokar Kotorska

These are the forts built by the Austro-Hungarian Navy to defend their bases in the Bay of Kotorska, or as they would have described it Cattaro.

I spent the day climbing over several Montenegrin mountains looking at the ruins of the Austrian defences. These are undoubtably the best though. The locals have made good use of what I suspect was the naval base supporting the forts. They have turned it into a beach resort!


Some of the roads up to the forts defending the land approaches to Kotor are very interesting. My admiration of the Austrian engineers who built them knows no bounds. Mind you at 40c even my enthusiasm was starting to wilt by late afternoon. However, I have now recovered, thanks to the excellent local fish and vino!



 
 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Kotor


I am on holiday in the Balkans, where else you might say! To be specific, Kotor in Montenegro.

The old town of Kotor (Cattaro) as shown in the picture below is recognisably the Venetian fortress it was for several centuries until the fall of the republic in the Napoleonic wars. The walls are very well preserved, although the Castle above the town is in some disrepair. There is a small but interesting maritime museum in the lovely old town with its narrow streets, churches and palaces. 

On the subject of Napoleon, his forces did briefly occupy this coast. Napoleon was keen to expand his Illyrian province and sent Marmont to negotiate with the Montenegrin ruler, Vladika Petar in August 1807. The previous year they had fought further up the coast at Herceg Novi and although the French won, Marmont remonstrated with Petar over the Montenegrin practice of cutting the heads off their enemies. Petar responded that the French had no problem chopping the heads off their King and Queen! Fair point, I would say.

There is some British interest. In 1814 Captain William Hoste besieged Kotor with Montenegrin help. Finally capturing the town by dragging cannon up the mountainside. He left the keys with the locals and sailed away without waiting for the Austrians, who by treaty were taking over. It was eventually turned into a major Austrian naval base.

Anyway, interesting history and an absolutely lovely spot for a holiday.


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Master of War


I have just finished David Gilman’s, ‘Master of War: The Blooding’, the first part of his Hundred Years’ War series. Gilman was the writer of the ‘Touch of Frost’ TV series.


He takes the story of Thomas Blackstone, an English archer forced into his Lord’s retinue for Edward III’s invasion of France. The alternative was the hangman’s noose. Our hero takes part in a number of small-scale actions and sieges before the finale at the Battle of Crecy.

This is pretty standard historical fiction in the Cornwall tradition. The writing, as you might expect from a screen writer, is very sharp. The story fairly rattles along. As I bought it for the kindle it is difficult to judge length, but it seemed quite short. As it was only 49p, I am not complaining! The next in the series is due out on 1 August, so I will certainly download that one.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Second Barons War

My skirmish with all things De Montfort and early medieval period continues with my latest non-fiction reading, 'The Second Barons' War' by John Sadler.

I recall a previous skirmish with this period when Foundry brought out a very nice range of figures. At their current prices I am not likely to return quickly! However, this conflict was headed by the younger Simon De Montfort, son of the De Montfort who I left suppressing the Cathar heresy in our recent display game Muret 1213.

He led the Barons' in a two year civil war against Henry III and his son Edward - beating the king at Lewes in May 1264 and then losing at Evesham in August the following year. De Montfort was killed in the battle and rebels came to terms the following year.

Sadler writes a very readable narrative history of the period. He starts with an introduction to the tactics and weaponry of the period followed by a background to the reign of Henry II and the First Barons' War 1215 -17. The meat of the book is a detailed study of the two battles based on the latest research.

I may have picked up a remaindered copy quite cheaply, if so, it is very good value for good read.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Fleet Air Arm Museum

I made a long overdue return visit to the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton today. This really is very well laid out. Everything you could want to know and an impressive array of exhibits. Lots of interactive displays as well. Highly recommended.