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, 21 April 2017

Romanian Army of the Russo-Turkish War 1877

My Easter wargame project was to add some Romanian units to the 1877 Russo-Turkish War project in 28mm. 

Following the failure of Russian assaults at the 2nd Battle of Plevna, Prince Charles of Romania responded to Russian pleas for assistance by concentrating an army of 30,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 126 guns at Plevna.

There were two types of infantry regiments, Line and Dorobanz (territorial). Brigades usually had one Line and two Dorobanz regiments of two battalions each. In addition each division of two brigades had a rifle (chasseur) battalion and an artillery regiment of six, six gun batteries (5 field and 1 horse). Battalions numbered about 750 effectives in four companies.

Most line regiments were equipped with the excellent American Peabody rifle, although most Dorobanz regiments still had the Dreyse needle-gun. The artillery were equipped with the latest 4pdr and 9pdr Krupp steel guns. The cavalry consisted of  regular (Rossiori) hussar regiments and territorial (Calarashi) regiments. Each regiment had four squadrons of 125 men each.

There are uniform details and colour plates in the Osprey MAA 277 as well as Ray Lucas's articles in 'Miniature Wargames' 20&21. However, the plates reflect the dress regulations and in practice there appears to have been considerable variation. In particular between Line and Dorobanz uniforms. Photographs I have seen in the National Military Museum, Bucharest, show Dorobanz with kepis and some regulars with the old 1860's frock coat. In summer a wide variety of  uniform adaptations were adopted by officers and men.

The figures are from the Outpost Miniatures range in 28mm. 

First up line infantry, although they could also be Dorobanz.

Then the Dorobanz, reserve infantry.

And finally the Chasseurs.

For the skirmish game below I used The Men Who Would be Kings rules. I will also use them for games of Sharp Practice 2.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Anchialos 917 - To The Strongest

This August is the 11th centenary of the decisive Bulgarian victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Anchialos 917, near the modern town of Pomorie on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. OK, maybe not a centenary as memorable as the Somme, but to the Balkan enthusiast these things matter!

The infant Byzantine emperor was due to marry a Bulgarian princess, but the power behind the throne was his mother Zoe, who led a palace coup to oust the regent. She repudiated the marriage plans and this provoked Symeon into war.

Bulgarian troops ravaged Thrace and Byzantium adopted their normal practice of seeking allies by sending envoys to the Serbs, Magyars and Pechenegs. The Pechenegs did come south, but either because of failed negotiations with the divided Byzantine leadership, or counter moves by the Bulgarians, they withdrew. This left the Byzantines to face Symeon alone.

The Byzantine fleet landed an army led by Leo Phocas at Anchialos. Symeon kept his army in the mountains overlooking the landing.

The course of the battle is unclear, but it appears that the Byzantines started well, forcing the Bulgarian right wing back to the hills. However, the Byzantines became disorganised, possibly because of a rumour that Phocas had been killed. Symeon rallied his cavalry and counter attacked, supported by an infantry advance. This brought the Byzantine advance to a halt and then a disorderly retreat.

Phocas himself managed to escape to the coast, but his army was not so fortunate. It was reported some 70 years later that the skulls and bones of the fallen could still be seen strewn across the battlefield.

I refought the battle using Simon Miller's, To The Strongest rules. I used the minimum size in 15mm (50mm squares) as my armies for this period are not large. I have been meaning to use these rules again since Xmas, when some posh crackers produced two packs of small 40mm x 50mm playing cards - just the job!.

For more on the battle have a look at my feature article at Balkan Military History.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Ukraine - The Gates of Europe

When a country hits the news, you can be sure someone will bash out a quick history book. Sadly, the haste often shows in the research and readability of the tome.

Ukraine has been in the news following the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the Russian backed civil war in the East of the country. Serhii Plokhy published 'The Gates of Europe' a year after the invasion, but this book shows no sign of being a hasty publication. It is a scholarly, yet readable history of this troubled country.

Writing a history of a country that has only recently been an independent state, is something of a challenge. How far do you stretch the boundaries to fully understand the influences on the core area you are writing about? This is particularly challenging with the Ukraine, a country that has often been torn apart from all points of the compass.

The ancient history starts with the Pontic steppe and its early contact with Greek settlements on the Black Sea coast. The Slavs filtered their way into it, before the Vikings morphed into the Rus. The influence of Byzantium was always strong and it brought the Orthodox rite to the area, although the western parts of Ukraine soon came under Catholic, or Uniate, influence.

The Mongols tramped over Ukraine as elsewhere, before the tide receded and both Muscovy and the Poles pushed back. Ukraine was the border area, settled by the Cossacks, as a challenge to Tartar raiding. It is the Cossacks who probably define Ukraine and appear on the symbols of statehood to this day. Initially as part of Poland, but following the Great Revolt, they moved gradually into the Russian sphere of influence. Yes, I also struggled to get Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner in the film Taras Bulba out of my mind!

The Hetmanate was arguably the first independent Ukraine, but it eventually got partitioned between Russia and Poland - then Austria-Hungary as Poland collapsed. It shortly became an independent state after the First World War, before being swallowed up into the Soviet Union. Finally, voting for independence in 1991.

I have Cossack units in so many wargame armies. From the renaissance to WW2. However, it is early Cossacks that represent the swagger and character the best. Most of us think of mounted Cossacks, but in this period they were more likely to be found on foot, or in boats. These are in my view the very best Cossacks ever produced, from the Wargame Foundry range.

My current favourite set of rules is Pikeman's Lament, ideal for the small battle actions the Cossacks specialised in. Here are a couple of games - firstly ambushing a Russian convoy and then attacking a village held by Polish troops. The Cossacks came off worse in both games - a bit like the real Ukraine throughout history.

 Russian Boyars lead a convoy guarded by Streltsy out of the village

But the Cossacks are waiting!

Then game two against the Poles.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

1848 - on to the tabletop

The first stage of my 1848 Hungarian Revolution project is now completed and the forces have skirmished on the tabletop.

First up we have the Grenadiers. The Austrian army of this period was unusual in that it had no guard units. However, there were 20 independent Grenadier battalions.

Then we have the backbone of the army, the 58 line regiments. However, they rated fairly low in the pecking order of military service and many units, outwith Italy and the Military Border, were constantly understrength. Financial constraints meant men were sent on unpaid leave after initial training, only to be recalled for manoeuvres and emergencies.

Strategy, tactics and equipment largely dated from the Napoleonic period. The exception was infantry muskets. Starting in 1835, first line units received percussion pill-lock conversions and specialist percussion rifles were issued to the Jagers. This model was further improved in 1842. However, financial constraints meant that ammunition for training was limited to 20 rounds a year for line units. A single round cost the equivalent of a day's ration. This meant marksmanship was poor and very little realistic field training was undertaken.

Foreign volunteers were an important source of manpower for the Hungarian army. In particular, many Poles crossed the border from Russian occupied Poland. They formed a Polish Legion.

The Hungarian army struggled to equip all its units and this meant many fought with obsolete weapons, some purchased abroad and others locally manufactured.  They also captured weapons from Austrian stocks.

With all the current Steve Barber range completed, it's time to get them onto the tabletop. This is a skirmish project (famous last words!) so I decided to use the Skirmish Kings version of 'The Men Who Would Be Kings' rules. Essentially this means half strength units, while retaining the normal rules. I made the Hungarian militia units and the Polish Legion irregular with obsolete rifles, while the Austrians are all regular.

I choose a simple skirmish scenario over a stream. First blood to the revolution as they swept away the Austrians.

Initial positions

 Austrian Jagers attack the Poles who gain cover in the woods.

Honved units storm across the river.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Rome's Gothic Wars

Not a new book (published in 2008), but I picked up a copy of Michael Kulikowski's 'Rome's Gothic Wars' in a London bookshop recently.

There is a lot of academic controversy over the origins of Goth's, before they impinged on the Roman Empire. I have previously read Wolfram's heavyweight tome 'History of the Goths' and older studies by Bradley and Hodgkin. Kulikowski takes the general reader through these debates, exploring the very limited sources. The only conclusion anyone can reasonably draw is that we don't know.

Once they come into contact with the Romans in the 4th century the story becomes somewhat clearer. The early wars, including Constantine's Gothic wars are not well documented, but Constantine certainly defeated some Gothic tribes in 332. One of the challenges is that the Romans didn't overly worry about differentiating between the various barbarian tribes as they viewed them. Added to which, the Goths were themselves made up of a number of tribes.

These early defeats did not significantly weaken the Goths and they participated in several of the internal conflicts within the Empire. Matters changed when they arrived on the banks Danube in 376, it is thought because of pressure from the Huns and Alans, although again sources are limited. The subsequent imperial mismanagement of their admission to the Empire is well known and led to the disastrous Roman defeat at Adrianople.

After this the Goths became an integral part of the story of the later Roman Empire. Culminating in Alaric's sack of Rome in 410. The Goths then found a permanent home and continued to play an important role on the Empire's borders.

This is easily the most readable book on the Goths I have read. Not least because it is the most concise, and none the worse for that!

The Goths are a straightforward army to use on the wargames table. A decent infantry base with archery support, coupled with the offensive arm of effective cavalry. Here are some from my 15mm collection.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Imperial War Museum

A work meeting in London this week took me within walking distance of the Imperial War Museum (IWM). It would have been rude not to visit, especially as I haven't been there since the upgrading for the First World War Centenary.

The IWM was established in 1917, but moved to its current site in Lambeth in 1936. I had forgotten that the building used to be part of the Bethlem Hospital or 'Bedlam' - very appropriate for a war museum!

The upgrade is most obvious in the new atrium, but as you go round it is now very much the modern style of museum, with interactive displays, much closer to the IWM North style in Manchester. My first visit was on a school trip and in those days it was much more about exhibits in glass display cases.  While they fascinated me, I doubt the many school kids in the museum when I visited this week would have been impressed.

That's not to say there aren't eye catching exhibits. This LRDG truck caught my eye in the WW2 gallery.

Then this Mitsubishi Zero fighter, or whats left of it.

And this German 88m flak gun. Apparently Britain's army was so short of equipment after Dunkirk in 1940 that 18 of IWM's artillery pieces were returned to military service. This '88' looks pretty impressive even by today's standards.

The museum has three main galleries covering WW1, WW2 and post war conflicts. In addition there are a number of special exhibitions. At present one covering the Holocaust and another covering the stories of those awarded the Victoria Cross and George Cross.

It's certainly changed a lot since my first schoolboy visit, but still very much worth a look.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

1848 - The Austrians

Next stop in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution project is the Austrian army.

The Austrian army recovered from a bad start to be successful on all fronts. It largely remained loyal to the Hapsburg's and ended the war with 648,000 men under arms and 1200 guns. However, the ethnic divisions may have suppressed, but it was a divide that would dog the army until the empire came crashing down in 1918.

A typical division had two or sometimes three brigades. A brigade had around four battalions and an artillery battery. Foot included grenadiers, line, jager and grenzer, who by this time operated as line infantry. There is a good description of their campaigns in 'The Army of Francis Joseph' by Gunther Rothenberg.

My first two units are jager and grenzer. All from the Steve Barber range.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


When I first got interested in the Balkans, I started with the big general studies by Schevill, Jelavich, Fine etc. These describe the historical events, but don't give a flavour of the people and places. I am great believer in walking a battlefield to understand it, but the next best option is a good travelogue, as we can't visit everywhere. I read a wide range of these, many from the 1960's, when Yugoslavia was a popular destination for English language travel writers.

On this theme, I spotted a review for 'Border' by Kapka Kassabova. She grew up in Bulgaria, but now lives in Scotland. She has written about her travels in a rarely visited part of the Balkans - the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, broadly Thrace, although the ancient tribal area covered a much larger territory.

Like every good travel writer, she gives a bit of history to introduce each part of her travels and liberally sprinkles historical points in most chapters. This is a part of the Balkans that has seen huge upheavals in the past 200 years, with whole populations being moved both ways across the borders. Ethnic cleansing, before it entered common usage. It was also a hard border in the 20th Century, during the Cold War and even between NATO 'allies' Greece and Turkey.

The author spends some time in cities like Edirne, but most of her stays are in small villages. The locals tell their own story, often tragic. This is not a cheery read, but there are many tales of kindness, often from people who had little to give in the material sense. There are also some great characters!

It was Radio 4's 'Book of the week' and would probably be a good listen in audio. I struggled a bit after the first few chapters, but I am glad I persevered, it's well worth the effort.

Talking of Thracians, here a few ancient warriors from my collection. These are from the Foundry range, some of my very favourite figures.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

1848 - The Hungarian Revolution

Another wicked figure manufacturer has dragged me into a new project. In this case Steve Barber Models and their new 28mm range ‘Europe in Revolution’ – specifically the Hungarian Uprising.

1848 was the year of liberal revolutions, sparked in France (although arguably Sicily), which ushered in the Second Republic. Over 50 countries were affected, even Britain where the Chartists sowed the seeds of later reforms. There was little coordination between the countries involved, but there were some common themes. These included demands for greater democracy, and press freedoms, with common cause between the working and middle classes against autocratic regimes.

Nationalism also played a part and that was the driver for the Hungarian uprising. The aim was an independent state separate from Austria, although initially retaining the Hapsburg monarchy. Hungary in 1848 was a much larger state than today and included many minorities that also wanted autonomy.

The Austrian’s spent the summer putting down revolts elsewhere in the Empire before a force led by the Croat commander, Joseph Jellacic, advanced on Budapest. He was defeated and withdrew towards Vienna, where he rallied with the main Austrian army and defeated the Hungarians. The Austrian’s counter-attacked, Budapest was captured in January 1849 and with Russian assistance most of the country was occupied. The Hungarian’s under Kossuth rallied new armies and declared against the Hapsburgs. However, in June 1849 a fresh Austrian and Russian offensive gradually retook all the Hapsburg lands.

The new Hungarian government had the support of some regulars and was in the process of creating a National Guard. However, they created a volunteer army called the ‘Honved’, which has different meanings in Hungarian including, ‘army’, ‘national army’, or just a patriotic name for a soldier. These volunteers were a mixture of peasants and workers with a leavening of better-educated young men. The first ten battalions were to become the elite troops of the army. The army went on to raise 75 battalions following conscription and recruitment from deserters. At its peak, the army raised 148 battalions (170,000 men), but equipment was limited with some battalions armed only with scythes.

Uniforms were a problem, even though the first battalions were supplied from central stores. Locally raised units were supplied from local sources leading to an array of uniform styles. These are covered in Ralph Weaver’s book ‘The Hungarian Army 1848-1849’, published by Partisan Press. For a more detailed history of the revolution I would recommend, ‘The Lawful Revolution – Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848-49’, by Istvan Deak.

The Steve Barber range includes three uniform types and an officer figure. I intend this to be a skirmish level collection (famous last words!), probably using ‘The Men Who Would Be Kings’, or ‘Sharp Practice 2’.

So, here are the first units and I look forward (I think!) to the range being expanded. Ralph’s book includes some wonderful potential models, including Polish and Tyrolean supporters.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Great War and the Middle East

This year is the centenary of the fall of Jerusalem in 1917 to the allied army led by General Allenby. My understanding of this campaign goes little further than the brilliant film 'The Lighthorsemen' which includes the famous charge of the Australian Light Horse at the Battle of Beersheeba with drawn bayonets.

So armed with my Xmas book tokens, my eye was drawn to a serious study of the campaigns by Rob Johnson, The Great War and the Middle East.

The author's speciality is the strategic context and that is obvious in the introductory and final chapters. He argues that the Middle East was not a sideshow to the Western Front. it was a crucial theatre of operations for the British Empire and the Ottoman and German efforts to undermine it. The post-war redrawing of borders is important to the present day. As David Lloyd George put it:

"When the history of 1917 comes to be written, and comes to be read ages hence, these events in Mesopotamia and Palestine will hold a much more conspicuous place in the minds and memories of the people than many an event which looms much larger for the moment in our sight."

This was far from the conventional wisdom in 1917, particularly in the General Staff, but I suspect Lloyd George would be happy with this book.

The operational aspects of the campaigns are not overlooked. The author takes a broad definition of the Middle East and includes the Gallipoli campaign, the Caucasus and the Arab revolt in his narrative of the war. He covers the failure at Kut and contrasts this with the later campaign, commanded by one of the new breed of industrial generals who understood the power of artillery and the importance of logistics.

He finishes with the post war conflicts and the implications for today's conflicts in Middle East.

This isn't a light or quick read. However, if you read one book on the war in the Middle East, then this is probably it.

And for the wargamer some Ottoman artillery from my 15mm collection.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

That pile of plastic

My gaming productivity has dropped significantly recently, busy time at work. So I thought I would dip into the pile of plastic in the 'to be painted someday' box every wargamer has.

First out were some Hyenas from the Conan game. Nice simple paint job these. The GDWS participation game at Carronade in May will be using the Conan figures in a Dragon Rampant adaption. The challenge will be to rescue the Princess from the castle guarded by a priest of Set. Testing the game in a couple of weeks, so watch this space.

On the subject of shows, don't forget to support the Dumfries show, Albanich, next Saturday. I know it's a bit of a trek for many, but it is usually worth the effort.

Next up are some reinforcements for my Caucasus 1942 project. Some Russian 120mm mortars (Plastic Soldier Company), should beef up the Soviet firepower in the absence of mass T34s and other kit. I need some more infantry, but couldn't face painting more bland Russians. So I have decided to go for a Naval infantry company. That arrived this week, adding yet again to the pile!

And finally, some Gebirgsjager. You can never have enough!

Sunday, 19 February 2017


Swordpoint is Gripping Beast's new big battle rules for the ancient and medieval period. This is a pretty crowded space, but one chased by many WAB gamers looking for a replacement.

You certainly get a very nice rule book, with the production values you would expect from Gripping Beast. Plenty of eye candy, but not overly gratuitous.

Units are made up of variable numbers of bases. Typically 4 figures to a base for foot, 2 for cavalry and 2 for skirmishers. The 4 to a base (in two ranks, 40mm x 40mm) for foot is a bit irritating for us ex-wabbers who usually start with 3 to base on a 60mm frontage. However, as a typical unit will have six bases it's not a huge problem and doesn't require rebasing. There are a number of army lists in the main rulebook to get you going and the first separate book is for the Dark Ages. The standard army is 1000 points and that means around 150-200 figures a side on a 6' x 4' table. The profiles for each base are much simpler than many rules with factors for defence and cohesion only.

The first innovative mechanism is Momentum Points. You start with five and can gain more as a result of successful combat and shooting. You can then spend them to give an edge in combat or to grab the initiative when you really need it. Moves are generally simultaneous, rather than 'I go, you go', although there are exceptions.

The phasing is also unusual. After the initial admin phase you shoot before movement and combat. This means that shooting can soften up your opponent before charging in. However, because you don't remove figures unless a whole base is killed, this means long range shooting is rarely effective. Shooting is fairly conventional, hitting on 4's +/- modifiers, and then saving depending on armour, shields etc. Shooters don't get the value of shields if they are firing, which I like. The use of percentages to calculate if you have to test, requires more mathematical agility than I would prefer on a Sunday afternoon, but it's not that tricky.

Movement is pretty conventional, although there is an interesting mechanic limiting manoeuvres. It's important to get the order of events right, but otherwise it's all fairly normal.

Combat is also fairly conventional, with hits and saves as per many rule sets. You have to lose badly to be routed quickly, so melee can be prolonged. There is an interesting mechanism to encourage armies to fight in line of battle, by allowing defeated units to dissipate their casualties to supporting units in the line. The maths of this is a bit more than I can be bothered with, but it does mean that armies fight as you would expect ancient armies to do, and it reflects Dark Age scrums very well. It also encourages the formation of big units with depth, as these are pretty tough to budge. Being pushed back is damaging, but not necessarily a disaster you can't recover from. Commanders add dice to the melees they join, but they don't overpower the game as they did in WAB.

There are special rules covering all the obvious ancient troop types and tactics.

There is a useful discussion with the authors on the Meeples podcast(182), although the usual health warning, allow plenty of time, there is little script discipline on this podcast. They can ramble on for hours! Gripping Beast are supporting the rules with a range of materials.

Is this the holy grail of a replacement for WAB? Clash of Empires remains the closest match for me, but it doesn't seem to have taken off. Swordpoint offers a few interesting mechanisms, and few irritating ones as well. However, I can't say it grabbed me with the same level of enthusiasm as Lion Rampant, albeit for smaller games. For the occasions when I have the time to set up a big battle, I suspect Hail Caesar will remain my first choice.

In fairness, playing either side of watching Fulham getting knocked out of the FA Cup, may have affected my judgement! So I will play them again.

On to the tabletop. My test game was Christians and Moors in Spain. The army of Al-Andalus triumphed.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Flodden revisited

Sunday was an opportunity to play once again with Scott's superb 10mm collection of forces for the Battle of Flodden 1513 - or as it should have been named, Branxton. The battle was actually fought below the village of Branxton. Flodden Hill is some way off to the north.

Anyway, the battle was fought in Northumberland on 9 September 1513 between a Scottish army led by King James IV and an English army led by the Earl of Surrey. It was the largest battle ever fought between the two kingdoms and resulted in a major defeat for the Scots and the death of King James.

We first refought this battle, with the same figures, almost a year ago at the Scottish Battlefield Trust Open Day. On Sunday we had another go at Scott's place using his nice new Cigar Box battle cloth.

As usual, too much chat and not enough gaming, meant we didn't finish the game (its an age thing). However, as per the real battle, the Scots defeated the Cheshire levies and on the other flank, Surrey saw off the highlanders. Bizarrely, King James didn't move the whole battle, content to watch his guns blast away, too little effect.

Some photos to enjoy.