Friday, 13 July 2018

Greece is the Word....

Another gem from the pen of David Howarth of Waterloo: A Near Run Thing fame 9and some other great titles as well!)

As part of my research into the Western Balkans pre and post Greek independence I was reminded of the above book in my collection by David Howarth. One of his other works has the dubious accolade of being one of my favourite books – A Near Run Thing, his account of the Battle of Waterloo constructed from the reminiscences of various participants. I picked The Greek Adventure up from a boot sale a couple of years ago and there it has sat on the shelf waiting for me to read it. 
Much like the author’s work on Waterloo this is by no means the most detailed account of the Greek War of Independence but what it lacks in detail it makes up for in respect of being a rattling good read. As a primer attempting to make sense of what was happening it would be hard to beat and it has certainly given me much to think about for my Balkan project.
The War of Independence was disorganised, chaotic, anarchic even as initially there was little thought by the local populace beyond removing the Turks and resuming the almost clannish/tribal way of life that had persisted for centuries. The idea of a Greek nation was firmly in the hands of exiles and westernised merchants living abroad and hoping to bring the benefits of the modern post American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary world. These groups (including the inevitable secret society committed to freeing Greece from the Turks found a willing audience in the aspiration of the Philhellenes of a united Greece along the classical model - despite the fact that classical Greece was always a collection of states rather than a unified entity.
In many ways Greece was rather like Scotland with its clans or even the North West Frontier with its tribes. The biggest difference though is the naval dimension as both the maritime and island Greeks were (and still are) very good sailors, certainly better than the Turks.
Reading Howarth's book has given me much food for thought about what I shall be gaming and how I will be doing it. Certainly the earlier period (by that I mean the period of the War of Independence) has much to commend it in an anarchic sort of way rather than the later 1875 to 1885 when things were a little more settled.
Much to ponder methinks!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Churchill and Madagascar

The set completed at Salute earlier in the year by the addition of the East Africa volume - which features the invasion of Madagascar

The dedicated title written by one of the editors of the set above.
Way back in April at Salute I picked up the final volume of a 'series' of books covering WW2 in the Mediterranean. These books, from the Pen and Sword 'Despatches from the Front' series, are compilations of official reports interspersed with a brief narrative to place the reports into context. As these are official reports the language can be a little stilted at times but they are a goldmine of information for anyone interested in the 'reason why'. I have really enjoyed dipping into these and they have proven to be very useful as well as being full of gaming ideas.
The East Africa volume is probably my favourite simply because of the sideshow nature of the campaign and my soft spot for such things. As mentioned this book also touched on the Madagascar operation and so when I saw that one of the editors of the series had written a dedicated book on the operation I immediately acquired a copy - and very good it is as well!
I can do no better than quote the Amazon description of John Grehan's excellent title thus:
"In the spring of 1942 Britain's far-flung empire was in the greatest peril. North Africa was being overrun by the German Afrika Korps and in south-east Asia the forces of Imperial Japan had captured Singapore and were threatening India. Only the most urgent reinforcement of both war fronts could prevent disaster. But Britain's shipping routes to Egypt and India passed the island of Madagascar. If the Japanese Navy, operating out of Madagascar, could severe Britain's communications with Cairo and Delhi, then the whole of North Africa and the Indian sub-continent would be at the mercy of the Axis Powers. In a desperate race against time, and under conditions of the utmost secrecy, at Churchill's instigation Britain planned to seize Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, before the Japanese could strike. An overwhelming force was assembled and despatched as part of the largest convoy ever to have left Britain's shores. Yet the expedition's commanders were faced with not just military but also political obstacles, because the forces occupying the island were not those her enemy's but those of her former ally - France. The Secret Invasion is the first book to examine in detail this crucial campaign which was Britain's largest amphibious assault since the First World War and the first large-scale combined air, sea and land operation Britain had attempted"
So, British and Commonwealth troops fighting the Vichy French to ensure that the Japanese could not take control of the island and threaten the Cape.
There is a lot of potential here and it is certainly an interesting, if little known, campaign.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Charging into a Wargame

The two books that have had the most lasting impact on my own wargaming odyssey.

Covering the same period, using the same large units and the with same use of the imagi-nation for the forces used therein.

I am sure I am not alone in having an enormous amount of affection for the above seminal books on wargaming: Charge! by Messrs. Young and Lawford and the Wargame by Charles Grant. In a moment of whimsy on a particularly irritating train journey I went through a mental exercise of thinking about the wargames books I have read and what has stayed with me the most. Furthermore, from those titles what, if anything, would be relevant to my gaming today.   

Taking the two books together the first thing for me is the difference in style. Charge! reads far better in my opinion than the Wargame but the latter is far more, dare I say it, analytical in content. In that way they complement one another rather well. Both titles use the 18th century as their period of choice and also make use of large units of individual figures and fictional armies. Indeed Charge! goes even further and actively encourages the formation of fictional armies rather than historical ones. Finally, both titles include actions fought using the author’s rules.

I think it is safe to say that as far as wargaming is concerned these two books more or less single-handedly instigated a whole plethora of ‘imagi-nations’ – helped by the actual historical patchwork quilt of small states across central Europe at the time.

For a long time the idea of fictional armies was very dear to me until, dare I say it, ‘history and accuracy’ took hold. I have no axe to grind in respect of the purely historical gamer - the person that builds historically accurate armies based on a specific campaign (or part thereof) and that plays their games set solely in that era against armies of the appropriate opposition.
I often wonder though, if one is missing a trick by following such a course - I am pretty sure I have over the years.
One thing that did occur to me though concerning both of the above books was their use of what are nowadays unfashionably large units. Taking as an example one of their suggested infantry regiments/battalions - the exact nomenclature is not really important - of some 48 rank and file and half a dozen officers and supernumaries, drummers, sergeants and standard bearers etc one has sufficient figures to break the unit into smaller units which would fit in well with alternate rules. Taking Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame as an example a standard infantry unit consists of four pieces. I say pieces intentionally as each piece could have a single figures or a base of figures contained therein. This means the 48 figures could furnish units of 12 x 4, 6 x 8, 8 x 6 or 4 x 12. It matters not as long as the four bases for the unit are manned.
What is the point I am trying to make? Well, I have been a huge fan of the above rules for as long as I have been wargaming and whilst I can never see myself whole fielding armies using their suggested organisations I can see no problem raising a single infantry regiment in that fashion. The same would apply to the cavalry and artillery organisation. There is something very atmospheric about having separate command figures, musicians and standard bearers etc for the horse and musket period rather than having such worthies assimilated 'into the brown' on an anonymous base of multiples.
The days of massed armies in 30mm are passed for many of us - time, expense and the sheer effort involved of churning out a couple of armies of several hundred figures is prohibitive - but I for one am loath to lose sight of the legacy of Messrs. Grant, Lawford and Young.
With this in mind I shall be organising the units for the Western Balkans and the North West Frontier as per those laid down by those worthy gentlemen. My sole concession is with the cavalry as 3 troops of 8 figures for a regiment is a little unwieldy for my taste. I suspect that two troops of the arme blanche would be sufficient for my needs. Any additions to a force would be added using the company/troop/section organisation so preserving the Charge/Wargame effect.
I have organised the first two armies for the Western Balkans on that basis and at this stage will be amassing the figures accordingly from Spencer Smith.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Revisiting Across Four Oceans

The Across Four Oceans logo

Way back in 2012 I posted about a set of WW2 Naval rules inspired by Axis and Allies: War At Sea available from Boardgamegeek. The set was called Across Four Oceans and there is a link to them in the post mentioned.

The rules and fleet lists. There is a tactical and an operational set of rules designed for campaigns.

Whilst is the very warm man cave (sweating profusely I might add!) I came across my folder with the rules contained therein and so thought I would take a further look.

I am very pleased I did.

A number of years ago Mr Fox and myself spent a lot of time (and money!) amassing fleets using the 1/1800th scale models available as part of the Axis and Allies: War at Sea collectible miniatures game. We had some superb games at the club using the huge cloth that I had marked out with 8" offset squares. The rules were simple and involved great handfuls of dice. As a game it was enormous fun but it always felt a little like a Chinese takeaway - satisfying in the short term but leaving you hungry for more shortly after. Our enthusiasm waned and the fleets were disbursed to the four corners of the globe. The models were nice but the scale was a little on the large side for anything other than large playing areas - meaning the dining table was out. You could use the rules with smaller models but this was not an option we ever really thought about - which in itself is surprising as there are plenty of 1/3000th scale fleets at the club.

Across Four Oceans have essentially taken the Axis and Allies system and 'wargamered' it. The rules are far more detailed and are designed for use on a hex grid although there is a hexless variant. Aside from the tactical rules there is also a very nice set f operational rules that can be used for campaigns.

I have the rules and three fleets lists printed off - the Royal Navy, Kriegsmarine and the Italians - but there are a whole host of others as well. These also include aircraft.

I shall spend some time rereading these as, on the face of it, they offer a complete system for WW2 naval gaming including air operations. They also have the additional scale of detail that the Axis and Allies rules lack.

For my part using these rules would make my WW2 project easier to initiate as a lot of the work has already been done. I also think that using the models I have from the Axis and Allies strategic board game on a 4" hexagonal grid (or even gridless) this could work very nicely from a space perspective as the size of the models would not look out of place on a tabletop.

As ever, lots to think about.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Memoir ‘44: A Request

Just a quick post for today. If there are any readers of the blog that have Memoir ‘44 or any of the expansions and have no use for the miniatures or terrain tiles/counters contained therein please let me know as I will happily take these off you.

There is a cunning plan in mind.....

In other news I have - despite the temperature being north of 30 degrees in the man cave - managed to get some more painting done on the WW2 ships so am in good shape to have these ready for the end of the month.

And of course there is the small matter of a World Cup semi final (potentially a final as well!) to consider.

It’s coming home? I suspect France/Belgium/Croatia may have something to say about that!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Ali Pasha of Janina (not the Tortoise)

A little earlier than the period I shall be gaming but it would be churlish not to factor him in somehow some 50 years later!
I first saw this book a while ago and have to say that my curiosity was piqued! With my thoughts plated firmly in the Western Balkans and the Ionian Islands it seemed like a good idea to invest in a copy - purely for research purposes you understand....
I have yet to read it and so will quote the back cover instead so you can see why I am so pleased to have this.
"The Authors chart the rise of Ali Pasha from Albanian Brigand to a player in world affairs.
Ali Pasha carved his own semi-autonomous empire within the Ottoman Empire and much of Greece.
An astute politician and skilled general, Byron called Ali Pasha the Mahometan (Muslim) Bonaparte.
During the Napoleonic wars Ali's favour was courted by all sides; he allied himself first with the French and then the British.
Ali's actions and eventual demise hastened the decline of Ottoman rule and the commencement of the Greek War of Independence.
The epitome of an oriental despot in Europe, Ali became a living legend and Western visitors such as Lord Byron queued up to visit his court in Yanina (Ioannina)."
I am hoping this book will help to flesh out the background to my planned Western Balkan undertaking and when followed by the Greek War of Independence should give me plenty of information to ponder for my project.
Ali Pasha the Tortoise is another story altogether but worth a look all the same.
Ali Pasha the famous Tortoise


Using One's Imagi-nation....Part 3

Spencer Smith ACW Infantry in kepi advancing - this will the basic infantry figure I will use for the Russians circa 1875 to 1885. There are a number of incorrect details but they will be painted to look the part.

ACW Union Cavalryman. This chap will be used as a Russian Dragoon, again with the appropriate paint job.

The ACW gun crew pack - I will need to swap a some heads for the other non-kepi wearing nationalities but luckily not that many!
The ACW Zouave. Turkish or Albanian methinks although I may do something with the backpack - possibly just removing the bedroll.

From the 18th century range you have a Pandour which would be useful alongside....

….his Slavonian counterpart.
The above are a small selection of the figures I shall be making use of from the Spencer Smith SSM range for the Western Balkans/Ionian Islands set up. The British will be sourced from the SSM Zulu Wars range. I shall try and keep the conversions to a minimum (although the Greek Evzones will be interesting!) and so am relying on the paint job to set the scene so to speak. The figures are going to be block painted with no shading or highlighting, gloss varnished and will also be based individually. Furthermore the bases will be unflocked. I have opted for individual bases for a number of reasons but mainly to give me sufficient flexibility in terms of the rules I shall use as not only the Portable Wargame feature but also A Gentleman's War and The Men Who Would Be Kings.
I am trying to get a proper 'old school toy soldier' look with this collection and this will also be carried over into the terrain I shall be using.
The forces raised will not be large by any means - the Russians are currently at around 60 foot (which includes gun crews and command), a dozen or so mounted and a couple of guns.
The naval dimension is something I shall be looking at over the weekend whilst I am painting the Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine....MUST STAY FOCUSSED....MUST STAY FOCUSSED....

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Using One's Imagi-nation....Part 2

The Ionian sea and the islands therein

During my recent holiday on the island of Corfu I learned a number of interesting facts about the place - facts that have given me much to think about from a gaming perspective. I was vaguely aware of the British connection with the island (and indeed, with the '7 Islands' of the Ionian sea) but not that it was in fact ruled as a protectorate for some fifty years up to 1864 complete with a Lord High Commissioner. I was also not aware of the combined Russo-Turkish occupation during the early years of the Napoleonic Wars.

The flag of the Ionian Islands. Note the lion of Venice from the days of their occupation of the islands. 

Against the backdrop of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the rise of an independent Greece and the unification of Italy the area has seen a lot of activity from any one of Britain, France, Italy, Venice, Russia, Turkey and of course, Greece herself.

The potential from a gaming perspective beyond the purely historical is pretty substantial and for me at least captures the all important naval dimension. I have been mulling this location over as a going concern since my return from Corfu and reckon there is certainly some mileage to be had from the area if one applies a little 'imagineering' to the theatre.

I am currently thinking about using this setting as the basis for an 1880s (actually around 1875 to 1885 thereby straddling the Russo Turkish war) set up with Portable Wargames armies made up from a selection of metal Spencer Smith figures. These figures, which have adorned both the internet and the written word since (in the latter case) the 1960s are very basic, crude even, but have the huge advantage of being cheap, fairly generic looking and able to be painted simply. This is a HUGE advantage for someone like me for sure!

I am sketching out a rough background to see where it goes but the basic assumption is that the British still hold the Ionian islands as a Protectorate. The Greeks want the islands but dare not challenge the British. The Turk/Albanians would also like them as well as reincorporating Greece into the Ottoman Empire. The Russians will act as a safeguard for Greece against the Turk/Albanian menace (all the while being carefully watched by Austria and being supported by Serbia) whilst the British are content to sit back and watch. Then there is the Italians who are keen to announce themselves on the international stage by reacquiring the islands formerly owned by Venice.

I have yet to flesh out the full details but this is where my thinking is headed.

Using Spencer Smith ACW Union infantry I can, with a simple paint conversion (and purists of the period look away now!), raise Russian, Serbian, Greek, Austrian and Italian infantry. the British are available from the Zulu Wars range - redcoats and all - whilst the ACW Zouave can pass muster as any amount of Turkish/Balkan types. There are a few 'specials' that may need some conversion - the main one being of course the famous Greek Evzones.

Greek Evzones wearing the famous Foustanella pleated kilt.
This idea is designed from the ground up as a Portable Wargame project and indeed, the only way I would have considered undertaking such a thing is simply down to the availability of Spencer Smith figures in metal. I am aiming for a specific look to the collection - the traditional shiny toy soldier approach - and these figures are the best way for me to achieve this.
The naval dimension will feature but as yet I have not given it too much thought.
In other news work on the WW2 ships has started again following my holiday with the plan being to get them finished by the end of the month. I have also nailed down more details for the NW Frontier although this is (and indeed always was) very much a slow burner.
Best crack on then.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Using One's Imagi-nation

My streaming head cold has abated somewhat but a growling chest, rasping throat and a cold sore large enough for its own post code remain (the after effect of the streaming nose). No other family members have been suffering and so I am confident that this current malaise was acquired courtesy of the three hour flight home from Corfu but I digress....

As is my wont I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about gaming 'stuff' and in particular the whole 'imagi-nation' thing and how and why one would use such a vehicle for one's gaming. There is no simple answer to this and I suspect that many gamers have their own ideas as to why and to what extent such a course is followed. I use the word extent deliberately as there are imagi-nations and imagi-nations in my experience and it is interesting (to me anyway) to see how far along the path gamers go when choosing this route.

There are many gamers that indulge in imagi-nations to a greater or lesser degree and I apologise in advance if I have not mentioned any particular favourites - this is not intended to be a definitive guide to the subject; rather it is just a casual overview.


At the top of the list is full blown made up country set in a particular time frame with assorted armies based on that particular era. This gives a player free rein to use whatever forces he or she likes and to create units, uniforms, personalities and all the other wherewithal to set one's games in. the obvious choices in this regard would have to be (and this is by no means anything like an exhaustive list) something like Tony Bath's famous Hyboria ancients campaign or Grant's 18th century set up. Henry Hyde is currently plotting something similar set in the 18th century in something akin to the Indian subcontinent. Bob Cordery has also set up a 'world' for 1891. There are many others.

Henry Hyde's big picture....

….and a small detail from the Dahlia and Chindrastan map featuring the dedicated Madasahatta Archipelago with the capital Knowlesabad

Running something like this is a real labour of love and goes way beyond painting up some figures and fighting battles on the tabletop. I also believe it is ideally suited to the solo gamer as they can immerse themselves fully without worrying about prejudices from live opponents - those that don't get what you are trying to achieve. In my experience if the background, however colourful it may be, is historically credible then most gamers will happily take part in it if asked. When I say historically credible I of course mean that if something is being offered as an 18th century set up then the table top action should of course be in line with expectations.

Eric Knowles Madasahatta

Next up is the imagi-nation populated with historical troops - for which I would say Madasahatta. For the most part the troops were, for want of a better word, conventional WW1 Colonials with the locals being based on various historical tribal types. This option would be easy for the dedicated historical gamer to dabble in something a little out of the ordinary but again, it relies heavily in my opinion on the credibility of the background offered. My planned adventurs

The final category is not really an imagi-nation per se; rather it is taking an historical country and adding troops that were never there. From own experience to me this means the Turkish South East Asian Fleet and supporting ground troops based on Sumatra during the naval campaign devised by Eric Knowles as a follow up to Madasahatta.

For my part I have always been (and this may come as a surprise to many) slightly torn about the whole 'imagi-nation' concept from a practical perspective - although certainly not from a theoretical one. I would prefer to design my own uniforms and populate my own countries but of course, once you go down that path it means you have a collection of painted figures that may or may not be suitable for something historically based. Some gamers can be very picky about such things although most of my crowd would not be overly concerned matching their historically accurate figures with some 'never wozzers'. It would take a leap of faith to cross that particular Rubicon fully in my case but it is something I am coming around to more and more.

For a variety of reasons I have been looking long and hard at some 'imagineering' for a particular idea I have in mind. Previously I had made much use of the ideas of other people - nothing wrong in that - but I have come to the conclusion that there is always something that does not hang right in other people's worlds. This is by no means a criticism as many of these are far more detailed and ambitious than I would have attempted. In order to satisfy my own requirements I believe I will have to do my own thing and so this is what I am going to. I will offer no details at present but suffice it to say it will feature the second half of the 19th century with an optional follow on up to the Great War.