26 Apr 2014

Trip to Balkans - part 2

Hello guys,

as my blog was found by the internet police, I would like to state right away the purpose of this post is not to talk about who's and what's but to simply show some facts that might be of interest to my usual readers, i.e. wargamers.

Today is an anniversary of establishment of "Liberation Front of the Slovene Nation", an anti-fascist Slovene organisation. Slovene partisans (formally called "National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachements of Slovenia). Long story short, OF (for "Osvobodilna fronta") was a group of all political groups, parties and organisations that have decided that armed resistance is a must in Slovenia. Communists were part of the OF, but were in minority at start. Eventually, their influence grew (mostly due to their experience in illegal operations, given the party was banned pre-war), but it is important to know not all the partisans were communists. This is important, because communists used the chance to also undertake a social revolution. If I simplify it, this lead to a civil war as some people "simply" found Communists to be bigger threat than Germans (especially after Italy was knocked out of the war). To this day, we (Slovenians) seem to have problems understanding who were the "good guys" and when politicians argue, it always comes down to who is "red" and who is "white" (as in white guard, from Russian revolution back in 1917).  This is the reason I am reluctant to post much about local WW2. Most of it can be read about on Wiki, anyways.  Below are some pictures, namely three posters and an Italian - German border in 1943.

 This poster says "Red army welcome!" (okay "greeted" literally) in red and "on our soil" in black. It shows the friendly relations between USSR and Yugoslav (that's Yugoslav partisan flag there, Slovenian partisan flag would be white-blue-red, but other wise the same). The friendship was short lived as countries got "less friendly" after 1948. As an interesting fact, during Cold war, it was easier for Yugoslavs to travel to Paris than Moscow.
 The poster above is from 1941 and shows Mussolini and Hitler grabbing our lands. The text says "Slovenes let's unite and defend ourselves!". Again, as an interesting fact, Slovenian territory was not a state in pre-war Yugoslavia.
Poster above is from 1942 I think. It shows ethnic Slovenian territory of that time (so it includes parts of today's Austria and Italy). On the picture you see valiant Slovenian farmer defending from German and Italian soldier, while he is getting back stabbed by a "bee gee" (B.G. -> Bela Garda -> White guard. This is how communist called forces that cooperated with the occupiers).

And below now is a photo I think you might find more interesting. It is an actual photo of 1943 border between Germany and Italy in then-village Šentvid  (Saint Vitus). This village is now northern suburbia to Ljubljana - to give you a bit of an idea of it's location.
To keep the non-hobby posts to minimum, here are the rest of the interesting photos from my trip to Balkans:

 Below is a huge WW1 memorial from Kraljevo. Again, as an interesting fact - during WW2 Germans have killed hundreds of civilians as a reprisal for German casualties in battles against Partisans and Chetniks (yes, same Chetniks that worked with Germans later in the war). I have managed to read somewhere on the internet that a lot of Slovenes that fled south during invasion were among the victims, too.
Also, as an interesting fact (I found no info about it on the internet) - Germans were so despised in the local cities after the war, that there were signs hanged warning German tourists that they are entering those cities at their own risk.
 A close up on a statue - a Serbian soldier (mind the shoes!)
 We were also visiting some centuries old monasteries. I have forgot how they are called, though. You can't take photos inside, so there is first one from outside the wall:
 Second one was much better. It still has enormously high walls pretty much standing. I was so amazed I gathered all my knowledge of Serbian to politely ask a priest if I could take photos on the inside. I was quick to learn I can take a photo of anything I want  - as long as I don't take shots of inside the church or a shop. That's too bad as there were some great frescos in there, but at least you can see the walls.
 Main gate:
 Church inside the monastery. When Serbian territory was invaded by Ottomans, this monastery was plundered. They also stole metal parts of the roof and thus water leaked in for centuries, ruining most of the frescoes.
 Another shot of the walls:
 Some ruins:

Below is a statue of Đorđe Petrović ("George Petrovich"), leader of Serbian uprising against Ottoman over rule. He was called "Karađorđ" - Black George by Turks.
 King Petar the first's bust. He too, was from the House of Karađorđević. He was a Serbian king until 1918, when month-old State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (territories that used to belong to A-H empire) joined Kingdom of Serbia and country became known as a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (yes, first and last nation swap places in formal name :P). This kingdom was renamed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, when Aleksandar Karađorđević, Petar's son started his dictatorship.
 Church of Saint George, where Petar I (and previously mentioned Black George) are buried now:
 And a detail, because everyone loves Saint George and dragons.
 Below is another statue of Black George guy - I have to admit my knowledge of Serbian history is pretty limited.
 In the same park, there is also this nice piece of American hardware - a 75mm pack howitzer.

 And it's carriage!

We also visited Avala , a hill close to Belgrade. There stands a very inspirational WW1 monument to "unknown hero". It's massive and it was bombarded by NATO in it's 1999 attack on near-by communications tower.

 Tower was destroyed in 1999, but was repaired and reopened in 2010.
 Our last stop worthy of mentioning was the Syrmian front memorial. Syrmian front was last axis front in Yugoslavia during WW2. After Belgrade was liberated by (at that time officially called) Yugoslav army and Red army, Axis forces took a stand here. After their positions were over run, German army and their local auxiliaries were engaged in constant fights all the way north - outside of Yugoslav territory and into (Brit controlled) Austria. Again, this is a huge memorial and actually a park.

The text says "12.IV.1945 Yugoslav army broke trough Syrmian front".
 Entrance to the park:
 A small church inside the park:
 Look forward to the next park area. On those walls all the units that took part in this breakthrough are listed. And further on is another part with all the casualties. Road ends at the entrance to the museum, that was unfortunately closed at that time.
 The text on the wall, signed by Tito say something like:
"We have 400 kilometers of front and every step is liberated with the blood of our best sons. Our national-liberation revolutionary army has led heavy battles with all German forces. Those that were in Yugoslavia all along and those that came to Yugoslavia from Greece and Albania. There was heavy fighting on Syrmian front. After our units have broke through in 1945, German forces were unable to stop and were constantly fighting on their way to Zagreb, Slovenia and Austrian border."
 Interestingly, some units were written in Cyrillic and others were not - same with names of the fallen. Anyways, here is just one of the units that I found the most interesting - Brigade "Italy".

I hope this post proved as interesting as the former one. I will honestly show you some of my insurgents in my next post and hopefully I will be able to stick to hobby related posts for a while longer!

Thanks for looking,

22 Apr 2014

Trip to Balkans - part 1

DISCLAIMER: Purpose of this post is not of educational nature and historical facts have been greatly simplified.

Hello guys,

I've been on a road trip across the Balkan peninsula (okay, just to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia :P) this weekend and figured I'd share some of the more interesting photos with you. As the purpose of the trip was for my dad to get to know some of the more touristy spots (he's a tour guide), it was mostly driving and not not much actual sightseeing. Still, I've managed to snap some shots that might serve as a nice inspiration for some readers.

To start with, some burned houses. I saw some nice overgrown ruins for Post apoc games, but couldn't take photos. As these are remains from the last war, I found it a bit tasteless to snap photos where people were around. Strictly viewing them as a source of terrain building inspiration, they might be quite handy. Some houses are really large. It's same in Slovenia, apparently Yugoslavia was a great country to build oversized houses, but lately not many can afford them anymore.

 Below is a WW2 era bunker. I haven't found any good info on the internet about them. They are certainly axis, but some people call them "German" while my dad think they belonged to Ustashe (Croatian fascists). I really like the design, it looks like a little castle.

 Photo below is a bit of a joke. The writing says "Garages for guests of the restaurant" and we found it quite funny. The restaurant itself was very nice building, with walls decorated with pebbles. It had parking space outside, so we didn't have to try and squeeze our car in this fabulous garage :D.
 Another WW2 axis blockhouse, much larger design this time.
 Below is a house where Sarajevo defenders (Sarajevo was under siege for duration of war in Bosnia) dug a tunnel. Tunnel was 800 meters long and was running under UN controlled airfield. It connected city defenders to Bosniak controlled territory and it is probably the sole reason Sarajevo didn't surrender during what has been the longest siege in modern history.
 Here are some random items, like shovels, ammo crates and a little push cart that was used to transport goods.
 An entrance to the tunnel. It was 1.6m high and a meter wide. It sucks to walk in it as it is, imagine having a 30 kilogram backpack on your back.
 This kind Turkish mister was kind enough to pose as a model inside  the tunnel. He actually took photo of me first and then returned the favor :P.

 Here is a very simple map of the siege. There were more complicated maps that had involved units drawn in, but this one is just as good. Long story short, Sarajevo is a nice multicultural city that hosted Winter Olympic games back in 1984 (so, an equivalent to Sochi). 8 years later, war breaks up in Bosnia and multicultural neighbors start hating each other. Serbian populations flees the city, only leaving adult men behind. Serbian forces encircle the city and keep it under siege for almost 4 years. In the mean time, they use heavy weaponry on the city defenders and Serbian men that  stayed inside snipe around. Do keep in mind, it wasn't THAT one sided, though. In the bottle neck, there is a UN held airport under which the tunnel ran.
 And a close up on tunnel area:
Olimpijsko selo translates to "Olympic village". In Butmir, EUFOR had their military base just 5 years ago, when I was visiting Sarajevo for the first time. The base is now gone, but we were told situation is not as pleasant as it might seem. Not much else can be expected, really.
 Given how 2014 marks 100 years since the start of WW1, here are this period related photos. On this exact corner (that was swarmed by Italian tourists when I came there :P) Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot. Few years back I was in Vienna museum where they keep his clothes and car, but it seems I don't have the photos anymore.

 What I do have, however, are photos from Czech fort (turned prison in Austro-Hungary, turned Nazi concentration camp during Second World War) Terezin, where Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, was held. Conveniently, I was there last year :P. Terezin as such is a very, very depressing sight and people actually still live there. During WWII,  Terezin was a "stop point" for inmates, that were then transported to other concentration camps. This camp was spruced up a bit for Red cross visit, which made it look like Jews and other prisoners are having a great time, their bank and even their currency. But after that visit, things quickly went back to how they were.

To a more joyful topic, here is a "sebil" - a stone/wooden turkish style fountain in the centre of the city:
 And fezzes. Because apparently, fezzes are cool.
 A random bridge across river Drina in Višegrad below:
 And a WW1 memorial. Serbia was an independent kingdom back then and while occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces, won the war with allies.

This is more or less where photos from Bosnia end and I'll show the rest next time. I got some nice photos of a fortified monastery that I found quite interesting.

I've always enjoyed trips to Bosnia, but I can't really point my finger on what drags me there. The food is absolutely fantastic (kinda like hamburger, but with better meat and accompanied by a stottie - them Geordies are everywhere!), and I like the diversity of the country. Not that I'm a religious nut, but in Sarajevo alone, you can see Catholic and Orthodox churches, mosques and even synagogues. The core of the city centre is turkish, but the city itself is much like other Austro-Hungarian cities. Country as such is nice and hilly, and it seems like a really nice play to be before the war. Now there are some fantastic modern buildings here and there, but in general it seems like time has stopped at least 30 years ago.

Thanks for looking,