Monday, 4 April 2016

A Korošikan Romance
A 20th Century Imagi-Nation

Korošika; birth-place of 'Punk Polka' and 'Hard Waltz'.

I have played around with imagi-nations previously, although without much success. Typically the pitfall of a lack of originality, i.e. they have been virtual carbon-copies of real world entities, has been what has killed them. I am as time-poor as everyone else and so covering all my interests in the same depth as I am with the Spanish Civil War for example, is just not possible. I could of course just concentrate on a very limited number of projects, but sometimes you need a break from them too, especially when much of your research is conducted in a language foreign to you.

Besides my focus on the Spanish Civil War, I am very interested in the Interwar Era in a wider sense, which fades out quite quickly as soon as WWII begins. Once the Torch Landings have taken place in 1942, I am done with it all. As for anything German, barring their involvement in the Spanish Civil War, I am completely bored by Tigers, Panthers and Panzers. The crazy and inadequate tanks and tankettes, mixed with the old school infantry, cavalry and artillery forces of the Pre-War Era, are another thing altogether.

Britain and France are the leaders in this field of course, but a whole host of minor powers bought their designs  and in some cases added their own. Poland and Czechoslovakia are the ones that stand out, but there are few countries that did not add at least one vehicle to the mix. What is missing of course is a conflict where you can pit them against each other; which is where an imagi-nation or two comes in useful.

I have two real examples that form the basis for this imagi-nation; Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia (which was originally part of Czechoslovakia, subsequently part of Hungary, but is now part of the Ukraine) and Prekmurje (which was briefly independent, then part of Yugoslavia, then part of Hungary, then it went back to Yugoslavia again and is now part of Slovenia). Both have similar histories which rely on their varied ethnography, which feature Slav majorities and significant other minorities, which all strive for recognition, or for union with some outside entity.

Welcome To Korošika

Mojasućut (Mukachiv), the capital of Korošika, where old world charm meets concrete.

Korošika (or Kärintia, or Kárintá, depending on who you are speaking to) lies in the midst of three regional microstates, namely; Békésgrád, Klägenfurtland, and Šaleška. Besides providing allies or enemies as the fancy takes me, they serve to ensure that Korošika remains independent. While each have some territorial claims regarding Korošika, some of these are conflicting and even if all three nations entered into an alliance, they would never be able to reach a post-war agreement. It would take one of them to take the country and then fight off all-comers.

The country's origins lie in the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the Great War. While Slavs formed the dominant population, when the other groups allied the numbers were relatively even. So while the majority supported becoming a part of Šaleška, an alliance of separatists and minorities was able to defeat that proposal. Lack of numbers prevented the ethnic Hungarians (kárintátajaiak - or ogrinŭ) and Germans (kärintiendeutsche - or njemački), in their respective bids to achieve union with both Békésgrád and Klägenfurtland.

Monument to Šaleškan partisan
Uoli Polova. Uoli fought a successful
guerrilla war in Southern Korošika, 
the chief aim of which was to ensure 
that Italian reprisals would not fall on
her own people. 
Militants in each of those minority groups formed the Kärintiendeutsche und liebevolks freiheit (KLF - essentially 'Free Karinthian-Germans') and the Hungarian Rongyos Gárda (Ragged Guard) movements, who were to become the main opposition groups in the bitter civil war of the '20s. The '30s see the country far more settled politically, but prey to the nationalist sentiments of its various neighbours, resulting in a series of small wars.

At the start of WWII the country was invaded and occupied by Italy, who established a puppet fascist regime. It was liberated in 1945 by the British and partisans of the Šaleškan Popular Front. Post-War settlement preserved Korošikan territorial integrity, despite efforts by the Peoples Republic of Šaleška for it to be incorporated into their socialist federation.

In the Cold War Era Korošika was a non-aligned socialist state, whose territorial integrity was preserved as part of the regional balance between NATO-aligned Klägenfurtland and Warpac-aligned Békésgrád. However the territorial ambitions of Šaleška continued to be an issue and a series of border disputes and attempts to force political union occurred during this era.

So that is the nutshell history of Korošika, which I will be expanding on in the future.

The Inspiration

Way back when, the writers of the old WRG Armoured Warfare 1950 to 1985 rules used two fictitious countries which pitted Mohicans and Fenians against each other (the Mohicans were 'Red' Indians). That brief passage has remained an inspiration to me for years and I have always nurtured the desire to have some similar backdrop to my own games. The Tin Tin stories also featured the rival nations of Syldavia and Borduria, in exactly the same contexts as I am looking at; Pre-WWII and Cold War.

A while ago I began an Interwar Era imagi-nation based on the very real region of what is now called the Zakarpattia Oblast of the Republic of the Ukraine, but back then was known as either; Trans-CarpathiaCarpathian Ruthenia, or just Ruthenia. During the immediate Post-Great War chaos, the French effectively strong-armed the region into becoming an autonomous part of Czechoslovakia, despite both Ukrainian and Hungarian claims to territory within the region.

This was to set the course of the future history of the region, as when Germany annexed the Czech region, leaving Slovakia isolated, Ruthenia declared its independence, asked the Slovakians to leave, only to have the Hungarians promptly invade and annex the region in a matter of days. It remained as part of Hungary until the end of WWII, when the Soviets were persuaded by local communists to make the area part of the Ukraine and not return it to Czechoslovakia. The story is far more complex than this brief pen picture, but the essential points are there.

Then there is Yugoslavia, which was a federation of quite diverse ethnic groups, glued together to make a made-up nation, as had been the case with Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia stood in the way of Mussolini's plans and both he and his Hungarian allies made life difficult for much of the '30s, although stopping short of actual war. In the '30s Yugoslavia bought arms from various suppliers, which it added to its existing arsenal of Austro-Hungarian and French equipment. By 1941 it had an eclectic mix of items from virtually everywhere, almost all of it obsolete.

After WWII and thanks to Communist partisans not being reliant on the Soviets for support, President Tito was able to plot a political course between the Superpowers. His dream was to ally with Bulgaria, take over Albania and Greece, and to form a communist Balkan state, outside the Soviet-dominated sphere of the Warsaw Pact. His crossing from East to West and back again, led to a military which boasted both Soviet and U.S. equipment, as well as domestic designs. Many examples of these ended up in the forces during the various conflicts of the 1990s.

The result was F-86 Sabres and F84 Thunderjets in some squadrons and MiGs in others. M3 halftracks and Scout Cars rubbed shoulders with BTRs and BRDMs, M47 Pattons with T-55s, and T34/85s with Shermans. A most unique army when all is said and done, as was somewhat demonstrated when the Republic fell apart after Tito's death. A historical force like that is of course a godsend for a man with an imagi-nation and gives a template for continuing his country's story past WWII in addition.

M18 Hellcat turret mated to a T-54 hull in the '90s, the same Yugoslavian ingenuity also saw a Sherman fitted with a 122mm tank gun and a variety of SP Guns based on the T-34 hull. I seem to recall there were M5 Stuart-Flakvierling and PaK40 mash-ups too. Of course there are stranger options you can devise in your own imagi-nation.

The Raw Material

With the above in mind, along with the history and aspirations of Romania, Hungary, Albania and Italy thrown into the mix, you have a canvas where pretty much anything goes. It is however almost guaranteed that the wargamer's mind cannot throw up anything as ridiculous as some of the real world events that took place in the region.

My initial thoughts are to develop the background as I proceed and in turn use the forces I acquire for the Spanish Civil War as the initial starting point for the armies involved; SCW Nationalist and Republican troops are suitably different from each other and somewhat generic in appearance. Add the Italians of the CTV in their French helmets and you pretty much have an Interwar standard range of types to begin with.

Leaving it at that would be pretty pointless however and while you can add vehicles which were not used in the Spanish Civil War to give some variation, you are still essentially playing with SCW figures and may just as well be playing SCW. This is where the freedom offered by an imagi-nation comes into play and you can begin adding elements from a wider variety of ranges into the mix. Besides the Empress stable of ranges (Tsuba and Mutton Chop), Footsore Miniatures and other various offerings can be incorporated on top too.

Tyrolean hats, Lederhosen and Mausers to the fore.

By not over-planning or setting unrealistic goals, these facets can all be incorporated as they happen, or thanks to the descending menus I use on the blog, I can slot in a conflict that pre-dates the point where I began the project. This I think is generally a problem with imaginary conflicts, they tend to try and cram in too much into the same timeline, rather than breaking things down into smaller chunks across a broader period of time. Take the quite wonderful Hinterland range of 'German' female figures for example; perfect for the immediate Post-WWI period, but extremely dated for 1938.

When you have an imagi-nation you are not tied to a specific point of time. Each conflict is a segment of the overall continuity of history for your nation. So for example I can have a menu topic bar for 1936 and another for 1956, at some later date I can add another for 1926 if I wished. The trick is not to provide too hard and fast a history for your country when you develop it, or you will be back-tracking to edit it each time you diverge (as we all do) into something else. A general outline is sufficient and gives you some 'wiggle room' for when you need it at some future point.

So for this project I am looking at an Interwar (1930s) element and a Post-WWII (1950s) one. I have no intention of going further back than the Great War and as the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman Empires, I cannot realistically do that in any case, unless I was to go back to the 17th Century or earlier; the odds of which are very remote. While I generally think big, my intention is to start small and off the back of the Spanish Civil War Project initially.