Saturday, January 16, 2021

Plague Update #46 - Herd Immunity Edition

 Well the holiday season is over but COVID-19 is hanging around like that irritating relative who just wont take the hint (sidenote; according to my parents that relative is me).  It's been a little difficult to write about because after months of steady gloom things have been jumping about like a roller coaster.  First we were fine, then half of Sydney got locked down, then things improved then we were told to staple masks to our faces and encase ourselves in concrete.  Various parts of my home state have been walled off from other states, opened up again and then shut down again.  Apparently one of the symptoms of COVID is bureaucratic schizophrenia.  Then, just as everything seemed a little calmer word came out that a new and even more virulent form of the virus had made its way from the UK to our shores.  At least that should reassure anyone who was afraid British exports would take a hit post Brexit.

To make matters worse, or at least not better, a couple of government MPs have taken to social media to parade their idiocy in front of the general population.  Snide comments about masks and vaccines and generally trying to ensure that the United States doesn't have a monopoly on cretinous internet commentary.  One went so far as to say that making your offspring wear masks was a form of child abuse.  Whereas I presume dying of COVID is a gift from god.  More irritatingly still the more formal, leadership parts of the government have twisted themselves in knots trying to avoid criticising these clowns.  If we have learnt one thing from the recent history of America it is that when someone in power says something stupid it is very important for the remainder of government to call them out on it.  Or rather, apparently we haven't learnt that.

However there are encouraging signs on the vaccine front.  A number of people are starting to worry about whether the particular vaccine we are getting our hands on will indeed confer herd immunity.  This is a big improvement from "will there ever be a vaccine?"  Suddenly apparently we can afford to be picky.  Obviously herd immunity is desirable, nothing good comes from an infected herd, but just at the moment any sort of immunity would be good at least for the people so immune.  The rest of us will just have to spend a few more months hiding under the bed with a pillow strapped to their head.

Unless we're tennis players of course.  The Australian Open is due to kick off in a few weeks which means that a horde of sweat crazed string monkeys are descending on our nation.  Of course strict quarantine measures are in place and of course no sooner have they arrived than some of those involved have starting breaking that quarantine.  At this point it is fair to ask how seriously we're taking the entire thing.

The same questions which were asked about the cricket are now being asked about the tennis.  Those questions being variations on the general theme of "what the fuck?"  No doubt all precautions are being taken and hopefully it all goes off without too many infections.  As to the wider question of "why are we permitting this at all?" the answer is a simple one although I doubt if it will be explicitly spelled out.  For the sake of their mental health humans need diversion.  They need to be entertained and entertainment has been a little thin on the ground during the worst of the lock downs.  Tennis and cricket are incredibly popular and it is quite likely that someone, somewhere has decided that a bit of infection and the possibility of a few deaths is a reasonable price to pay for keeping all of the surly, isolated and generally grumbling members of the population from blowing their tops.

At least I hope that's the reason.  I much prefer to believe my government is making cold eyed decisions and weighing up the likely cost in deaths from providing bread and circuses as opposed to simply being reckless and irresponsible.  I could go further on this topic but I need to go and watch the cricket.

Silly After Action Report - Tough As Nails

 A mechanic slid from out underneath the tank and wiped grease on to his coveralls.  He didn't need to but he was aware that there were certain conventions that applied when working on a vehicle, he actually kept a small pot of grease on hand for this purpose.

"I think that's got it, Herr Hauptmann," he reported.  The hauptmann looked a little concerned.

"You think?" he asked.  "You're not sure?"

"It's a Russian tank," replied the mechanic.  "All the instructions are in Cyrillic.  I've been using a youtube video for assembling models.  Are you going to be driving this?"

"Not now," replied the hauptmann, "what about the flamethrower?"

"Oh that definitely works.  You remember the fireball in the maintenance shed?  Kleinschmidt forgot his cigarette lighter."

"I was wondering what happened to his hair."  The hauptmann gestured to a rather nervous looking tank crew lurking in the background.  "All right, get in."

The tank crew radiated a distinct disinclination to go anywhere near the hulking vehicle that squatted in the work shop dribbling fuel from an oversized nozzle sticking out next to the 76mm gun.

The hauptmann lost patience, "Get in or I'll cut off your supplies of pervitin."

There was a scramble for the vehicle and both the hauptmann and the mechanic stepped well out of the way as, after a certain amount of trial and error, the engine was started and the tank lurched forward.

"Well done," said the hauptmann as the tank made its somewhat unsteady way towards the front German soldiers scattering to either side as it did so.  The hauptmann left to round up his troops and the mechanic watched for a moment before pulling a small piece of metal from his pocket.

"What's that?" asked the newly bald Kleinschmidt who had just joined him.

"Firing trigger for a flamethrower.  It fell off while I was testing the turret traverse"

"Should we tell them?"

"They'll find out soon enough."

Dave Wilson and I have settled down for another Ostfront city fight.  This time in Stalingrad, a battle so storied that it has generated about seventeen campaign modules so far with another fifty three in production.  Being minimalists Dave and I settled for a simple scenario ITR-4 - Tough as Nails.  It's Stalingrad so you already know what's required, a bunch of Germans have to crawl forward about a hundred yards and capture a building or two to enable them to crawl forward a hundred yards and capture a building or two.  I, commanding the defenders of the Motherland have decided that a nail factory is the particular ditch I am prepared to die in.

As the Germans Dave has to capture a pair of factories deep in downtown Stalingrad.  To do so he has a wide array of tools at his disposal.  He has three squads of 838 assault engineers, eight elite squads and nine squads of first line troops to act as expendables.  These guys have two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns, five light machine guns, two antitank rifles (why?) two flamethrower, four demolition charges and a radio connecting him to an 80mm mortar battery.  This force is led by seven officers ranging from a lowly 7-0 to a planet conquering 10-2.  Circling in the skies above are a pair of  stukas eager to dispense with their bomb loads and get back to their airfields where they can fondle long haired dachshunds or each other depending on their inclination.

Twenty squads of superbly led troops with artillery and air support being deemed insufficient (the scenario designers have obviously never seen me play)  Dave is reinforced on the second turn with another dozen first line squads, a medium machine gun, four lights and another four officers including a 9-1.  Oh yes, and some armour.  More specifically, a PzIIIH, two PzIVF2s, two StuGIIIBs a StuGIIIG and the fire brigade.  The fire brigade consisting of two captured Soviet tanks, a KV-8 and a T34M43(Fl) each carrying a terrifying flamethrower in addition to their main weapon.

So what do I, champion of nail factories everywhere, have to resist such might?  I'm glad you asked.

I have sixteen elite squads including five 628s who are definitely not assault engineers for any useful purpose.  These guys are supported by six conscript bullet catchers and have an hmg, two medium machine guns, five light machine guns, a pair of antitank rifles and two molotov cocktail projectors.  They have four officers including my own 10-2 and heavy support in the shape of two 45mm antitank guns, a 76mm artillery piece and an 82mm mortar.  I also get fortifications in the form of a roadblock, 24 factors of AP mines, 4 factors of AT mines, a dozen concealment counters and a booby trap capacity which I completely forgot about (have I mentioned I'm not really great at this game?).  In addition I can fortify four building locations.

But wait, never let it be said that Stavka leaves its troops in the lurch (believe me you'd better not say that).  I too receive reinforcements in the form of six squads, half elite and half first line carrying a grand total of two light machine guns and urged towards the fray by a battle hungry 7-0, I also get six more concealment counters.

Below is the set up.  Basically Dave has to capture the two factories in the middle of the board.  The forward one I expected to fall pretty easily to I garrisoned it with dummies and conscripts in the hope of slowing him down a little.  Having set up the roadblock to prevent his armour roaring straight down the most direct route and placed the AT mines on the two flanking roads where they achieved precisely nothing.  The rear factory was my "die in a ditch" location, I fortified a couple of hexes, placed the 76mm and a pair of mmg armed squads led by my 10-2 HIPed where I thought they could do some good (wrong).  The two mol projectors were out on the flanks hoping to get a rear shot as the German armour went by.

At start, the red circles indicate where I have hidden my guns

A close glance at the map will indicate that I have already cocked something up and the game hasn't even started yet.  I obviously don't play with factories enough as I kept forgetting that they don't have any intervening levels between the ground floor and the roof.  I persisted in setting things up on a mythical first floor which would come back to bite me badly later.

Dave started his attack and immediately invalidated a fair amount of my defence.  I thought the rubble, roadblock and stalwart defenders would force Dave to go for a flank but he didn't, he lined the bulk of his troops up and sent them straight up the middle.  My expendables in the forward factory would do all that I could ask of them breaking some troops and simply existing for a couple of turns but to the left Dave's main drive punched forward through the ruins towards his second target.

End of turn 1.  My forward factory holds for now

By the end of the second turn Dave was swarming all over the forward factory but a couple of brave Soviet conscripts still clung to the odd corner.  Dave's armour turned up and one of his captured flamethrower tanks busted its FT on the first shot.  This is why you don't buy tanks on e-Bay.  Technical difficulties notwithstanding Dave's offensive was proceeding nicely although my hmg did manage to break one squad that pushed its luck a little far.  In the previous game I spent a lot of time cursing railway tracks and the increased time it took my armour to traverse them.  This time it was Dave's turn to curse as his tanks picked their way over the rails.

End of German turn 2

In a strange way the delay of his armour actually helped Dave a little as with his tanks not yet committed I didn't feel I could pull in the troops on my flanks in case he sent them looping around my flanks once they were unguarded.  My own reinforcements arrived just in time to be welcomed by the Luftwaffe who bounced a 200mm bomb off some of them.  This went about as well for the recipients as you can imagine but frankly I got off rather lightly.

End of Soviet turn 2.  Bomb victims in the rear

 With the forward factory cleared Dave pushed forward and proved how silly I had been to place all of those troops on the flank as his vehicles threaded their way through buildings and rubble to join their comrades in the centre (except for one which bogged far to the rear in a pile of debris).  Fresh from their triumph at the front factory the remainder of Dave's troops joined his comrades in monstering my remaining factory.  I wasn't terribly concerned.  It had taken him three turns to get here and I still had a decent number of troops and hidden guns but disaster was just about to unfold.

Dave is ready to attack the rear factory

Remember that I said earlier that I tended to forget that factories don't have interior levels?  Well I had forgotten that again with my defence of the rear factory.  I had a hidden 76mm gun on the ground floor and a pair of squads with mmgs (and the 10-2) hidden on a mythical first floor above them.  With Dave's forces closing in from all sides I decided the time had come to unleash some firepower at which point Dave noted my error.  He was very kind and allowed me to keep all of my troops in the ground floor location.  I attacked a kill stack commanded by his 10-2 with a 16+1 shot to no effect.  I fired my 76mm at a flamethrower team across the way to no effect.  In the next fire phase Dave rolled a three with his flamethrower and crushed the lot.  Such things are burnt across my soul and Dave had to give me a minute or three while I got up off the floor, wiped the tears from my eyes and indicated my willingness to continue.

There was a gaping hole in my defence but the immediate effect wasn't terrible.  I had plenty of other troops around so Dave couldn't just waltz on in.  In fact one of my best turns of the game was just about to arrive.  Sadly it would have no lasting effect.  I had been peppering one of his tanks (the T34 with the busted flamethrower) with spotted mortar rounds for a couple of turns with no effect but a sudden critical hit immobilised the thing.  Possibly deciding that two flamethrowers weren't enough (despite recent evidence to the contrary) he rolled his KV-8 forward right past a hidden 45mm gun and a low roll on a rear shot killed it outright.  This probably delayed the inevitable for another turn as Dave diverted troops and demo charges to taking out this gun post before returning attention to the factory.


Probably my best turn of the game

Over on the left I was holding my own as I brought my flankers in to reinforce my hmg post.  In the centre and on the right though my defenders were facing a sea of blue.  With troops to burn Dave hurled his men forward across the street.  I broke a goodly number of them but a couple managed to gain a foothold.  To increase the pressure he drove a tank straight into the factory.  My defenders watched in despair as the thing promptly dropped through into the cellar making a mess of their porn stash and hydroponic dope plantation.  

In my turn I managed to smuggle a couple of squads into the factory through the sewers which resulted in four squads and a 10-2 being overstacked in the one location I could still consider secure.  My 10-2 finally recovered from his flamethrower induced nervous breakdown and rallied his troops.  Not before time as Dave sent a second wave of troops across the street to build on the small gains he had made in his first attack.  This time there was no stopping him and he was solidly lodged in the factory.

One chance left...


Things were not yet completely black for me.  Overstacked or not I still had five squads in the factory (four led by a 10-2) and even overstacked four squads is a lot of firepower at pointblank range guided by a 10-2.  Dave only had four squads in the factory himself with a pair in the fortified location that still contained my abandoned mmgs.  Well they were abandoned until Dave picked one up.  I decided to take out this position and then hopefully advance into CC to deal with the remainder.  With time running out hopefully this would set Dave back too far back for him to recover.  I hit his pair of squads with a 30+1 shot.  One of the squads broke.  The one that didn't returned fire with a 16+1 shot and broke everything I had in the hex including the 10-2.  At that point I conceded.  To be honest I screamed, wept, threatened suicide, made a number of wholly unjustified assertions about Dave, his parentage and his proclivities then I conceded.

In case you're wondering about Dave's artillery incidentally.  Once the forward factory had been captured his 7-0 obediently lugged the radio up to the roof, called up the battery, brought down a single fire mission and was then shot dead by my sniper.  My sniper was the most productive asset I possessed.  A sniper number of five will do that for you.

Much thanks to Dave for the game, this was the second ITR scenario we played and they were both excellent.  Being slightly scarred by the second experience I have reverted to type and insisted that we play a scenario with Italians in it next time but we will revisit the Into the Rubble pack again in the future.

The  mechanic flicked a little dust from the obersts kubelwagen and stretched, it was almost noon.  Time to finish for the day.  He turned to look for Kleinschmidt and found himself face to face with the hauptmann he had spoken to earlier.  The hauptmann did not look happy.  The mechanic looked around swiftly to see if there was any grease he could wipe on his overalls but Kleinschmidt had taken the pot for his own purposes.

"How did it go Herr Hauptmann?" he asked hopefully.  There was no sign of the tank he had "worked" on earlier.

"Not bad," replied the hauptmann.  "We've captured a couple more buildings.  At this rate we'll have captured the entire of Stalingrad by 1985.  About that tank you repaired."

"Did it give you any trouble?"

"A mortar blew its tracks off."

"Ah well you see, mortar fire isn't covered by the warranty Herr Hauptmann.  I'm very sorry but there's nothing I can do."

"Can you at least go and pick it up?"

"Kleinschmidt does the pick ups."

"I saw him, he was covered in grease and, well I didn't want to interrupt."

The mechanic rolled his eyes.

"Since its you Hauptmann I'll go and get it as soon as I've had dinner.  There's another exit if you don't want to pass Kleinschmidt on your way out."

"Thank you," replied the hauptmann with visible relief.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Travelling Pathetically - Leathery Winged Swooper of the Night Edition

 This was really supposed to be a blog entry about Wolli Creek.  My excursions into the outside world are getting smaller and smaller and this time I only intended to go a few kilometres from home.  Specifically to Wolli Creek.  I thought I would catch the train (after masking up and bathing in disinfectant obviously) to Wolli Creek and wander around a suburb considerably younger than I am and then perhaps go and take a look at the eponymous creek.

Wolli Creek (the suburb, not the creek) was carved out of some former industrial land on the banks of Wolli Creek (the creek, not the suburb) to provide a home for Sydney's Mongolian community.  It was called Wolli Creek because the original suggestion, North Arncliffe, was just a little too unimaginative.  Although apparently only a little.

Suiting deed to word developers were unleashed on this hapless piece of industrial leftover and and soon glittering tower blocks were rising to the sky; to date not all of them have fallen down.  I would, I thought, wander about this gleaming piece of residential modernity followed by a quick trip to the creek.  Unfortunately the trains weren't running.

Thinking on my feet (well my backside actually, I was sitting in a cafe at the time) I came up with a new plan.  If I could not visit Wolli the Suburb then Wolli the Creek would be my destination.  Wolli Creek flows a few kilometres from my home gradually intersecting with the noxious flow that is the Cooks River at the aforementioned suburb that I wouldn't be visiting.  My walk would take the form of a rough triangle.  The land between Wolli Creek and the Cooks River consists of a low hill occupied by the suburbs of Earlwood and Undercliffe, territory somewhat familiar to me as my Mother was raised there.  I would walk along the base of the triangle to Earlwood, over the top of the hill and then follow the valley of Wolli Creek to its meeting with the river whereupon a sharp left turn would enable me to follow the river back home.  It also had the advantage that I would be able to stroll through the Wolli Creek Nature Reserve.

Wolli Creek Nature Reserve exists for the usual reason.  Successive state governments having been foiled in their plans to smother the area in concrete by the protests of residents have reluctantly given formal approval to an established fact and provided the shreds of bushland along the creek valley with an official right to exist.

I set off full of hope into the cool, cloudy day.  It had been raining all week and I was a little afraid that I would be caught in a downpour.  I needn't have worried, a short while later I was gasping up the hill towards Earlwood in the blazing sun having removed as much of my clothing as decency (and the law) permits and noting that once again I had managed to come out without a hat.  A lesser man might have fled for home but I am made of sterner stuff, sunburnt sterner stuff, but sterner stuff nonetheless.  My destination was Girrahween Park just over the top of the hill which connected with the reserve (and which I got lost in as a small child).

Once in the park I was sheltered from the worst of the sun (ie I burnt without being aware of the fact) and struck off towards the creek and its junction with the Cooks River.  There is an established walking track so I wasn't exactly hacking my way through the wilderness with a machete (which was good as I had left my machete at home along with my hat) but I was able to stroll along surrounded by trees and bush with nothing to hear except the song of birds, the rustle as insects and lizards fled my approach, the buzz of a nearby chainsaw, the rattle of trains and the chatter from other people who kept on popping up at inconvenient moments walking their dogs, their children and occasionally each other.

Ah yes, far from civilisation

It will have been noticed, if any of you have been paying attention, that a lot of my walks seem to involve creeks or rivers.  The simple reason is that these are the parts of land that are the most difficult to build on and therefore stand a better chance of having actually survived with a portion of the natural environment intact or at least intact to the untrained eye.

I was a little surprised at the presence of people, if I had done a little more research I would have realised I was walking along the Two Valley Trail which is popular for recreation.  Fortunately there weren't too many people out and I was able to spend most of my time alone in nature apart from the trains and the chainsaw and the frequent glimpses of housing and industrial estates (which I have carefully excluded from the photographs).

I took a photo of a rock.  In my defence it was a big rock

From time to time handsome sandstone outcrops stopped and posed for photos.  I took the one above after waiting patiently for five minutes for another walker to get the hell out of the way.  To give her and her partner time to get out of the way I hung around at the outcrop for several minutes no doubt screwing up the photo opportunities of those who came after me.  Eventually I moved on and headed towards what turned out to be the highlight of my walk.

A sign, not unadorned with guano, announced that the area I had entered was a camp for the grey headed flying fox.  I was cautioned against approaching any such bats that I might see lying on the ground and was informed that the bats carried a virus that could be harmful to dogs and humans.  Therefore I was strictly enjoined against permitting my dog to eat them as it might kill the dog (it probably wouldn't do the bat any good either).

Eager to spy the promised flying foxes I studied the trees in my immediate vicinity but saw nothing.  Well I saw branches, leaves and occasional bits of sunlight poking through but nothing batlike.  I was about to leave in disgust when something caught my eye.  Could this possibly be a bat?  It was, surrounded by leaves and branches and with its wings wrapped around it it didn't look terribly batlike but there it was.  I dug out my camera and practically ran the battery out of charge attempting to take a picture that would somewhat resemble a bat more than a deformed pine cone.  I wasn't entirely successful.

This is the best I could do

Then I turned the corner and walked face first into half the bats in Sydney.

Like this

And this

I think this is a mother suckling her young.  Bats don't have a problem with breastfeeding in public

I was utterly gobsmacked at the number of bats on display.  It was like being in an orchard if what you were growing was bats.  There were bats everywhere.  Incidentally they are freaking noisy.  It's daylight, I thought they were supposed to be asleep.  I was entranced, I took as many photos as my failing battery permitted and cursed the solitary bat sleeping alone that had caused me to waste so many photos.

Having passed through Bat Central I continued on my journey.  The path was gradually descending towards the creek and from time to time I was able to get glimpses of the waterway which had inspired (for want of a better word) my journey.  It was very and I took a couple of token photos but with bats still ringing in my head it can't be admitted that I was paying too much attention.

See, a creek

 As mentioned before I was somewhat familiar with the geography and while I had never been here before I knew roughly where I was.  I was skirting Undercliffe (most of which, despite its name, is at the top of the hill) and heading towards the triangle of land where creek and river met.  I say I knew roughly where I was, that's true.  Specifically I had no idea where I was until I stumbled out into a patch of open land which proclaimed itself as Turrella Reserve.  There was a little more walking through occasional pieces of bushland but now I had entered into more open park territory and strolled among grass and picnic tables set up to provide comfort for people who had a burning desire to come and see Wolli Creek meet the Cooks River.  On the other side of the creek was Wolli Creek the suburb in all its glory and in deference to my original intention I took a photo.  This was the closest I would get to the suburb all day.

Wolli Creek, the suburb

I swung around the pointy bit where the two waterways met and headed up along the Cooks River for home.  When I was a child I would catch the bus to my Grandmother's house in Earlwood and as the bus started to climb the hill I would see the occasional rooftop back at river level and wonder what was there.  Well it only took about forty five years but I finally found out.  Crammed between the river and the hill rising to Earlwood is a narrow strip of rather handsome houses looking out onto the river.  I wasn't bushwalking anymore, rather a combined foot/cycleway in heat radiating concrete stretched between the houses and the river heading in the direction I needed to go.

Where the waterways meet.  Wolli Creek is on the right.

I have frequently mocked the Cooks River for its pollution and general noisomeness all of which is true but life tends to find a way and the fringes of the river still have trees, mangroves and, of course, ibis.  Because there is no part of Sydney so environmentally devastated that an ibis can't find food there.  Attempts are being made to fix a little of the damage done to the waterway over the years.  Most of the riverbank is completely altered from its natural state but since its natural state was mangrove swamp this might not necessarily be a bad thing.  Still occasional patches of wetland are being planted and nurtured and in certain spots the containing walls (built to prevent erosion) have been replaced by a more environmentally friendly alternative.  I know this because a sign next to one of these spots informed me of the fact.  This new type of retaining wall (more a retaining ramp) allows crabs and wading birds to return to an area they were summarily evicted from when the walls were built.  I looked without much interest at the area the signpost was referring to and realised it was alive with crabs.  Apparently word gets around.  Unfortunately the crabs were far less interested in posing for photos than the bats.

Basically the only crab photo I got

The other thing the sign mentioned was a warning about an invasive species of turtle that was apparently taking over territory and making it difficult for native turtles to compete.  Apparently environmentalists need a lesson in multiculturalism.  I looked carefully but I saw no invasive turtles.

This is a photo of the Cooks River about fifteen minutes walk from my home

With the crabs taken care of I headed for home.  I knew I was getting close when the trees surrounding the river gave way to a golf course.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Clash at Ponyri

 The train rattled through the Soviet countryside, outside evidence of soldiers preparing defences was everywhere.  Studiously ignoring the military preparations two passengers on the train were conducting the sort of incredibly cautious conversation two strangers might have when they lived in a murderous dictatorship.  Topics included the weather, football, the brilliance of Stalin, the certainty of victory in the Great Patriotic War and relief that their train carriage was devoid of bourgeois trappings such as windows and seats.  The train screeched and groaned to a halt, interrupting their chat.  One looked up in surprise.

"Are we supposed to be stopping at Ponyri?  I thought this was an express."

In answer to his question the trains conductor appeared.

"Apologies comrades!  There will be a slight delay, there is a Panzer IV on the tracks.  However anyone who wishes to attack the German Ninth Army may alight here."

"That's me," said one of the men getting to his feet.  His comrade made a mental note to report the man for revealing military secrets and bade him farewell.  

Having had enough of crappy Italian tanks and dubious French troops for the time being Dave Wilson and I settled down for some deeply traditional ASL.  Germans vs Soviets in the monumental military balls up that the Germans called Operation Citadel (actually they called it Unternehmen Zitadelle; translation is just one of the helpful services I provide).  Having selected the most obvious place for a counter offensive the Germans politely waited until the Soviets had built up massive defences and then charged straight at them.  The component of this "suicide by pakfront" we decided to play was ITR 4 - Clash at Ponyri.  I shall command the Germans in their desperate attempt to seize Ponyri railway station while Dave's Soviets are determined to defend the ticket machine to the death.

To win I have to capture a minimum of five of seven designated victory buildings and a tower which for some reason is the focal point of the battle.  To do so I have an embarrassment of riches.  I have twenty three squads (including three of assault engineers) and six officers including a mighty 10-2.  Between them they have three medium machine guns, eight light machine guns, two flamethrowers, four demo charges and a radio; artillery for the use of.  Backing up this wealth of human material are eleven AFV, three StuG SP guns and a collection of Mark III and Mark IV panzers commanded by a pair of 8-1 armour leaders.  I had such a large force I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it, a fact that would become increasingly obvious as time went by.

If the attackers are rich in number the Soviets aren't exactly lacking either.  Dave has fifteen and a half squad equivalents of first line troops and a couple of squads of conscripts making up the numbers.  They are led by four officers including a pretty impressive 9-2.  These stalwart defenders of the Rodina are equipped with a pair of heavy (in every sense of the word) machine guns, two medium machine guns, two light machine guns, a pair of antitank rifles (for some reason), a 50mm mortar and a radio connecting them to their own artillery.  Providing extra punch are four guns; two anti tank guns (one 45mm the other 57mm) a 76mm infantry gun and a 76L artillery piece.  They also have a dug in T-34 tank providing extra support.  Additionally there are thirty two concealment counters, four wire counters, thirty two factors of anti personnel mines and six factors of anti tank mines.  He also has three foxholes, three trenches, a roadblock and can fortify four building locations.  The Soviet troops have molotov cocktails and can HIP two squads.  

Lest this seem inadequate Dave also gets three sets of reinforcements; on turn three he gets a trio of first line squads (led by a gallant 7-0) and a pair of monstrous SU-152 SP guns, on turn four he receives a pair of elite squads clutching a demolition charge and on turn five, largely as comedy relief, he receives two SU-76M rolling targets and a pair of lendlease American Stuart tanks.

Below is the at start set up. As you can see I have set up the bulk of my force in the south.  My intention was to smother the front line in smoke shells and then overwhelm the forward Soviet defences in the first turn.  With a little elbow room gained hopefully I could then do a full scale drive in the succeeding turns.  In the centre the plan was more or less the same, I hoped to use smoke to get into the woods and buildings and at least pin down his forces there while I hopefully cut loose down below.  Right at the top were a pair of tanks and a handful of squads more or less as a diversion to stop Dave cheerfully reinforcing the front.

At start set up

The first thing that we learned in this game was that we would spend a lot of time looking up rules.  Firstly if you roll boxcars while attempting a smoke round have you simply run out of smoke or have you malfunctioned the main armament as well.  Since I did this twice in the first fire phase it wasn't an academic question.  We decided that you did both which left me with two AFV without either smoke or a functioning MA, not exactly the start I was looking for.  Elsewhere things went a little better and smoke was indeed brought down on locations I considered appropriate.

Technical difficulties notwithstanding I managed to achieve most of what I wanted in the first turn but the lack of smoke in key areas would force a modicum of caution on me and most importantly would leave me badly placed to deal with the artillery which Dave was just about to bring down around my ears.  While the lack of smoke had hampered me down at the bottom of the board its presence had been helpful in the centre.  I had managed to get across the road with acceptable casualties and had discovered and disposed of his first gun (ok he malf'ed it on an intensive fire shot).  I had also started pushing troops through the buildings to out flank his position in the woods.

End of German turn 1

The Soviet turn started with my repairing one of my MAs (yay!) but rapidly continued with a storm of artillery raining down on my troops.  I was actually fortunate, my AFVs and my super kill stack (the 10-2, three 548 squads and all three mmgs) survived, I even generated a hero.  A couple of squads broke and the need to avoid the blast radius imposed some very circuitous movement on the part of the survivors which delayed their arrival at the battlefield.  My own artillery wasn't a factor as there simply wasn't a point where I had a decent line of sight to bring it down.  I had placed the officer with the radio in the centre which in retrospect was a mistake, it would have been better to have it down the bottom where there was at least a line of sight up the road.  As it was my artillery would do nothing all game.

Right up at the top of the board my diversionary force astonished me by surviving an attack from a pair of squads with a pair of medium machine guns (16+2) and things would go almost suspiciously well for me in those parts for a couple of turns.

End of German turn 2, so far so good


It's fair to say that the first couple of turns were the high point of the game for me (that's an ominous sign).  My forces in the bottom part of the board handily disposed of his defenders and snatched a victory building.  The StuG with the malf'ed MA I sent up the road on a fire drawing exercise which ended a hex later when it ran over AT mines in the street and was immobilised.  In the centre I pushed through the buildings and managed to pin his defensive force in the woods back against his own barbed wire where firepower and flamethrowers pretty much wiped them out over the course of the next few turns.  I need to give a shout out to my flamethrower troops, they scorched and sizzled their way forward without ever running out of fuel.  In less happy news Dave's sniper managed to wound my officer with the radio thus reducing him to three movement factors (and making him incapable of carrying the radio but neither of us remembered that bit).

With his forward defenses broken I could thus push forward and immediately ran into two problems.  Firstly it became obvious I had overcommitted to the bottom of the board and tied down my best officer and a lot of firepower where it could only be of marginal value.  The second problem was that I suck at commanding armour.  To be fair with three hidden guns and a dug in T-34 lying around the place there was always going to be an element of sacrifice but I just never managed to deploy my tanks effectively.  I found all three guns and the T-34 in turn three so I guess it was understandable that the tank that found them had a pretty short life expectancy but I was never able to amass a force of tanks that could shoot their way forward and instead Dave had a pretty easy time picking them off despite the fact that he broke the 45mm AT gun and I managed to chase off the crew of the 57mm.

Happy time almost over

Another rule that Dave and I agonised over was what to do with an immobilised AFV that disabled its MA and technically should have been recalled.  It obviously can't go anywhere but since it is technically under recall can it use its secondary armament against the enemy, essentially for the rest of the game?  I was prepared to say "no" purely on the spirit of the rule but Dave had no objections and since the only AFV to be immobilised, disable their MA and be recalled were mine I was happy to go along with that.  Not that it actually did me any good.

A glance at the picture above seems to show me in reasonable shape the occasional wrecked tank notwithstanding but now I had reached the hard core of Dave's defence and his reinforcements were on their way.  And here I was pretty much stuck.  Dave's dug in T-34 ruled the battlefield whereas the kindest thing that can be said about my armour is that their burning wrecks provided me with a little more smoke cover.  Strangely at this point Dave was also feeling dubious about his chances of success.  He had placed a goodly number of his squads into his forward defences in the woods and those I had destroyed.  I put icing on the cake by blowing in the wall of a fortified building location (I think the only time in my entire history of playing the game where a DC was something more than a 1pp inconvenience to me) and killing the defending squad inside.  

 Up at the top of the map I was grinding my way through his defences (and capturing another victory building) and pure luck had put me in a good position in the large building I had essentially been trailing my coat in front of.  That immediately went horribly wrong and strangely right.  I had got three squads into the building and had managed to break the pair of squads manning the mmgs.  However a subsequent shot from a nearby unit broke all three of my squads and their leader and they promptly surrendered to the one unbroken squad he had left in the building.  This left that squad so swamped with prisoners that they were unable to fire and I was able to move another squad into the building and chase his broken units out.  The result was that he had one squad in a fortified location incapable of firing and I had one squad with a newly captured Soviet mmg who would gain the building if they were prepared to accept the risk of depopulating half of Germany in order to break one Soviet squad.  I consulted my conscience and decided I could not leave that many widows back in the Heimat wailing for their men.  OK, that's a lie I busted the mmg trying to kill them and then got broken before I could pick up the other one.

The happy time was over as Dave's SU152s lumbered into the battle.  They didn't really do much, with a breakdown number of ten Dave was really keen to use them over much but there was no way I was going to try running troops across in front of them.  Well, not until I got really desperate.  It was now that my overweighting to the bottom came back to haunt me.  Three squads with three mmgs and a 10-2 leader are rather ineffective against SU152s and a combination of buildings and some damned fruit trees meant that they were incapable of hitting the guys Dave had up in the water tower (which included his officer with the radio meaning he could drop artillery fire pretty much anywhere he wanted.

Things are now a little awkward

I tried to bring my remaining armour forward which was convenient for Dave as his T-34 was running out of things to shoot at.  Despite this I managed to take out the crew of his 76mm artillery piece which was the only bit of ordnance he had left on the board and I pushed my infantry forward from the centre.  I was readying myself for a final charge to the water tower.  I wasn't crazy about it but there seemed very little option.  I had worked a couple of AFV around behind the tower and had hoped I might be able to shoot him out of the position.  Sadly a combination of my own ineptitude and Dave's reinforcements put paid to that idea.  He simply drove an SU-76 up next to one of my vehicles stopped and destroyed it in the advancing fire phase.  A Stuart did the same to the other vehicle.

Getting ready for a forlorn hope

Time was ticking away, I had four buildings and was challenging for a fifth but it all meant nothing if I couldn't capture the tower.  There was one tiny flicker of good news, a sniper result against the exposed crew of the other SU-76 gave me my only armour "kill" of the game as the terrified crew decided that elsewhere was a better place to be.  My infantry was as well placed as it was going to be.  Across the way he had a pair of heavy machine guns guided by a 9-2 and enough armour to open a tank museum.  There wasn't going to be anything pretty about this, I was basically hoping that Dave's dice would be rubbish.

The end.  The Germans are denied

Well what can I say.  Sometimes a mad dash into the open under a hail of fire works.  Today was not one of those days.  I did get a bunch of guys across the road, a half squad captured his 76mm gun but most of them broke under fire from his T-34's machine guns and a hit from an ISU-152.  I got troops into the tower location but ultimately they died before they could climb the ladders (or whatever the hell they are) to get to his troops high above.  Meanwhile his artillery was threshing the area my broken troops had retreated to.  It was enough, I gave the concession with one turn to go.  Even if I rallied everything the only thing I could try was a repeat of the same.  Still it was closer than I really deserved.  Dave and I both really enjoyed this game.  Despite the number of units it played relatively swiftly (ten hours) and each of us had our opportunities.

The whistle blew and the train lurched forward.  The passenger who had just finished filling out his Citizen's Denunciation Card looked up as his former conversation partner jumped back on followed by a pair of NKVD troopers.

"Oh you're back.  What happened to counterattacking the German Ninth Army?"

"Done it," replied the other.  He indicated the two men behind him, "I may have mentioned that you didn't seem keen to join in.  These guys would like a word with you."

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Plague Update #45 - Holiday Edition

 A new year is upon us which is fortunate because we were pretty much finished with the old one.  It would have been slightly embarrassing if we had been sitting about on December 31st as the clock hit midnight and a new year hadn't turned up.  We would have had to pull 2020 out of the bin and run it past its use by date.  Judging by 2021 so far we may indeed have done that.

This blog took a brief sabbatical over the holiday period.  It wasn't deliberate, I'm just lazy.  While I idled and spent a little time in the bosom of my family (it was great guys, we should do it again next year) Britain left the EU but coronavirus didn't take the hint and has stubbornly hung around.  Sudden outbreaks in my home state put the kybosh on New Years celebrations and allowed the Victorian government (with more than a hint of schadenfreude) to lock down our mutual border from the other end.  So far our state leadership has stubbornly refused to make face masks mandatory and is relying on really, really strong recommendations that everyone wear them.  I've taken to wearing a mask at all times myself.  That's nothing to do with coronavirus, my puffin insists.

Still there is light at the end of the tunnel.  The race to produce a vaccine is gathering pace with the Pfizer vaccine entering the last stage of human testing (its being distributed in Great Britain).  If there are no unfortunate side effects it may not be too long before it becomes available elsewhere.  COVID-19 faced up to this challenge with the cheerful enthusiasm that we have come to expect from this most gregarious and flexible of viruses.  It has started throwing up new, even more contagious variants of itself even faster than we can develop vaccines.  This isn't surprising really as COVID-19 doesn't need to undergo all of the safety testing we insist on before unleashing a vaccine, even in Britain.

On more important topics the next cricket test in Sydney is apparently still going ahead despite the miasma of disease hanging over the state.  When I say "the state" I mean of course Sydney.  Very little of the rest of the state seems to be badly affected.  To the best of my knowledge there have been no sudden outbreaks in Wilcannia or Ivanhoe (to pick two names I literally selected at random from the map).  For most of the population of NSW, and virtually all its politicians, Sydney and NSW are pretty much interchangeable terms.  Which is why that part of the population that doesn't live in Sydney sometimes gets annoyed with us.  Fortunately there aren't many of them since most people live in Sydney.  At least most of the people I know do.

Meanwhile I can't help noticing that the current outbreaks in Sydney seem to be creeping ever closer to the rather dilapidated block of flats where I spend most of my time.  I have injected my puffin with a vaccine of my own devising and so far the side affects have been manageable.  Anyway, I think bright green is a rather handsome colour for a puffin.  He disagrees but is a little more concerned about his extra tentacle.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Armoured Probe at Sidi Nsir

 German and French negotiators stared at each other with mutual distrust.  Eau de Cologne clouds had reached Geneva Convention violation levels and for their part the Germans literally oozed suspicion (Suspicion for Men by Hugo Boss).  Outside the hot sun of Tunisia bathed the guards in their own sweat although the atmosphere was still probably preferable to the indoors.

The French general stared up at the hard eyed German negotiator.

"If we let you into Tunisia," he announced, "I must insist on one thing.  We have no objection to surrendering our arms to German soldiers but there must be no question of the Italians involved."

The German negotiator, in the happy position of a pathological liar being able to tell the truth, nodded in agreement.

"You have my word Herr General.  This will be an agreement between the two great nations of Germany and France.  No Italians in Tunisia."  At that moment a German staff officer entered the room, gasped, choked, saluted and presented his report.

"The Italians have landed in Tunisia!"

The German negotiator stared in horror before turning to the Frenchman babbling words of apology but it was too late.  His moustache quivering with outrage the French general drew himself up to his full three foot nine and flung out a heavily bemedalled finger.

"J'accuse!" he bellowed.  "Perfide!" And a lot of other melodramatic French words (which let's face it, is most of them).

The German negotiator was almost in tears, "I had no idea Herr General, you must believe me!"

"You will receive my answer on the battlefield," replied the French general before turning on his heel and leaving.

The German negotiator slumped back into his seat while the staff officer opened a window.

"What does 'you shall receive my answer on the battlefield?' mean," asked the staff officer.

"With the French it could mean either a mass surrender or a fight to the death."

It is Tunisia late in 1942 and for possibly the last time Mussolini has managed to toss a handful of grit into the gears of the German war machine.  With Rommel retreating from El Alamein and the Allies securely ensconsed in Algeria Tunisia took on great importance as the only part of North Africa left.  The Germans moved in to occupy it and much to the annoyance of literally everyone so did the Italians.  Then it was time to push the suddenly irritated French out of the positions they held before they could be reinforced.

This is scenario FT239 - Armoured Probe at Sidi Nsir which pits a small group of German assault engineers and a somewhat larger group of Italian troops backed by self propelled guns trying to capture some hills from the soon to be no longer Vichy French.  The French troops were equipped for a war in 1940 which was convenient as the Italians had just caught up.

I, naturally, am commanding the brave Italians (with some German hangers on) looking to capture (and hold) one of the two forward hills from Dave Wilson's French.  To do this I have four squads of German assault engineers with a pair of lmgs an atr and a DC.  I also have seven squad equivalents of elite Italians with two light machine guns, a heavy machine gun and a 45mm mortar.  The whole infantry force has to enter mounted on trucks.  Supporting them are six self propelled guns, two little SMV L40s and four quite respectable SMV M41s.  I scoured the OB for a single L3 but found nought, I should have known then that I was doomed.

On the defence Dave has a plethora of superannuated firepower to call upon.  Up front he has six first line squads garrisoning the vital hills with a pair of lmgs.  Each hill must have at least two squads and one lmg.  Somewhat to the rear are another ten more first line squads with a pair of medium machine guns, a 60mm mortar, a light machine gun and a 25mm AT gun.  He also has a pair of only just armoured cars sporting a short barrelled 37mm and a 47mm AT gun with its own truck to haul it around.

On the second turn he receives reinforcements in the shape of two D1 tanks which move at about the same speed as a snail with arthritis.  On turn three he gets a pair of somewhat better armoured cars carrying a 12.7mm machine gun and a wholly unarmoured truck carrying a 75mm artillery piece.

At start, as you can see I have decided to go for the top hill

Above is Dave's set up.  I decided to ignore the bottom hill and concentrate my forces against the top one.  It was my intention to throw enough force at it to overrun the hill early and then challenge Dave's no doubt demoralised troops to try and recapture it.  In the centre I planned to put sufficient of a flank guarding force to prevent Dave's troops on the other hill from successfully intervening.

The first turn didn't go too badly for me although I did make one mistake that would rapidly come back to haunt me.  I sneaked my Germans and a number of Italians behind the woods near the hill I wanted and dispatched no fewer than four semovente to prepare the way by climbing the hill and beating up its defenders.  In the centre I sent one SMV L40 and one M41 forward to ward off the big concealment stacks which were his guns and armoured cars while a bunch of Italians (including the mortar and the hmg) formed a defensive line in the woods.


First turn and things are going not too bad-ish

The one silly thing I did was race a SMV right up to the hedge where it could take on the French.  I had forgotten about the 47mm gun which could tear any of the armour I had to scrap.  I was more sensible with the little SMV L40 which I parked in a reasonably secure location.  The L40 would survive for several more turns while the M75 would go down in the first French turn.

I was fortunate in my choice of target as Dave had expected me to go for the other hill and had set his defences accordingly.  This meant his 25mm gun spent the first two turns being laboriously pushed into a position where it might be effective.  Dave revealed his mortar team which promptly broke a squad and a half of Italians in the woods but when he tried to follow it up with an lmg shot I had the most effective result of the game.  Line of sight was actually blocked and Dave rolled a snake eyes which was my sniper number.  I fatally wounded his best officer in charge of an mmg in a foxhole.  The squad manning the mmg failed their LLMC and for a while I was free of that concern at least.  On the target hill Dave largely forwent firing in order to maintain concealment and hope to live a little longer.

End of French turn 1

The "hope to live a little longer" theory didn't hold much water as my second turn saw me clear the hill of unbroken French (except for one very significant squad, see below) and the death of a couple of them for failure to rout.  This was probably the high point of my game, I invite readers to note that this is turn two of a six turn game.  I did however manage to break the MA of another of my semovente and a six on the subsequent repair roll sent it limping towards the rear.  My infantry, happy now most of the French were gone, were climbing the victory hill while in the centre I actually managed to rally a squad and started assembling support weapons.

Down in the centre one of Dave's armoured cars had been banging away at my little SMV without success so I decided to return the favour, and broke the MA.  Meanwhile up on the hill Dave's sole remaining squad threw caution to the wind and charged into CC with another of my M75s and tore it apart with their bare hands.  At the end of the second turn I had precisely two functional AFV.  Dave's D1 tanks turned up and started making their slow and painful way towards the battlefield.

End of French turn 2. Things are not going well for the Italian armour

Despite the mutilation of my armoured force I did have one consolation.  I had the hill and Dave had to take it back in order to win.  Unfortunately he did have the forces to do so especially now that a significant amount of my firepower had been destroyed.  Still my German troops had entered the battlefield and even my Italians were pushing forward, snuggling into French foxholes.  I sent a pair of squads from my centre forward to occupy the next patch of woods to provide some more flank guards.  This worked for a little while and a couple of French squads from the unmolested hill were broken trying to push forward.  Unfortunately his other medium machine gun took these squads under long range fire.  A two flat shot broke one squad but that didn't worry me as I pushed its comrade forward in its place.  The next two flat generated a morale check which I passed with my only snake eyes of the game.  Heat of Battle, with Italians.  The subsequent roll was an eleven and they broke and disrupted.  So much for my flank guard.

Dave's armoured cars turned up and rolled towards the battlefield while his gun truck found a convenient hill to climb.  Back on the target hill he had pushed a pair of squads forward from the rear to challenge my Germans but surely eight morale troops, led by a 9-1 could hold their own?  Nope.  Dave was getting very bold now that most of my armoured force was gone, he rolled his two tanks and both his armoured cars forward against my lone SMV L40 with the busted MA, once that was gone he could carve up my infantry in the woods at leisure.  He had also pushed forward more troops from the other hill.  My hmg broke a squad but as an encore broke itself thus leaving me a little short of firepower.

Things are getting worse

In desperation I attempted to repair the MA on my SMV and actually succeeded.  I felt a trickle of hope.  Dave's tanks were in motion so possibly not best placed to shoot and it would take a good roll from the 37mm on the armoured cars to actually kill the SMV.  So Dave got a good roll and the newly repaired semovente went to the vehicle graveyard in the sky.  At this point desperation does not adequately describe my feelings.  I had sent my other little semovente looping around towards Dave's mortar team as much in the hopes of scaring them as anything else but having a 47mm gun on the high ground could still be an advantage.  Particularly since it was overlooking Dave's two reinforcing armoured cars which he had sent along to support his troops (who were happily carving up my assault engineers without any help).  Dave's response was to drive both armoured cars up and park in front of me.  I missed the pointblank defensive fire shot and Dave promptly got a critical hit in the advancing fire phase.
OK, I'm going home now


At that point I conceded.  My force wasn't entirely broken but I was.  The simple fact was Dave now had a mass of firepower to help shoot his troops forward to the hill and I had a single SMV41 left to support such of my troops as had survived.  It was a six turn game but I only lasted four turns.  Not it has to be admitted particularly impressive.  Thanks to Dave for the game and the lacerations on my soul.  If the therapy is successful we shall return again next week.

The German negotiator looked up as his staff officer entered.

"Well," he asked without much hope, "how did the Italians do?"

"It's difficult to tell," replied the other, "there aren't any left to ask."

"I don't suppose we could persuade the French that there aren't any Italians left in Tunisia now could we?"

"Doubtful, do you want some dinner?  I know a good pasta restaurant."

"In Tunisia?  When did that open?"


Travelling Pathetically - Berry No Longer an Island Edition

 In the latest of my increasingly desperate attempts to fill the yawning void in my life during the time when I'm not at work I have boldly struck out across the harbour to examine some of the lowest parts of the Lower North Shore.  To be strictly accurate Berry No Longer an Island should really be named Berry Never was an Island Except for a Brief Period in the Nineteenth Century When We Accidentally Made It One.  I think we can all agree that this is a little much to put on a business card so for the purposes of convenience we call it Berry Island.  For the record Berry Island sits in Sydney Harbour but was connected to the mainland by a little isthmus.  In the nineteenth century our habit of dragging boats across said isthmus carved sufficient of a groove for the harbour to flood in and make Berry Island a genuine island.  Sometime after that we filled it in again and turned the former isthmus into a park thus solidly anchoring Berry Island to the mainland.

The former island is located in the suburb of Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft was named after a guy who was related to somebody who was related to the person who wrote Frankenstein.  This is Wollstonecraft's big claim to fame.  The suburb itself is charming, leafy, village like with harbour views and close to the city or to sum it all up in one word "wealthy".  The population of Wollstonecraft falls into that category of people who are sufficiently wealthy to be in the highest tax bracket while not being wealthy enough to avoid paying taxes at all.

My knowledge of Wollstonecraft was actually limited to how to spell the word until my Tasmanian correspondent mentioned Berry Island.  I was suggesting that with most internal travel restrictions lifted I might visit her in Tasmania.  In desperation she suggested I visit Berry Island instead.  With the seed thus planted I checked out Wollstonecraft to reassure myself that I didn't need a passport to visit it (technically no although the inhabitants might prefer it if I did).  A quick glance at the map told me that Wollstonecraft's railway station was at the opposite end of the suburb to Berry Island but also that there appeared to be an extended stretch of green (at least it looked green on google maps) that would take me from the station to my not quite an island destination.

In contrast to my previous excursion the day was grey, overcast and always seemed to be teetering on the edge of pouring with rain.  Fortunately it settled for a light drizzle.  I hopped off the train at Wollstonecraft and set off, making my way past a stationside pet cafe called Chew Chew.  Shortly afterwards I consulted google maps again, turned around and walked in the opposite direction.  A neatly trimmed park rapidly turned into what is referred to as "remnant bushland".  Remnant bushland being code for "it was just too much bother to actually bulldoze and build on this".  A creek ran through this bushland and since the name of the creek was Berrys Creek it seemed propitious for eventually turning up in the vicinity of Berry Island.  A sign requested that I keep to the path and invited me to look out for all of the exciting animals that lived in this tiny shred of nature.  Eels and lizards were particularly mentioned.

I kept a close eye out for eels but there were none on the path.  In fact I was looking for eels so assiduously that I almost missed a rather handsome lizard overcasting itself on a convenient rock.  As you can see he is the perfect colour to be camouflaged against the background if he hadn't picked a bright green rock to sit on.

The photo is fine.  It was the lizard that was blurry


The path and indeed the bushland essentially followed the creek down to the harbour.  It was a narrow sliver of nature sandwiched between housing which was frequently so close that I could probably have held conversations with people in their back yards if I was so inclined.  I wasn't so inclined.  Despite this the area still managed to give off that calming vibe that comes from being in a part of nature not famous for its carnivorous animals.  The only sounds were the gurgle of the creek, the trill of birds and the gentle rattle of the trains in their natural habitat a couple of hundred metres away.  If you tilted your head thus and were careful with your camera angles you could imagine that you were alone with nature (let's not think about how terrifying that would actually be).

Totally unspoilt by the houses approximately ten metres on either side of this picture

Encouraged by my lizard triumph I carried on eager to see if eels would be equally photographically accommodating.  They weren't and my trip would be eelless nevertheless I forged onwards making my way from the Lower North Shore to the Even Lower North Shore.  Along the way, possibly under contractual obligation, a brush turkey wandered out from wherever it had been hiding and posed for photographs.  Apparently being bright black and red is the perfect camouflage for a largely green and grey background because I didn't see the thing until it was about five metres away and prancing back and forward in the hopes I would produce a camera.  Produce a camera I did but once the photo-op was out of the way each of us thankfully went about our business.  We're unlikely to stay in touch.

Can you see the brush turkey hiding in this photo?

Having rid myself of the pushy brush turkey I continued on down the creek until I hit a small snag.  The creek disappeared.  One moment there was trickling water and then a couple of small pools and then nothing.  Fortunately the path was better informed than I was, a mess of boulders later and the creek leapt out again with just a hint of smugness.  I looked carefully but there were still no eels.

So far I had navigated myself through the untamed wilderness of Wollstonecraft with aplomb but now the path had reached the sea.  Or more accurately it had reached a cove which in turn reached the harbour which (several kilometres away) did indeed impact with the sea.  In celebration of this fact the path split in two and a helpful sign pointed the way to Berry Island.  I promptly managed to walk in circles for ten minutes and was also terrified by a stealth spaniel.  It is embarrassing to be terrified by a spaniel.  It's like being mugged by a pensioner.  Still after a few deep breaths (and the possibility of several years of therapy) I managed to continue getting lost.  Since there was essentially only one path this required a special effort on my part but fortunately as I passed the signpost for the third time I noticed the direction I had to follow lurking modestly among the undergrowth and, only slightly dizzy, continued towards the island that isn't.

The sea beckons, now to steal a boat and make my way to freedom

And just like that I was out of the bush and onto a street.  A helpful sign had a map pointing out the direction I had to travel to get to Berry Island (just down the street) but I still studied it for ten minutes to make sure I wasn't going to mess it up again.  Thirty seconds walk down the street brought me to the aforementioned park that had been built on the isthmus we destroyed and in front of me loomed Berry Island in all its glory.  In fairness it probably looms a little more gloriously when it isn't grey and drizzling with rain.

That clump of trees is Berry Island

One of the many traits that I share with Field Marshal Montgomery is my habit of bringing a packed sandwich when journeying far from home (I'm also socially inept and a pathological liar although I do like to think I would not have dropped a parachute unit right on top of an SS panzer division).  I sat enjoying the drizzle and my sandwich while Berry Island issued its siren song.  Finally I could bear it no longer and drawn by forces I could not explain set out on the path that would enable me to circumnavigate the "island".  I had to stay on the path as a thin rope fence formed an impenetrable barrier to plunging through the bush.  Signs informed travelers that the bush was being regenerated (apparently a slower and less convenient process than Doctor Who would lead us to believe) and could we please stay on the path.  Oh yes and please not drop dog faeces anywhere.  Reluctantly sticking my dog faeces back in my pocket I trotted obediently along the path.

To my left was a tangle of (apparently only partially regenerated) bushland while on the right I gazed across the water to massive fuel tanks lurking near the shore.  Lurking near the fuel tanks was a rather shabby looking vessel called the ICS Reliance.  The ICS Reliance was built in Vietnam, is flagged in the Bahamas and is apparently cleaned by nobody.  The only reason why I didn't think it was derelict is because I googled it and apparently it is still operational.


Some rather handsome looking fuel tanks.  The ICS Reliance was too grotty to photograph

Berry Island was once a popular location for the Cammeraygal Aboriginal people due to the abundance of food that could be procured.  The views were pretty good as well.  Along the path is an Aboriginal rock carving of what might be a whale or might not.  Despite the fact that it is well signposted its actually difficult to identify the carving.  Being exposed to the elements the carvings naturally erode over time.  Traditionally Aborigines would continuously maintain and redo significant carvings to ensure they weren't lost.  Sadly, for depressingly obvious reasons, there is no one left with the skill or the knowledge to maintain this carving.  We're not even really certain what its a carving of, whale is just our best guess. 

With Berry Island under my belt there were decisions to be made like "how am I going to get home?"  Despite my problematic relationship with maps in general it appeared that if I continued my journey I could wander through some more bushland and wind up in the general vicinity of Waverton railway station.  Strangely this actually worked.  I walked through what appeared to be virgin bush.  At least it would have appeared to be virgin bush if it weren't for the signs popping up every so often to inform me that this was by no means the case.  In the nineteenth century and presumably before it became a home for the wealthy there was a certain amount of industry in this part of the North Shore including a timber works, a sugar refinery (which didn't last long) and a gas works (which did).  Once these industrial behemoths had been swept aside by the tide of history parks and sometime bush were inserted in their place.

I trotted through the not so virgin bush until I hit a fence with some very serious invitations to keep out posted on it.  For a moment I was outraged then I saw a whole bunch of floating stuff painted grey and decided not to challenge the navy for this part of the foreshore.  Instead I climbed parallel to the fence until I found myself on a street only five minutes from Waverton station.  How's that for navigation?