Monday, February 24, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 33

Happy birthday to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  In extent of territory nominally under his control Charles quite possibly ruled more of the world than anybody before or since.  The Habsburg predilection for useful marriage contracts reached its apotheosis in the figure of Charles.  Emperor Maximilian, Charles' grandfather had been married to Mary daughter and heir of the Duke of Burgundy.  Their son Philip was married to Joanna, who was queen of both Castile and Aragon (now known by the collective title of Spain).  Their son Charles thus inherited Burgundy, Spain, Spain's empire in the New World, Spain's empire in the Old World (largely bits of Italy and the Netherlands) and, thanks to some equally skillful marriages on the other side of the Habsburg family the traditional family heartland of Austria plus Bohemia and those bits of Hungary not overrun by the Turks.  When his grandfather died he was also elected Holy Roman Emperor.  The unanimous decision of the electors being a testimony to his birth, talents and capacity for bribery.

Charles also inherited a bucketload of problems.  To start with when he started ruling Spain it was technically as regent for his mother (who was insane and insisted on carting the corpse of her dead husband around everywhere she went).  Having been raised in Burgundy he didn't have much of a natural affinity for the Spanish and irritated everyone (by everyone I mean the nobility) by bringing a bunch of Burgundian advisers with him to help him rule Spain.  There were some revolts, some uprisings, a bit of crushing of the recalcitrant but eventually Charles managed to get a handle on the Spanish.  The eastern territories of the Habsburgs were under threat from the Turks under Suleiman the Lawgiver, one of their greatest sultans and in Germany some meddling priest was nailing theses to cathedral doors and upsetting religious harmony in the empire.

The biggest problem Charles had though was a guy named Francis.  Francis was charming, talented and ambitious.  He was also the King of France.  When old Maximilian died Francis had tossed his hat into the ring in the imperial election and the unanimous election of Charles didn't please him at all.  Neither did the fact that Charles controlled much of Burgundy, traditionally a vassal state of France.  And the fact that Charles controlled chunks of Italy that Francis felt more rightly belonged to France (it would be several centuries before anybody gave mind room to the concept that Italy might belong to the Italians) pissed him off no end.  Francis, in short, was a casus belli looking for a war.  He lost no time in starting one.  As a matter of fact he started several, mostly with Charles, over the course of his career and the fact that he lost most of them didn't really slow him down too much.

The contest between Francis and Charles was much more even than a strict measurement of the size of their territories would imply.  France was a compact, well governed kingdom with a uniform set of laws and the capacity to direct a goodly proportion of its spare resources where its monarch willed.  Charles' Habsburg empire was what the Habsburg empire had always been and always would be up to its end in 1918, a lunatic Frankenstein's monster of a state with various non compatible bits stitched together by marriage contracts and dynastic coincidence.  Every one of Charles' realms had their own laws, rights, limits on the power of the monarch and interests.  Nobody in Austria really gave a shit what was happening in Burgundy, nobody in Spain had likely heard of Transylvania, nobody in the empire cared much about what was happening outside the empire and nobody in Hungary really wanted the Habsburgs at all.  Charles had vast resources but a crippled and threadbare administration that could barely exploit let alone apply them.  Like his Habsburg predecessors (and successors) Charles lived on debt.  Vast loans from Jewish and Genoese banking houses kept his empire afloat, the interest being covered by the huge quantities of gold and silver ripped out of the New World and which were usually mortgaged years in advance.

By comparison with the sparkling personality of Francis Charles was a rather dull stick but if he lacked genius he had the Habsburg quality of remorseless, unimaginative determination in full measure.  Somehow just enough money was found to stop the soldiers from deserting.  Somehow just enough work got through his sclerotic administration to stop things from completely falling apart and whenever things were at their toughest and their worst there was Charles grimly determined that he would win and refusing to accept any scenario where that didn't happen.  He beat Francis, not once but several times.  He failed to stamp out Protestantism in the empire but he somehow kept enough of a lid on it so that the explosion was postponed for several decades.  And always he travelled.  His entire realm needed his personal supervision and things started falling apart when he wasn't there.  Charles spent his entire life roaming Europe patching the edifice and doing just enough to stop the collapse before moving on to the next crisis point.  The Turks ravaged Hungary but failed at the siege of Vienna.  In his downtime Charles even managed to briefly conquer Tunis.

That left the Protestants.  As a good son of the Catholic church Charles was violently (as it turned out very violently) opposed to Protestantism.  He was however well aware that Luther's complaints of corruption and incompetence in the church were thoroughly justified and he kept nagging the pope to do something about it.  He was thus the first (although not the last) Catholic ruler to be simultaneously in bad odour with both Protestants and the Papacy.  The Protestant princes of the empire formed a league to protect their interests and promptly found themselves attacked by Charles who decided that he wasn't keen on the idea of heretics with a power base.  The problem for the Protestants was that if Charles could focus his attention for long enough he had the firepower to stamp them flat.  The problem for the pope was if Charles succeeded in doing so he would have not just the firepower but the moral authority to demand reforms in the church.  The War of the Schmalkaldic League which followed proved that Charles couldn't quite focus his attention for long enough and despite some ghastly moments the Protestant movement survived.  One of the most heartfelt (although silent) sighs of relief probably emanated from the Vatican.

Amidst all these troubles Charles was fortunate in his brother Ferdinand; with a sigh of relief Charles handed over the Austrian hereditary lands to his brother and from that point the issues with the Turks became mainly Ferdinand's problem.  Charles also promised the crown of the Holy Roman Empire (sorry, promised to support Ferdinand's bid for election) to his brother.  Charles would be the only "world emperor", it must have been obvious to him that it was just too much work for one man.  His coat of arms had so many quarterings it looked like a pizza.  After thirty years Charles decided enough.  He resigned all his titles.  To his son he gave the Spanish territories (bankrupt, rebellious Dutch, ongoing troubles in Italy) and to his brother he left the hereditary Habsburg lands and the empire itself (Turkish invasions, religious strife, political intrigue) and having successfully apportioned out this nest of troubles retired to a monastery in Spain where he lived out the rest of his life in relative seclusion.

Whether his heirs were grateful for their respective inheritances is left unrecorded.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Two Koreas But Four Options

A UN report was issued recently which accused the North Korean government (or regime as we call governments we don't like) of widespread human rights abuses against its own people.  Apparently charity isn't the only thing that begins at home.  I must admit I was shocked.  Who would have thought that a bat crazy, relentlessly tyrannical, bizarrely nepotistic, communist regime ruled by a family whose gene pool appears to be getting shallower by the generation would do nasty things to their people?  Well everybody really.  The UN report is really only of use so that everyone can reference it to justify whatever it is they do about North Korea.

 So, what are the worlds governments going to do now that North Korean government hideousness is the subject of an official UN document rather than merely being an accepted fact?  The actual number of response options is surprisingly small.  There really are only about four things governments can do.  These are;

  • Nothing.  This is the default option and it usually works.  Which is to say if you don't actually live in North Korea you can get on with your life.  It is cheap and doesn't commit a government to anything

  • Wild pontification.  This is extremely popular with governments that want to be seen to be doing something (without, you know, actually doing something).  It is also popular in academic circles and with uni students and activists generally.  It lets people know "where you stand" and is valuable for getting your upright moral position firmly on the record.

  • Impose sanctions.  One step up from wild pontification this has all the advantages of the former while also giving the impression you are actually doing something.  To be successful sanctions rather rely on the government we have just identified as being crazily sadistic caring sufficiently about its people to worry about the effects of damage to the economy.

  • Invade, lay waste to the land, poison the wells and plough the fields with salt.  This is the only effective option but it does tend to get rather expensive.  It is also guaranteed to absolutely infuriate everybody who chose options 1 to 3.  It is also likely to infuriate the people you are putatively trying to help.  It will cost you time, blood, treasure and public opinion and at the end of the day the people who wind up running the country you attacked will almost certainly hate your guts.  And this is the successful option.

So, what will the world do about North Korea?  I suspect that the planet's statesmen will select a judicious blend of the first three options while waiting for North Korea to descend into a welter of blood spattered anarchy and civil war all on its own.  Once that happens the question of what to do about the regime in North Korea will have answered itself. Of course we will then have the question of  "What do we do about the ongoing anarchy and civil war in North Korea?"  Well, there are four options...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eugenics, A Bolt Gun and Some Well Fed Lions

Something that has been exercising the minds of people on facebook (and quite possibly elsewhere) lately seems to be outrage with Danish zoo authorities.  The reason?  They killed something cute.  To be more specific they killed a young giraffe.  To be even more specific they killed a young giraffe, autopsied it, chopped it up into pieces and fed it to lions in front of a watching crowd including many children.  They seem to be a bit bemused by the fuss.

My knowledge of Denmark is limited to knowing that it produces lego and overpriced frying pans and also they were the only nation in World War 2 who managed to smuggle the entire Jewish population out of the country before the Nazis took over (to be fair nobody else really tried).  The occasional episode of giraffe wacking is a refreshing change.

Just in case killing an adolescent giraffe wasn't enough to set peoples teeth on edge the zoo authorities managed to explain their decision in a manner that rescued them from appearing heartless at the price of making them appear deeply creepy.

Apparently Marius (the giraffe in question) was killed because he had the wrong genetics.  The zoo authorities were concerned about the possibility of inbreeding within the European Association of Zoos (I'm going to be generous and assume they're talking about the animals).  So concerned were they in fact that it was decided that the best option all round was to put a bullet (a bolt gun actually) in young Marius's head.  Well the best option for everyone except Marius presumably; talk about taking one for the team.  Call it proactive eugenics.

Naturally there has been outrage which has been registered in various forms ranging from "why couldn't you just have sterilised him?" to "I hope your children die of cancer".  It would probably be unwise for any of the zoo staff to exhibit symptoms of hereditary illnesses any time soon.  In case there was any sympathy left for the zoo's position their crack public relations team (apparently Doctors Frankenstein and Lector) burbled happily that the giraffe sized hole left by Marius could now be filled with a more genetically valuable animal and the watching children had had the opportunity to see giraffes in a whole new way ie in bits being eaten by lions.

I have to admit I think the zoo has made a mess of this one and not just because their interactions with the public have proved that they know less about dumb, excitable animals than you might expect.  Animals die, we all know that.  However a zoo pretty much survives on being able to present live ones to the viewing public.  It is better if the wet work is done behind closed doors and as little connection as possible can be drawn between the empty giraffe enclosure and the well fed lions.  And surely, surely they could have found some rich, sentimental idiot who would have been prepared to take Marius off their hands.

One thing I will say though.  If the zoo had killed a warthog and fed it to the lions I'll bet no one would have given a shit.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Kill Krill Volume 1

Yes I know this blog entry was supposed to be titled "Fun With Krill" but on reflection nobody has fun with krill.  Not even krill has fun with krill.  A krill's life cycle consists of birth, swim, reproduce, get eaten.  All of this happens underwater.  Cold water.

Krill oil is very big just at the moment which is rather ironic because krill themselves are extremely small.  We seem to regard pretty much anything that comes out of the sea as something we can get some sort of oil from.  We started out with whales, moved on to fish and now we're at krill.  Infomercials touting the benefits of plankton oil are probably already in production.

Krill are what nature calls a success story which is to say that so far their ability to reproduce has outstripped the ability of everything else to kill them.  This achievement becomes all the more impressive when you consider that almost everything that swims, floats or even holidays near the coast are trying to kill them.  Krill are very close to the bottom of the food chain (although even krill can still look down on lowly plankton) which means that if krill ever get wiped out then there will be a mass extinction event all the way up to whales.  Fortunately a maniacal breeding cycle means that the krill are so far holding their own.  Not even the attention of Bear Grylls has managed to appreciably reduce their numbers.  Even more surprisingly us humans have put a limit on the amount of krill we haul out of the ocean to maintain the supply.  Honesty compels me to admit that we simply do not want that much krill.

The amount of krill we can kill each year is approximately half a million tonnes worth.  We actually only take about a hundred thousand.  Each krill weighs approximately two grams fully grown so we're talking a lot of krill and this level is apparently sustainable.  Fortunately there's a bit of slack we can take up.  Whales, seals and other fish all tuck into krill and they don't have any limits on the amount they can harvest but over the years we've managed to impose informal limits by killing most of them.  Krill must be about the only animals that view the arrival of a Japanese whaling fleet with unalloyed delight.  Every scientifically harvested whale is a whole mass of krill that get to live a little longer.  And since their life span is two years at the most the significant word there is "little".

I know what you're thinking, with a life span of just a couple of years does it really matter if a whale cuts you off before you reach your prime?  I'm sure the krill don't see it that way, in fact the whales and seals et al are probably lucky that krill aren't a little more proactive.  If I were the krill I would be actively guiding whaling vessels into Antarctic waters and possibly doing a little dance around the more harpoonable specimens.

Of course the Japanese also fish for krill but not presumably from the same vessels.  After all it would be rather difficult to harpoon something that's only about three centimetres long.  There is a hint of danger on the krill's horizon though.  I mentioned it earlier.  Krill oil!  Apparently krill oil is really good at doing what we thought fish oil was really good at doing.  I'm not sure what that is but the number of television commercials dedicated to it means it must be good.  No doubt the fish a heaving a sigh of relief now that their oil is just so five minutes ago and all they have to worry about is us ripping them out of the sea and eating them.  We don't eat krill but we do grind it up and feed it to animals so I guess krill are now supporting two separate foodchains.

That's a pretty impressive achievement for something as apparently insignificant as krill, all we need now is to discover that they cure cancer.  We'll probably discover that round about the time we do manage to drive them to extinction.  We will also have driven everything that eats them to extinction as well.  On the other hand plankton (which is what krill eats) will be erecting statues to us.  Swings and roundabouts.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Avoiding Dessication

My helpful work colleagues have seen fit to bring it to my attention that if I were adrift in the middle of the ocean I would likely die of starvation due to my reluctance to eat what they refer to as sea dwelling animals.  My distaste for the fruits of the ocean is a never ending source of simple amusement for the people I work with.  Vigorous debates are held to determine whether or not I could eat duck or seagull because of the amount of their life they spend in contact with water as if it is proximity to fluids that causes my reluctance.

For the record I will happily eat duck although it isn't my favourite and as for seagull it is their likely proximity to garbage bins rather than the ocean which is liable to put me off.  Still the (in my view somewhat overenthusiastic) discussion of my likely starvation should I ever be lost at sea did get me worried.  Because they're right.  What if I were adrift in the middle of the ocean?  How would I survive?  What would I eat?  Where would I go to the bathroom?

With cold sweat trickling down my spine and visions of my dessicated, gull torn corpse being hauled out of a lifeboat (possibly only minutes after going in) I decided I had to prepare against the day when the ship I was unaccountably on collided with an iceberg (or Italy).  A couple of assumptions have to be made first.  To begin with I'm going to assume I was alive when I hit the ocean.  If not dessication is going to be the least of my worries.  Secondly I'm going to assume that I wound up on a raft or in a lifeboat because otherwise drowning will solve my problems well before dessication becomes an issue.

So, here I am in a lifeboat.  The shattered wreck of whatever vessel I was travelling in is slipping beneath the waves and it looks like I'm going to be in the ocean for the duration.  Perhaps the most important thing is to ensure I have company.  Having other people around means help with bailing, it means company and most importantly they provide a ready source of non sea dwelling protein.  Secondly we'll need a first aid kit and some harpoons or better yet, a spear gun.  The ocean is a dangerous place and you don't want to be trying to fight off a great white or the kraken with a set of table napkins.  Also of course they can be useful for subduing your alternate protein source should they object to the role you have allocated to them.  Flare guns and lengths of rope will be helpful for the same reasons.

Finally, I'll need a book to stave off boredom between snacks, particularly if (for whatever reason) my fellow survivors haven't made it this far.  With these simple precautions in place I can take ship with a light heart on even the most dubious of seagoing vessels.  The only thing I have to do now is find a plausible reason to present to the authorities to explain how I managed to kill and eat forty seven fellow passengers on a fifteen minute ferry trip to Rose Bay.

Tune in next time for another nautically themed blog entry tentatively entitled "Fun With Krill".

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Yet Another Silly After Action Report

Imagine a fisherman out on a boat.  He has hooked what he knows is something huge.  The excitement is immense, the struggle terrific, all his friends are watching agog and he has already started boasting about his magnificent catch.  Then at some point comes the nagging suspicion that the fish is too big.  That his line, rod and possibly the entire boat are going to wind up at the bottom of the ocean but its far too late now because while he has the fish, the fish also has him.

This is pretty much the situation the Germans found themselves in in 1943 on the third anniversary of their invasion of the Soviet Union.  In the first year they had stormed forwards, crushing all in their path but the offensive had petered out in the snow at the gates of Moscow.  The next year they tried again smashing through to the south and again savaging all the lay before them but then there was that awkward Stalingrad situation which coupled with a major Soviet offensive had hurled them back in definite defeat.  Now in year three they were wondering exactly what they had to do to land this particular fish.

One thing was certain; their resources wouldn't stretch to another theatre wide offensive.  They would have to think a little smaller.  Perhaps an offensive with more modest objectives but delivered with all the power they still possessed would do the trick.  With this in mind the Germans dialled in their most brilliant strategist, a bloke named Erich von Manstein, to pick the target.  von Manstein's bright idea was to pick the most obvious target imaginable.

In the region around Kursk there was a large Soviet bulge into the German lines.  The Germans surrounded it on three sides.  An offensive from the north and south to cut off that bulge was the obvious solution.  A very obvious solution.  Really, really obvious.  The Germans busied themselves getting the troops in order and when the Soviets indicated they were ready the Germans duly launched the offensive.  It got nowhere fast.  Strangely the Soviets had thought such an offensive was really obvious too and had prepared literally miles of defenses.  The attack in the north barely got past its start line.  In the south, under von Manstein's watchful eye and spearheaded by SS troops things went a bit better.  Which is to say the Germans managed to fight their head all the way into the trap before the jaws closed.

By the 12th July the SS panzer troops were battered, exhausted and nowhere near their objectives.  They had one last effort left in them.  This is ASL scenario AP47, Insult to Injury.  Here I shall command the heroic Soviets grimly defending the motherland while Mark McGilchrist will shepherd the wretched, thrice cursed, Germans to inevitable defeat.

The objectives for this mission are rather important for understanding the ending so here they are.  Across three boards made up largely of open ground dotted with brush and wheatfields and cut by a pair of wandering streams are a handful of buildings.  Five of them are multilocation stone buildings.  Possession of these is worth five victory points per building.  There are also two road locations,  Every armoured vehicle within five hexes of one of those two road locations that is still mobile and possesses functioning main armament garners the player another two victory points.  The person with the most victory points at the end wins.  As defender all the locations begin the game in my possession.  Mark's SS must push me out of them.

Now for the bad news.  Two of the buildings and one of the road locations are positioned near the eastern edge of the playing area.  The other three buildings and the remaining road location are near the western edge.  The streams flow between them thus making it very difficult for any troops committed to one area to get across to the other in time to be of any use.  Also as defender my initial force is just about adequate to defend one of those areas.

My initial defence force consisted of six squads of elite troops and a trio of guns.  Two modestly effective anti tank guns and a short barrelled 76mm artillery piece.  An anti tank rifle, a heavy machine gun and a pair of officers (including a 9-1) completed the on board force.  On turn one I would get reinforcements from the east in the shape of eight tanks.  Five impressive T34 M43s and three very unimpressive T-70s.  Clinging to their hulls would be seven first line squads with another pair of officers a light machine gun and another anti tank rifle.  On turn two my final batch of reinforcements came in from the north, four KV-1S tanks carrying another four squads of infantry.

Mark's attacking force consisted of eight squads of elite SS panzergrenadiers with three officers (including a mighty 9-2) and a heavy machine gun.  Reinforcing this modest assault group on the first turn were ten armoured vehicles.  A trio of StuG IIIG self propelled guns, three PzIIIJ tanks, a pair of armoured halftracks carrying 81mm mortars and two monstrous Tiger tanks.  As if this wasn't enough he gained another six squads of panzergrenadiers on turn two and three more AFVs on turn three.

I decided from the get go that the two buildings in the east were sacrificial.  I put one squad and a mess of dummies in the building clutch there.  If they were still alive when my first reinforcements came in they could be supported.  The other five on board squads went to cover the buildings in the west.  The 9-1 and the hmg of course set up upstairs in one of the target buildings.  Some more dummies and the rest of the troops covered what I thought were likely approaches.  Which just leaves the guns.  Man did I screw those up.  Uneasily aware that none of my guns had much chance of penetrating a tiger's frontal armour I set the guns up where I thought they might get side and rear shots which necessitated leaving them out in the open a long way from infantry support.  It will come as no surprise to learn that not one of those guns remained in my hands for long.

The first turn was quiet and uneventful.  Mark moved his troops cautiously towards my defenses but finished too far away for either of us to do any shooting.  He sent his entire infantry force towards my defences in the west.  When his tanks rolled on he allocated most of them to the east with a few supporting his infantry.  Again he moved them up a little and stopped settling himself for turn 2.  In my turn I moved in my eastern reinforcements sending the near useless T-70s towards the eastern buildings, the squads they were carrying were dumped in the grain and made their way to the rear of the buildings.  Four of the five T34s (and their troops) I sent on a long and somewhat circuitous journey towards the western buildings to reinforce my troops troops.

With his troops and tanks ready Mark launched his assault and promptly suffered disaster.  His tigers were early model jobs with unreliable engines and in attempting to start one of them up he succeeded solely in destroying the engine.  One of his most formidable tanks was immobilised in a useless position and would take no further part in the game.  Sadly the remainder moved towards my defences in the east, his infantry reinforcements also headed in that direction.  I was quite pleased.  My expendable force was sucking up a lot of attention.  In the west things weren't as rosy.  His panzergrenadiers, bolstered by a few tanks swept forward and in the process stumbled across an anti tank gun.  My shots went wide and his infantry crushed me in response.  One gun down.  The second would follow swiftly as Mark seemed drawn towards my guns by an invisible thread.  As his troops moved towards the western buildings I rapidly learned that I seemed to have placed my troops in poor positions to shoot, not that it mattered because when they did shoot they didn't hit anything.

Fortunately Mark was still being his own worst enemy.  One of his supporting tanks in the west broke its main armament and in attempting to repair it destroyed it completely and slunk off the board in ignominy.  His infantry, however was swiftly grinding through my outer defences and approaching the target buildings.  Over in the east his reinforcing troops panted through brush and grainfields and eventually struggled up to the buildings under the cover of barrages of smoke from his tanks.  I declined to shoot mainly because most of my troops were still dummies.  The handful of reinforcements I had given were coming in the back door while the few real troops at the front hid beneath the window sills and tried to think themselves small.

Increasingly concerned about the position in the west I brought my second set of reinforcements on in the north and roared directly towards the target buildings.  Sadly I had forgotten that driving through orchards tends to have a bad effect on people riding on tanks.  Shedding their human cargo with gay abandon my tanks nosed their way forward and stopped.  This was sheer nervousness on my part.  I'm not particularly experienced with armour and I hesitated when I should have surged forward.  Instead I created an almighty traffic jam in the rear area.  Things weren't helped when a burst of fire from one of his units sent one of my few remaining defenders berserk.  They promptly charged into a stream in an attempt to get at their tormentors.

Neither of us were shooting particularly well but Mark made up for it by being brutally effective in close combat.  By turn four only one of the three victory buildings in the west was still in my hands and the two in the east were about to fall.  Things looked bad but they were about to turn.  Not in the east, that place was doomed.  Mark finally completed the conquest in turn six, destroying my helpless little T-70s into the bargain.  In the west however my reinforcements (having recovered from their orchard debacle) had come up to support my almost non existent defenders and I finally started to do something with my tanks.  Swinging three of them around to the extreme west I approached his supporting armour from one side while a pair of tanks rolled up the roads to add firepower to my defenders.  The T-34s I had sent across from the east finally arrived and dispossessed Mark of one of the antitank guns he had captured.  This done they started to press his tanks from the other side.

I permitted myself a little optimism in the next couple of turns.  My tanks in the street minced some defenders and allowed me to recapture a victory building.  A sniper hit on a mortar half track scared the crew so much that they drove rapidly for the rear.  Having gained boldness my tanks pressed forward (which was almost awkward when he recaptured my newly seized antitank gun).  We traded blows and lost a tank apiece but I had the numbers over in the west and turn six ended with my manoeuvring tanks (quite cunningly I thought) into positions where I could kill a couple more.  Turn six was my last movement turn and when it was done Mark calmly pointed out that while I had manoeuvred myself into good killing positions I had manoeuvred myself away from the road victory location.  The end result was that with Mark's gains in the east even my resurgence in the west wasn't sufficient to win the game.  I was having so much fun bearing down on his tanks I had completely lost track of time.  It would always have been close and I would have needed to be lucky but if I had paid a little more attention I might have won.  As it was my outer self smiled and shook Mark's hand while my inner self collapsed into a small weeping ball.  Historically this was the end of the road for the German's offensive at Kursk, naturally I have managed to change history in a way detrimental to myself.