Friday, February 26, 2016

CanCon, Remember That? Me Neither

About a month ago I wandered down to our nation's capital, always a futile thing to do.  Nevertheless I was attending as ASL competition at CanCon.  I wrote a blog entry about the journey, CanCon and Canberra and promised some after action reports in the fullness of time.  Apparently time is now full.  Unfortunately my memory being what it is and with the notes I wrote on close examination looking like the result of a beetle having an epileptic fit in a pool of ink the likelihood of my being able to give you a coherent account of what went down is pretty low.  Fortunately I'm not under oath when writing a blog and as any reader of this one knows I am not above making up rubbish and passing it off as fact.  So without any further ado here are my after action reports for CanCon.  If anyone who was there remembers it differently please feel free to start your own blog and say so.

Bite of the Bassotto

The first scenario had me commanding a ridiculously small number of German squads supported by some recently thieved Italian self propelled guns which had been dignified with the new name of StuG rather than the original semovente.  I had to defend a village against a rampaging mob of New Zealand squads accompanied by some bulky, lumbering armoured cars with the improbable name of staghounds.

Being able to deploy freely allowed me to make at least a pretence of a defensive line although I kept one squad with an lmg back in the village.  I was also able to set up my StuGovente HIP.  This turned out to be a disaster as I set it up in the middle of the road and forgot to reveal it when Jamie had a line of sight.  Since it was fair to assume that Jamie wouldn't waltz about in the open with a 105mm gun pointing at him the only fair thing to do was remove the damn thing from play.  Jamie would struggle to inflict as many losses on me as I did myself.

Despite that piece of idiocy things went all right for the first couple of turns.  Jamie came on hard in the south with his staghounds breathing more smoke than an asthmatic dragon.  A smaller force pushed in from the east.  Nevertheless my outpost line held like heroes.  One half squad with a panzerschrek talked a good game and held up Jamie's advance by threat alone, I'm pretty sure he didn't actually hurt anything.  By the time he was surrounded and destroyed time was running short.  Fortunately for Jamie his eastern force had been pushing on.  A minefield slowed up one squad and a reckless halfsquad was killed running through the open but the remainder shoved their way forward.

With the south finally cleared Jamie's staghounds roared forward to dominate the village.  Unfortunately for both of us he roared one right next to my hidden squad.  One panzerfaust shot later and the staghound was burning merrily, however the backblast also broke the squad and wounded the officer commanding.  The resultant loss of firepower allowed Jamie to gobble up buildings in the east almost unopposed.

My third turn provided me with some reinforcements and another StuGovente.  Sadly I mismanaged this one as well rolling it into range of one of Jamie's staghounds.  It survived longer than I deserved but Jamie finally took it out with an intensive fire shot just before I would have been able to kill him.  That was pretty much it, my reinforcing troops stopped Jamie's advance and even retook a building but he already had what he needed to win and I wasn't able to push him out of enough to make it competitive.  My score so far; 0-1

Parting Shots

From Italy to Burma and fresh from my stinging defeat at Jamie's hands I faced Aaron Cleavin in the second scenario which featured a group of Gurkhas (me) attempting to hold off the advancing Japanese hordes (Aaron).  Essentially I had yet another village to defend and yet again I would prove incapable of doing so.  A railway line bisected the battlefield.  I placed a small force west of the railway line and set up the bulk of my forces in the buildings to the east with a couple of halfsquads forward as bullet catchers, sorry, advanced guard.  If I could last until turn five I would get reinforcements in the shape of another squad and a pair of Indian carriers.  As it turned out I did survive to turn five, just.

Aaron swarmed his forces through the jungle aided by treacherous Burmese insurgents (or noble patriots depending on your viewpoint), banzaied through my speed bumps without breaking step and readied himself for the assault on the village.  To the west of the railway line a smaller force did much the same thing.  It really should have been over in turn three or four.  The reason it went to turn five (and could have gone to turn six if we had been keen to play out a foregone conclusion) was that the impressive kill stack Aaron had assembled to break my defences in the east proved incapable of breaking anything.  Elsewhere on the board we both had our share of good and bad dice rolls but here Aaron's troops couldn't catch a break (even pins were thin on the ground).  Lest you feel sorry for Aaron I would point out that my return fire was equally impotent and a decent chunk of both our OBs spent the game not hurting each other.

Eventually Aaron had to do it the hard way.  His western force fought its way through the buildings on that side of the railway line (although one mortar halfsquad of mine put up a heroic defence) and in the far east on the other side of the apparently harmless killstack a squad infiltrated around that flank as well.

By turn four with the western buildings finally swept clean Aaron could being a grand flanking manoeuvre which made the unlikely survival of my central troops largely irrelevant.  My carriers rolled on and one was promptly destroyed.  By turn five with my surviving troops effectively surrounded we agreed that I was completely screwed and called the game over.  0-2.

Block to Bataan

The next day and with defeat bowing my shoulders I sat down with Erez Ben-Aharon to play Block to Bataan.  I was the Japanese in this one with a force of ten squads and five tanks looking to push out a slightly smaller grou of Filipinos supported by wire, mines an AT gun and a tank of their own.  I won this one due largely to a Neilesque error by Erez when his misplaced most of his fortifications thus invalidating their positioning.  With smoke from my mortars leading the way I pushed forward aggressively looking for an opportunity to take out the tank with a tank hunter hero.  I brought my own tanks on in two platoons sending one straight down the road and the other down the west edge to exploit that way once his tank was eliminated.

Slinking forward under smoke I took full advantage of the close combat abilities of my soldiers to dismantle Erez's defences bit by bit without commensurate loss to myself.  My tank hunter hero eliminated his vehicle and gave my western tanks free reign but the real disaster came for Erez when he broke his AT gun on an intensive fire shot.  With his forward defences crumbling and now virtually nothing that could stop my tanks he conceded.  The victory was not really very much to do with me but by this stage I would have claimed a win if Erez had simply had a heart attack at the table and been carted off to hospital.  1-2

Blue Ridger Blues

The story of this particular scenario is swiftly told.  I lost.  I lost big time.  I lost in a wretched and humiliating fashion and I don't want to talk about it.

Oh ok, I played Shaun Hodgman in this one taking the defending Americans trying to hold off a rather eclectic group of German AFVs and supporting infantry.  I made one mistake (well ok, I probably made a bunch but I made one critical one).  Over in the west a squad, leader and mmg were ensconced in a building too far forward for long term life expectancy.  Sure in the first turn they managed to mangle a German squad that got too close for its own good but it became rapidly obvious that the only long term activity they would undertake in that position was to die.  So I attempted to withdraw them, only to have them shot to bits on the way out.  Taking out that position unhinged my entire western position, with it gone my other defenders could be (and were) taken out individually wiping one half of the board clean of American troops in a couple of turns.

Over in the east I was hanging tough and my troops up on the hill were still lords of all they surveyed but with half my OB dead and German AFV roaming the streets with impunity there was nothing I could do.  My personal morale collapsed and I fled the building in floods of tears.  1-3

Hammer Time

I approached the final scenario with trepidation.  I was playing Mark McGilchrist who was advancing with ten squads and seven early war panzers against my heroic Belgian defenders.  I had nine squads, an utterly useless mortar, a 47mm antitank gun and a hero.  Coming to their allies rescue were four pretty impressive French tanks and a pair of not unimpressive armoured cars.

Once again I was defending a village.  The wrinkle was in this case that the Belgians don't set up in the village but rather some way in front of it.  They have to fend the Germans off while simultaneously moving rearward.  I detailed the anti tank gun, the useless mortar and a small group of squads as the designated sacrifice.  They would hold their positions at all costs while the remainder ran for the rear.  In turn two the French armoured cars and a pair of Somua tanks (pretty awesome for the time and place) would roll into the village to bolster the no doubt thin defences.  On turn three a pair of slow but sturdy Hotchkiss tanks would enter behind his onrushing attackers and take them (very slowly) in the rear.

Bizarrely this is pretty much how things worked out.  Certainly Mark's tanks rolled forward avoiding my ATG and treating the mortar with the contempt it deserved but his infantry had to battle through my stay behind troops and this took them a few turns.  Some of my troops (not as many as I would have liked but still) made it back to the village for the last stand while my Somuas and armoured cars stood ready to trade blows with the panzers.

OK, I was lucky.  On at least two occasions low odds rolls by Somuas took out moving panzers despite Mark's frenzied shrieking at the dice gods, a third was nailed by snake eyes from an armoured car which was definitely icing on the cake.  Still Mark got a fair amount of armour down into the village where he attempted to capture buildings by driving tanks into them.  In one building he drove in a tank and then advanced a squad into CC with my occupying force.  With both of us having survived CC one of my Somuas then reduced the tank to a blazing wreck, the blaze spread to the building and burnt both squads to death before they could get away.  Another tank Mark charged into a building wound up as a shattered wreck in the cellar.

Meanwhile a powerful amount of his infantry was in the rear trying to deal with my pair of Hotchkiss tanks which were crawling forward making menacing noises.  Mark had captured the AT gun but its shells bounced off the Hotchkiss's thick armour.  Eventually he took both of them out in close combat but while his infantry were doing that they weren't getting any closer to the village.  Ultimately I clung on in a wreck littered landscape for a victory which I like to think wasn't totally undeserved although Mark may have a different opinion.  My suggestion; get yourself a blog, it makes rewriting history so much easier.  2-3

Well I didn't improve on the previous years record but neither did I go backwards.  Altogether I'm not terribly disappointed with that result (in general, there were specific things I was very disappointed with).  Much thanks to Andy Rogers who organised the entire thing.  The only disappointing thing was that we didn't get time to go to the war memorial.  I dearly wanted to get a photograph of myself next to the L3 tank they have there.  Much thanks also to Ivan who gave me a lift to Canberra and followed that up by giving my lifts around Canberra.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Case Against Passionfruit

The other day I overheard a colleague of mine stating that the passionfruit was underrated.  I find it difficult to believe the passionfruit could be underrated.  Lets face it, this is a fruit whose principal achievement is persuading people to eat it despite the fact that its exterior looks like a swollen, gangrenous testicle and its interior looks as though someone has already thrown up into it.

Despite these weighty disadvantages the passionfruit keeps turning up on our dining tables like a wrinkled bad penny.  This is testimony to either the persuasiveness of the passionfruit or an indication that when desperate people will eat anything that can't get away from them.

Passionfruit is one of those things I tend to eat by stealth.  Which is to say I never actually go out of my way to eat passionfruit but there are no end of things I eat that when I bite down I hear the brittle crunch that indicates a passionfruit seed has made its way into the mix.  Either that or another of my teeth has given up the ghost.  Possibly there should be one of those warning labels "may contain traces of passionfruit".

According to the fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia) passionfruit is native to South America which raises the question of what did Europeans choke on before they colonised Brazil?  After having colonised the place what on earth possessed them to take the passionfruit home to Europe?  Strangely having grown up in the sweltering tropical climes of Rio de Janeiro window boxes it turned out to be quite at home in the more temperate, windswept garbage dumps of England.

Having acquired the passionfruit the Europeans quite understandably did their best to get rid of it dumping it in every part of the world they managed to colonise.  "Here, have syphilis, exploitative colonial overlords and, wait for it, passionfruit."  Personally I suspect a lot of nations would get on better with their former colonial masters if it wasn't for the damn passionfruit.  There is only so much a proud indigenous culture can take.

It is only fair to point out that passionfruit can make loyal companions and are the ideal pet for children as nothing you do to them can make them look worse than they already do.  However some feel they are a little unresponsive.  I like to think they are just reserved.

Still the baleful effects of passionfruit glower over us.  No pavlova is considered complete without some passionfruit splattered across it like semen from hell.  In Australia we even have fizzy drinks purporting (highly dubiously) to be passionfruit flavoured.  Every fruit salad in my home country is speckled with passionfruit seeds resembling nothing so much as dessicated fly corpses and existing solely it would appear to make you doubt the durability of your teeth.  The human race marches forward and passionfruit marches with us, the evil goblin at our party of civilisation.  Hopefully genetic engineering will soon produce a photogenic, seedless variety that can clean out drains and wash our cars.  At that point I will happily buy one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

These Boots Are Made for Hobbling

Should some nameless disaster wipe out the human race tomorrow what would visiting alien archaeologists think of our species?  Possibly the very first question would be; "What was the matter with their legs?"

Everywhere I look there are people with boots, struts, braces and assorted other leg supplements strapped to their lower limbs.  The sheer number of people limping, hobbling and even striding about with these impedimenta is quite amazing.  What the hell happened?  Was there a massive leg incident that escaped my notice?  Is it some sort of creeping, universal condition?  Can I expect to wake up one morning and not get out of bed without clamping some sort of superstructure to my walking parts?

These leg adornments come in all shapes and sizes from the modest foot to knee device which looks like a shin helmet to a complex collection of black struts and metal connectors reaching all the way up to the thigh my first sight of which made me think that a fetish store was having an end of year sale.  If the purpose of these devices is to assist in walking then they seem to work as nobody wearing them seems to have any difficulties getting about but that does make me wonder what they are actually for.

If I think about it rationally for a moment (something I'm usually loathe to do in this blog) I suppose that the reason there are so many of them about is because these latest temporary prostheses are permitting the injured who would otherwise be housebound annoying their relatives to get out and annoy their fellow humans on a broader scale.  That can't be the complete reason though if only because I would surely have noticed how empty the streets were prior to this as all of the various leg injury sufferers languished at home.  The sheer number of people sporting them makes me suspect we have moved from a purely medical necessity to a fashion statement.

Couldn't afford to go skiing this year?  No problem get yourself a leg brace and pretend you did anyway.  Nobody is going to look at your "skiing injury" and challenge you on how you got it.  Sick and tired of being pestered by fund raisers for various disability causes?  Strap one of these babies on and start collecting yourself.  Need the perfect excuse to avoid that father/son fun run?  Whip out the boot and sadly inform your son (or father) that while of course you would love to stumble, sweating and gasping through the Summer sun in the company of a bunch of people fitter than you are while your son (or father) sniggers at you and fingers the do not resuscitate card you gave him in a moment of weakness but unfortunately your ingrown toenail has flared up again and you're one limp away from a wheelchair.  Better yet, get yourself a wheelchair.

For the fashion conscious one can accessorise.  Leg brace bling will be the big thing amongst those with money and no taste.  I can imagine Kim Kardashian doing whatever the hell it is that she does with a diamond encrusted leg brace glittering in the sun.  Her husband (presuming she's still married by the time I get to the end of this blog entry) can have his tricked out in gold with platinum insets and loads of heavy chains possibly weighing him down to the point where he can't walk which would be ironically amusing for the rest of us but which he probably wouldn't understand.  Then there could be a reality show; Bracing Kanye perhaps or Kim in Boots. 

The opportunities are endless and almost universally dreadful.  In the meantime while I wait for Kim and Kanye to call me I will shuffle past endless hordes of cybernetically enhanced people feeling more than a little inadequate at the fact that I'm forced to rely on my own bones to support me.  Skeletal structures are so five minutes ago.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Wandering Hopefully

On the last couple of weekends I have spent a few unproductive hours walking through the streets of the city.  My conclusion, the city has a heck of a lot more streets that I realised.  Meandering about my state capital isn't actually something I do for fun.  Or at least it helps if I have a reason to do so.  Over the last two weekends the reasons to do so have been a non existent gully and a cat cafe.

For some reason a couple of weeks ago I googled "forests in Sydney".  Google in its wisdom directed me to a website extolling parks in Sydney.  One of these parks was called Flat Rock Gully and according to a helpful little map provided by one of the websites it was located in the Rocks.  A lot of other websites pointed out that it was actually in Willoughby which was a lot more plausible but I decided to believe the intrinsically unlikely one.

The Rocks, for those who don't know, is the site of oldest European habitation on the Australian continent.  It started off as a slum and maintained that status right up until picturesque sandstone buildings within a stones throw of the harbour became a tourist attraction.  Now its a tourist attraction.  Given two hundred plus years of intensive building, habitation and development one could reasonably assume that any once picturesque gully must long ago have been filled in, built over or turned into a sewer.  Possibly all three.  Such clear eyed reality didn't faze me at all.  I would catch the light rail into town, stroll through Barangaroo (currently the site of a major, public transport free development) and head into the Rocks where I would search for an intrinsically improbable gully in the most unlikely of places.

In retrospect if I do something like this again it probably wont be in mid Summer.  The day was hot and only the cool refreshing baths of sweat pouring down my body enabled me to go on.  Strolling across from Pyrmont I passed through Barangaroo and gawped at the tall buildings currently climbing to the sky courtesy of one of my employer's clients.  They look pretty impressive and the place will no doubt be amazing when its finished.  Hopefully this will ease the discontent of the forty thousand odd workers who are going to struggle to get there because of the aforementioned lack of public transport.

Public transport planning in Australia is very reliable.  We almost always cock it up.  I can't blame the developer for not considering public transport.  Their profit comes from leasable space in office buildings, they can hardly be expected to lay aside large slabs of territory for bus stops and train stations.  The state government (who should insist on such things) makes a point of not doing so.  Dark mutterings about corruption and selling out to corporate interests abound of course but I suspect it has more to do with simple incompetence than any sort of corruption. 

None of this worried me on my sojourn however, it was a walking trip I was taking and even property developers have realised that people will need to physically access their buildings if they want to see a return on them (although I'm prepared to bet this would be news to the state government).  Knowing roughly the location of the Rocks relative to Barangaroo I wandered in approximately the right direction stopping and retracing my steps only where I encountered bits that were still under construction.  Eventually I reached, not the Rocks but Millers Point which is sort of the Rocks lite.  From here a hot, sweaty climb over Observatory Hill would bring me to, well it brought me to Kent Street.  The Rocks was on the other side of Kent Street but between them lay eight to ten lanes of motorway heading over the Harbour Bridge.  The thing about motorways is that they rarely have pedestrian crossings.  They do however have underpasses and after a bit of hapless wandering around the carpark of the National Trust building I made my way under the motorway and past a number of open spaces for the public use should the public be able to negotiate their way around the maze of busy roads surrounding them.  Some of the public had indeed successfully achieved this, largely the homeless, substance abusing portions of the public.

With my journey behind me I stood on Gloucester St in the Rocks and finally had to acknowledge what I had known all along.  That Flat Rock Gully was in a park in Willoughby on the other side of the harbour and nowhere near the Rocks.  I walked down a narrow covered lane which occupied the space I was titularly going to.  A woman came out from one of the buildings facing it and lit a cigarette.  I was tempted to do the same but she was already looking at me oddly so I moved on before she called the police.

My next trip was much better organised insofar as I knew my destination actually existed.  I had gone out with friends to a Mexican themed pub in Surry Hills, I won't name it because I don't like it.  While stepping outside I had noticed that the building next door was Catmosphere, Sydney's cat cafe.  I made a mental note (and, amazingly, remembered it the next day) to visit. 

This would be an easy trip, a stroll up from the Capitol Theatre through Surry Hills.  In retrospect if I do something like this again it probably wont be in mid Summer etc etc.  By comparison with my previous journey this one was quite simple.  I had done the walk to the pub the previous night so I knew the way and I didn't have to walk under anything (except a railway bridge).

I don't know what I expected from a cat cafe but I had vague impressions of a sort of lounge room like space with cats sprawled gracefully over various surfaces and sitting in the laps of patrons.  Wrong I'm afraid.  Cats there were but they were in a large, fenced off room.  One could indeed take ones coffee into the room and enjoy a caffeine hit in the presence of felines but this actually had to be booked in advance.  For those who turned up off the street a cat free coffee in the front room plus the opportunity to press ones nose against the mesh and watch others interacting with the cats was the most that could be expected.  You can't bring your cat either as the owner sorrowfully explained to me.  Health regulations being what they are you just had to enjoy the cats that were on the premises.

I ordered my coffee and duly pressed my nose against the mesh.  The room was large and was occupied by about a dozen cats all of whom were doing their best to keep as far away from the human occupants as possible.  The unsuccessful ones were enduring grooming and stroking with a stoic dignity normally associated with indigenous cultures as their colonial oppressors take away the last patch of their tribal land.

It wasn't that it was in anyway cruel, the cats were all sleek, well fed and none of them seemed overtly upset by the goings on.  One just got the impression that the cats would have been even happier if all of these friendly, cat loving humans had simply pissed off.  I took the hint.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Care For My Orchid But My Orchid Doesn't Care For Me

I am sitting two feet away from a dying orchid.  I know it's dying because it has been left to me to look after.  I googled "how to care for orchids" and all it said was, "Keep Neil away from them".  I'm gazing at it with some despair, I can also see it wilting in front of my eyes.  All around me are other orchids bursting with life but I suspect that if mine wasn't firmly connected to a metal spike it would already have collapsed over the desk.

Lest, gentle reader, you feel that I was foolhardy enough to adopt an orchid and take responsibility for its welfare through choice permit me a brief note of explanation.  Recently my employers renovated the premises in which I am pleased to claim I work.  All sorts of exciting and borderline useful additions were made including a massive big screen tv in the kitchen (annoying because people insist on watching it) and various sort of gazebo things for people to sit in if you're the kind of person who thinks getting out and about for lunch involves walking three metres and then having an indoor picnic.

Finally to round off this brilliant collection of innovations and achievements an orchid was placed on each desk along with a small card of care instructions.  There was no explicit requirement that the occupant of the desk should look after it but let's face it you don't want to be the only one with a scraggy, near death orchid.  So far I'm the only one with a scraggy, near death orchid. 

The instructions basically said give it 40mls of water once a week and try and keep an even temperature throughout the day.  40mls of water was helpfully described as equivalent to a shot glass thus indicating that if nothing else my employers know the kind of language that will resonate with their staff.  I have dutifully sprinkled approximately a shot glass or so of water over the plant but yet it seems to be dying.  At least I think it was water, possibly I should keep the bottle of vodka on my desk a little further from the orchid in future.  Keeping an even temperature is beyond my control.  In an airconditioned environment you would think that maintaining an even temperature would be simple.  Unfortunately our air conditioning is intelligent which is to say it is stupid in a very sophisticated way.  The temperature changes automatically throughout the day in response to the time of the day and the temperature outside.  What this means is that we tend to freeze during the hottest parts of the day and boil when the snow is piling up outside.  The orchid is looking more than a little shell shocked.

Sadly I can't blame my orchid's woes on the vagaries of the airconditioning system.  I look across at my neighbours desk and see an orchid that is positively thriving under the conditions described above.  Just across the way are orchids that are absolute riots of colour and vibrant flowers.  My own orchid shrinks from them, ashamed to show its wilted stem and drooping flowers in such august company.  I'm concerned that I'm not watering it enough.  This is a concern I have any time I have a plant to look after right up until the point when it dies a bloated, waterlogged death.

So, a shot glass of water once a week.  No problem; I have gone up to our firms kitchen, obtained a shot glass, filled it with water, transferred that water to a paper cup then skilfully cut up a post it note and used the sticky bit to mark where the water has to come up to so that I can reuse the cup.  Once all of these preparations were completed I poured the water over the orchid paying (as per the instructions) special attention to the leaves and roots.  I wouldn't go to this much effort to look after a child.  Now lovingly, if paranoically, tended I am expecting big things from my orchid.  When I come it on Monday there had better be massive flowers all over my desk.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Silly After Action Report Part 4

In response to the increasingly desperate prayers of the hapless readers of this blog I can announce that this is the final part of my latest after action report.  Here the final moves are made, the final shots are taken and the final apologies given to Ivan for my inability to use VASSAL with anything like competence.

But let us return to the desert where the somewhat battered remains of an Italian assault force were hoping to survive long enough to wipe out lingering pockets of British resistance.  A desert where the keen eyed, grim faced (or possibly grim eyed, keen faced) crew of a 25 pounder gun stare down a charge by enough trucks to do a remake of Convoy and calmly shoot tanks to pieces while surrounded by thundering vehicles.  A desert where hope shattered troops cringe at the bottom of foxholes while their opponents look at the sand and the minefields and mutter "bugger this for a game of soldiers".

Once irritating preliminaries like checking for wind change (it didn't) and rallying terrified British (they didn't) it was time to get on with the shooting.  Full disclosure compels me to admit that the broken Italians didn't rally either but I had more of them.  Their keen (or possibly grim) eyes narrowed as they peered through the smoke the 25 pounder gun crew fired once and destroyed an M11/39 in the east.  I'm not ashamed to say I wept.  I had been hoping these losers might survive, a vain hope indeed.

In the centre the remnants of Ivan's kill stack destroyed an L3 with a light machine gun but the other survived a rain of anti tank rifle projectiles rattling of its armour.  In return the surviving L3 broke one of the remaining squads, sadly the destruction of its comrade had given Ivan a narrow escape route.

Three distinct battles had developed.  In the east my tank force, now reduced to a single L3 and an M11/39 were dealing with the single remaining concealed half squad lurking in foxholes.  A British armoured car was sitting around but having been shocked the previous turn wasn't doing much.  In the centre an M13 and an L3 were slowly but remorselessly grinding down his kill stack while over in the west a pair of M13s lurked on the flank while the bulk of my infantry had closed up as close to the British foxholes as they dared and were peppering the occupants with largely ineffective mortar and rifle fire.  Far in the British rear the single remaining 25 pounder was killing pretty much anything it could see but the increasing amount of smoke from burning wrecks was reducing visibility to the quality of a London fog.

A triumph finally came my way in Ivan's movement phase.  He started up his recently unshocked armoured car whereupon one of my M13s finally earned its pay by putting a 47mm round straight through it and starting yet another blaze.  I smiled, my remaining M11/39 and its accompanying L3 were a little safer.  Not much else happened except that my other gun truck managed to break its main armament as well.  The subsequent repair die roll would see it trundling off board in the wake of its companion.

My next turn came and I was ready.  Protected by smoke from burning vehicles my M11 and L3 sidekick would monster Ivan's remaining troops in the east.  I started them up to roll the two or three hexes needed to make his escape impossible.  Whereupon the 25 pounder scored a critical hit through two lots of smoke and blew up my remaining M11.  I was distraught but vengeful, the M11 was down but the L3 was in motion.  It rolled up onto the sand dune, moved forward and promptly bogged up to its bogies in sand.  Ivan's boys would survive another turn.  More in desperation than anything else I moved forward a pair of lmg toting bersaglieri squads (accompanied by a wounded leader encouraging them with shouts from the rear).  My tank force in the east was reduced to one bogged L3.

My eastern tank force has been smashed but so has his position and my infantry come in to clean up.

In the centre my last L3 finally succumbed to the positive hail of antitank rifle shots coming its way but not before breaking his last squad in the kill stack.  Sadly with both L3s gone his broken squads could crawl away using them as cover.  Then I played my trump.  Six trucks thundered down at his gun position and took it in turns to overrun it.  Result?  Nothing of course, its a 1+2 attack.  I did get one pin check but the gun crew passed it.  Still it was a bit of fun and gave Ivan something else to think about.  Then I moved my one remaining truck that still carried infantry forward to menace his broken squads in the centre.  I'd like to claim this was skillful tactics on my part but the truth is that I had simply forgotten about them until this point.

In the west were more futile mortar shots followed by an impressive amount of infantry fire which managed to break his one remaining halfsquad in the foxholes.  The trouble was getting to them as they were well protected by minefields.  Eventually I infiltrated to the west and found the edge of the mines and sneaked around behind them.  I actually managed to take a half squad prisoner.  My remaining pair of M13s rolled forward, risking bogging in the sand to take up a nice position behind a dune.  The two armoured cars which were the bulk of Ivan's remaining force (and the VPs I needed to win) were now under direct threat and my infantry were creeping around both edges of his position (although a foolhardy attempt to snatch a foxhole was punished with a broken squad).

In Ivan's turn it was obvious that only precipitous retreat could save him.  He had to pull back and force my armour to chase him into the sights of his 25 pounder.  Naturally it made my life more difficult shooting up the troop carrying truck and destroying it but the infantry within leapt heroically from the shattered wreck without loss.  The remainder is soon told.  In his movement phase Ivan attempted to pull back.  His half squad in the east emerged from its foxhole to be shot up by the immobile L3 and my infantry, breaking under the last shot but it was in the centre west that the game was decided and my M13s finally sealed the victory.  He started both his armoured cars and with as many shots two M13s shot them to pieces.  Neither crew survived and the points gained were enough to give me the win.

The end in the west.  Broken vehicles everywhere.  The three M13s in view are my only functioning tanks

Thanks to Ivan for a great game which went through some wild swings of fortune as first Ivan then I snatched at the gifts of the Goddess of War.  Ultimately I was fortunate that one of his 25 pounders went down.  Considering the execution the surviving one did I would have been hard pressed to deal with both of them.

Depressing Historical Sidebar
Marshal Rodolfo Graziani who had managed to get his entire army smashed to bits sent a desperate mesage to Rome begging to be relieved on the grounds of "nervous exhaustion" a diagnosis which was probably half right.  He survived the war, evaded Ethiopian attempts to charge him with war crimes, was sentenced to nineteen years gaol by an Italian court but only served four months.  He lived to a ripe old age, died peacefully and in 2012 the local authorities helped to fund a monument at the murderous bastard's tomb.

General Guiseppe Tellera died in an M13/40 tank leading the last attack against the British at the Battle of Beda Fomm in 1941.  Who says Graziani was a lousy strategist?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Poker, Labyrinth and Rogue Trees Going Haywire

On Friday night a group of males proudly asserting their social dominance (and having gained their wive's permission) gathered to play poker and indulge in the sort of light hearted personal commentary which becomes cyberbullying if you post it on facebook. Despite the fact that our collective souls were being lacerated by the cruel jibes passing back and forth we somehow managed to enjoy ourselves.

Of course some of us managed to enjoy themselves more than others.  Alex, for instance, who walked away with most of our money enjoyed himself immensely.  I, whose sole role was to make a modest contribution to Alex's wallet,might have enjoyed it slightly less.  Still any opportunity to abuse Tony is a gift from the gods to be savoured in full.  I started off by accusing him of being a sociopath but after full discussion and a close examination of the relevant definitions we agreed that he's actually a psychopath.  Which didn't stop me from cadging a lift home.

The next day there was more male centric activity at Paddington Leagues Club.  Honestly I'm never going to get a girlfriend unless I find at least one pastime that women might,at least theoretically, be interested in.  One can always hope that the Paddington Bears War Gaming Club will one day find its ranks swelled with battle hungry females (oh, please) but until that time I have to play the likes of David Longworth.

Eschewing the ASL for one month we instead turned our attention to Labyrinth, a card driven game depicting the war on terror.  This must make it the first time the game has come out before the war has actually ended.  On the other hand you probably wouldn't want to wait.  David took control of the United States, reeling after 9/11 but ferociously determined on vengeance (or peace or something).  I controlled the somewhat cockahoop jihadists eagerly setting the world ablaze in the hopes of achieving a caliphate (or at least giving the world smoke inhalation in an attempt to make life in Afghanistan even more wretched, ghastly and unbearable than it already was).

David's Americans started off with a preference for hard power which he totally ignored as he turned his attention to nation building, aid dispensing and generally making the world a better place to live.  I must admit I started to doubt the realism of the game when he managed to make Sudan into a well governed beacon of democracy and followed that up by achieving the same result in Yemen.  Yemen for gods sake!  It would take technology from friendly aliens to get Yemen into the tenth century much less the 21st.  Meanwhile I was eagerly recruiting terrorist cells in Pakistan.  If I could turn Pakistan into an Islamic State then its nuclear arsenal would be mine.  I tried four times and failed each time and then David, remembering that he was supposed to be a psychotic hardarse dumped troops in Pakistan and invaded Afghanistan (my home base) for good measure.

The soldiers of the prophet were harried and desperate but a successful Islamic uprising in Central Asia gave us a new base and I started to rebuild my tattered hopes.  Placing cells in such bastions of good governance as Syria and Iraq (which David sensibly refused to invade) I started planning further jihads.  David meanwhile in keeping with his preferred approach of hearts and minds had switched to a soft power approach and had persuaded most of Europe to join him (as if the Europeans ever needed to be persuaded not to fight).  Sadly for him an election then delivered a group of ultra hard case loonies to the white house who believed in military intervention everywhere up to and including Vermont.  Suddenly the US was friendless in the world and I could take advantage of the devastating loss of prestige.  The jihad in Iraq failed sadly and new terror cells in Libya and Indonesia couldn't compensate.  Ultimately  David just scraped a win but not a particularly convincing one.

The evening gave me an opportunity to interact with actual females, which was good as I was starting to forget what they looked like.  My friend Kate and her twin brother Teddy were celebrating their birthdays with a clutch of friends (a term which can be stretched to include me) at Bodhi's Restaurant in the city.  I strolled through Hyde Park which is lovely in the evening in Summer.  The afternoon lingers, there is a calm, couples stroll through hand in hand or lounge beneath a tree.  Even the mentally shattered junkies thrashing about on the grass howling and gibbering are more entertaining than frightening.

Oh, about the trees.  I couldn't help noticing a warning sign next to one of the trees on my way in.  It suggested not visiting the park in times of high wind or after heavy rain due to the possibility of tree failure.  Reading between the lines the council has essentially put up signs saying "Beware of the Trees".  Apparently there is a real danger that if you hang around the trees long enough that one of them will lose its shit and beat you up.  The danger might not seem very great and it probably isn't but take a look at the size and heft of a tree.  You certainly don't want to be an unfortunate statistical anomaly in this instance.

Dinner was lovely by the way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Wallowing Panamanian

There is a ship wandering around the Bay of Biscay without a driver.  Apparently the ship developed a list (I believe the technical term is "manifest") and the crew were evacuated.  Despite a pronounced manifest and the absence of a crew the ship seems quite happy to keep wandering through the seas.  The media have released photos that do indeed show quite a remarkable manifest.  The fact that the ship is ploughing through stormy waters in this condition leads one to wonder whether it should have been designed that way in the first place.  It seems to be operating better at forty five degrees to vertical than it did when it was upright.

The problem with this is not so much the presence of the vessel in the water, its rather that the ship is in danger of running out of water. The French coast beckons and, as is obligatory in such scenarios, the likely target area for running aground is between a seaside resort and a national park.  Nothing ever seems to run aground in a junkyard.  The French Navy has sprung into action and has apparently averted disaster for the time being.

The ship was sailing from Gabon to France with a cargo of timber and construction equipment.  I know Gabon has been looting its forests for hard currency but I didn't realise they were a net exporter of construction equipment.  Still it could have been worse, timber and construction equipment are possibly two of the least environmentally harmful things you could dump on a French beach.  The real concern is the vessel's fuel tanks, and what might happen if they don't survive the ship's inadvertent sideswipe of the shoreline (hey, that was a neat piece of alliteration).

French officials have fallen over themselves to assure the public (or at least the public close to the Bay of Biscay, those in the Rhone Valley probably don't give a crap) that environmental action plans are in place and will be implemented the moment the ship makes landfall.  What will be done if the ship doesn't make landfall wasn't elaborated on.  Possibly everybody would be happy to just let the thing wander the seas indefinitely like some timber hauling version of the Flying Dutchman.  The Wallowing Panamanian perhaps.

In years to come it will be a legend of the sealanes.  Sailors in dockside bars (and drug rehabs) will swap tales of the time they were far out at sea (or as far as you can get in the Bay of Biscay) when, through the rain, the saw a glimpse of the Wallowing Panamanian and it chilled them to the bone.  Perhaps an opera could written.  They've been written about sillier things.

Of course if that sort of thing happened in Australia we'd deal with it much more efficiently.  We'd just let the damn thing run ashore and then kill a couple of dozen sharks to make sure that it could never happen again.

Silly After Action Report Part 3 - Two Words "Truck Overruns!!"

The third part of what is turning into the longest running epic since Gone With the Wind occurred last night (delayed because of the tennis).  I started the fifth turn with a powerful force of armour ready to unleash death of Ivan's infantry crouching in their foxholes.  My infantry was slinking up behind the smoke hoping not to draw attention to itself.  In this at least it was largely successful.  My guntrucks pounded his foxholes in the east with modest (ie "no") success but then it was all movement.  Of course some of the movement was very brief and punctuated with explosions.

Disaster struck in the east.  My little L3s that had so far proved themselves invulnerable to mines got a sudden reality check as first one and then a second exploded trying to extricate themselves.  Tragically one of these was my precious flamethrower L3 for which I had big hopes.  With the tears hot on my cheeks I turned my attention to the survivors.  One pair of L3s escaped the minefields and I sent them rolling towards the backfield hoping to take out the crews of the 25 pounders before Ivan managed to repair them.  The other remaining L3 rolled next to a foxhole filled with broken soldiers; these guys would not be permitted to rout.

I have discreetly excised the shattered L3s from this propaganda photo

Risking mines and sand bogging my M11s rolled over the dunes and positioned themselves in the rear of Ivan's defenders.  I'm awesomely impressed with my M11s.  I don't think they've achieved anything yet but their survival has been nothing short of miraculous.  Now they would play their part in denying rout paths.  There's also an outside chance that they might kill an armoured car but let's not get too silly.

Sadly the mixed results in the east were overshadowed by poor results in the west.  Since one of my M13s was bogged I attempted independent movement for its comrade and of course failed.  The bogged M13 then passed its independent movement die roll but promptly used all of its movement unbogging itself, the end result being that they didn't move at all this turn.  My infantry assembled mortars and inched forward through the smoke slowly getting closer to Ivan's surviving front line infantry in the west.  The cautious moving wasn't enough to save first one squad and then a second being broken by some keen eyed mortar fire but the remainder are slowly shaking themselves out and preparing for action.

Which just left the centre.  My pair of M13s started up and rolled straight at his last major stack of troops.  Three concealed squads nestling in a foxhole.  Some pointblank fire would soon soften up those babies.  I might have been right if Ivan hadn't gained a critical hit on one of the M13s with an armoured car antitank rifle.  A third M13 destroyed and firepower significantly reduced, again I wept for my noble armoured troops.

But all of that was just the preliminary.  With it out of the way my surviving armoured car rolled down the road heading for the most convenient of his 25 pounders.  Behind it came a fleet of trucks now free of responsibility for the infantry.  I had warned Ivan at the start that I intended to undertake truck overruns whenever possible, now the threat was becoming reality.

In the next turn Ivan repaired one of his 25 pounders and destroyed the other, a nice even handed result I guess.  The immediate upshot was that he put a nasty hole through my armoured car and another blazing wreck was added to the battlefield.  The armoured car was gone but a panzerkeil of trucks was bearing down on him.

Italian soldiers were brave but their tactics were a little outdated.  Here the 2nd Libyan division assaults a British position

Back at the real battlefield my surviving M13 proved incapable of so much as stripping concealment from his three squad stack but my guntrucks once again pounded his troops in the east, or at least one of them did.  The other broke its main armament.  A roll of three broke more of his infantry (which, being virtually surrounded by tanks, would die for failure to rout) but also generated a sniper.  With unerring aim the sniper targeted the truck with the broken gun removing it from the game.  Talk about taking one for the team. 

My M13s have proved a little disappointing.  One of them scored a hit on an armoured car resulting in nothing but a shock (honestly, 10 to kill facing 0 armour).  In the centre the surviving M13 still couldn't produce good results against his infantry so I swung my back field L3s back to help.  Now there are three tanks nose up to the foxhole and a shot from the M13 finally stripped concealment.  In despair (at least I'm going to interpret it as despair) Ivan attempted to close combat a pair of my tanks but failed the PAATCs which was a relief since I'd completely forgotten about that possibility.  In my next turn I would break a squad and an officer who would also die for failure to rout.  Ivan's force is slowly melting away, the trouble is I suspect its melting a little too slowly.

Down at his remaining 25 pounder Ivan faced his first truck overrun.  He survived (it is a 1+2 shot after all) but there are six more trucks lining up to take their turn.  Ivan can shoot at them if he wants but that does mean he isn't shooting at more valuable targets (ie, anything).  Or he can ignore them and run the risk of going down to a 1+2 from a truck.  My infantry have finally got their act and are ready to start pounding his surviving troops in the west, who are however defended by minefields and sheltered behind more of my trucks (guess how I found the minefields).

In the east my surviving tanks are monstering his infantry, not a bad achievement for vehicles that couldn't survive a bird strike.

Meanwhile a horde of vengeful trucks is bearing down on his gun position.

The end game fast approaches.  Ivan's infantry are dying like flies but my tanks are dying like, well, like metal flies I guess.  Nemesis approaches Ivan's 25 pounder in the form of half a dozen trucks with a deathwish but my number of functional tanks is diminishing and I still haven't managed to kill a single damn armoured car.  It is Ivan's turn six coming up and I wonder how many of my tanks will survive it.