Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Birthday Greetings # 56

Happy birthday to Constantius Chlorus, Roman emperor.  Constantius was one of those people unfortunate enough to have whatever claim to fame they might have had utterly overshadowed by the achievements of their children.  Constantine, the son of our birthday boy, fought a bunch of civil wars, reunited the Roman empire, introduced Christianity as its official religion and put the rather rocky empire back on an even keel for a few centuries.  Against a CV like that Constantius Chlorus sort of fades into the shadows.

Which is a pity because he was a highly capable operator on his own account.  I've mentioned before how the emperor Diocletian chopped the empire up into manageable bits and then set up emperors to rule each bit.  Maximian was given control of the western half of the emperor which had a few problems, barbarian raiders, pirates, treacherous generals.  This really came to a head when one of the treacherous generals made an alliance with the barbarian raiders and started on a career of piracy thus neatly combining all of the threats to the empire into one handy package.

To deal with this Maximian turned to his top soldier, a former imperial guardsman by the name of Constantius Chlorus.  Maximian arranged for Constantius to be elevated to the rank of junior emperor and then gave him responsibility for those parts of the western empire no longer controlled by the western empire.  Constantius proved up to the challenge (possibly to Maximian's chagrin), he beat the barbarians, then defeated the leader of the military rebels.  Said leader was then murdered by one of his subordinates who took his job (promotion through homicide was rapidly becoming the preferred Roman method of career progression).  Nothing daunted Constantius invaded the new rebel's headquarters in Britain.  His forces defeated the rebels and for good measure massacred the Frankish mercenaries that the rebels had hired but forgotten to pay.

With Britain subdued (it was really the army in Britain who revolted, the actual population didn't seem to care much one way or the other) Constantius returned to mainland Europe and spent the next few years battling various barbarian tribes in an attempt to reassert the Rhine as the border of the empire.  In this he was largely, if temporarily, successful.  Meanwhile over in the east Diocletian was waxing wroth over all the irritating Christians that suddenly seemed to be infesting the empire and started a major persecution.  Possibly seeing how the wind was blowing Constantius didn't really do much in the way of persecuting although he did knock down a couple of churches.  This restraint enabled his son's Christian biographer to claim he was a closet Christian thus providing a religiously appropriate parent for the emperor.

In 305AD Diocletian resigned and forced Maximian to resign with him.  Constantius now stepped up into the senior emperor role in the west although he wasn't able to get his son the junior emperor gig.  With a fancy new purple robe about his shoulders Constantius went back to Britain to beat up some Picts.  The Picts were duly beaten but Constantius himself sickened and died at York barely a year after gaining the title of senior emperor.  As he was dying he persuaded the soldiers around him that his son would make a bang up emperor and that they shouldn't pay any attention to the silly appointments that had been made previously.

The achievements of his son, Constantine, were staggering but if it hadn't been for Constantius Chlorus he might have lived out his days running a pub on the Black Sea coast.

Monday, March 28, 2016

All My Easters Are Coming At Once

Easter has come and gone in a flurry of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.  I barely noticed except that I did remember not to go into work on Friday or Monday.  I did visit my parent's house on Sunday and we ate lamb thus symbolising that we were hungry or something.  I don't think I paid any more attention to it than that.

There is however big news on the horizon on the Easter front.  Apparently representatives of the various subdivisions of Christianity are moving towards agreeing a set date for Easter.  This is something that has been on the agenda for over a thousand years and preliminary discussions are almost completed.  The pope (Catholic), patriarch of Constantinople (Orthodox), Coptic pope (Coptic) and the archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican) are all on the record as saying that we should definitely have a set date for Easter rather than the somewhat chaotic mishmash that prevails at the moment.

All sorts of people are eager to have a set date for Easter.  Businesses looking for clarity as to when they can expect their employees to turn up for work, teachers looking for clarity as to when they can legitimately avoid contact with the children they're supposed to be teaching, and me looking for clarity as to when exactly I have to fake an illness if I want a four day weekend.  All these people have been agitating for a clearcut, unchanging date for Easter pretty much ever since the church produced its non clearcut meandering date for Easter back in 325AD.  Before that time people had celebrated Easter pretty much whenever they felt like it, something that might not go down too well today.

What I find amusing about all of this is that not one of the reasons for setting a date for Easter has anything to do with religion.  What Easter actually is and why it might be celebrated didn't seem to be of particular concern to anyone involved in the debate.  The Sydney Morning Herald had an article by a self proclaimed atheist telling the various churches to get their act together.  Excuse me?  You're an atheist, it's nothing to do with you.  Just work the two damn days whenever they fall in the year.  Alternatively if you don't want to do that then take the superstition induced holiday when it turns up and have sufficient good manners not to bitch about it.  Like me.

I shan't deny that if the various god botherers in chief get their act together and come up with a comprehensive, official date for Easter that would be helpful.  I wouldn't spend the first couple of weeks of March each year wondering vaguely if I should be in the office at all.  Aside from that I have no real investment in the matter apart from the fact that its made fuel for a rather inconsequential blog entry.  More so with Easter finally out of the way the church could get on with the issue of dealing with the paedophiles in its ranks which I believe was item number two on the agenda a thousand years ago right after setting the date for Easter.

I do have a suggestion though that should warm the hearts of lazy atheists everywhere.  If we can't agree on a set date for Easter (and the Russian Orthodox church is looking like a holdout at the moment) then possibly we could arrange to have the sequentially and celebrate the lot.  Easter would become a three week holiday from halfway through March until early April.  This would provide the certainty that business and education leaders have been lacking and most importantly of all might persuade some chocolate manufacturers that God does exist after all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Another Silly After Action Report - The Trouble With Elephants

It was July 1943 on the eastern front and the Germans launched "Operation Doing the Bleeding Obvious" (soon to be renamed "Operation Zitadelle") in an attempt to reassert their primacy over the Soviets who were somewhat cock-a-hoop after the conclusion of the Stalingrad campaign.  To assist in this latest grand offensive the German armaments industry cranked out a whole bunch of new armoured vehicles to take part.  One of these vehicles was the tiger tank.  During the development stage two designers, Henschel and Porsche, submitted designs for the tank.  The German army chose the Henschel design because the Porsche design was (to use a technical term) shit.  However Porsche had already knocked together almost a hundred of these badly engineered, unreliable monsters and rather than waste them the Germans converted them into tank destroyers.  This involved dropping a massive gun and even more armour plate onto a design already suffering from an underpowered and unreliable engine.  The result was the elefant, a huge, cumbersome, monstrously armed vehicle with a top speed just exceeding that of political debate and an engine that would break down if you breathed on it.  The Germans then put them in the front ranks of the Kursk assault.

The 5th of July 1943 saw a group of Soviet soldiers just north of Ponyri patiently waiting as the elefants and accompanying infantry advanced with painful slowness towards them.  This is ASL scenario J118, Elephants Unleashed.  Here I shall command a small but very tough group of German infantry supported by not one, not two but three of the gargantuan elefants and a trio of more realistically sized tanks attempting to dispute ownership of the territory with the Soviets.  Ivan will command the Soviet troops slowly getting old waiting for the elefants to arrive.

Ivan's defenders are thin on the ground, he has four first line squads, a single 8-0 leader and a heavy machine gun plus some barbed wire and a whole mess of landmines.  In the first turn he gets another four elite squads (with accompanying flamethrower and demo charges) and five T-34 tanks.  In the second turn he receives a pair of SU-152 self propelled guns.  I have a pair of 8-3-8 assault engineers, three other elite squads and four first line squads with a pair of light machine guns and one heavy.  I also have to Pz IIINs, a PzIVH (with a 9-2 armour leader) and the three aforementioned elefants.  All vehicles start in motion, presumably to spare the Germans the embarrassment of having all three elefants break down before combat.

At the start my plan was in flux.  I would have dearly liked to exit the elefants off the board for the win but I doubted the ability of the lumbering beasts to reach the finish line.  I decided to clear out the forward village buildings and position myself for either an end of board dash or building capture depending on how Ivan handled his reinforcements.

To take the buildings I set up both Panzer IIIs, the Panzer IV and an elefant in the grain facing the buildings.  The bulk of my infantry was hidden below the tanks.  The elefant sat to the west.  The other two elefants I set up in the east, each with an accompanying squad.  Their job would be to move forward to cover the reinforcement routes (and possibly make a dash for the exit if that looked viable).  In the centre a squad and a half of expendables sat waiting to make dashes into the open in the hopes of persuading troops to drop concealment and shoot at them.  If they weren't shot at then possibly they could threaten either flank.

Starting positions. 

Ivan set up most of his troops in the forward buildings with what I assumed (wrongly) was a hmg team upstairs in the west.  Another squad went into a victory building on board 44.

In retrospect I think I was a little overcautious in the beginning.  I armour assaulted my troops forward through the grainfield (a process that took two turns) huddling under the tanks all the way.  This certainly preserved my soldiers but put me a little behind time.  Up in the east (top) the elefants and their accompanying squads rolled very slowly forwards while my diversionary guys in the middle diverted no-one and managed to advance unhurt.  Unhurt that is until Ivan rolled the first of his seven sniper attacks for the game and broke the squad leaving a sole half squad to carry the flame.  Subsequent sniper attacks would reduce, then kill the squad, kill an officer, break another squad and stun a PzIII but that is in the future.

Ivan brought his first turn reinforcements on but, with the elefants hulking slowly forward, used his armour with, shall we say, circumspection.  He settled for getting his reinforcing troops into the rearmost of the buildings he had to hold and setting up his tanks in defensive (ie unhittable) positions.

End of turn 1, I am crawling forward whereas Ivan is keeping well to the rear.
Finally in turn 2 things started to happen.  My tanks reached his forward position and parked ready to slaughter the occupants.  Whereupon Ivan sprang his surprise,  the squad upstairs didn't have the hmg, it had an antitank rifle.  At pointblank range he managed to deliberately immobilise a PzIII fortunately the crew heroically stayed with their vehicle and in the next fire phase blasted the squad out of its position.  The other two tanks did the same to his other defenders and the forward buildings were clear of troops.  Up in the east the elefants inched gamely forward while the third rolled past his defended buildings and took up position in the orchard to cover the approach of his SU-152s.

My turn 2, already the sniper is starting to take a toll

I swept into the forward building capturing (eventually) his hmg and Ivan pulled back his one surviving squad and officer to the building across the street.  I was not to be denied and swung the PzIV around through the orchard to take the building under fire while I attempted to build a position in my newly captured buildings.  In the middle the surviving half squad charged forward with no thought for his own safety and Ivan obliged by shooting at it with the last of his onboard force thus losing concealment in the face of two elefants and a pair of squads still hiding underneath them.

I took a little time getting myself organised but eventually tank firepower blew his defenders out of the remaining building in the west and the elefants finally shepherded their infantry next to his squad in the building to the east.  Despite knowing that close combat is not my friend one of my squads darted out from underneath an elefant to challenge for the building.  Ivan ambushed the squad and then casualty reduced it but then (oh bliss) I rolled snake eyes on my return fire and wiped him out.  Suddenly I had another building although the looming presence of his tanks and reinforcing infantry indicated I might not be able to hold it for long.  In the west I nervously (I was terrified of mines) occupied the building Ivan had retreated to (and my tank had blown him out of) and suddenly I was only one building short of the numbers I needed for a win.

I'm in a great position here, how could I possibly screw it up?
 Ivan was up to the challenge.  First he moved a squad, officer and flamethrower west from his main defensive position in the village to try and occupy the threatened building in the northwest and, when my Pz IVH reduced them to a greasy stain on the grass, bit the bullet and sent in a pair of tanks.

Up until this point tank casualties on both sides had been light.  An immobilised Pz IIIN for me and a single burning T-34 for him.  Tank tactics on both sides to this point had been somewhat pusillanimous to say the least with more justification on Ivan's side since the elefants could kill anything he had.  Now he needed to draw fire to get some infantry through.  An SU-152 in overwatch on the hill rolled forwards, his T-34 which had spent the game hiding behind a tree moved out into plain view and another T-34 moved west from his village strong point.  The remainder of his tanks and his other SU-152 poured a mass of fire down onto the poor halfsquad in my newly captured building in the east.  They didn't hurt him but I saw the writing on the wall and pulled out underneath an adjacent elefant.  With the Elefant's gun and a squad and a half in readiness I hoped to be able to take it back if he managed to capture it (wrong).

Ivan's armoured foray in the east came to grief, my elefant nailed his SU-152 before it could move but a pair of  T-34s now threatened my force and the open path to the rear building was gone.  Further with my armour busy shooting his armour he managed to CX another squad in the direction of the rear building.  I would have to fight my way through.

Ivan's tanks come to the rescue in the nick of time
 In the centre I rolled the surviving mobile IIIN forward to where I hoped (wrongly) that it might have an effect on his troops in the centre building.  I also had a force of a squad and a half, a hmg and two leaders hiding in the woods waiting for an opportunity.  Ivan also saw an opportunity and moved a squad back into the building in the east that my lucky close combat had gained me.  I wasn't worried, there was an elefant next door plus a squad and a half of my own guys, surely they would secure me the building (no, they wouldn't).

The final couple of turns rolled around,  in the west my IVH and the elefant burnt a T-34 each and all that was left in my path was the one squad he had in the building.  I armoured assaulted a squad next to it with the IVH but all advancing fire could do was pin him, hopefully that would be enough (it wasn't).  With the last turn upon me I threw caution to the winds, dropping smoke into the adjacent hex I moved a squad forward to at least pretend to threaten his centre building.  The hmg halfsquad and its officer ran around in the open (Ivan showing rigid discipline refused to fire and sacrifice concealment) and one of the two elefants (who let's face it had done almost nothing until now) started up and rolled up behind  T-34 he had covering the road.

I needed a little luck and I didn't get it.  The elefant prep fire on the building in the east did nothing as did my squad's prep fire.  My attempt to kill his T-34 failed and it then fired on my hmg team as they raced up next to the building and while they didn't break the leader pinned, robbing me of a vital -1 modifier for ambush and close combat rolls.  In the west I had one CX squad next to his pinned defenders but I wanted more.  I had an 8-3-8 within range but here's where Ivan's cunning got the better of me.  The safe route to approach the building had been occupied by his tanks but were now occupied by burning wrecks thus inflicting an extra MP cost to enter them.  If I wanted to get the squad to his building I would have to run out in the open.  I had eight morale and he was pinned surely it was worth the risk.  Nope, his pinned squad smashed me as I ran through the open ground towards him. 

Endgame, so close I can almost taste it :(

I would have to go with what I had and hope for the best.  The game rested on three close combats in the final turn.  If I could win two of them I would have the game.  I won none of them. 

So I was defeated at the last.  In retrospect I was a little sluggish moving forward at the start and I should have handled the armour, particularly the elefants, a little more aggressively.  Much thanks to Ivan for the game which was one of the most enjoyable I've played.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Fear the Walking Living

My colleagues and I paused briefly in our never ending task of labouring for the glory of god and the profit of the company to discuss the issues of the day over a hastily snatched bowl of gruel.  We talked of the upcoming Trump presidency and our own nation's double dissolution with a reverse pike and much merriment was had by all.  Eventually, as is natural, the talk turned to zombies.

Those of you who have read my brief but excellent blog entry on the topic ( ) will know that I don't rate zombies all that highly what with them being slow, mindless and generally useless.  In a futile attempt to prove that I was wrong a foolhardy colleague pointed out that the most recent crop of zombie movies and tv shows had zombies of quite a different stamp.  Fast, ferocious and voracious these gruesome creatures have blazed a blood spattered trail across screens in recent years.  Wearily I pointed out that these were not traditional zombies but rather tended to be quite normal human beings infected by some sort of pathogen. 

Traditional zombies are corpses, mindless walking dead dragged from the grave by necromantic sorcery (or pressing debts) and doomed to wander (slowly) among the living in the hopes of encountering slow moving individuals with tasty brains.  TV shows such as The Walking Dead have nothing to do with these creatures at all.  Rather they are crammed with murderous disease carriers carving a swathe through normal civilisation.  Its as if somebody decided to do a re-enactment of the black plague with humans playing the part of rats (and also humans of course).

What I find odd is that nobody seems to have taken the new zombie paradigm to its natural conclusion.  What the heroes of tv shows like The Walking Dead are actually doing is going around murdering sick people.  When did this become something we cheer for?  And how soon is it before we get a tv show where the heroes are simply running down flu sufferers with their cars?  Got a sniffle?  Careful or some photogenic tv personality will hit you across the head with a baseball bat, burn your body and everybody will applaud and agree with each other about how wonderful and dramatic it was.

The thing about traditional zombies was there wasn't any moral dimension to killing them.  After all they were already dead and whatever soul they possessed had long since departed for less decayed accommodation elsewhere.  Now, apparently, illness is a justification for genocide.  On a positive note it does seem to imply that if a zombie apocalypse threatens all we have to do to deal with it is send death squads into all the hospitals.  I wonder how long it will be before somebody suggests we do that anyway as a preventative measure.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Never Fear, the Danes Will Protect Us

The Danes want to sell us warships.  Not quite sure where Denmark is?  Its that little thumblike thing sticking out of the middle top of Germany.  The spruiker for the Danish shipbuilder interested in selling us grey killy things actually referenced lego in his public relations spiel, possibly because this is the only thing any of us know about Denmark.

We are apparently going to need some new warships to complement the shiny new AWD destroyers that we might be getting if we can figure out how to make them.  A number of well known international shipbuilding firms have put up their hand and now the Danes have tossed their hat into the ring as well.  From what I can determine the Danish offering will be a variant of vessels currently in service in their navy (possibly with less of an emphasis on icebreaking).  The Danish ships are by all accounts quite capable, multi option units at a reasonable price.  So you know we won't be buying them.

Defence procurement in Australia follows a traditional pattern.  A need is identified, specifications are produced, a budget is prepared, submissions are sought, a winner is selected and everything goes to hell.  At least this is what it might look like to an objective outsider.  Or an objective insider for that matter.  Fortunately there aren't many of them.

It is easy to mock our defence procurement process (very, very easy) but most of those who do so do it without really understanding the purpose of Australia's defence forces and its associated defence industries.  Australia has a defence force largely because you can't really have a country our size and not have one.  It is helpful to have something painted grey (or some guys in green) that we can attach to the vastly more impressive armed forces of someone whose favour we're trying to curry.  Our armed forces are more than capable of fulfilling that role.

Let's face it, if there was a genuine, full scale military threat to Australia our sole strategy would be to run up the flag and yelp for the Americans (unless they were the threat in which case we would run down the flag and yelp for mercy).  Since the Americans have enough problems of their own it would be helpful to point out how many times we had tacked bits of our military onto theirs when they needed some visible (if not terribly significant) international support for what they were doing.  Hence the Australian armed forces.

Being able, eventually, to build semicredible warships and such is frequently touted as being of strategic importance.  This is rubbish or rather, it isn't rubbish but its also impossible.  The ability to produce warships by ourselves in an emergency (or given the speed and cost of shipbuilding in Australia possibly a better term would be "the ability to produce a warship") would indeed be very useful.  Unfortunately all of the bits that put the "war" into warship are designed and to a great extent produced elsewhere.  To say nothing of reloads should we waste all of our stockpile of shells and missiles shooting them at enemies.

Fortunately our defence industry has another purpose.  It is largely there to provide jobs for voters who would otherwise, presumably, not have them.  Think of it as a heavily armed work for the dole scheme.  In that context it really doesn't matter if the grotesquely over budget and hideously botched warship slides straight down the slipway and sinks like a stone.  Indeed if the vessel in question was a submarine it would probably be claimed that the thing was performing to specifications.  As long as one or two wallowing hulks painted grey manage to tag along behind the American fleet and our soldiers can equip themselves from local gun shops our defence forces are fine.

So where does that leave the Danes?  It leaves them sitting on top of reasonably capable deep water combatants that they haven't got a hope in hell of selling to the Australian Navy.  Possibly they might have more luck if they built a factory for producing grey painted lego blocks somewhere in Adelaide.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I'm Getting My Windows "Fixed"

Some people are coming around to my apartment to fix my windows.  Not that there's anything wrong with my windows.  When I say "fix" I mean it in the same sense as a vet "fixes" your dog.  There is actually nothing wrong with my windows.  However the government is apparently terrified that I spend my all too brief moments of relaxation hurling babies out of my apartment via the aforementioned windows.  I swear to god, you discipline one recalcitrant two year old and you're branded for life.

It's not just me either, every flat in my apartment block is getting its windows fixed so that they can't be opened more than twelve and a half centimetres.  This is apparently to halt the steady rain of small children splattering down into the public areas which has cursed us for so long.  No wonder our cleaning bills are through the roof although it isn't anything that can't be dealt with by carrying a sturdy umbrella.

Once my windows are fixed twelve and a half centimetres is all the fresh air I am allocated per window.  I suppose I should be grateful they aren't proposing to charge for it.  The fact that I have no children and have no friends insane enough to leave their offspring in my care matters not a jot.  To be fair I will apparently be issued with a "master key" and I can abuse my possession of this precious device to actually open my damn windows.  I have a letter from my strata managers sternly warning me not to abuse the faith placed in me by giving me possession of this key and that any windows opened in violation of the twelve and a half centimetre rule must be closed as soon as the purpose for their being opened has been fulfilled.

If I interpret that last sentence correctly it means that should I unlock one of my windows so that I can flee a fire currently engulfing my apartment my first act on reaching safety must be to reenter the burning building and close the windows.  After which I suppose I'm allowed to burn to death in peace. 

I know babies fall out of windows, there's a news report at least once a year of some hapless child getting a practical lesson in gravity perhaps somewhat before the topic is brought up at school.  However to the best of my knowledge none of them have fallen out of my windows (and I'm only three stories up, there's at least a slight chance the kid would survive) and very few are likely to in the future.  Locking every occupant of an apartment block in what has suddenly changed from a home to a fiery deathtrap does seem to me to be a slight over reaction.

There are many many ways that a child can hurt themselves.  Rather than attempt to safety proof the entire planet permit me to make an alternate suggestion.  Let's herd every child in the country together into a padded concentration camp.  They can be chained to the walls during the daytime and strapped into their beds at night.  Movement retardant foam can be deployed from the ceiling should the little tykes try anything dangerous like walking.  Their parents, if they're so minded, can view them through one way mirrors by appointment and congratulate themselves on how well they're bringing up their kids.

Once we have nursed a child through the first eighteen years of its life we can then release them blinking into the world.  Whereupon every last one of them is likely to be killed within three months.  Although, presumably at that point their parents will have the decency not to complain.

This would never be done of course.  It seems that whenever somebody complains its a hell of a lot easier to inconvenience everybody else rather than tell them to shut up.  Still I suppose a hideous death in a burning apartment is a small price to pay for relieving parents from the responsibility of actually keeping an eye on their damn kids.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Silly After Action Report Part 2 - Snow Job

So, where did we leave off?  Oh yes, the shattered remains of Ivan's force lay cringing on a frozen river bed or trying to find non explosive pieces of ground to hide in.  His kill stack had been obliterated and his most forward troops were in a minefield.  My defenses were essentially intact.  You must be wondering how I could manage to screw it up from here.  Read on.

I must confess I permitted myself a certain level of confidence.  Certainly the game was nowhere near over but a definite crimp had been put in Ivan's plans.  Over in the north two squads were all that was left of his diversionary force (apart from some shattered conscripts who steadfastly refused to rally).  In the south where his main push was located he had no more than half a dozen unbroken squads (although he did have a 9-1 officer who would rectify that situation).  Still, Ivan was not down hearted.  He pulled his 9-1 back to the river bank and started rallying malingerers.  Taking advantage of the small group of trees just past the river bank he slipped a couple of squads past and up to the hill.

Rallying magnificently he soon had a clutch more squads back in action.  The one downer was the squad in the minefield which steadfastly refused to leave.  On attempting to do so it pinned.  Still, I wasn't worried.  Any squads that wanted to follow their comrade up the edge of the board would face a 6-3 shot from my hmg team.  Over in the north his surviving pair of squads edged painfully forward.  Winter camouflage was coming in handy keeping concealment despite the fact that I'd pulled back a mortar team and lmg squad to deal with them.  The amount of harm being done by either side in the north was minimal for the next couple of turns.

To deal with his main effort I turned, as I had so often in this scenario, to my artillery.  Sadly after performing magnificently so far the artillery now failed me.  I don't mean I didn't get access.  I got access and dropped a concentration right on top of his 9-1.  Not only did the 9-1 pass his morale check but a broken conscript squad HOBed and went berserk.  Meanwhile, realising that desperate measures were needed Ivan fed a couple more squads up the south side of the board towards the southern hill.  With a grin I reached for my hmg, and rolled boxcars.  A subsequent repair attempt would destroy the hmg completely.  Suddenly the path to the hill was a lot clearer.  Then it began to snow.  A little later it began to snow even harder.  Now there was effectively no moving in the open.  With renewed hope Ivan pushed a pair of squads and an unattended half squad up onto the southern hill.

I was good,  I had two squads plus an lmg on that hill and another squad trotting up to assist.  Sadly it wasn't enough.  With a CXed half squad just begging to be killed I foolishly moved into CC.  Naturally I couldn't kill it and in the next turn Ivan moved in a squad and wiped my guys out instead.  I should have known better, I seem to suck at close combat.  Suddenly I had one squad on the hill and Ivan had two and a half.  A slightly foolhardy move by the halfsquad later and he had two squads on the hill but more were coming and my interdiction firepower had been removed.

Things don't look too bad at this point but I'm about to be killed in CC and Ivan is about to receive a berserk squad courtesy of my artillery

Meanwhile his berserk conscripts charged across the ice towards my artillery spotter, the only unit they could see.  Partway they noticed the no longer hmg team and changed direction.  Eager to kill they poured forward into another minefield (boom!) and out the other side (boom again!) into a 2-3 shot from the half squad and out the other side, into another 2-3 shot and out the other side.  Panting they climbed the hill but didn't have enough MF left to actually get into my trench whereupon FPF finally killed them.  Their charge was so heroic even I was hoping it would be successful.

Another squad dead, good but Ivan was building up troops on the southern hill.  In his final turn he made his last push.  Everything that could move headed for the hills (except for the squad in the minefield which broke).  Somewhere along the way he had generated another beserk squad which rolled through another minefield without concern and up onto the hill (although the 9-1 which had come along for laughs was wounded and had to stay behind).  Plunging into close combat with my surviving squad he locked them up in melee, shortly afterwards he fed in another half squad.

Things now looking somewhat worse but Ivan still doesn't have enough troops on the hill to win.

Over in the north I had managed to break one squad as it headed for the hill but the other had reached the summit.  My defending squad having finally dug itself some foxholes was waiting.  My final turn arrived and things looked grim.  He had six and a half squads on the southern hill and one on the northern.  Fifteen victory points worth and he only needed ten.  If I could remove six I would win.  First up was the north, prep fire broke his squad there and sent it yelping from the hill.  Unfortunately the sniper thus generated killed the officer commanding an lmg squad I had managed to get up onto the southern hill to challenge his dominance.
I could only hope that the guys wouldn't cower.

Things now looking considerably worse.  He has a three squad stack, another squad and a half in CC and yet another squad in one of the trenches.  In short, enough to win.

Next I fired at a squad of his standing in the open on the southern hill from the no longer hmg team.  Again I broke him and sent the squad in question yelping from the hill.  Unfortunately the sniper thus generated pinned the now leaderless lmg squad on the southern hill reducing their firepower and killing any chance of being able to reinforce the melee.  If you've been counting on your fingers you will know that Ivan now had only 11 VPs on hills (all on the southern one).  If I could break one more squad I would win.  I couldn't break one more squad.  My pinned guys reduced firepower could do nothing, even to troops standing in the open.  My rearmost mortar, blinking through the snow gained a couple of hits but to no effect.  Finally it came down to the squad in melee with a squad and a half of his.  Targetting the single squad for a 1 to 1 attack I rolled the dice.  Did I mention I suck at close combat?  I failed to kill it and at the end of the game Ivan had 11 VPs on the hill.  Sigh, bitter defeat once more.  Many thanks to Ivan for the game who maintained both his personal morale and good humour in very trying conditions early on (I would have been screaming and hiring hitmen) and pulled out a win at the last.  Maybe next time I'll give more consideration to a riverbank defence.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Welcome Vladimir

I have a new houseguest.  A wacking big spider that I have chosen to name Vladimir.  With a solid body and a leg span as broad as my hand Vladimir is definitely something special in the spider kingdom.  Sure there are other spiders in the world that might be bigger but let's face it, I don't live in the Amazon jungle.  At the rate its being bulldozed nothing else will soon either.

Vladimir turned up on my bedroom wall a few days ago and rapidly made himself at home.  Since that time walking into my bedroom has had a frisson of excitement that I'm really not used to.  Vladimir adds to the suspense by appearing somewhere else on the wall each day.  Last night he was directly over the bedroom door which meant that I walked in, looked around and then jumped out of my skin when I went to leave.  I think Vladimir was a little unnerved as well because he reared up and displayed his fangs a couple of times when I went to turn the light off.

I'm not really sure where he goes in the daytime, he's never there when I wake up.  You might think this is a source of relief but all it means is that I have to shake all of my clothes vigorously before I put them on.  So far no outraged arachnids have stumbled blinking from my shoes rubbing the sleep from its (eight) eyes but it must be a matter of time.

Various friends have suggested I kill it, a solution which had more appeal before I gave him a name.  Now it would seem uncomfortably close to murder.  Vladimir has been pretty cunning about the whole thing too.  He kept comfortably out of reach until I got used to having him around.  Now that I've named him he's probably pretty confident that I won't approach him with homicidal intent.  Completely beside the point is the fact that one on one I'm not sure I can take him.  If I tried its entirely possible I might come home one day to find my furniture piled up on the landing.

I'm actually hoping that he will wander off on his own, preferably after eating some of the mosquitos buzzing about the place, although from the size of him he probably hunts rats and small dogs.  Hopefully no one will knock on my door demanding to know what happened to their miniature schnauzer.  I will direct their attention to the handsome tree growing outside my window while I hastily kicked the gnawed bones of their childhood pet under my armchair.

I can just imagine the scene; an angry, torch wielding mob gathers outside threatening bloody vengeance for their pets (and possibly young children) while a morbidly obese Vladimir gives an embarrassed grin and attempts,  unsuccessfully, to squeeze himself under my bed.  Meanwhile I'm stuck as the meat in the sandwich as outraged villagers batter down the door and Vladimir eyes me up and tries to determine whether he's got enough time to eat me before making his escape.

In my wilder fancies I can picture Vladimir squeezing himself into my clothing and directing the visitors attention to the handsome tree growing outside the window while he kicks my gnawed bones under the armchair.  It would be interesting to see how long it will take anyone to notice.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Prepare for the Garlic Invasion

Word reached me today from our island empire's southern frontier.  A ragged, disease riddled scarecrow, half starved and with eyes branded by unimaginable horrors thrust the missive into my hands before expiring at my feet.  Australia Post certainly goes the extra mile to deliver the mail.

Apparently all is not well in garlic town.  Those of you with a retentive memory and nothing better to do may recall that one of my colleagues whiles away her unproductive hours irritating cattle and helping her husband grow garlic.  So successful have they been in this endeavour that she now fulfils her work functions in a home office half full of garlic (the other half is full of dogs and her desk).  But as the odiferous bulbs climb to the roof comes word of a challenge to their garlic hegemony.

Apparently the geriatric population of Tasmania, not content with simply waiting for death like decent people, have committed their few remaining years to growing garlic.  Suddenly Tasmania is awash with garlic.  Farmers markets are waist deep in the stuff as various senile decrepits hawk their wares.  Prices are under pressure as the sheer volume of garlic threatens to overwhelm the purchasing capacity of the six or seven people in the state who actually want to buy it.

My colleague and her husband could be forgiven for giving the whole thing away and going into abalone farming in the bathtub but they are made of sterner stuff.  Garlic is what they have farmed and garlic is what they shall continue to farm whatever the price and the demand.  It is an attitude like that which has made Australia's agricultural community what it is today; largely owned by the Chinese.

Still they have some advantages over their elderly foes.  For starters they're not likely to drop dead of a heart attack while planting the odd garlic.  Secondly they cunningly arranged to grow their garlic out of season.  This means that they are (quite literally) reaping the benefits of having garlic on hand when none other is available.  As such they get the jump on their competitors (many of whom can no longer jump at all).  However this is not enough, drastic steps need to be taken and so they are investigating the possibility of selling their garlic in Sydney.

Selling garlic in Sydney has the advantage of opening up a large market that actually has some money.  All that needs to be done is persuade the inhabitants of Sydney that they desperately need Tasmanian garlic.  Fortunately Sydney is a sophisticated market.  This means that the people are stupidly gullible in complicated and unusual ways.  I made two suggestions to my colleague, firstly that they market their garlic as "organic" and secondly that they market it as "artisan".  The people in Sydney would buy dogshit if you claimed it was both organic and artisan.

Organic turns out to be a bit of a problem.  The stuff actually is organic (as is anything else with a hydrocarbon base) but getting it officially labelled as such requires the jumping through of a tedious number of hoops.  The single benefit of organic food is that it enables you to sell it at a higher price to people who think there is some other benefit to organic food.  Since, however, this is the benefit that appeals to them my colleague and her husband are currently jumping through those hoops.  The accreditation process should be finished only a few years after they've died.

Artisan is a much better prospect.  For the life of me I can't identify any definition of artisan that extends beyond "add 100% to the price".  If you physically touched your product at some point during its creation you can claim it as artisan and price it accordingly.  Keeping production low to create a false sense of exclusivity (its garlic for god's sake, it isn't like you've never seen it before) is actually easier if production is genuinely low because you can only grow garlic in the bits of land that the rogue cow hasn't trampled (see my previous blog entry on the difficulties of garlic farming in Tasmania).

So watch out for semi organic, artisanal garlic coming soon to an exclusive food store (or alternative market) near you.  A new food empire is slowly rising in Tasmania and will soon dominate the land or at least it will if they can ever chase the cow off the growing area.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Part 1; The Perils of Ice

There are only so many times one can write a new introduction to a bunch of frost bitten Italians shivering in holes waiting for an avalanche of Russians to flood their overstretched lines.

So, um well there was this bunch of frost bitten Italians shivering in holes waiting for an avalanche of Russians to flood their overstretched lines.  Setting up a defensive line along the Don River must have seemed like a good idea in the Summer or even Autumn.  In the Winter the solidly frozen Don gleamed maliciously at the Italians and (metaphorically) licked its lips.  In between shivering and counting how many fingers they had left the Italian alpini of the Tridentina division stared across the icy expanse in the vain hope of seeing at least one mountain to justify their presence in this frozen hellscape.  What they saw instead through the mist and snow was an improbably large number of Russians charging towards them.

This is ASL scenario AP21, Red Don.  Here I shall command a bunch of elite (but seriously cold) Italians attempting to hold back Ivan Kent's Soviet hordes as they charge across the Don to evict the fascist beast's toy poodle from the Rodina.  To help me hold the line I have eleven elite squads, a heavy machine gun, four light machine guns, three 45mm mortars and some unreliable artillery support.  Added to this is a collection of trenches, barbed wire and minefields to slow the Russians down.

Ivan has twenty first line Soviet squads, four officers (including an awesome 9-2), a heavy machine gun, a pair of medium machine guns and three light machine guns.  With these he needs to surge across the (conveniently frozen) Don, swarm up the opposite bank and get ten VPs worth of troops (approx five squads give or take a leader) onto the hills on the other side.  The Italians are permitted to set their mines and wire up on river hexes at the price of making them visible to their opponents.

I checked out AARs by others who had played this scenario and it seemed that the Italian defenders had favoured an upfront defence.  That is using the wire and mines to block off, or at least discourage, Soviet attacks on parts of the front and placing the bulk of their force in trenches along the riverbank to slaughter the attackers as they rush across open ground or open ice in this case.  I considered this and decided to ignore it.  Placing all of my defenders up front seemed like a good recipe for getting them killed by well directed Soviet kill stacks.  I decided on a layered defence instead.  The wire I did indeed set up on the river, mainly on the flanks to either slow down or channel his attack towards the middle.  The artillery observer, nestled deep in a trench in the woods, was indeed on the riverbank ready to bring down fire on pretty much the entire river.  A squad and lmg lurked in the building just to the north covering the northern river bank.  A half squad an mortar were in the woods just behind them.

In the middle my 8-1 leader plus a half squad with the hmg hid in a building just back from the riverbank and another lmg squad and mortar half squad took up position in the woods to the south.  With these I hoped to inflict some pain on Ivan's initial rush across the river.  Actually I botched it, I had forgotten that the river was a level lower than the open ground and by setting my defenders back from the bank I had largely guaranteed that his troops could cross with impunity.  Behind my initial defenders I had scattered minefields where I thought they would do most good and then placed a couple more squads in trenches in overwatch positions on the hills.  The remainder of my force (about half) was entrenched in the rear hexes of the hills out of harms way.

You can see my strategy, basically it wasn't about stopping the Russians anywhere but rather slowing them to a crawl and forcing them to pay a continuous price to get to the hills and once they had got on them assailing them with fresh forces fighting from trenches.  I set up one halfsquad with a mortar well in the rear where he could fire on the forward hills if necessary.  I didn't think it was a bad strategy but it might have worked better if I'd remembered to put at least a couple more squads right on the river bank.

Having assessed such of my defence as he could see Ivan came on hard in the south with a diversionary force in the north.  A trio of squads with his support weapons (and awesome leaders) moved forward in the centre where they could support either attack.  Due to my botched deployment Ivan's first turn went smoothly, true in the north an lmg broke one of his squads but the remainder closed up to the riverbank while in the south a ghastly mass of Soviet squads piled up in front of the wire.  Ivan wasn't going around the wire, he was going through it.  One faint harbinger of things to come however was that my artillery spotter gained battery access.  The spotting round wandered all over the map but the writing was on the wall.

In my turn I was faced with a dilemma.  In the south Ivan was closing up to the riverbank.  I could move my front defenders forward and lay them open to massive defensive fire or keep them in their flawed positions and give away a little more ground as Ivan topped the bank.  I chose option B.  Things weren't helped when my hmg team, gaining a fleeting opportunity, managed to break the hmg with its first shot.  On the other hand a mortar managed to break a Soviet squad in the centre, Ivan would take bloody retribution for its temerity.

Things were going reasonably well in the north, I wasn't hurting him too much but wire and the presence of an lmg and mortar were encouraging him to be cautious.  With his kill stack now in position in the centre he shot back at my audacious mortar team and sent them yelping to the rear sans mortar.  But nemesis was approaching his kill stack.  In my fire phase I corrected the spotting round and delivered an avalanche of steel.  The first result wasn't too impressive, his 9-2 officer rolled snakes and battlehardened into a 10-2 officer but then his trio of squads broke and the kill stack was down.

Artillery has broken Ivan's kill stack but his troops in the north and south are getting off the river

With his fire support reduced to encouraging shouts from across the river Ivan was a little more circumspect with the rest of his force and settled for closing up to the river bank in the south ready to explode next turn.  In the north he eased cautiously forward against some half hearted defensive fire.

Now the moment of decision had come in the south.  While his freshly minted 10-2 attempted to rally the shellshocked survivors of the artillery barrage in the centre his southern troops breasted the bank and moved forward.  However as they did so my previously misplaced defenders were now in ideal positions and the slaughter was dreadful.  Broken squads and half squads piled up all over the southern part of the river and even my northern defenders got into the act breaking more units of his diversionary force.  I had slowed him but I hadn't stopped him.  Among the carnage in the south some squads shook off the body parts of their comrades and moved forward capturing my recently abandoned mortar.  Others eased up the south side of the board looking towards the nearby hill.

In response I pulled back my surviving forward defenders and solidified my grip on the endangered hills.  In the rear noble rally efforts had allowed Ivan to patch his kill stack back together and he moved it forward.  Once again I called for artillery and once again was rewarded with a black chit (scarce ammo, what's that?) although once again the spotting round went wide.  No matter, Ivan spread his machine gun teams out this time setting up two forces in the woods on one of the centre islands.  In my next fire phase I adjusted the spotting round and immediately converted to FFE.  That was a risk but my roll was accurate and once again the artillery rained down on Ivan's fire support.  This time there would be no mistake, snake eyes eliminated the 10-2, a squad and an mmg.  Normal morale checks broke the remainder, Ivan's kill stack was again smashed and this time it would be a lot harder to patch back together.

In the south the survivors of Ivan's surge up from the river move forward (although one of them has moved forward onto a minefield).
Not all of my southern defenders made it back to safety.  On the southern hill an overwatch squad has been broken and has fled to the rear and the broken mortar halfsquad is limping along in the open hoping Ivan has better things to shoot at.  In the north a couple of his squads have made it past the first defenders and are closing in on the northern hill where one of my squads has been unsuccessfully trying to dig itself some foxholes for the last two turns now.

This is where we left it for the night.  Ivan has taken punishing casualties but is now moving in the right direction, especially in the south.  It remains to be seen if the rest of my strategy will work as well as the beginning.  Ivan will be coming in hard in the south and I can't ignore the north, even if he doesn't rally any of the squads in the river he has four VPs worth of infantry within sight of a hill and all they have to do is get there and survive.  Plus down in the south is a 9-1 officer who will no doubt be able to rally a fair few of the slackers.  The game is poised but I'm happy with what's happened so far, I've even managed to repair my hmg (and an lmg I broke at some other point in the game).  If the support weapons and the artillery hold together I might be able to squeeze out a win.