Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Training Day Part 1 - Failing to Learn From Experience

After my ghastly showing in the previous scenario I am determined to gain revenge on Ivan the gently smiling assassin.  The next scenario on our extended torturing Poland to death is BFP-109 Training Day.  This features a ridiculously overequipped German force attempting to drive the Poles out of some fearsome looking fortifications.

The German objective is to seize something that looks suspiciously like a castle despite this being 1939.  The Poles simply need to retain control of one location of that "castle" in order to win.  The Germans win automatically if they manage to destroy it.  For the defence the Poles have thirteen first line squads, five officers including a 9-2 superman.  For back up they have two medium machine guns, four light machine guns, two 76mm artillery pieces, two 37mm antitank guns and a 75mm antiaircraft gun.  Fortifications consist of two roadblocks, ten wire counters, ten A-T ditch counters, eight trenches, two pillboxes, twelve factors of A-T mines and 48 factors of A-P mines.  Plus the castle has cellars which open onto the trenches and there is an armoured cupola at each corner of the castle on the roof (turret?) mounting a heavy machine gun.  In addition the Poles get sixteen dummy counters to spread the load and are able to hide three squad equivalents.

What do I, as the Germans, have to counter this staggering defensive array?  Good question.  I have seventeen squads of elite SS troops and eight squads of very elite army engineers.  This field grey and sinister black horde is commanded by six officers (including an awesome 10-2, he will no doubt die soon).  Between them they are toting two heavy machine guns, four medium machine guns, four light machine guns, four flamethrowers, six demolition charges and are backed up by two 81mm mortars and a radio connection to 150mm artillery sitting on top of an embarrassingly large supply of ammunition.  To escort my troops forward I have a pair of PzIAs, a pair of PzIBs, six PzIIAs, three PzIVCs and a pair of PzII bridgelayers, presumably for bridging the antitank ditches as neither Ivan nor I can come up with any other reason for their presence.  Over it all hovers the threat of dive bomber attack as the Luftwaffe too is coming to my party.

Wow, what a force!  How could I possibly lose?  People who've read previous AARs know better than to ask questions like that.  My first decision was a trade off.  I didn't have to set up everything on board.  I could choose to enter some of my force later after I had felt out the Polish defences.  On the other hand this would delay my attack.  I held back the bridgelayers but set up everything else.  I had to set up on or north of hexrow 6 on board 13 which meant that much of my approach was blocked by the streams.  Apart from the flanks (which had their own threats) the only way across the streams was on a pair of elevated roads. 

I crammed the bulk of my force on the west (left) edge and in the few hexes south of the stream I could occupy over there.  Both my mortars and all of my assault troops were there as was my artillery officer with the radio.  On the east I had a more modest force on the far flank and a trio of tanks up on the elevated road.  Yes, targets I know but they had to get across somehow.  Below you see my set up, including such fortifications as the presence of my troops was able to reveal.  Ivan has obviously set up his antitank ditch to prevent a straight out frontal assault which I must confess I didn't contemplate making.  Wire and concealed troops guard the flanks and it is those flanks I am obviously planning to hit.

The start, my troops are tripping over each other while Ivan cringes beneath concealment counters.

The first turn was modest in its achievements.  I inched forward on both flanks cautiously feeling my way.  A few sacrificial halfsquads raced forward trying to tease some fire from the defenders to no avail.  The only defensive fire was from the cupolas attacking my troops armoured assaulting along one of the elevated roads but I got away with a pin result.  Over in the east in response to the antitank ditch blocking the path of my tanks I simply roared a tank into the forest, and promptly bogged.  However a comrade smashed through the adjacent woods hex blazing a path for my infantry to follow.  My eastern flankers starting trotting forwards.

On the left and centre anticlimax was the order of the day as my modest moves were met with no response.  My fit young SS troopers proved physically incapable of moving a mortar and collapsed gasping around it while other troops moved past them on the left and right.  My assault force on the left inched forwards preceded by half squads who completely failed to detect the antitank mines which blew a track off a following PzII, my first tank loss of the day.

Anti tank guns with a high rate of fire.  I weep tears of blood.

The first tank loss of the day was swiftly followed by two more as Ivan revealed a 37mm atg in the marsh on the right.  He promptly went on a rate tear which enabled him to swing the gun around to the east and destroy my trail blazing PzII and then swing back around to the west and take out a PzIV on the elevated road.  Naturally this was the tanks with my 10-2 armour leader and I'm sure you can understand the relief I felt when that useless bastard finally died and I didn't have to remember what tank he was in anymore.  Seriously, sometimes my armour leaders hang around until turn three, I've never managed to find a use for them so they're essentially pointless bookkeeping.  I have a 9-1 armour leader (somewhere) but I confidently expect him to be dead before long as well.  Sanguine though I was about the armour leader's passing I was ropeable that I had lost a precious PzIV.  Athirst for vengeance I fired my entire infantry force on the right at the guncrew for a 24+3 shot.  Naturally I rolled a ten and cowered thus producing a thirteen on the twelve table, no result.  Infuriated I smashed them with my next prep fire but I don't think Ivan was complaining at the loss ratio.  All other troops I had encountered proved to be dummies so that gun crew is Ivan's only genuine casualty so far.

I have skilfully identified more of his antitank mines by the simple expedient of driving tanks over them which has led to another PzIV being immobilised in an utterly useless position (right next to a roadblock).  I then decided to fire on the roadblock and promptly broke the MA, this tank just wasn't interested in the war at all.  If I try and repair the gun I will no doubt recall the vehicle which will be awkward since its immobile.  I've also managed to bog another tank trying to blast through the forest on the left.

As Ivan's turn 2 approaches I have closed up a little on the left, lost a stupid amount of tanks and am starting to make plans for the future.  At some point best known to themselves the Luftwaffe will deign to put in an appearance hopefully at a time when it will be useful.  At the very least it should help me find where he's hidden his AA gun.  I now need to sort myself out and transform a rather incoherent attack into a dagger driven deep into the vitals of the Polish position, twisted brutaly and then extracted with soft, dripping squidgy bits dangling from it. 

No I don't think playing wargames increases ones propensity for violence.  Why do you ask?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Camping in the Third Circle of Hell

On a bleak, sullen day I set forth from hearth and home.  I laughed at the grey skies, sneered at the flecks of rain and generally turned my collar to the cold and damp as someone much more talented that I might put it.  Stopping only to collect a wheelbarrow full of cheese I made my way to Glebe.  On arrival I found Tony fast asleep and Jasmyn hiding behind a couch talking to someone in Thailand.  I was having none of this and swiftly whipped them both into loading up the car and heading out to Glenworth Valley for our camping experience.

After spending most of the morning searching for gas (my suggestion about simply running a hose from the exhaust pipe into the car being not well received) we finally turned up in the land of frozen horse manure pretty much simultaneously with the rain.  It was grey and chilly as I helped Tony set up his tent.  When I say "helped Tony set up his tent" I mean got in his way and listened to him rave on about my incompetence at tasks I rarely attempt and have no interest in.  By the way Tony, I'm crap at brain surgery too.

Has anybody read the book "The Farthest Shore" by Ursula K LeGuin?  In it she describes a battered and broken dragon's body on the shore of an island.  Imagine that in olive green and you have a rough idea of what Tony's tent looked like.  Alternatively, imagine a landing craft driven onto the shore to disgorge its cargo of troops and tanks.  This should also give you an idea of what Tony's tent looks like.  Into this combined landing craft/dragon's corpse we would toss five disparate children simultaneously hoping that they would be protected from the weather and wouldn't kill each other. 

When Jason deigned to turn up he would produce another large tent (it had wings.  My home doesn't have wings) into which we would throw three disparate adults etc etc.  One of the disparate adults would not be me.  Neither would either of the other two.  It was gently pointed out to me that I snore like crazy and generally nobody wanted to be that close to me.  So I was exiled to a very small tent which I had to myself.  I helped Jason set up his tent (see previous comments about Tony's tent) and then Jason very kindly helped me set up my collapsible hovel nearby.

Having stowed my belongings I took stock of my surroundings.  They were cold.  They were very cold.  They were so incredibly cold that I think I would have difficulty explaining to you how cold they really were.  Obviously other places are colder.  Antarctica for example would no doubt make our frozen little patch of misery seem quite temperate by comparison.  So would the top of Mt Everest.  This misses the point;firstly those places are meant to be cold and secondly I was not currently camping out in either of them!!!

We built a fire.  By this, of course, I mean "they built a fire".  "They" being the three semi competent adults on this mission implausible.  Between them Tony, Jason and David set fire to various bits of tree corpse eagerly fetched by the five children they had collectively delivered into this semi arctic wilderness.  At dinnertime Jason hacked a frozen chunk of spaghetti bolognese into manageable lumps and used a gas stove to defrost it sufficiently for human consumption.  Then, as tradition demands, we stuck marshmallows on sticks, set fire to them and basically ate carbonated sugar.  Except for Tony who lavished the same amount of attention and care on his marshmallow and its cooking that one normally reserves for one's first born child.  He took great pleasure afterwards in telling us how magnificently he had cooked it.  I think it's fair to say nobody else cared in the slightest.

Eventually when it looked like the wood on the fire might give out we slunk off to our tents.  I had brought clothing to sleep in.  I put them on over the clothes I was currently wearing and crawled into my sleeping bag.  And shivered.  I kept on shivering all through the night.  At one point Jason stuck his head out of the big tent long enough to see if I was all right.  This was until somebody pointed out that the pitiful whimpering was probably one of his children.  I lost interest at this point and resumed my fitful, icy slumber.  I was informed later that I snored.  I know somebody did but I'm pretty sure I was awake at the time.

One good thing about the cold was that getting out of one's sleeping bag didn't actually make you appreciably colder.  Come next morning we emerged blinking from our tents, crunched across the frost covered ground, sat down in front of the freshly revived fire and didn't move for the next several hours.  At first we locked the children in one of the cars but after fuel for the fire ran low we let them out to "play" which essentially meant "fetch wood".  This they did with such enthusiasm that I started fearing for the well being of some of the trees dotting the landscape.  In between fetching wood they attempted to drown each other in the creek.  This is known as quality time with the children.  In fact I suspect the children's quality time was enhanced by the fact that none of the adults were prepared to move more than two feet away from the fire.

There is horse riding at Glenworth Valley, there is quad biking, there is, apparently, laser tag.  However all of those things meant moving away from the fire so we didn't.  Devoid of options and utterly desperate we started talking to each other.  In the course of this conversation conducted over the smell of burning flesh as we hugged hot coals to our respective breasts we discussed gender inequality (and decided on balance that it was bad) and the merits of censorship of children's books (ABSOLUTELY NONE WHATSOEVER, PUT YOUR LIGHTER AWAY TONY!!!).  I suggested (not for the first time) that we all eat a bucket load of cheese.  We didn't.

The entire of Sunday was really a preliminary.  Having put the tents up on Saturday the only reason why we were still there on Sunday was because we had to wait until the condensation on the tents evaporated so we could take them down again.  This took until about two in the afternoon by which time the children's inventiveness in sourcing (supposedly) dead wood was beginning to flag.  In desperate snatches we broke down our camp, returning to the fire to defrost occasionally, packed everything up, fished the children out of creeks, mudholes, sand pits and whatever else they had managed to get into and fled for warmer climes as fast as we could travel.  I don't think we left any children behind.

Tony is thinking about going back there in August.  I wish him well with that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Return to the Horse Dung Emporium

It is a little difficult to believe but once again friends of mine have invited me to go camping.  They have even offered to provide me with a little tent situated some distance away from the big tent where the grown ups are because I snore.  This is useful as I suspect without that I might have been reduced to crawling under a car for shelter.

This camping trip is a father's and children affair.  For some reason I have been invited despite not fulfilling the entry criteria.  I am (arguably) male but I have no offspring and my attempt to source some on a temporary basis for the weekend was met with, shall we say, hesitation by my friends.  Hesitation and the occasional threatened restraining order.

Our destination is Glenwood Valley or Glendale Wood or Valleydale Glen, something like that anyway; its basically a bowl filled with horsedung.  Trees are dotted around the place and a small stream flows through.  It's rather pretty and picturesque for those without a sense of smell.  We came here before in 40 degree heat when the atmosphere was robust to say the least.  By picking a late Autumn arrival date we stand more chance of the air being breathable.

Chores were allocated and Jason and I were tasked with providing dinner on Saturday night.  I contacted Jason, did he want any help with dinner?  Jason intimated that he might stab me if I came anywhere near the food.  Fair enough.  I bought cheese and biscuits instead.  Plus quince paste because nothing says "we're having a classy cheese and biscuit evening" quite like quince paste.  I'm not even sure what quince paste is but I've got some.

Having acquired a sleeping bag to replace the one that didn't make it back from Africa and chased the spiders out of my air mattress I am now fully ready to go on a camping trip.  Except for all of the things I've forgotten.  I don't know what they are, I've forgotten them.  My fellow campers will point them out in tones ranging from incredulity (I can't believe you've forgotten that!) to weary contempt (I find it so easy to believe you've forgotten that).  Last time it was plates and cutlery, excuse me we're camping.  I thought we would hunt down and kill stuff and then tear it apart with our bare hands and eat it raw.  Apparently getting back to nature is more fun as long as you don't get very back to nature.

Let's face it this is the truth of camping.  We go camping to pretend we're getting back to nature while actually emphasising our complete disconnect from it.  Nature has become a sort of theme park that we visit with as many of the comforts of home as we can possibly arrange.  We set all of this stuff up, stare at nature from a safe distance and agree with each other as to how rugged we are.  We will frequently wear specially designed clothing often in dull or camouflage colours to demonstrate how edgy and out in the wild we are but its all bullshit really.  From time to time somebody does genuinely get back to nature.  You can always tell.  They're the ones we have to send the rescue choppers to go and find.  Frequently they die.  Nature isn't nice, not even to temporary visitors.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Silly After Action Report Part 2 Steel Garden of Agony

This could well be the shortest second part of an AAR ever written.  Those of you with a retentive memory may recall that Ivan was poised like a vulture on a branch over the mangled carcass of my force waiting to swoop down and eviscerate the still living victim.  Ivan had two turns to do the eviscerating, he only needed one.  Over on the left hope flared briefly when I rolled snake eyes while attempting to rally a DM'ed, disrupted conscript halfsquad.  Naturally the gutless rats surrendered.  There are almost as many Polish prisoners as there are surviving troops.  Over on the right my mmg crew refused to rally but still things looked ominous but not necessarily terminal.

Ivan had a mass of infantry poised to take the centre victory buildings but a heroic FT17 stood in the way, threatening all who wanted to pass with machine gun fire.  Sadly Ivan had a counter to this.  He had captured my 75mm gun in a previous turn and opened fire.  Missing with the first shot Ivan then intensive fired the gun.  That is he intensive fired a captured gun being manned by inexperienced troops.  His breakdown number was eight and he needed a four to hit me at all.  He rolled a four and shocked the FT17. 

I nearly burst a blood vessel at that point, I'm pretty sure that Ivan was glad he was in another building at that point.  After a brief period of swearing and minor self harm I was ready to continue.  I still had a leader led mmg dominating the open ground, something which I demonstrated when Ivan ran a squad out into the open.  It was drawing fire of course but you can't ignore a squad and an 8-3 shot vapourised it while maintaining rate which probably wasn't quite what Ivan intended.  After that Ivan got sensible and rolled a pair of tanks up to lock my guys up in VBM sleaze.  This helped his infantry charge across the now completely safe open ground and ready for close combat.

Over on the left Ivan reinforced his troops in the remaining victory building by the simple expedient of wandering out into the open.  A 4-3 shot proved incapable of stopping him.  With his tanks now unchallenged he used a pair of them to ruin my day on the left as well.  One dropped smoke which allowed a squad to sidle up to my squad and 7-1 leader clinging to a stone building and nursing fond (and as it turned out totally vain) hopes of sneaking back into the victory building.  In the advance phase he charged in there and into victory building in the centre.

I challenge you to find a Polish counter

I had at first greeted the idea of close combat on the left with a certain amount of calm, I had a 7-1 leader to guide my troops and mitigate their green status and I felt they would give as good as they got.  Sadly the leader was pinned by a burst of Ivan's advancing fire before his troops went in.  Still despite the poor modifiers there was no ambush and I dared to hope.  Despite the pinned leader simply possessing it meant I outnumbered Ivan.  He would attack me at 1-2 odds whereas I would be at 1-1.

I rolled a four which was enough to kill Ivan's squad.  Ivan rolled snake eyes which was enough to generate a leader, adjust the odds, invalidate my result and kill everything I had in the hex.  I did manage to casualty reduce his squad but frankly by this time there was little point.  One tiny flicker of hope still flared.  Over in the centre I had managed to ambush Ivans two squads plus 9-1 leader and I promptly withdrew upstairs.  This didn't solve any of my problems but it did prolong my agony another half a turn or so.

On my turn six I had two squads over on the left reasonably well placed to take back the victory building there if they could survive and in the centre I had one upstairs squad who was, frankly, doomed unless a miracle happened.  A miracle didn't happen.  I fired some prepatory shots which produced no result, Ivan fired some defensive shots which obliterated my remaining forces, what was left of my personal morale collapsed and I surrendered.

In retrospect my faulty set up killed me.  I think the Poles have to set up a bit further forward to challenge the Germans as they advance with their defensive positions anchored by the tanks.  My disjointed tank set up and rearward infantry killed me.  Ivan also diced the crap out of me but actually apart from the effect it had on my personal morale I don't think that was the difference.  With even average dice Ivan would have been able to punch through my set up and seize the necessary buildings.

I'm on the attack next time and Ivan is teasing me with promises of lavish equipment and heavy support for my German troops.  I know what that means, they're going to be asked to do the impossible.  I can't wait.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Can You Hear the Cows Tonight?

We all know what the Cycle of Life is.  Its that thing they used in The Lion King to explain to the children of inner city urbanites why lions aren't vegan.  Things not explained in that movie were why lions still had a system of government based on hereditary rule rather than of the lions, by the lions for the lions.  Neither did it address the shocking misogyny in lion communities as revealed in that cutting edge social documentary, Big Cat Diaries.  Personally I think Simba's pride would benefit from a people's (or rather, lion's) revolution combined with mandatory gender studies classes.  Rather typically the Cycle of Life was explained by one lion to another.  If the antelope had been asked for their definition it would have probably been something as simple as "it means those bastards with the manes get to kill us".

Leaving the broad savannahs of Africa behind the Cycle of Life turns even in places so far removed from Africa that Savannah is nothing more than the name given to your sixteen year old daughter's second child.  Yes naturally I'm talking about Tasmania which is to Australia what the Habsburgs were to sensible marriage policies.  Now that the Winter snows have come early and people look towards a long dark future (which to be fair has been the case in Tasmania for about the past fifty years) the Cycle of Life is about to run over a very special cow.

You know this cow.  This is the cow I immortalised in a previous blog entry who refused to move across the road with the rest of the cattle.  Proudly defiant it stared down the farmers and challenged them to do their worst.  This cow has been living happily ever since on its chosen side of the road.  It has even been given a name.  Admittedly that name is "Moo" so it isn't like imaginations were stretched to the limit or anything but nevertheless a small blow for bovine liberty had been struck.

Now this happy story is reaching its natural end.  As the Cycle of Life moves on so naturally do cows proceed towards beef.  My Tasmania located colleague has spotted her mother in law chalking outlines of various cuts on Moo's hide and calls have been put in to people who may have a penchant for the freshest of meat.  As we gather together to celebrate the continuation of the natural order of things (and not coincidentally enjoy a tender steak dinner) let us pause to remember this cow who provided us all with so much joy and entertainment.

I'll actually be sorry to see this cow go despite the fact that my sole involvement with it has been the occasional anecdote related second hand by my colleague.  I did in fact discreetly investigate how much money it would take to save it but upon being told decided that there is a financial limit to the amount of sentiment I'm prepared to permit myself.

Meanwhile still in our own personal antipodes Forestry Tasmania, the government body charged with chopping down and selling trees at a loss has discovered an example of a vary rare eagle.  They discovered it by chopping down all the trees around where it lived and finding the nest in the wreckage.  Strangely they still haven't got their Forestry Stewardship Council certification.  Go figure.

Sometimes Staring at A Blank Screen Doesn't Produce Anything Remotely Interesting

I thought I might sit here and simply make stuff up as I went along.  Normally I have some idea of what I'm going to write about.  It needn't be particularly clever or profound (let me be clear, I have no problem if it is clever or profound) which is a blessing really.  On this occasion, however, I really have no idea what I'm going to be talking about.  Although as I type this it occurs to me that perhaps this is a good opportunity for me to apologise for my persistent habit of breaking my sentences up with brackets and commas (although I'm never entirely sure as to which is the more appropriate) usually to permit me to insert lame attempts at humour or smart arse remarks.

It isn't that I'm unaware of this (and in case I was unaware of it a friend helpfully pointed it out) or am blind to the fact that it can make sentences choppy and difficult to read.  To stretch the term to breaking point you could say that it is part of my writing style.  If you wanted to be less generous but more accurate you could see it as evidence of the fact that I never really learnt how to write.  No, I'm not actually pleading illiteracy.  The sheer volume of turgid, bracket mangled, comma afflicted rubbish cluttering this blog indicates that I am more or less capable of getting a number of words strung together in something that could (with a certain generosity of spirit) be described as a sentence if you don't look too closely.  However I never learnt how to write essays.  At least I didn't learn it at a time when learning it might have been useful such as before my higher school certificate exams.  Everybody else seemed to know what an essay was when the teachers told us to write one but for some reason I didn't.  When the teacher said "write an essay" I wrote a story instead.  This didn't go down too well and by the time I figured out what an essay was I was running out of time.

I did rather badly in my English exams largely as a result of pique.  I was so annoyed that nobody had told me what an essay was that I didn't really try and improve on them even after I found out what they were.  Instead I got into a quiet (but quite serious) snit about people who insisted on having several thousand words written about somebody else's several thousand words.  For god's sake, just say whether you liked the damn play (or book, or poem or whatever) I honestly don't care what "the author is trying to say" if he says it well (in my opinion) I will like it, frequently without actually having to like, accept or appreciate a single point the author fondly imagines he's making.  Or she of course, I would have put that in but I already had two sets of brackets and a parentheses in the preceding sentence and even by my standards that's starting to get a little ridiculous.

I tend to write as I speak, that is; at length, with frequent self interruptions, circumlocutions and archaisms which I throw in not so much to show off how many big words I know (note I avoided the temptation to use the word Brobdingnagian there) as because I'm rather fond of them.  I also learnt much of my vocabulary at an early age and this form of communication is actually quite natural to me.  I also suspect watching Yes Minister at an impressionable age might have helped.  Of course it does mean that my speech, like my writing, is convoluted, over stretched and frequently incoherent.  This would probably matter more if what I was saying was in anyway profound or useful.  Fortunately this is rarely the case and any time I am actually saying something profound and useful you can probably write it off as a statistical anomaly.  If I am actually speaking in short, easy to understand sentences then something has probably gone horribly wrong.  When it comes to calling the fire brigade or the police I can usually attain a level of concision my writing would kill for.  Speaking of which I should probably just nip out and make sure that the feminine shrieks and moans emanating from next door were the result of an enjoyable interlude and not a terrible home invasion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Midnight in the Steel Garden of Good and Hopelessly Incompetent - Part 1

Finally it's here.  This is the fourth scenario Ivan and I have played from Poland in Flames (created by Bounding Fire Productions perfect for all your lebensraum needs) and at last we have a proper Poles vs Germans scenario.  The first two scenarios had Slovak understudies playing the part of the Germans and the last one had a collection of overweight deadbeats somewhat implausibly claiming connection to the master race.  Now, however we have BFP 132 - Steel Garden which pits a solid team of German infantry backed up by a wealth of early war tanks against their Polish equivalents.  What could go wrong?

How about everything?  If your reading of my AARs has been limited to the three previous Poland in Flames scenarios you might have a slightly inaccurate opinion of my abilities at this game.  Two wins and the barest of losses make up my record so far.  Sadly this flatters me tremendously as you shall see.  The scenario pits sixteen first line German squads led by six officers ranging from mediocre to John Wayne with a trio of medium machine guns and four light machine guns.  Backing up this impressive assault force is a collection of eleven tanks.  Four Pz Is, six Pz IIs and a solitary Pz IV.  Ivan would command this blitzkrieg made flesh  whereas I would take charge of the noble Polish warriors defending their homeland from the fascist beast (ok, so Poland's government at the time was pretty fascist beasty itself but at least they were locals).  My defending force consisted of twelve and a half squads (four green and the rest first line), four officers of mixed quality, a pair of medium machine guns, a single light machine gun, an antitank rifle and a 75mm gun which could only fire HE.  To challenge Ivan's tanks I too had armour.  Very, very slow armour.  I had three FT17M tanks which were only armed with machine guns (like his Pz Is only much worse) and five FT18C tanks which were armed only with a 37mm gun.  In armour they were no worse than the bulk of Ivan's tank force and the 37mm gun was a genuine killer against Ivan's thin skinned vehicles.  The real problem with my tanks was their speed.  They moved at a rate normally associated with glaciers and continental drift.  If Ivan could get past them they certainly weren't going to catch up.

As defender I prepared a set up and sent it off to Ivan the day before we were due to play.  Ivan sent it back shortly afterwards gently pointing out that I had set my tanks up on the wrong board.  Some hasty revisions later and I was ready to play, or so I thought.  As we began the first turn Ivan politely inquired what had happened to the six concealment counters the scenario had allocated to me.  Fortunately Ivan wears headphones when playing online with me otherwise his children would have a vastly expanded vocabulary by now.  I was prepared to eschew the concealment counters as punishment for being a complete babbling halfwit but Ivan insisted I place a few (honest officer) so I dropped a couple onto existing stacks and left it at that.

Ivan's goal was to cross approximately two and a half boards of territory in the teeth of no doubt furious Polish resistance and seize three buildings deep in the rear of the Polish position.  Furthermore he had to do this and destroy at least four of the eight tanks that made up my armoured force.  Since tank kills are essential you might think hiding said tanks would be a good idea.  I thought so, hence my faulty set up.  However the game designers ensured that the Polish tanks would be up front where the action was and they were too slow to run away.

My problem was that there were plenty of routes to the victory buildings and I couldn't cover them all effectively.  As you can see from the set up picture above I spread my troops across the width of the board, mostly in the rear near the victory buildings.  You can also see that I made a mess of my tank set up with four of my eight tanks illegally placed on the rear board.  My thinking was that whichever way Ivan came I would have enough time to redeploy my out of position troops to cover the threatened area.  In this I was completely correct, its just that the redeployed troops totally failed to stop the Germans. 

Over on the right I had a leader led mmg and half squad hidden on the first floor to act as tank flank defence.  Over on the left I boldly placed a pair of FT18s well forward to cover a flank move in that direction.  On the right an FT18 and an FT17 lurked behind a wall looking to guard the right flank.  With my mistaken deployment corrected I had a pair of tanks right in the middle of the northern edge of board 6 hoping to shoot up some approaching armour.  I had no hopes that these guys would survive for long but hoped they might take a tank or two with them, they didn't.  My last pair of tanks (an FT18 and an FT17) were deep south of board 6 positioned to make a "run" for the gap in the trees behind which were the victory buildings.  My 75mm was also set up in those trees and I hoped the three would form a formidable gun line (nope).  Although the bulk of my infantry was in the rear I had a halfsquad set up concealed in the large middle building and another, toting the antitank rifle HIP in the same building.

Ivan set up virtually his entire force in the middle.  It was obvious he was going to crash though my upfront defenders and charge straight down.  To keep my flank guards honest he deployed a pair of tanks against each of them.  I'll deal with them first as that story doesn't take long.  Over on the (my) left Ivan roared a pair of Pz IIs up to my FT18s.  I fired and completely failed to hit anything.  In the next turn I did indeed manage to kill one of his tanks but in response the survivor went on a rate tear with its MA and took out both of my tanks.  The left was open.  Over on the right Ivan nudged a Pz II cautiously up onto a hill overlooking my FT18 on the right.  I fired my 37mm gun and broke it.  In response Ivan fired his 20mm gun and broke it.  The next turn each of us would roll a six on our repair dies and both tanks would slink off the board in embarrassment.  This left a single machine gun toting FT17 on the right which (being bereft of radio) needed to roll a task check before it could start moving.  It also needed to roll for mechanical reliability as the tank engines really were rather crap.

But these were the preliminaries.  With them out of the way Ivan picked up pretty much the rest of his OB and threw it at the two tanks defending the centre of the board.

I failed to hurt any of his tanks as they ploughed forwards but somewhat to my surprise my own survived the first turn despite a 9-1 led squad and a half charging into close combat with the FT18.  That couldn't last of course and in the next turn my tank was torn apart by battle hungry infantry.  Whereupon drunk with power they promptly charged into close combat with the FT17.  However the FT17 has machine guns as was demonstrated to Ivan when, after surviving the initial close combat I broke all three units in my next prep fire.  This prompted Ivan to do the sensible thing and he destroyed the FT17 with a tank.

Meanwhile his infantry was trotting south.  A Pz I rolled past my HIP unit and I managed to immobilise the thing in a reasonably inconvenient position much to my delight.  After two turns I had lost five tanks (including the one recalled) and the one on the right was so far our of position that four turns later it still hasn't got back into the battle.  My other two tanks did indeed make it back to form a gunline.  Whereupon his Pz IV  rolled up and shot it to pieces.  I'm not sure if it was the 75mm gun or the FT18 that immobilised the Pz IV but in return it destroyed the FT18 and broke the crew manning the gun.  The other FT17 is now the only Polish vehicle within range of the fighting.

Gun crew gone and FT18 doomed.  Eventually Ivan would break the gun on the PzIV which was the only thing that stopped it.  Don't be too impressed with my concealed troops in the woods to the left.  Ivan blew them away with nary a problem.

While this armour inspired misery was rolling on I had, according to plan shuffled my troops to focus on the threatened areas.  I have tightened my perimeter and garrisoned one of the victory buildings.  I also built a defence line in the woods to slow Ivan down.  It didn't slow him down (although it did cost him another tank) and he smashed my defence on the left (the right hung a little tougher).   Over on the left I did something I thought was clever.  I had a concealed green halfsquad next to a CX German squad.  I sneaked into close combat hoping I might be able to get an ambush on him.  At the very least I would have some modifiers for his CX.  Ivan just captured the halfsquad and didn't even break a sweat.  He now has two squads worth of Polish prisoners or he did until he pushed his luck too far and moved their escort out into the street.  Despite the multitude of human shields his guys broke (and a squads worth of prisoners died) and there is now a prisoner halfsquad running around unsuccessfully trying to scrounge some weapons.  Ivan appears too busy to give these losers a merciful bullet.

 With two turns to go Ivan stands poised on the brink of total victory ready to sweep across the open ground towards the remaining victory buildings.  To stop him I have a single FT17 (ok one more if its comrade can ever catch up) and about five remaining squad equivalents.  I am not hopeful.  As for Ivan's dice I will just say if you're going to roll my sniper number twenty times could I at least get more than four sniper results? 

It's cost him a few tanks but Ivan rules the battlefield.

Still I must not be down hearted or permit Ivan's evil combination of skill and gentle good humour (I know what you're up to Kent!!!) distract me from what needs to be done.   He only has two turns and he has to take (and then hold) all three victory buildings.  So far he has a toehold in one.  Perhaps the dice gods will be kind or possibly I can fake a heart attack and mess with the set up while he's calling an ambulance.  Options abound. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stupidity, as Scott Adams said, Is Not a Point of View

If something is pleasant and possibly useful or, at least, not harmful does it matter if that thing is fundamentally rubbish?  I raised this question or one quite similar to it on my blog a while ago and came to the conclusion that no, it didn't.  A possible caveat to the above is that whatever you do shouldn't be seen as a precedent.  If you find that eating earwax alleviates your migraines then go right ahead and keep eating it.  However you shouldn't attempt to persuade others of the benefits of earwax eating and you really, really shouldn't set up a faux medical business on the basis of the supposed benefits of earwax consumption.  Or at least you shouldn't do that without rigorous trials, experimentation, research and peer reviews of the results so that you understand the reason why the earwax diet is working.  Possibly you will discover that it doesn't and you're just a psychosomatic freak with disgusting personal habits.

The reason my mind has wandered back to these somewhat trampled fields is a massage I had earlier today.  To enjoy my massage (and I do enjoy massages) I had to visit a wellness centre place which is like a medical centre staffed by witch doctors and naive, impressionable but terribly well intentioned children.  As I noted above I enjoy massages and I frequently have them when various other aspects of my half baked fitness regime result in aching muscles.  I have no idea if the massages actually do any good but I refer you to the first couple of sentences of this blog entry.  As I waited for the muscle wrangler to attend me I glanced around the waiting room.

The place was a little like a doctor's waiting room only pleasant.  Gentle music played, water infused with tiny amounts of something else was available for those with a thirst and a sense of humour.  An array of herbal teas were also present for those who can't help taking a joke too far.  In one corner a mister discharged something putatively therapeutic into the atmosphere.  If wishful thinking, quack remedies and homespun bullshit were as effective as their exponents claim then simply sitting in that waiting room is the key to immortality.

As I sat there under a relentless barrage of wellness I felt rather guilty.  Here I was validating with my presence (and of course my cash) the pack wrong headed ideas, dubious suppositions and fantasist nonsense which collectively made up this centre's treatment programmes.  This concerned me sufficiently that I started reconsidering my original position.

It's all very well for someone to believe something stupid.  That is their right and let's face it there's a hell of a lot of precedent on their side.  We've been believing stupid stuff for millennia.  I am also fully in favour of people exercising their free will to the greatest extent compatible with the safety and well being of others.  If somebody terminally ill tries a bunch of quack remedies is that really bad?  After all they're dying anyway and at least now they're dying with hope.  I just can't help worrying about what sort of example we're setting.  Now that we no longer run snake oil merchants out of town on a rail there is a danger that our tolerance is mistaken for endorsement.  Connected with this is my worry that people are mistaking their right to hold an opinion no matter how silly (absolutely true) with a requirement that this opinion be accepted as valid by others (absolute bullshit).

I am starting to get concerned that the human race is not so much losing its capacity for rational judgement as it is deliberately excising it and I'm also worried that our free and easy attitude towards wrongheaded stupidity is encouraging this flight from sanity.  But what to do about it?  History has shown that any attempt to force people to think the right things ends not just badly but horrifically and with a dreadfully high body count.  I think all that is left is to make a personal appeal.

People of Earth!  I shan't tell you not to be stupid as I realise this is beyond many of you and let's face it we all have our moments.  I will just ask this.  Please don't think that being stupid is just as valid as being smart.  Because that is really stupid.

PS:  Scott Adams writes Dilbert where the quote in the title first appeared.  Plagiarism isn't plagiarism if its done with respect.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

When Did You Last Receive a Letter

I have received quite literally sacks of letters demanding to know how my orchid is getting along.  You know, the one that was at death's door several weeks ago.  Well it's still at deaths door but is showing a remarkable reluctance to actually step through.  Indeed, careful nurturing and removing it from direct sunlight sparked quite a renaissance in its health leading to lush green leaves and beautiful flowers.

The unexpected and completely untypical health of a plant in my care led to the unusual situation of my colleagues placing their more shabby looking orchids next to mine in the hope they would catch whatever mine had.  They must have done because my orchid is now looking sick again.  One whole branch is a dry brown colour and the number of flowers and fresh growth is dropping by the day.  Way to infect me with your failure guys.

However I think a far more important question that arises from the statement above is "Who the hell sends letters nowadays?"  I don't, nobody I know does.  The only people I can think of who send letters are the various utility providers who mail me their bills.  Even these are constantly demanding that I switch to electronic billing (which I pointblank refuse to do) and to force me down this path are now charging me for the acting of sending me a bill.  In years to come I confidently expect penalties for not embracing electronic billing to include employees of the utility company in question coming around and burning down my home.  An act which, thanks to the child safety locks on my windows, I shall not survive.

Still, snail mail is in decline.  Not surprisingly so is Australia Post.  I'm pretty sure I remember a time when government bodies were set up to serve the public rather than make a profit but if I told anyone younger than me this they would stare at me in disbelief.  Now that almost nobody sends mail any more a business based on charging people for sending mail is struggling to make ends meet.  Rather than try and make Australia Post turn a profit we should have a discussion on whether we actually need a postal service any more.  If the answer is "no" then get rid of it (sell it if anyone is stupid enough to buy it) but if the answer is "yes" then keep it and stop worrying about whether the damned thing turns a profit or not.  As a general rule governments provide services that the private sector either can't or won't.  Usually for the very good reason that there's no money in it.

Instead the Australia Post is currently attempting to repair the holes in its balance sheet by increasing the price of stamps (you know, the ones that nobody buys anymore because nobody sends letters) and selling off the GPOs in various state capitals.  These tend to be grand old buildings at the heart of the city that were built at a time when the government felt that spending money on an essential service was something that should be boasted about with pride rather than admitted to in shame followed by a rapid changing of the subject.  What Australia Post is going to do once it runs out of old buildings to sell and the price of stamps nobody is buying has reached $100 each is a little difficult to say.

I am not a fan of government intervention as a whole.  The idea that somebody who couldn't get any job other than working for the government might be able to make a valuable contribution to any situation would be laughable if it wasn't so wretched.  Nevertheless there are things that governments must do if only because individually we can't or won't.  Public transport is vital but nobody wants to pay for it so the government has to rob us and then pay for it.  Fair enough.  Healthcare is patchily dealt with by the private sector at best and if one admits that maybe it would be better if most of the population didn't expire in misery of disease then, again, the government has to rob us and pay for it.

However there seems to be a demented eagerness for the government to get involved in virtually everything we do while simultaneously attempting to exit the only things that we actually need them to do.  The attempt to sell off government services marches hand in hand with "initiatives" of all sorts to regulate most aspects of our life.  I suspect this is because the former is supposed to do things for us while the latter simply do things to us.  As such it is a hell of a lot harder to determine failure in the latter and, of course, we don't mind too much if they do fail.  The description somebody once gave of the Habsburg monarchy comes irresistibly to mind, "Tyranny tempered by incompetence."

As for me failure is much easier to identify.  The increasingly dry and withered aspect of my orchid is a silent accusation.  I have moved it away from the plague carrier orchids near it and have bathed it in warm light and sunshine.  Hopefully this will have an affect.  If not I may have to apply to a government programme for help.  AusOrchids in the Workplace, a Department of the Environment initiative may be helpful if I can prove my orchid is either indigenous or disabled.  I should have no problems with the second.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Birthday Greetings # 58

Happy birthday to Claudius II Gothicus, Roman emperor.  Claudius was called Gothicus because he beat up the Goths although to be fair he was pretty catholic about who he beat up starting with his predecessor in the top job.  Said predecessor's name was Gallienus and a history of his reign is simply a list of sub headings all beginning with "The Revolt of..."  The most recent revolter was actually being besieged in the city of Milan when somebody murdered Gallienus.  Who was it?  Nobody is entirely sure although the suspect list would including pretty much everyone within fifty miles of the imperial presence at the time.  What is known is that our boy Claudius was the one who wound up as emperor so if he didn't commit the murder then whoever did is entitled to feel a little hard done by.

Back in Rome the Senate was responding to the death of the Gallienus by making plans to murder the bereaved family.  Claudius sent them instructions to stop and also deify the deceased emperor which with varying degrees of reluctance they did.  Deifying a predecessor was pretty standard practice by these times.  It was also a public statement of one's piety, respect for the deceased and an attempt to imply non-involvement in said deceased's murder without having to go so far as explicitly say so on the record.  As such it can be taken with about as much seriousness as one treats most public political statements.

With his predecessor safely among the gods Claudius could start to deal with the issues worrying the empire.  The principal issue worrying the empire was the fact that the empire was in bits.  Three bits to be precise, a western bit (ruled by a usurper), an eastern bit (ruled by the son of a usurper ably assisted by his mother) and a bit in the middle (ruled by Claudius who, it need not be said, was thoroughly legitimate and didn't usurp anything unless you count the small issue of having murdered the reigning emperor and taking his job).  Before Claudius could do anything about refractory bits of empire a whole bunch of Goths invaded part of what he had left.

At least we think this is what happened, maybe.  The historical sources are somewhat limited.  They are in fact just two one of which we know is wildly (and sometimes deliberately) inaccurate.  Both these sources in turn source their information from a single history of which no copy has survived.  Finally there was a fair amount of deliberate tampering with the information that was left as Claudius was hijacked posthumously as a putative ancestor of Constantine the Great and his history was pimped somewhat by imperial historians to put Claudius in a better light.  We're not even sure how many invasions there were and describing the participants as Goths is simplistic at best.

What we do know (tentatively) is this.  A huge bunch of people some of whom may or may not have been Goths invaded the Black Sea and Aegean regions of the empire at least once but possibly more so and that a Roman army led by Claudius (or possibly his predecessor Gallienus) met and defeated them at the Battle of Naissus which crushed Gothic (or whoever) power for nearly a century.  Claudius got the fame (and the epithet Gothicus) as a result of this or something very like it more or less. 

With the Goths spanked Claudius took a sharp left turn to pile into the Alemanni who had inconsiderately invaded northern Italy at more or less the same time.  After stamping them flat Claudius turned his attention to the western usurper ruled chunk of the empire.  Here he was helped by a series of internal revolts and civil wars that resulted in the Spanish provinces declaring for the central (and, for want of a better word, legitimate) empire.  A few victories to Claudius's troops helped them make up their mind.  Gaul remained beyond his reach but Claudius was already barrelling at full steam towards Sirmium in what is now Serbia (but was then Roman) to take on the Vandals.

If it seems like Claudius was a man in a hurry it was because he had a date with smallpox and he didn't want to be late.  As it was smallpox was courteously waiting for him when he arrived.  He died after a reign of not quite two years into which he seems to have crammed a hell of a lot.  Before he died he named Aurelian as his successor or at least that was what Aurelian said after he had murdered Claudius's brother who had briefly taken the throne.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Plague Upon Your Garlic

A trail of disasters has struck the southern jewel in Australia's crown.  A week ago I stared out the window and noticed the leaves moving on an adjacent tree.  Later that day cloves of garlic started washing up on the beaches.  Fearing the worst I despatched a fast steam packet to the colonies (the telegraph is inoperative) and received dreadful tidings.  Angered by the persistent killing of Tasmanian devils by cars, cancer and carelessness the God of Tasmania has brought down a series of plagues upon that most hapless of states.

Firstly he smote the Basslink cable with a thunderbolt severing power from the mainland but the Tasmanians refused to repent.  Then he sent a mighty drought to wither their crops kill their hydro power.  The Tasmanian government responded by dumping diesel fuel into the water supply.  Belatedly realising what he was up against the God of Tasmania pulled out all the stops and sent a mighty gale to blow what was left of the state into the sea.

A large proportion of what was left of the state was garlic belonging to my colleague who unaccountably insists on living in a place with the social problems of the first world and the economic conditions of the third.  The wind howled, it shrieked and tore up the matting that keeps immature garlic safely in its bed.  Fortunately my colleague and her spouse were up to the challenge.  In the pitch black night with winds reaching "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" levels and cloves of garlic flying around like odiferous shotgun pellets by sheer willpower alone they flattened down the lumps, snatched garlic out of the air and surreptitiously hid the bodies of those who had died after being hit by low flying garlic.

Dawn found them red eyed but defiant arms and legs spreadeagled over as much of the remaining garlic as possible.  At that point they decided that perhaps it would be wise in future to weigh down the matting that held the garlic in place.  You think?

The thought is father to the deed and not many days had gone by before my colleague and her husband were hip deed in sandbags.  Well they were hip deep in do it yourself sand bags.  That is they had a lot of hessian and a shovel.  A weekend of agonising work later and the garlic crop is buried under approximately twenty seven metres of sandbags.  All the garlic has to do now is figure out how to sprout through it.

But the God of Tasmania wasn't finished yet.  Enraged at the resilience of the people he sent disease to plague them (or possibly plague to disease them).  First one then another of my colleague's family went pale, dropped like flies and clutched at their bellies in agony.  Fortunately they did this consecutively rather than concurrently which meant there was always someone to sandbag garlic and minister to the sick.  Somehow they all got through it (garlic rubs helped) and now my colleague is back in her office and in communication with us on those occasions when the television doesn't interfere with telephone reception.  As for the God of Tasmania well I'm sure he'd like to send some more plagues but I understand he's busy picking up his welfare cheque.

Silly After Action Report Part 2 In Which Treacherous Polish Cunning Defeats Noble German Courage

Sorry for the spoiler in the title but feel free to stop reading now if you think I've ruined it for you.  For anyone still interested you may recall that I finished the last entry on a modest cliffhanger.  My beerhall heroes had punched above their weight and driven the Polish partisans from the forward victory building.  Meanwhile on the left my squalltroopers had charged forward with pretensions of competence and (admittedly at some cost in blood) had driven in Ivan's forward defences.  Fresh from their triumphs on the right my beerhall heroes now moved forward as well.

Closing in for the kill (or so I thought).
Despite the propensity of my armoured cars to break their weapons I entered the last couple of turns poised (as I thought) for victory.  My concerns, as noted in the previous entry, were whether I had left myself enough time to lever concealed troops out of a fortified building and where his HIP troops might be.  I suspected they were lurking in the forest just to the north of the victory buildings, I was terribly wrong.

Seizing the fortified building was slightly anticlimactic.  My squalltroopers pushed in from the left while the army engineers brought forward flamethrowers and demo charges.  Despite concealment the firepower being applied was too much and Ivan's defences crumbled on the left.  On the right my beerhall heroes, the ultimate expendables, heaved their bellies out into the open as they too closed up on the fortified building.  If Ivan wanted to shoot at them he would have to drop concealment, if not they were safe.  For the most part Ivan kept concealment which allowed me to virtually surround him.  Alas all my achievements were in vain.

So what happened.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit this.  While I knew that Ivan could HIP a squad equivalent for some reason I had convinced myself that this applied to the specifically Polish part of his OB rather than including the partisans as well.  When my beerhall heroes had captured the first victory building they had killed or captured most of the partisans defending it.  However one partisan squad was only broken and rather than have it self rally and sneak back into the building after my troops had departed I had left a squad to keep an eye on it.  Skilfully routing these boys Ivan had drawn my stay behind squad away from the victory building and created a path for a HIP partisan halfsquad hidden in the woods (the only woods hex I didn't move through incidentally) to race back to the victory building now unguarded.

It's virtually over in the north but Ivan has tiptoed back into the forward building

Up in the north total victory beckoned, an advance upstairs inadvertantly wiped out his other HIP halfsquad and a combination of demo charges, flamethrowers and artillery fire quite literally blew Ivan's defenders apart.  Every single unit he had up there died despite the ongoing propensity of my support weapons to fall apart in their user's hands (I lost a flamethrower and a second artillery piece to malfunctions) but none of it mattered.  Ivan had recaptured the forward building and I had precisely one turn to try and get him out of it, but with what?  My stay behind squad (with it's lousy three movement factors) was just out of range.  A combination of CX and advance got it into the building and adjacent to Ivan's unit but that wasn't good enough.  I had one other squad close enough to get involved.  Another of my beerhall heroes had footled about taking some prisoners in the forest just north of this building.  With the fortified building out of their reach I hadn't bothered to move them which meant that (with CX) they were just capable of reaching Ivan's troops.  Lax, green CX'd troops against concealed, stealthy partisans.  Not exactly the best option but my only one.  

Before taking it however I did at least manage to make Ivan's heart rise to his mouth.  Although my armoured cars were well forward at the fortified building they had plenty of movement points.  One after the other I moved all three of them back to the forward building to do some pointblank bounding fire on his upstart partisans.  I was hoping to break the partisans but I would have been happy for a pin result or even just stripping his concealment.  I got nothing, nada, zip.  Now it was all down to one squad of beerhall heroes.  Shrugging off their own concealment and CXing for the purpose they pounded through the forest as fast as heavy boots and incipient heart conditions would let them.  Ivan declined to fire as they entered the building, proudly maintaining concealment.  Up the stairs went my heroes panting into CC.  Whereupon Ivan promptly ambushed them and withdrew to another building hex.  That was it, the end.  Ivan had beaten me, despite the fact that that partisan halfsquad was the only unit he had left on the board.

In the post mortem afterwards (once I had stopped raving and weeping) Ivan and I came to the conclusion that the fortified building is a little bit of a trap for the Poles.  Yes it does give a +5 defensive modifier but the Germans have the weapons to beat it.  I went through that building like a knife through butter and there was nothing Ivan could do about it because virtually my entire force arrived in front of it intact.  A more forward defence might suit the Poles better but then what do I know, I just got beaten by a partisan halfsquad.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Birthday Greetings # 57

Happy birthday to Rudolf I, King of the Romans.  Just to be clear on this, the title "King of the Romans" didn't mean Rudolf was the king of Rome.  In fact he never even visited the place.  It was actually the courtesy title given to the German ruler elected as Holy Roman Emperor until such times as the Pope saw fit to make it official by dropping a crown on his head.  Just to be clear on this, the title "Holy Roman Emperor" didn't mean Rudolf would have been emperor of Rome, in fact he never even visited the place.  Holy Roman Emperor was actually a title originally given to a Frenchman (who did at least visit Rome) which through a series of political and dynastic eventualities too tortuous to go into in great length wound up being bestowed on the person who was actually the ruler of Germany.  Just to be clear on this, the titles "King of the Romans" and "Holy Roman Emperor" didn't actually mean you ruled Germany either although it was probably fair to say that you had got closer than anyone else alive at the time.

Officially the Pope would crown the King of the Romans who would thus become the Holy Roman Emperor.  But sometimes the Pope was busy, or mad or actively engaged in a war with the person that the princes of the Empire had seen fit to honour with the title.  Also the emperor had to be crowned in Rome and Rome was a long way away, the climate was foul, the population barely less so and most Kings of the Romans tended to find themselves with more pressing business on their own doorsteps.  As such quite a few of them went to the grave without the coronation that would make their august title official, no doubt with a vague sense of incompleteness.  Eventually they quite sensibly cut the pope out of the proceedings entirely and had themselves crowned emperor in Germany which was conveniently located and, unlike Rome, a place where not absolutely everybody wanted the emperor dead.

Rudolf (remember him, I got a little sidetracked with the vagaries of imperial investiture) was the very first member of the Habsburg family to gain the title and he laid the foundations for future Habsburg power.  Rudolf started life as the Count of Habsburg (well actually he started life as the son of the Count of Habsburg but mortality rates being what they were in the thirteenth century this need not trouble us too much) and his subsequent career is pretty much a lesson in medieval social climbing.  Have you read The Prince by Machiavelli?  Rudolf's career could be the movie version.  As Count of Habsburg then an obscure little dignity in south western Germany (so obscure in fact that it wasn't in Germany at all but Switzerland) Rudolf was liegeman first to the Duke of Swabia and through him to the Holy Roman Emperor.  This double loyalty was made easier by the fact that the Duke of Swabia and the Holy Roman Emperor were the same person, Frederick II Stupor Mundi.  Grovelling loyalty to Frederick and Frederick's son Conrad gained Rudolf rich estates to add to his own somewhat modest possessions.  Then Frederick died and his son was elected King of the Romans but there was a problem; the Pope hated him.  In fact the Pope hated his entire family and over the next few years succeeded in wiping it off the face of the earth.  It wasn't long before Conrad was dead and the electoral princes of the empire seemed at somewhat of a loss as to what to do next.

Suddenly the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) was bereft of both its emperor and its Duke of Swabia.  This elimination of two of the layers of authority within the land created chaos as every two bit thug with a castle and a sword grabbed whatever he could hold.  Rudolf was one of the most successful of the grabbers.  Through a combination of marriage, purchase, persuasion, extortion and outright violence he expanded his realm from his modest castle at Habsburg and stamped his authority on his newly gained lands.  This made him a genuine power in south-western Germany and suddenly people were measuring him up for imperial robes.  An emperor was needed to calm the incessant civil strife down a bit but it also had to be someone who wasn't actually powerful enough to ram centralised rule down the throats of the princes who had voted for him.  Rudolf seemed the ideal candidate.

At least Rudolf seemed the ideal candidate to six of the seven electors.  The seventh elector (the King of Bohemia) had a better candidate; himself.  Rudolf carried the day and his very first action was to demand the restitution of imperial lands that had somehow fallen into the hands of others.  If at this point you're thinking something like "I bet the King of Bohemia had a whole bunch of them" then you're starting to get a feel for imperial politics.  Some time previously the rulers of Bohemia had beaten the snot out of the rulers of Austria and seized their lands.  They had done so with the approval of the emperor of the time as the Austrian rulers had been a little too revolting but technically they should have handed those lands back to the emperor to dish out to loyal vassals.  Rudolf now demanded that they pony up.  The King of Bohemia demurred.  Rudolf threatened to take them by force.  The King of Bohemia said, "You and who's army".  Rudolf demonstrated.  The King of Bohemia picked up what was left of his army and slunk back to Prague muttering under his breath.  Rudolf could then distribute the Austrian territories to people appropriately loyal to the emperor.  He distributed most of them to himself thus laying the foundation for the Habsburg's Austrian powerbase which would last until 1918 (so far).  He also betrothed his daughter to the King of Bohemia's son.  This wasn't quite enough as the King of Bohemia invaded Austria again with the assistance of the Poles.  Rudolf saw his Poles and raised him Hungarians.  This time what was left of the King of Bohemia's army had to drag his corpse back to Prague. 

With that out of the way Rudolf attempted to bring some peace and order to the rather battered imperial state.  Here he was less successful.  The problem was that while everybody agreed that peace was desirable quite a lot of people (such as Rudolf himself) were doing quite well out of continued chaos.  Rudolf tried and it is probably fair to say that there was somewhat less anarchy in the empire when he died than there was when he was elected.  A measure of his success may be seen in the fact that the electors didn't elect his son to replace him.  In one generation the Habsburgs had gone from being virtual nobodies with a minor title to Austrian dukes with a significant powerbase.  If they kept the empire much longer they might be able to start ruling it.  So the electors picked someone else that they thought they could manipulate.  Futilely, first their chosen patsy turned out to be quite a clever manipulator himself and secondly Rudolf's son was even better yet.  The King of the Romans emancipated himself from the electors and then got himself killed by Albert of Habsburg.  With a sigh the lords of the empire realised that the Habsburgs were going to around for a while yet although if you had mentioned six hundred years they would probably have thought you were joking.  Rudolf would have just smiled gently and looked innocent.