Sunday, August 28, 2016

Travelling Hopefully - Prelude to a Cardboard Disaster

I'm going to the United States in a few weeks.  I tell people this and they say things like,
"That's amazing, whereabouts?"
I tell people, "Cleveland!" and they say things like,

It is probably fair to say that Cleveland doesn't figure particularly highly on most Australians must see list of American tourist destinations.  However to a small but elite cadre of hard eyed, sharp witted veterans (or possibly I mean sharp eyed, hard witted veterans) Cleveland is the be all and end all of travel destinations.  Imagine the Holy Grail, in Mecca surrounded by snow leopards and humpbacked whales.  Compared with Cleveland all this is a thermos in a dung hill surrounded by skunks and tsetse flies.

Ah Cleveland, noble Cleveland glittering man made improvement to the shores of Lake Erie.  Other cities might have more impressive buildings, greater culture, richer history, non inflammable water, jobs, a future and some reason to visit or indeed live in them at all but this matters naught for you, blessed Cleveland have ASLOK.  ASLOK where the mettle of a man is tested to its limits.  ASLOK grim cauldron of combat and death where the victors take the prize and the losers are hurled into the outer darkness to be feasted on by the more impoverished members of Cleveland's population.

OK, its basically a bunch of middle aged men pushing small cardboard counters their failing eyes can no longer quite identify around a map board to the rattle of dice and the cheerfully indulged in delusion that because he has rolled a snake eyes at a critical juncture there really is no difference between the player and Albert Jacka (non Australians insert your own military icon here) but for the fact that Jacka never visited Cleveland.  I think that means I've gone one better than him.

Lest people think that I am flying in merely to sample the heady delights of Clevelands outer wastelands (sorry, I mean suburbs) I must hasten to correct you.  The Wastes of Outer Cleveland (surely a title for a fantasy novel although possibly not a good one) is only one destination on my journey across the United States. 

I fly in to San Francisco (because I cannot think of a single reason why I or anyone else would ever want to go to Los Angeles) and spend a few days recovering from jetlag and determining whether I can afford the rest of the trip.  Then its up to Portland just in case hanging out in San Francisco didn't seal my credentials as some kind of greeny, leftwing freak (which would cause most of my friends who are greeny, leftwing freaks to burst out laughing).  From Portland I trundle across to Chicago stopping in Minneapolis for just long enough to make fun of some vegans.

I've no idea what I'm going to do in Chicago but I hear that there is the occasional thing going on that might be of some local interest.  After that I travel to CLEVELAND before, weighed down with the laurels of victory (or alternatively the anchor chains of defeat), I visit the town of Niagara Falls which by all accounts was designed to prove that the greatest area of natural beauty in the world can still be an undesirable low rent address.  From Niagara Falls I roll (and I mean roll, I'm catching the train) down to New York City to give the inhabitants a brief opportunity to rob me of whatever money I may have left before I leave their country for good.

Four weeks more or less, a good deal of it sitting on trains as Amtrak hauls me about various parts of their country, occasionally letting me off in those places where it thinks I won't break anything.  Now if you'll excuse me I've heard that in San Francisco you can book a tour on a fire engine so I'm off to search the web for a booking site.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Ceramic City

And after a brief but not unsuccessful foray into the desert I'm back in Poland with regular opponent Ivan Kent.  In 1939 when the German army roared into Poland a gang of Nazi thugs collectively known as the SS came along for the ride.  First among deeply unpleasant equals was the Adolf Hitler Leibstandarte regiment.  Possibly out of a desire to be helpful and possibly because they doubted the combat ability of these strutting psychopaths the army gave them some super heavy artillery and asked them to capture a crockery factory.  The SS politely asked if the army was serious.  Keeping an absolutely straight face the army said, "Yes, we are."  The SS men struck heroic poses, "Fear not," they announced, "not a teacup will survive."
"Well actually," said the army, "if you could lay your hands on a thirty four place table setting, von Brauchitsch's birthday is coming up..."
"Consider it done," replied the SS.  "What about utensils?"
"3rd Panzer is hitting a cutlery factory on your flank."

Without further ado this is Poland in Flames scenario BFP 109 - Ceramic City.  Here Ivan's evil SS will attempt to seize the militarily vital ceramics producing area of Boleslawez thus breaking all chance of a successful Polish resistance.  The Polish resistance is already severely handicapped by being commanded by me.  There are six victory buildings, the Germans have to control five, they're all mine at the start of the game.

To defend the town I have four elite Polish squads, five first line squads, a pair of moderately competent officers and four heavy machine guns.  On turn two this barely adequate force in augmented by twelve squads of reinforcements, three elite and nine first line carrying a pair of light machine guns, a pair of demo charges (for some reason) and led by three more officers.  Furthermore I have a battery of 70mm artillery guided by an offboard observer who seems to be positioned at the top of a telegraph pole.  This is an impressive force but dear god look at what's coming at it.  Ivan has twenty four elite squads, two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns, six light machine guns, eight officers and a radio connecting him to 150mm artillery.

It seemed to me I would be lucky to survive until my reinforcements arrived but I set up and hoped for the best.  The photo below (although a little cockeyed) shows my initial set up and Ivan's first moves.

I placed a squad forward in a building to the northwest to act as a speed bump, I had no hopes he would survive.  A squad and a dummy stack set up in the forest to the north to cover the northern road.  Behind them in buildings covering the road were another dummy stack and a halfsquad with an hmg and a 10-0 leader.

In the centre a squad, a halfsquad and another hmg plus a couple of stacks of dummies held the outer ring of buildings.  To the south I didn't deploy as far forward as I should have.  A couple of squads in the second batch of buildings were all I allocated.  The remainder of my force was back in the victory buildings, one hmg with a halfsquad and leader was up in the church steeple, a mistake as there wasn't a lot they could see, the other hmg covered the road running south west.

Ivan came on with powerful forces to the north and south with a scattering of halfsquads acting as bullet magnets in the centre.  Things started well for me, a sacrificial halfsquad charged my speedbump and was sent reeling back in bloody rout.  In the far north another probing halfsquad was vapourised by my defending troops in the northern woods.  His centre halfsquads trotted happily forward as I disdained to fire on them for the moment.  In the south Ivan's forces pushed forward against no opposition and I realised how poorly I had set up in the south.  I winced and called in my artillery which would prove to be my insurance against sloppy set ups.

Battery access was automatic for the first fire mission, my spotting round was inaccurate but close enough to make Ivan sweat.  In the next turn I would correct it and break a squad that had got overbold.  Nevertheless Ivan's forces moved forward.and made largely unchallenged gains despite the fact that my artillery reduced his broken squad to a broken halfsquad in the next fire phase.

Despite the large numbers of German troops piling up in the north it seemed to me that the south was in imminent danger and I brought my reinforcements on the southern board edge to bolster my position there.  Almost immediately after I did so my northern defence fell apart.  Ivan pushed slowly forward and my 10-0 led hmg fired its first shot and rolled boxcars.  Great.  His return fire resulted in a morale check, more boxcars and the halfsquad crewing the gun died.  My northern defence consisted of a 10-0 leader with a broken hmg and a single squad in the woods.

Reinforcements in the south but nothing except artillery in the north.

Meanwhile in the centre Ivan's halfsquads trailed their coats and I revealed the hmg and killed one of them.  After this modest success that hmg broke too and when a sniper took out my other squad in the centre the defence was reduced to a single half squad.  I had rough squad parity in the south now but in the north and centre the way was open.  Once again I turned to my artillery to provide the defence that my hmgs obviously could not.  I broke a couple of units but the real advantage was the time delay.  This gave my 10-0 leader time to retrieve the broken hmg and completely break it while attempting to repair it.  In the centre with that hmg down Ivan got very brave and moved his halfsquads forward.  To add insult to injury he charged an 8-0 leader into close combat with my halfsquad.  Naturally I failed to ambush him and equally naturally I failed to kill him.  Ivan would eventually reinforce and win the melee.

What about Ivan's awesome 150mm artillery you ask.  Well it was a bit of a disappointment.  He kept dropping artillery requests on the steeple and they kept wandering off into places he couldn't see.  An end was finally brought when my sniper put a bullet through the head of his radio operator.  Ivan would eventually rally a half squad, reclaim the radio and race it forward to another officer but for a couple of precious turns he was without artillery support.

I had built a strong position in the south and (through force of circumstances) was relying on artillery in the north.  My artillery wasn't always accurate but it was accurate enough to keep the fire mission going and Ivan lost a few squads but more importantly it forced him to move circumspectly and circle wide distances to get around it.  Despite this he infiltrated powerful forces through the woods and used another charging halfsquad to reveal the dummies that made up the bulk of my defence.

Ivan is working his way through in the north

I had built up a powerful stack of reinforcements (two squads, lmgs and a leader) in the south covering the road in front of the victory buildings and Ivan detailed some units to outmanouvre them but some lucky shots resulted in the virtual obliteration of that force.  The remainder of his southern units headed for the centre buildings poised to make their dash across the road.  Having convinced himself that my hmg unit covering the southwest road was a dummy Ivan moved a powerful stack out into the road and amused himself shooting at my unit.  He managed to strip concealment and was a little shocked to discover a genuine unit.  He needn't have worried, my hmgs sucked.  This one didn't break but shooting straight a road in the open it proved itself incapable of either hurting him or maintaining rate.  Meanwhile I had moved the last hmg unit out of the steeple and brought it forward to reinforce the battleline.  That one wouldn't do anything either.

With two turns to go Ivan made his move.  The bulk of his forces in the north infiltrated south and joined his forces in the centre for a final push.  A small northern force set out on a flanking mission that took him into the rear of my position and challenged for the victory buildings there.  Now the essential hollowness of my northern defences were revealed and Ivan fought his way into two victory building and was positioned to take another three.

In the centre a prisoner escorting halfsquad stepped forward to draw some of my fire, took a morale check, went berserk, massacred the prisoners and came to a halt in the middle of the street.  Ivan wasn't impressed.  He had finally got his radio into the hands of another officer but our forces were so close that he couldn't bring it down anywhere that wouldn't affect him as much as it did me.  He brought it down anyway and broke a squad on each side, not much of a result for 30FP fire although one of my squads did go berserk.

Ivan's final turn came and he made a full blooded push for the remaining buildings.  To my rear in the east he sent a squad and leader (plus a demo charge he'd picked up from one of my squads) to seize the south eastern building I'd thought was safe.  He pushed a squad under the very nose of my surviving hmg (which of course did nothing) and grabbed a second.  Finally a squad advanced into CC with my berserk unit to challenge for the final building.  Things looked bad,  Ivan had his five buildings with the sixth in dispute but I wasn't giving up yet.  I had one turn to reverse the position and fortunately I had the troops in the south to do it.

Firstly I advanced a pair of squads out into the open to challenge for a victory building, if Ivan left them alone I would go into CC with his units at 2-1.  In fact he chopped them to bits but that was ok.  I advanced a squad into the victory building currently occupied by my berserk unit in CC with him, not reinforcing the melee but into the other hex guaranteeing he couldn't fully claim it no matter what.  Prep fire from an adjacent squad had broken his unit in the south eastern building and with his troops fully occupied elsewhere I race another squad up so I could go into CC against two leaders (one CXed) which were the only force remaining in that building.  Whereupon Ivan tossed the captured DC at me.  It broke one squad leaving me with a squad and an officer to advance into CC.  This gave me odds of 5-2 which you would think should be good enough but given my record in CC it was with fear and trembling that I rolled the dice, and gained snakeyes.  The building and the game were mine.  Ivan had four buildings, I had one and one was in dispute.

Endgame, I scrape a win by the skin of my teeth
This was a great game we both had a lot of fun playing.  There were swings and roundabouts on both sides.  Ivan's fire shots were generally good leading to a lot of angst on my part on the other hand his morale checks were poor, his supposedly elite SS folding like wet cardboard to NMCs and 1MCs all over the place.  For my part I might as well have left the hmgs off the board for all the good they were but my artillery was awesome.  Next up apparently is Polish Panzerjaegers.  Since I'll be commanding the Germans the title alone is giving me concern.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Devil's in the DNA

Readers of this blog will know that I have a colleague in Tasmania.  Not content with literally dialling her work in she is also a part time garlic farmer, cow whisperer and this blog's roving reporter with special responsibility for cows, Tasmania, garlic and jellyfish (that last one's a bit of a mystery).  In addition to all of the above she has contrived to procure for herself a family including the full complement of husband, children and at least one sibling.

Now she has turned her hand to inventing.  She is in the process of creating an automatic weed matting dispenser for the garlic crop.  There are such things on the market of course.  Unfortunately as the term "on the market" indicates, they cost money.  So my colleague is going to make her own.  What could possibly go wrong?  The last time I called her she was tangled up in eighty seven metres of plastic netting while an automatic hole puncher was hurling cloves of garlic through the air like bullets.  Her family and Mr Moo the cow who were amused spectators to this occurrence were last seen hiding behind a water drum while garlic cloves hummed and whined over their heads.

 In keeping with the theme of overachievement that seems prevalent in their family my colleague's sister is currently backing up her degree in economics by studying genetics.   When she isn't raising her children or breeding supersoldiers for the army she drops in on Tasmania for the occasional visit.  While my colleague is engaged in a life or death struggle with recalcitrant plastic her sister is busy roaming the highways of Tasmania with a shovel.

As I believe I may have mentioned before Tasmania is home to a modest sized marsupial of such ferocious looking ugliness that it is called the Tasmanian Devil.  If you want to spot a devil just drive down a country road in Tasmania (which is most of them).  You see that nasty smear on the bitumen?  That's a Tasmanian devil or it was sometime prior to the impact.

Apart from having truly dreadful traffic awareness the Tasmanian devils have a problem.  There has been an outbreak of some sort of cancer type disease which has been chopping its way through devil populations all over the state.  Nobody seems to know quite what to do about it.  Research is being undertaken by various people to see if we can come up with a cure so that devils can once again be run over by cars in perfect safety.  What would be really helpful for the researchers is to have a supply of devil DNA unfortunately there is a problem.  That problem is the Tasmanian government which, having cut a deal with certain universities, is now less than enthusiastic about allowing anybody else to get their hands on bits of devil.

Now, I would never encourage illegal behaviour either in this blog or the real world so all I will say is that if you drive down rural roads in Tasmania with a shovel and a cardboard box then with a little effort you can fill that box with something that certain researchers on the mainland may well pay good money for and along the way you might help save an ugly looking, vicious tempered overgrown rodent from extinction if that's the sort of thing that floats your boat.

My colleague could probably give you more details but the last I'd heard from her she had been planted underneath a length of weed matting with garlic cloves up her nostrils.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Holes in the Desert

At some point during the Second World War Mussolini looked around and realised he didn't have any paratroops.  Paratroops were way cool and he didn't have any.  No wonder noone took the Italian army seriously.  In a voice that shook the walls of the Palazzo Veneto Mussolini bellowed, "Give me paratroops!"

The call went out and soon eager, bright eyed Italian soldiers were strapping terrifyingly badly designed parachutes to their backs and throwing themselves out of disturbingly rickety Italian aircraft.  At this point its difficult to escape the conclusion that the whole thing was a plot to weed the suicidally insane out of the Italian army.  Nevertheless those that survived the training were rolled into the Folgore parachute division and were promptly sent to occupy holes in the desert.  In case they proved to be less than enthusiastic about this the holes were surrounded with land mines.

Equally unimpressed with the land mines were the British who saw them as rather homicidal speed bumps on the road to victory.  To deal with the land mines the British had devised something called a flail tank.  This rather resembled a metal octopus having an epileptic fit while two of its tentacles were stuck in a large steel box.  On first seeing them the Italians weren't sure whether to open fire or release them back into the sea.

This is ASL Scenario MM 99BRVb, The Mines of February.  Here the British are attempting to get the battle of El Alamein off to a good start by clearing a path through a massive minefield code named "February".  The Italian defenders are basically trying to get through the night without being run over by tanks.  I, naturally, shall command the Italian paratroopers heroically defending their holes in the desert while the role of metal octopus tormentor falls to Richard Weilly.

To win Richard needs to push through three very impressive minefields and amass a minimum of eleven squad equivalents in my rear.  Each armoured vehicle (of which he has seven) counts as one squad.  At his disposal Richard has twelve squads of first line infantry, four elite half squads of sappers (mines, for the clearing of) three small mortars, three light machine guns, three antitank rifles (why neither of us could work out), four officers and four bren carriers of various stripes.  In addition he had three old matilda tanks with rotating drums attached to thump and pound their way through the minefields.  He also had a radio connecting him with some 80mm offboard artillery.

To defend my apparently precious holes in the desert I have three minefields which stretch the width of the board, no outflanking here Richard will have to go through them.  I have eleven elite squads of paratroops (with special rules making them somewhat less inclined to surrender than the normal run of Italian troops), a trio of officers, two 47mm antitank guns (value against the matildas; nil), a medium machine gun, two lights and an antitank rifle of my own (for slightly better reason) and a mass of foxholes and trenches to hide them all in.  Since the scenario takes place at night (just) I can set up a quarter of my force hidden and the remainder concealed.  I have a telephone connecting me to my own 80mm artillery support.

It seems that I start every AAR by saying "I made a horrible mistake".  Anyway, I made a horrible mistake.  I had misread the setup requirements so my carefully thought out plan turned out to be absolute rubbish.  I cobbled together a desperate expedient of the fly and offered up a prayer to any gods who might want to look after the careless and foolish.  One minefield I placed well forward to delay Richard's progress a little, I set up a small out post of troops lurking in foxholes on my front left to act as speedbumps.  Further back I placed the other two minefields with the bulk of my defenders in three strongpoints between the two.  There was a strongpoint on each flank based around one of the 47mm guns and third in the middle containing the medium machine gun, my best officer and another officer clutching the field phone for dear life.

My plan involved ignoring the flail tanks completely, I would need outrageous luck to do them any harm at all and they only amounted to three squads worth of victory points.  Instead I would concentrate on the infantry and the carriers.  My 47mm guns might be useless against the matildas but they were monsters of death if they hit a carrier.

Richard wisely decided to keep some of his powder dry and held back his carriers and some of his infantry for a turn or two.  He came on in two forces, a small group headed by a flail tank rolled down my left hand flank and a much more powerful looking force spearheaded by two flails assailed me on the right.

Richard's attack a small force on my left (top) and a more powerful one on my right
There wasn't too much violence in the first turn or so as I had difficulty seeing him and wasn't keen to drop my own concealment to go shooting at cloaked units.  Because of this Richard swiftly plowed through the first minefield at extreme edges of the board, to my surprise using infantry to clear the way rather than the flails.  Flushed with success his troops moved forward and I realised uneasily that if I didn't start shooting at something this might be a rather short game.  Fortunately the night visibility range was long (and was extending all the time) and my forward troops started firing at his left hand units with, it must be admitted, modest success but at least it slowed them down a little.  For the next several turns these two groups would fight their own private war regardless of what else was going on.  Despite taking some casualties my guys proved that being in foxholes is much better than being out in the open even at night.  I eventually managed to shoot the force to pieces apart from the tank of course which rolled on in splendid isolation and flailed its way through the second minefield.

But the real action was on my right where Richard was clearing hexes using both tanks and infantry.  I tried some shots without success and Richard called up his artillery to drop a spotting round where he thought it would do some good.  Still not seeing much I let my own artillerymen sleep a little longer.  Richard brought on his carriers and remaining infantry on the right flank as well for what was obviously going to be a major push down that side of the board.  I revealed one of my 47s and started shooting at carriers and learned that while a 47mm gun may well be able to kill a carrier if it hit one actually hitting something so small and speedy in the dark was rather problematic.  A lucky shot stunned one carrier and sent it yelping for the rear but the remainder seemed untouchable.

Still I knew where Richard's main effort was coming now and I started shooting (ineffectively) at cloaking counters and sent a wake up call to my artillery, dropping my own spotting round into his path.  Whereupon Richard brought down a concentration of smoke from his own artillery which covered my closest defenders and completely blocked the view of my artillery observer.  Cursing I repositioned my own spotting round further back where I could see it but further away from incipient harm to Richard's troops.  In his next fire phase he moved his FFE and dropped more smoke effectively blanketing half the board in a smokescreen.  Underneath that smokescreen sappers cleared mines and flail tanks clanked slowly forward but I could hardly see anyone to shoot at.

Possibly the brightest decision I made during the game was switching the fire of my 47mms from carriers to infantry.  The counter may say "Anti Tank" but with an IFE of 4 and a ROF of 3 the 47mm is actually the most kickarse medium machine gun around.  I started shooting at infantry, picking off some laggards but the bulk of Richard's force was safely in smoke.  At which point the god of the foolish and careless did me a solid.  Richard had lost battery access and in trying to regain it drew his second red chit.  Suddenly he was bereft of artillery and as the smoke dispersed and night turned into day his was was revealed to my forces in all its terribly vulnerable glory.

It wasn't a moment too soon as Richard had got through the second minefield and had his flail tanks up at the third while his infantry was massed to follow.  Now however I had two 47mm guns, a medium machine gun and a fair number of squads and all of them with eyes on the enemy.  Then I managed to dial in my own artillery.  Richard had advanced to the point where my previously located spotting round was quite well positioned to stop him.
Carry on but now without smoke

Richard was in a bind, he was absolutely committed to his right flank rush and even without smoke he had to send his troops into to a cloud of metal and hope for the best.  My rapid fire 47s were cheerfully chopping up groups of infantry and it all came down to the best of his force advancing under the cover of one of his matildas through my artillery fire.  It didn't go well.  The matildas, of course made it through but the infantry were gutted.  As the end of the game approached Richard's infantry was a mass of wreckage that not even getting all the surviving carriers and matildas into my rear could compensate for.  At this point Richard conceded.  Honesty compels me to admit that the victory largely turned on his bad luck in losing his smoke cover just when he needed his infantry to start stepping out.  Pride prevents me from admitting that this is the only reason I won.  Thanks to Richard for the game and cheers to my brave Italian paratroops who endured everything Richard could throw at them with the added handicap of having me as a commander.
Near the end, my paratroops have somehow won the day.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Little Common Census

We held a census on Tuesday night.  It was organised so effectively that we're still holding it now.  Policy failures are acceptable, most government policy is the sort of thing you want to fail anyway, but how on earth does a government manage to screw a rather basic administrative exercise like a census?

"They're the government," you might say.  "Screwing stuff up is kind of what they do."  Well, yes but a census of some sort or other has been a fundamental part of government machinery since we've had government machinery.  As soon as one hairy, jawbone wielding thug managed to bully the others into doing what he wanted there has been a need to find out exactly how many people he was bullying and what sort of stuff they had so he could get his hands on it.  The only thing worse would be if the tax department had to admit they had lost all the money somewhere between our hands and its.

The handling of this babbling farce is proof that you can have all the information in the world and still have a lower IQ than God gave to a puddle of water.  With that as an introduction step forward the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  It was going to be so cool.  No need for filling out forms, just log on and pour your details electronically into the government's waiting maw.  Naturally it all went to hell.  The ABS factored a usage rate of half a million people per hour.  IBM, the technology provider, somewhat more sensibly factored in a usage of a million per hour.  The term "somewhat more sensibly" is a relative one.  With several million people all logging in on one night the concept that we might all automatically decide to space our involvement over the course of the evening rather than everyone trying to do it at 7.30 right after dinner was too silly to defend for a moment.

That's before the hacking attempts.  Whether the hacking attempts were made by urban activists violently opposed to governments collecting data on citizens, telemarketers looking for background material or some fourteen year old boy trying to break down the firewalls around Daddy's porn sites the end result was chaos.  Incidentally I note that the activists above are urban because its unlikely that rural activists would actually have been able to get as far as accessing the internet never mind the ABS site.  Still there is some comfort for such people desperately worried that Big Brother is watching them.  These incidents have proved that Big Brother probably isn't watching them and even if they're trying they're probably watching a potato farmer of the same name in Idaho by mistake.  My data has never felt more secure.

Now that this shambling circus is stumbling towards a conclusion one wonders what the consequences will be.  We are told that the census is necessary so that the government can make informed decisions about the future.  So I guess if the government starts making horribly ill conceived decisions in the future we know what to blame.  Frankly I suspect the government would be glad to have such a ready made excuse.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Silly After Action Report Part 4 - Training Day - Artillery, Who Needs It?

So it all comes down to this.  Ivan cringes inside his fortified castle as my troops mass for the final attack checking the expiry dates on their flame throwers and desperately trying to persuade the Luftwaffe to get out of their holes and attack the enemy.  The final three turns of Training Day are upon us.  Ivan's tactics have been reduced to finding places to hide and then sneaking back into the fortress in the advance phase.  In one of his gun pits a close combat rages on.  Over on the right the tattered remnants of my flanking force can no longer even pretend to be a threat.  It all comes down to my main force on the right.

But first, bombs!  Yes, having stepped out of their stukas to ask a passing crow for directions my air support has finally done something useful.  A bomb dropped perfectly on top of a cupola has reduced it to splintered metal (no rubbling of the building sadly) but with two cupolas down and the other two ill placed to stop my troops I was ready to sweep forward.

And sweep forward I did.  I got my tanks up to the walls first and tried (without much success) to use smoke dischargers.  I finally got my radio man onto the plateau and put in a call for artillery support far too late.  My artillery handling was poor in a scenario where I thought I didn't do too badly in other respects.  

Finally I make my move.  Of course there are a few casualties along the way

Of course it wasn't all smooth sailing, defensive fire broke a couple of units but I was breathing down Ivan's neck now.  The picture above shows a totally illegal close combat in the building (Ivan and I had both forgotten it was fortified) which of course I didn't win.  In exasperation I poured fire into the melee and wound up breaking everybody.  I wasn't disappointed, I had the troops to burn.

Speaking of burning, in an attempt to create a right flank I rolled an early model Pz I around to the east side of the building whereupon Ivan revealed his final hidden gun.  I was quite proud of that Pz I, two 76mm shells bounced off its improbably thin armour, unfortunately the third sent the thing up in flames.  Nemesis was coming for the gun crew though, having spent a ridiculous amount of time hanging about on barbed wired a concealed half squad finally got underneath it and sneaked up next to the gun.  Meanwhile in the bottom right a recalled Pz I overran one of his squads on its way towards the exit breaking it and giving what was left of my force a somewhat clearer path forward.

But the left was where the real action was, the troops I had sneaked into a trench died horribly as I expected but I pushed a large number of squads into unoccupied fortress hexes and used a DC to drop one hex of the building down into the cellar with messy results for the halfsquad Ivan had there.  A half squad in a minefield self rallied, and charged forwards, ignoring the explosions around it and got into a cellar which was handy as the only way into the cellar was through the four stairwells at the corners three of which were still in Ivan's possession.

Half the building is mine and Ivan's force is in tatters.

But not for long.  Even with +4 modifiers the amount of firepower I had built up blasted a couple of defenders and the last turn came around with half the building in my hands and a couple of concealed Polish units hanging on in the remainder.  Now the destruction of my right hand flanking force came back to bite me.  Even a modest amount of pressure from that end might have made a difference and diverted his attention but the most I could do was kill his gun crew in close combat (generating a leader in the process), there was nothing else left that could make a difference.  It was all going to be down to my left hand troops.

My subterranean half squad trotted around taking cellar locations until it ran into a HIP halfsquad which neatly ambushed it and withdrew to another location.  Up above ground I smashed most of his units but the devious little rats routed upstairs to the roof and I couldn't make it up there after them.  The game ended with me tantalisingly close.  Ivan had precisely one and a half squads left plus the broken ruins of a couple more up on the roof but it was enough.  I had to completely clear the building of troops and even the presence of a single broken squad would be enough to deny me the victory.  And victory was thusly denied.

The end game.  It's a little difficult to see but Ivan has a single lmg squad left in the building and a half squad in a cellar, enough to give him the win.
My troops swarmed all over the building but couldn't quite reach the last location (and the roof was well out of reach).  Kudos to Ivan who fought a grim, patient delaying action, never losing his personal morale despite the gradual whittling down of his OB to virtually nothing.  As for me, I didn't play too badly with the exception of my artillery.  I didn't use it.  By the time my radio guy was in position my troops were already fighting in the building.  In retrospect I should have set him up directly in front of the fortress and tried to get at least one or two fire missions down to rubble some building at the very beginning of the scenario.  Given how close it was that might have been the difference.

Kudos too to the scenario designers, this one was awesome with swings of fortune and sufficient time for both of us to recover from the occasional piece of outrageous luck which can sometimes swing a more poorly designed scenario.  Still Ivan and I have now played five scenarios from Poland in Flames and I've only won two of them.  Time to get my act together before I head to Cleveland.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Four Year Itch

Things are busy down in Brazil at the moment (although from an Australian perspective "up in Brazil" is a more accurate term).  Frankly you might have thought the Brazilians had enough to do what with their ongoing attempt to impeach their president on the rather surprising grounds that she's corrupt and has exceed her powers (I thought that was a Brazilian president's job description) and the fact that the zika virus is currently cutting a swathe through pregnant women (and since Brazil is both poor and Catholic that means most of them).  But now Brazil's cup of misery runneth over because suddenly tens of thousands of athletes (plus synchronised swimmers and beach volleyball players) have turned up demanding accommodation.

Yes the Olympics have turned up to add to the Brazilian's woes.  I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Neither the impeachment nor the zika virus had reared its ugly head when Rio de Janeiro put in its bid for the Olympics and thus the Olympic committee only had to consider whether rampant corruption, mass poverty, outrageous crime, environmental degradation and slipshod building methods were reason enough to prevent awarding them the games.  Apparently the answer was "No!".

So the Olympics turned up in Rio de Janeiro causing all sorts of ructions.  The arrival of the Russian team means the local gangs are now only the second largest drugs operation in the city and various pissant cry baby athletes are whining about minor issues like being mugged, robbed, turned into toxic avengers after contact with the water and having parts of their accommodation fall on them.  Slightly more serious issues have involved gunfire and some gymnast breaking a leg so badly it looked like silly putty.

But there are minor hiccoughs at every Olympics.  Beijing's Olympics would have been flawless if it hadn't been conducted by a murderous tyranny with less concept of human rights than the average compost heap.  The London Olympics were fine if you didn't mind the fact that they were held in London and lets not even get into having the Winter Olympics at Sochi where I understand they had to import civilisation specially for the occasion and took it away again afterwards.

Let me be the first to announce the Rio de Janeiro Olympics a staggering success.  From the inaugural butchering of a jaguar to the sight of a well muscled, half naked young man gleaming under a coat of oil supposedly carrying Tonga's flag but basically just there as eye candy we can say that this has been an Olympics to remember.  There is still some sport or athletics or something to go but who cares, lets just shut it down now before we run out of endangered species to kill.

Let me be the first to suggest that the next Olympics be held in Pyongyang or Dubbo.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Birthday Greetings #60

Happy birthday to Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor.  Given the time (middle 1700s) you could be forgiven for thinking he would be a Habsburg.  However Chuck 7 was actually a Wittlesbach.  The Wittlesbach were a noble, southern German family famous mostly for being overrun by anyone who wanted their territories and frequently going barking mad into the bargain.  Despite the preceding they managed a somewhat nervous tenure as electors (and later kings) of Bavaria for several centuries.

The first years of Charles's life were spent under house arrest in Vienna (the Wittlesbachs had picked the wrong side in the War of the Spanish Succession).  Eventually the war ended and Charles slunk back into Bavaria.  Inheriting the Bavarian throne (or whatever it is an Elector sits on) Charles managed to build good relations with both the French and the Habsburgs which since Bavaria was situated inconveniently between the two was an excellent idea.

If things had gone on normally Charles might not have been a too bad ruler of Bavaria, he certainly wasn't the worst, or the looniest.  Unfortunately opportunity knocked and ambition reared its ugly head.  It would turn out that opportunity was only knocking to leave a bag of flaming dog shit on the doorstep but its easy to identify the blindingly obvious in hindsight.  The opportunity was the imminent end of the Habsburg dynasty.  A combination of bad luck and centuries of inbreeding had reduced the number of Habsburg males to precisely one, the current emperor.  He had two daughters but had reluctantly come to accept that a son wasn't likely.  To preserve his lands intact he instituted the Pragmatic Sanction and got most of the rulers to sign up in return for various concessions.  The Pragmatic Sanction guaranteed that the entirety of the emperors heritage would pass to his eldest daughter one Maria Theresia.  Charles, however saw his chance.

Refusing to sign the Pragmatic Sanction he kept himself free to claim Maria Theresia's German territories once the emperor, her father, was safely filling a box.  But the imminent box occupancy of the reigning emperor persuaded Charles to go further.  The one title that couldn't be passed down to Maria Theresia was the imperial crown itself.  Not only was it an elective title but it was males only.  Maria Theresia had her husband, an easy going non entity who has been the subject of two separate birthday greeting in this blog, tagged for the top job but when it came to moderately high born non entities Charles felt with a certain amount of justification that his claim would be as good as any other.

The emperor died and the collective states of Europe proved exactly how much their guarantees were worth by invading Maria Theresia's territories pretty much simultaneously.  Charles sided with the French.  This was good sense on both sides.  The Germans would never accept rulership by a French king but they might tolerate a French patsy.  For Charles it would mean that there would be a serious army on his side to supplement the ramshackle joke that were his own armed forces.

At first things went well, the French (with some Bavarians in tow) overran Bohemia and Charles had little difficulty persuading the remaining electors to make him emperor.  Things went pretty much downhill from there.  The Prussians, who had also been at war with Maria Theresia, cut a separate peace deal and suddenly the Habsburg army was bearing down on Bohemia with blood in its eyes.  Charles ran for Bavaria but the Habsburgs didn't stop there and kicked the French and the Bavarians out of Bavaria as well.  Charles wound up hiding out in Frankfurt making imperial proclamations nobody listened to and generally bewailing his fate.

A French counter attack allowed him to slip back into Munich where he barely had time to clean up the mess from the previous Habsburg occupation before a counter counter attack drove the French (and the Bavarian for what that was worth) army out again and Charles although now crippled with gout limped back to Frankfurt.  Eventually an alliance with the Prussians got the Habsburgs out of Bavaria for good and Charles hobbled back home again to a country completely despoiled by war.  A few months later he was dead.  After that Maria Theresia got the easy going non entity she was married to elected emperor in his place.  Its fair to say he did a better job.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Rising Damp

This blog's urban disaster reporter has just sent a dispatch from the wilds of Tasmania.  There were originally photos but they were apparently eaten when the delivery team got stuck in a blizzard part way.  Of course to title her "urban disaster reporter" is a little misleading when one considers she's based in Tasmania.  Suburban disaster reporter is probably about as close as it gets.

Whatever her title the story she told was poignant.  Mild sogginess has struck Tasmania's capital Hobart.  Hobart is a small city which manages to combine the charm of a major urban centre with the size, population and amenities of a country town.  Running through, under and (as it turns out) into Hobart the town is Hobart the rivulet.  Hobart the Rivulet (or Hobart Rivulet as its known to its friends) is the reason for the existence of Hobart the town.  When white folk lurched and vomited their way to Tasmania from the mainland (they were sailing, not drunk [oh ok, they were probably drunk too]) they cast about for a suitable place to build a city.  Failing to find one they just decided to go for anywhere that had a fresh water supply.  Enter the Hobart Rivulet which at the time probably went by an Aboriginal name.  Since its likely most of the settlers could barely pronounce Hobart it shouldn't come as a surprise that they changed it.

The very first thing that the original governor of the settlement said was "Here's fresh water, don't shit in it" or words to that extent.  Pretty much the first thing that the settlers did was shit in it.  The tanneries, flour mills and public acknowledgement that the thing was largely a sewer came later.  Eventually as with other cities where the waterways had become so foul that vomiting in them improved the quality the authorities bricked most of it over and it became a subterranean stream.

Or at least it became a semi subterranean stream.  The upper part on Mt Wellington is still open to the public (and the sky) but when it flows down into Hobart it starts trundling under roads and behind bricks.  However this is Tasmania so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to learn that the entire bricking over seems to have been a bit half hearted.  Bits of the rivulet pop up for air from time to time before heading back down underground (or at least under building).  According to this blog's urban spelunking reporter it is possible to get down into a fair bit of it and wander around.  Artists have done some subterranean artwork down there and homeless people (being somewhat more practical) live there.

But the Hobart Rivulet is a fickle mistress and not to be taken lightly.  If you continually do really stupid things eventually it will punish you, a bit.  Nine years ago the Myer store which was apparently the glittering jewel of Hobart's CBD burned down.  Now in 2016 a mere nine years later they have got around to replacing it.  They started, as you do, by digging a big hole for foundations.  In other cities those involved might ask questions like for instance, "Are there any subterranean rivulets nearby that could really wreck our day if we cock something up?"  Apparently such questions were not asked in Hobart.

The site of the new Myer building was right next to the Hobart Rivulet.  Now thanks to the collapse of a retaining wall its a damned sight closer.  Most of the Hobart Rivulet has in fact been deposited where the builders were fondly hoping to place foundations.  Orders have been sent out for some really large sponges but in the meantime Hobart has a convenient new swimming pool.  If it isn't careful it will soon have a convenient new diving site.

Myer hopes to have the water ingress stopped and the water in situ desitued.  I wish them luck, based on their current track record if they're successful they'll be hit by a plague of locusts or possibly a zombie apocalypse.