Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Well That Didn't Take Long

Hauptmann Felix von Kummerbund sighed heavily and approached the command post.  Knocking gently on the door he was rewarded with a faint scream from within.  Entering he straightened up and gave a smart salute.  He needn't have bothered, Oberstleutnant von Kattelrussler was squatting on an ammunition box staring into space.  A tic over his right eye spasmed across his face.
"Herr Oberstleutnant," murmured von Kummerbund gently.
Von Kattelrussler leapt to his feet and clawed at his holster, fortunately his orderly wasn't permitting him to load ammunition into his pistol.  Glancing wildly from side to side von Kattelrussler caught side of von Kummerbund and calmed down slightly.
"Well?  What news?"
"The reports of our scouts are definite.  There are absolutely no halftracks anywhere near us."
"Thank god," replied von Kattelrussler sinking back down onto the ammunition box again.  "And that idiot from R&D?"
"We shot him this morning after he delivered the flamethrowers.  Ah, what should we do with the body?  People might ask questions."
"Roll him into a ditch and recommend him for a wound decoration," said von Kattelrussler.  "You're absolutely certain there are no half tracks?"
"Absolutely Herr Oberstleutnant.  This attack goes in on shanks pony."
"Excellent, then victory is in our grasp.  Wait a minute, did you say flamethrowers?"
"Indeed Herr Oberstleutnant, flamethrowers and demolition charges to help with the assault."
A serene smile crossed von Kattelrussler's face, "Then we are blessed dear von Kummerbund.  Nothing can survive the purification of the flames.  This will be a holy mission."
"Yeah, right, holy, as you say sir."  As gently as he could von Kummerbund coaxed his commanding officer to his feet and led him to the jump off point.  On the way von Kattelrussler babbled excitedly about flamethrowers and how he intended to adopt one after the war.

OK, I have to admit I'm getting a little fond of von Kattelrussler.  Anyway in the next scenario BFP114 - Engineering Defeat there aren't any of those crazy half tracks to worry about.  I as the Germans have twenty squads, fourteen on board and six reinforcements to drive through eleven Polish squads and capture three of four buildings in the rear.  Lest I linger in the process on turn four the Poles get six squads of reinforcements including a flamethrower of their own.  To bolster my attack force I have some assault engineers, a pair of flamethrowers and a pair of demo charges.  What could possibly go wrong?

I suppose the writing was on the wall from the get go.  Ivan set up with a strong seeming force forward hidden in buildings and cringing behind walls.  What I should have done was send half squads forward to strip concealment and opportunity fire powerful stacks once the job was done.  At least that's what Ivan would have done and I have to concede it couldn't have worked any worse than what I did.

Centre and right.  Surely nothing can withstand my firepower.

Blinded by the sheer firepower of my stacks I thought I could take a few prep fire shots and possibly clear away some enemies before I launched my halfsquads on a death ride.  After all even at long range against concealed units a flamethrower still gets a 6 flat shot right?  Not if you break them both in the first prep fire phase they don't.  Not that they were alone in failure, not one of my shots managed to so much as strip concealment and the only result I got was when a sniper pinned (and thus revealed) a green halfsquad hiding up on the hill.  Still with the assistance of some smoke from my assault engineers I managed to get a couple of squads across the road on the extreme right and broke what turned out to be another green halfsquad on the hill.

My plan had been to crush his centre by weight of fire (flamethrowers featured heavily in this) and push onto the hill on the right to build a firebase.  My reinforcements were due to push gently along on the left through the grain but the main effort would be the centre and right.  In the centre I would drive down on either side of the road and on the right I would build a firebase with a couple of mmgs and pound his flank which seemed a little skimpy.

In turn two I had another go at smothering his forward centre defenders with fire.  I broke two machine guns.  There was no other result.  On the right the firebase building continued apace.  The hill was mine.  Unfortunately the entire "inflicting harm on the enemy" bit just failed to happen.  I pounded what turned out to be a halfsquad with an mmg for three turns without even stripping concealment.  On the right of the road I managed to kill a squad in CC and on the left I traded a squad for a half squad leaving me approximately one halfsquad in profit as far as CC was concerned.

OK, thing haven't really changed too much but at least the hill is mine.

Over on the left I was trotting patiently through the grainfield and was also starting to ease through the orchards despite the fact that a squad and a half of green troops held out in my rear.  Having held me up for three turns these guys left their buildings on their own terms and continued to give me grief further to the rear.

I was desperately behind time and apparently incapable of inflicting harm on his troops.  I hadn't got anywhere near where I needed to be.  In turn four Ivan's reinforcements would pour on and since my twenty squads hadn't been able to deal with about four green squads worth of Poles I didn't see that they would do any better against elite and first liners.  I got a little desperate but I saw a glimmer of hope.  The road that led to the nearest victory building was open.  Most of Ivan's force was deployed on the flanks.  If I could occupy the attention of his troops covering the road I might be able to sneak some troops down there.  At the very least it would give me a toehold and Ivan something to think about rather than simply killing me as I moved forward.

Looks good doesn't it but his damn green heroes are still lurking under those pin counters.

It was a tactic of despair, I hadn't done enough damage to Ivan's force to justify it but in three turns I had barely done any damage to his force at all and it was only going to get stronger.  On the right a half squad charged forwards on a fire drawing mission.  He certainly succeeded but rolled snakes on his first morale check and generated a hero.  This hero then undertook fire drawing duties and between the two of them they forced Ivan to reveal his entire right flank, something two squads, two mmgs and a 9-1 had failed to do for three turns.  Naturally they died but firepower had been soaked up.  On the left side of the road I pushed my reinforcements towards his defenders and once again soaked up firepower at an unpleasant cost.

Now was the time,  every one of his units capable of firing on the road had been finalled out.  Leader led squads charged down the road.  Whereupon a green half squad crucified three squads with a pair of FPF shots.  The resultant 1-2 residual crushed another three or so.  Yes I know 1-2 isn't to be sneered at but you might expect one squad to get through it.

It's a little difficult to tell but underneath all of the counters lies the wreckage of my hopes

At the end of my turn four and with most of my force broken (the part that wasn't dead) I conceded.  I had nothing anywhere near the victory buildings, my men were incapable of passing a simple morale check and Ivan's reinforcements were looking at their watches and awaiting their cue.  My defeat stemmed from my utter inability to break Ivan's forward line except on the right where the gains made proved irrelevant by my inability to break (or even reveal) his right flank position until it was too late.  I definitely made a mistake relying on the flamethrowers on the first turn.  Over on the left creeping forward through the wheatfield got my troops forward but I was unable to cross the road.  Two half squads died on separate attempts to get across the street.  Strangely Ivan's sniper which had a formidable 5 only got a couple of results although one of them was on a squad on the hill on the first turn.  This broken squad then pointblank refused to rally in six subsequent rally phases.  Sigh, defeat resounding and absolute.

"Traitor," moaned von Kattelrussler.  Tears streamed down his cheeks as he struck at the malfunctioning flamethrower with a jagged rock.  "You promised me fire and gave me nothing.  I defy you gods of war!"  The rock slammed down onto the flamethrower again.  Hauptmann von Kummerbund backed slowly away until he was out of his commanders line of vision at which point he turned and ran for his life.  The subsequent explosion still blew him off his feet.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Birthday Greetings # 62

Wouldn't it be great to be emperor?  Let me clarify that.  Wouldn't it be great to be emperor if all you had to do all day was lounge around being dissolute while somebody else did all the work?  Lissome, smooth skinned women, and handsome, well sculpted young men would be yours for the having if you could spare the time from drinking, gambling, eating, sleeping or collecting stamps (some emperors get a little weird) and all you had to do in return was pose for the occasional coin.  Is being emperor starting to sound a little more attractive now?  Hells yeah!

Well you know where this is going.  Happy birthday to Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus, Roman emperor.  We know him as Lucius Verus and when I say "we" I mean whoever Wikipedia cribbed the information from.  I've commented in the past on the Roman habit of creating descendents for themselves by the simple expedient of grabbing the nearest male in the vicinity and adopting them.  Following this method the emperor Hadrian adopted Lucius' father.  However the father died before Hadrian leaving the emperor no choice but to start again.  His eye was on a capable young lad named Marcus (I'll bet it was) but he also had a soft spot for the son of his first choice.  So he adopted an elderly senator named Antoninus Pius on condition that he in turn adopted both Marcus and Lucius.

At this point its starting to sound like the plot of a daytime soap opera but it all worked as planned.  Hadrian died and Antoninus Pius took over.  Then Antoninus Pius died and Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus took over.  Mind you the Senate would have been very happy to just take Marcus but he insisted that Lucius come along for the ride.

With Antoninus Pius safely among the gods Marcus settled down to rule the empire and Lucius settled down to provide an interesting contrast.  At first things went pretty well with both men in Rome dealing with floods, poor harvests and all the things emperors are supposed to deal with.  Unfortunately one of the things that Roman emperors had to deal with was the Parthians.  They invaded Armenia (a location that both Rome and Persia considered worth fighting over for reasons that are beyond me) and beat up the local Roman troops.  Then they beat up some less local Roman troops and when rumours started to spread of a revolt in Syria as well (I could just be getting this stuff from the news) it was decided (by Marcus) that the presence of an emperor (Lucius) was required.

Its unlikely that the presence of an emperor was required.  I say that because Lucius took about a year to get to the warzone (or more accurately, adjacent to the warzone) largely due to his habit of stopping off for long parties along the way.  Once there he busied himself finding a mistress while his commanders won the war.  That's the official story anyway.  On the other hand if you're a commander in chief with absolutely zero experience and a clutch of obviously talented subordinates then keeping out of their way is probably the best military decision you can make.  Lucius made the troops know that the emperor's eye was on them (a bloodshot eye with a dilated pupil but on them nonetheless) and reassured them of how seriously the state took this campaign.

With victory gained Lucius returned to Rome where Marcus gave him a triumph.  Lucius settled back down in Rome hanging out with actors, turning his home into a bar and going nuts over the chariot races.  So far so normal.  Whether it was deliberate or not Lucius probably did quite a bit to help his imperial collaborator.  Marcus could run the empire better than anybody (and certainly better than Lucius) and didn't need any help in that regard.  But a stoic, dutybound workaholic wasn't any better thought of in those days than it is now.  Marcus gave the Romans good administration, Lucius kept them entertained.  Those of you in England think about Princes William and Harry.  I'm sure William is terribly nice but lets face it, he's about as interesting as a bowl of tapioca pudding.  Enter Prince Harry to distract the crowd while William does the boring important bits.

Unfortunately for Lucius the good times were coming to an end.  Now that the Parthians were beaten the Germanic Marcomanni tribe (who had been patiently waiting their turn) went to war with the empire and both Marcus and Lucius headed north to sort them out.  For Lucius it was the last foray.  The war was less than a year old when he came down with what was diagnosed as food poisoning (but is now suspected to be smallpox, an interesting commentary on the state of medical science at the time) and died shortly afterwards.  Marcus seems to have been genuinely upset which indicates that possibly Lucius was a little more important to him than people realised at the time.  Games were held in his honour and naturally he was deified.  By this time there were so many Roman emperors among the gods that the originals were probably feeling a little outnumbered.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Silly After Action Report - Big, Cumbersome Vulnerable. Pick any Three.

Oberstleutnant Heinrich von Kattelrussler stood impatiently in a field staring with deep suspicion at a large shape covered with a dust sheet.  Also present was a member of the Wehrmacht's Dubious Research and Irresponsible Field Testing Unit.  As the man approached von Kattelrussler happily moved his suspicious glare to encompass him.

"So oberstleutnant.  What do you think of your assignment?" asked the man cheerfully.

Von Kattelrussler shrugged, "The Poles have got bunkers, trenches, wire, mines, field pieces and enough heavy machine guns to open a shop.  It will be tough but I have the tools to do the job."

"Indeed you do," replied the other man with a giggle.  He was rubbing his hands with glee.  A horrible suspicion started to form in von Kattelrussler's mind.

"I have eighteen squads, brave and true.  Assault engineers, flame throwers, mortars, demo charges and artillery on speed dial.  The Poles won't know what hit them."

"And you have us," said his companion, delight radiating from his features.  "Behold, the Wehrmacht's latest secret weapon," he yanked on the dustsheet and before von Kattelrussler's horrified gaze something huge, cumbersome and ugly was reveal in all its (for want of a better word) glory.

"Secret weapon?  Its the size of a barn," said von Kattelrussler already looking around for an escape route.

"The Poles will never see this coming!"

"They'll see it coming in freaking Mongolia!"

The other man refused to be deflated, "That's an 88mm gun right there.  You might not realise it now but in two or three years this will be the world's most awesome tank killer."

"The Poles haven't got tanks in this scenario and what the hell have you stuck it on?  A mutated tractor?"

"Mobility is king," babbled the other.  "Imagine the terror the Poles will feel when they see this armoured beast rolling towards them."

"I hate to burst your bubble but a double coating of paint does not count as armour plating.  I don't care what the hell you do with that, or the other three I see you've left in the officer's carpark but they're not getting anywhere near my attack."

"Sorry son, its a Fuhrer Order.  These beauties are attached to your unit and will go in with your attack.  Tell us how they get on.  Oh and try not to get them all destroyed, the Fuhrer intends to use them in the victory parade."

"He'd do better to convert them into a low income housing estate."

We shall leave the despairing von Kattelrussler trying to figure out how to integrate four of the least stealthy vehicles in the world into his assault and move on to the after action report for BFP Scenario 113, Bunker Bash.  Here I command the noble Poles stoutly defending their homeland from the enemy and Ivan will command the long suffering Oberstleutnant von Kattelrussler in the attack.  As the Poles I have fourteen squads, three leaders, two 75mm guns, four (count them) heavy machine guns and a pair of mortars.  Additionally I have twelve trench counters, six pillboxes, six wire counters and twenty four factors of landmines.  To win Ivan needs to capture 31VPs worth of locations.  Stone pillboxes are worth 5VP, wooden ones are worth 4VP.  In addition each building on board DW6a is worth 2VP.

I did a set up and we commenced playing.  After a turn we stopped playing when it became obvious that I had made a total mess of the setup rules which rendered the scenario unplayable.  We started again after Ivan cheerfully promised to tattoo the set up requirements onto my face if I didn't read the damn scenario card.  Below is what I came up with.

Basically I have set up two fortified strongpoints linking trenches, pillboxes and buildings.  Mines and wire defend what are the most likely approaches while the two guns are sitting in bunkers covering the centre of the board.  My four hmgs are set up (not in pillboxes) to cover the flanks.  One is in a trench over on the far right while the other three are sitting back in trenches and buildings on the left.  The guns will defend the centre (nobody came that way anyway) while the hmgs defend the flanks.  A few squads are set up in the forest forward simply so Ivan can't simply walk down half the board.  One of my mortars is hidden in a trench in the rear while the other is in what turned out to be a foolishly exposed position at the front.

Ivan set up his assault engineers on the right along with a full complement of demo charges and flamethrowers, officers to egg them on and a radio promising (but never delivering) artillery support.  His remaining force (fourteen squads) were weighted to the left, he would bring all four of his 88mm halftracks on there as well.  Accurately deducing that my guns were set up to cover the centre he put pretty much nothing there.

The first turn or two didn't go so well for me.  Over on the right Ivan's assault engineers pushed forward without much opposition while on the left there was more opposition but little of it was effective.  Still the mere presence of my troops slowed him down a little.  One of his halftracks turned up and tried to look scary but managed to break its MA.  The repair die roll was a six and suddenly Ivan was down to three, hope started to kindle in my breast.  Here's the thing with the halftracks, they're mobile and that 88 is terrifying but they're so big you can hardly help hitting them and the armour is pretty lousy, well within the capability of an hmg to deal with.

Over on the right Ivan moved forward against minimal opposition and his radio operator woke up his supporting mortars and told them to get ready.  On the left three halftracks replaced the one now slinking for the exit and positioned themselves to unleash a storm of metal on my hapless troops.  In the centre he calmly and methodically disposed of my speedbump troops and edged closer to the rear defensive position.  All looked good for a major push in the next few turns.  His assault engineers were separated from my right hand troops by a wire and mine infested forest but he had firepower and artillery.  On the left he had trickled a squad or two down the board edge feeling for my flank.  Then it all went to hell!

Ivan pushing forward

One of my hmgs stunned a halftrack, in the next firephase doubled stunned it and suddenly another of the wunderwaffe was heading rearwards.  Over on the right the artillery turned out to be a damp squib as my sniper simply shot dead anyone who tried to so much as touch the radio.  After losing an 8-0 and a 7-0 Ivan decided he had better things to do with his officers.  Such as rally the shattered wreckage of his assault engineers.  True they had taken a chance with the artillery gone but as they pushed forward my right hand hmg went on a demented rate tear and killed two squads of assault engineers and broke another.  In the centre things didn't go terribly well for me and Ivan pushed forward capturing a squad and officer of mine on the way.  Over on the left my hmg teams once again earned their pay hitting a third halftrack and gaining a snakes on the to kill roll sending the thing up in a ball of flames.

Suddenly Ivan was reduced to one halftrack (losing all four was an automatic loss).  When the survivor broke its main armament Ivan took the hint and hid the thing in the rear without attempting to repair it.  Over on the right his few remaining troops wandered into a minefield and generated a hero but my hmg team cheerfully killed them both.

At this point Ivan might have been forgiven for giving up (I probably would have) but he was made of sterner stuff.  My forward mortar crew had been driven berserk and had charged towards his mortar team only to die horribly.  In return a pair of his own squads had similarly gone berserk and attempted to make up for the assault engineers failure by charging towards my right hand gun position.  One squad died on the way and the other was killed in close combat but it caused some anxious moments and gave the people on that side of the board something to do apart from shoot at his mortar team which was causing me some troubles with airbursts in the woods.

His berserkers close in on the right.  On the left his flankers move forward under the guiding light of a merrily burning halftrack.

Meanwhile on the left without any halftracks to shoot at my hmg crews started to mince his flankers.  My rear mortar position got into the action as well, I'm not sure if they actually hurt anything but they certainly added to the general air of tension on the German side of the lines.  It couldn't last of course.  Ivan had taken horrible casualties but he had finally got his remaining troops into position to take some decent shots at my left hand defenders.  When he did so my guys proved no more capable of standing up to morale checks than his.  The right hand position was safe, literally everything Ivan had thrown at it was dead or broken beyond repair but up on the left it was a different story.  My guys could dish it out but they couldn't take it.  All three hmg positions broke under German fire and suddenly all that remained of the defenses was a gun and a halfsquad with a mortar.  All Ivan had to do was rally enough of his own troops to get forward.  I had gone from quietly confident to hysterically nervous.  If Ivan had been given a vote he would probably have preferred the former.

At the moment its a race to see who dies first

  From the wreckage of his units Ivan patched together a formidable force.  First a squad (skilfully evading the gun's CA) charged for my defensive position.  All I had was a half squad with a mortar, get past that and I was done.  Dumping the hardware my halfsquad reached for their rifles and sent Ivan's squad back in shattered rout.  Residual did the same for a second squad and when a third wound up right next to the halfsquad they covered themselves with glory by rolling snakes on a 2-2 final fire shot.  Even with cowering a 0 on the 1FP column means death.  This halfsquad saved my bacon.  It wasn't the end of the game, Ivan pulled together the rest of his forces and got past the halfsquad next turn and captured the pillbox with the gun but by this stage time was running out.  With the extermination of pretty much everyone on the right flank I moved my one surviving hmg team back to where it could cover my now vulnerable pillboxes on the left.  It did just enough, pinning one of his squads on the last turn to stop it taking occupancy of an abandoned pillbox.  Ivan managed to capture two pillboxes and a handful of buildings simultaneously killing the various broken units of mine lurking in the rear but this got him nowhere near his victory total.  At the end of the game I had one and a half squads left plus a gun crew (with a broken gun courtesy of intensive fire on his mortar crew) from my original OB.  Ivan had about three squads left unbroken from his original eighteen.  The bloodbath was virtually complete.

Endgame: Who dies first?  Pretty much everyone

Admittedly I was lucky, I rolled some good numbers when I needed them and made Ivan's job incredibly hard.  On the other hand so did he as witness the dreadful shortage of living Poles at the end of the game.  In my opinion Ivan underestimated the ability of my hmgs to deal with his halftracks.  Yes the kill number is low but with three ROF3 weapons firing on them the numbers are going to turn up eventually.  I fired my three left hand hmgs at his halftracks to the exclusion of all other targets until I had got rid of them (well I got rid of two, luck removed a third) that plus the failure of his artillery forced Ivan to launch an all infantry attack with little time remaining.  To his credit it almost worked.  Thanks to Ivan for the game which we both agreed was pretty awesome and one of the best we've had from the Poland in Flames pack.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Rules of Retraction

I come to you cap in hand, dressed in sackcloth and with the weals on my back still weeping from their recent flagellation.  Undeserving of forgiveness though I am I most humbly beg pardon for my cruel deceit.  To those who have been hurt by what I now acknowledge to be the most scurrilous of untruths I offer my heart (diseased), lungs (tarry) and kidneys (surprisingly functional according to my doctor) in part compensation for the grievous wrong you have suffered at my reckless hand.  To both my readers out there I offer the most sincere of apologies for I have deceived you.

Yes, strange as this may seem I wrote something in my blog that wasn't true.  Perhaps more to the point I wrote something in my blog which not only wasn't true but was easily provable to be false.  In a blog entry not so many days ago I noted that my parents, as part of their role in their local bushfire brigade, assisted with the defoliating of certain, Christmas tree intensive parts of the landscape.  So far so true.  Unfortunately I also intimated (and by intimated I mean "explicitly stated") that one of the perks of doing so was a free tree for themselves.  Sadly this turns out to not be the case.  My parents were very emphatic that they paid good, hard earned cash for every damn Christmas tree they acquired over the course of the last forty years or so and furthermore they considered it a vile slander against their good name that I should intimate (or indeed explicitly state) otherwise.

This probably wouldn't have been a problem if I had given them time for the incident to slip their minds (they're old, it doesn't take long).  Unfortunately my father inconsiderately had a birthday this weekend and as I went (willingly, let the record show) to perform my filial duty I found myself ambushed by not one but two parents who alternated hysterical weeping with outraged threats to my inheritance if I didn't retract.  I attempted to ease the situation by pointing out that currently my inheritance looked likely to consist of a bunch of travel journals and fifty percent of a rather irritable cat.  Unfortunately this just started two new conversations.

"I thought you liked my travel journals!" wailed one parent.

"I thought you liked the cat!" accused the other.

At this point my brother failed to help by offering to sign over his fifty percent share of the cat to me immediately.  In fact he still did this even after I promised to publish a retraction.  However I have no wish to upset my parents unnecessarily (or at least I prefer to keep my "upsetting the parents" powder dry for a more important occasion) and it is true that I have finally managed to make an error of fact in my blog that somebody actually gives a crap about.

Thus to set the record straight and ward off the possibility of cat bestowing burst blood vessels on the part of my parents I state, for the record, that at no time during their involvement in Blaxland Bushfire Brigade's Christmas tree sale did my parents ever benefit to the tune of a free pine tree to decorate in their home.  Any assertion to the contrary in previous blog entries I acknowledge as false and I humbly apologise for any hurt and suffering (although not to the extent of offering financial compensation) that my parents or anyone else may have undergone as a result of those or any other statements that I may or may not have made over the years.

There you are Mum and Dad, now will you please give the cat to Geofffrey.  I will take some of the travel journals though.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Catch and Kill Your Own

It's that time of the year again or very nearly.  That time when eager eyed people venture out into the wilderness, hack off a little bit of it for themselves and take it home to place in a corner of their lounge room.  Why we do this for Christmas I'm not entirely sure.  It isn't like we go out and gather moss for Easter or anything like that.

Of course in this sophisticated day and age the actual job of wilderness venturing and hacking is usually delegated to specialist wilderness hackers.  Most people satisfy themselves with venturing out into a carpark or sales lot to purchase the fruits of these people's labour.  For many years my father was one of these noble wilderness hackers.  A couple of weeks before Christmas he and his colleagues from the bushfire brigade would head out to a state forest located somewhere in the unpaved part of Australia and there they would assault the trees with chainsaw and axe until, laden with the spoils of war, they would return to sell the thus murdered trees to people who wanted to decorate the inside of their home with dead (actually dying) plant material.  This had the joint advantage of raising some money for the bushfire brigade and reducing the amount of flammable material in the bush.  Oh yes, there was another advantage as well.  We got a free Christmas tree.

Now as my father approaches an age where the trees might be able to outrun him with a brief headstart he has delegated the hunter/gatherer role to the younger generation but still shamelessly trades on his bushfire brigade connections to get himself a tree.  In this he is following a fine tribal tradition where those too old to be useful are nevertheless fed in the hopes that they may have wisdom to impart to younger generations.  Also they're a readily available source of food in hard times.  It would be unwise to think our predecessors were in any way sentimental.  If the old were permitted to live it was because the rest of the tribe wasn't finished with them yet.

Down in Tasmania a much more rugged approach to Christmas tree harvesting is adopted.  As the day approaches the people of Tasmania leave hearth and home and then wrestle radiata pines to the ground in brutal one on one contests of domination.  According to this blog's religious festivals reporter the radiata pine is another of those brilliant "let's introduce an alien species into the environment, what could possibly go wrong?" schemes.  The radiata pine was introduced because it was a fine timbering tree.  The entire of Tasmania is covered in trees that the locals are currently chopping down in order not to make a profit but nevertheless at some point they felt they had to import more.  Frankly I'm more and more amazed that the Tasmanian government was so concerned about foxes.

At least unlike most introduced species the radiata pine fulfilled its promise of being a fine timbering tree.  Unfortunately it was so prone to fire that it almost spontaneously combusted in Summer time and it poisoned the soil so that it wasn't good for growing anything other than (surprise surprise) radiata pines.  Due either to poor control techniques or sheer bloodymindedness the radiata pine swiftly escaped the plantations and is now roaming free.  As Christmas time approaches the good folk of Tasmania do their bit for biodiversity by driving down the road, spotting a likely looking specimen and crash tackling it to the ground.  Sure they've heard of chainsaws and axes but its far more heroic to engage in a physical man/tree contest where teeth and nails are pitted against bark and branches and there can only be one winner.  To the victor the spoils and many a radiata pine will decorate Tasmanian homes come Christmas.  My colleague is planning to take her daughters; presumably they will be pitted against younger radiatas.  She has admitted to me that they also intend to take tree chopping equipment with them.  She has obviously been away from Tasmania for too long, she's gone soft.  Grizzled Tasmanians will sneer at them and children will follow them down the street singing mocking songs.  But they will have a Christmas tree.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Been A Long Time Between Penguins

A penguin was rescued from a stormwater drain in Sydney last week.  This was such exciting news that it pushed the latest articles about how appalling Donald Trump is (very temporarily) off the front page.  I've no great sympathy for Trump but I can't help thinking that if he could cure lepers by the laying on of hands then the headlines would read "Trump Molests the Sick".  Does anybody else get the feeling that if he doesn't actually obliterate the planet in his first six months of the job large sections of the media will actually be disappointed?  What I do know is that history will treat him harshly.  I know this because his enemies will write it.  In fact, they've already started.

But back to the penguin.  The news reports stated that the penguin was "rescued" from a stormwater drain but this wasn't quite true as a reading of the small print revealed.  When discovered the penguin was indeed stuck in a stormwater drain.  He wasn't rescued by the discoverers however, he was rescued when a burst of stormwater flushed him out into a canal whereupon the penguin got up, shook itself off and went on its way.  The two guys who found the penguin followed it in the hopes of picking it up and taking it to safety, something the penguin seemed to be doing by itself.  Unfortunately every time they approached the penguin it got aggressive.  Or to put it another way two representatives of the species that claims to rule this planet were faced down by a baby penguin.  Not humanity's greatest hour.  Eventually the penguin got tired and the guys were able to pick it up and put it in a tote bag until the RSPCA arrived.

Another interpretation of this story would be, two grown men chased a baby penguin until it collapsed from exhaustion whereupon they kidnapped it and would have committed god knows what disgusting acts of man on penguin depravity were it not for the fortuitous advent of a special forces strike team from the RSPCA who HALO jumped into the canal, called in an airstrike and two days later declared the area secure and the penguin safe.  The RSPCA transferred the penguin to Taronga Zoo.  After a series of deeply invasive and borderline illegal tests the zoo was prepared to announce that this was in fact a penguin and quite a young one at that.

There is no indication how a baby fairy penguin wound up in a storm drain in Summer Hill.  However since the drain connects to a canal, the canal connects to the harbour and the harbour connects to a fairy penguin colony in Manly I'm going to assume a combination of walking and swimming was involved.  Walking and swimming are two skills within the reach of most fairy penguins.  The unscheduled trip in a tote bag and the diversion to Taronga Zoo were probably not part of the penguin's original travel itinerary.

I hope the little guy checked out the penguin enclosure at Taronga Zoo during his enforced stay.  It's pretty awesome and he may want to investigate it as a permanent residence as opposed to being dumped back in Manly where he'll have to catch his own fish.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Silly After Action Report - I Suppose That Could Have Been Worse, Somehow.

In late 1944 a small group of senior Hungarian officers met in a heavily camouflaged coffee house somewhere outside Budapest.
"Well," said one, "we really screwed that up."

"Oh come on," said another.  "How were we to know that Hitler was a demented lunatic and his nation apparently has a deathwish?"

"We could have just watched the news," suggested a third.

"Ssh, they're coming," hissed the first.

A group of German officers strode into the coffee house and found seats by the simple expedient of shooting some of the occupants.

"Heil Hitler," barked one.

"Er, yeah right.  Heil and all that," replied the most senior of the Hungarians.  "Tell me, is there even the slightest chance that our country isn't going to be crushed underneath a Soviet juggernaut?"

The German officers consulted briefly among themselves.

"None whatsoever," replied the one designated as unreliable ally liaison.  "But we have good news!"

"Really?  Has Stalin had a sudden heart attack?" asked one of the Hungarians.

"Has Hitler?" muttered another under his breath.

"No and no," replied a German officer with sharp hearing.  "But, get this, the Romanians have betrayed the Axis and are now fighting alongside the Soviets.  They're helping to invade Hungary."

"The Romanians?  Those bastards!  We'll kill every son of a bitch!  Don't worry General von Whatever, we're with you to the end.  As long as we get the chance to beat up the Romanians."

"Absolutely," replied the German whose name was actually General von und zu Etcetera.  "But first we need you to help defend Debrecen."

"Are the Romanians attacking it?"

"Actually no, its the Russians I'm afraid."

"But we'll get to fight the Romanians afterwards?"

"Ahh, yeah, sure, whatever."

"You can rely on us Herr General"

"I wish that were true."

So this is how I wound up playing ASL Scenario AP117, Second City.  Here Hungarians are defending the town in Hungary that isn't Budapest from rampaging Soviet forces.  Thinking better of relying completely on their Hungarian ally the Germans sent the contents of a tank repair workshop to assist them.  Richard Cornwall has taken on the joint Axis forces while I command the noble Soviets en route to the lair of the fascist beast.  And when I say "noble" Soviets I mean of course thoroughly egalitarian worker and peasant type Soviets without a hint of class prejudice or aristocratic breeding.

To defend Debrecen Richard has eight squads of elite Hungarians backed up by a 20mm AA gun and a pair of home grown armoured vehicles, a Turan tank (lousy gun but awesome machine guns) and a Zrinyi SPG (awesome gun and no machine guns at all).  A couple of light machine guns, one medium, a pair of not particularly great officers and some concealment counters round out Richard's at start OB.  On turn three his German allies come steaming to the rescue with five elite squads of various calibres with a full complement of flamethrowers, demo charges, panzerschreks and a couple of somewhat shopsoiled panther tanks.

And what do I as the absolutely not noble, my parents weren't even muzhiks, Soviets have to attack with?  I have six elite squads, four smg toting first line squads and six other run of the mill first liners for fourteen squads in all.  I also have three light machine guns, a single medium and a couple of demo charges.  Four officers are there to urge the troops on and I have a charmingly eclectic group of armoured vehicles in support.  Two Sherman tanks bring the promise of multiple machine guns and smoke rounds to the fray, an SU-76 provides a large 76mm gun on a small chassis and finally an M17 halftrack mounting a quad .50cal "meatchopper".  Apparently a lend lease ship simply dumped a bunch of stuff on this unit and then left.

The city Richard is defending has been chopped up into eight "blocks" ringed by roads.  If I can capture five of them I win.  Richard surprised me by setting up a forward defence, essentially defending in front of the target area.  Of course it meant I slammed into his entire force pretty much immediately but if I slammed hard enough it offered the opportunity for a breakthrough.

Spotting his less capable Turan anchoring the (my) left flank I decided to set up the bulk of my forces on the left and centre while sending lesser forces against the right (anchored by the formidable Zrinyi).  Soviet troops can't deploy which means that you have to do your drawing fire with full squads.  I was in a hurry and I fully expected to lose troops as I sent my first liners out to draw his fire.  A couple of squads went down but I was quite successful in stripping concealment on my left and centre and sufficient troops survived to menace his forward positions.  One Sherman I had detailed with dropping smoke in front of some defenders (it didn't) the other (along with the SU-76) supported a left board edge drive to flank his front line defenders and hopefully take out the Turan.  Over on the right I hastened slowly, not taking too many casualties but not getting far either.  The half track I sent over to support the right or I would have only it bogged trying to get over a hedge and froze into surly immobility.  For his part Richard belched smoke from both his vehicles providing some cover for his defenders but also my attackers.  His 20mm had made an appearance just behind the front and attempted without success to kill one of my squads.

End of my turn 1.  I'm coming from the top and trying to drive down.
I started off with four officers.  By the end of the first turn one was dead and another wounded, damn sniper.  That's after his sniper had already killed my sniper.  Since four was Richard's sniper number you would think this meant a lot of good results for me as well.  You would be wrong.

In the second turn I really got moving.  I managed to persuade the halftrack to get moving and aided by that awesome 24FP plus Richard's smoke I managed to drive in his right forward position and pushed towards the nearest objective block.  Things went well in the centre as well, I actually won a close combat (sorry Richard, just your bad luck that the one in a hundred event happened while you were playing me) but the right wasn't going too well.  I was easing forward, helped by his smoke but I wasn't really outflanking anyone.  I decided on forward tactics and pushed my Sherman out into the road near his 20mm while the more vulnerable SU-76 slunk up behind keeping to the shadows and looking out for an enemy with its back turned.
End of my Turn 2, pushing unexpectedly through the centre
That decision would turn out badly for me in the next turn.  Meanwhile I'd got the bit between my teeth in the right and centre pushing forward to his next line of defences and menacing the bulk of his remaining forces.  A modest one squad flanking attempt on the far right ended in tears but I was largely trying to occupy the Zrinyi's attention as much as anything else.  On the left a wounded officer hobbled painfully towards his Turan clutching a blood soaked demo charge to his chest.

On his second turn his damn 20mm immobilised one of my Shermans.  I cursed of course but the crew stayed staunch and it wasn't in a bad position to inflict harm on the enemy.  It was when the thing broke, then malfed its cmg and then turned out to have no smoke shells that I really started cursing.  Despite the tank failure I felt I was making headway.  I managed to wipe out his 20mm crew and he had taken some significant losses which I added to when the .50cal halftrack took out another squad and I pushed into the first block.  Then I did something which in retrospect was unwise although the odds seemed worthwhile at the time.  I rolled my surviving Sherman behind his Turan and accompanying squad.  If I could take them out he simply wouldn't have a flank.  I knew Hungarians could get panzerfausts but I thought the odds were worth taking.  This opinion was only increased when his squad pinned attempting to find a faust.  The opinion rapidly changed when he made a second faust attempt, found one and then fired on the Sherman.  What with moving, pinned, avoiding backblast etc he needed a three to get a hit.  He got a three and my last Sherman exploded into flames.

Suddenly tankless (and with a certain amount of swearing) I was in a bind.  Despite mauling his troops I hadn't achieved a breakthrough and on turn three his German reinforcements arrived.  Richard managed to pull back what was left of his force to create another defensive line.  I bulled forward into the first block, capturing it while Richard pulled back what was left of his force (apart from the Turan and that damned squad) towards the rear.
It looks like the way is open but just out of shot a swarm of Germans are arriving to bolster their ally

I conceded at the end of Richard's turn 3.  Half his at start force plus both AFV had survived and were setting up rear positions but more importantly his German reinforcements including a pair of panthers had rolled up to stabilise the line.  With both Shermans out of the picture I had no more smoke capacity and my somewhat battered force was left with the job of winkling elite Germans out of stone buildings in the four remaining turns.  I couldn't see myself doing it.  Possibly I could take another block or two but Richard need take no chances, he could even concede me a couple of blocks and simply hold the remainder for dear life.

Thanks to Richard for the game and for putting up with my whining and swearing.  Despite appearances I actually thought this was a fun scenario with some interesting tweaks but I do think its a little tough on the Soviets.  I think they need to effectively win the game in the first couple of turns or they're going to find it very hard going indeed.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Really Just An Excuse to Post Photos of Mr Moo

Ah Mr Moo, we've come a long way together.  From the early days when you were a defiant young steer inspiring revolutionaries everywhere with your refusal to cross the road right up until today when beaten but unbroken you see out your days grazing with your fellows who gaze upon you with the sort of reverential awe I only give to hamburgers.

Mr Moo with some more expendable cows

Oops, sorry didn't mean to mention the "h" word.  Yes, reluctantly we both must concede that there is a road trip to the abattoir somewhere in your future but let us hope that day is a long time coming.  As long as you keep eating twice your body weight in grass there is hope.  I must confess I always assumed that my colleague's father in law raised beef cattle for the purposes of selling them as, well, beef.  I didn't realise he kept the cows largely because he likes a well trimmed lawn.

But this could be your salvation Mr M.  Of course its pretty hard cheese on the grass but screw it, grass doesn't have an activist group noisily protesting on its behalf.  Heavily tattooed hipsters don't turn up their nose at grass and treat those who eat it as psychotic murderers one step worse than Hitler.  In short, grass doesn't have any sort of advocacy body so its feelings can be safely ignored.  Eat that green stuff Mr Moo, eat it until it comes out your ears.  Perhaps you can persuade your owner that a nicely trimmed herbaceous border is utterly dependent on your continued survival.  You don't have time for sympathy or fellow feeling, if any of the other cows show signs of serious grass eating you should nudge them towards the front when the truck comes for that "special trip".

The other thing you have to do is kiss up to my colleagues daughters.  Pander to them nauseatingly.  If there is something that might save your life it is the tears in his granddaughter's eyes when the time comes for the farmer to pack you off to the slice and dice.  If you play it right you might get one of them to throw her arms around your neck in tears at the thought of this happening.  If either of them do this its important that you don't throw them off and trample them into the mud.  That would probably undo all the good work you've done so far.  I'm going to be speaking to my colleague about "Save Mr Moo" t-shirts and we'll get something trending on twitter so, you know, we're doing all we can.

I'm posting photos of you on my blog so that all my readers (about a dozen at last count none of whom have any influence with your owner) can see what a fine cow you are and how much you deserve saving.  Again, I can't emphasise the "not trampling small children into the mud" bit hard enough.  I know kids can be annoying but these girls have gone through a lot what with having a mother who thinks she's a fox and living in Tasmania and all.  Any slack you cut them now could add years to your life expectancy.  Anyway that's all for now Mr Moo, I wish you many more years of eating grass and, er, well whatever it is that cows do.  Whatever it is, I'm sure you're brilliant at it.