Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Wrath of Gods

It's never a good idea to annoy a god.  I should have learnt that lesson after the entire Huitzilipochtli incident.  To this day I don't dare visit Mexico without keeping an eye out for men in feathered headdresses wielding obsidian knives (which is actually good advice for anyone really).

Still I didn't really intend to get into a pissing contest with Hermes.  What can I say?  It was late, alcohol was involved, things were said.  Before I knew it the phrase "Bicycle Courier of the Gods" had crossed my lips.  Not classy I admit but still Hermes' reaction did seem a little over the top.  Fortunately the bouncers stepped in before he could smite me dead on the spot.  As he was hustled away he muttered that his "messengers" would deal with me.  I was tactless enough to laugh.

The next morning (well ok, early afternoon) when I got up I heard an unexplained cooing noise.  Bewildered I stumbled out onto my balcony to be confronted with a pigeon eyeing me with what I can only describe as malice.  I must admit I found this amusing.  I chased it off the balcony and was foolish enough to say something like, "Is that the best you can do Hermes?"  Before I had even finished the sentence not one but two pigeons fluttered onto the balcony cooing malevolently.  I ignored them and went to work.

In retrospect leaving a window open was a tactical error.  I returned to find my lounge room a scene of guano heavy devastation.  I vacuumed up the shed feathers, cleaned up the pigeon crap and, somewhat belatedly, closed the window.  The next morning my balcony was awash with pigeons.  They cooed, they crapped and a number of them appeared to be trying to open the door.  I charged out waving my hands but the pigeon numbers had reached critical mass and they were no longer afraid of me.  Yes they took to the air but this was a tactic not fear as I realised when they started circling around my head.  I fled back inside and slammed the door.  The cooing was now a full throated rumble which made thinking difficult and speech impossible.  In that cooing I could hear Hermes' mocking laughter.

I'm currently barricaded in my lounge room and the sheer weight of all the pigeons on the balcony is starting to compromise the structural integrity of the building.  Some of the neighbours have already fled to safer ground and the cooing is a constant grind inside my head.  I've got to find some way of apologising to Hermes before its too late.  Perhaps he'd appreciate a Hermes gift basket.

On a positive note when I do manage to get rid of the pigeons I'm going to be able to open a phosphate mine on my balcony.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Silly After Action Report

SS Obersturmfuhrer Michael Wittman peered out from behind the none too solid protection of an armoured car towards the Polish positions.  He'd come a long way, put up with far more than any human should but he'd made it through and this was his opportunity to prove himself.  Ahead lay the Poles, barring the way to Warsaw, behind him were his SS troopers athirst for massacre.  They had only been moderately disappointed when he told them they would have to do some fighting first.  His first command, a trio of armoured cars, would provide the punch to get the troopers forward.  He had planned this meticulously, nothing could go wrong.

"There you are JO, sorry, Obersturmthingy Wittman!" cried an appallingly familiar voice.  Wittman screamed and turned to see the figure of Oberst von Kattelrussler striding towards him while the SS troopers nearest reluctantly straightened to attention in the presence of this heavily bemedalled representative of the old order.

"Just on my way back from headquarters," said von Kattelrussler cheerily, "another decoration, honestly they must be giving them out with the rations nowadays."
"My thoughts exactly," muttered Wittman wondering if there was time to hide under his armoured car.
"Thought I'd pop in and see how you're doing.  Your CO tells me you've got an attack of your very own.  How exciting.  What are your plans?"
"Feint in the centre and punch hard on the right," said Wittman still looking around for an exit.
"Really, I thought you'd like it straight and hard up the middle. Oh no sorry, that's your wife.  Von Kummerbund sends her his regards by the way.  Plus some silk stockings and a book from India with lots of pictures."

Wittman could almost see his sanity leaving his body.  He gripped the armoured car so tightly his nails left dents in the armour.
"Please sir, I must prepare the attack."
"Of course, off you go.  Don't mind me, pretend I'm not here."  Von Kattelrussler produced a camp chair and a box of popcorn from somewhere.  "I'll just watch the show."

Well this is an all SS attack and I had to work von Kattelrussler into it somehow.  This is Scenario BFP 127 - The Road to Warsaw.  Here I shall command a small and strangely unmotivated group of Poles trying to hold a position against the ravening maniacs of the Leibstandarte (and for the record I don't know if Michael Wittman was involved in this attack and yes I do know he wasn't married).  I have eight and a half first line squads (but with a meagre ELR of 2) commanded by a mere two officers.  They have a heavy machine gun, a medium machine gun, an antitank rifle and a 46mm mortar (which I am slowly coming to love) plus a bunch of foxholes and concealment counters.

On the other side Ivan Kent commands the asphalt soldiers, ten elite 4-6-8s, a trio of officers, a trio of light machine guns and a trio of (dangerously open topped) armoured cars.  Ivan's mission is to control seven of the buildings on board BFP R currently inconveniently still occupied by the people who own them.

I had what I thought were a couple of bright ideas and which rapidly turned out to be rubbish.  I had noticed in the previous scenario how the pillboxes had been a trap for Ivan's hmgs and decided not to place anything too valuable in the foxholes.  Instead I put hefty dummy stacks in them hoping to draw fire.  Secondly I set up a powerful force in the centre (bolstered by the hmg and my only leader with a modifier) and another somewhat less powerful stretched out in the eastern (right hand) woods.  I figured I could defend sternly in the centre and trade space for time in the east.  The west with all that open ground was defended by the mortar and a bunch of dummies.  I also had a couple of squads and my only other leader in the rear buildings for what I intended to be my last stand.  It's fair to say very little of this went according to plan.

The above shows the situation at the end of the first turn.  Ivan totally ignored the left and with the exception of a couple of half squads shepherded by a pair of armoured cars he ignored the centre as well.  Instead he threw pretty much everything he had against the right (my left if you want to be pedantic).  The only good news was his point armoured car broke its main armament on its very first shot (this armoured car would go on to break its cmg and then get blown up by a mortar by which time it was little more than a fancy jeep).  Despite this the mass of firepower he produced swiftly blew away my dummies and then dealt the same courtesy to a real squad as well.

In the centre he pushed his luck with the half squads a little too far and a pair of them fled yelping to his 8-0 in the rear for succour.  In his next rally phase Ivan attempted to rally the half squads.  He rolled boxcars.  "Well thank god that's out of the way," said Ivan and promptly rolled another boxcars attempting to rally the second half squad.  The battle had barely started and Ivan had just murdered a squad of his own troops.  These boys take their massacring seriously.  Perhaps understandably he didn't try and repair the gun on his armoured car.

I meanwhile had attempted to implement my fall back defence in the east but it was more of a fall over defence.  With 8 morale and an ELR of 4 he pushed forward aggressively daring me to fire while my surviving Polish troops in the region proved incapable of hitting a barn from the inside.

End of turn two, things aren't getting better.
My eastern flank had gone.  My defence was a broken, floundering thing.  Ivan didn't even bother picking up the medium machine gun whose owners had fled shrieking for the rear.  On the plus side Ivan did break the cmg on his armoured car.  It seemed my best plan of defence was to sit there and wait for Ivan to wipe himself out.  Sadly not even Ivan's dice could be consistently bad.

After a stellar, if not bloodless, start Ivan's push slowed down over the next couple of turns as he snaffled a group of undefended buildings and repositioned his troops for the next assault.  No prizes for guessing where it would come.  He would swing some troops on a deep flanking mission to the north while the bulk of his force would come west through the woods to hit my centre strongpoint.  He sent one armoured car swinging far west to come at me from behind while the other two rolled forward to provide firepower and, more importantly, protection for his assault.  Amazingly my broken squad managed to flee to the rear (it probably helped that the rear was now quite a bit closer).

Better is definitely not the word I would use.

Ivan cheerfully blew a squad's worth of defenders out of a building near the woods and my defensive position was now little more than a thin line.  Things weren't helped when my mortar got a UK on his useless armoured car (naturally it would fail all recovery rolls and wind up dead) but I felt a little better.  Far to the north his flankers started menacing me.  In the centre Ivan dispensed with menacing and simply settled for killing me.

Worse, that's the word I would use

With victory in his grasp Ivan went for broke pushing flankers around to my building cluster in the north (my defensive fire broke his 10-0 but his 8 morale boys passed their checks fine, go figure) while using an armoured car as cover allowed him to snatch another building.  This left him with only one building needed to win and my position was desperate.  Actually my position had been desperate a couple of turns ago.  Now it was looking back at desperate with fond nostalgia.

Then one turn changed it all around.  My 46mm mortar of blessed memory took out another armoured car and my hmg until now noticeably largely by its impotence went on a maniacal rate tear which smashed Ivan out of two of the buildings he had captured.  I would snatch them back and suddenly things looked very much better.

OK, suddenly things are better
Then another turn changed it all back again.  Ivan still had the troops and time to do the job.  He went in hard.  In the north he pushed a half squad through the woods.  Defensive fire turned it into a half squad and a hero.  In the centre he threw the bulk of his force against my newly recaptured building.  Defensive fire pinned most, but critically, not all of his attackers.  His newly minted hero charged into CC with my mortar halfsquad, his halfsquad went into CC against a concealed 7-0 and in the centre a squad and leader went into CC against a full squad.  You'd think I might win one of those or at least prolong the melees?  Nope.  I lost all three and with it any hope of winning the game.  When the close combats were over I was left with three and a half squads of my original force.  Ivan hadn't quite got the buildings he needed but there was virtually nothing left to stop him.  I conceded at that point because I saw little point in going on.

And even more suddenly much much worse
Basically I cocked up my initial set up and the entire game was an unsuccessful struggle to recover from errors made before the game had started.  Much thanks to Ivan for the game.  We shall continue to burn Poland in the new year.

Obersturmfuhrer Wittman moved among his troops issuing words of praise.  He couldn't help noticing that a number of them backed away from him nervously especially when his hand strayed towards his pistol.  He also couldn't help noticing that quite a few of them were eating popcorn.
"Nice result lad," said von Kattelrussler cheerfully, "but next time don't worry about shooting your soldiers, that's what the Poles are for.  Bit of a bugger you dropping your cigarette butt into the petrol tank of your armoured car when that mortar round hit but I guess you'd already broken all of the weaponry anyway.  Just tell your CO it was a lucky hit.  Would you like some popcorn?"

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tis the Season

The woman is incredibly beautiful in that slightly undernourished way which implies that she'd probably sleep with you for an éclair.  Her make up is flawless and her clothing is the epitome of style and class while still being revealing enough to give the impression that for two pins (or that éclair) she would grab you and sexually ravish you on the spot with all the frenetic activity of an octopus on amphetamines.  She stares glassy eyed into the middle distance while homage is paid.

Or possibly its a man, indescribably handsome with a jaw that isn't just chiselled, its been chiselled, planed and lacquered.  You could perform surgery with that jaw.  He's wearing an expensive suit or possibly the sort of casual peasant clothes whose price could keep the rural economy of a decent sized country humming for a year.  He is striding masterfully towards something or standing masterfully in the middle of something.  Whatever it is he's doing you can be sure he's doing it masterfully.

The scene is a reception or a mansion or some piece of particularly photogenic out of doors.  Appealing music plays while a voice over (usually but not exclusively female) in tones of hushed disinterest delivers a collection of words which individually have meaning and collectively are garbage.

They have names like "Chrysalis", "Placenta" or possibly "Ketamine".  Words heavy with meaning in a context where meaning itself is irrelevant.

Yes, its perfume advertisement time.  They're all pretty much the same and they're all desperately trying to imply that this is the sort of lifestyle you can have if you splash their particular brand of smelly water over yourself.  Television channels are currently overwhelmed with an endless, and largely interchangeable, collection of perfume advertisements.

I honestly don't know why they bother.  There is one simple reason why such advertisements are thick on the ground at the moment.  Perfume/aftershave is the number one choice of purchase when you are morally obliged to buy someone a Christmas present but want to give exactly zero fucks when it comes to considering what it should be.  Rarely seen nephews, irritating female cousins, elderly relatives of both sexes you thought were safely dead until your mother reminded you of their existence and the fact that they would be expecting a present.  This is the market for perfumes and aftershaves.

If they were being honest perfume manufacturers would simply say something like, "If you were going to buy them anything else you would have already got it so just grab a bottle of Giorgio Armani's "Excrescence" for men and have done with it.  You know that's all they're getting you."  In fact once people cotton on to the fact that they can simply regift all of the bottles of perfume they received last year and give them back to the people who bought them in the first place the entire perfume industry is going to collapse.

For the rest of us here's a fun mental game.  Count up the number of bottles of perfume/aftershave you received and who you received them from.  It will be  a handy indicator of how many of your friends and family actually like you.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

What a Shower

News from our furthest colony!  My correspondent informed me in tones of woe that her hot water heater had broken down.  Frankly I was astonished.

"Do you have running water in Tasmania?" I asked mentally elevating Tasmania up a notch or two in my scale of civilised countries.

"Every time it rains," she confirmed proudly.  And, until recently a small miracle of modern technology had converted some of that water into a somewhat warmer form of itself so that my correspondent and assorted family members and guests could shower themselves without freezing quite solid.  Sadly, technology had now apparently failed her.

My correspondent was, however, suspiciously evasive when it came to describing what had actually gone wrong.  After suffering through a serious of convoluted excuses that went nowhere I cut to the chase,

"You were using it to make moonshine weren't you?"

"No!" cried my correspondent, outraged.

"Yes," interrupted my Belarussian tech support who then went on to inform my correspondent that her latest consignment was overdue.

Feeling that some moral guidance was necessary I read my correspondent a long sermon on the evils of home made alcohol and the devastating social effects it could have.  My tech support didn't help by pointing out that if her latest consignment wasn't in Minsk before the end of the month there would be some pretty devastating social effects anyway.  Nobody should have to face their family at Christmas completely sober.  On this, at least, we all agreed.

My correspondent attempted to play for sympathy by pointing out that cold showers in Tasmania were equivalent to swimming in the oceans around the island.  Slightly baffled I asked who on earth was crazy enough to go ocean swimming around Tasmania.  My correspondent pointed out (somewhat self righteously in my opinion) that she was.  She piled on the sympathy play by pointing out the risks she ran disporting herself in Tasmania's frozen, shark infested waters.  Which is absolute rubbish because sharks, being smarter than humans, have flocked to the warmer waters around northern Australia (which from Tasmania's perspective means pretty much any part of Australia) and have left the salt flavoured icy slurry which surrounds Tasmania to those humans who haven't the sense to go indoors.  If a shark takes a human in Tasmania it's probably only because they need help installing a hot water system.

However the sharks are going to have to wait as my correspondent has first claim on Tasmania's plumber.  Fortunately the hot water has gone down in Summer when the weather in Tasmania means that hot water is merely desirable rather than essential to life and my correspondent is confident that by the time the February snows arrive she will once again have a stream of luke warm water trickling from an exposed pipe in her bathroom.

This is fortunate as my correspondent has come down with an acute attack of relatives.  Blood kin she thought were safely exiled to the far corners of the civilised world have suddenly turned up and are giving every indication of staying for the duration.  Strangely they're expecting hot showers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

All This and Christmas Too

It's been a rough couple of weeks for me one way and another.  Not only has my newly reinstated Tasmanian correspondent apparently discovered something better to do than send me information but my body has taken a bit of a pounding as well.

In my increasingly pitiful attempts to convince myself that I'm still young, fit and vigorous I have been playing in a corporate soccer competition with various colleagues at lunchtime.  Corpses have better reflexes and coordination than I do, can probably run faster and, based on the popularity of the game across the world, are statistically more likely to know more about soccer as well.  Anyway while running for the ball (or at least in the rough direction of the ball) I managed to connect the side of my head with somebody's knee.  For good measure I slammed my ribs into his other knee just in case he thought it was a mistake.

Nobly I lurched to my feet and continued playing (after a minute or so while I listened to the bells in my head and tried to figure out which way was up).  I am pleased to say my team won despite my best efforts.  It has to be admitted however that the next few days were rather unpleasant.  I seem to have displaced a couple of teeth which steadfastly refuse to go home and I realised I might have been slightly concussed when I woke up on Friday with only the vaguest memories of what had happened on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Irritating teeth and a slight puffiness on the side of my head notwithstanding the worst of that incident seemed to be over so I turned up at my place of employment rubbing, gingerly, the side of my head and eager to work.  By lunch time I had made apologies and dragged a suddenly extremely painful body back home again.  I spent that night on my lounge room floor (which would be my home for the next several days) and the helpful paramedics the next day informed me I had acquired a kidney stone.  The hospital gave me some highly addictive opiods (which were absolutely useless) and sent me home again.

Fortunately help was at hand.  My Belarussian tech support having noticed my unaccountable absence from certain (ahem) websites they administer had sent a medical team to look after me.  They drilled holes in my head, applied leeches and started a cupping procedure before admitting that their normal practice consisted largely of castrating donkeys.  But they assured me they had a high survival rate, comfortably over fifty percent.  They were about as helpful as the opiods but at least I could swear at them.

Far more use (since I didn't actually make this part up) was a good friend of mine named Amanda who delivered cup a soups to me so that I could have a dinner that didn't require me to stand up for more than three minutes at a time.  She also chased off the Belarussian witch doctor and killed the most persistent of the leeches.  Many thanks my dear.

With all of this rubbish going on I barely had time to buy my father a tea cosy for his birthday and now I realise I've run out of time to buy Christmas presents.  Normally I am reasonably competent at this (or at least the recipients of the presents pretend that I am) but I'm afraid this year might be a little less stellar.  They will be nicely wrapped however.  The Salvation Army has set up a present wrapping service in the foyer of my building.  In return for low denomination currency they will adorn whatever I manage to purchase with brightly coloured paper.  This is apparently to assist literacy programs for young Australians.  Although I was slightly thrown by their posters which were covered in pictures of definitely elderly woman baring their teeth for the camera. 

My family are going to have to make do with whatever I can pick up from 7-11 on my way to their home on Christmas Eve.  I'm thinking family sized slurpees for everyone.  But they will be nicely wrapped.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Silly After Action Report - Just Flakking About

Grim faced German soldiers checked their weapons one final time. Hard bitten assault engineers hefted demolition charges and checked flamethrowers. The air was filled with the sound of revving engines as tanks and fearsome looking halftracks mounting rapid fire flak guns moved into position.  And over it all a dreadful wailing unnerved all who heard it.

"Sir please," said Major von Kummerbund desperately, "the troops are ready to move out."  In between hysterical sobs Oberst von Kattelrussler attempted to burrow himself a little deeper into a foxhole he had apparently dug with his fingernails.
"We're doomed," wailed von Kattelrussler.  "Half tracks and flamethrowers, the gods are cruel this day!"
"Sir, it's all right," von Kummerbunds voice would have soothed a rabid dog. "The troubles with flamethrowers and half tracks are in the past.  Those were in your early days sir.  You have risen above them now.  Think of your Knight's Cross.  Think of your Order of St Dympna.  Would St Dympna quail at such a moment.  You are a hero, a standard bearer of Nazi Germany and the troops only await your inspiring presence."
"Really," von Kattelrussler's haunted eyes sought reassurance in von Kummerbund's face.
"Absolutely sir, the men won't go on without you."
One of the obert's hands scrabbled clawlike at his chest until it touched the peculiarly tasteless ribbon the Slovaks had given him.  Touching it seemed to soothe him.
"You're right, von Kummerbund.  The Fuhrer himself is relying on me."  Von Kattelrussler jerked to his feet so quickly that von Kummerbund almost fell over but the oberst didn't see him.  He was already striding from his tent bellowing his demand for a place on a half track.
Junior Officer watched him go then turned to von Kummerbund,
"Just out of idle curiosity Herr Major, are you trying to get the oberst killed?"
Von Kummerbund gave an evil smile, "No comment."

So this is Scenario BFP 126 Give 'Em Some Flak.  Here I shall command a mixed bunch of Germans supported by some inadequate tanks and some awesome but rather flimsy halftracks attempting to overrun a fortified Polish position.  I have three squads of assault engineers equipped with demo charges and a flamethrower.  I also have seven squads of first line troops to back them up with the usual complement of medium and light machine guns and a big 81mm mortar.  To assist with the overrunning I have four tanks (two PzIs and two PzIIs) and six unarmoured half tracks mounting 37mm and 20mm flak guns.  In addition to this assault force I also have the wreckage of the previous attempt to capture the position; seven second line squads and a pair of light machine guns.

Commanding the Poles Ivan has ten first line squads, four heavy machine guns, a 46mm mortar and a 100mm artillery piece which can only fire HE (although given the paucity of armour on my "armoured" vehicles that shouldn't be too much of a hindrance).  But the backbone of Ivan's forces are the fortifications; five pillboxes, eight trench counters and eight wire counters.  Coming late to the party he also has three more squads with a leader and an antitank rifle arriving on turn four.

Per SSR the second line squads have to set up around three designated hexes on the Polish side of the river. The remainder of my troops set up on the north side, the vehicles enter on Turn 1 or later.  Two fords are the only two practical ways of getting across said river.  To win I have to capture four of the five pillboxes while losing less than 28 CVP, a generous allotment you might say but those thin skinned vehicles add up to a lot rather quickly.

This is the set up.  Ivan cringes behind his defences as the storm approaches
In response to Ivan's defences I essentially split my force in two.  The assault engineers plus with the flamethrower and a couple of soak up squads would hit the west (left) backed up by a pair of PzI tanks while most of my first line squads would take the less impressive looking defensive position on the right backed up by the PzIIs.  My mortar was set up to dump smoke on his forward defenders in the building while my second line squads were to deal with his forward forces.  The halftracks I held back.  Their firepower is impressive but so is their vulnerability.  I decided to leave them off until I could figure out what to do with them.

It all went frighteningly well.  On the right Ivan's impressive looking stacks turned out to be dummies and my second liners surged forward through the trees leaving the designated assault force choking in their dust.  My 81mm obediently dropped a smoke round on his squad in the centre house and my first line troops sloshed across the ford and plunged into close combat (not without losses of course but goddammit this is war).  Of course I pushed my luck too far with the mortar, gaining rate on the smoke round I tried to drop another into the road to give myself some cover from the artillery piece which I figured had to be lurking in a convenient location. I ran out of smoke and that was the war over for the mortar.  On the left my second line troops managed to break his defenders and some (if I say so myself) slick manoeuvring with the assault engineers and my PzIs resulted in a crop of prisoners.

End of German turn 1
 My tanks rolled forward and on the left a PzI discovered a boresighted location for one of Ivan's hmgs fortunately without damage.  Having covered most of the distance in the first turn the next four would involve nervous attempts to cross the remaining distance between myself and Ivan's defences.  On the right I had a "success" of sorts.  Cheerfully sacrificing my second line troops on the altar of Mars I tied up his machine guns and then managed to run a squad around the left hand pillbox and into CC with its defenders. My shout of delight when I rolled a four died away when Ivan responded by rolling a three.  Both squads died but as the previous owner Ivan still technically held the title deeds to the pillbox.  The casualties to the rest of my force there left me temporarily without a right flank.  In backplay the CC for the centre building raged on despite my reinforcing it so I had two squads and a leader against Ivan's lone squad.  On the left I eased incrementally forward, Ivan for the most part choosing to remain beneath concealment counters.  I got very bold with my tanks though, too bold.  One rolled into the teeth of his hmg fire and with heavy calibre bullets pinging off its none too secure armour managed to drop some vehicular smoke allowing my troops.  The other ripped some useful holes in his barbed wire and circled in an attempt to reach the rear of Ivan's position. In fact it just got adjacent to his 100mm and was promptly reduced to scrap.  On the right I sent one around to the right to support my suddenly non existent right flank while the other had plans to go left.  I also brought on some halftracks so I didn't forget them but left them well out of danger.  My right hand assault troops moved up to take over flank duties from my shattered second liners (they're hiding under halftracks in the picture below, von Kattelrussler would be so proud).

Things don't look bad but the casualty count is climbing

I changed my mind in the next turn.  I decided to leave the right hand pillboxes to my surviving second liners, surely some would rally (nope) and the newly arrived squads.  I turned both PzIIs around and sent them straight up against the 100mm pausing only to break a squad on the way.  With not one but two tanks breathing down his neck Ivan had no choice but to shoot and hope for the best.  His first shot immobilised a PzII (fortunately the crew remained in the vehicle) but an intensive fire shot broke the gun.  Then he boxcarred a morale check for the crew.  Dead gun, dead crew.  On the far left I was inching forward at a speed normally associated with arthritic slugs but in the centre I managed to pull the vehicle smoke trick again (this has never worked for me before, now its happened twice in the same scenario truly the gods are fickle).  This permitted me to ease my flamethrower team into what would be a useful position once the smoke cleared.  An attempt to move a half squad with a demo charge into a useful position simply resulted in its death but the smoke allowed me to move a squad in, pick up the DC and charge forward.  Or at least it would have done if I hadn't rolled a 6 on the pick up dr.  Not to worry, there was a second squad nearby so it moved in to try its luck, another 6.  I may have indulged in a little profanity at this point.  At least I'm pretty sure I heard one of Ivan's kids in the background saying "Daddy, what does 'motherfucker' mean?"

On the right I moved troops towards the empty pillbox and (very temporarily) occupied it.  In response Ivan abandoned the right most pillbox and chased them out again, and by "chased out" I mean "killed".  Oh and I finally managed to kill his squad in the centre which had been holding up two squads and a leader in CC.
The right is still a problem but the left is looking better by the moment

The pieces were more or less in position on the left now and some searing bursts of flame cleaned out a pillbox and some defenders in a trench.  It wasn't quite that simple of course.  A 20+1 shot slaughter broken prisoners and ELR'ed their guards but the general progress was forward and Ivan now simply didn't have the troops to stop me. I swarmed into CC with his remaining troops while my surviving tanks and half tracks rolled over his position to deny rout to his broken units.  On the right I managed to break his surviving squad and looked forward to retaking the pillbox for the third time.  Ivan's reinforcements arrived in time to hold a requiem mass for the departed.  He pushed them up the far right hand side of the board and managed to occupy the pillbox there but with literally no other troops left on the board they
had little chance of rescuing the situation.  Ivan resigned at this point.  When I first saw the scenario I thought it would be tough on the Germans but the sheer number of squads and tanks they possess make it hard for the Poles to win I think.  If the Poles are to stand a chance I think they need to have a forward defence and try and hammer the fords and open ground to the north but there are still those second line German squads to consider.

There's still a CC on the left but this is all that's left of Ivan's at start force
Major von Kummerbund stood staring at the wreckage of the Polish position.  The few surviving defenders were being hustled towards the rear.  Junior Officer approached him and saluted but the major wasn't looking.  Instead he gazed fixedly at Oberst von Kattelrussler who was pirouetting on the top of a half track clutching a flamethrower as if it was a dance partner.
"On the positive side," said Junior Officer hesitantly, "that actually went rather well."
"Yes," von Kummerbund ground the word out from between clenched teeth.  "Another triumph for Oberst von Kattelrussler.  Do you want to get started on the victory celebrations or shall I?"

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Eternally Doomed

For as long as I have been alive (or at least as long as I have been paying attention) there have been two indisputable truths in Australia.  The first is that the oil and gas fields in the Bass Strait were just about to run out of oil and gas and the second is that the Great Barrier Reef is completely doomed because of (insert environmental catastrophe here).  The Great Barrier Reef has completely died so many times that they must have a full scale underwater zombie apocalypse happening up there.

I heard a couple of months ago that the Great Barrier Reef was now inevitably doomed (again) because of climate change.  My original thought was the, no doubt unworthy, one that with the reef out of the way there really wasn't anything to stop us cranking up the coal exports.  This was after I got over my surprise at the fact that the reef was still there at all.  One of my earliest recollections is hearing about the inevitable doom of the reef on the news as a young child and it seems to have died at one or two yearly intervals ever since.

Meanwhile down at the chillier end of our continent great oil rigs dot the Bass Strait sucking up, apparently diminishing, amounts of oil and gas thus allowing the wheels of industry to keep on turning (the fact the wheels of industry have been continually turning may explain why so much of it has rolled away from Australia).  And all the while geologists, company representatives, and various people who have been (perhaps generously) described as experts claim that the time is coming when its all going to run out bringing economic devastation to all the people living in Bass Strait.

Of course there is a certain amount of truth to both positions.  Drilling for oil and gas is essentially sticking a straw into the planet and sucking.  You may get a decent drink but eventually you're going to hear that disappointing gurgling noise that tells you you need to stick your straw somewhere else.  Likewise with the reef.  The reef is a living organism (or a whole bunch of living organisms) and sooner or later circumstances will change sufficiently so that the whole reef will die although possibly not quite soon enough to satisfy environmentalists.

In the meantime the whole affair has been a godsend for the Environment and Business sections of our local media outlets who haven't really needed a new headline for the last thirty years.  It's a lot better than the rural news which has to go to the effort of having three separate headlines on standby.  I suggest they simply make one; "Fire/Drought/Flooding Dooms Farmers!" and then simply circle the word that's appropriate this time.

Wouldn't it be elegant if we ran out of Bass Strait oil and gas at exactly the same time as the reef finally turned up it's corally toes?  Environmentally speaking the two things should cancel each other out.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Birthday Greetings #74

Happy birthday to Maximinus II, Roman emperor.  The third century was a great time for anyone wanting to be Roman emperor.  All you really had to do was join the army and wait, first for your elevation and then your almost inevitable overthrow and death.  At least it took the worry out of planning for retirement.

As a response to the somewhat musical chairs nature of imperial tenure at the time a more than usually competent emperor by the name of Diocletian decided to lay down some rules about the imperial succession.  He took a colleague and they divided the empire between them.  Then each of them took a junior colleague to help them run the place.  After a period of time the senior emperors would retire, the junior ones would step up and appoint two more juniors in their place and so on.  This worked about as well as you might expect.

It did seem to work briefly for our boy Maximinus though.  Diocletian chose Galerius, Maximinus's uncle as his colleague so the future for boy should have been bright.  When Diocletian retired Galerius stepped up to the top job and made Maximinus junior emperor with responsibility for Syria and Egypt (nowadays that would look like a bad joke but at the time it was a plum posting).  Over in the western part of the empire Diocletian's careful success arrangements had resulted in a murderous free for all from which two people emerged triumphant.  Constantine and Licinius.  Constantine settled down as emperor of the West while Licinius took on the role in the east after the unlamented (at least by Christian historians) death of Galerius.

Apparently Licinius and Maximinus came to some sort of understanding which allowed Maximinus to keep his job and neither of the two had to kill the other.  This lasted about eighteen months.  Constantine and Licinius each had their problems and made common cause to help each other against their enemies.  Uneasily aware that he was, at the very least, a potential enemy Maximinus made common cause with a usurper in Italy currently exercising Constantine's mind and gathered together an army thus becoming an actual enemy.

As policy decisions go this turned out to be as disastrous for his present prospects as his persecutions of Christians were for his historical reputation.  Licinius promptly beat up on his army, chased him through Asia Minor, beat up on his army again, chased him some more until finally Maximinus took the hint and died. 

Just before he died Maximinus reversed his actions against the Christians and accepted an edict of toleration issued by his uncle Galerius but it was too late.  The Christians were not letting him get off that easily.  Maximinus was accused of greed, superstition and living a life of such depraved degeneracy that it was amazing he ever had time to persecute anybody.  This is what happens when you piss off the people who will be writing the history.  President Trump, take note.

With their respective opponents off their hands Constantine and Licinius could settle down and address the dangers threatening the empire.  Each rapidly came to the conclusion that the principal threat to peace was the continued existence of the other.  They were probably both right.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Dies of Exposure and Gets Eaten by Tasmanian Devils and Mythical Foxes

I held a strategy meeting with my Tasmanian correspondent earlier this week.  Since the sad and lamented passing of Mr Moo I've been having increasing doubts about whether a Tasmanian correspondent is an appropriate waste of this blog's resources.  I indicated to my correspondent that while 15000 word articles on walking her children to school were probably of great interest to her they would not necessarily set the blogging world on fire.  My Belarussian tech support intervened at this point to agree with me.  Apparently while reading her most recent submission they had fallen asleep on a strategically significant button and as a result their homeland had inadvertently invaded Latvia (well, when I say "inadvertently" I mean "three weeks ahead of schedule").

Finally the meeting ended with my telling her that I was no longer prepared to pay for her services.  She pointed out that I didn't pay for them now.  With a point of agreement thus reached I relaxed and asked her about her weekend.  She brightened up immediately, her weekend had been amazing apparently.  She hadn't had such a good time for ages, truly it had been happy and memorable.  I asked her what she had got up to.  She said she went on a two day bushwalk and got lost in the snow.

It occurred to me at this point (not for the first time) that my correspondent and I are two very different people.  I racked my brains for my own experiences of bushwalking, snow and getting lost and then tried to apply the definition "fun" to any of it without success.  I was also a little surprised at the mention of snow.  Yes so I know it snows in Tasmania from time to time, even in November but not often near the bits my correspondent lives in.

As it turns out I was right about that.  My correspondent had traveled to the central highlands of Tasmania to conduct her bushwalking "fun".
"Just a minute," I interrupted her breathless tales of wandering in the icy wilderness in my search for clarification.  "You mean you actively sought out snow solely for the purposes of getting lost in it far from civilisation?"
"Yes," she replied.  "It was awesome."

At this point I was very glad that many hundreds of kilometres separated me from my correspondent.  I also resolved not to go outdoors with her in future.  I could imagine myself trussed up next to a small fire while she sharpened a stick and noted that at least one of us would survive while I begged her to just use the damn emergency beacon.  Apparently she doesn't have an emergency beacon.  Such things are for wimps not attuned to the great outdoors.  I personally have an emergency beacon just in case I get lost on the journey from my bedroom to the bathroom.  I know that's a little excessive; I've only had to use it twice.

Still my correspondent didn't seem to concerned about being lost in the snow.  Apparently she just wandered around until she ceased being lost in the snow.  I wondered aloud if perhaps Tasmania's mythical foxes or completely real tasmanian devils might choose a moment when she was removed from even Tasmania's approximation of civilisation to mass for an attack. My correspondent wasn't worried.  The foxes are small, cute and don't exist.  The devils largely eat carrion, one of the defining characteristics of carrion is the unlikelihood of it wandering through the snow singing a happy song.  I invited her to smell her bushwalking clothes and after a brief pause while she regained her breath and vital signs she did concede that perhaps she might want to take a couple of anti devil precautions the next time she went wandering in the wilderness primordial.

Still this opened a fruitful opportunity.  Would she, I asked, like to be this blog's outdoor activities reporter?  She asked if I would pay her.  At least as much as I pay you now I responded.  Strangely she agreed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Please Don't Do Your Worst

In my idle moments I like to think how well I would withstand torture (you're probably the same).  Would I be able to hold back vital information while various ill intentioned individuals did creative things to me with hot wires and various sharp things?  Sometimes I think I would hold up rather well, I have visions of myself spitting, rather bloodily, in my interrogator's face while inviting them to do their worst.  Last Thursday I went to the dentist.  Half way through I would have cheerfully sold out my grandparents for the opportunity to leave.

In fact I did try to leave, three times and each time a stern glance from my inquisitor, sorry, dentist made me sink quivering back into the chair and reluctantly reopen my mouth so she could insert sharp things into it.  The humiliating part about it was she wasn't doing anything much.  No fillings (that happened Monday) and the tooth I had presented for her inspection turned out to be fine.  No, what reduced me to a weeping puddle on the floor was her attempts to clean the accumulated gunk off my otherwise reasonably functional teeth.

I wept, I howled, I gripped the arms of the chair so tightly that it actually started weeping as well.  Fortunately the facemasks prevented me from seeing the looks of absolute contempt that must have been plastered over the faces of the dentist and her assistant.  Eventually the dentist heaved a huge sigh of relief and put the sharp, scrapy things back on the tray.  I did, indeed, spit bloodily but it was into a convenient basin and far from inviting the dentist to do her worst I was wondering how I might be able to fake my own death so they would leave me alone.

I cringed back into the chair as the assistant approached.  Rolling her eyes she plastered my newly clean teeth with flouride while I somewhat incoherently offered her money I don't have if she would help me escape while the dentist's back was turned.  The dentist's back was turned, I suspect, so I didn't have to watch her laughing.  She needn't have worried I had my eyes firmly closed during the entire procedure.

Finally the ordeal ended, cautiously I opened a tear filled eye.  The dentist jerked her head towards the open door.
"Get out," she suggested.  I didn't need to be told twice.  I extracted my remaining fingernails from their position deep in the arms of the chair and fled towards the exit.  Then I had to slink back a few seconds later to collect my sunglasses, book and other extraneous possessions.  The dentist and her assistant very kindly kept straight faces until I had left again.

On Monday I went back to have a couple of fillings.  During the entire procedure I stoically endured without a whimper.  Well ok, I whimpered slightly when she injected me with anaesthetic but after that absolutely nothing.  Possibly I could stand up to torture after all.  You know, if they drug me first.  Or instead.

Just for the record my dentist is absolutely awesome.  I can and do recommend her to anyone.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Silly After Action Report - Tidal Edition

"We hold here!" Oberst von Kattelrussler stood on an oildrum addressing his troops.  He slapped his swagger stick across his thigh for emphasis, not for the first time, his tunic was torn and blood was beginning to show. "The Poles think they have us! (slap)  They think they can turn us back. (slap) Their attack will break like a wave on the tide and it will recede! (slap) Here! (slap, slap) Here we stand, here we hold, here we drive back these arrogant fools who think they can do what they like in their own country!  What is it von Kummerbund, I was just getting a good rant on."

"Break like a wave on the tide?" asked Major von Kummerbund. "Did you just pinch that straight off the scenario card?"

"Sshh!" muttered von Kattelrussler stuffing the incriminating piece of card under his tunic. He turned to face his troops who were waiting politely to see whether their commanding officer would drown in his own spittle before he died of blood loss.  "Soldiers, have no fear. We have faced this enemy before and I know German flesh and squishy bits are a million times better than any Poles.  Our luftwaffe rules the air, our artillery is matchless and our panzers cannot be stopped!"

"Actually sir, we don't have any panzers, artillery or air support in this scenario," whispered von Kummerbund.

"Oh fuck," said von Kattelrussler.  "We are so screwed!  We're all going to die!"  He started to cry. His troops who had been a bit nonplussed by the entire "morale building" part of the speech nodded happily.  Now they were back on familiar ground.

I must confess on examining the scenario card my first thoughts were rather similar to those of von Kattelrussler.  This is scenario BFP 125, A Wave Breaking With the Tide.  As the German defender my designated role was "beach".  I have to defend a straggling village from a mass of vengeful Poles who seem unaccountably attached to their country.  I have eleven first line squads and six second liners making up the numbers.  Three medium and four light machine guns make up all of the support immediately available and four officers will prove themselves too few to rally my troops.  On the first turn a pair of cattle drawn 75mm guns will make their appearance and plod slowly towards the front.  They might arrive in time to help stop the Soviets in 1944.  In turn four, assuming I last that long, I get six squads of reinforcements with a mass of heavy machine guns.

Facing me Ivan has thirty three squads including a trio of assault engineers, seven officers to encourage them along with a full supporting cast of hmgs, mmgs, DCs, mortars and antitank rifles (why? neither of us could figure out. We suspect someone at BFP has an antitank rifle fetish). In addition to this Ivan has 70mm artillery support guided by an offboard observer who is so high up he must be in a tethered balloon.  Below is my set up, I tried to hide my best troops behind some convenient buildings while I defended some forward buildings in the east (right).  My plan was to slow him down in the east and gradually pull back to defend the victory buildings behind the road.  Over in the west I played with the idea of setting up some troops on the hill but decided to concentrate my force to hopefully hold him off (nope).  One interesting wrinkle is that on a successful sniper roll Ivan can eschew the result and instead place a partisan unit anywhere he thinks it might do most good.  This is to simulate armed locals coming to the assistance of their gallant army.

My set up.  Oberst von Kattelrussler is weeping in a cellar somewhere

Ivan set his force up in a manner that just demonstrated his superiority in numbers.  He appeared to cover the entire set up area.  In the west behind the hill went the bulk of his elite troops.  In the centre were regulars and facing my throwaway troops in the east were his own expendable green squads.  On the eastern flank were a trio of first line squads guided by a doughty 10-1.  Ivan kicked off proceedings by dialing in his artillery.  He placed his artillery request in a spot where he could easily correct it to good effect, unfortunately the spotting round was accurate and he had nothing to hit.

Muttering curses at the artillery gods Ivan's troops swept forward.  His guys in the west pushed up onto the hill without resistance and his eastern troops pushed forward doing their best to keep out of trouble. Feeling a little cocky he ran a squad across a road covered by one of my mmgs and with a roll of three I vaporised them.  I followed that up by breaking and ELRing a green squad in the east which resulted in a disrupted unit whimpering under a DM counter.  First blood to me but Ivan had got forward without too much loss.  For my part I shot at what troops I could see and skulked as best as possible in my turn.

Ivan is probing my flanks.  He could at least buy me dinner first.

With the main push coming in the west I pushed a 9-1, hs, mmg combo up onto the first floor of the church in the centre of town so I could sweep the hilltop. A little too late as it turned out.  Ivan's flankers dropped off the hill into the forest.  I was ready for this.  I had a squad and lmg posted to sweep the road he had to cross if he wanted to get near me.  But first his mortar teams (which he had left on the hill) plastered said squad with fire.  Normally Ivan's mortars slaughter me all over the place but not on this occasion.  He broke one mortar (there is a god after all) and my recently redeployed 9-1 mmg team broke the other.  Ivan then sent a 7-0 with a DC charging at my guard squad but another lmg team killed him outright.  With his cunning tactical ploys defeated Ivan simply dashed half a dozen squads across the road.  First fire, lmg fire lane do you think it made any difference?  Nope, they all got across safely and are now bulking up to cause me misery.

Things are not looking too good on the left.

In the centre Ivan hastened slowly and redirected his artillery to help out.  Now it became inaccurate and the SR dropped behind his forward troops.  He got it on target in the next turn though and dropped in on a half squad in an orchard.  The response of these heroes to a rain of steel was to battle harden into a first line half squad.  Not quite the result Ivan was hoping for.  Over in the far east he scuttled a squad and the 10-1 past my flank defence but I managed to break the unit carrying a dismantled heavy machine gun.  Up in the northwest Ivan has a kill stack assembled which will probably cause me grief later.  A shot at a squad and lmg combo in the centre woods has battle hardened me another squad and gained me a hero into the bargain.  However Ivan's sniper has managed to kill one of my already skimpy leaders. Far in the rear my 75mm guns amble slowly towards the battlefield pausing to eat grass along the way.

Part 2

I commenced the second part of this game with a certain amount of confidence.  Yes Ivan was preparing a swarm of attackers on my left but for the moment they were vulnerable and I hoped to be able to whittle down the attacking force to something I was more capable of dealing with.  In the centre and right I seemed to be holding on all right.  Then things went to Hell.  They went to Hell, occupied territory and set up home there.  I inflicted some minor damage on the left and in return Ivan rained carnage down on my defenders.  On the left he broke my lmg squad holding an outlying building then he moved his artillery to the right and crushed a pair of squads that I had been hoping would be the mainstay of my defence.  Further fire broke the half squad over there as well and suddenly I had virtually no defences on the right.  He had already filtered a squad or two across the road and emboldened he brought up some more to menace my remaining troops in that area.

But wait, things get worse

The only tiny ray of light was that his kill stack menacing my forward mmg team achieved nothing except the breaking of his own mmg.  In the next turn things got worse.  One of my gun teams finally reached a position where it might be able help guard a flank (on the right).  The other trudged slowly towards a battlefield going from bad to worse.  Ivan's battering of the left continued and including mangling a squad of reinforcements I tried to send forward to help.  His artillery dropped harmlessly in my rear area but still seemed threatening.  With virtually nothing to stop him on the left he sent his troops forward snatching a few buildings and positioning himself for better things.  He also sent a pair of squads deep down my left flank obviously trying to position himself to stave off my reinforcements.  Wasted effort in my view as I seriously doubted if I would survive until turn four. 

Back in the main battle zone Ivan pushed forward a stack of three squads in the centre and managed to kill the halfsquad with the 9-1.  Suddenly I was an mmg down.  On the right some judicious moves on Ivan's part had resulted in capturing a trio of squads while the broken remnants of two more fled his advance.

I am so doomed
Again the only good news came from the centre where a lucky shot absolutely crushed what was left of his kill stack killin a 9-0 and CR'ing the squad manning the hmg.  The squad with the malfed mmg had wisely left before that happened.  Amid all of the carnage I had been attempting to execute my own plan of withdrawing gradually on the right to build a force in the centre of the village.  This had sort of worked and Ivan was slowed somewhat.  On the left there was barely a defence at all but fortunately so far Ivan has only got a couple of units into the village proper.  

To deal with his two flanking squads I unshipped my remaining gun on the road.  I was using an artillery piece as a diversion.  Bizarrely it worked,  Ivan ran one squad behind them and first fire from the crew broke it.  The other squad charged into CC with the gun crew where it currently remains.  I'm not sure how long that will keep going though.  

I have never awaited reinforcements with more desperation

Once again Ivan's artillery dropped down accurately pulverising such reinforcements as I had managed to push left.  For Christ's sake man draw a red chit damn you!  At present my left flank is in tatters but as yet Ivan hasn't fully exploited it yet.  He's pressing on the right but I'm just managing to hold my own.  In the centre I'm doing well but that's largely irrelevant as the battle is being decided behind my troops there.  If I can rally some troops, get some good rolls and please an increasingly whimsical (not to say vengeful) god possibly I can bring on my reinforcements in time to save what's left of my position.

Part 3
This part should probably be subtitled, "Then things got worse."  My reinforcements (six squads, two leaders and four dm heavy machine guns) were due to arrive and I had crafted a plan to turn the tide of the battle.  Over on the left I would push a couple of squads towards my gun.  I doubted if they would arrive in time to affect the close combat but I did at least hope to beat up any surviving troops he had left.  In the centre I pushed a leader and a few more squads up through the centre to try and stabilise the position there while a squad and an hmg moved forward on the right to add heft to what appeared to be a pretty solid defensive position.

For a precious moment I had hope

Figuring that the clutch of defenders protecting the group of buildings just to the right of the centre had done all they could I started filtering them back.  In the centre of the village I managed to marry up a squad with the mmg and moved a mmg unit westward to bolster my (virtually non existent) defences there.  I also attempted to manhandle my right hand gun a little closer to the action without result which as it turned out was rather fortuitous for me.  In the village to the north of the road Ivan had moved a crew with a DC next to one of my few surviving squads. I wasn't taking that lying down and in my next firephase I, well I broke the lmg without hurting him but in fury I charged into CC and with odds of 4-1 I managed to wipe him out.

Ivan pushed strongly on both flanks, taking advantage of the absence of many defenders on the left to snatch some buildings.  He was aided by a sniper result which allowed him to drop a partisan half squad into the same location as one of my few defenders (a half squad, mmg & 7-0).  With them locked up he charged a pair of squads accompanied by their own leader into CC with them.  Over on the right Ivan used his standard "outflank Neil" ploy.  He simply raced troops through the open.  His first squad dashed across the road and I attempted to lay down a firelane.  Instead I boxcarred the roll, broke an lmg and Ivan simply strolled the remainder of his troops across the road. Suddenly the pair of squads holding on gallantly in the outer buildings were surrounded, a point made abundantly clear when Ivan promptly broke one of said squads in advancing fire.

Yep definitely worse.

Now my right flank looked as tattered as my left.  The sole piece of good news was breaking one of his squads as he attempted to pile into the newly created melee in the centre.  These guys surrendered to my squad north of the road.  Just to add insult to injury Ivan gained another sniper result which he used to drop another half squad this time into a stack of broken units north of the road.

So was there any good news?  Just a little.  Despite being monstered by a pair of squads and an 8-1 leader my half squad and 7-0 have so far survived two rounds of close combat with a non fatal wound to the 7-0 as the only result.  This has allowed me to move my 9-1, squad and mmg combo next door, a convenient pin result stopped them reinforcing the CC and over on the far left one of my reinforcing squads is conducting its own personal counter attack and has seized back a building.  Over on my right the 75mm gun managed to get a minor rate tear on a squad and 10-1 that had unwisely taken shelter in the acquired woods hex (apparently attempting to move the gun doesn't remove acquisition, believe me Ivan looked very hard).  Both are now dead.

Much much worse

In the right centre I tried to copy Ivan's trick of dashing across a road.  It didn't go too badly, one half squad killed and a squad and a half pinned in the open road.  In desperation I have moved a squad with a (dm) hmg up to the right hand buildings in a pitiful attempt to hang on to them for another turn.  For his part Ivan amassed a monstrous amount of firepower including an hmg at pointblank range and threw a 30+2 shot at my one surviving squad on the right.  There was only one thing I could do.
"Roll boxcars," I ordered Ivan.  Ivan rolled boxcars.  Broke the hmg and no result on the IFT attack.  Both of us had dice failures at critical moments.  There are now two turns left and Ivan needs to snatch a bunch more buildings.  As for me, my casualties have been ghastly.  Perhaps if I'm lucky I might hold him off.  One thing is for sure, I cannot afford anything else going wrong.  I don't have the manpower to recover.

Part 4

With only two turns left Ivan went for broke.  He brought his artillery down (five black chits in a row for God's sake) but my boys cheerfully ate the 12FP attacks and spat shrapnel at their opponents.  Over on the right he pushed a squad and a half forward to challenge for one of the few remaining buildings under my control in that area.  I dealt with the half squad but the squad remained and broke my boys in the next turn. On the left he was gobbling up small buildings like Godzilla with an eating disorder.  I clung to those remaining to me and plotted a modest counter attackette of my own.  The monster melee in the centre couldn't last much longer (he had two and a half squads plus a leader to my own half squad and (wounded) leader but I had pushed up a squad with an mmg just for this purpose and fired ruthlessly into the melee.  I rolled an eleven which resulted in absolutely nothing and Ivan cheerfully killed my boys in the CC phase.

My position is crumbling
 But this moment of joy was short lived for Ivan as my mmg team broke his entire force in my next prep fire phase and I was able to recover a pair of buildings as a result.  In the south west (bottom left to you) Ivan had pushed forward in search of victory locations leaving those behind under guarded.  Under guarded became unguarded courtesy of a sniper attack which broke a squad at a vital moment and I pushed forward a squad and 7-0 to snatch back another building.  Now Ivan would have to divert troops back to deal with them.  In the centre I had a mmg team that had unwisely gone berserk and they charged off to attack a squad and leader of his in the back play.  The ensuing CC would keep them both out of the action for the rest of the game.

 With the end of days upon him Ivan threw caution to the winds. Over on the right he swarmed towards my one remaining squad but expertly conducted FPF broke or pinned everything that he pushed in that direction. On the left (now more like the centre) he grabbed a couple more buildings and sent some boys to retake the building I had retaken from him in the previous turn.  A sniper killed his only officer and he finally took some punishment from running out in the road when an hmg vaporised an entire squad trying to crack my middle position.  At the end he wound up a couple of buildings short with one turn to go for the Germans to improve their positions.  Disappointments for Ivan were his hmgs which didn't really get into the fight.  Disappointments for me were every single damn firelane I ever laid down.  Nevertheless since I won I suppose I can't complain too much (seriously, not a single useful result from any of the bloody firelanes).  Casualties were appalling on both sides.

Endgame, somehow I've survived

Major von Kummerbund stared around at the few unwounded men left to him.
"Dear god, how did we pull that one off?"
Junior officer staggered up, wild eyed with a Polish bayonet protruding from his midsection.  He attempted to salute and fell over backwards.
Von Kummerbund heaved a huge sigh.  Somehow they had won and best of all had been the sight of Oberst von Kattelrussler, hands above his head being chivvied to the rear by some Polish soldiers.
"It could have been worse," he said out loud.  A broad grin spread across his face, "Much worse."
"Well done von Kummerbund," called von Kattelrussler from across the street.  "Not the way I would have done it of course but you haven't messed it up too much."
Von Kummerbund stared at the unexpected sight of his commanding officer accompanied by a rather shell shocked looking gefreiter (yep, him again).
"Come along von Kummerbund, first soldier we find that's alive gets an iron cross."  Von Kattelrussler strode off into the artillery battered village looking for survivors.
"I thought he was taken prisoner," hissed von Kummerbund to the gefreiter.
"He was sir, when the Poles found out who he was they released him and released me to guide him back to our lines to make sure we could continue to benefit from his leadership."
A horrible thought struck von Kummerbund,
"He was interrogated?  Did he tell them anything?"
The gefreiter shook his head,
"He gave them his name, rank and serial number."
"Thank god."
"Then he gave them his likes, dislikes and star sign. And I think he gave one of them his telephone number."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Birthday Greetings #73

Happy birthday to Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor.  Henry was a member of the Salian dynasty who kept the imperial throne warm for a while until the Habsburgs were invented.  He was crowned King of the Romans at the tender age of six with his mother acting as regent.  A measure of her popularity in this role can be gauged by the fact that a few years later Henry was kidnapped by the Archbishop of Cologne, his mother was "persuaded" to enter a convent and the archbishop settled down to rule as Henry's regent until the young emperor could come of age.  This Henry did somewhat more swiftly than the archbishop had counted on.  The archbishop returned from a foreign journey to discover that Henry was in charge and that he had better restrict himself to hanging around his own cathedral from now on.

With the actuality as well as the title Henry took stock of his patrimony.  There seemed to be rather a lot to do.  One of his kidnappers was now accused of being involved in a plot to murder him.  His nobility only tolerated his rule as long as he didn't try and tell them what to do.  The Saxons quite simply hated him (to be fair to Henry this hatred was something he inherited from his father, the Saxons had hated him too, for good and sufficient reason) and various noblemen took the opportunity to stop even pretending to be loyal to him and raised the standard of revolt.  On top of that the pope had pissed him off.

Henry managed to deal with most of the other problems but the pope was a little more serious.  Henry had attempted to divorce his wife (apparently she was unreasonably annoyed at his continuous infidelities).  Normally this was a case of a nod and a wink, a fat brown envelope to his holiness and voila, divorce.  On this occasion however the pope refused the sanction and Henry had to stomp back home with his beloved spouse no doubt smiling acidly at him the entire time.  Henry had nasty suspicions that the pope's action had less to do with concern for the sanctity of marriage (which never really bothered too many popes until we reached the twentieth century) and more to do with an ecclesiastical power play.

The trouble that most rulers of western Europe had at this time (approx 1071AD) was that to run their kingdoms effectively they needed a cadre of educated literate men.  The trouble was, there weren't any or at least not very many.  The church had a monopoly on education (to be fair they were the only ones qualified to do the teaching) and the bulk of the educated classes were the clergy.  This is why so many high ranking royal advisers were priests. The trouble was, ultimately these priests owed their allegiance to the pope not their royal master.  The pope was well aware of this and, pressing the issue further, denied the emperor the right to appoint priests to royal offices.  At a stroke Henry lost his qualified bureaucracy (such as it was) and at the same time any sort of power or authority over the priests themselves.  Since many of them were also powerful feudal lords (the Archbishop of Cologne hadn't thought twice about kidnapping the emperor, remember) this meant that quite a bit of imperial territory was no longer under even the nominal control of the emperor.

Having beaten up the Saxons rather badly Henry felt he was now free to take on the pope.  In 1076 Henry gathered a synod of compliant clergymen and declared the pope deposed.  In return the pope excommunicated him.  In the middle of Winter in the Alps Henry (if the stories are to be believed) went barefoot in sackcloth to the castle the pope was occupying and begged for readmission into the bosom of the church.  Perhaps he did, but it is instructive to note that the pope was occupying the castle because he was trying to hide from Henry's army which was nearby and the act of contrition (and some sort of act did take place) occurred on Italian territory far from Henry's German powerbase (and embarrassing witnesses) and in territory traditionally hostile to the pope.  In short forgiveness was probably wise.

Still the excommunication had emboldened Henry's enemies at home and the Saxons rose in revolt and set up some underemployed nobleman as antiking in Henry's place. Henry stomped home, stomped Saxons and was close to winning the war when the pope excommunicated him again. Henry would be excommunicated five times in the course of his life which is probably something of a record and is testimony to his ability to really piss off the papacy.

Once the Saxons had been more or less dealt with Henry invaded Italy.  Technically he was the king of Italy but the Italians tended to not pay much attention to that unless he was actually there with an army.  Certain Italian rulers had been less than loyal during the entire excommunication business and he came amongst them deposing some and robbing most.  He also made an alliance with the Byzantine emperor to make war against the Normans in the south of the peninsula.

But first he had to deal with the pope.  Since the pope had shown no hesitation in supporting an antiking Henry set up an antipope. However the real pope shut himself up in another castle and refused to resign.  Henry marched against the Normans as per his treaty but while he did so the people of Rome deserted his pet pope and Henry had to march back and remind them why it was a good idea to wait until he was out of the peninsula before coming out in revolt against him.  With his antipope apparently secure Henry got himself crowned emperor and then immediately had to leave as the Normans were marching on Rome to release the real pope.

After that things went downhill.  Henry returned to Germany and beat up some opposition there but one of his opponents from the old days (one Matilda of Tuscany) had married another of his opponents and soon there was nothing for it but to march back to Italy again. While he was busy there Matilda persuaded his son Conrad to join the revolt against him.  Henry wound up cut off in Italy but fortunately for him Matilda's husband discovered she had bequeathed her entire wealth to the church. Furious he abandoned her and sided with Henry.  Henry marched back into Germany, fired Conrad from the position of heir to the throne, ignored a couple more excommunications from various popes and started organising the country which, it was fair to say, had gone through a lot in the preceding years.

Unfortunately before he could get much done his younger son (and new heir) revolted against his excommunicate father and a whole civil war was started. The son (also named Henry) was obviously a chip off the old block because at a reconciliation meeting he had Daddy kidnapped and slung into a dungeon.  He then declared his father deposed and took over.  When news of this rather disreputable turn of events got out there was a groundswell of sympathy for Henry (the elder) and an army mustered to fight for him.  Henry broke out of prison, beat his son in battle but then died of illness before he could remove the precocious young tyke from the succession.  His son would succeed him as Henry V.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What I Actually Do at Work

"Are you still contagious?"  This isn't a good phrase to overhear at the best of times.  It definitely isn't a good phrase to hear in your staff kitchen.  It's right up there with "Has anybody seen my pet rat?" and "Botulism isn't half as bad as people think."

Incidentally, when I say "staff kitchen" I mean a sort of hybrid café/meeting place place sprawling over a high rent chunk of the 60th floor of our building.  There are tables, there are chairs, there are large windows affording magnificent views over the harbour and Garden Island where naval personnel struggle to cram tanks onto the landing craft attached to our new LHDs.  Yes, we've fixed the engine problems but have now discovered that our tanks aren't a perfect fit for the landing craft designed to take them from the ship to the shore.  Apparently if there's so much as a mild swell our entire armoured regiment will drown during deployment.  This isn't too much of a problem since the only thing we've used our tanks for since the Vietnam War is to provide a home for mice.  In the unlikely event that we ever have to use the multibillion dollar eyesores currently hulking at Garden Island for their designed role we would be wiser just to surrender immediately.

But back to our staff café.  It truly is amazing, it provides a place where the firm's employees can come, hang out and relax as long as they don't mind the fact that their employers are witnesses to the fact they're goofing off.  One can read papers, have meetings, listen to the music played just loud enough to interfere with conversations while not actually being loud enough to enjoy and eat a veritable hipsters wet dream of foodstuffs.  We have avocados of both the smashed and unsmashed varieties.  There are large mushrooms garnished with an egg (the foetus and fungi special).  There's so much Turkish bread that the people of Istanbul are in imminent danger of starvation and gluten free stuff everywhere.  In fact if gluten dares show its face in our café the staff would beat it to death with an avocado smasher.

The deserved centre of attention is the toaster.  This toaster is a thing of beauty by which I mean it is rather ugly in a sort of retro, artisanish way.  I'm sure we're all familiar with what toasters are supposed to look like.  Small metal things with slits in the top for the bread.  One drops the bread in the slits, pushes down on the convenient handle and a short while later toast is catapulted across the room in a cloud of burnt crust particles.  That's what a toaster looks like.  Not ours.  Ours is a rough metal box made of six sheets of unpolished metal that have apparently been screwed together more or less at random, possibly by indigenous tribesmen near the Ganges (which let's face it is where most Bangladeshi factories are located).  The first time I saw it I had to be prevented from posting letters into it.

When you ask the cafe staff for toast they actually give you bread and point you in the direction of this arcane device.  The bread can be sourdough, wholemeal or seeded (as I like to call it; white, brown or gritty) but whatever version you acquire you take it along to the ancestor of toasters long past and drop it onto a wire tray angled so that the bread, eventually, slides slowly into the metal box.  Then its wise to catch up on the news or do a little work (you will be billing a client for this time anyway) chat with friends or develop a new religion.  A ridiculously long time later the bread you dropped into the metal box will find its way out of the bottom in a state best described as "somewhat warm".  You could toast bread equally effectively by holding it up to direct sunlight for five minutes.

Strangely everybody seems quite happy with this result.  Possibly by the time the "toast" actually makes its appearance the recipient is so crazed with hunger that they would actually eat unhusked wheat if that's what the toaster produced.  Somewhat warm bread procured you can then spread it with avocado or peanut butter and enjoy it with your decaf almond latte. Butter will be provided if you ask for it as long as you're prepared to spend the rest of your life as a social pariah.

With all of this out of the way there is nothing for it but to return to your desk and do some actual work all the while hoping that the person who assured you of their non contagious status was telling the truth.