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.