Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nothing's Happening

I stared at the features of my Tasmanian correspondent on my computer screen in astonishment.

"You're looking great," I said.  It was true there was an air of vitality about her and a gleam in her eyes that couldn't entirely be attributed to the experimental drugs that my tech support were pumping into her water supply.  "Things must be going well down there."

Things were indeed going well in the Marcher Lands as my correspondent was only too happy to confirm.  Tasmania was revelling in a brief period of festival free happiness.  For a short time the streets of Hobart were no longer overrun with feminist throat singers, Syrian interpretive dance ensembles, plankton rights advocates and hipsters wallowing in all of the above.  An avocado could rest secure on its slab in the knowledge that no one would try and smash it.

The reaction from those people who actually live in Hobart has been untrammelled delight.  My correspondent excitedly recounted that she could actually get a seat in a waterfront pub, go bushwalking without strangers setting off emergency beacons because the water supply wasn't artisanal and actually expand her arms and breath the air without smacking a performance artist in the face (although apparently she didn't actually mind that bit).

I tried muttering something about expanding cultural horizons but my heart wasn't in it.  My idea of expanding cultural horizons is fostering a yoghurt export industry (which Tasmania already has).  Nothing was going to bring my correspondent down though (perhaps I should take a closer look at those drugs in the water supply).  Now my correspondent isn't adverse to the odd spot of culture.  She even went to the throat singer and it was only a year or two ago that she saw someone from Morocco doing something and it probably doesn't get any more cultural than being Moroccan.  I'm pretty sure you could clean a drain in Morocco and it would count as a cultural activity.  I'm also pretty certain that Dark Mofo would pay a fortune to have a Moroccan drain cleaner as the centrepiece of its next festival which is a mercifully long way away.

Such festivals of course put Tasmania on the map, almost as much as Martin Bryant did, but they do place a certain burden on the local populace.  Its bad enough that anything nice is going to be overrun by strangers but certain modes of behaviour have to be covered up (incest has to be done behind closed doors for a start) and drag racing in the main streets of Hobart is just impossible.  In short for all its benefits festival season is a grim and harrowing time for Tasmanians.

My correspondent shouldn't get too complacent however.  In the next couple of months there is the Australian Antarctic Festival, Tasmanian Whisky Week, Junction Arts Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers Festival.  My correspondent indicated that Tasmanian Whisky Week was probably acceptable.

Silly After Action Report

Oberst Gerhard Wilck stared around at the reception area of Hotel Quellenhof.  Half the ceiling had collapsed, holes were punched in the walls and a pair of charred corpses decorated the floor.  Easing his way among the rubble Wilck signed to his adjutant to be on the alert.  Ringing the bell didn't seem to produce any results so he ventured up a staircase littered with broken brick.  Opening a door at random he leapt back as a six foot American soldier lunged at him with a bayonet.  Slamming the door in a hurry he fumbled for his room key.

The room was open to the sky as a mortar round had taken off part of the roof.  A burst pipe had saturated the bed and most of the floor.  Strangely the complimentary chocolate on the pillow had survived unscathed.  Wilck eased off his greatcoat and unwrapped the chocolate, while he was chewing a tall SS colonel stuck his head around the door.

"Just wanted to tell you that Himmler's given me orders to have you shot if you surrender," said the colonel with a cheery wave.
"Thanks for your support," muttered Wilck.  "Why don't you take your troopers and launch a counterattack?"
"Will that help?" asked the colonel.
"It'll help get you a safe distance away from me."

As the colonel left to collect his soldiers from daycare Wilck turned a disillusioned eye on his adjutant.
"Hotel Quellenhof huh?"
"I'm sorry Herr Oberst, it had good reviews on TripAdvisor."

We'll leave the good oberst pondering his accommodation choices and take a look at todays scenario.  I'm playing Scenario WO 27 - Checking Out.  Having recaptured his own headquarters Oberst Gerhard Wilck launches his (to use the term loosely) SS troopers in an attempt to recapture the remainder of the neighbourhood or possibly just an attempt to get that SS colonel killed.  I'm commanding the Germans, eighteen squads of elite SS seconded from the Leibstandarte itself.  This walking war crimes conviction is led by four officers including an impressive 9-1 and has a medium machine gun, four light machine guns, a panzerschreck and a demo charge.  My task is to end up with more multihex buildings in the American set up area than the Americans.  Opposing me is Ivan Kent who commands a dozen elite American squads with three first line squads making up the numbers.  He too has four officers led by an even more impressive 9-2 plus a pair of bazookas, a pair of medium machine guns and a solitary Sherman tank which I can only assume took a wrong turning somewhere.  Early morning mist gives what would become an intensely irritating +1 LV hindrance to all concerned.

My entire force sets up in the hotel which at least means I have few tactical decisions to make.  Experience has taught me that the fewer of those I make the better.  I planned to make my main push in the south using a kill stack in the hopes of smashing his forward troops while other forces, led by the occasional HS tried to sneak forward and grab territory.  What actually happened was a halfsquad toting the panzerschreck got killed in the street leaving my most potent piece of AT weaponry unattended.  Another half squad was captured.  In the north I had a smaller force, guided by a deeply expendable 7-0 to try and clear out what appeared to be a secondary defence.

Ivan traded space for time (did I mention this scenario is only six turns long) which allowed me to creep some units forward despite the disappointment and set myself for a repeat experience in the second turn.

Moving forward but no real harm to Ivan's defence

Turn two saw me with toeholds in a couple of victory buildings but no indication that I would be able to consolidate any of them.  Due entirely to the mist of course I wasn't really hurting Ivan too much and I decided it was time to take some desperate risks (I know, only a third of the way through the game, that's a new personal low).  Ivan's tank decided to get involved and dropped some WP on what I hoped would become a useful firebase for my next attack.  Instead my troops there would spend their time shaking burning bits out of their uniforms.  In the north I had troops in a couple of buildings and was engaging in some mutually murderous close combat.  In the south foolhardiness reaped an undeserved reward.  I had pushed a squad forward to menace (well, pretend to menace) his kill stack.  Ivan responded with what turned out to be a 44+2shot.  My guys survived and broke all three squads plus the leader in the next defensive fire phase.  It is a measure of Ivan's good temper that a slight sigh was his only indication of irritation (as opposed to the hysterical shrieking that would have issued from my mouth).  For the first time I felt on the front foot.

Can I screw it up from here?  Read on

In a desperate attempt to buy time for his sacrifices to the dice gods to take effect Ivan then buggered off to England for a couple of weeks.  When he returned we recommenced but something had changed.

In the south I felt confident of being able to take advantage of his temporary weakness to sweep up a couple of buildings, take out the Sherman and position myself for future attacks.  In the north I was less bullish but felt a steady progression would bring me victory.  The mist would cancel out FFMO penalties and I had elite eight morale troops.  That number eight has a significance.  It was the average I rolled on morale checks for the entire rest of the game.  When you consider that I passed a couple you can tell what the rest were like.

Things are looking good, briefly

My troops just fell apart.  If Ivan waved in their direction they broke.  If a door slammed near them they broke.  If somebody failed to break them they pinned.  And then broke on subsequent fire.  At first this didn't concern me.  Sure I had a squad broken as I pushed towards the in the southwest but since most of my approaches were covered I managed to surround the building and also ring the pesky Sherman with troops.  It would take me four attempts to find a panzerfaust but eventually I blew the metal monster up in a sheet of flame.  Which didn't stop Ivan shooting through it to break troops sheltering on the other side.

Things were looking good.  I stepped out from the centre building with a newly rallied squad and it promptly became a newly broken squad.  Still that allowed my troops already in the open to sneak through the orchard and grab a toehold in another building.

Up north things were going ok as well.  Close combat, normally the curse of my existence suddenly started smiling on me.  In vicious hand to hand combats I cleared out one building and established myself in another.

Running short of troops

But that was it.  Thereafter every time a German squad took fire it broke.  One squad broke after taking a 4+4 shot which was just insulting.  Such positions as I had gained couldn't be reinforced.  By the end of turn five I actually held more buildings than I was capable of defending.

This is where I gave up

At the end of turn five I had about four functioning squads and my personal morale had joined that of my troops.  I conceded as even if I had captured the remaining building I needed there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent Ivan retaking them.  Frankly I'm lucky he didn't capture the hotel.

Oberst Wilck gazed across the rubble strewn road.  Everywhere he looked SS troopers were curled up in foetal positions weeping hysterically.  Spotting the colonel who had stuck his head around the door earlier he waved.

"I'm just about to call the Reichsfuhrer with a status update.  I'll tell him you said hello!"

Monday, July 23, 2018

I Had Better See Some Sodding Puffins

Do you know when is a good time to visit Newfoundland?  Apparently pretty much anytime apart from when I'm going.  I seem to have a talent for travelling to places after the tourist season has just ended or before it starts or possibly never got off the ground at all due the prevailing levels of infectious disease and genocidal violence among the locals.

If you're like me then all you know about Newfoundland is the dog.  Actually if you're like me you only found out about the dog when you were googling Newfoundland to find out more about that.  At some stage earlier this year I conceived a violent desire to go to Newfoundland.  I wish people will stop asking me why because the simple reason is I have no idea.  I was heading to Cleveland anyway and it occurred to me that I might be able to see some of Canada along the way.  What I will be seeing is Newfoundland and Toronto airport.  In fact I'll be wandering through Toronto airport so much I wouldn't be surprised if it took out a restraining order.  At some point in my musings on getting to Cleveland from Canada the word Newfoundland popped into my head and the rest is history.

Having decided to go to Newfoundland I cast about for reasons to justify my decision.  They weren't slow in coming.  Newfoundland has whales, icebergs and puffins.  To be more accurate the first two of those tend to spend their time in the sea off the coast of Newfoundland rather than being the sort of thing you encounter walking down the street.  Still Newfoundland is as close as you can get without needing a life jacket.

"I shall go to Newfoundland," I grandly announced, "and there I shall see whales, icebergs and puffins."  Actually it appears that no I won't.  I'm picking a rather bad time to go to Newfoundland.  By the time I get there the icebergs will be melted and the whales will be hibernating.  Even prime puffin viewing time is pretty much over.  That leaves me with the odd church and the underneath of a river as tourist attractions.  Oh yes and a Viking village.

In return for more money than I have spent on accommodation in my life I'm staying at a lighthouse which is supposed to be a prime viewing spot for whales and icebergs.  For what I'm being charged the whales and icebergs should be tap dancing through my bedroom.  Although since apparently I'm going at the wrong time of year what I will actually see is a lighthouse. 

There is some faint hope of puffins.  Puffins nest near St Johns the capital of Newfoundland.  Breeding season when apparently Newfoundland almost sinks into the seat under the accumulated mass of puffins will not be occurring while I'm there.  Indeed it's likely that most of the puffins will be on working holidays in Lithuania at the time of my visit.

Whales I've seen before (even in Sydney Harbour) and as for icebergs well I can look at the inside of my freezer and extrapolate upwards but I've got to admit that I will be quite disappointed if I get to Newfoundland and there isn't a single puffin prepared to pose in front of my camera.  Suddenly the focus of my entire trip has been reduced to a solitary seabird.  If worst comes to worst I'm prepared to buy a t-shirt with a puffin on it. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Beware! The Calves are Massing

The iceberg menace has returned!  For years I've been warning about the dangers of these floating, frozen death machines and now my predictions have been proved true.  Or at least they might prove true if the wind doesn't change.

Once upon a time it was only wandering ocean liners and the occasional scientific expedition that had to worry about icebergs.  Of course each incident was a tragedy but the death toll was well within the human capacity to replace.  As Napoleon said, "one Parisian night will soon adjust these losses."  Memo to the denizens of Paris; start planning a night in.  A monster iceberg is swooping down on Greenland and honest citizens are fleeing in terror.

I've got to admit I was a little surprised at all of the concern.  For all intents and purposes the inhabitants of Greenland live on an iceberg.  However it would appear that my sang froid can mostly be attributed to the fact that I live a long way from Greenland.  The inhabitants of the village of Innaarsuit woke up one morning to find a floating mountain of ice towering over their dwellings.  According to a local representative children are being urged to higher ground and nobody is staying unnecessarily close to the beach.  This is Greenland, I'm pretty sure that nobody would be staying unnecessarily close to the beach in any event.  I'm sure the island has its sun worshippers but they will be more of the "please come back" variety than the "I'm going down to the beach to catch some rays" kind.  The only inhabitants likely to spend a lot of time on the beach are walruses.

For the record it has to be said that the population of Innaarsuit aren't afraid that the iceberg will charge ashore and start laying waste to the countryside.  Rather, they're afraid that bits will break off and slide into the sea causing tsunamis that will flood the place.  This is the thing about Greenland.  You tend to be pretty relaxed about water in its frozen state.  Its the liquid stuff that you've really got worry about.  At the moment they're standing on high ground peering anxiously at the iceberg hoping it stays in one piece.

If it stays in one piece then a decent wind will blow it out to sea where it can be an appropriate menace to navigation without actually impacting anyone who isn't asking for it by fooling about in a sea full of icebergs.  If it rains then the iceberg may melt and calve.  Calving is a technical term meaning "bits will fall off".  I'm surprised they didn't go with "rot" or "proudly manufactured in Australia".  I have to wonder how many people in Greenland have seen a cow.

Global warming is apparently contributing to the influx of icebergs menacing low lying areas of Greenland but on the other hand it has also contributed to the beginnings of a dairy industry on the island, something that hasn't been possible for several centuries.  The beginnings are modest of course, with only a couple of dozen cows but if the temperature keeps rising it is entirely possible that the long suffering inhabitants of Innaarsuit will have calves coming at them from all directions.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Silly (and Painfully brief) After Action Report

The setting: A wretched collection of snow bound hovels masquerading as a village in the middle of a Russian Winter.  One or two of them are on fire.

The scene: Tenente Colonello Bartolomeo Colonoscopi is lying on a makeshift bed as a medical orderly tries to defrost the bandages around his stomache sufficiently to change the dressing.  Enter a corporal in rags walking with the aid of a stick.

Corporal: They've gone!  The bastards have buggered off and left us.

Colonoscopi:  Who's gone?

Corporal:  Everybody who could walk, run or crawl.  They pissed off in the middle of the night!

He breaks down and starts to cry.

Colonoscopi: (encouragingly) Don't cry, your eyeballs will freeze over.  After all it could be worse.

Corporal:  How?

Colonscopi:  Well, the village could be burning down.  Or the Russians could be attacking us.

Smoke drifts in under the door, sounds of Russian voices cheering off.

Corporal:  I was getting to that.

So this is ASL Scenario AP18, Village of the Damned from the Action Pack "Few Returned".  Here in the post-Stalingrad debacle the few functioning remnants of the Italian 8th Army are staggering through the snow in the increasingly vain hope of getting behind the new Axis lines before rampaging mobs of Soviets stomp them into the earth.  To lighten their load they simply abandoned their sick, wounded and disinterested in a village where they spent the night.  These left behinds weren't lonely for long as a vengeful horde of Soviets turned up to have a pointed conversation on the moral and ethical implications of invading somebody else's country.  Axis forces (to give them a name they don't deserve) consist of one elite Italian squad, three first line squads, three conscript squads plus two German squads and a half squad.  Four of the Italian and both German squads are designated as "walking wounded".  The best Italian officer (a 9-2) is similarly wounded and as such counts as an 8-1.  For support weapons this mob has a single Italian lmg.  Aaron Cleavin will command this Axis partnering made flesh.  I will lead the Soviets who have a 9-1 officer (plus a couple of other less impressive leaders) a pair of elite squads, eight first line squads, a medium machine gun a couple of light machine guns and a tank.  Not a particularly impressive tank but the best anti tank weapon the Axis have is their sharpened fingernails.  The village they are hiding in also happens to be on fire.  So this should be easy right?  Swift victory to Neil. not really any point in doing an AAR.  If you believe that you obviously haven't read any of my other AARs. 

Aaron had set up a string of concealed units (or dummies) guarding the main street through the village and some obviously German (although the fading on my counters was making it difficult to tell) units in the rear.  My plan had the virtue of simplicity.  This was possibly its only virtue so forgive me if I make a big deal about it.  The bulk of my force would attack astride the east-west road looking to hit and break through what appeared to be his toughest defences.  In the north my tank would shepherd two and a half squads (plus a 6+1 leader just for laughs) towards a useful hedge where hopefully they could winkle out the rearmost Germans (wrong).  I also sent a couple of squads towards the centre shielded by the smoke drifting across the battlefield.

Over on the right things started off well, making good use of my 6+1 I armoured assaulted a pair of squads forward behind the hedge and prepared to let loose a hail of musketry on the German defenders.  This is all they did for the remainder of the game.  I don't think the German squad ever so much as pinned.  I rolled the tank around into Aaron's rear area hoping to deny some rout paths but I had forgotten one fundamental truth.  For denied rout paths to be of any use you actually have to break your opponents.  For quite a while this just didn't happen.

At my main attack point things entered a comfortable routine.  I would move troops forward to where I could fire on Aaron's defenders.  Aaron's defenders would then break them.  And repeat.  I sent a half squad skipping out on the left to try and draw some fire, successfully as he was broken immediately.  Unfortunately this didn't translate to an advantage anywhere else.  This is pretty much how it went for the first few turns.  I just didn't seem to be able to build up any force that could actually inflict damage on Aaron's troops.  The only thing keeping me in the game was the fact that my Soviets showed quite a predilection for self rallying.  Unfortunately they showed a similar predilection for breaking first.

About two turns in but it really could have been taken at any point in the game
Eventually my flanking halfsquad self rallied and scored my only unalloyed success in the game when it plunged into CC with an Italian squad, ambushed it and killed it outright.  For a moment I felt hope.  Unfortunately the only other unit of mine doing any damage was my sniper.  I killed Aaron's sniper outright in two attacks.  Incidentally in the picture above a AR is doing service as a sniper as I seem to have mislaid by Soviet one.

Painfully I cleared out the bulk of his dummies which meant that I at least had the advantage of firing at real troops but it made little difference.  Finally around turn four I did manage to break his 9-2, lmg, squad combo and broke another squad or two elsewhere but it was too late.  In desperation I charged an elite squad across the street, it had to withstand a 2-2 shot but eight moral hey.  A NMC resulted in a boxcars which ended that particular movement and my last hopes.  With reckless movement and much good luck I may have been able to mop up the rest of his troops but the German squad sitting in the building on the right was unassailable.

In retrospect I made two major mistakes.  Firstly I was far too nervous with my tank.  For some reason I got obssessed with street fighting and losing the thing in CC so I kept it back out of harms way.  However the 6+2 firepower it could put down was incapable of inflicting harm.  I should have used point blank fire and VBM to help my troops forward.  The other mistake was not throwing everything at Aaron from the get go.  Instead I allowed my initial casualties to persuade me along the lines of caution when I really didn't have the time to creep about. 

We finished the game quickly so we turned it around with Aaron playing the Soviets.  I conceded on turn two and I see no reason to write an AAR about that.  I can see that my preparation for ASLOK is proceeding along familiar lines.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Birthday Greetings #75

Happy birthday to Valentinian I, Roman Emperor.  Also known as Valentinian the Great to certain arse kissing historians whose names will be mercifully excluded from this blog.  Valentinian was well, ok there's no getting around it, basically he was a foul tempered, bullying thug.  But one man's personality deficiencies are another man's imperial qualifications.  Valentinian took over the empire at a time when, shall we say, more enlightened personality traits might have been a hindrance.

He followed the usual career path for a Roman emperor, he served in the army and made quite a name for himself.  Just when he could have been looking forward to the rewards of higher office however his career hit a bit of a snag.  He was Christian.  This shouldn't have been too much of a problem, the empire had been at least notionally Christian for several decades by this time but unfortunately just when Valentinian's name started to get mentioned in the right places the then emperor (one Constantius by name) inconveniently died and his nephew, Julian, took over.  Julian had a bunch of interesting personality traits of his own one of which was Paganism.  Valentinian wasn't exactly put on the shelf but its fair to say that his career trajectory suddenly looked a lot lower than it had been.

Fortunately (for Valentinian and the history of Christianity in general) Julian got himself killed a couple of years later in an idiotic war with Persia.  Jovian, his replacement, was an easygoing Christian (easygoing being a relative term in those days) who seems to have got the job simply because he was standing nearby at the time.  Valentinian was back in the good books.  Then Jovian died.  Apparently he ate mushrooms that disagreed with him.  The propensity of Roman emperors to eat something that disagreed with them was quite remarkable.  With Jovian filling a pit the army (with, no doubt, a weary sense of deja vu) gathered to decide who was going to run the place now.  A number of names were put forward but Valentinian was handy and he got the nod.

There were a couple of conditions attached however.  Since Julian had marched a lot of the western army eastward for his Persian campaign things had got a little tense over in the west.  Various barbarian tribes (you know they're barbarians because the Romans tell us they were) had wandered across the borders and started sacking and looting stuff.  It was obvious that the first job of any freshly minted emperor would be to head west and persuade them to stop but the easterners didn't want to be without an emperor themselves so the army insisted that Valentinian appoint a colleague to look after the east while he was away.  Valentinian appointed his brother Valens whose principal qualification for the job was his tendency to do what he was told.

With a compliant colleague keeping his seat warm in Constantinople Valentinian headed west to deal with the barbarians, principally the Alemanni.  The Alemanni proved tough to beat as the generals Valentinian sent against them kept getting killed.  Eventually however the Romans beat the Alemanni up enough to persuade them to go home.  Valentinian then followed them into their own territory and won a rather pyrrhic victory over them.  It was certainly enough to make the Alemmani sue for peace (assassinating one of their leaders helped as well) which was handy as while all of this was going on Roman rule in Britain had disintegrated and the Saxons started raiding the bits of northern Gaul that the Alemanni had left standing.  The defeat (more or less) of the Alemanni allowed Valentinian to send troops (mainly recently recruited Alemanni) to Britain to restore Roman rule.  Against the Saxons he came up with the charming idea of suing for peace, persuading the Saxons to leave and then butchering them all on their way home. 

Then there was the whole revolt in Africa thing and the war with the Quadi tribe along the Danube.  In each case the war was caused by corrupt Roman officials abusing the locals and lining their pockets.  Polite protests were made, Valentinian responded to these in a mature and sensible way, he screamed at the envoys and sent in the army.  It is only fair to record that the general he sent to Africa while beating up the rebels also discovered the corruption that had caused the revolt and had the perpetrator arrested.  The Quadi had been driven to war by a local Roman official illegally building forts on their territory which didn't stop Valentinian from flogging them from one end of the Danube to the other.  Eventually the Quadi sued for peace and promised to provide recruits for the Roman army.  Unfortunately (for Valentinian) in an audience the envoys were granted they insisted on pointing out the original cause of the war.  Valentinian lost his temper, screamed threats and imprecations at them, burst a blood vessel and dropped dead on the spot.  This, incidentally is what a successful Roman emperor from the fourth century looks like.  Most of the others were worse.

In fairness Valentinian seems to have been a conscientious administrator whose principal fault was a habit of choosing lousy subordinates and then sticking to them even when everybody could see they were a bunch of grasping deadbeats.  He was noted for his religious tolerance although this is likely to be as much a factor of general disinterest as it was to any more positive attitude.  Certainly of all the emperors named Valentinian (there would eventually be three) he was definitely the best.