Saturday, May 30, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Lost Opportunities

Major Egon Fisching read the crumpled order in his hand for the third time.  There was no loophole, he and his men were to counter attack towards St Mere Eglise and drive out the American paratroopers.  His men; Fisching heaved a sigh.  His men were, he struggled for the right term, perhaps not the absolute cream of the wehrmacht.  Composed of Georgians who had proved understandably reluctant to die for Stalin there was no indication that they would be any keener on losing vital fluids for Hitler.  Still orders were orders, he called his interpreter to his side.

"Get the men together, I need to speak to them."

With a series of piercing whistles the interpreter managed to attract sufficient attention to at least give Fisching the impression that his troops weren't actively ignoring him.  Casting aside his doubts he drew breath and gave one of the most inspiring speeches of his career.  Below is an extract of that speech with the interpreter's translation in parentheses.

"Brave Georgian volunteers of the Greater German Reich!"
 (Hey guys!)
"The moment of glory we have longed for has arrived.  Today we march against the enemies of the New World Order."
(Shit just got real!)
"Soldiers, St Mere Eglise must not spend another hour in the hands of our enemies!"
(The Germans want us Georgians to push the Americans out of some French houses)
"Your courage and determination is well known, today we will make the accursed Yankees fear our strength!"
(We've got to get close to the Americans if we want to surrender to them)
"Long live Greater Germany, long live an independent Georgia!"
(Last one to the PoW cage is a rotten egg!)

Fisching paused, he wasn't entirely confident about the quality of the translation but to be fair his men were shambling obediently in the direction of the village.  Some of them still had their rifles.  Fisching checked to make sure he still had his cyanide capsule and followed them.

This is an oldie but a goodie. Mike Sexton and I played the updated version of ASL Scenario 17 - Lost Opportunities over VASL today.  This is set on D-Day and pits a force of elite American paratroopers trying to defend the recently captured village of St Mere Eglise from a large but distinctly unenthusiastic bunch of "Germans" who have been tasked with retaking possession.  Mike, fittingly, will command the men of the 3rd battalion, 505th Parachute regiment.  He has eight elite squads, a 57mm AT gun, two medium machine guns, a 60mm mortar and five bazookas.  This lot are led by three officers headed by a 9-1.

For my sins I have been handed command of the 795th Georgian battalion comprising "recruits" who felt that serving the Germans was marginally preferable to dying in a prisoner of war camp.  Warm bodies I am not short of; I have nineteen squads.  But these are divided between ten second line squads and nine conscripts.  Possibly to compensate for the lousy human material the Germans have showered this mob with support weapons in the form of two 50mm mortars, four light machine guns, two medium machine guns and one heavy machine gun.  Supporting the distinctly lacklustre storm troops are a pair of crappy tanks the Germans pinched from the French and an early model Marder SP gun mounting an impressive 75L gun but protected by what appears to be reinforced cardboard.

The victory conditions are the fun part of this scenario.  The Germans win immediately if they control five buildings on Board 1 but they lose immediately if they ever have less than nine unbroken squads.  The German commander can't simply use a mass of arms and legs to swamp the Americans, something approaching finesse would be required.  I decided to go for "mass of arms and legs".

Below is the at start set up.  I have my Marder up on the hill to hopefully smoke out some of the American positions.  For the rest I decided I would attack both flanks in force.  In the centre I would put my kill stack comprising three squads, both mmgs and the hmg guided by the 9-1.  Here I hoped to break some of the forward defenders and help my flankers forward.  It's fair to say none of this happened.

Thing started well when I discovered that I'd left my smoke rounds in my other Marder.  There would be no smoke to help the Germans forward (well not until the tanks started burning).  Undaunted I banged away with the Marder and my mortars and gained some acquisition, then with artillery support at least attempted if not actually achieved I sent my flankers forward.  On the left (bottom) I deployed a conscript squad and charged them across the open ground towards the trees that concealed his positions.  On the right I armoured assaulted across the open ground and wound up in the trees next to a target building.  I would also push my luck with one of the crappy French built tanks which rolled forward in support and promptly got fried by a bazooka squad in the foxhole behind.  I looked in good shape after the first turn and fairness forces me to admit that this was largely due to Mike breaking his mortar and an mmg while attempting to shoot at me.

At the end of my first turn two buildings were under threat and my flanking attacks were developing nicely.  That's about as far as the flanking attacks got.  My super duper kill stack proved to be a disappointment, this monstrous stack only broke one halfsquad in the entire game.  Meanwhile Mike's defenders would more than capable of shooting both flanking attacks to pieces.  Strangely it was the handful of squads I had sent towards the centre that would cover themselves in glory.  

In his first turn Mike started a trend by smashing up the squads attempting to flank on the right.  His sole tool for doing so was the bazooka squad in the foxhole behind the building.  Mike asked me to give a special shout out to these guys and they thoroughly deserve it. Singlehandedly they mangled a flank.  I did manage to snatch the victory building but was promptly shot out of it again.  Over on the left an ill advised attempt to support his flank defenders (who turned out to need no such support) broke one of his squads.

End of Mike's turn 1

 Bizarrely it was in my almost neglected centre that success attended my efforts.  Without smoke my Marder started dropping HE shells onto his defenders in the centre.  The result was mixed, my first shot battle hardened a squad and Mike generated a hero into the bargain.  The next round wounded the hero and broke his newly fanatic squad. What goes around, apparently, comes around.

With Mike's troops busy on the flanks there seemed to be an opportunity in the centre which was currently defended by only a wounded hero.  At this point my Marder ran out of HE and the Georgian halfwits managed to load an AP round back to front and broke the gun into the bargain.  Despite this less than stellar performance a conscript squad in the centre took a deep breath and, taking advantage of the fact that Mike was too busy slaughtering my flankers to intervene, charged up to the centre bulding.  A second panted across the ground braving the wounded heroes fire.  At which point Mike revealed his 57mm gun staring literally down the throat of my brave conscripts.  Unfortunately for Mike his guys had forgotten to pack any HE ammunition as well and his AP shot did nothing.  Conscript vengeance was coming and in the advance phase I jumped the gun crew and hero.  I killed the hero in CC but the gun crew tied up my squad for three CC phases before I managed to dispatch him.

Success in the centre, pity I haven't got anything to reinforce it

Scenting an opportunity I swarmed around his defenders on the left, surely I could overwhelm them.
No, no I couldn't.  Instead some accurate American rifle fire turned my left flank into a carbon copy of the right with various terrified Georgians huddled in the blood slicked trees desperately hoping the Americans would shoot someone else.  I did manage to capture another building though which was important as I was about to lose the one on the right as Mike's heroes popped out of their foxhole and snatched it back.  

While the melee raged with his gun crew my other squad chased his brokies out of the centre building.  Hoping that I would eventually take out the damn gun crew the other squad pushed on and snatched another building.  Meanwhile on the left things had entered a tedious pattern of  "push forward, get broken, run away" and repeat.  I rolled my now virtually impotent Marder forward to at least look like a threat, it's sole achievement was to take a bazooka rocket that Mike should really have saved for my other tank.

The red circles indicate broken squads.  That nine squad cap is getting very close

I did eventually win the close combat in the centre but in the same time Mike managed to rally his fanatics and reinforce them with another squad taken from the left.  These guys promptly mangled my recently victorious close combat squad and sealed Mike's hold on the centre building.  Mike attempted to move another squad up to reinforce them but he had forgotten that my mortar had a line of sight to the road.  I don't blame him, I'd almost forgotten it's existence as well but I remembered just in time to break a squad and 7-0 puffing to the rescue.

My turn four came around and I was sweating.  I had precisely ten unbroken squads.  If two more went down Mike had the game.  I had plenty of time and leaders in rally positions I could have paused the attack, rallied some troops and tried again.  Instead I went for broke.  Mike had a squad and a half on the far left that had defied everything I had thrown at it but his reinforcement of the centre had left only a half squad in the stone building across the road and I had a conscript squad right next door.

In the centre my surviving conscript squad assaulted into the trees and would advance back to give me a fourth building.  I muttered a prayer to whatever dark gods might be listening and sent my conscripts into close combat with his halfsquad on the left.   This time, glory be, it worked.  I rolled a three to wipe out his half squad and capture my fifth building.

Victory, somewhat to my surprise
Yes, victory.  Not entirely deserved and slightly surprising but there it was and I'll take it.  Both Mike and I loved this scenario.  Mike felt the tension of having defend the buildings and not being able to fall back while I stared in horror as my troops melted under American fire and edged ever closer to running out of squads.

Major Fisching looked around at the shattered buildings of St Mere Eglise.  He couldn't believe they'd done it.  Now came the difficult part, persuading his troops not to sell their rifles to the prisoners.  He looked around for his interpreter and found him in animated conversation with an American sergeant.

"Tell me," asked Fisching curiously, "what part of Georgia do you come from anyway?"

"Savannah born and bred," replied the interpreter.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Plague Update #25

My period in isolation is drawing to a close.  Well, no that's not strictly true.  A more accurate statement would be "the period when the government was enforcing my isolation is coming to a close".  Not before time either it must be said.  I have to admit being stuck at home was having a disturbing impact on me.  The effect can principally be measured by housekeeping.  I've been doing some.  Sections of my home that haven't seen a scourer or detergent in years (most of it to be honest) have staggered under the impact of my attempts to find something to do with my spare time.  In the process I have made so many spiders homeless that I'm appearing before the International Criminal Court next month on a charge of ethnic cleansing.  I'm hoping to get off with a warning.

Meanwhile my home state is steaming ahead with the reduction of restrictions to the point whereby we are now able to get out and about at the cost of significant inconvenience.  Cafes which had been cheerfully selling takeaway coffee to passers by are now struggling with how to fit people who want to sit down and eat within the social distancing guidelines.  Given the size of most cafes I can't help thinking that permitting about three people to eat the occasional meal isn't going to be as much of an economic fillip as our political leaders think.

Speaking of economic fillips our Federal government discovered sixty billion dollars behind the couch cushions yesterday.  It turns out that there was a slight error in calculating the amount of money that was to be disbursed in the scheme designed to pay employers to keep their employees on.  It was thought to cost a hundred and thirty billion dollars and it turns out the amount is closer to seventy.  There had apparently been some mistakes in the way certain businesses had filled in the application forms which had led the tireless experts in charge of managing the nations finances to make a slight accounting error.

You might think that this is unalloyed good news which ever way you look at it. If you're the opposition and various activist groups there's sixty billion more to spend on various extra initiatives and helping those who fell through the cracks of the original relief programmes.  If you're the government desperately trying to put a good face on this cockup it means sixty billion less that they have to borrow to do what they said they were going to do anyway.

 The problem arises because certain assumptions and projections were made on the basis of the original figures which have been guiding the government ever since.  Most government projections are wrong since they essentially attempt to predict the future by looking at the present (or more accurately, the recent past) and making assumptions.  Nevertheless to minimise the amount of error it is necessary that the information the government is working with be reasonably accurate.  A sixty billion dollar error reduces the predictions from educated guesswork to simply throwing a dart blindfolded and hoping for the best.  It will be interesting to see if this actually results in worse outcomes than when the government does know what its doing.

Here's the thing about governments; they're big, creaking, slow moving and not particularly accurate.  That isn't meant to be a criticism, when you get anything that is required to act for the benefit of millions of people scattered across hundreds of thousands of square kilometres it can hardly be anything else.  The greatest good for the greatest number is literally the best that they can usually do.  When you need them to be fast and specific mistakes tend to get made.  Governments are at their best dealing with broad trends, you don't use them to target specific problems for the same reason you don't use a shotgun to perform surgery.

Of course its all terribly embarrassing for the Federal government and they have responded by claiming that its not embarrassing at all.  The opposition have been laughing hysterically while avoiding questions like "Could you have done any better?"  The answer to which, incidentally, is almost certainly "No!"

Such of the government's attention as isn't currently occupied attempting to explain away this slight reporting glitch seems to be focussed on pestering the Queensland state government to open its borders.  The WA, SA and Tasmanian governments have also refused to open their borders but so far they haven't been the target of federal ire.  I honestly didn't realise so many people wanted to go to Queensland but apparently our premier is getting quite upset at the refusal to let southerners in.  The Queensland government's position is quite plain.  People from NSW and Victoria are disease ridden pest bags and will be permitted to cross the border over the premier's dead body.  They may have put it more diplomatically than that but not much.  So a holiday to Queensland isn't on the cards any time soon.  Or Tasmania, Western Australia or South Australia for that matter.  Possibly we'll be allowed to visit Victoria since we're all plague carriers together.

I have to go now, my flat is being besieged by various pro spider activist groups (including the Greens and Get Up) shouting "Send out the war criminal!"  I think they mean me.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Plague Update #24 - Do You Want Fries With That?

I write this blog entry a little giddy from the freedom I exercised over the weekend.  I went to my favourite cafe and sat down to order a coffee.  As I rested my backside on the stool the owner greeted me in her own special way.

"You've got an hour, then we're kicking you out."

Things really have changed.  It doesn't normally take an hour for her to be sick of the sight of me.

Yes cafes are open but can only serve ten customers at a time.  What this means is that in order to service the crazed mobs hammering at her door demanding food and coffee this cafe owner is placing a time limit on her customers.  Basically it amounts to "get in, get fed, get out".  Since I was only having a coffee and a slice of cake I was out of there well before she unleashed the hounds but still the simple activity of sitting down to eat and drink in a cafe was a delight. 

Restrictions have been relaxed so we can once again suck in the fresh air (and considering the industrial downturn the air actually is fresh) and socialise at least to a certain extent.  Of course our political leaders and their medical lackeys are warning us not to get complacent.  Down in Victoria the population's natural craving for fast food hit a bit of a roadblock when every second McDonalds in the state turned out to be a breeding pit for disease.  That is, its a breeding pit for the specific disease we are currently attempting to combat. Any other diseases we could probably have taken in our stride.

My Tasmanian correspondent isn't even bothering to hide the delight she is feeling at being able to send her children back to school.  She also has dogs and some surprisingly not yet dead fish, I believe she's planning on sending them along as well.  She'll have the best educated goldfish in the state if the water holds out.

Overseas there's gloom, argument and a possible investigation but my favourite story comes from South Korea where a football team had to publicly apologise after the mannequins it was using to make the stadium look less empty turned out to be sex dolls.  It was apparently a misunderstanding, or a miscommunication, or a screw up by the supplier or something else definitely not their fault.  Everybody is deeply embarrassed, well everybody except one as yet unidentified individual who is almost certainly laughing hysterically into his kimchi.

Back in the home of, well if not the free then at least the "slightly less incarcerated than previously" came more proof that the authorities think they're on top of this outbreak.  The daily briefings by the government's chief medical officer have now been cut back to three a week.  That's the government telling the citizenry that from now on we're going to have to get sick and die without their involvement.

Of course not everything is back to normal.  Queensland still has a hard border and is refusing to return the NSW premier's phone calls.  Officially this is because NSW has had more cases of COVID-19 than anywhere else (we also have more people) but as I mentioned earlier in this blog I suspect that Queensland has been waiting for an opportunity to do this for years.  Secession might possibly be the next step which will cause the Federal government to make a tough decision.  Do they call out the army or just have a party?

With freedom of movement restored I called up my parents, ostensibly to arrange a visit but actually just out of morbid curiosity to see if they had survived.  They're both well, in fact they're so well that they're not crazy about their elder son travelling over a hundred kilometres through the still infected landscape to visit.  I assured them that I would leave it a few weeks before I turned up at their doorstep.

"Take as long as you feel is necessary," they responded, "in the meantime, Merry Christmas."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Odd Angry Shot

Captain Hori Katatonya stirred in his sleep, there seemed to be something digging into him.  Reluctantly he opened his eyes just in time to see the boot from his commanding officer impact with his ribcage again.

"Wake up Katatonya," snarled the colonel redfaced with anger.

Blinking Katatonya rose to his feet and saluted.

"I ordered you to prepare defences," bellowed the colonel.  "Where the hell are they?"

Katatonya pointed to a couple of foxholes and a small length of trench.

"Is that it?"

"Yes?" said Katatonya hopefully.

"So you plan to defend this hilltop with two spider holes and what looks like an unambitious drainage ditch?"

"Yes," said Katatonya somewhat less hopefully this time.

"It is the desire of every Japanese soldier," continued the colonel, "to die in battle for the emperor.  By that measure the men under your command are very fortunate indeed."

"Thank you sir," replied Katatonya brightening, things were looking up.

The colonel stared at Katatonya looking for the slightest hint of dumb insolence but didn't get any further than dumb.

"Take your place with the men," snapped the colonel finally.  "I'll be busy burning the regimental flag."

So from North Africa to New Guinea where in keeping with my apparent Axis theme I shall take command of a small group of Japanese defending a smaller group of fortifications from a bunch of over eager Australians.  We're playing ASL Scenario AP68 - Odd Angry Shot.  To win at game end I have to have a MMC in any of the four hexes occupied by entrenchments.  That's all the entrenchments I get, I'm not permitted to dig any more.  To defend these apparently precious scrapes in the earth I have six squads, one first line and five second line, a crew and a first line half squad all guided by a single 9-0 leader.  To add a little firepower I have an hmg, a lmg and a 50mm mortar.  Three squads of second line reinforcements led (if that's the correct term) by an 8+1 leader will turn up at some point convenient to themselves.

Mike Sexton commanding my Australian fellow countrymen has nine squads, three elite and five first line guided by three leaders the best of which is a 8-1.  He also has a 76mm mortar and a medium machine gun plus some air support in the form of some (fortunately) bombless fighter bombers.  He gets a pair of first line squads plus an lmg and a 7-0 leader again at a largely random time.  There does seem to be a little command confusion amongst the Australians as any MMC not adjacent to a leader has to take a task check before they can move.  Hopefuly this will lead to clumping and choice targets for my no doubt fanatical defenders.

I have to set up on the hill which limits my set up options somewhat.  I placed a foxhole as far away from the Australian set up as I could  This was in some woods down at the northwest end of the hill mass.  The bulk of my force set up to protect it with the crew served hmg guided by my only leader set up in a trench overlooking the intended battlefield.  Over in the east a halfsquad was set up forward so that Mike wouldn't be able to start concealed, with any luck he would waste some time shooting at it.  Behind the halfsquad were some dummies and a squad lmg combo while the mortar team set up in my remaining foxhole.

Mike set his mmg team and his own mortar pretty much directly opposite these guys.  Aside from that he had three main groups all sticking closely to an officer to assist movement.  In the first turn his mmg team smashed my sacrificial halfsquad and sent it yelping for cover.  It would later die while trying to cross interdicted ground.  His troops flushed with success moved forward towards the somewhat patchy cover.  Sadly for Mike disaster attended the troops on his left flank.  They pushed forward boldly enough to the dubious cover of orchards and patches of woods but when his attending 7-0 officer attempted to join them my hmg team, which had held its fire with remarkable self restraint, emptied an entire belt of ammunition into him killing him outright.

End of Mike's turn 1

The loss of this officer proved to be catastrophic as it turned out that Mike couldn't buy a PTC to save his life.  His entire left flank was reduced to the occasional disjointed lurch forward by individual halfsquads while the bulk of his force squatted sullenly under pin counters and refused to move at all.  He set up his mortar and in return my mortar used its last smoke round to reduce its vision for a couple of turns.

While his left flank was reduced to virtual immobility his right had moved forward and was slowly clambering up the hill.  Mike's reinforcements arrived on turn two and reinforced this move.  I had little to oppose this but I could at least take heart from the fact that they were a fair distance from my main defensive point.  Despite the smoke his mortar managed to hit my hmg hex several times but the achievements of his to hit dice were wasted by the failure of the subsequent kill roles which wouldn't achieve anything until it was too late.

Things aren't exactly going well for Mike on his left

For the next couple of turns Mike got nowhere on the left until he raced the 8-1 who was supposed to be guiding the mmg across to take command of the recalcitrant soldiers there.  On his right bolstered by his reinforcements he gained a toehold on the hill but early attempts to take out my mortar team were dispatched when they picked up their rifles and inflicted great slaughter at point blank range.  Despite this Mike started to make inroads on the right and finally took down my mortar halfsquad in close combat.

Mike has breasted the hill

My squad lmg team on the right proved hopelessly inadequate at supporting their mortar buddies, their only contribution to the war was breaking their own weapon.  Having been reduced to a single half squad by failed morale checks I decided there was no harm in advancing into CC to see if they could redeem themselves with the bayonet.  Mike ambushed them then rolled snakes in CC to generate an 8-1 leader which was helpful as his original 8-1 had died in a foolhardy attempt to encourage heroism amongst the deeply noncommittal troops on the left.  With him dead the left flank became even less of an issue and it was becoming obvious that if Mike wanted to win this it was all up to his troops on the right.  Things seemed to look up for him when my mortar finally got a result on the hmg team wounding the officer and striping the crew.

Mike's left flank barely exists
 Mike took what he thought was his chance and charged a squad and his newly minted 8-1 forward.  He had forgotten that Japanese crews stripe rather than break.  Bloodied but unbowed my hmg team smashed them as they charged forward and with half his force casualties and the remainder getting nowhere Mike conceded.  You'll notice I didn't mention Mike's air support.  We didn't forget it.  It just did nothing, three attacks resulted in a solitary Japanese pin result.  His mortar did better firing out of smoke.

I must admit I feel no great sense of achievement with this victory.  Mike's average task check roll for the game was 8.14.  As a result most of his troops spent most of their time doing nothing.  The early kill of one of his officers was crucial and Mike was playing catch up from that point on a situation that he handled with much more grace and good humour than I would have shown.

Captain Katatonya yawned and stared at the huge pall of smoke rising to the sky from regimental headquarters in the rear.

"What the hell is that?" he asked.

"The colonel was trying to burn the regimental flag," replied a smoke grimed soldier who had stumbled up to him, "unfortunately he did it in the fuel depot."

"Is he all right?"

"Oh yes sir, he's dead.  I think you're in command now."

"Right," said Katatonya rubbing his hands together in decision, "time for a nap."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Plague Update #23

After our brief trip to the fourteenth century its glad to be back in a more civilised time.  In Italy the COVID outbreaks have led to a rise in attacks on Gypsy communities, in Tanzania the president apparently submitted a goat for testing and his health department couldn't tell the difference (or so he claims) and in France the British head of a French pharmaceutical company has announced that the United States will have first claim on any vaccine they develop which has prompted fury from everybody who isn't American.  To be fair the reason presented is because the Americans stumped up most of the money for the research.  It's also important to realise that so far there isn't a vaccine so they are essentially arguing about a theoretical eventuality.  There's happier news from Thailand where restaurants only permit one person per table.  The owner of one restaurant has added a panda plush toy to each table so that the lonely restaurant goer has somebody to talk to.

Back in the land of good sense and functional government (and the disturbing thing about that is its actually true) Australia's COVID impacted unemployment figures were released.  The prime minister took to the airwaves to say how dreadful they were.  He was right.  He'd be even more right if the figures were accurate.  Without some careful accounting around the various government assistance schemes in place at the moment the rate would be considerably higher.

While the nation trembled at the unemployment statistics (some of us are still trembling with COVID-19 as well) the Queensland state government announced its interest in taking an interest in the airline that went belly up a week or so ago.  Protection of jobs and services was the justification offered.  This was met with ridicule from a senior government minister who pointed out that Queensland doesn't have any money and they would have to borrow every penny for such a foolhardy exercise.  Kind souls forbore from pointing out to him that his government's entire reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was also funded by debt.

I'm not sure if a government taking a stake in an airline is a good idea.  Governments are notoriously bad at running businesses.  In fact the only people worse at running this airline than the state government would have to be the people who actually were running it when it crashed.  Seriously if you're running a major business and you can't screw taxpayer dollars out of the government pretty much at will you must be really bad at it.

Incidentally this slagging off between various politicians is the latest sign that things are getting back to normal. The stern bipartisanship they were demonstrating was starting to get deeply creepy.  In my home state restaurants will open this weekend but only as long as not too many people go to them.  That seems like a recipe for success.  Down in Tasmania my correspondent contacted me, weeping with joy, to inform me that her children would be returning to school in a fortnight.  There will be no argument about this; it doesn't matter if the poor tikes catch the plague in the meantime; back to school they're going.  Not before time, not only has my correspondent run out of alcohol but apparently coffee is getting short as well.

Birthday Greetings #81

As we huddle in our homes leaping in terror at every passing germ let us pause for a moment and think back to a simpler time, a happier time when a person could live to the ripe old age of thirty and a pandemic that didn't empty four out of every five houses of living occupants wasn't worth worrying about.

Yes, Happy birthday to Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles (or Karel as he was known by his Bohemian subjects) was a scion of the House of Luxembourg who by this time were happily ensconced in Prague.  Charles was the son of King John and took over rulership duties due to his father's increasing blindness and then death at the Battle of Crecy.  In 1346 he was proclaimed as King of the Romans (ie the Germans) by the electors of the empire.  This was a little premature as the empire had a functioning emperor (Louis IV) but said emperor had really pissed off the pope.  The pope and Charles' father cooked up this plan between them.  It is possible that Charles' father was being a little shortsighted but then he was (see above).  Later in the same year he suffered death by Shakespeare leaving Charles in charge.

Louis IV didn't take Charles' sudden promotion lying down but unfortunately he chose that moment to die on a bear hunt.  Hunting was a very popular sport in medieval times, it was the ideal opportunity to dispose of an inconvenient monarch.  With Louis filling a grave (and possibly a bear) Charles was reelected King of the Romans with a little more legitimacy and the pope (with a definitely unChristian glee at Louis' untimely demise) followed up by dropping the imperial crown onto his head. 

Now at least notionally the most powerful man in Christendom Charles spent the next few years administering the empire.  Possibly to avoid awkwardnesses like his own premature elevation from happening again he got a golden bull and wrote down what amounted to a constitution including a detailed prescription for how elections were to be managed in the empire on it.  This would guide the imperial succession for the next four centuries.  What the bull thought about it is unrecorded. 

But it wasn't all rulership and constitutional reform.  Charles transformed Prague into a glittering centre of art and culture.  He founded the first university in Bohemia and built a bridge (probably not personally) that I've actually walked across.  Whether from gratitude on the part of the population or egotism on his own part half of the structures in Prague are named after him.  Towards the end in fact Charles pretty much let the empire run itself and focussed on improving his Bohemian lands and handing out territories to an inconveniently large number of relatives.  Fortunately the empire was the sort of place that could largely run itself (in fact it rather preferred to) and, in the Czech republic at least Charles' rule is seen as a golden age.  Personally I don't think any age that doesn't include toilet paper can be considered golden but possibly I'm unromantic.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Plague Update #22 - Two Weddings or a Funeral

Greetings disease junkies. Well the first thing I have to do is retract a statement I made in a previous entry about revising my opinion of Australia's average IQ upward.  In addition to the occasional outburst of demented idiocy from footballers and politicians (which can be safely ignored for statistical reasons as they constitute outlier behaviour) there has been a protest in Melbourne by people protesting against the lockdown and vaccination and, for some reason, Bill Gates.  Apparently coronavirus is some sort of conspiracy and they don't believe a word of it.  Which is odd because if it was genuinely a conspiracy theory I would have expected such people lap that shit up.  Incidentally they're dirty on Bill Gates because a similar bunch of halfwits in America are dirty on Bill Gates.  The reason for which makes perfect sense if you're also prepared to believe that COVID-19 is caused by the 5G network.  Apparently when he isn't designing second rate software Billy boy has been warning America for years that they are utterly unprepared for a pandemic and should do something about that.  So now that there is a pandemic it is obviously his fault.

Despite having a bit of a headache from smacking my forehead in exasperation I'm actually a little heartened by these protests.  It shows that we are getting on top of the virus.  When it first broke out and people feared the reaper stalking through their suburbs everybody was as compliant and docile as lambs (although slightly less delicious).  The fact that their inner stupidity has started to outweigh their natural caution is an indication that things are getting better.  You'll know that we're well on the way to recovery when people start claiming that there never was a problem in the first place.

In the meantime our various state governments are slowly allowing people out on to the streets again.  Cafes and restaurants will be able to serve a cripplingly small number of people which will mean that most clientele will have to be turned away. The anger and frustration this will create among the foodgoing public will in no way rebound on the hapless restauranteurs of course.  My suggestion is that hair dressing salons start serving food.  That should cover all bases nicely.

Other public gatherings to be permitted include weddings and funerals.  You'll be allowed ten guests at a wedding and twenty at an indoor funeral.  Presumably the government has a pretty realistic idea of the ratio between the people who would want to wish you everlasting happiness and those who just want to make sure you're dead.  Incidentally by "indoor funeral" I presume they mean cremation as digging up the floor of the funeral parlour would take an unrealistically long time.  Outdoor funerals can have as many as thirty mourners.  Incidentally by "outdoor funeral" I presume they mean burial as society tends to frown on cremation by bonfire.

The thirty person limit has given me an idea for people who want to invite more than the ten person maximum to their wedding.  Get married at a funeral.  Nearly everybody has some elderly relative clinging to life by a thread.  Just drop the hint that an end to their pain could also be an awesome wedding present.  If said relative is incarcerated in certain aged care facilities you may not even have to initiate matters yourself.  Then while they're tossing dirt on Grandma they can also be tossing confetti on you.  The more I think about it the harder it is to see a downside except perhaps for the need to be selective about the background for the wedding photographs.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Play Ball Part 2

And now for the long awaited conclusion to this epic struggle between French colonials and inexperienced Americans.  There will be tears, heroism and heartbreak!

But first a mea culpa.  It was pointed out to me in a comment on the first part of this AAR that I had completely messed up the halftracks that came on as reinforcements.  I had used a couple to transport squads to the front line while the crews rode in the other along with the guns.  Firstly with a PP capacity of five the halftracks can't carry squads.  Secondly the halftracks in question can't tow the gun and its ammunition and transport a crew.  That's why there are four halftracks for two guns.  This was a bad error but fortunately we hadn't gone too far past it.  Mike and I discussed it and he very kindly permitted me to keep the reinforcements.  However the second pair of halftracks were placed next to those with the guns.  The infantry came on in the same place as before but would be forced to use shanks pony to reach the battlefield.  Below is the adjusted picture.

One day I will complete a game without a major screwup.  But not today
With that out of the way we can commence.  Keep an eye on the American halfsquad on the right currently being monstered by a pair of recently arrived French squads.  These Americans would be absolute heroes.

The next turn or two were not particularly dramatic, I oozed forward on the left, gradually wrapping my way around his flank.  To the south an lmg team led by a 7-0 moved forward in the fond hopes of blocking a few rout paths.  Far to the north my guns continued their slow and painful journey to the battlefield, only one would make it.

I unloaded one gun where it could take a shot at the most forward of the stone buildings I actually had to capture while my flankers tried and failed to inflict further damage on his troops in the left hand wheatfield.  Over on the right a squad leapt into CC with his halfsquad but, naturally failed to kill it.  Disaster struck my southern troops.  I had, perhaps (definitely) foolishly moved them up to the hedge where they could block rout paths should I actually succeed in breaking anything.  Mike took a 2 flat shot at them (leader directed) and rolled snakeeyes for a K/1 result.  Random selection was doubles resulting in a K result on both leader and squad.  The leaders wound die roll was a six.  The remaining halfsquad failed its morale check and ELRed.  So a leader squad combo was reduced to a single green halfsquad snivelling pitifully in a convenient stone building.  It wasn't all bad news though.  A 20+4 firegroup that I had managed to assemble completely failed to inflict any harm so there was no routing to cut off in any event.

OK, that could have gone better

 Retribution was coming though.  Mike pulled a squad out of the wheatfield and jumped the hedge apparently unaware that my mmg stack had a line of sight to the hex.  Defensive fire killed the squad outright and a previously unknown bazooka dropped to the ground.  Mike's antitank weapons had been reduced to one.  Now his mmg squad was alone in the wheatfield and was looking nervously as the pride of Moroccan youth came steaming towards him.

So far so mediocre
I finally got one of my guns somewhere remotely useful and detached it from its towing halftrack.  It's first shot wasn't impressive but the acquisition it gained turned out to be important.  

Before we go on I just want to give a brief history of the American halfsquad sitting out on his right flank.  These maniacs broke a squad and a half with firepower and killed a squad and a half in close combat.  Over the course of the game they singlehanded destroyed any hopes I might have had of enveloping that flank.  They finally died in CC but not until the very last turn when the game had been decided elsewhere.

These woes notwithstanding I was finally ready to make my push.  Not before time as it was already turn 6.  Technically my tanks should have come on at this point but I decided to delay them a turn and bring them on the north edge of board 17.  Having completely neglected the smoke option with my artillery I now turned to my onboard 75mm to correct this oversight.  It turned out he had packed precisely one smoke round.  This proved to be enough as I dropped it in his forward stone building occupied by a half squad that was looking less enthusiastic about its position by the second.  In the centre Mike had rallied a squad and sent them upstairs to retrieve his hmg.  This turned out to be unwise as prep fire from my two squad/mmg stack directed by my 9-1 swept him off the roof as a shattered wreck.

It has to be admitted that turn 6 was when it all turned around for me. So far I had bumbled and blundered and taken my time but now, almost too late, I was ready.  In addition to the smoke and the hmg takedown over on the left a pair of green squads finally broke him mmg team and his left flank was almost bare.  Abandoning the other gun its crew rolled forward in their halftrack to reach the fighting while I managed to surround the brokies and force their surrender.  This was important as it was becoming painfully obvious that I wasn't going to get the buildings in the requisite time and would have to go for the CVP.  One squad jumped his smoke shrouded halfsquad but of course couldn't kill it in CC straightaway but would succeed the next turn.  Over on the right a lone American halfsquad continued to inflict demographic damage that Morocco still hasn't recovered from.

Finally moving forward
Things were going my way but it was becoming increasingly obvious that I simply wasn't going to be able to grab five stone buildings by the beginning of turn eight.  I had one turn left to do it and I came up a couple short.  I captured one down at the very bottom of the board but not in circumstances I would have liked.  My hero and a squad with a 7-0 moved towards the halfsquad Mike had in the building.  Defensive fire broke the squad but the leader/hero jumped into close combat anyway. My shout of triumph as I rolled a three turned into a gargle of pain as Mike rolled snake eyes, generated an 8-1 leader and withdrew leaving me the now useless building.

But now Mike had a problem as well.  He had taken heavy casualties and if he wanted to win he would have to flee for the exits but fleeing for the exits meant leaving the safety of the stone buildings that were keeping his force alive.  Another destroyed squad lost him his other bazooka and being disinclined to wander into the open to pick them up meant he had no antitank defence.

And the tanks were coming, rolling down the road CE so that the wretchedly slow vehicles could get up to the fighting.  Mike himself was caught between fight and flight.  Suddenly I had troops to burn and sent forward halfsquads (and the unemployed crew) to surround another unit and start threatening his exits.  In the centre I finally managed to capture his hmg position and an 8-0 leader picked it up as though he knew what he was doing.  My unarmed, unarmoured halftrack trundled forwards to make a nuisance of itself while my tanks, by their very presence encouraged Mike to leave.

The tanks have arrived, meanwhile on the right an American halfsquad is locked in melee with a French halfsquad which is all that's left of my flanking manoeuvre

Mike made for the exits with the remainder of his force and I was seriously concerned that he would escape.  The time I'd taken and the fact that a number of my squads were slow moving greenies meant that I couldn't really chase after him with too much success.  I would have to use my tanks and I would have to take prisoners.  My forward renault decided to strike out on its own.  Passing (just) the independent movement die roll it trundled down the street and parked itself behind some of his forces.  I needed to take risks now but I managed to push a squad through to where I could scoop up some prisoners.  Meanwhile my other tanks, keeping together as a platoon rolled down through the scrub to where they could menace such of his squads as had not yet managed to flee.

I managed to kill a couple of stay behinds in close combat but it was the two squads and a leaders worth of prisoners that finally tilted the balance in my favour.  With twenty seven CVP in hand and a broken squad ready to surrender Mike gave the concession.  Best of all on the very last turn I managed to kill the bastards on the right who had held up an entire flank by themselves.

End game, not quite there but Mike saw the writing on the wall

Mike and I had a ball playing this game (at least I did and Mike says he did) which saw both of us despair of victory at various points.  It is fair to say I lost the first half of the game and managed to do just enough in the second to pull off a not entirely deserved victory.  Thanks to Mike for the game.  Our next scenario will be his selection.

Capitaine le Gastainc stood rigidly at attention, his cheeks white and a single tear forming in his one working eye.  The tongue lashing the colonel had given him was ferocious and was no easier to bear because it was thoroughly deserved.  Who had ever heard of a Gesture of Heroic Futility that was actually a success?  There would be no tragic tales of courage to no good purpose, he hadn't even had the decency to die leading his men in a forlorn hope.  The colonel was absolutely furious and had only interrupted his diatribe because the telephone had rung.

"What is it?" demanded the colonel.  He listened for a second. "I see, we've surrendered.  Good, good.  And now we have joined with the Allies against the Boche, excellent.  What's that?  You need an officer to act as liaison with the British?"  The colonel gave an evil smile, "I have just the man."

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Plague Update #21 - Canned Goods Revelation

Suddenly everything has been made clear.  The scales have fallen from my eyes and I feel like a fool.  Like many others I sneered at those who hoarded toilet paper at the beginning of this crisis.  I thought them knee jerk panic mongerers without a brain in their head.  New statistics show that perhaps they were farsighted strategic planners.

Retail figures have come out for the first month of the COVID lockdowns.  As you might expect right at the beginning there was a massive surge in the acquisition of toilet paper.  As the weeks went on though the toilet paper surge ended and was replaced by bulk buying of canned food instead.  What this means is that at least some of those who went on the "panic" buying of toilet paper were merely preparing themselves for their anticipated diet in the weeks to come.  You might think that you would buy food first and then toilet paper but that's the stupid way of going about it.  When you have a mountain of toilet paper by all means go out and buy canned food but you don't want to be halfway through a tinned diet when you discover that the toilet paper's run out.

While I was being forced to revise my opinion of Australia's average IQ several points upwards the general COVID news continues to be good while the specific COVID news is a little more problematic.  Victoria, which has done everything except put armoured vehicles onto the streets to enforce lockdown has had to admit that there's been a COVID spike at a meat packing plant.  Apparently fifty odd cases.  The state government hastened to announce that there was no danger to the general public, apart of course from those members of the general public who work at the packing plant in question; they're screwed.

In NSW the enquiry into who allowed the Ruby Princess (the cruise ship singlehandedly responsible for about 40% of the nation's cases) to dock and disembark passengers continues.  Health officials have been reduced to tears and representatives of various authorities have been vigorously pointing the finger at each other while attempting to persuade the enquiry that it wasn't their fault, that they didn't have the authority, that they weren't even at work that day and "look over there, a chicken!"  The answer is likely to be that at the very start of the crisis a bunch of agencies with overlapping authority and no clear directive simply tripped over each other's feet.  In happier times this is referred to as "the normal function of government."  I presume somebody will get it in the neck at the end of the enquiry, hopefully it is somebody at least notionally responsible.

Not to be outdone by the Victorian meat packing debacle NSW has had its own COVID spike at an aged care facility resulting in over a dozen deaths.  The aged care facility in question is now under severe scrutiny and has had an external advisor appointed.  Given the average age of people in these facilities such a death rate could probably be passed off as natural wastage in non plague conditions but now suddenly everybody is watching them and they're going to have to take extraordinary steps to keep their inmates alive.  Not a particularly onerous task you might think but such homes are traditionally where our aged crawl away to die.

Amusingly it turns out that the same private medical company that attended the Ruby Princess docking also provided staff (in many cases, the same staff) to the aged care facility currently sitting under a permanent shadow caused by the vultures wheeling around its roof.  The company has been paid fifty seven million dollars for its efforts so far.  How much do we have to pay to get them to stop?

Worse news from Queensland where the state premier announced that restrictions would be eased to allow five family members to gather and meet each other just in time for Mother's Day.  Mothers who thought they had a god given excuse not to see their tedious offspring this year have reacted with horror.  Up in the Northern Territory you can once again go out for a beer and a chicken parmigiana as long as you sit a long way from everybody else in the pub or restaurant.  This is fortunate as beer and chicken parmigiana are the only foodstuffs readily available in the Northern Territory unless you want to go out and shoot yourself a crocodile.  The Northern Territory has achieved this return to normality by locking down its borders and making sure the fifteen or so people from the rest of Australia who wanted to visit the territory aren't allowed to.

Meanwhile down in Tasmania my correspondents experiences with remote learning (plonking your kids in front of a monitor supposedly connected to their school and hoping for the best) are progressing in much the way you might expect.  The kids have finished all of their work by 10.30 in the morning and then promptly proceed to the kitchen (sometimes on rollerblades) to make chocolate brownies in every available receptacle.  My correspondent ran out of wine earlier in the week and one of her children has decided that she doesn't need to get out of bed to receive an education.  The smile on my correspondent's face is now so brittle that she resembles a clay pot that was left in the oven too long, rather like batch #4 of the chocolate brownies.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Plague Update #20 - Returning to Abnormal

My neighbours have taken up day drinking.  To which I say, "What took you so long?" but also, "Can you please keep the noise down?"  It's hard enough trying to work with a hangover so bad that you spill your breakfast vodka all over the keyboard while simultaneously attempting to struggle out of the puffin themed fetishwear that seemed such a good idea last night.  I did an hours work this morning before I realised I had accidentally logged on to the federal government's travel advisory website by mistake.

Meanwhile some people are starting to get a little tetchy at the lockdown, chief among them is our federal education minister who went on a bit of a rant about the surly refusal of the Victorian government to permit children to go back to school.  The discovery of a COVID case at one of the schools almost immediately afterwards forced the minister to acknowledge that maybe listening to him wasn't a particularly good idea.

Despite a rising tide of infanticide and severe alcohol abuse by parents the Victorian government is standing firm on its decision to continue home schooling for the forseeable future.  Meanwhile up in Queensland the foreseeable future turns out to be about two and a half weeks.  The government of Queensland is hoping to get children back to school by the end of the month which should have the effect of reducing prescription drug abuse on the part of their parents (although the teacher's use is likely to skyrocket).  My own home state is making hopeful noises but as yet hasn't set a date.

The Federal Government texted me this afternoon to suggest I download the COVIDapp.  I can't help thinking that the only purpose behind this app is that it is actually easier to create an entirely new app than to persuade all of the various people tracking our activities and movements to cooperate in a meaningful way.  So far over four million of my fellow countrymen have downloaded the app, I'm hoping to skate through on herd immunity.

Over in New Zealand where they've just reduced their restrictions to the level we raised ours to their prime minister joined my nation's political masters for a virtual meeting of the national cabinet.  The hope (cautiously expressed with many caveats) was that perhaps, if it looks like things are under control, trans Tasman movement may be allowed.  This would be great news to everybody locked in Australia who feels the burning need to go somewhere smaller.

One impact that this lockdown has had on me is that I'm watching more television.  Principally I'm watching Asian dating shows and Kpop video clips.  This isn't really by choice its just that that is what happens to be on television before episodes of Takeshi's Castle which is one of those "let's grab a bunch of harmless citizens and torture them to death" style Japanese game shows.  I am getting disturbingly attached to this program which is a bit of a problem since they stopped making it several years ago.  Possibly they ran out of contestants.  Anyway the show starts in ten minutes so its time to stop writing and see if General Tanith can lead his troops to victory over the malevolent Takeshi.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Play Ball Part 1

Capitaine Phillippe Le Gastainc stared atmospherically out of the window at the North African scenery.  Neither the pencil thin moustache nor the gauloises smouldering between his fingers was an affectation, he had been born with them.  The door to his commander's office opened and he stepped inside.

"The Allies have landed in North Africa," announced the colonel from behind the safety of a thick white moustache.  Le Gastainc quivered with outrage (and possibly typhoid) before drawing himself up into stock heroic pose number three.

"It will be a pleasure to lead my men against the hated British," he announced.  "I would happily interrupt breakfast to fight the British."

"Calm down capitaine, you go too far."

Le Gastainc acknowledged the deserved rebuke.

"Besides," continued the colonel, "it is not the British you will be fighting.  It is the Americans."


"Admiral Darlan's orders."

"Since when does that saltwater midget command the army?"

The colonel sighed and shrugged simultaneously, "since now, apparently.  He has ordered resistance and I have selected you, my most expendable officer, to lead the Gesture of Heroic Futility."

La Gastainc nodded, the Gesture of Heroic Futility was a standard French tactic, they trained for it extensively.

"I shall lead my troops to their doom," he promised.  "Where are the Americans?"

The colonel pointed vaguely out the window, "Over there somewhere."

"With the reconnaissance complete I shall attack at once."  Le Gastainc saluted smartly inadvertantly driving his Gauloises deep into his eye.  However with little more than a hysterical moan of agony he turned and left to find his men.

"Soldiers," announced Le Gastainc in terms of thrilling heroism while tears leaked from his eye.  "Today is the day we have all waited for.  Today is when we die for France."  His largely Moroccan audience smiled politely and measured the distance to the exits.  Le Gastainc warmed to his theme,

"In days to come your parent's inevitable poverty and desperation will be made easier by knowing that their sons are buried somewhere in an unmarked grave having died for no good reason in the service of a deeply unpleasant cause.  The enemy awaits mes enfants; forward, to defeat!  Oh and try not to kill anybody who looks like Humphrey Bogart."

As they shook out (partly preparing to attack but mostly because of the fleas) one of the Moroccan tirailleurs turned to a friend and asked,

"What does enfants mean?"

"Dunno," replied his companion, "sounds terrible."

I've wanted to play ASL scenario 80 - Play Ball for a long time now but its a bit long to get done in one face to face session.  Now Mike Sexton and I have divided it up into handy bite sized pieces to play on line.  Mike also told me that the scenario has been modified and slight changes have been made.  I'm familiar with this sort of thing, drug companies do it all the time when the patent on their pharmaceuticals is about to run out.  Mike gave me the details and we settled down to play.

Being American (albeit via Japan and Singapore) it was only appropriate that Mike take command of the US forces, green as grass and somewhat lost as they blunder about the more ocean convenient parts of Morocco.  I lead the Moroccans who are serving the Vichy French who are commanded by a diminutive admiral who is under the thumb of the Nazi Germans.  It made sense at the time.  Mike has the equivalent of eighteen squads of second line Americans equipped with a pair of medium machine guns, a heavy machine gun and a couple of mortars.  He also has three early model bazookas.  Mike's job is to defend a bunch of stone buildings or, alternatively, run away.  However the running away can't start until eight turns into a ten turn game so it would be helpful if the "French" weren't in a position to impede said running.

As the person on the wrong side of history I command a cheerfully adhoc group of colonial troops.  On turn one I get nine first line squads with a mmg and an lmg, these charmers are lead by a pair of officers including a 9-1.  On turn two I get the second division forces comprising three more first line squads and five green ones led by a couple of less impressive officers and hauling an mmg, lmg and a mortar.  Come turn four three more squads and an officer turn up looking for the fighting (or possibly a McDonalds), they are accompanied by four halftracks two of which are hauling 75mm guns.  Finally on turn six three Renault tanks turn up to provide the Americans with some justification for including bazookas in their OB.  In addition to all of the above some poor bastard is clinging to the top of a telephone pole sighting for some 70mm offboard artillery.  To win I either have to capture five stone buildings by turn eight or amass thirty CVP by the end of the game.

The French have an impressive force but it comes on piecemeal and is actually outnumbered by the defending Americans.  The Americans are shaky with poor morale but they still have firepower to burn.  A lot will depend on the French "toys"; artillery, tanks, guns.  Below is the end of turn one.  It started poorly with my artillery drawing a red chit and going back to sleep.  Deprived of support I've made a dash for the nearest stone protection with the bulk of my force while a modest group go in the other direction.  Mike has, naturally, got his hmg set up on the rooftop of a convenient building and has already started to inflict casualties before I can really reply.

In my second turn my artillery graciously deigned to show up.  I aimed it at the hmg team on the rooftop and the spotting round strayed about as far as it could and remain in North Africa.  Despite this I have pushed forward and captured the stone building immediately in front of me.  It's not one of the victory buildings but with 60mm mortar and hmg fire raining down all around I'm just glad to get some solid stone between myself and the supposedly poor quality Americans.

Speaking of poor quality my first reinforcements have arrived.  They entered on the north edge of board 4 which is about as far from the fighting as you can possibly get and are now very slowly probing Mike's flank.  If Mike's troops there fall into a coma they may succeed.

End of French turn 2.
So far Mike had good reason to be pleased with his troops performance, yes the French were getting close in the centre but with the exception of one (soon repaired) mmg breakdown he had yet to take any serious losses.  Then my artillery finally got zeroed in and blew his hmg team off the roof of the building.  This was a decent result and Mike bewailed the loss of his machine gun but I'm not sure if it was the best use of my most potent weapon.  I may have been better served trying to crush the forces he has deployed in the wheatfields.

Still there's no time to worry about idiot command decisions now, the war moves on.  Only it hasn't apparently moved on very far.  Mike managed to beat up a sacrificial halfsquad and some of my troops inched, snail like a little closer to the enemy but my flankers on the left are still slowly flanking and the progress of my centre troops can best be described as glacial.  Nevertheless with Mike still openly mourning his machine gun crew I have finally managed to get some troops into a position where they can shoot at Americans and even (on the left) enter close combat with some.

Mike is finally taking casualties and the artillery is hampering his movement a bit.  Another black chit would see the artillery continue to paste the building and prevent access to the hmg on the roof (ok definitely a mistake) while the world's slowest flanking movement is starting to ooze molasses like past the American left flank.  Mike has been a little irritated at the poor performance of his mortars and in terms of casualties inflicted I can sympathise (not really).  They haven't inflicted any harm but the amount of frustration, nervousness and hesitation they have generated is in vast disproportion to the actual results so far. 

Although the game is only three turns old I'm starting to feel pressed for time.  The bulk of the American force is intact (although a halfsquad did make the ultimate sacrifice in CC) and the stone buildings are no less stony than they were at the start of the game.  I'm already starting to wonder whether I can possibly amass 30 CVP by game end if the building objective is beyond me.  Probably not if I don't pick up the pace. 

In turn four I got unarmoured half tracks towing guns and in exchange lost my artillery when I drew my second red chit.  The two halftracks towing guns move at about the same speed as continental drift.  They may arrive somewhere useful round about turn 45.  The other two halftracks proved a little speedier and I rolled each of them (carrying a squad) to augment the pair of half squads I was somewhat pathetically pretending were a threat to Mike's right.  Just in time as a misjudged close combat reduced the number of halfsquads to one making it even less of a threat.  In the centre I marched my Moroccan's feet bloody to get a squad, leader and lmg up to support the remainder of my forces who are trying to drive Mike's left flank out of the wheatfield.

Success in that endeavour has been mixed.  On the one hand the close combat for the building on the left was resolved in my favour but on the other hand another close combat went terribly wrong.  I pushed a halfsquad forward into CC with the full squad manning his mortar.  Somehow they survived but remained in melee.  I should have left it or reinforced the melee.  Instead I fired into the melee thinking my troops with seven morale would be better able to stand the fire than his with six.  I was wrong, the only thing that saved my suddenly broken warriors was the fact that Mike decided to withdraw from melee rather than dispatch his opponent.

Two close combats, both would end badly for me.  But check out the hero on the left

Still there are some good signs, I've built a kill stack in my stone building and have started to beat up on some of Mikes troops on the right, breaking the mortar team and killing outright a halfsquad sent to retrieve the mortar.  I've actually generated a Vichy French hero (was there such a thing?) on the left as the result of a morale check that went sadly awry for Mike and my slow moving flankers may arrive at their destination in time to collect their pension cheques.

The end of American turn four is as far as we've got so far.  Mike's withdrawal from melee turned out to be part of an overall tactical withdrawal which he accomplished without difficulty.  I have managed to kill two squad equivalents so far (out of the fifteen I need if I want to win by CVP) and have captured precisely none of the relevant stone buildings.  My artillery is gone and I think I am somewhat behind in time.  My options are narrowing and my only remaining reinforcements are the tanks.  There's a name for those who rely on R35s to save the day.  That name is "French".

End of Mike's turn 4 and I still have it all to do

 Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion to the greatest North African drama since Casablanca.


Silly After Action Report - Extra Curricular Activities

Captain Mikhail Kaleideskop looked out of the window of the hospital at a T-34 tank that had just parked in the grounds.  The hatch opened and a tanker popped his head out and looked around.

"Is this Berlin?" asked the tanker fumbling for a cigarette.

"Too much baroque," replied Kaleideskop, "it must be Budapest."

"Is that near Berlin?"

"I don't know, probably."

The tanker stared at the hospital in amazement.

"They've got electric lights, the bourgeoisie bastards."

Kaleideskop nodded sympathetically.  In the Soviet Union surgeons worked side by side with the peasants in heroic candle light.  It was no wonder that the Hungarian military was crap when they wasted their resources on things like light for hospitals.  Speaking of the Hungarian military.

"Look down there, they look like they're going to attack."

The tanker peered in the direction the captain was pointing, "What's written on the front of that assault gun?"

"Down with skool," replied Kaleideskop, "they must be university students."

The Paddington Bears, our gaming club (think less about charming children's stories and more about hairy guys in leather) having been shunted online due to the ongoing plague situation I reached out through the ether to contact Richard Weilly and play a VASL game.  The scenario chosen was ASL 122 - Extra Curricular Activity set in late 1944 Budapest where a bunch of Hungarian university students backed by some Zrinyi self propelled guns were given the thankless task of relieving a battle hungry Soviet army of the hospital it had just captured.  Since this scenario is taking place in Budapest there are no prizes for guessing how the war was going for the Hungarians at this point.

Nevertheless the Hungarians, ably commanded by Rich, are on the attack.  The Soviets, somewhat less ably commanded by me, are defending.  Richard has sixteen first line Hungarian squads to do the attacking.  These are augmented by five light machine guns and led by four officers of varying competency levels.  Rumbling forward in support are four zrinyi assault guns each armed with a 105mm howitzer.

To hold off this pack of undergraduates gone rogue I have ten squads of first line Soviet infantry commanded by three decent officers and equipped with two anti tank rifles, two light machine guns and a hernia inducing hmg.  To keep the Hungarian armour at bay I have a pair of T34-85 tanks.  In addition to everything else both of us can attempt to beat information out of passing civilians.  Perhaps unsurprisingly neither of us could find a convenient civilian wandering about the battlefield looking to be helpful.  The victory conditions are simple; Richard's Hungarians need to have more unbroken squads in building B2 (conveniently marked with a big yellow V) at the end of the game than I did.

I was permitted to set up four squads in the victory building but being the reckless devil may care guy that I am I made do with three including the hmg and my best leader.  I parked a T34 next to the building guarding an approach road and set up the bulk of my forces in the north to defend behind a road that bisected the battlefield north to south.  In the south  I had a handful of squads and my other T-34 to stop him trotting cheerily down the road.  I also had a couple of expendables forward to act as speed humps.

Richard bulked up in the north but with sixteen squads to play with he was also able to lavish some attention on the south.  He set up a zrinyi looking straight down the road from my southerly T-34 and promptly stunned the crew since I had been silly enough to set up CE.  In the north another zrinyi dumped smoke on my defences and a second sleazed one of my speed humps and suddenly his attack was up in my face.  In the north his troops charged into close combat and I promptly left as quickly as I could although not before generating the worlds most useless leader.

End of Hungarian turn 1. 
In my turn my recently unstunned T-34 fired on his Zrinyi without effect while masses of 347s mobbed the sole squad I had guarding the road.  They didn't last long and things didn't help when a successful morale check sent them berserk.  Successful isn't really the right term for that morale check.  In the centre another squad faced with similar life expectancy decided to not go quietly into the night.  He charged into close combat with a pair of Hungarian squads and challenged the goulash munching nancy boys to do their worst.  In the course of two turns that squad killed a 9-1 leader, an entire Hungarian squad, generated a leader of their own and then died a noble death against overwhelming odds.  All of which gave me a bit of time to get my defences in order, it isn't really their fault that I didn't.  My newly minted 6+1 leader in the far north shepherded a squad towards the rear.  Rich fired out of smoke and pinned the squad and succeeded in breaking and disrupting the leader.  That was pretty much the end of his involvement in the game except for a brief cameo appearance as a prisoner at which point I shot him.

End of Soviet turn 1
In the south in response to the fact that my tank crew were now hiding behind metal Richard's zrinyi dropped a smoke round into his hex but then he went once too often to the well and intensive fired in the hopes of dropping another smoke round.  Instead he malfunctioned the gun and that one was zrinyi out of the fight.  Only one zrinyi would survive the battle, of the three that died I only killed one.

With his zrinyis belching smoke and his troops just belching (its all that goulash) Richard moved forward aided in the south by the fact that my berserk troops cheerfully threw themselves onto Hungarian bayonets and died a swift and messy death.  Richard's principal worry at this point was leadership.  He started with four, the 9-1 died in CC and my sniper wacked a 7-0 leaving him with two.  Sadly they would prove more than enough.  He worked a zrinyi round to the south to replace the one currently fleeing up the road to Vienna and with my berserkers dead started to infiltrate round my southern flank.  In the north the melee raged on but he incremented other troops forward.

There's so much smoke it should come with a health warning
Richard now had a solid line in the north and the 105mm on his two zrinyis up there started shooting his troops forward.  Well actually they started shooting my troops backward.  Richard's troops just trotted in afterwards.  Still the battle for the next building went on for a couple of turns and I dared to feel a glimmer of hope.  Down in the south Richard moved troops up next to my tank and started dusting off panzerfausts.  I reversed out of there as quickly as I could and fortunately the panzerfaust missed.

Things don't look too bad except for the yawning gap in the south.  That's bad, quite bad
In the south Richard moved up to deal with what was my one remaining squad in the area and to show he meant business he rolled a zrinyi up to blow car sized holes in the building walls.  I forgot the game for a moment and sent my T34 on a zrinyi killing mission.  With an 85mm gun against papier mache armour this was successful and the zrinyi exploded into a satisfying ball of flame.  It probably wasn't the most tactically brilliant thing I've ever done though as Richard marched a 347 up next to my tank and then killed it in close combat.  My sole squad in the south was now truly on its own. Which wasn't the only bad news as Richard used smoke to inveigle his way into the next building along and wiped out most of the occupants in close combat.  Those who weren't dead were choking on smoke which at least prevented them from seeing what was coming next.

The south is looking worse by the second.  But on the other hand so is the north
What was coming next was the pride of Hungary's armoured forces.  Both zrinyis tiptoed and insinuated themselves around behind the building and positioned themselves to dash for the victory building beyond.  I rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic and hoped for the best.

It had taken a bit of time and cost Richard some casualties (principally by sniper.  Richard was a bit annoyed but all he had to do was stop rolling threes) but now the Hungarians were ready and poised to reclaim the communicable diseases ward so cruelly torn from their grasp.  

Richard is ready to go for the win.  I'm ready to go home
I managed to put things off for one more turn by sneaking the one squad not already in the hospital a little closer to the action.  I fired at his stack that held, (among other things) the 6+1 prisoner he had taken earlier and gained a 1MC, guess who was the only one that suffered.  Yep.  

The zrinyis meanwhile were now in the backfield ensuring that my troops in the building had nowhere to run, or at least nowhere to run that wasn't acquired by 105mm howitzers at point blank range.  It was all a little more whimper than bang to be honest.  I broke a couple of squads in the penultimate fire phase but Richard had sufficient troops near the building that he didn't even have to challenge my troops for close combat, he could just move in to the unoccupied hexes.  So victory to Richard in the very last turn.  I credit lucky CC rolls and an active sniper for making him take that long.  Thanks to Richard for the game, I shall now slink off and lick my wounds and possibly an iceblock.

End game, I have three unbroken squads in the building.  Richard is poised to move in about half a dozen
Major Kaleideskop crawled out of the convenient sewer he'd been hiding in and looked around for signs of life.  Specifically he looked around for non Hungarian signs of life.  Not finding any he slunk away towards his own lines and almost tripped over the tanker he met earlier who was hiding under a bush.  

"That didn't go well," said the tanker conversationally.  "I guess if I'd spent all that money on electric lights I'd want to recapture it too."

"Bloody students," muttered Kaleideskop, "what are they doing?"

"I think its called a keg stand."