Monday, August 31, 2020

Travelling Pathetically - Poisonous Waterways Edition

Isn't it amazing how rapidly one's options narrow?  Normally when I take some leave I like to travel.  Unfortunately at the moment a trip to my letter box seems like an expedition.  With a few days to spare I decided to see what the city of Sydney could offer me that didn't involve being around loads of people.  Hanging out at an oversized poisonous drain seemed like the perfect choice.

I've mentioned the Alexandra Canal before in this blog.  It was dug late in the nineteenth century, messing up a perfectly functional creek in the process.  It was intended to allow ships to make their way to the factories and warehouses of Alexandria.  That's the official story anyway, in actual fact it was never really a success (too shallow and too sandy) and the only real benefits it produced were a certain amount of employment (there was a recession happening at the time) and to facilitate the dumping of toxic waste by the aforementioned factories and warehouses.  

Eventually such shipping as did use the canal petered out and it became a largely forgotten stretch of somewhat noxious water hidden from public view by all of the industries that lined its banks.  A few decades ago our state government decided that the canal should be cleaned up and transformed into a glittering waterfront showcase with fine shops, restaurants and all of the urban renewal bells and whistles.  At which point the Department of the Environment stepped in and pointed out that the canal bed was so toxic that even breaking the surface of the water was liable to create an environmental disaster.  Some things are just so polluted that the only sensible thing you can do is leave them alone and hope for the best.  Somewhat to my surprise the state government did precisely that and the canal remains a largely forgotten stretch of somewhat noxious water.

For reasons I can't begin to explain I've long wanted to take a look at this ribbon of liquid death so fearsome that it could even scare our state government into making a sensible decision.  Now, due to a complete absence of other options I got my chance.  I did a little research (I looked it up on google maps) and found that the creek which flowed into the canal was convenient to Green Square railway station.  I decided I would go along to Green Square, find the creek and follow it to the canal.  Then I would walk down said canal until it came to its junction with the Cooks River (another poisonous waterway) in the general vicinity of Sydney Airport.  If I had done more than a little research I would have known that this was impossible.

Things started well though, I got to Green Square and without getting lost so much as once I found my way to Shea's Creek which flows into the canal.  Unfortunately most of Shea's Creek is now covered over and I didn't so much follow it as use it as a general reference point.  Still I made it to the start of the canal.  The canal might not have been deep enough for ocean going shipping but its certainly broad with a thin fringe of trees that don't quite conceal the various industrial enterprises that still line its banks.  There was a pathway along the side of the canal and I strode along it congratulating myself on my organisational skills.

These congratulations came to an abupt halt shortly afterwards along with the path which petered out and eventually wound up in the carpark of one of the aforementioned businesses, downstream (or downcanal I guess) I could see that other businesses stretched right up to the edge of the canal and that walking alongside it was impossible unless I wanted to risk dogs and security guards.  After some careful thought I decided that I didn't.

Still my parents didn't raise a quitter (which is why I'm still smoking at the age of 51 when I should really know better) and I kept up the hope that possibly just down the canal there would be an opportunity to rejoin the waterline so I strolled down a parallel road instead.  Business after business passed by my eyes and every one of them felt it was important to inform me that trespassing would be treated with the utmost severity and that the canal water was only the second most dangerous thing I would encounter if I dared set foot on their property.

Occasionally a narrow pathway would lead down to the canal giving me the opportunity to admire the warning signs that proliferated at the water's edge.  The signs pointed out that the canal was highly toxic and that fishing, disturbing the sediment or even breathing heavily in the general vicinity were to be avoided at all costs.  Strangely they didn't say "don't drink the water" possibly they thought that terms like "highly toxic" and "contaminated" should be enough of a hint for most people.

By this time I was getting a little discouraged, I was well along the canal's route and had actually seen the canal for about five percent of my journey.  When the road I was walking down ended in a quarry I should really have taken the hint.  Instead I checked my phone and it seemed that if I persevered there would be a walking trail a bit further along.  I persevered and then I persevered some more.  Then the new road that I was walking down ended in a container terminal which at least told me I was getting near the airport.  Something else that told me I was getting near the airport was the plane which passed a couple of hundred feet over my head on its approach path.

Retracing my weary steps I persevered even more.  Basically I was walking down the Princes Highway which is not a particularly aesthetically pleasing environment to be sightseeing in.  Just before Tempe however my patience was rewarded when a side street petered out into a narrow path, walking; for the purposes of.  Suddenly I was in bushland.  I still wasn't at the canal but at least I didn't need to worry about being run over by container lorries.  And if the canal eluded me there was at least some water.  The area was what environmentalists call "wetland" and what a plumber would call "poorly drained"  There was a largely invisible stream and a couple of shallow ponds in which a small handful of birds risked life and beak by fossicking in the sediment despite the warning signs.  I stood on a small bridge and looked at a sign warning against diving and swimming a little superfluously in my opinion since whatever stream existed was doing its best to go unnoticed and diving would involve bouncing off several large rocks.  If you were lucky your unconscious body might inadvertently roll into the stream post impact.

Then I hit a golf range.  There wasn't sufficient room to squeeze an entire golf course into the strip of land between where I was standing and the canal but they had stuffed in what they could.  I skirted the range and there it was; the object of my desires, the Alexandra canal in all its toxic glory.  Feeling triumphant I strolled through a pleasant park with the canal on my left and felt slightly silly when it connected with the Cooks River about five minutes further on.  I had managed to walk from one end of the canal to the other a distance of approximately four and a half kilometres and I had seen the canal for perhaps a couple of hundred metres of that.  All the rest of the time I had been seeing traffic, container terminals and industrial sites.  Ironically given the condition of the canal a lot of them seem involved in waste disposal and recycling.

Birthday Greetings #82

 Some days are worse than others.  For the Roman empire the 31st of August was a bit of a downer since it marks the birth of not one but two of their least edifying emperors.  Each of them had their own interesting "quirks" and both of them seemed to exist largely to point out why hereditary succession is not necessarily the best way to run an empire or, for that matter, a family.  But which to choose?  After careful consideration I decided to go with the one who appeared to be genuinely deranged as opposed to merely stupid, self indulgent and vicious.

So with that as an intro, happy birthday to Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus more commonly known to posterity as Caligula.  Caligula was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that (in the person of Augustus) actually created the empire on the ashes of the old republic.  With Order 66 implemented Augustus could look forward to a long reign for himself and his descendants.  The only difficulty turned out to be a depressing shortage of descendants.  Augustus adopted his step-son, Tiberius, to maintain a facade of family descent and by the time Tiberius turned his face to the wall the only immediate member of his family that he hadn't done away with was his nephew, our boy Caligula.  Tiberius intended Caligula to rule jointly with his grandson Gemellus however Caligula persuaded the Senate that Gemellus should be cut out of the will on the grounds that he was insane.  In light of what was to come that was ironic to say the least.

At this point it has to be admitted that we don't actually know a lot about the reign of Caligula.  Most of the histories written about him are lost to us and apart from the occasional snippet the only accounts of his reign come from the authors Cassius Dio and Suetonius.  Suetonius is probably the more reliable since his account was written only eighty years after Caligula's death and he's therefore the closest thing we have to an eyewitness.  What we do know about Caligula is all of the batshit crazy stuff he (allegedly) got up to in the few years between taking the throne and getting murdered by the Praetorian Guard.

It's fair to say that Caligula can't have been particularly popular.  At least he can't have been popular with the sort of people who could make their slander last through eternity.  The histories of Suetonius and Cassius Dio both tell us that Caligula was a sadistic, irrational, sexual deviant with a god complex.  He'd probably make a great reality TV star.  There are the famous stories; the horse as consul, seducing his own sisters, setting up a statue of himself in the temple at Jerusalem and ordering the Jews to worship him.  Whether any of this is true or not is unknown.  There is one interesting comment; both our historians agree that Caligula seemed a nice enough guy when he became emperor but shortly into the job he became seriously ill and when he recovered he seemed to have had a complete personality change.

Quite apart from having a gibbering loon as emperor there was a bit of a financial crisis going on and a famine as well.  Caligula either caused these or at least didn't deal with them effectively.  It's entirely possible that he simply wasn't very good at his job.  With genuine doubts about the competence of the emperor (never mind doubts about his mental health) some of the more influential people in the empire started to discreetly explore options.  When he found out Caligula indiscreetly killed them.  Strangely this didn't make the surviving influential people any happier.  The option exploration continued with a certain added urgency.  After the emperor had been hacked into bits there was a definite need to come up with a better reason for assassination than "he couldn't manage inflation" so all of the other stories were added in as well.

Or possibly he really was barking mad and the tales that have come down to us don't even mention the half of it.  I think we can definitely conclude that he was probably both unpleasant and incompetent.  His successor Claudius was widely regarded as an idiot but he was a genial buffer and he lasted for years.  Caligula's predecessor, Tiberius, was a paranoid sociopath who ran the empire by remote control from the Isle of Capri and murdered people all over the place but he was formidably competent and he died at the age of seventy seven.  Caligula didn't see his thirtieth birthday.  That probably tells us as much as we need to know about him.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Plague Update #35

 Terrible news for the city of Melbourne already under lockdown due to the ongoing awkwardness with communicable disease.  For those who do venture outside, appropriately garbed in disinfectant soaked plastic and a jaunty face mask a new threat hovers over their heads, literally in fact.  Melbourne it would appear is under sustained aerial attack from the local magpies.  Decent citizens can't make it to the shops without sharp beaked terrors descending on them from the sky.

The problem is the masks apparently.  It turns out that magpies have their own version of facial recognition software (ie they recognise people) and with everybody wearing a mask the poor confused birds have decided that to be on the safe side they're just going to attack everybody.  To hear the media report it there hasn't been this much terror in the skies since stukas first appeared over Poland.  Those who must brave the increasingly dangerous outdoors apparently have to wear pillows on their heads or have broom equipped escorts.

This leads to two questions; the first is how long will it be before the population of Melbourne gives up on the outdoors entirely and decides to live a completely subterranean life?  Now we see the terrible shortsightedness of our politicians.  If only they had completed building that underground metro system then at least the population would have had somewhere to stretch their legs without having to fear death from above.  For the elderly of course many have embraced an underground existence already, its called burial.

The other question is even more disturbing.  If magpies can recognise faces (and apparently they can) and are only attacking indiscriminately because of the masks that means that prior to the pandemic every magpie attack was deliberate and specifically targeted at the individual involved.  What did these people do to piss off the magpies?  If we identify them and herd them out into the streets to face avian wrath will the magpies be appeased and allow the rest of us to go about our business?  Another question is given our facility for making animals extinct why is it that we don't seem to have been able to get rid of the ones that really annoy us?  Pandas, rhinos, dodos no problem but apparently our talent for genocide seems to fall short of magpies, rats and annoying little yappy dogs that jump all over you.  How difficult can it possibly be to wipe out chihuahuas?

This is more than an academic question.  At some point the magpies and chihuahuas are going to take pity on the remnants of the rhino and whale populations and share their secrets.  Then we're really going to be screwed because if you think magpie attacks are bad just wait until its rhinos and whales swooping down on us from the skies.  Pigeon crap is annoying and unsightly but a rhino is going to bury your car and then swoop on you while you're trying to dig it out.

When a COVID vaccine comes its going to be a very different world.  People will flit from cover to cover while rhinos patrol the skies.  Roofs will collapse under the weight of whales roosting in them and no doubt there will be protests in the streets as various idiots claim that the anti rhino vaccine is a violation of their sovereign rights.  Dark days are coming my friends if only because the rhinos and whales will block out the sun.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dulwich Hill

 But wait, there is one more light rail station that I didn't somewhat dubiously immortalise on the pages of this blog.  None other than Dulwich Hill itself the start point (or, if you're traveling in the other direction, the endpoint) of the line.  The reason for this shameful oversight is simply that this is where I started so I began the series with the first station I traveled to, Dulwich Grove.  Now a sense of duty and completeness (and not at all because I'm running out of things to write about) compels me to correct this grievous oversight and give Dulwich Hill it's day in the sun.

Unfortunately there's not a lot to say.  Dulwich Hill is the end (or beginning) of the line for the very good reason that less than a hundred metres from the end of the track is a quadruple set of heavy rail lines plunging across its path at right angles.  Dulwich Hill is where the light rail stops unless you want to build an expensive bridge or dig an expensive tunnel.  So far neither of these options have appealed to those in charge.  The station itself clings to the side of a modest cutting, above the station is a small carpark and a stretch of homes and shops.  There isn't another side to the cutting as that location is covered by railway tracks.

The light rail station is about two minutes walk from Dulwich Hill heavy rail station and the one thing they have in common is that neither is particularly convenient to Dulwich Hill.  The suburb's shopping precinct (well, shops) and the bulk of the housing stretch some twenty minutes walk away to the North.  In fact the stations are only just within the boundaries of Dulwich Hill at all.  I live five minutes walk away from them and technically I live in Marrickville.  Not that the stations are particularly convenient to Marrickville either.  What this means is that mostly what surrounds the stations is suburban housing with a handful of shops that have no doubt clustered to take advantage of commuter trade.

If nothing else I certainly picked a good day to find nothing much to write about.  The late Winter sun was shining and the air was almost sort of warmish.  This precursor to spring was heralded by the presence of birds.  Cute little birds with green breasts, dull grey birds with spiky heads plus of course the ubiquitous pigeons which had apparently taken time out from crapping on my balcony to follow me and see what I was up to.  There was even a butterfly looking somewhat lost and no doubt feeling a little foolish when it realised that none of its compatriots had joined it.

Adjoining the station (on the non cutting side) is a skate park.  The local council have taken a part of the desolate wasteland that accompanies all railway lines like remoras on a shark and have converted it to a place where adults can legitimately abandon the more irritating of their children.  There is grass, there are trees and in the middle of this are curved concrete depressions, skating; for the purposes of.  There weren't any kids skateboarding when I wandered through, in fact the kids there seemed to be using every form on non powered wheeled conveyance except a skateboard; scooters, bikes, I'm pretty sure I saw one kid performing aerobatics in a shopping trolley.  While I was there a single girl turned up on a skateboard and paused with a somewhat defeated look on her face.

If rolling over curved concrete isn't your idea of fun fear not, the local council also installed a basketball court.  A measure of how popular basketball is in Dulwich Hill can be gained by the fact that there was a tennis net stretched across it.  Not that anyone was playing tennis either.  The public toilet nearby was a square concrete building with steps on either side just in case anybody felt a burning urge to climb to the top of a toilet block.  From the top you get a panoramic view of the skate park and nearby houses, pretty much what you can see at ground level.

But I was done with the skate park for through the trees and houses I had spotted an expanse of lush open green and headed towards it.  When you get such a broad expanse of greenery in the middle of a city it means only one thing, a golf course.  On the way to the favoured venue for those waiting for death I passed an infants version of the skate park.  It was small, fringed with trees and had a bunch of climbing equipment in the centre.  It was also locked and chained up, despite this there were families and kids playing there, I can only assume they climbed the fence.

 Marrickville Golf Course stretches alongside a wretched channel of stinking poisonous ooze (that's the Cooks River to you).  Fish live in this biological disaster area and if the clean up continues at the present rate will be safe to eat in a few centuries.  Tales of fishermen being dragged to their death by horribly mutated river dwellers are probably exaggerated but you wouldn't catch me out on the water after dark.  Misdirected golf balls which land in the river dissolve before they sink to the bottom.  A couple of property developers have actually built rather handsome housing estates on the banks hoping to attract customers with a desire for riverside living and no sense of smell.

In my meandering along the golf course I looked up and was reassured by the sight of the dilapidated bulk of my own dear home looming above the surrounding houses.  The whole suburb is "in transition" which basically means it is being simultaneously demolished and built over.  Dull, uninspired suburban homes are being replaced by dull uninspired blocks of flats at a startling rate.  A new development is actually being built just a couple of houses down from me.  When its finished the block of flats will completely ruin my view of the block of flats behind it.

Being possessed of neither a set of golf clubs or a skate board (I'm too young for the former and too old for the latter) left me with little to do in the designated recreation spots within easy reach of the light rail station.  Fortunately my apartment is also within easy reach of the light rail station.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Recapturing Ernage

 Oberst Felix von Kummerbund sat at a makeshift desk in the captured French farm house and stared at the map in concern.  The earlier attack had been a mess, orders from above were contradictory and in some cases in defiance of sanity.  The oberst hadn't seen a shambles like this since Poland and now apparently a major general was dropping by to add his two pfennigs worth.  A sudden buzz among the staff officers heralded the newcomer's arrival and von Kummerbund's eyes widened in horror at the heavily bemedalled and terrifyingly familiar figure.  Suddenly everything became clear.

Generalmajor von Kattelrussler strode into the room sucking enthusiastically on the end of his baton his eyes darting everywhere.  He wasn't necessarily looking for anything, his eyes jumped about like a flea on speed at the best of times.  Von Kattelrussler stopped and stared at the empty desk that awaited him.  Beside him a staff Hauptmann looked around in bewilderment.

"I assure you Herr Generalmajor the oberst was here just a moment ago."

Von Kattelrussler slapped his baton down on the desk and jumped at the noise it made.

"Fear not Hauptmann, I shall take over."  He turned to another staff officer, "You, I want a situation report on this desk in thirty seconds."  He pointed at the Hauptmann, "the enemy have tanks so I want every man equipped with a boar spear."

"A what sir?"

"A boar spear, it's like a pig spear but way cooler.  And somebody get a hold of the Luftwaffe and tell them to shoot down that damned stuka, the siren is setting my teeth on edge."

The staff officers stared in disbelief for a second and von Kattelrussler lost patience.

"Sitrep, boar spears, stuka!  Go!"

The officers gave hasty salutes and fled.  Generalmajor von Kattelrussler sat down on the desk and apparently addressed the empty air.

"I do know you're under there Felix."

But there was no response except for a slight sound which a knowledgeable listener might have interpreted as the sound of an oberst in the German army attempting to dig an escape tunnel with his fingernails.

After my previous disasters with the Romanians Dave Wilson and I decided to do something a little more mainstream.  Dave suggested GTF-7, Recapturing Ernage and because I couldn't think of a reason not to I agreed.  After mismanaging their initial attack on the French village of Ernage the Germans now face a combination of Morocccan troops and Renault tanks making a counterattack to reclaim the bits of Ernage currently in German hands. The scenario is ten turns long, presumably to give the slow moving Renaults a fighting chance to actually approach the objectives.

I commanded the Germans and found myself in charge of a reasonably competent but desperately small force.  I had two elite squads and four first line squads equipped with a heavy, medium and light machine gun plus an antitank rifle.  Added muscle was provided by a 75mm infantry gun and a pair of PzII light tanks.  On turn one I would be reinforced by a pair of PzIII medium tanks.  Despite von Kattelrussler's orders a single stuka circled the skies above looking for something convenient to drop its bomb on.

Dave in command of the avenging French  Had a tank heavy force that came in in three waves.  On turn one he gained four squads (two elite and two first line) with an lmg and an antitank rifle.  Accompanying them were three Renault tanks two of which were armed with the stubby 37mm gun and one sporting the not quite as short variant of the same weapon.  On turn two another three elite squads arrived carrying a dismantled medium machine gun and 60mm mortar.  Escorting them were another two Renaults one of which had the slightly longer gun.  Finally on turn three four first line squads and another dismantled mmg turned up accompanied by a further three Renaults.  That was eight tanks in total.  To win Dave had to capture two buildings at the rear of my position in the face of no doubt furious resistance.

The French arrive from offboard giving me the opportunity to set up wherever I liked.  I settled for a small delaying force up front (a singly first line squad and lmg) plus some dummies.  The remainder I set up for a defence of the victory buildings.  The rearmost building was surrounded by a wall and I parked the PzIIs behind it covering the approaches.  The 75mm gun was off to the right with a line of sight to the approaches to said building. I placed some troops in the building itself and the heavy machine gun with my best officer in the somewhat more foward building.  The remaining forces I spread out in a line across his most likely avenue of advance (across the big grainfield on the right).  My plan was essentially to take up time, delay Dave's movement and take advantage of the low speed of his Renaults to run him out of time.

My set up with the lead elements of Dave's force lurking modestly offstage

Things were quiet for the first couple of turns.  Then they were quiet for the next four turns after that.  Dave's turn one troops rolled and marched slowly towards my positions in whatever the opposite of a blitzkrieg is.  Dave kept his Renaults close to his infantry, logical since they both moved at about the same pace and oozed like an aggressive snail towards my forward defenders.  I brought on my two PzIIIs on the left to hopefully hit the flank of his Renaults.  I think I had fanciful ideas of taking out the tanks and then sweeping around behind his reinforcements.  This was a ridiculous notion as circumstances would prove.

End of German turn 1

My upfront defenders did indeed slow Dave down, not because of anything they did (they did nothing) but because Dave approached cautiously.  Unfortunately I rapidly discovered that my troops had an allergy to morale checks, I think they passed one in the entire game (and that time they pinned) with the result of which that he didn't have to attack my forward defenders so much as just move in.  Sadly this would prove a pattern for the rest of the game.

In a fit of unimagination Dave labelled his eight tanks A through H.  I christened my two PzIIIs Ava and Brunhilde.  Tanks A,B & C were helping his initial infantry deal with my forward position while the remainder of Dave's force came on on the right and very slowly made their way to my main line of resistance.  This is pretty much all that happened for the next couple of turns.  With the forward building captured Dave's centre tanks duelled with Ava and Brunnhilde to the frustration of us both.  Collectively we fired off enough metal to build another tank but appeared to be completely incapable of harming each other.


Feel free to take a ten minute break, things won't have changed too much when you get back

This impasse hurt me more than Dave, yes it kept three tanks and his first turn infantry tied down in the backfield but the remainder of his force was descending on me like an unstoppable horde, albeit an unstoppable horde crippled with arthritis.  I held back my stuka for the first couple of turns but with five Renaults slowly advancing on my position and a whole bunch of Moroccans blundering through the wheatfields I finally called it in.  I only had one dive bomber and it did everything one could expect of it.  It's bomb blew up a Renault and a subsequent strafing run broke a 7-0 officer.  That might not sound like much but in the context of my achievements for this game it accounts for about 80% of the damage I inflicted.  After much effort Ava did manage to immobilise a Renault but the crew stayed in and kept on pumping 37mm shells in my direction.  Brunhilde proved incapable of harming a fly.

While the most capable of my tanks were having an impotence off with the Renaults the remainder of Dave's force inched painfully towards my position.  There wasn't much I could do about this as I discovered when I tried.  My troops refused to pass PAATCs and when Dave tried to help by driving his tanks into my hexes they proved equally incapable of taking them out in close combat.  Meanwhile Dave's troops followed on the heels of his tanks and killed my defenders in the subsequent melees.

This is actually the high point for me. One Renault burning, another immobilised and his best troops locked in melee.

Dave had cleared away the chaff as it were with plenty of time to spare and now only the two victory buildings and their immediate defenders remained.  Things got worse very, very quickly.  Firstly a Renault gained a possible shock result on Ava, this became a definite shock and then an unconfirmed kill.  Dave had nosed a trio of Renaults right up to the rearmost victory building while his troops assembled weapons in the safety of the woods.  With French tanks literally closed enough to touch one of my PzIIs (I didn't bother giving them names) tried its luck and broke its gun.  Then Brunhilde broke her gun.  Then the 75mm which had just covered itself in adequacy by breaking a squad (one of only two I would break in the entire game) used rate to fire on a Renault and I broke that gun as well.  At this point both Dave and I decided that the dicebot was messing with us big time.

It was turn seven and suddenly I had virtually no weaponry left.  Dave suggested I concede, I agreed that I would if I couldn't repair any of the weapons.  The next turn Ava recovered from the UK and I rolled three ones to repair all of the weapons.  Apparently the dicebot was having a whale of a time.  Somewhat encouraged my 75mm fired on a Renault and actually managed to immobilise it with an HE shell.  I blinked, perhaps I wasn't quite doomed yet.

Actually I was wrong I was definitely doomed.  I still had an hmg directed by a 9-1 under concealment in the forward building along with another squad waiting to unleash when the French infantry tried to move forward.  Instead Dave settled for rolling a series of threes with his mmg team and wiped the position out, stone walls be damned.  At this point I conceded. I had one unbroken squad.  Dave's infantry casualties had consisted of two squads broken (one by sniper) and the 7-0 in the entire game.  I think both of us were a little frustrated by this one.  There was virtually no fighting (unless you count increasingly hysterical attempts by tanks to penetrate each others armour without success).  Since my troops broke every time they took a morale check Dave's job was reduced to simply moving his troops forward.  This he managed to achieve.  With virtually nothing left and two and a half turns to go I acknowledged the inevitable.

Generalmajor von Kattelrussler rubbed his hands together with delight.

"Well done lads, a great triumph."

This was too much for von Kummerbund who gave a slightly unhinged shriek.

"How can you call this a great triumph, we were supposed to stop the French?"

Von Kattelrussler pointed at the village which was crowed with parked Renaults and Moroccan troops looking for souvenir shops.

"They've stopped haven't they?"

"They've got the village!"

"Yes, but they've stopped.  Well done Felix, I'll note your tunneling skills in my report to Corps HQ."

Oberst von Kummerbund didn't reply, he was busy attempting suicide with a boar spear.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Plague Update #34 - Report Report

 Well the report on the investigation into the Ruby Princess debacle has been released.  For those of you who have been trying to obliterate the last few months from their memory allow me to ruin your hopes.  The Ruby Princess was the cruise ship that dumped a couple of thousand diseased passengers on the docks at Sydney a few months ago in the hopes no one would notice.  Given the number of infections and deaths that resulted questions were naturally asked as to how they were permitted to do that and who was responsible.  

Those questions were formally encapsulated in an enquiry which reported last week.  It basically pointed out the obvious, that there had been catastrophic failures on the part of the various government officials responsible.  Since the only other possibility was that they did it deliberately I can't imagine that this surprised anybody too much.  What did surprise some people were the recommendations for how to avoid this in the future.  There weren't any.  In summation the report basically said "a whole bunch of people screwed up but, you know, whatever."  To be fair what the report actually said was that the people who made these mistakes realised their errors and wouldn't make them again.  Wouldn't it be nice to have such a sunnily optimistic disposition?  I guess we'll just have to wait until the next cruise liner turns up with a batch of sick passengers before we find out for certain.

Meanwhile humans are not the only ones suffering in the pandemic.  Rescue shelters (which are basically just euthanasia centres for animals) report a massive upsurge in people adopting dogs (and to a lesser extent other animals).  Apparently the desire for companion animals in these times of doom has been so great that the shelters have been swept clean.  Animals who were looking for a dignified way out of their misery have suddenly been dumped with a bunch of needy humans who expect them to fill the coronavirus created holes in their lives.  That's a lot to ask of a dog, particularly one who, since it was in an animal shelter in the first place, can reasonably be expected to have a few issues of its own.  If this goes on much longer the streets are going to be full of emotionally disturbed people hauling traumatised animals around on leashes.  I'm not immune from this myself but I would point out that I had my stuffed puffin well before the COVID outbreak and he quite enjoys being hauled around on a leash.

In the meantime animal shelters are just bare spaces with the occasional tumbleweed blowing through and a screaming mob at the door demanding companionship.  It seems that workers in these places will be the next to lose their jobs and there won't be any animals left to help them through the difficult times to come.  I would encourage those people to stay strong, times might be tough right now but you will get your job back eventually.  As soon as the pandemic is over those shelters are going to be filling right up again.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Romania Victor

 Major Horea Stansinacu stared with naked distrust at the Luftwaffe officer standing before him.

"Seriously," the German said with what he thought was a winning smile.  "You guys go in and we'll hit them from above."  He gave a snappy salute and strode off to where a fieseler storch and a long haired dachshund were waiting for him.  He greeted them both with a disturbing amount of affection.  Stansinacu rolled his eyes, at least the Luftwaffe liaison officer had turned up to the briefing.  The artillery had simply sent a gift card and apologies.  Stansinacu sighed, he was too well known to successfully desert so he might as well get on with it.  Gathering his officers he pointed at the village crouching under a layer of snow.

"Get in there, get the big buildings any way you can.  And if you see any aircraft, duck!"

It was my turn to choose the scenario Mike Sexton and I would play and I made my decision by simply turning over the scenario card I had been playing with Dave and picking the scenario on the other side.  This then is scenario FT 191 - Romania Victor.  It is set a day after my debacle in the Crimea and apparently I haven't learned my lesson because I'm doing it again.  To win I have to hold more non rowhouse multihex building than Mike's Soviet defenders.  My at start force consists of six elite squads, two officers a good 9-1 and a mediocre 7-0.  In support there is a 47mm antitank gun, an 81mm mortar, two heavy machine gun, two light machine guns and a pair of foxholes.  On turn one I get another five elite squads, a half squad with a mmg and an lmg plus a 60mm mortar and an antitank rifle.  On turn three I receive another three elite squads, led by another 9-1 with an lmg and a demo charge.  For comic relief I have 100mm offboard artillery (first two chits were red, so much for the artillery) and a pair of fighter bombers (who would surprise me by turning up).

To hold this little town Mike has nine and a half first line squads, two officers (including a 9-1) a pair of mmgs, a pair of lmgs a 50mm mortar and a 45mm antitank gun (I'm not sure why).  He also has a pair of foxholes.  On turn one he would get a pair of Stuart tanks.  I checked the scenario card carefully, he definitely gets two.

My at start force sets up in the west, separated from the village by an uncomfortable amount of open ground.  Mike naturally had a mmg and halfsquad set up in the village church steeple and dealing with that was my first objective.  For a brief period all seemed to go well.  My mortar (manned by reliable Romanians not those crappy Germans) dropped a smoke round on the steeple and blinded his mmg team.  I had stacked both hmgs with a pair of squads and the 9-1 and these plus my 47mm effectively swept away such forces as Mike had been foolish enough to leave in my line of sight.  The remainder of the onboard force moved east using shelter where they could and positioned themselves to take my first victory building.  My turn one reinforcements assault moved onto the board and the only fire they took resulted in the generation of my very own hero (I would have two by game end).

Things are, very briefly, going well

In his turn Mike brought his two Stuarts on and sent them to bolster his in the east (bottom) while the Luftwaffe stopped fondling their dachshunds long enough to put a pair of fighter bombers into the sky.  One of the tanks, whom Mike had fondly christened Piotr, gained acquisition on my recently minted hero stack but that was the most he would do.

End of Soviet turn 1

At this point it has to be admitted that while I was unfortunate with my artillery (again) and I had some bad luck in various dice rolls the simple fact of the matter is I messed this scenario up.  My turn one reinforcements oozed slowly towards his defenders at the bottom of the screen covering the ground at a speed normally associated with glaciers.  Such of my at start force as had moved did indeed capture an undefended multihex building but there was an entire village between them and the rest.  My two forces would fight separate battles and lose them both rather than combining.

None of this would do Piotr any good.  Deciding that a Romanian hero was too rare a beast to lose the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb straight down the hatch of the offending Stuart and blew it to pieces.  Sadly my other fighter bomber would miss the other tank and their subsequent strafing runs would be ineffective.

Bereft of viable targets my hmg squads would risk hernia attempting to lug their immensely heavy support weapons a little more combat adjacent.  The 47mm gunners would likewise start shoving their weapon through the snow.  I think I did this as much to keep them occupied as anything else.  Certainly the game was over before they got anywhere useful.  Meanwhile Mike's other tank was proving that concealment counters were no barrier to beating the crap out of the Romanians and my centre force was floundering before it really got anywhere.

Things are bad and getting worse

With the bulk of his defenders in useful positions there was little Mike's troops had to do except polish their weapons (not a euphemism) and wait for the Romanians to present themselves for slaughter.  This the Romanians obligingly did.  Doubling down on failure I brought my final reinforcements on in two groups.  The 9-1, DC and a single squad I assault moved next to his defenders.  The other two squads I brought on closer to the centre in a belated and unsuccessful attempt to link up my two forces.  My at start forces pushed forward from their recently captured building and despite missing an obvious line of start (goodbye to another squad) the survivors managed to surround a Soviet squad and wipe him out in close combat.

The reinforcements I had brought on directly in front of his tank fared surprisingly well, only a half squad was killed leaving me with a concealed 9-1 and a halfsquad facing a squad with an lmg.  I pretty much had to advance into CC otherwise I would have been killed in the open.  After all I had a 9-1 officer and a concealed unit, surely that would compensate for being outnumbered?  Nope, so back to the drawing board.

The current picture flatters me

With three turns gone and little appreciable progress made I made a determined push and paid for it dearly but first a brief moment of unalloyed pleasure.  With the smoke gone from the steeple my mortar attempted to drop some more but had run out of smoke.  No problem it scored a critical hit with HE and then rolled snake eyes on the effects dropping the entire building into a pile of rubble and taking out his mmg position with it.

My hero finally achieved something, guiding my mmg team to take out the squad that had slaughtered my 9-1 and a squad ran straight across the front of Mike's surviving tank to grab the building.  Attempts to support it would end in bloody chaos.  A recently rallied halfsquad did sneak out and retake my long abandoned mortar.

Time was running out, I had two turns left and virtually no one in useful positions.  Attempts to gain useful positions resulted in carnage and I'm ashamed to admit broke my personal morale.  Not even the generation of another hero could raise my spirits.  Perhaps I could have scraped together enough forces to achieve a win.  My hmg squads had finally arrived and were in a position to challenge for a victory building and some scooting and a little bit of previously absent luck might give me one or two more.  On the other hand it turned out that I had launched my main assault exactly where Mike had his heaviest defences.  I had a single squad clinging on to a victory building and no way of reinforcing it that didn't involve running through mortar, mmg and 45L gun fire.  I decided enough Romanians had died this day and conceded.

When I decided to give up with one turn to go

Well that was a bit of a mess.  Congratulations to Mike who fought a skillful defensive battle.  I am now going to undergo a lobotomy to remove the recollection of this battle from my mind.

Major Stansinacu stood to attention staring at nothing in particular while the general shook his head in disbelief.

"Got beaten again didn't you" asked the general.

"Yes sir."

"Relied on the German artillery again didn't you?"

"Yes sir."

"Does your family have a history of failing to learn from experience?"

"No sir, I'm an only child."

Silly After Action Report - The Land of Fire Part 2

Dave and I continued our playing of FT190-The Land of Fire, colloquially known as Cock-up in the Crimea when I challenged him to justify having two Stuart tanks when the scenario card plainly allocated one. Dave apologised profusely and after he sacrificed his first born I forgave him and we continued.  We settled for removing one of the offending Stuarts and otherwise left things as they were.

Which left me in a bit of a pickle.  I had three turns to go and had yet to capture either of the two objectives I had set my heart on.  Further with my recalled StuG in the south slinking off the board in disgrace capturing the lighthouse was beginning to look a little problematic.  By the end of this turn problematic would be an optimistic description.

Attentive readers may recall that I had a berserk halfsquad ready to hurl itself on the nearest of his defenders.  I also had a squad adjacent.  I didn't really think the berserkers would achieve anything but I hoped they might tie up his defenders until the CC phase when I would be ready to reinforce them.  To assist with the reinforcing I assault moved a concealed squad forward as the same time as my berserkers charged to their death.  The berserkers of course died and subsequent fire was quite sufficient to break the two squads lined up to make the assault.  My attack died for lack of available troops.  Until I could get some reinforcements there the south was a dead letter.

Reinforcements in the shape of an lmg toting squad, a 9-1 leader and the nearest of my two remaining StuGs were on the way but they would take a turn to arrive.  Dave passed the time by shattering all my remaining troops in the south just to drive home the point that I wasn't going to capture the lighthouse.

Things looked a little more hopeful at the state farm where my long idle troops in the west finally took a deep breath, commended their souls to God and raced across the open ground to the rear of the farm.  Dave's two guns which I had been mildly paranoid about all game revealed themselves and banged away but much to my surprise my troops made it to the shelter of one of the stone buildings unharmed.  In the advancing fire phase my mortar scored its second critical hit to vapourise his 45mm gun leaving him with "only" the 76.  In the coming turns the mortar would beat that one up as well.  It has to be said that both of us got good mileage out of our mortars in this game.

Reinforcements are heading south but will they be in time?

The noose was tightening on the state farm, I had finally amassed enough firepower to strip concealment from one of his squads in the fortified building whereupon my flamethrower charred him to a broken crisp.  Moving in I would treat his other squad in the same way and suddenly the only unit Dave had in the farm was a hitherto hidden squad with an hmg and a 9-1 leader.  The leader fell to the most mediocre of morale checks but the squad proved to be made of sterner stuff.  Just to set the seal on what should be obvious success a morale check resulted in a Romanian hero adding his two bans worth to the conflict.  Which was good as the hmg squad smashed up the first troops I sent against him but I had plenty more.

In the south my reinforcements arrived just in time to witness the virtual destruction of my initial force as my troops proved incapable of passing a morale check to save their lives.  Rushing to the rescue the 9-1 was first pinned, then broken and finally sniped to death in what seemed a little like overkill to me.  With nothing left to reinforce the two squads and single StuG would have to achieve a miracle.  Just for a second it looked like they might.  I gunned the StuG forward, passed my ESB roll and parked right on top of his first trench, then moved a squad right next to it.  In the close combat phase these heroes would wipe out the defenders and I would have a squad quite close to the objective.  Of course there was a Stuart tank and a squad with an lmg between them and the lighthouse and another squad in the lighthouse but I permitted myself a tiny trickle of hope.

End Romanian turn 6.  There is still a tiny chance left.

Over in the state farm I decided to overwhelm his sole remaining squad (and hmg) with sheer numbers.  Having finally dispatched his sole other squad in CC I now had a StuG, a flamethrower and no end of squads within range.  The last turn rolled around and I made my move.  Firstly I hit the recalcitrant squad with fire from the StuG's 75mm gun.  I needed a nine to hit.  I rolled a ten.  I intensive fired the gun and rolled an eleven.  Another StuG out of the battle.  So much for softening him up.  Time for the assault.  Three first line squads guided by the hero assaulted into the building beneath the defenders and another pair of elite squads stormed up the stairs next to him.  Dave settled for firing on the three squads beneath him for a 20+3 shot.  He achieved a morale check.  Two squads broke and the third pinned.  The hero alone was left to advance.  I shrieked of course but I still had two squads adjacent and had moved my flamethrower into position for an advancing fire shot.  The flamethrower managed a pin result and I looked forward to the upcoming close combat with relish.  Despite being pinned the bastard still ambushed me and then I rolled boxcars on my CC die roll.  The state farm would not fall.

Which just left the lighthouse where perhaps I could salvage a little pride.  My StuG dropped a smoke round into the building and the lmg squad underneath it tried a 12+2 squad at the adjacent trench bound defenders for no result.  I was out of options.  I had an 8-0 and one squad left.  The only thing I could do was push them through the trees and hope they survived the ensuing defensive fire to wind up next to the lighthouse.  Dave took a shot with the machine guns on his Stuart tank and rolled a three.  That was the end of my hopes.  I had achieved not one of the three objectives never mind two.  I was a little disappointed as (the occasional piece of lunacy not withstanding) I didn't think I had played too badly.  Still c'est la guerre and I would have another chance with the Romanians as I was playing Mike Sexton in the sister scenario Romania Victor the next day.

End game. All that's missing are my hot, wet tears.

Major Stansinacu listened in disbelief to the torrent of abuse pouring out of the receiver.  When the general paused for breath, and possibly a heart attack, he attempted to defend himself.

"My men did not flee the field and abandon the artillery to their fate.  The artillery are making that report from Sevastopol, my men are dead on their objectives!"

Another burst of vituperation from the phone.

"No sir, of course I'm not accusing our German allies of lying.  Why on earth would they do that?  The Third Reich is famous for its straightforward, simple honesty.  No sir, of course I'm not being sarcastic, a man as insightful as yourself would pick up on that immediately.  Oh, a chance to redeem myself?  Oh thank you sir, yes I do think I have winter camouflage," suspicion crept into his voice, "Why?".

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Land of Fire Part 1

 Major Horea Stansinacu watched as his men reached their assigned pre-assault positions.  They looked good he thought.  Tough, eager, ready to fight.  Then his gaze fell on his German artillery support.  For some reason they had already hooked their guns up to their trucks and were intently studying maps all of which seemed to depict areas somewhat to the rear of their current location.

"Are you guys ready to support the attack?" demanded Stansinacu a little suspicion creeping into his voice.  Their officer looked up and, after a certain hesitation, reluctantly saluted.

"Oh yeah, we're good to go.  Just tell us where you want us."

"I can't help noticing that all your ammunition and supply trucks are currently barrelling down the road towards Sevastopol."

"It's their afternoon off."

"But you will be ready on my command?"

"Absolutely as long as our observer has radio contact with us."

Stansinacu glanced at the observer, he looked thoroughly miserable and was holding what appeared to be a pair of tin cans connected by string.

"Observer," called Stansinacu, the man shrieked and threw his hands up in the air.

"And he's ready to do semaphore if communications break down," added the artillery officer hastily.

Mentally writing off his artillery support Stansinacu returned to the comforting bulk of one of the assault guns that would be going in with his troops.  The crew seemed to be dismantling their main armament but he put that down to last minute maintenance.

After my previous dismal showing against Dave Wilson (which you don't know about because it was such a catastrophe that it wasn't worth an AAR) it was my turn to choose the scenario and be the attacker.  I was keen to try something with Italians or Axis Minors because I always am so I ferreted through a decaying stack of cardboard and came up with this one by Le Franc Tireur - FT190, The Land of Fire.  Here a collection of suspiciously well equipped Romanians are attempting to prolong the death agonies of their nation a little further by destroying one of the bridgeheads the Soviets have established on the Kerch Peninsula.  To perform said prolonging I have an at start force of six elite squads and eight first line squads including a pair of assault engineers.  These heroes are led by an awesome 10-2 plus two other officers of lesser distinction and are equipped with a medium machine gun, four light machine guns (including two apparently borrowed from the Germans), a 60mm mortar, a demolition charge and a flamethrower.  Lest this seem insufficient they have German support in the form of a pair of StuGIIIG assault guns and 100mm offboard artillery.  On turn two these forces are augmented by another ten Romanian squads a couple more officers and another StuG.

To oppose the pride of eastern Europe Dave has seventeen Soviet squads including six elite, a heavy machine gun, a medium machine gun, three light machine guns, a pair of antitank rifles, a 50mm mortar and two guns; a 45mm AT gun and a 76mm infantry weapon.  Armoured support turns up on turn two in the form of a Lend-lease Stuart tank that the British seem to have provided the Soviets simply to make them feel better about their own tank designs.  Additionally he has four officers, six trenches, a pillbox and is allowed to fortify two building locations.

This seems like a perfectly adequate force to see off these presumptuous Romanians but Dave is hampered by the fact that a portion of his force is scattered to protect three widely separated strongpoints; a state farm in the southwest (top), a lighthouse in the southeast (bottom, obviously) and a row of hills in the northeast.  To win the Romanians have to deprive the Soviets of ownership of at least two of these.

My plan was to strike hard for the lighthouse and hope to capture it quickly while the remainder of my force (and most of the reinforcements) crept up on the state farm and hoped to essentially drown the Soviet defenders in bodies.  I would use my artillery to make a smokescreen which would hopefully reduce his forces on the hills to the north to impotence.  Usually when I detail my plan the very next sentence is "Naturally this didn't work".  Anyway, naturally this didn't work.  The artillery's first spotting round wandered so far I think they were trying to shell Moscow and the German gunners, incensed by Romanian criticism, promptly drew two red chits and went home.  The God of War having decided to take the day off it was all up to my Romanians and their armoured support.  Below is the at start set up.

Things went ok for the first turn I managed to swarm troops around and kill the squad that Dave had posted in the southeast and started cautiously making my way towards the lighthouse.  In the west I had brought on a StuG and a pair of lmg toting elite squads to make a show of threatening the state farm while the rest of my troops put their boots on and tiptoed nervously forward.

Bereft of artillery I decided to use my westerly StuG to drop some smoke on the state farm only to discover that he didn't have any.  With that my troops in the west decided to hide out in the woods and await events.  Events were indeed coming.  Perhaps a little buoyed by my early success I decided that I had enough squads to take down the lighthouse and diverted a goodly number of my troops to approaching the state farm from the south.  I also sent the bulk of my turn two reinforcements in that direction as well.  

End of Romanian turn 1

In response to this less than blitzlike Romanian advance Dave sheltered beneath concealment counters and waited for his chance.  He did reveal his 50mm mortar up on the hill which tried unsuccessfully to shoot up some infantry in the southeast.  In the next turn this mortar would gain three critical hits in a row but fortunately without inflicting much harm on my troops.  Hoping to keep the bulk of my forces intact I hastened slowly easing from cover to cover and trying not to give Dave any good shots.  In the west my 60mm mortar started dropping a rain of largely ineffectual fire onto the only one of the state farm defenders it could reach.

By the end of the second Romanian turn I was starting to wonder whether I had been as clever as I thought.  It was true that a vast tide of dark green was oozing molasses like towards Dave's positions but I could already see that an unholy traffic jam was going to develop on the south side of the state farm while events would soon show that I had not given the lighthouse boys quite the force necessary to do the job.  Still I wasn't too bothered, after all I had a StuG to help them forward, surely that would be sufficient.

Dave was still working on the "discretion is the better part of valour" theory so apart from his mortar going on a maniacal (but largely ineffective) rate tear the only real action of his turn was bringing on his tanks (tanks, plural?).  These rolled forward and after a little indecision Dave decided to commit them both to supporting his troops in the lighthouse.  His sniper, seeing that the mortar was having little effect jumped on one of the squads that had shrugged off a critical hit and broke it anyway.  Some days it doesn't pay to be Romanian.

By the end of turn three things were (in my rose tinted opinion) looking good.  Not only had I casualty reduced another of his lighthouse defenders but I had taken the survivors prisoner.  These in a gross violation of the Geneva Convention would be herded forward in front of their captors and would die in a hail of bullets meant for Romanians.

Up at the state farm all was deceptively quiet as I tried to get my unwieldy assault force properly placed in such cover as existed and my 60mm mortar contributed to the depletion of Romanian ammunition stocks without much result.  His 50mm mortar continued to be the standout weapon on his side (to be fair it was pretty much the only weapon he was currently using) breaking another Romanian squad to replaced the ones sniped who had just rallied.

It's been relatively quiet so far but the bloodbath is not long delayed

Down at the lighthouse Dave managed to bog one of his tanks on the beach trying to sneak around behind my forces but sadly extricated himself the next turn.  I had pushed a halfsquad plus some prisoners forward on a "fact finding mission".  The prisoners died but a snake eyes on their morale check sent the halfsquad berserk, right next to a trench full of an elite Soviet squad.  For reasons I can't begin to explain I sent another squad and an 8-0 leader up onto the hill beside the berserkers where they were promptly monstered by the other of Dave's tanks.  Retreating forward they wound up in the same hex as the berserkers and in Dave's next turn they would be broken while my berserkers stood proudly alone.

Things were starting to happen at the state farm too.  I had finally gathered a large proportion of my force within shouting distance of the required buildings and I sent a squad forward (sacrificial halfsquads being a little thin on the ground) to strip some concealment.  This wasn't successful but I did identify one of his fortified building locations.  My 60mm mortar finally came up trumps scoring a critical hit against his troops in one of the state farm buildings, casualty reducing it and breaking the survivors.  Unfortunately its on the other side of the farm from where my forces were massing still it was a good morale fillip.

Which was necessary because at the lighthouse things took a turn for the worse.  I had brought my StuG forward to provide much needed fire support for my infantry and Dave cheerfully drove one of his stuarts right around behind it.  I swung the StuG around and fired to no avail.  Dave continued to roll happily past at a range of about six inches so I intensive fired the gun.  Intensive fire tends to work when people use it on me.  I have a long history of rolling boxcars when I try it and thus it was on this occasion.  Suddenly my only armour support in the vicinity was following the example of the artillerymen and going home.  Which left me with a not particularly impressive force facing at least equal numbers of Soviets hiding in trenches and a stone lighthouse.  Things do not look terribly hopeful.

End of Soviet turn 4

That's where we left it for the night.  When we recommence it will be Romanian turn 5 and time is definitely starting to run out.  I also need to have a quick chat with Dave about the fact that he seems to have 100% more tanks than allocated to him by the scenario card.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Killing Nemo

 I was engaged in a thoroughly innocent and blameless activity that did not at all involve bloodstained altars and polished human skulls when I received a priority message from my tech support.  Pausing only to mop the worst of the evidence off my face and hands I opened the link so their visual surveillance of me was official rather than surreptitious.

"What can I do for you guys?" I asked, a little nervously it has to be admitted.

"Are you busy?" they asked, "we can wait until you've finished whatever the hell it is you're doing."

"Just killing time," I assured them.  Not strictly accurate but time was certainly one of things I was killing.

 "Fine, we need you to do something about your Tasmanian correspondent."

 "Why me?" I groaned.  "You're the ones with the space based particle weapons.  What's she getting up to now?"

"We have it on good authority that she's planning to buy more goldfish."

This was certainly terrible news for the goldfish species.  My Tasmanian correspondent was the piscine equivalent of the grim reaper.  At one point she was flushing so many dead goldfish down the toilet it almost blocked Tasmania's entire sewage system to say nothing of making the place look like a temple for some dark goldfish sacrifice obssessed god (don't laugh, there is such a god.  I can give you a link to his facebook page if you like but its pretty boring).  What I didn't understand why my tech support was so concerned.

"Fish stocks around the world are dangerously depleted," they explained.

"Because of you."

"Yes, but she's not helping, besides the people of Belarus love goldfish."

"Really, as pets?"

"No, as added protein.  Can you ask her to stop?"

"I can ask her whatever you like," I sighed, "OK, I'll have a word with her.  In the meantime can you get back to sorting out this entire coronavirus mess?"

"How often do we have to apologise for that?"

"Let's start with once."

I severed the connection and put into a call to my Tasmanian correspondent.  She greeted me with suspicious expectation.

"That pack of fifth rate cyber criminals told you about the goldfish didn't they?"

Which at least helped me broach the subject delicately.  I had to admit that I was a little surprised that she was getting back into the goldfish rearing game.  After the last series of fatalities she seemed to have acknowledged that the writing was on the wall and that the writing had been executed in goldfish blood.

Things, however had changed.  As I mentioned in this blog some time ago she had taken over the "care" of a bunch of large goldfish from a friend who was travelling interstate.  They were kept outside in a bathtub as part of an aquaculture feature.  She got eight of them several months ago and her care has been so diligent that there are still seven left.  What happened to the eighth is unknown but there was a large bird hovering around her home whose actions were of interest.  Sadly an interrogation will be impossible because the bird in question rapidly met canine vengeance which at least gave my correspondent something different to flush down the toilet.

Still, the unexpected survival of a significant number of fish has so encouraged my correspondent that she is intending to purchase more and place them in a tank in her office.  Nothing I could say would dissuade her from purchasing more goldfish at the earliest opportunity.  Shamelessly she played the children card; her daughters were excited about getting goldfish and were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to select the next victims.  I had to agree that it was good to get children familiar with the penultimate stage of the circle of life at as early an age as possible.  By the time these kids leave home they'll be convinced that the lifespan of a goldfish is fifteen minutes at best.

The only concession I could get her to make to address the concerns of my tech support was a promise that after their inevitable death rather than flush them down the toilet she would send them in a food parcel to Belarus.  To sweeten the pot she offered to throw in some home made tartar sauce as well.

Plague Update #33 - No Unicycles but Sex is Still OK

 The streets of Melbourne are empty and the only sound to be heard is the hysterical weeping of a million parents as they realise that they have to spend even more time with their children.  The weeping of the children would be louder but they slid into catatonia some time ago.  Melbourne is under curfew, grim faced military personnel are knocking on doors to make sure the disease ridden are staying at home and my plague correspondent's husband can no longer ride his unicycle to the shops.

To be fair its a sort of off/on curfew.  You're allowed out during the daylight as long as you have a legitimate reason.  Legitimate reasons include shopping, exercise and sex.  At night everybody is locked down and you just have to have sex with whoever is available in your own home.  It would seem that the coronavirus only travels at night.

Nursing homes are still the epicentre of the latest outbreak with the elderly dead being carried out in droves.  Given that nursing homes are essentially storage facilities for the feeble and failing and are run by people whose principal interest is making a profit out of the entire enterprise I'm a little surprised there were any living people in the places before the virus struck.  Politicians (largely those in opposition) have made dark mutterings about investigations into some of these homes.  Those politicians in power have been trying to soft pedal a bit for a very simple reason.  The more private nursing homes there are the less the government has to support the elderly and the near dead.  If it is revealed that our private nursing homes are ill run hell holes some of them might be driven out of business (or at least forced to rebrand) which would immediately place pressure on the government to pick up the slack.  Therefore the government is desperately trying not to discover that private nursing homes are ill run hell holes.

In my slightly less infected neck of the woods we appear to be teetering on the edge of disaster without (so far) quite tipping over.  New cases are in the low teens daily as opposed to Victoria where they're in the middle hundreds.  Adding credence to the "coronavirus only travels at night" theory most of the new cases seem to be connected with people on pub crawls.  Personally I don't see why you can't do a pub crawl during the day but there are still some people who think that 10am is a little early to be starting on your third vodka and tonic.  Among those people is my stuffed puffin who has taken to hiding all the alcohol in my flat in the hopes that I might still be sober at midday.  Frankly I think that's a bad idea, if he ever gets to encounter my real personality he's going to be sorely disappointed and possibly deeply terrified.

Still there is some amusement to be gained.  There is a court case going on over in Western Australia challenging the legality of their border closure.  This case was brought by a, well let's call him a businessman since a phrase like "bloated criminal" might be misinterpreted, who was greatly wrath that border closures actually applied to him as well.  At the time the Federal government eagerly joined in this case since it was annoyed that Western Australia had implemented these measures when it was hoping to get through this without having to go too far.  Since then Victoria has exploded, every state is locking off every other state and the government has realised that supporting a morally dubious blow hard isn't exactly a public relations success story.  The government is belatedly trying to extricate itself from the entire mess and is now backpedalling so fast its falling over itself coming forward.

Desperate for some good news I contacted this blog's silver linings reporter to see if she could provide a ray of sunlight in the gathering gloom.  It has to be said she came up trumps.

"Tasmania's economy is now the strongest in Australia," she announced in tones of mingled smugness and astonishment.

"Say that again?"

She repeated herself and I got her to go through it one more time just to make sure I was hearing her correctly.  There are two principal reasons for Tasmania's near miraculous elevation to the top of Australia's economic heap.  Firstly when the bulk of your economy relies on welfare payments the collapse of the overall economy isn't going to have as much effect on you as it might in an area that used to have jobs.  The second reason is the quarantine.  Tasmania still isn't letting anyone from outside into the state and furthermore most of the other states have similar strictures in place.  Up until this time the first thing any Tasmanian who acquired some money did was leave Tasmania.  Now more or less imprisoned on their little isle they are, with varying degrees of reluctance, holidaying locally and pumping some money into their state's economy.  As long as the mainland mortality rates remain high Tasmania will continue to experience a boomtime.

I congratulated my correspondent on her state's unexpected achievement but she didn't seem as pleased with it as I thought she might.  On closer interrogation it turns out with all of the Tasmanians holidaying at home it was getting increasingly difficult for her to book space at camping grounds.  There was a very real danger that her children might have to spend much of the Spring and Summer months under a solid roof rather than a tent.  In the background I could hear her children celebrating immoderately.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Pynda Avenged

A large body of Greek soldiers made their way cautiously up to the outskirts of the village.  They were primed, ready and remarkably well equipped; some of them had shoes.  Captain Constantine Apatosoros stared at the village with a grim, fixed expression.

"Today," he muttered, more to himself than to his soldiers who had long ago learnt not to listen, "today Pynda will be avenged.  Today we humble the swine from Rome."

A corporal too close to earshot to plead deafness nodded encouragingly.

"Absolutely sir, we'll avenge the crap out of Pynda but first there is the little matter of the foxhole directly in front of us."

"A foxhole?  I spit on foxholes!  Send some troops to clear it out."

"Yes sir," replied the corporal mentally reviewing which of the men in the command he disliked the most.

From somewhere a whistle blew and a crackle of firing broke out all along the line. The corporal grabbed the most convenient soldiers and jerked a thumb.

"Oi you lot, foxhole."

The nearest soldier rolled his eyes,

"Look, who the hell is Pynda anyway?"

"His sister, she had her camera pinched on a Contiki tour of Rome.  He's never really got over it."

Mike Sexton wanted to play WO29 - Pynda Avenged and since it meant I got to command the Italians I happily agreed.  Having made an absolute pigs breakfast of the relatively simple task of invading Greece the Italians are now reaping the whirlwind as the Greeks come storming back to retrieve the approximately six square feet of Greek soil currently under the yoke of Rome.  I command a bunch of Italians from the Ferrara infantry division who aren't so much defending as simply unable to get out of the way in time.  The Italians are sitting in a small village and the Greeks want it back.  To win Mike needs to control more buildings within four hexes of what appears to be an arbitrarily defined point in the middle of the village.

To temporarily stave off the inevitable I have a distinctly seedy bunch of Italian troops lurking in buildings, woods and the two foxholes which is all they could apparently be bothered digging.  I have thirteen first line squads, a pair of half squads all "guided" by three officers the best of which is an 8-1.  Support weapons consist of a single medium machine gun, a single light machine gun and a 45mm mortar.  The 45mm mortar is the infantry equivalent of the L3 tank.  It's small, its useless and it turns up everywhere.

Steaming forward to seize the village Mike has fourteen squads of first line Greeks (ie much better than their Italian equivalents) led by a trio of officers headed by a 9-1.  In support are four light machine guns and one medium.

The first problem that the Italians have (apart from crap troops, lousy leaders, unreliable support weapons and an idiotic high command) is that there are a lot of places for the Greeks to set up and the Italians don't really have the troops to cover them all.  Naturally I popped the 8-1 leader, the mmg and a half squad into the church steeple so I had some view of the approaches.  I set up the bulk of my forces to cover an approach from the east while popping a couple of disposal units (and I just described the entire Italian OB) to the north in case Mike brought troops on in that direction.  The plan, insofar as there was one was that if Mike attacked from the east stern resistance was the order of the day.  If he attacked from the north I would reposition my troops to hopefully slow him down.

Mike attacked from the north and northeast which promptly put a lot of my force out of position.  Fortunately a single squad lurking in a foxhole would cover itself in glory.

End of Greek turn 1

Mike came on hard from the north edge (bottom) with two battlegroups each one charging for one of the two squads desperately showing the Italian flag (white).  In the northeast he deployed a couple of squads and sent the resulting halfsquads forward on a concealment busting mission while a squad and mmg sat under opportunity fire waiting for his chance.  Mike's results were mixed.  At pointblank range in the open its difficult for even the Italians to miss and a couple of halfsquads broke and one actually died under a withering hail of 6.5mm rounds.  To show his displeasure Mike's sniper put a bullet in the shoulder of an 8-0 hiding in the trees to rally the inevitable broken units.  The result was that the broken units were better off trying to rally themselves.  On the far right of the board a single Italian squad proved unable to stand up to Greek advancing fire but closer to the centre it was a different story.  Here lay Mike's nemesis, a single 346 squad in a foxhole.  No, I don't quite believe it either.

Mike sent a pair of (admittedly CXed) squads up against these heroes and my boys survived the ensuing CC.  A melee would rage which I would win without fighting (inspired by Sun Tzu or possibly Sabaton).  Two other melees marked the limits of Mike's advance.

All of which gave me just enough time to scramble some out of place troops through the rear areas and over to the right where a bunch of Greek squads were gobbling up territory.

End of Greek turn 2

It has to be admitted that while my troops were only so-so when it came to rifle fire they definitely stood up in close combat.  I'm not sure if I inflicted too many casualties on him but they tied down Greek troops for far longer than I had any right to expect.  In the crucial foxhole my guys inflicted absolutely no casualties on the attackers, they settled for hiding at the bottom of the foxhole and praying while I swept the hilltop with mmg fire.  It took a couple of turns but both Greek squads broke and by some miracle my guy didn't.  This was major as it took out a pair of Greek squads and turned what should have been a wall of Greek attackers into two widely separated and disjointed attacks.

Which was good because Disjointed Attack A (on the left) was getting up to steam.  A combination of firepower and close combat took out a pair of Italian squads and the wounded 8-0 died an unlamented death without contributing anything to the fighting apart from taking a sniper's bullet that could have hit somebody useful.  Mike reinforced the remaining close combat and eventually won the day freeing up more troops to add to his push.  I had managed to move unemployed squads over to the right to give a cheery welcome to his flankers as the pushed out of the woods and I reinforced the church as well.  The church building was worth double points and I absolutely could not let it fall.

End of Italian turn 2

In a wooded hill on the left my halfsquad with the mortar sat in secluded impotence waiting to see if Mike would wander into a woods hex before he decided to take out the annoying question mark and to my delight he did.  A halfsquad pushed forward from Mike's recently captured buildings and stepped boldly into the woods whereupon the much maligned 45mm had its moment of glory breaking the cocky interloper.  Mike killed to halfsquad manning the mortar immediately afterwards but I had already gained more of a result from it than I expected.  I surrendered a little territory (and a couple of victory buildings) on the right in return for maintaining a solid and largely concealed front while Mike got his troops lined up for his final push. To add insult to injury he captured my mortar and started peppering the church with mortar rounds which fortunately did as little harm to me as they would have to him if the situation was reversed.

End of Italian turn 3.  Mike is battered but pushing forward.  I'm hiding behind stone.

Mike charged a halfsquad towards the church, perhaps a turn too early as the remainder of his force wasn't in position but I wasn't able to kill it and a melee raged in one corner of the church.  Meanwhile a rally attempt had battle hardened one of his squads to a 458 (because the Italians weren't outclassed enough).  On the right my troops cowered under their concealment counters and disdained to return the fire Mike's flankers were throwing at them.  This plus some judicious skulking allowed  me to keep that flank intact as the final turns approached although he did manage to strip my concealment.

Things are starting to get dicey

Which was useful as Mike was throwing everything else he had trying to break into the village on the left.  I traded a squad for a halfsquad in the church to maintain sole ownership but I was running out of troops and had little chance of reinforcement as pretty much everything else was trying to hold off Mike on the right.  Mike broke his (formerly my) mortar which at least freed me from an irritation and I scuttled the steeple dwellers downstairs, being up there now was more of a liability than an advantage.

End of Italian turn 5.  Mike is about to launch his forlorn hope

Mike readied his final charge while I rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic and hoped for the best.  Mike charged his troops forward in the face of  determined Italian fire which is to say we've determined that the Italians were firing.  He managed to swing a couple of, apparently bullet proof, squads around the outsides of the village to target a couple of buildings in the rear but his main force was crushed in the streets and with no chance of seizing the necessary buildings Mike conceded partway through his turn six.

The point at which Mike conceded

It has to be admitted that I was lucky.  My dice were good, not outrageously so but consistently just a little lower than average when I needed them to be, very important when commanding six morale troops.  I passed more morale checks than I deserved, one squad even self rallied which surprised both of us.  Many thanks to Mike for the game.  One more turn would have seen the defence crushed but as it was the Italians live to surrender another day.

Captain Apatasoros stared at the suddenly unobtainable village with a face like thunder.  Standing at what they hoped was a safe distance his men waited for the storm to break.  One of them nudged the corporal,

"Do something," he whispered hoarsely, "he's going to blame us for this mess." 

The corporal looked around wildly then a sudden smile spread over his face.  Reaching into his uniform he produced a camera and approached the captain.

"Sir we recovered this from the body of one of the Italian soldiers."

Captain Apatosoros snatched the camera, tears of happiness rolling down his cheeks.

"Oh little Pynda, see what your big brother has found."

As the captain skipped away singing a happy song one of the soldiers stared at the corporal.

"Where did you get that camera?"

"Pinched it off some Italian chick while she was on a Contiki tour of Athens."