Friday, October 30, 2020

Travelling Pathetically - Persian Princess Edition

 In keeping with my increasing pitiful attempts to write a travel blog while barely setting foot outside my home (and in a desperate attempt to persuade a certain Finnish gentleman that I have more than one string to my bow) I present this entry which basically revolves around a lunch date.

Out of the blue a colleague of mine who has been noticeable by her absence from work in recent times reached out to me to see if I would like to abandon my employers for a few hours and join her for lunch.  Little did she know I would cheerfully abandon my employers to root through a rubbish skip.

As can be detected from the nickname I've given her my colleague does not hail from these parts.  Indeed no, the Persian Princess comes from a far off, mysterious land steeped in history.  A land barely known to those of us in this country, a land rich in ancient tradition with a culture very different to our own.  I am referring, of course, to Sweden.  The nation that Finns and Norwegians hold up as an example of the truism "you can't choose your neighbours".  Sweden's principal exports are tennis players, peace activists, war materials, a power metal band I'm rather fond of and the Persian Princess.  Sweden is (according to her) a well run, socially equal country with excellent services, good education and bright hopes for the future.  All of which goes some way towards explaining why it also has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe.

Once a mutually inconvenient meeting place had been agreed upon we were on our way.  The Persian Princess ate up the miles in a gleaming SUV that would probably have a heart attack if you drove it on wet grass and I being the eco-friendly, biodegradable character that I am hopped on the light rail.  I realise that some people might object to the self description in the previous sentence but I think we can all agree that there are few people more biodegraded than my own good self.

I like traveling on the light rail, if you squint a little and tilt your head you can look out the window and not realise you're passing through one of the most heavily urbanised parts of the country.  Trees fringe the route, there are parks and large concrete gutters doing their best to impersonate the natural watercourses they once were.  Our destination was the Tramsheds in Glebe which I have mentioned in this blog before.

Back in the mists of time when Sydney had mere "trams" rather than the more socially acceptable "light rail" there was a tendency to store them in the most visually pleasing places available.  Apparently the authorities felt that harbour views, lush trees and idyllic settings could only be improved upon by adding spectacularly ugly tram garages.  We eventually knocked down the main one (we built Sydney Opera House on the site) but when the time came to demolish the one at Glebe it was decided that something so historically and architecturally significant should be kept if only to ensure that nobody ever built anything like it ever again.

After many years of neglect developers came along, chased out the mice, spiders and derelicts, restored the building and built what is essentially a food court on the site.  It must be admitted that it is an interesting brick clad food court.  Tramsheds may be intrinsically ugly but they're still probably a cut above the average food court.  Here among the exposed brick, randomly displayed tram carriages, and throngs of mask wearing people nervously skirting the edges of social distancing requirements I met the Persian Princess for lunch.

She looked well and I said so.  She thanked me.  I also said she looked a little like Jacqueline Pearce.  She said "who?".  I reflected on the age gap between us and gave up on cultural references.  We dined at a little French cafe which refused to serve us crepes so I had that most French of meals, a bacon and egg roll.  We caught each other up on what was going on in our lives.  Nothing in my case and far too much to mention in hers. 

Once we had disposed of topics like action films, birthday presents, racist science fiction authors from the 1920s and whether it was too cold for gelato we came to the real purpose for her desire to meet me.  Glancing from side to side she lowered her voice and asked if I knew where she could procure an artificial arm.  I wondered briefly if she was planning an impromptu amputation.  She reassured me that she was actually hoping to go to fancy dress party as Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max.  Sadly I couldn't help with the artificial arm although I did offer her a two for one deal on glass eyes.  

With that out of the way there was little else to do except return to our respective homes.  I did promise that if she gave me a little warning I could procure as many prosthetics as she liked.  She took that under advisement and didn't exactly specify a time for us to meet again.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Silly After Action Report - Pinching Patton

 The village of Villers-laBonne-Eau hunched miserably under a late December sky.  Even at the best of times this wasn't exactly the highest rent section of Belgium and the new occupants weren't doing anything for property prices.  Scattered among the houses were small groups of American soldiers, chewing gum, drinking coca cola and generally conforming to national stereotypes.  Sitting comfortably at the window of the largest building in town Lieutenant James Q Honeysucker III stared with disfavour at the view spread out before him.  He had no idea where his commanding officer had got to but he felt that the man could have given slightly more helpful deployment orders than "spread out and make yourselves at home".

At least Honeysucker had been able to persuade him to position the .50cal in this building, the CO had wanted to hide it in a cellar.  He had even given Honeysucker a soldier to help man it.  Honeysucker cast a worried glance at this soldier.  The man had to be at least six foot ten with dense, wiry hair and a plug of chewing tobacco apparently permanently lodged in his cheek.  He was also holding the .50cal in one enormous hand and was peering down the barrel with interest.  Honeysucker had privately nicknamed the soldier Chewbaccy apparently unaware that this joke wouldn't be funny for another thirty years.

"Can you please put that down, you might break it."

A guilty look passed over Chewbaccy's face and he returned the .50cal to its position, carefully placing  his foot over the component that had been shaken loose during his examination.

"If I were the Germans," mused Honeysucker, "I would put King Tigers over that hill and drive us out of here in five minutes flat."  Right on cue the bellow of underpowered Maybach engines split the air as one of the less impressive examples of German engineering attempted to drag seventy tons of Krupp steel up a gentle slope.  Chewbaccy stared at Lieutenant Honeysucker in awe,

"That was amazing, can you predict lottery numbers too?"

For some reason I don't play the Americans as often as I would like (probably because they didn't fight the Italians often enough) so when Dave Wilson waved this scenario at me from a distance I agreed to play it. Then I saw that the Germans got four King Tigers.  I commended the souls of my cardboard warriors to an uncaring God and commenced a set up.  This is scenario ShellShock #1 - Pinching Patton.  Here I shall command a group of poorly positioned Americans attempting to fight off a German attack with their fingernails (and one .50cal of which more anon).  Dave in command a combined force of fallschirmjaeger and SS panzers would attempt to seize a crossroads and simultaneously try to dissuade the Americans from occupying the only building in the village with a chance of protecting them against 88mm shells.

To rage against the machine(s) I have thirteen and a half squads, four and a half elite the remainder first line.  To support them I have four officers, a .50cal machine gun, two medium machine guns a 60mm mortar and three bazookas.  The bazookas are guaranteed to at least wake up anyone inside a King Tiger who might have dropped off to sleep.  These heroes have to be scattered around the area with no more than one MMC per hex.  No American MMC was supposed to set up adjacent to another either but I completely overlooked that rule so you can say that I deserved what was coming.  On turn four I was reinforced by four M36 GMCs.  Just in time to attempt to enter under the waiting 88s of four King Tigers.

To rout my hapless legions Dave has the aforementioned King Tigers.  He also has fourteen squads, half elite and half second line (even the fallschirmjaeger were finding it hard to get good help by this stage) equipped with two dismantled medium machine guns, four light machine guns, a panzerschreck and a flamethrower.  These heroes are herded towards the firing line by four officers led by a grizzled 9-2.  Just in case four King Tigers doesn't seem like enough armoured support on turn four Dave gets a trio of StuG self propelled guns to make up the numbers.

Despite shamelessly flouting the set up requirements I still found it difficult to organise a coherent defence.  The .50cal of course went on the second level of the victory building where it could sweep the hills surrounding the village.  After that I tried to place my troops so that somebody was covering all possible approaches but was nevertheless reasonably positioned to rush back to the main point of attack once that became revealed.  This did work up to a point although not so well as to make a difference.

Dave sent a out a diversionary force on the right consisting largely of second line troops although an elite squad and both flamethrowers were present including one carried by an 8-0 leader who would become the bane of my existence.  Defending was an equally diversionary force consisting of a half squad, a dummy stack and a squad in reserve.  The remainder of his force including the other three tigers swarmed up over the left hand hill aiming directly for the victory building and crossroads.

There wasn't much (any) fire in the first turn as the tigers sluggishly worked their way up the hill and his troops were content to slink along in the shadows of these mighty beasts.  As you can see from the picture below my conformance with the set up instructions was at notional at most.

End of German turn 1.  The Americans shall pay for their illegal setup

On my first turn I attempted to tighten up my defences, fill the victory building with troops and send a squad to reinforce the folorn hope sitting out on the right.  With the Germans not yet in position to prevent them I was resonably successful in this.  A little concealment was lost on the German side as we belatedly realised that there were unlikely to be wheat fields ripening in the sun in Belgium in December.  The shooting didn't start until turn two and it stopped again almost immediately.  As Dave pushed forward large stacks of troops on the left my .50cal opened up, broke a squad then broke itself and stayed broken for the next five turns.  So much for the .50cal.

With long distance fire removed as a threat (my mortar was peering myopically down the road waiting for enemies that never came) Dave pushed his left hand forces forward through the hills and woods that separated him from his objective.  On the right he broke my half squad but lost a squad himself and my reserve squad foolishly rushed forward to reinforce the dummy stack now standing proudly alone.

Given my history with supposedly impressive support weapons I guess I should be grateful for one broken squad.

The picture above shows a massed horde of Germans pouring into undefended woods while the Americans seem to be positioned anywhere but.  I could have rushed troops forward to try and contest the woods but decided that troops with six morale were better off hiding in buildings rather than attempting to defend mere +1 defensive terrain from a bunch of 8 morale psychopaths.  As for the tigers, I largely ignored them.  I had nothing that could really hurt them so I suffered a rain of 88mm shells with good grace (Dave may have his own views on that last statement) and concentrated such brain cells as I still possessed on stopping his infantry.

By the time the fourth term came around Dave was moving forward delayed more by the speed of his tigers and the terrain than any sort of die hard resistance from fanatical American defenders.  While exchanges of fire were few and far between I had bulked up my forces in the victory building and had consolidated my defences in the village.  My force on the right had been swept away at the cost of a half squad and a malfunctioned flamethrower but the remainder of his forces (including a tiger) were now moving to assault the village from the right flank.  His 8-0 had been wounded (and had lost his flamethrower) and was reduced to a limping 7+1, little did I know his glory days were yet to come.

End of German turn 4, can the Americans hang on?  I think we both know the answer to that question

Dave's StuGs had entered and rolled up on the hill to add their firepower (and more importantly smoke shells) to the attack while his infantry moved forward through the woods.  I had already decided that this wouldn't be a stand and fight defence.  Rather I would hide in buildings, skulk, maintain concealment and hope this would cause enough delay to bring him up short at the last.  My four M36s would arrive next turn and I had a job for them.

Strangely I wasn't too worried about the massive force bearing down on the victory building.  I had a decent number of troops hiding behind its stone walls and the bulk of my remaining infantry was occupying buildings the Germans would have to shoot them out of if they wanted to get forward.  My concern was his right hand force, backed by a tiger which was now making its way (slowly in the case of the wounded leader) over the hill.  To thicken my defences on the left I had had to abandon most of the right which meant that all I had to stop them was one squad (admittedly with an mmg and 9-1).  My M36s, I decided, would change all that and strangely they did although not in the way I expected.

One M36 I raced down the road to support my 9-1 and mmg team. With his flanking tiger still struggling up the hill I sent the other three M36s behind it hoping to swarm it and get a 90mm shell where it could do most good.  Whereupon his wounded 8-0 limped forward, found a panzerfaust and blew up my lead M36 in his advancing firephase.  In the next turn his tiger would spin around and despite being in motion would manage to hit and kill my second M36.  My "swarm" was reduced to a single M36 looking for somewhere to hide.  In what was a good turn for light antitank weapons generally over on the far side of the map a halfsquad which had been lurking for this purpose managed to hit a newly arrived StuG in the rear with a bazooka and blow it up as well. 

So much for my armoured counterattack

If it was a good turn for light antitank weapons it was also a pretty good turn for snipers as both Dave and I got our best leaders wounded by random shots a long way from where the battle was actually being fought.  Despite the armoured disaster on the right it had actually kind of done its job.  The tiger was delayed a turn and Dave sent back a halfsquad (plus that damned leader who would go on to kill the crew of one of my M36s in close combat).  My mmg team (and their now wounded leader) managed to drive off or break the remainder of his flankers with the assistance of my other M36 and I was relieved of the danger of attack from that area.

Which only left the massive horde of troops backed by five armoured vehicles currently monstering my remaining defenders.  Methodically with a combination of smoke and HE Dave blasted the troops directly in front of him apart and ground forward while I counted the remaining turns and prayed.  It took him a while as my troops lurked under concealment counters and disdained to fire, except for my mortar team who hopped out into the road and managed to kill his wounded 9-2 as he was hobbling forward to support his troops.

Somehow despite mounting casualties I managed to keep enough concealed units in threatening positions to dissuade Dave from simply strolling forward and forced a modicum of caution on the attackers.  The last couple of turns rolled around and Dave was sweating a little. He had plastered the victory building with so much smoke that if he had had the time he could simply have waited for the defenders to die of lung cancer.  Time however was pressing and with most of my other defenders now gone he made his move.  He had amassed a spectacular amount of firepower and plastered the building but now the smoke worked against him a little as my boys inside although blind and choking managed to survive.  Still they could see little and Dave's fallschirmjaeger made their move pouring into the building from all directions.

At which point I finally managed to repair my .50cal and despite firing out of smoke was able to carve up some of his assaulting troops as they crossed open ground.  It wasn't enough though in the last turn Dave was in close combat with the three units I had left in the building.  If I could win any one of the close combats I would win the game.  I didn't win any of the three close combats and Dave pulled off a victory at the last.  

Interesting karma note; in one of the CCs Dave actually rolled boxcars, if I had withdrawn I would have gained the win.  Instead I stayed and failed to hurt him.  I did actually know that I could withdraw but I seem to have temporarily forgotten it. I like to think this was punishment from the ASL gods for a completely illegal set up.  Thanks to Dave for the game.  Next time I shall take American marines trying to winkle the Japanese out of their holes on Tarawa.  Hopefully I'll read the set instructions accurately this time.

Lieutenant Honeysucker clung to the window ledge by his fingertips, took a deep breath and dropped the two stories to the ground.  Rising unsteadily to his feet he stared around, there were Germans everywhere but none of them seemed to have noticed him.  "Right," thought Honeysucker, "time to get out of here."  He took a pace forward and was promptly crushed into the earth as private Chewbaccy landed on top of him.  Fortunately he broke the private's fall and Chewbaccy loped off towards the trees and freedom.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Plague Update #40 - Legal Aliens

Ah Melbourne; fortress capital of despair where Death stalks the land and pale skinned denizens slink from place to place dreaming futilely of freedom while fleeing the attentions of the police, random covid testers and infectious butchers.  In that self proclaimed prison camp wearing a smile is a crime against nature and the city's librarians will soon be marshaled into a heavily armed militia to enforce obedience on an increasingly desperate populace.  A ring of steel surrounds the city (according to the state premier, most others consider it a ring of intermittently manned roadblocks) and the slightest cough is enough to have you sent to the acid baths for "cleansing".

Now at a time when their souls could be degraded no further and the misery of their daily lives weighs most heavily on their hunched shoulders the people of Melbourne have a new horror to endure.  Tourists from New Zealand!  Amidst a population apparently consisting of equal parts doomed elderly, plague rats and police issuing infringement notices these clean, upright people glowing with enthusiasm and shamelessly flaunting their health can be recognised a mile away.

Yes, at a time when attempting to visit relatives in the next city over would result in an unleashing of hounds the population of Melbourne now has to put up with people who apparently flew several hundred miles to make the locals feels worse about themselves.  New Zealand is so confident that it has beaten the virus that it is telling its citizens to go forth and spread the word (either that or the welfare system can't actually handle so many people back at home).  The much touted trans Tasman bubble is in effect.  Basically the population of New Zealand can travel anywhere as long as its Australia.  Australians can't yet travel to New Zealand because, well because the New Zealanders aren't stupid.

Some of the above mentioned New Zealanders turned up in Melbourne to the outrage of the premier who hadn't realised that people who travel to Australia can then keep on traveling through Australia.  The much touted lock down of Melbourne did nothing to keep them out for the same reason that most prisons don't really worry too much about people trying to break in.  All of the restrictions were really based around making sure the population of Melbourne didn't leave.  In fairness I probably wouldn't have considered that we might have to prevent people from visiting Melbourne either.  Vast numbers of people don't visit Melbourne every year and that was before it became a plague ridden hellscape.

Still there are reasons to visit Melbourne, if you're into endangered species the population probably counts as one by now.  Also with everybody huddling at home the public transport system is probably working better than it has in a century.  That's certainly been my experience even under New South Wales more tepid movement restrictions.  And now Melbourne has a claim to fame that will cement its position in the history books.  It has been announced that they have identified the first case of reinfection of a previous COVID patient.  Only eight or so other cases of reinfection have been recorded around the entire world.  Melbourne's immortality is assured.  As for the population, that's a little more problematic.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Plague Update #39 - Now With Added Victoria

 So let's see what's happening in Victoria.  Yes, that's right I said Victoria!  Once again I cast my gaze to the plague pit on my southern border despite the criticism of a certain Finn who shall remain nameless (if only because I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce his name).  The premier of that state (Victoria, not Finland) has now racked up a hundred press conferences since this pandemic reared its ugly but microscopically small head.  He spends most of them explaining why the plans he announced the previous day are not likely to be achieved and announcing replacement plans that he'll have to repudiate tomorrow.  Based on today's announcements the targets set for removing the shock collars and leg irons from the Victorian people are unlikely to be met but he's edging closer to the conclusion that at some point you just have to say "screw it" and hope for the best.

Also in Victorian news (eat that Tuomo) comes word of another resignation.  This time its a senior civil servant who has fallen on his sword, unlike the health minister who was dropped on hers from a great height.  Apparently some of the answers he provided to the enquiry charged with finding out how the state got itself into this mess were a little less than comprehensive or accurate.  Furthermore they were provably so.  In resigning he has set an example for the state's politicians not to follow.  And you thought that the White House had the highest list of coronavirus casualties.  The premier said it was "appropriate" that the man resigned.  Possibly the reason why the premier fronts every press conference himself is that he isn't confident anyone else will still have a job by the time the thing comes to an end.

Meanwhile we're learning more and more about the coronavirus itself.  For starters we've learnt that its a pretty materialistic little virus.  Latest research indicates that the virus can stay on banknotes for up to twenty eight days.  That means that the damn virus has considerably more contact with my money than I do.  I wonder if anyone has just suggested that it buy itself a house in the suburbs?  Apparently its also hanging out in our sewers so its probably ready for a change in scene.

The human response to the outbreak has been a little confusing.  The latest news in is that the pandemic has led to a large increase in the number of people volunteering to join the military.  This could be out of a desire to serve and help the people in a time of need but I suspect its because people have realised that the military are the only ones who are likely to be doing any foreign travel for the foreseeable future.  Possibly the next time we have a war there will be an explosion in the number of people studying virology.

If recruitment stays at this level its entirely possible that the navy will be able to put all of its ships into the water.  Principal sources of new recruits are women and former airline industry employees.  Which pretty much gives you an indication of who's been hit hardest by the pandemic so far.  Filling uniforms with bodies has been a struggle for our military in recent years and I wonder if there are any top brass out there quietly hoping that a vaccine may be a little further off than the rest of us would be really comfortable with.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Tune In But Don't Listen to Any of the Voices

 My puffin brought me breakfast in bed the other day.  Well to be specific he tossed a stale bread crust at the entrance to my kennel but it still counts.

"Enjoy that," he said expansively, "and if you're good I'll change your straw and empty your bucket."

Rubbing the sleep (and various other things) out of my eyes I somewhat nervously enquired as to what the special occasion might be.

"October is mental health month," was the reply.  "I know that has a special resonance for you."

"Why do you think that?"

"You're talking to a stuffed plush toy."

That was pretty unarguable so I got up and made myself breakfast.  On the way I passed my puffin sitting harmlessly on the bookshelf.  I kept an eye on him in case he made a lunge for me while my back was turned.

It is true, October is indeed mental health month.  The other eleven months of the year you can be as crazy as you like but apparently in October you're supposed to do something about it, or at least acknowledge it, or at the very least not write blog entries detailing an imaginary relationship with a toy puffin.  The intention is to destigamtise mental health issues and assist those who might be struggling.  I know all this because my employer's Chief Executive Partner sent an email to the entire staff announcing the same.  I've got to admit that concerned me a lot.  Why is he sending it to us?  Is he implying that we may be less than completely sane?  He might as well have started the email by saying "Greetings nutjobs!"

Eventually I decided that it was unlikely that our Chief Executive Partner believed that the entire staff were hopelessly insane (although it would explain the hiring practice that recruited me) and that I was being unjustifiably paranoid.  After all it wasn't as though he knew that I spent my off duty hours in a spiral of puffin themed depravity and substance abuse.  Although to be on the safe side I've decided to stop sending him links to my blog.  That might also help with the restraining order.

Keen to inform myself (and flesh out this blog entry beyond a couple of semi coherent paragraphs) I hopped onto the state government website touting this annual interest in our psychological wellbeing.  The website informed me that Mental Health Month is celebrated (is "celebrated" the right word?  I'm sane! Yay!) as a way of prompting everyone to think about mental health whether they're having any issues with it or not.  I suppose that's a good idea although it has to be admitted when I start thinking about my mental health I tend to begin quite positively and by the end of it I'm curled up in a foetal position moaning inarticulately.  To be fair that's how I finish up most days anyway.  If it wasn't for my emotional support puffin I don't know where I'd be.

The theme for Mental Health Month is "Tune In" which helps to make awareness of mental issues sound rather like being a ham radio operator.  Speaking of mental health issues.  There was a whole page on the website explaining what "Tune In" meant.  Basically it meant "pay attention".  For at least one month out of twelve you're supposed to at least try and listen to what you're saying and thinking and what others are saying and thinking around you.  I don't think that's a bad idea I just think they're being a little optimistic.  I tend to stop listening to myself after five minutes and if anyone else is speaking I only realise they've stopped when the silence becomes noticeably awkward. 

Nevertheless for the next few weeks I shall make a concerted effort to pay more attention both to myself and others.  It might be revelatory, my puffin certainly thinks so which is why he has already placed everything in the apartment which can hold an edge on the top shelf.  I'm currently attempting to chop vegetables with a tea strainer. 

Silly After Action Report - Blue Hell at PA Abries

 Colonello Pietro Seraglio stared with an air of dissatisfaction at the hilly terrain spread out before him.  In front of his observation post he could see his Alpini moving into position, assembling mortars, fixing bayonets and kicking mules.  A little further on he could see the vague outlines of buildings and French troops.  Seraglio was not a happy man, in a short while he would be attacking a well defended French position (to be more accurate he would be watching while his men attacked a well defended French position) and he had just heard that his request for L3s had been refused.  Apparently there had been some difficulty loading them on to the mules.

"I need a diversion," muttered Seraglio, "something completely expendable."  A sudden noise disturbed him and, suppressing the urge to surrender, he turned to find the reason.  A somewhat paunchy man in a black shirt and an approximation of military uniform entered the room and gave a fascist salute.

"Torino Blackshirt legion reporting," announced the newcomer in a tone that implied this alone was worth a medal, "here to carry the banner of fascism into foreign lands."  He looked like the furthest he had ever carried the banner of fascism was the nearest restaurant.  Seraglio's face split into a broad smile of welcome.

"What a coincidence, I was just thinking about you."

After Dave Wilson stomped me into the ground in our previous meeting I turned to my faithful Italians to redeem my pride.  The previous sentence alone should give you an indication of how seriously I take this game.  1940 was the best year of the war for Italy because for five glorious months they weren't involved in it.  Then Mussolini invaded France and things started to go downhill.  In fact "invaded France" isn't really the best term.  It would be more accurate to say Mussolini dicked about on the border of France and got a bunch of his troops killed.  Part of said dicking about includes this scenario; FT225 - Blue Hell at PA Abries.

There is a pillbox somewhere in the area and my troops want it.  Seizing this pillbox will be an appropriate response to the German occupation of Paris and announce to the world the might of Italian arms.  To do the seizing I have twenty Italian squads, eight elite (the alpini) and twelve dubiously first line (the Blackshirts).  Bulking out these numbers five light machine guns, two medium machine guns no fewer than four 45mm mortars (who needs L3s?), and five officers ranging from deeply mediocre (7-0) up to quite good actually (9-1).  I also have a battery of 80mm artillery for what that's worth (absolutely nothing).  Oh I also had four half squads to man the mortars.

Determined that predatory Italian hands shall not be laid upon their precious pillbox are the gallant French defenders.  Sixteen squads in all, six elite squads of the Sections d'Eclaireurs a Ski and seven first line squads and three green squads from the 82eme Battailon de Chasseurs Alpins.  These troops are supported by six light machine guns and are led five officers including their own 9-1.  To give these troops something to hide behind there are also fortifications in the shape of a single pillbox, a single sangar, a fortified building location and two lots of barbed wire.  The French also get artillery in the shape of a disturbingly accurate 60mm battery.

The Italian forces are divided up into three groups (one with the elite squads and two groups of six first liners each).  There are four set up locations and each group has to set up within five hexes of one of them.  This means that Dave can't be entirely sure which locations I will choose.  To win I have to gain more victory points than the French.  Victory points are gained by the usual killing the enemy method but the Italians also get two points for each building captured on board 41 south of hexrow Q and two points for taking the pillbox.  At least six points of the Italian total must come from buildings/pillboxes so it isn't enough just to kill the French, territory must be taken too.

I was in an agony of indecision over my set up.  At first I set up quite boldly then, taking counsel of my fears I changed my mind.  At the absolute last minute I changed it back again, I hope Dave was as confused as I was.  It seemed to me that Dave had left his rear vulnerable to a bold attack if I somehow made it across the open ground without dying so I set my alpini up in that area.  A bunch of blackshirts I set up to charge across the valley and hopefully occupy the attention of Dave's troops while my alpini were performing acts of heroism in their rear.  In the north my second group of blackshirts were set up with the simple objective of keeping those troops opposite them sufficiently occupied so that they couldn't leave.

Set up my alpini are on the left facing the open ground with alarm

I thought I lost this game on the first turn.  I had set up all four of my mortars so they could pepper French positions but by the end of the first turn every half squad had fallen to long range French fire.  On the far right my blackshirts moved boldly forward, lost an entire squad to a hidden French unit and discovered the value of circumspection.  In the centre more blackshirts swarmed through the valley towards his troops in the woods.  This went reasonably well although one squad that pushed its luck too far was reduced to a broken conscript squad weeping among the trees.  Over on the left my alpini (guided by my 9-1 and hero) made it to the cover of a small patch of trees and even managed to break one of his rearward defenders.  

So far so good but in Dave's turn he brought down his artillery on my alpini, fortunately the fire drifted just sufficiently to miss the bulk of them but correction was coming.  Dave juggled some of his defenders on the right to ward off my surviving blackshirts and waited for me to cross the open ground.

End of Italian turn one, things don't look too bad but casualties are already mounting and Dave's artillery is about to intervene.


Then on the second turn Dave thought he had lost the game.  Prep fire from my alpini kill stack (three 447s and two mmgs guided by a 9-1) broke the other squad he had defending his rear buildings and my remaining alpini charged forward surrounding and capturing the French and seizing my first buildings.  In revenge Dave brought his artillery down on my kill stack and broke the lot.  By this time my hero was already dead.  I can't recall what happened to him but he definitely died.  Despite this grim news I was solidly lodged in Dave's rear.  The more I read back the previous sentence the more disturbing it becomes.

Perhaps things aren't so bad after all

For his part Dave decided to pull back in the centre woods and I cheerfully followed up unaware that he was leading me into a trap.  Over on the right I advanced with what could charitably called caution but Dave surprised me by evacuating the forward buildings and pulling back across the road where he could sit in more valuable buildings and force me to cross more open ground.  In my next turn I consolidated my hold on the buildings in his rear and in what turned out to be a near disastrous act reorganised my troops in the centre.  I was afraid of his artillery you see.  Big stacks of troops in woods are a tempting target so I spread my boys thinly, too thinly as it turned out.

As it so happened Dave drew his second red chit at this point so the artillery was out of the game but then he launched a local counter attack against my ill positioned centre.  He broke some troops, captured others and plunged into close combat with the rest.  Virtually my entire centre group was wiped out which gave Dave some much needed victory points.  The only redeeming factor from my viewpoint was the ferocity which my blackshirts showed in close combat.  Despite being lax and outnumbered they made Dave pay a price in blood for his success which kept the victory point gap narrower than it could have been.

Things look bad in the centre

While Dave cheerfully tore my centre apart my northern troops cautiously occupied the buildings he abandoned and tried not to draw too much attention to themselves.  Meanwhile at the other end of the board I slowly started extending my control over the hill heading towards the cluster of buildings it held.  Oh yes and I found the pillbox which turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.  Since it was pointed in the wrong direction Dave swiftly abandoned it as he needed the troops elsewhere.

In the centre the sole survivors of my ineptitude (a single squad and an 8-1) fled the scene and taking advantage of the fact that Dave's troops were too busy marshalling prisoners to shoot managed to actually sneak into a victory building in the centre.  Over on the right our two forces settled for shooting harmlessly at each other, the occasional pin result was gained but nothing else.  This actually suited me fine because it was keeping a large chunk of Dave's remaining force tied up which was very necessary particularly after the carnage in the centre.

On the left Dave threw his last unoccupied squad into close combat with a halfsquad but my heroes survived and even more improbably a lone 7-0 tied down another French squad in melee.  In the centre Dave advanced a squad boldly against the escapees from the slaughter in the forest only to be pinned before they could rush in to close combat.  At this point Dave conceded.  He had inflicted heavy losses on my troops but his had taken a beating as well.  With half his surviving force tied down holding off my blackshirts on the right there was little left to stop me snapping up unguarded buildings on the left.

The end, too many buildings within reach for the French to recover
 This game turned out to be a little surprising.  In the first turn I thought I was doomed and at the end of the second Dave felt he had no chance.  Still the game went on for another four turns before Dave threw in the towel.  Many thanks to Dave for the game and much praise to my heroic Italians.  Incidentally if you're wondering about my artillery; spotting round wandered off board followed by two red chits.  I don't bother factoring artillery into my planning any more.

Colonello Seraglio examined the captured pillbox closely.  It was small, boxy and distinctly unimpressive.  His adjutant scratched his head in surprise.

"Why do you think high command wanted this pillbox?"

"I think they want to mount it on tracks and call it a tank."

Friday, October 9, 2020

In Defence of Stuttgart

 The current pandemic has been hard on my Transylvanian correspondent.  The reduction in the ability to travel has resulted in her being stuck in Stuttgart.  I pointed out that she lived there but apparently that isn't really a sufficient reason to hang around.  To help her adjust to life in her home town I have decided to write this blog entry extolling the virtues of Stuttgart or at least to give her documentary evidence when she turns up in Munich as an asylum seeker.

Stuttgart is nestled in the highly fertile Neckar Valley region of Germany.  Being in such a rich agricultural area it was natural that Stuttgart became a centre of German car production.  Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have their headquarters (and manufacturing plants) in the city.  In fact Stuttgart can be considered Germany's Detroit.  The principal differences are; Stuttgart still has a vehicle industry, crime rates are low and the population of Stuttgart faces the future without a sense of existential dread.

Stuttgart has a long history of being involved in the transportation industry, the city was founded when when the son of the then Holy Roman Emperor set up a stud farm for his warhorses.  Accommodation for humans eventually followed once the stable boys got sick of living knee deep in horse manure.  Possibly in self defence vines were planted in every area not covered by warhorses and the people were squeezed in between the two.  Development was slow at first as there was already a nearby town that didn't stink of overripe horses.  Nevertheless Stuttgart somewhat reluctantly took off as possession of the area migrated from one German noble to another following the vagaries of marriage politics, inheritance politics and sometimes just general politics.

 The city really entered onto the world stage ("the world" at this point consisting largely of Europe) a few centuries later under the rule of Count Eberhard the Illustrious of Wurttemberg.  Under Eberhard's inspired guidance Stuttgart (and indeed most of Wurttemburg) was razed to the ground by the vengeful forces of the Holy Roman Emperor after Eberhard attempted to expand his territory without permission.  After the emperor died Eberhard sneaked back in and managed to patch things back together while everybody else was arguing over the imperial succession.  This is how you got an epithet like "the Illustrious" in those days.  Basically if you died in your bed you could be considered to have won.

A hundred years later the Counts of Wurttemberg were elevated to the status of Dukes of Wurttemberg as one of the courses at the Diet of Worms.  Stuttgart was now the capital of a semi significant region of the empire.  The next Duke managed to get himself on the wrong side of marriage politics (he knifed his wife's lover), imperial politics (the emperor was pissed off at the knifing), local politics (he got on the wrong side of the Swabian League, a local self defence group rather like neighbourhood watch with weaponry) and finally a peasant revolt.  The traditional invasion and razing of Stuttgart to the ground followed whereupon the Emperor sold the Duchy to somebody else.  Our boy eventually managed to get it back at the price of grovelling submissively to the emperor.  Towards the end of his reign the Duke embraced Protestantism thus setting the scene for the devastation of Stuttgart in the Thirty Years War.

During the Thirty Years War over 50% of the population of Wurttemberg died but (perhaps with a sense of deja vu) the Duke and the remaining population started patching things together again.  Despite a frightening moment during the Nine Years War (invading armies, threats of pillage etc etc, what Stuttgart would call business as usual) this was a period of progress for our city. Stuttgart's first high school was opened and its first bookshop was founded possibly so that the students had something to read. 

At the end of the eighteenth century the Holy Roman Empire got into a series of wars with Napoleonic France.  Demonstrating the history of loyalty to the crown noted above the Dukes of Wurttemberg cheerfully ratted out their imperial overlord and cuddled up to Napoleon being rewarded with the title of King of Wurttemberg in Napoleon's Confederation of the Rhine.  Somehow they managed to keep this title of king after both Confederation and Napoleon had been tossed into the dustbin of history and as a royal capital Stuttgart started to take off.  In 1846 a railway station was built symbolising Stuttgart's now and happening status.

German unification was just around the corner and Wurrtemberg cheerfully signed up to be a constituent of the German empire.  Given their reputation for loyalty I would have advised Bismark and the German Emperor to check the contract for loopholes.  Nevertheless it was as part of the empire that the King of Wurrtemberg led his people into World War I.  Ever the trend setter Stuttgart was one of the first cities to undergo air raids during that conflict.  At the end of the war the people of Stuttgart very politely informed the king that they were sick of the war and the gibbering imbeciles who had been ruling them for the past several centuries and would he kindly pack his bags and piss off.  This the king obligingly did (you note nobody thought of calling him "the Illustrious" apparently he didn't get enough of his own territory destroyed).

During the Second World War the Allied air forces placed a compulsory demolition order on much of the city and at the end Stuttgart was in the familiar position of being in ruins.  In fact it would appear to have spent more of its history in ruins than it has intact.  Now however the people of Stuttgart came into their own.  Rebuilding a ruined city and shattered economy was pretty much their major talent by this stage.  

Rising proudly from its own ashes Stuttgart became capital of Baden-Wurttemberg the latest name for the area that Stuttgart is the capital of.  It was considered as a possible capital for West Germany but the rents were lower in Bonn.  Now it is the third largest city in southern Germany and is famous for...

And at that point my narrative comes to a screeching halt.  I checked out things to do in Stuttgart and if you're not interested in vehicle production lines (in the name of God, who is?) well you're just going to have to wander down to the Pig Museum.  Situated without any sense of irony at all on the grounds of a former abattoir the Pig Museum is dedicated to all things pig.  You might think it was an act of contrition for killing so many pigs but there's a restaurant there.  Guess what they serve?

Of course Stuttgart has magnificent old buildings, parks, a large zoo and all of the usual accoutrements belonging to a city that has survived, however tenuously, for centuries but I think we can say that once you're tired of the Pig Museum you're tired of Stuttgart. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Plague Update #38

 Victoria is slowly inching towards the time when it can enjoy the inconvenience that the rest of the country have learnt to take for granted.  With new cases dropping their premier is graciously permitting the massed citizenry of Australia's second largest (and twentieth most important) city to step outside for some fresh air.  One of those capable of taking advantage of this new found almost freedom will be the former health minister who was an unwilling participant in a time honoured political exercise known as "throwing the most expendable under a bus".  Officially she resigned and officially I'm a citizen of Great Britain.

Not that I'm saying getting rid of her was a bad decision.  If she wasn't responsible for the debacle in Melbourne's quarantine programme then she should have been.  Whether any of the others likely to be culpable will suffer the same fate is unknown but given that the government of Victoria has lost three ministers in the last few months for publicly unacceptable reasons the likelihood of any more going seems to me to be a little remote.

Meanwhile my home state continues to be a shining example of how a state government can be simultaneously mired in corruption scandals and also run a halfway competent pandemic response.  Here's the thing.  We don't actually expect our politicians to be honest.  We just expect them to be able to step up when the situation demands.  The occasional koala induced fit of insanity notwithstanding our state government seems to have managed this.

From across the oceans my Transylvanian correspondent informs me that Europe is fearing a second wave itself and that the cautious relaxation of restrictions many countries have indulged in might have to be rolled back.  For reasons best known to herself my Transylvanian correspondent is stuck in Stuttgart, a city which apparently has all the appeal of Frankfurt but without the excitement.

Closer to home the Aged Care Royal Commission has pointed out that the government's response to the pandemic's affects on aged care was somewhat lacking.  This will come as a great relief to the denizens of our aged care homes assuming there are any left.  The Commissioners did point out that "this is not the time for blame" presumably on the fairly unarguable grounds that if you are going to have your emergency response run by the shambolically incompetent then you're probably better off with those who at least know where everything is rather than trying to appoint new, inexperienced incompetents in the middle of a crisis.  The Federal government has committed to accepting all the recommendations of the Commission which is a pretty fair indication that the Commission didn't demand the heads of those responsible.

To the north of my little chunk of paradise the Queensland government is still keeping its border closed but it is getting increasingly flexible with it's definition of "border".  They've now extended it about a hundred kilometres south into New South Wales to enable those who live near the border and might work or need medical attention in facilities just to the north to be able to cross into Queensland without the hounds being unleashed.  This is either a sensible reaction to the issues of border communities or conquest by stealth.  I give it three weeks before I wake up to find that I now live in Queensland.