Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Phoenix Rising

 Major Wu Tang Clan gazed approvingly as his men deployed under the protection of what definitely weren't palm trees.  Pride swelled within him, it was an honour to be commanding some of the toughest and most dedicated troops in the Chinese army.  He did a quick headcount, most of them had actually turned up and a significant percentage hadn't sold their weapons on the black market.  The Japanese would pay for their arrogance this day.  There was just one fly in the ointment.

Right on cue Lieutenant Peng Yuen arrived and saluted eagerly.

"I've posted the artillery observer sir.  He says its difficult to see anything through the trees but he'll do his best."

Major Wu was about to ask why the observer had been placed somewhere he couldn't see anything when a sudden explosion rocked the ground.

"What the hell was that?"

"Our air support," replied the lieutenant.  A second explosion somewhat more distant followed.

"They're miles off target."

"I may have had the map upside down."

So this is our next game scenario WO26 - Phoenix Rising.  Here I command the brave troops of the Chinese 116th division as they attempt to evict the Japan from the city of Tengchong.  Key to said eviction being the capture of three guns on a nearby hill.  My sole objective is to capture or eliminate all three guns.  Victory can come no other way.  

It has to be said that the Chinese have given me their best (obviously they didn't check my record).  I have twenty six elite squads led by five officers including an inspiring 9-2.  Coming along for the ride are a pair of medium machine guns, four light machine guns, two early model bazookas, a pair of flame throwers and four demo charges.  An offboard observer guides a module of 70mm artillery with a pre-registered hex to aid in accuracy.  A pair of American fighter bombers turn up at some point (but not earlier than turn 2) to add their own fire power to the attack.

That's a pretty impressive force, what can Dave put against it?  How about thirteen squads split between first and second line, an hmg and an mmg with the crews to go with them plus three light machine guns and two 50mm mortars.  Three leaders command including a none too shabby 9-1, six trenches and two pillboxes aid in protecting the defenders from the vengeful Chinese and of course there are the three 75mm guns which by SSR must set up on level 2 and not in the pill boxes.  The whole force can also set up concealed.

I made my first cock-up before we even started.  Despite there being no mention on the scenario card I assumed that PTO would be in effect with dense jungle thus not giving my offboard observer a particularly good view.  Therefore I placed it with LOS to the west half of the board which was more open but with not too much a view of the east.  Naturally because the west half of the board was more open Dave concentrated his defences in the east.

The hill (and the gun intensive second level) stretch across the north part of the board.  Thus despite the fact that it was obvious Dave had set up his main defence in the east I had to allocate some troops to clearing out the west.  There was always the possibility that a gun may have been hidden there away from the main action (there wasn't).  It was also the only place I could use my artillery.

I allocated a decent but definitely secondary force to the west.  It would advance under cover of the orchards and sweep up (and hopefully over) the western side of the hill, taking out Dave's token defenders and reassuring me that there wasn't a gun hidden anywhere sneaky.  In pretty much the only multistory building in my set up area I placed both mmgs with accompanying squads under the command of the 9-2.  It was their job to suppress, kill or gently persuade his squad in the pagoda to take less of an interest in proceedings.  The bulk of my force would head for the forest (not jungle you idiot) in the east and start making a slow and exhausting climb to where the bulk of his defences were located.  Flamethrower squads would lurk in the rear until more expendable forces had made contact with the enemy.  On the far right I would send a few squads plus my least impressive leader (the redoubtable Lt. Peng) to try and work their way around that flank but really just to discover what he had in the vicinity.

Things went well at first.  My artillery crashed down dead accurate and striped a pair of Japanese squads on the left including an ELR for the pagoda dwellers who suddenly found themselves to be conscripts at the worst possible time.  The Chinese panting under their CX markers made for the hill pretty much without loss.  I say pretty much, I did get a couple of squads broken.  Why?  Because I completely forgot about my own artillery and advanced into open ground being pounded with 70mm shells.  Frankly two broken squads was a small price to pay for such idiocy.

End of Chinese turn 1.  The Japanese diversionary forces on the left turned out to be just that.

In his turn Dave tried to pull back his diversionary forces on the left and dropped a white phosphorous shell on a squad which was menacing his pagoda dwellers.  My squad fled for the safety of some trees but the smoke provided a little extra cover and nullified what was essentially a non-existent threat to the left flank of my main force.  Now all they had to worry about was the threat to their right flank and front.  Their job done my 9-2 led kill stack dropped down and prepared to join their comrades on the hill who had persuaded a couple of Dave's units to drop their concealment by dancing around in front of them.  On the right a Dare Death squad charged for the nearest enemy and was vapourised by snake eyes on a 2-2 shot, not even cowering could save them.

End Chinese turn 2. The left hill is mine for what that's worth

Some lucky shooting on my part cleared a trench on the hill summit of defenders and I gleefully occupied it thinking it would make a fine base for further attacks.  Whereupon Dave promptly unveiled one of his 75mm guns and took the position under fire.  I was edging forward but at the price of revealing his fortifications Dave shot my advanced troops back again.

Hmm, that trench might not be an ideal location after all

Sadly for Dave he broke the gun on the next turn.  This is bad for the Japanese because a botched repair roll eliminates the gun and makes my job easier and if he doesn't try and repair it that makes my job easier.  Dave botched the repair roll, one gun down.  I was at his main line of resistance now.  He had a pillbox holding the hmg and a trench with a 75mm gun in the same hex.  The third gun's location was still a mystery (but options were running low).

One gun down due to sloppy Japanese maintenance, two more to go.

 Things stabilised for a couple of turns at this point.  I would edge closer he would break my units and they would retreat back again.  However return fire from the uninvolved was gradually whittling down his force.  My air support turned up, did nothing worthy of mentioning and left again.  My artillery observer was unsighted and my air support was gone.  Any victory would have to be won in the old fashioned way.  I could imagine the ghost of Field Marshal Haig nodding approvingly.

This didn't happen without losses, there was a regular stream of Chinese troops fleeing the sharp end in terror but I had a solid rear area and my 9-2 (Major Wu himself) swiftly rallied those who needed encouragement.

Of course getting the others wasn't quite so easy

Eventually I managed to gather sufficient force to simply overwhelm his forces.  Breaking a flamethrower didn't help but the other toasted his troops nicely.  His final gun was sitting in the trench to the rear as the Chinese swarmed over his main position.  Dave was now in a desperate position, most of his forces were dead things looked good for the Chinese but I wasn't over confident.  The final gun sat in a trench in open ground with what was left of Dave's troops around it and there were only a couple of turns to go.  Then Dave broke his final gun.  He was prepared to concede at that point but I pointed out that as long as he didn't try and repair it technically it was still in play and I would have to capture it.  Dave however was desperately short of troops and felt he needed the firepower from the gun to give himself a fighting chance so he tried to repair it, and rolled a six.

So that was it.  Victory to me slightly anticlimactically but it has been a long time since I had enough pride to want to win purely on my own merits.  This scenario was pretty balanced on ROAR but Dave and I had a tough time figuring out how the Japanese could win.  The Chinese have so many bodies and plenty of time.  There were plenty of Chinese casualties but at the end there were virtually no Japanese left on the board and enough Chinese to pretty much restart the scenario from scratch.  Maybe hiding one of the guns way over on the left side of the board is the answer, just to make the Chinese spend the time hunting it.

Endgame. The red circle marks where Dave's last gun used to be


Thanks to Dave for the game.  It is his choice of scenario next time and he's picked At the Point, published by Critical Hit but designed by our Paddington Bears comrade Dave Longworth.  Just for the record pretty much every second guy I know is named Dave.  Our generation's parents were not terribly imaginative in their choice of first names.

"Victory," the unfamiliar word rolled off Major Wu's tongue like nectar.  Surely there could be nothing better than this.  But he was wrong.  Even as he savoured the triumph a sergeant reported Lieutenant Peng's timely death, shot several times by snipers and finally drowning in his own blood.  Major Wu's cup ran over.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Plague Update #57 - Screw it Just Let Everybody Get Sick Edition

 I must admit I intended my previous plague update to be the last one.  Frankly I felt I had milked it pretty well and there are only so many ways you can say "yep, Covid still hanging around".

So what changed my mind?  What dramatic new development made me decide to circle back to the plague updates?  Desperation really.  The simple fact is that almost nothing has happened in my life over the last eighteen months or so that isn't Covid related.  I have done little travelling, almost nothing significant has occurred to prompt a blog entry and there are only so many reports on war games I can write before my non wargaming readership drops from few to none at all.

So, how about that Omicron hey?  Not only does it have a name like a super villain from a particularly cheap sci-fi movie but it has exquisite timing.  Our state leaders (except WA of course) flung open the doors and Omicron promptly went through them.  When Delta hit a few hundred cases a day it was enough to prompt my state government to institute a lockdown.  Omicron has now clocked five thousand in twenty four hours and the state government is like "Oh just cover your mouth when you cough."

Strangely they're probably right.  The whole point of lockdowns is to stop the virus spreading and I think we can say that ship has sailed.  In fact it has sailed, reached the opposing shore, launched landing craft and its army is currently battling its way up the beach.  Instead of lockdowns we now have "personal responsibility".  Both the federal and my state governments are basically telling everybody to just be responsible.  Which makes a certain amount of sense if the government isn't going to be but I wonder if any of our elected representatives have worked out that if people behaved responsibly there wouldn't be very much need for government at all.  

Expecting everyone to behave responsibility isn't just a justification for avoiding lockdown its also a justification for disbanding the police and dismantling our prison system.  To say nothing of speed cameras.  Still people are responding to the call.  Testing centres are overwhelmed to the point they have had to shut down, people are queueing up for booster shots and once again our vaccine supply is being called into question.  So the people are behaving responsibly, unfortunately it would appear the government isn't.

A part of the problem is the timing.  Not only had the government just released the shackles on the population but Christmas is just around the corner and the government is desperate for everybody to have as "normal" a Christmas as possible.  I have to admit a feeling of existential dread has been part of my Christmas tradition for as long as I can recall but its nice to have others with me this time.

In Victoria the police have a new toy to play with.  The government has decided to equip them all with tasers.  Whether this is in response to increasing levels of Covid based irritation or just an indication that the public is getting surlier with time wasn't explicitly detailed.

In good(ish) news there are hints that Omicron might be less interested in killing us than earlier variants of the virus.  This is moderately good news for us and excellent news for the virus.  Here's the thing, the virus doesn't want to kill you.  It wants you to live a long happy life, raise some kids and pass the virus down to them as a sort of RNA heirloom.  If you die that means the virus has to find somewhere else to live and it has to do it quickly.  This is why Ebola isn't a particularly effective virus, it tends to kill people so rapidly that it runs out places to live.  Pretty much all you have to do to beat Ebola is set up a cordon sanitaire around the infection zone and wait for everyone inside it to die.  Gruesome but it works.  

Covid was nothing like Ebola in terms of lethality and with Omicron there are hints that it has learnt to dial down the entire "killing the host" thing to an even lower level.  Unfortunately this is more likely to mean the damn thing will be with us forever.  Look out for Plague Update # 597 coming sooner than you think.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Huns of Steel

 Captain Ilych Gettintimeov stepped into his command post and looked around in some confusion.  The junior officer he expected to see was nowhere to be found and instead there was a crisply uniformed commissar gazing around with some disfavour.  "Some disfavour" was one of a range of expressions that no soldier wanted to see on the face of a commissar.  Gettintimeov saluted hopefully, he knew better than to ask what had happened to the other officer.

"Comrade captain," announced the newcomer, "I am Commissar Pettisukhol, I have come to see to the political welfare of this unit."

There wasn't much the captain could say to this.  "We don't need you," would get him shot.  "Thank god you're here" would lead to a situation where shooting would be a release.  The captain settled for,

"Welcome comrade."  Seeing that the look of disfavour hadn't dissipated Gettintimeov seized on what he hoped was a positive topic.  "I see you've been decorated."

The commissar glowed, "Indeed," he presented the medal for closer inspection, "this is the Lavrenti Beria Award for Ten Commanders Purged."

"Well done," murmured Gettintimeov faintly wondering if there was time to write to his family.  A shout from outside possibly saved his life.

"The Hungarians are coming!"

"Ah, I will take a squad up to the first floor with the medium machine gun, " announced Pettisukhol.

"Actually I wanted that positioned..." the captain voice trailed off.  "Good idea, couldn't have thought of better myself.  I will join the rest of the men," he fled suddenly much happier about being surrounded by heavily armed Hungarians.  Outside he bumped into his most experienced sergeant.

"Where's the medium machine team?" asked the sergeant.

"Going up to the first floor."

"But wouldn't it be better if..."

"With the commissar."

"The man's a military genius."

So here is our next game.  ASL Scenario 115 - Huns of Steel.  Here I shall command a bunch of politically motivated Soviets attempting to fend off the Axis Second XI from a bridgehead over the Don River.  To do the fending I have eighteen squads of doughty Soviet troops, fourteen first line and four conscript (ok those last four may be more doughy than doughty).  These stalwart defenders of the Rodina have a HMG, an MMG, two LMGs plus a pair of 50mm mortars and three antitank rifles.  Two officers (or rather one officer and one 9-0 commissar) command.  Providing supporting fire is a 76mm antitank gun.  Fortifications in the form of two roadblocks and eight wire counters will hopefully help to delay or channel the Hungarian attack.

To reinforce my defenders I get nine tanks of various quality.  Two Valentines (slow but sturdy) and four Stuarts (fast but fragile) turn up on turn two.  A trio of T34s (home grown and much better by far) arrive on turn five.

Dave Wilson commands the Hungarians who have given him their somewhat eclectic best.  A dozen elite squads gallop onto the battlefield on horses just as if this was 1842.  A further eight first line squads turn up on motorcycles like a deeply second rate bikie gang (think the Black Widows from Every Which Way but Loose).  These guys are led by a trio of leaders none of whom are spectacularly good (and all of whom would turn out to be vulnerable to sniper fire) and carry dismantled medium machine guns and 50mm mortars.  For completeness they also carry three fully mantled light machine guns.

Clattering and lurching on to support what, for want of a better term, I will call the Hungarian infantry are a collection of armoured vehicles that make the infantry look like a model of conformity.  Leading the charge are a trio of Panzer IVFs with the German markings painted over.  Also present are three Czech built LT vz 38Es.  Finally in an attempt to make the Czech tanks look good there are three Hungarian Toldi Is.  As if this wasn't enough on turn three another seven tanks arrive.  Another pair of the impressive PzIVFs, three somewhat seedy PzIVCs and two Nimrod whatever the hell they ares.

To win I need either a good order squad or AFV with functioning MA on or adjacent to one of six victory hexes which are grouped in clumps of three around the pontoon bridges in my rear.  I also win if I amass 90CVP a rule I can only assume was inserted just in case a Hungarian player parked his entire tank force in front of the 76mm and simply left them there.

This was a big scenario and in deference to its size and importance I actually came up with a plan.  Dave effectively had to capture (or at least drive me away from) the two bridge crossings.  On my left a gully covered the bulk of the approach to one bridge.  I wired off both ends of the gully and placed a roadblock on the nearby street.  In the gully I put a trio of squads (one armed with an lmg) and behind them another squad with a 50mm mortar.  Behind these forward defenders were a handful of dummy stacks and a couple of squads (one with an atr) conveniently placed to retreat to the bridge adjacent victory hexes.  This was largely bluff, I didn't expect Dave to make his main push in this direction what with all of the space available on the right.  In the village I placed a trio of thoroughly expendable conscripts plus another couple of squads with an atr to essentially act as speed bumps.  The remainder of the force including both officers and the hmg and mmg I used to garrison the farm complex near the other bridge.  A quick glance at the map will show that my right flank is very exposed but I was hoping to use the Stuarts and their machine guns to cover that on their arrival.  The 76mm gun I placed on the other side of the river where it had a decent line of site to both crossings.

My intention was to make Dave commit the bulk of his force to capturing the crossing on the right, fight ferociously for every inch of ground and hopefully leave him short of time to get across and drive me away from the left.

At start set up

Have you ever had a plan work too well?  Me neither but this came close.  Dave poured virtually his entire force down the right side of the board, his horsemen eating up the ground their noble steeds apparently untroubled by the clanking monsters roaring alongside them.  His motorcycle troops headed for the village with impressive armoured support while over on the left... a trio of Toldis undertook what could best be described as a forlorn hope against my gully dwellers.  Just to add to the entire impression of intending doom Dave played recordings of tanks moving and horses galloping to remind me of what I was in for.

End Hungarian turn 1

They say "be careful what you wish for" mind you "they" say a lot of things and you can't listen to them all.  Firing was minimal in the first couple of turns as half the population of Hungary poured down the right side of the board while my triumphant smile turned into a rictus of death.  Over on the left though my 50mm mortar team decided to match points with the finest Hungary's military industrial complex (more of a military industrial simple really) could provide. 

The rate of fire was plentiful and in my first turn a Toldi was immobilised and the crew fled shrieking from their suddenly immobile vehicle (they would get back in later).  In the next turn the same mortar would immobilise another Toldi and the threat, such as it was, to my left was over for the time being.


End of Soviet turn 1, a Toldi immobilised but not much else to report

By the end of the Hungarian second turn Dave's troops on the right were pushing forwards.  To the rear squads with dismantled mortars and medium machine guns got out their allen keys and started putting their weapons together.  I looked nervously at the large amount of undefended space on the right and listened desperately for the sound of lend-lease tank engines in my rear.  Over on the right I took my first casualties as the surviving Toldi broke a squad before making itself scarce.  I in turn attempted to shuffle my gully dwellers to the right but it has to be admitted this didn't go so well.

End Hungarian turn 2.

A word about our dice.  My dice were average and so were Dave's.  However Dave achieved his average by rolling either ridiculously low or ridiculously high.  It is for this reason that virtually no Soviet infantry survived the game and also why Dave broke virtually every MA he possessed at one point or other.

My second turn arrived and with it my armoured reinforcements. A pair of Valentines and a pair of Stuarts.  Keen readers of the scenario card may note that I was entitled to four Stuarts.  However I only brought on two.  Why?  Jaw dropping incompetence, that's why.  Neither Dave or I realised at the time I had short changed myself a pair of Stuarts and I didn't realise until I started writing this AAR.  The two Stuarts I did remember I sent over to guard the right (now being menaced by a significant number of Hungarians of both cavalry and armoured variety.  I sent a Valentine to guard the road to the bridge near the farm complex (That's a lie.  That just happened to be where the slow moving Valentine ran out of MP).  And the second Valentine?  I sent it over to the bridge on the left.  There were a couple of immobilised Toldis up that way and destroying a pair of sitting ducks would add to my CVP.  I didn't seriously expect to hit the 90 CVP cap but it wasn't a bad thing to keep in Dave's mind.  Dave's good rolling activated my sniper who managed to kill the Hungarian officer trying to motivate his mmg kill stack.  My sniper would kill another officer trying to motivate that stack and eventually kill one of the squads as well.  It has to be said the mmg stack was a bit of a disappointment for Dave.  As for me my sniper was for a long time the sole contributor to my CVP total.

Hurray, my tanks have arrived, those I remembered

The preliminaries having been dispensed with the real battle now commenced as Dave pushed forward on the right and also sent troops to challenge my conscripts somewhat nervously defending the village.  His armoured reinforcements arrived and the PzIVCs were sent to deal with the village troops while his IVFs added their weight to the cavalcade of steel pouring down on the right.  My outer line of infantry crumbled as tanks and horsemen pressed them.  In the village my conscripts lurked heroically under concealment counters and defied the Hungarians to evict them.  I also managed to street fight and immobilise an LT 38 leaving it sitting in the street.  Over on the right two Stuarts looked and the monstrous force swarming towards them and wondered where their two comrades were.

Now the Hungarians are starting to press and my troops are starting to crumble

First blood (or bloods) went to my Stuarts who managed to take out a pair of the Czech crap boxes against the run of play while my infantry whimpered and died.  Dave howled in despair but the Stuarts were about to fall victim to PzIV vengeance.  On the left my Valentine limped towards to Toldis who despite being immobilised were only marginally slower thank the Valentine.  Dave sent a PzIVC over to assist but I trusted my Valentines tough armour to face off the short barrelled 75 (a correct judgement just for once).

A couple of Czech tanks go down but the Stuart's celebration will be brief

Have I mentioned that I'm not particularly good with armour?  What happened next demonstrates that.  Dave's cavalry had been pushing forward under the protection of a PzIV and an LT 38.  A Stuart had killed the LT 38 and I thought I saw an opportunity to take out or at least menace the PzIV.  The Stuarts would have difficulty penetrating the frontal armour of the PzIV but the side was another matter.  I sacrificed a Stuart firing frontally and inviting the PzIV to fire back.  With the return shot taken (and the Stuart killed) I moved my other Stuart across the front of the PzIV to line up a side shot.  Whereupon Dave cheerfully used the machine gun fire capacity of the tank to rotate his turret to line up a perfect shot at point blank range.  In the next Hungarian prep fire phase the Stuart was toast and my sole armour consisted of a pair of Valentines one of whom was so far away from the main battle that the war would be over by the time he arrived.

Speaking of said Valentine Dave had remanned both immobilised Toldis and was bouncing small calibre shells off the Valentine's armour.  The Valentine in turn had failed to hit the nearest Toldi but promised to do better next time.

Back in the real world a swarm of tanks, Nimrods and Hungarian soldiers had presented themselves at the farm complex covered by judiciously placed smoke dischargers and the fact that the worthless commissar commanding the mmg team proved incapable of hitting a barn from the inside.  Freed of the threat, however theoretical, of the Stuarts Dave's infantry tiptoed around the barbed wire and squirmed through the woods to menace my sole remaining Valentine.

My poor Stuarts are doomed and the farm complex isn't looking safe either

It has to be said that while the smoke helped Dave's troops arrive unmolested in then proved a nuisance to him as he wasn't quite able to beat up my troops in the stone building due to the hindrances.  One of his tanks managed to immobilise itself on some wire and then broke its MA before it could slaughter the Valentine.   My commissar proved his utter worthlessness by first reducing a broken squad to conscript status then failing his own morale check and finally dying by which point I was quite glad to get rid of him.

Things are bad and getting worse

As my troops in the farm complex crumbled I pulled back the survivors to the rear buildings, and closer to the victory locations.  This was only a temporary solution because it allowed Dave to swarm around me which he promptly did.

Still time was slowly ticking away.  Behind the main action my sniper was gradually reducing his mmg stack to impotence and a combination of dummies and the occasional conscript squad were at least occupying the attention of a few squads and a pair of PzIVCs.  I say a pair, the third had decided to help out the two immobilised Toldis still sitting under a rain of badly aimed 40mm shells from my Valentine.  The PzIVC's method of doing this was to plunge into the gully and roll to where my Valentine had finally managed to kill one sitting duck and had acquired the other.  Once in the gully however Dave realised it is just as difficult to shoot out of it as it is to shoot in.

The swarm approaches

My T-34s arrived on turn five just in time to demonstrate that I know nothing about armour as I had completely forgotten that they don't get their radios for a few more months.  This resulted in a whole platoon (rather than the intended one) roaring up the road on the left side of the board quite a way from the main action.  In better news my 76mm joined the fight as Dave's tanks had now finally come within range.  Despite being CE my right hand Valentine sat under a hail of machine gun fire and gently dissuaded the Hungarian infantry on that side from advancing.  Unfortunately other infantry was advancing from the top.

The heroics, such as they were, of my right hand Valentine came to an abrupt end as I proved to Dave that he wasn't the only one who could roll boxcars.  Which was a bit of a shame as Dave had driven two PzIVs right up next to it and now there was virtually no reason.  In a fit of pique Dave destroyed the Valentine anyway but my 76mm fried one of his precious PzIVFs on the other side of the complex and caused a slight reevaluation of Hungarian tactics.

Farewell my Valentine

 Dave was systematically dismantling my defences in the farm complex but it was all taking time.  Time I used over on the left to move the couple of units that weren't dummies to the victory locations and started digging foxholes, something I should probably have done about four turns ago but better late than never.  A pair of my T-34s abandoned their comrade to guard the road and did a quick U-turn to return to the victory locations.  Time was running out. 

Having finally cleared the village Dave roared a PzIVC forward and directly behind my outpost T-34.  I cringed in fear but the Germans obviously hadn't trusted their Hungarian colleagues with any AP shells because Dave was reduced to bouncing HE 75mm shells off my armour which didn't work very well, or at all really.

Oops, this could be awkward

Dave had finally cleared the farm complex, the last broken Soviet troops fleeing over the pontoon bridge.  When some Hungarians tried to follow my 76mm evaporated them.  Yes, one position was down but it had taken seven turns, only two remained.

Over on the far left the one surviving member of my first tank group finally destroyed the second Toldi and turned to leave whereupon Dave's PzIVC roared up out of the gully right behind it.  Valentines move at a speed normally associated with glaciers so there was no chance of outrunning it.  I would just have to lumber for the rear and trust to my armour.  Strangely this trust was not misplaced.  

With only two turns to go Dave parked a pair of PzIVFs in the grainfield on the right and attempted to shoot my defenders on the left out of their victory locations.  I had parked a T-34 right on top of one of them.  A critical hit sent it up in sheets of flame but the ensuing blaze made it even harder to hit my infantry now snuggled at the very bottom of some rapidly dug foxholes.

The end is nigh

At the end of Hungarian turn eight Dave gave the concession.  I had troops nestled on the victory locations who were more in danger of cancer from all the smoke than Dave's fire.  My 76mm was cheerfully carving up any infantry who dared approach.  This was a long game played over three sessions but in the end a rare victory for yours truly.

Dave selected this one so next time we will be playing my choice, Phoenix Rising where I will command a ridiculous amount of Chinese presenting themselves for destruction in front of a bunch of Japanese support weapons.

A pair of smoke stained Soviet soldiers stared as the enemy tanks withdrew.

"They're pulling back," shouted one and promptly had a severe coughing fit.  Eyes streaming the two of them stumbled from the foxhole into relatively fresh air.

"Victory," croaked the first soldier between wheezes.  He peered around with reddened eyes, "where is everyone?"

"Dead," replied his colleague.

"Including the commissar?"


"Victory," repeated the first soldier even more enthusiastically.  His comrade made a mental note to denounce him at the first opportunity.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Travelling Pathetically - So Many Birds Edition

 Taking advantage of the recently lifted restrictions on moving about I decided to celebrate by strolling through the less concrete intensive parts of my city's eastern suburbs.  This is actually harder that it sounds because if you see a patch of open greenery it's usually a golf course.  In fact there are so many golf courses I'm surprised they have room for houses.  The appeal factor of a golf course to someone who doesn't play golf is on the low side.

However I, dear reader, had a plan.  There is a thin strip of greenery devoid of sand traps and officious people asking if you're a member in the vicinity of Bellevue Hill, a rather upmarket section of the city's dwelling quarters.  I would make my way to said greenery and inflict my presence on it for an indeterminate period of time.

My journey began with a trip on Sydney's newest light rail (aka the one that hasn't broken down).  This monstrous beast of a vehicle makes up for its lack of speed with sheer inexorable mass.  One gets the impression that if the driver kept his foot off the brake it wouldn't stop until doomsday.  The gargantuan metal box dropped me off at Royal Randwick, home of Sydney's horse torturing elite, and trundled onwards possibly heading for Auckland.

I have no interest in Randwick royal or otherwise but if one turns ones back on the horse tracks one finds one self facing Centennial Park.  Before colonisation Centennial Park was a swamp, water supply and food source for the local inhabitants.  After colonisation it served as water supply,  impromptu dump and general low rent embarrassment until in the lead up towards Federation it was decided to create a grand park in the area.  Fortunately there was a bit of an economic crisis at the time and labour was cheap even by the standards of the day.  Swamps were drained, pesky native vegetation was encouraged to move elsewhere and more visually pleasing vegetation was planted in its stead.  The place is not exactly a triumph of environmentalism but it is at least an acknowledgement that green spaces are nice to have.  

Eager to leave the prevailing smell of horse shit behind I abandoned Randwick and headed into the park.  Imposing gates welcomed me and once through them I encountered my first problem.  Centennial Park is really rather big.  I gazed around a little helplessly until a helpful sign pointed me in the direction of Lachlan Swamp.

A first glimpse at Centennial Park

This swamp is apparently the only one that survived the entire gentrification process and since it was roughly on my way north I pointed myself in its direction.  Along the way there would be ponds and birds.  Quite a few birds actually.  I wasn't particularly interested in birds but since they were there and paused helpfully for photos I took quite a few pictures of them.  What I was hoping to see was eels.  Some years ago I went on a bit of an eel frenzy and discovered that eels live in Centennial Park (specifically the wetter bits).  In actual fact the eels have always been there, they used to live in the swamps and when we got rid of the swamps they just hopped into the ornamental ponds and challenged us to evict them.  We never succeeded.

Unfortunately the eels were not in a visitor receptive mood and eel sightings were thin on the ground.  The birds attempted to make up for it by posing ever more enthusiastically for my camera but it was a sad second best.

In this pond there are probably eels

But there are definitely ducks

The disappointing absence of eels notwithstanding it was pleasant to wander from one pond to another, photographing birds slowly and not particularly coherently making my way towards the swamp I had been promised.  I just had to get through all of the ponds and open grassland first.

I'm not sure whether he was posing for the camera or contemplating mugging me

Still ponds and open grasslands have their appeal.  Specifically they appeal to people with dogs and small children.  Despite this it was an enjoyable walk punctuated by pauses to move the birds out of my way.  My quest for eels took me to one pond after another but sadly all I saw were the damn birds.


More birds

OK the pelican was worth it

Eventually to give the birds a hint I studiously photographed some flowers that were lurking modestly beside one of the ponds just to prove that the birds weren't the only game in town.  There were signs up saying don't feed the birds but I'm pretty sure I saw a group of birds surreptitiously pulling one down.

Finally, enough with the birds already

Despite being waylaid by roaming avian gangs I did finally make it to Lachlan Swamp.  This is a timbered swamp and is sufficiently delicate that visitors had to stick to the paths lest the presence of an unexpected footmark make the whole thing curl up and die.

It was quite a small swamp really but in contrast to the well manicured parklands it was engagingly messy.  Nature doesn't really do neat and tidy.  If you see neat and tidy you're almost certainly looking at something man made.  The swamp had trees (and water of course although that was little difficult to find) and undergrowth and bushes and general natural mess.  Signs warned you not to touch the bats.  Since the bats were at the tops of the trees the signs would probably have done better to warn you of the constant steam of bat guano descending from the heavens.

That's right, I said bats.  Lachlan Swamp is home to a colony of bats.  They're not native either, they just turned up one day decided they liked the place and stayed.  Now the trees groan under the weight of bats.  Bats of course usually come out at night.  Evidence would suggest that these particular bats are insomniacs.

More bat than tree really

They swooped, they chittered and generally did the sort of things one expects bats to do at night.  I made my way through the swamp (more of a swampette really) while the bats provided close air support, and guano.  I made my way out of the swamp to find a group of people setting up music systems for what was apparently an open air party.  I turned around and plunged back into the swamp.


With the amusement value of the swamp largely exhausted (and the bats getting cockier by the second) I struck roughly north in the general direction of my ultimate destination.  A sign warned of swooping birds but apparently they were camera shy (I was more concerned about swooping bats) and I continued my journey unmolested.

Parks are pretty enough but a park is a park even if it covers over 190 acres so I plodded through the grass and occasional Moreton Bay fig (the designer of the park had a fetish for them apparently) heading towards housing and busy roads.  Along the way I took a photo of a random piece of architecture stuck in the middle of the park.  It might have been a mausoleum or a sewage pumping station.

Oh look, architecture!

Forced to reenter the inhabited part of Sydney I crossed a couple of the busiest roads in the country and wandered through some quite expensive suburban streets.  As I trudged up one of said streets I encountered what must be one of the most wretched memorials I have ever seen.  A tiny triangle of land on a street corner had been somewhat grandiloquently named Raoul Wallenberg Garden.  Raoul Wallenburg Nature Strip would have been more accurate but still overstating the case.

Two trees do not a garden make

For the record Raoul Wallenberg was a wealthy Swedish businessman and diplomat attached to his country's embassy in Hungary during the Second World War.  During that time he managed to save a large number of Hungary's Jewish population from being exterminated in the Holocaust.  He was taken by the Soviets when they captured Budapest and never seen again.

Leaving the disappointing garden behind I headed towards my actual destination for this days walk which makes all of the preceding an overly verbose and rather tedious prologue.

Cooper Park was my destination.  The park straddles the border between Woollahra and Bellevue Hill and thus has a vital role in preventing violent clashes between the two suburbs street gangs.  It is essentially a gully with a creek running through it.  Whether the creek caused the gully or just found it and thought this was an easy way to flow I'm not entirely sure.  At the western end where I entered there is just enough room to squeeze in some cricket nets, a couple of tennis courts and some open space for dogs to crap in.

Most of Cooper Park, however, is a tiny remnant of natural bushland in one of Sydney's wealthiest and most built up areas.  Walking trails snake through the area allowing one to stroll through the trees and pretend for a short while that there aren't houses and cars a stone throw's distance from where you're standing.

Entrance to the less tennis court intensive part of Cooper Park

I did indeed walk along the trails and, being possessed of an immense capacity for self deception, I did pretend that there weren't houses and cars a stone's throw away.  The illusion was shattered briefly when the top of the Bondi Junction Westfield loomed above the trees but I averted my eyes and hurried away.

A brief and visually displeasing reminder of reality

The park started off as essentially someone's backyard albeit someone considerably wealthier than I.  Given the difficulties of building on something near vertical with a watercourse in the basement the native flora was graciously permitted to remain.  Taking the hint some of the native fauna hung around as well.  If you think this is a segue to more bird photos you would be right.

Yet another bird photo

The presence of the creek added a little flavour to the tangle of trees and the occasional bird.  I got a lot of mileage out of the park to be honest.  I wandered up and down its trails, taking pictures of the more photogenic bits of scenery (yes, another segue) and enjoying the occasions when birdsong drowned out the noise from Syd Einfeld Drive just across the way.

Not a large waterfall but not exactly what you expect in Bellevue Hill either

The park wasn't big enough to completely muffle the sounds coming from the real world outside but it was calming and enjoyable nonetheless.  Once I had wandered around the sides of the park I descended to the gully floor and followed creek a kilometre or so upstream until I ran out of park and the creek ran out of freedom disappearing into a pipe.

An impressive bridge for a modest creek

 I stared for a while at an algae covered pond just prior to the vanishing.  I wasn't just gawking, I was looking for turtles.  A sign had warned me that intruder turtles were in the area.  A description was given and a request that any sightings be reported to the appropriate authorities.  I've got to admit that when I think of invasive species turtles of any stripe are pretty low on my list.  However these are the dreaded Red Eared Slider Turtles who rampage around the planet causing carnage whenever they show up.  

Actually the reason they're so prevalent is because they're a popular pet and like a lot of popular pets their owners periodically demonstrate their popularity by dumping them in the wild to fend for themselves.  It turns out that the Red Eared Sliders are somewhat better at fending for themselves than native turtles who have been living here for millennia.  This has spurred our state government to undertake a few half hearted countermeasures (such as putting up signs) which so far don't seem to be doing the trick.  Possibly because turtles can't read.

This is actually a pond.  It looks solid because its full of invading turtles


Having done my turn on turtle watch (nothing to report sergeant) I strolled downriver (well, downcreek) pausing to photograph another bird along the way.  The birds sang, the traffic rumbled and it was cool and pleasant beneath the trees but I did need to get on if only because my appreciation of nature doesn't extend to spending the night in it.  It was time to leave.

Yes, another bird

So leave I did, reluctantly heading back out onto the suburban streets (only getting slightly lost) and eventually making my way north until Sydney Harbour blocked my path.  Having just missed a ferry I promptly spent an hour wandering about Double Bay (maximum interest time five minutes) until my watery steed arrived to take me home.

Naturally I filled in the time by taking pictures of a group of small birds hanging out on a pier.

I promise this is the final bird picture

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Audacity!

 Two Polish soldiers, uncomfortable in their second hand French uniforms peered down the narrow road at the inoffensive looking Norwegian village.  Up ahead of these Poles masquerading as French were a bunch of German sailors masquerading as infantry.

"That's the village we have to capture," muttered the first soldier.

"Why?"" asked his companion.

"I think the higher command want to be able to announce an Allied victory."

"Yes, I can see why seizing this village would totally compensate for the conquest of France.  Where are our allies incidentally?"

The first soldier pointed at a group of ships far out at sea and rapidly disappearing over the horizon.

"That's the British," he jerked a thumb a mile or two in the rear, "and the French are back there."

"What are they doing there?"


Engine noises interrupted the conversation and a pair of tanks squealed to a halt in front of them.  The commander of the first stuck his head out of the turret.

"Pardon moi mon ami, do you know where the rear area is?  We have orders to report back there immediately."

"Certainly," replied the first soldier pointing, "its that direction."

"Merci," replied the commander (thus exhausting all of my French) and the two tanks trundled off.

"That's not the rear area," said the second, "that's where the Germans are."

"Shut up and follow them," replied the first.

 I haven't done an AAR for a few weeks.  This isn't because I haven't been playing any games.  Rather there are only so many ways you can say "and then I conceded on turn two" before it starts getting a little heart breaking.  After a series of not so much defeats as utter humiliations I have finally managed to raise my game to its usual level of incompetence for this one.  Scenario J44 - Audacity!

Here I command a bunch of orphaned Poles fighting under French colours in Norway attempting to end a pathetically mismanaged campaign with a win so they could return to the main mismanaged campaign in France.  My job is to capture building hexes from the Germans.  Nine is the acceptable minimum and it must be done without incurring 19 CVP.  The ground is covered in mud which makes moving difficult and by SSR alpine hills are in effect which has rather the same effect on shooting.

I start off with a small force of six elite squads three of which have to set up on the road which provides the only dry ground in the entire game.  More is coming though, much more.  Turn one sees the arrival of four more elite squads plus a half squad and an 8-1 leader.  The halfsquad is quite obviously there to hump the dismantled 60mm mortar coming along for the ride.  Turn two sees the arrival of four more squads (two elite, two first line) along with a 9-1 leader and accompanied by a pair of R39 tanks.  Finally on turn three trucks lent by (or possibly stolen from) the French cart another three elite squads, a 9-1 an lmg and a dismantled mmg to the battle field.  The game is only six turns long, by the time the last of my reinforcements arrive the game is half over.

My opponent Dave commands the Germans, a collection of highly motivated mountain troops and less enthusiastic sailors.  He has two elite squads and four second line garrisoning the village along with a half squad for his own 50mm mortar (mine has ten more millimetres).  In addition to the mortar these troops have an mmg, an lmg, an atr, a 37mm antitank gun and four factors of AT mines.  Finally Dave also has a pair of elite squads equipped with a pair of lmgs and commanded by a raving psychopath of a 9-2 who have to set up on the only hill immediately present.  Although the French (Polish) are technically attacking the Germans move first.

Set up

Above is our set up.  As noted I didn't have much choice about the troops on the road.  I was able to set up my other three squads in a choice of three buildings.  Its probably fair to say I picked the wrong one.

Dave opened his account by wreaking bloody havoc on the three squads in the building courtesy of his 9-2 kill stack.  When the firing stopped a 7-0 leader and three elite squads had been reduced to two broken first line half squads.  These understandably decamped for a building slightly more to the rear.  Dave brought a few troops forward to bolster his boys on the hill and sneaked a unit to capture the building I had been shot out of but otherwise stuck to his positions.

End of German turn 1. Dave managed to convince me not to concede on the spot

In my first turn I gained a tiny measure of revenge for my butchered troops when my troopers in the road managed to break his newly arrived unit on the hill which turned out to be his halfsquad with the mortar.  The German 50mm would not fire this game.  For the rest I brought my first reinforcements on ploughing slowly through the mud and trees and wept quietly to myself.

End of French turn 1.

My first goal as I saw it was to clear that damn kill stack from the hill.  Fortunately the alpine hill rules allowed me to sneak ever closer.  Unfortunately the combination of hills and mud meant that all of this took time.

Quite a lot of time actually.  After the flurry of fire which opened the game things went very quiet for the next couple of turns as I brought my troops on and gradually moved them into positions where I thought they might be useful.  Dave passed the time idly shooting at my surviving brokies which went a little wrong for him when one of the half squads rolled a snake eyes, battle hardened and produced a hero into the bargain.  In fairness the other halfsquad died.

End French turn 2, still getting into position

Turn three went much the same way with a traffic jam of French troops trying to sort themselves out and get into useful positions.  My hero and elite halfsquad at the top conducted their own private flanking manoeuvre despite the fact that the main attack was yet to take place.  Possibly fortunately for me there was no crazed rush at the 9-2 kill stack.  Dave counted the number of blue question marks coming in his direction and decided to decamp to the building behind the hill.

By the end of my third turn I had swung around below the hill with a couple of expendables to capture the buildings Dave hadn't bothered to defend and my hero/halfsquad combination had faked his boys out of a building on the other side of the map.  For the rest the French were fumbling around and nervously preparing for the moment when they would have to step forward into the line of fire.

It has to be admitted that at this point I wasn't really thrilled with the scenario.  Almost nothing had happened it seemed for the last two and a half turns.  The Germans don't have the numbers to chase the French and it takes the French time to get their forces in order.  The second half of the scenario however would be non-stop action.  Time was now pressing me, I had four of the nine building hexes I needed but there were no more easy pickings.  The time had come for action.

End of French turn 3. So far I have basically been trying to keep out of the Germans way

Then things started getting real.  With my troops, if only by default, in charge of the hill I could start pouring fire down on his defenders.  I did this so enthusiastically that I broke an lmg.  Results were somewhat thinner on the ground.

But then things started to go my way.  I was using my tanks (and a truck) more as shields for my infantry than anything else and their presence allowed my troops to close up with the defenders.  I managed to break the 9-2 and his accompanying squad who fled for the not particularly distant rear leaving the suddenly too heavy captured French machine gun behind.  At first that didn't seem to matter because Dave had his 8-1 leader and a pair of squads with lmgs in the building as well.  Sadly for him while his 9-2 did sterling work (the single break notwithstanding) that 8-1 was the definition of uselessness.  His attempt to fire had resulted only in the breaking of both lmgs.  

With concealed French squads edging ever nearer Dave spread his troops across both hexes of the building behind the hill and defied me to come any closer.  Step forward one Hotchkiss tank which scored a critical hit on one hex which vapourised a German squad and two machine guns thus clearing my way.  A French squad hopped into the recently vacated location and was promptly chased out of there by the only effective sniper attack by either side in the game.

Forward we swarm although the concealed squad in the building won't last much longer

At the bottom of the map a squad assault moved into the street and improbably survived all defensive fire to jump his concealed squad in close combat.  Sadly they wouldn't gain a result but at least the melee kept going.  In desperation (I like to think it was desperation anyway) Dave moved a squad down to reinforce the melee and managed to kill my squad while on the other side of the board his 9-2 (and hangers on) wiped out my hero and halfsquad.

I had been cautious with my tanks given the presence of AT mines and a 37mm (which baffled me by its absence) but now the time had come for boldness.  I rolled one forward and parked it next to the building (and as it turned out next to some AT mines as well) so that my designated assault squad could shelter beneath its steel hide.  I moved another squad forward as well, as much to give his 9-2 multiple targets as anything else.

End of German turn six, my final turn to go


The last turn rolled around.  I was pressing hard. The time had come for the final assaults and let the CVP cap take care of itself.  At the top of the board my assault squad broke the squad opposite in it Prep Fire, if my guys survived defensive fire they would be able to stroll into another building hex.  Survive they did and a toehold was secured in the large building.

Collectively this provided eight building hexes.  I needed one more.  At the top more in hope than expectation I assault moved a spare squad next to his 9-2 for one of the more improbable close combats of the game.  At the bottom of the board my remaining squad survived is defensive fire and readied itself for an assault over the wall into the building.  Throwing caution to the wind I rolled my other Renault forward and sleazed his 7-0/atr squad combo in yet another building.  Now finally the 37mm revealed itself in a building far to the rear but its shots bounced off the Renault's thick hide.  With the 7-0 team rendered temporarily impotent I CXed another squad and raced them adjacent.

Three close combats would be initiated, if I won any of them I would win the game.  I won none of them.  It wasn't particularly surprising.  The odds were never better than 1-1 still the game came down to the very last CC roll and you can't ask more of a game than that.  Luck was even and in contrast to the catastrophic misfortunes and hideous cockups of the previous games I was reasonably happy with my play.  This was a bit of a slow burn of a game.  The first three turns were very quiet but then action exploded in the last three.  It was certainly the most enjoyable game I've played in a while.  Many thanks to Dave for the game, next time we'll be playing Huns of Steel.  If you're lucky I might write an AAR about that.

The end, one building hex short


"Come on, let's go."

The Polish soldier looked up at his comrade in surprise.

"But we're almost there.  One more building hex and we've got this."

"Look over there."

The first soldier looked to where his comrade was pointing.  A furious French tank commander was talking angrily with their commanding officer who shrugged and pointed in their direction.

"Ok, yeah, time to make ourselves scarce.  We might not want to seek exile in France any time soon.  I wonder why he parked in the building."