Saturday, January 30, 2021


 Around Australia Day the reader of this blog normally expects tales of my journey to Canberra complete with extensive bovine commentary and gratuitous insults towards our national capital.  Subsequently the aforementioned masochist can look forward to a nailbiting account of my deeds in the ASL competition at the Canberra gaming convention, CanCon.  Not, alas, this year.  In deference to the plague ravaging our planet the organisers of CanCon have wisely decided not to proceed with an event that brings together several thousand people many of whom have only a passing acquaintance with personal hygiene.  While responsible this left several middle aged and relatively freshly laundered men of my acquaintance without anything to do.  Faced with the prospect of spending the holiday weekend with their family and loved ones a desperate planning session was undertaken.

A venue was sought and found, prayers (and the occasional blood sacrifice) were offered up to the plague gods in the hope that a very specific portion of the state would not be under lockdown at the relevant time, funds were gathered and spent on accomodation, food, alcohol and strippers.  Wait, did I say strippers?  What I meant to say was that money was definitely not spent procuring strippers (saved it).  With all these things in place a select dozen or so people chosen solely on personality, charisma and the ability to pay were invited to gather in Leura for what they told their spouses was a weekend of gaming.

For those of you who don't know Leura is in the Blue Mountains and is sort of like Katoomba only with higher prices and fewer junkies.  Over the course of Friday this leafy mountain village (think suburb with hills) became the gathering point for a dozen grizzled cardboard warriors who came from near and not quite so near.  The one person who was planning to come from "far" couldn't make it past the border guards.  Our destination was a two story wooden house nestled in among trees and overlooking a creek, or at least it would have been overlooking a creek if the damn trees hadn't been in the way.  There were many rooms, a confusing floor layout and broad balconies overlooking the trees which blocked our view of the creek.  In defence of the trees they also blocked our view of the houses on the other side of the creek and thus gave a wholly spurious air of remote isolation to a place that was about ten minutes walk from Leura train station.

There was no competition or specific game.  Rather the whole weekend was centred around impromptu gaming.  A spreadsheet was set up to assist us in the organisation of our impromptu gaming.  Being an ASL aficionado (a fancy word which means "I like it") I had arranged to play a three handed campaign game with Dave Wilson, my regular Wednesday opponent and Mark McGilchrist.  I say "I arranged" what I mean is Mark and Dave arranged the game and I whined until they let me in.  We played Time on Target's "A Dish Best Served Cold" which consisted of three parts involving a rampaging horde of Americans (jointly commanded by Dave and myself) attempting to evict a collection of heavily but somewhat bizarrely armed Germans from a village.  This was supposed to last us three days but Dave and I skillfully demonstrated the weaknesses of command by committee and the Americans were done by the time we got part way through the second part.  Mark's predilection for rolling low when firing sturmmosers didn't help.  A number of American squads became integral parts of the German landscape during the advance and not even the fortuitous killing of a jagdpanzer was able to help us through.

Although chastening this defeat did at least allow me to take part in a Call of Cthulhu game late on Sunday.  Its the first time I've played that game and it was immense amounts of fun.  Ivan Kent was our game master and provided us with a great atmospheric setting although he was a little disconcerted by my suggestion that we cold bloodedly murder four people along the way.  In my defence they were witnesses to certain acts of nefariousness that our characters had got up to and killing them would have definitely been the safest option.  I was outvoted but only narrowly.  Despite our institutional squeamishness we managed to fumble and blunder our way through the scenario and save 1920s Arkham from various nameless horrors at the price of only one of our company going irretrievably insane.  We left him painting the walls with his own faeces and went off to celebrate.

Aside from the gaming there was bonhomie and good cheer which I understand are old fashioned terms for the result when you gather a group of men together and none of them actually try and kill each other.  Although David Bishop might be considered guilty of an attempt when he produced a bottle of Jeppsons Malort and invited the two people he thought might have the most amusing reaction (myself and Daniel) to have a glass.  Daniel's reaction was all that he might have hoped for but sadly for David I quite liked it.  Sadly for me its almost impossible to source outside of Chicago.  Between the malort and the absinthe it was a rather wormwood heavy weekend but all of us emerged with our eyesight and our sanity intact or, to be more accurate, those of us who had possessed such attributes going in still had them more or less on departure.  

Encased, as we were, in a tree surrounded wooden house in the mountains the temperature was pleasantly cool which was convenient as this was the week when nature suddenly remembered it was Summer.  While the rest of the state boiled we just simmered gently and enjoyed pleasant breezes blowing through the house at the price of being ground zero for enough insects to make a nature documentary although probably not a particularly interesting one.  Huge amounts of thanks to David Bishop and Gordon McClelland who conducted the cat herding exercise necessary to get all of this happening.  It almost makes one hope the plague is still continuing next year so we can do it again.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Plague Update #46 - Herd Immunity Edition

 Well the holiday season is over but COVID-19 is hanging around like that irritating relative who just wont take the hint (sidenote; according to my parents that relative is me).  It's been a little difficult to write about because after months of steady gloom things have been jumping about like a roller coaster.  First we were fine, then half of Sydney got locked down, then things improved then we were told to staple masks to our faces and encase ourselves in concrete.  Various parts of my home state have been walled off from other states, opened up again and then shut down again.  Apparently one of the symptoms of COVID is bureaucratic schizophrenia.  Then, just as everything seemed a little calmer word came out that a new and even more virulent form of the virus had made its way from the UK to our shores.  At least that should reassure anyone who was afraid British exports would take a hit post Brexit.

To make matters worse, or at least not better, a couple of government MPs have taken to social media to parade their idiocy in front of the general population.  Snide comments about masks and vaccines and generally trying to ensure that the United States doesn't have a monopoly on cretinous internet commentary.  One went so far as to say that making your offspring wear masks was a form of child abuse.  Whereas I presume dying of COVID is a gift from god.  More irritatingly still the more formal, leadership parts of the government have twisted themselves in knots trying to avoid criticising these clowns.  If we have learnt one thing from the recent history of America it is that when someone in power says something stupid it is very important for the remainder of government to call them out on it.  Or rather, apparently we haven't learnt that.

However there are encouraging signs on the vaccine front.  A number of people are starting to worry about whether the particular vaccine we are getting our hands on will indeed confer herd immunity.  This is a big improvement from "will there ever be a vaccine?"  Suddenly apparently we can afford to be picky.  Obviously herd immunity is desirable, nothing good comes from an infected herd, but just at the moment any sort of immunity would be good at least for the people so immune.  The rest of us will just have to spend a few more months hiding under the bed with a pillow strapped to their head.

Unless we're tennis players of course.  The Australian Open is due to kick off in a few weeks which means that a horde of sweat crazed string monkeys are descending on our nation.  Of course strict quarantine measures are in place and of course no sooner have they arrived than some of those involved have starting breaking that quarantine.  At this point it is fair to ask how seriously we're taking the entire thing.

The same questions which were asked about the cricket are now being asked about the tennis.  Those questions being variations on the general theme of "what the fuck?"  No doubt all precautions are being taken and hopefully it all goes off without too many infections.  As to the wider question of "why are we permitting this at all?" the answer is a simple one although I doubt if it will be explicitly spelled out.  For the sake of their mental health humans need diversion.  They need to be entertained and entertainment has been a little thin on the ground during the worst of the lock downs.  Tennis and cricket are incredibly popular and it is quite likely that someone, somewhere has decided that a bit of infection and the possibility of a few deaths is a reasonable price to pay for keeping all of the surly, isolated and generally grumbling members of the population from blowing their tops.

At least I hope that's the reason.  I much prefer to believe my government is making cold eyed decisions and weighing up the likely cost in deaths from providing bread and circuses as opposed to simply being reckless and irresponsible.  I could go further on this topic but I need to go and watch the cricket.

Silly After Action Report - Tough As Nails

 A mechanic slid from out underneath the tank and wiped grease on to his coveralls.  He didn't need to but he was aware that there were certain conventions that applied when working on a vehicle, he actually kept a small pot of grease on hand for this purpose.

"I think that's got it, Herr Hauptmann," he reported.  The hauptmann looked a little concerned.

"You think?" he asked.  "You're not sure?"

"It's a Russian tank," replied the mechanic.  "All the instructions are in Cyrillic.  I've been using a youtube video for assembling models.  Are you going to be driving this?"

"Not now," replied the hauptmann, "what about the flamethrower?"

"Oh that definitely works.  You remember the fireball in the maintenance shed?  Kleinschmidt forgot his cigarette lighter."

"I was wondering what happened to his hair."  The hauptmann gestured to a rather nervous looking tank crew lurking in the background.  "All right, get in."

The tank crew radiated a distinct disinclination to go anywhere near the hulking vehicle that squatted in the work shop dribbling fuel from an oversized nozzle sticking out next to the 76mm gun.

The hauptmann lost patience, "Get in or I'll cut off your supplies of pervitin."

There was a scramble for the vehicle and both the hauptmann and the mechanic stepped well out of the way as, after a certain amount of trial and error, the engine was started and the tank lurched forward.

"Well done," said the hauptmann as the tank made its somewhat unsteady way towards the front German soldiers scattering to either side as it did so.  The hauptmann left to round up his troops and the mechanic watched for a moment before pulling a small piece of metal from his pocket.

"What's that?" asked the newly bald Kleinschmidt who had just joined him.

"Firing trigger for a flamethrower.  It fell off while I was testing the turret traverse"

"Should we tell them?"

"They'll find out soon enough."

Dave Wilson and I have settled down for another Ostfront city fight.  This time in Stalingrad, a battle so storied that it has generated about seventeen campaign modules so far with another fifty three in production.  Being minimalists Dave and I settled for a simple scenario ITR-4 - Tough as Nails.  It's Stalingrad so you already know what's required, a bunch of Germans have to crawl forward about a hundred yards and capture a building or two to enable them to crawl forward a hundred yards and capture a building or two.  I, commanding the defenders of the Motherland have decided that a nail factory is the particular ditch I am prepared to die in.

As the Germans Dave has to capture a pair of factories deep in downtown Stalingrad.  To do so he has a wide array of tools at his disposal.  He has three squads of 838 assault engineers, eight elite squads and nine squads of first line troops to act as expendables.  These guys have two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns, five light machine guns, two antitank rifles (why?) two flamethrower, four demolition charges and a radio connecting him to an 80mm mortar battery.  This force is led by seven officers ranging from a lowly 7-0 to a planet conquering 10-2.  Circling in the skies above are a pair of  stukas eager to dispense with their bomb loads and get back to their airfields where they can fondle long haired dachshunds or each other depending on their inclination.

Twenty squads of superbly led troops with artillery and air support being deemed insufficient (the scenario designers have obviously never seen me play)  Dave is reinforced on the second turn with another dozen first line squads, a medium machine gun, four lights and another four officers including a 9-1.  Oh yes, and some armour.  More specifically, a PzIIIH, two PzIVF2s, two StuGIIIBs a StuGIIIG and the fire brigade.  The fire brigade consisting of two captured Soviet tanks, a KV-8 and a T34M43(Fl) each carrying a terrifying flamethrower in addition to their main weapon.

So what do I, champion of nail factories everywhere, have to resist such might?  I'm glad you asked.

I have sixteen elite squads including five 628s who are definitely not assault engineers for any useful purpose.  These guys are supported by six conscript bullet catchers and have an hmg, two medium machine guns, five light machine guns, a pair of antitank rifles and two molotov cocktail projectors.  They have four officers including my own 10-2 and heavy support in the shape of two 45mm antitank guns, a 76mm artillery piece and an 82mm mortar.  I also get fortifications in the form of a roadblock, 24 factors of AP mines, 4 factors of AT mines, a dozen concealment counters and a booby trap capacity which I completely forgot about (have I mentioned I'm not really great at this game?).  In addition I can fortify four building locations.

But wait, never let it be said that Stavka leaves its troops in the lurch (believe me you'd better not say that).  I too receive reinforcements in the form of six squads, half elite and half first line carrying a grand total of two light machine guns and urged towards the fray by a battle hungry 7-0, I also get six more concealment counters.

Below is the set up.  Basically Dave has to capture the two factories in the middle of the board.  The forward one I expected to fall pretty easily to I garrisoned it with dummies and conscripts in the hope of slowing him down a little.  Having set up the roadblock to prevent his armour roaring straight down the most direct route and placed the AT mines on the two flanking roads where they achieved precisely nothing.  The rear factory was my "die in a ditch" location, I fortified a couple of hexes, placed the 76mm and a pair of mmg armed squads led by my 10-2 HIPed where I thought they could do some good (wrong).  The two mol projectors were out on the flanks hoping to get a rear shot as the German armour went by.

At start, the red circles indicate where I have hidden my guns

A close glance at the map will indicate that I have already cocked something up and the game hasn't even started yet.  I obviously don't play with factories enough as I kept forgetting that they don't have any intervening levels between the ground floor and the roof.  I persisted in setting things up on a mythical first floor which would come back to bite me badly later.

Dave started his attack and immediately invalidated a fair amount of my defence.  I thought the rubble, roadblock and stalwart defenders would force Dave to go for a flank but he didn't, he lined the bulk of his troops up and sent them straight up the middle.  My expendables in the forward factory would do all that I could ask of them breaking some troops and simply existing for a couple of turns but to the left Dave's main drive punched forward through the ruins towards his second target.

End of turn 1.  My forward factory holds for now

By the end of the second turn Dave was swarming all over the forward factory but a couple of brave Soviet conscripts still clung to the odd corner.  Dave's armour turned up and one of his captured flamethrower tanks busted its FT on the first shot.  This is why you don't buy tanks on e-Bay.  Technical difficulties notwithstanding Dave's offensive was proceeding nicely although my hmg did manage to break one squad that pushed its luck a little far.  In the previous game I spent a lot of time cursing railway tracks and the increased time it took my armour to traverse them.  This time it was Dave's turn to curse as his tanks picked their way over the rails.

End of German turn 2

In a strange way the delay of his armour actually helped Dave a little as with his tanks not yet committed I didn't feel I could pull in the troops on my flanks in case he sent them looping around my flanks once they were unguarded.  My own reinforcements arrived just in time to be welcomed by the Luftwaffe who bounced a 200mm bomb off some of them.  This went about as well for the recipients as you can imagine but frankly I got off rather lightly.

End of Soviet turn 2.  Bomb victims in the rear

 With the forward factory cleared Dave pushed forward and proved how silly I had been to place all of those troops on the flank as his vehicles threaded their way through buildings and rubble to join their comrades in the centre (except for one which bogged far to the rear in a pile of debris).  Fresh from their triumph at the front factory the remainder of Dave's troops joined his comrades in monstering my remaining factory.  I wasn't terribly concerned.  It had taken him three turns to get here and I still had a decent number of troops and hidden guns but disaster was just about to unfold.

Dave is ready to attack the rear factory

Remember that I said earlier that I tended to forget that factories don't have interior levels?  Well I had forgotten that again with my defence of the rear factory.  I had a hidden 76mm gun on the ground floor and a pair of squads with mmgs (and the 10-2) hidden on a mythical first floor above them.  With Dave's forces closing in from all sides I decided the time had come to unleash some firepower at which point Dave noted my error.  He was very kind and allowed me to keep all of my troops in the ground floor location.  I attacked a kill stack commanded by his 10-2 with a 16+1 shot to no effect.  I fired my 76mm at a flamethrower team across the way to no effect.  In the next fire phase Dave rolled a three with his flamethrower and crushed the lot.  Such things are burnt across my soul and Dave had to give me a minute or three while I got up off the floor, wiped the tears from my eyes and indicated my willingness to continue.

There was a gaping hole in my defence but the immediate effect wasn't terrible.  I had plenty of other troops around so Dave couldn't just waltz on in.  In fact one of my best turns of the game was just about to arrive.  Sadly it would have no lasting effect.  I had been peppering one of his tanks (the T34 with the busted flamethrower) with spotted mortar rounds for a couple of turns with no effect but a sudden critical hit immobilised the thing.  Possibly deciding that two flamethrowers weren't enough (despite recent evidence to the contrary) he rolled his KV-8 forward right past a hidden 45mm gun and a low roll on a rear shot killed it outright.  This probably delayed the inevitable for another turn as Dave diverted troops and demo charges to taking out this gun post before returning attention to the factory.


Probably my best turn of the game

Over on the left I was holding my own as I brought my flankers in to reinforce my hmg post.  In the centre and on the right though my defenders were facing a sea of blue.  With troops to burn Dave hurled his men forward across the street.  I broke a goodly number of them but a couple managed to gain a foothold.  To increase the pressure he drove a tank straight into the factory.  My defenders watched in despair as the thing promptly dropped through into the cellar making a mess of their porn stash and hydroponic dope plantation.  

In my turn I managed to smuggle a couple of squads into the factory through the sewers which resulted in four squads and a 10-2 being overstacked in the one location I could still consider secure.  My 10-2 finally recovered from his flamethrower induced nervous breakdown and rallied his troops.  Not before time as Dave sent a second wave of troops across the street to build on the small gains he had made in his first attack.  This time there was no stopping him and he was solidly lodged in the factory.

One chance left...


Things were not yet completely black for me.  Overstacked or not I still had five squads in the factory (four led by a 10-2) and even overstacked four squads is a lot of firepower at pointblank range guided by a 10-2.  Dave only had four squads in the factory himself with a pair in the fortified location that still contained my abandoned mmgs.  Well they were abandoned until Dave picked one up.  I decided to take out this position and then hopefully advance into CC to deal with the remainder.  With time running out hopefully this would set Dave back too far back for him to recover.  I hit his pair of squads with a 30+1 shot.  One of the squads broke.  The one that didn't returned fire with a 16+1 shot and broke everything I had in the hex including the 10-2.  At that point I conceded.  To be honest I screamed, wept, threatened suicide, made a number of wholly unjustified assertions about Dave, his parentage and his proclivities then I conceded.

In case you're wondering about Dave's artillery incidentally.  Once the forward factory had been captured his 7-0 obediently lugged the radio up to the roof, called up the battery, brought down a single fire mission and was then shot dead by my sniper.  My sniper was the most productive asset I possessed.  A sniper number of five will do that for you.

Much thanks to Dave for the game, this was the second ITR scenario we played and they were both excellent.  Being slightly scarred by the second experience I have reverted to type and insisted that we play a scenario with Italians in it next time but we will revisit the Into the Rubble pack again in the future.

The  mechanic flicked a little dust from the obersts kubelwagen and stretched, it was almost noon.  Time to finish for the day.  He turned to look for Kleinschmidt and found himself face to face with the hauptmann he had spoken to earlier.  The hauptmann did not look happy.  The mechanic looked around swiftly to see if there was any grease he could wipe on his overalls but Kleinschmidt had taken the pot for his own purposes.

"How did it go Herr Hauptmann?" he asked hopefully.  There was no sign of the tank he had "worked" on earlier.

"Not bad," replied the hauptmann.  "We've captured a couple more buildings.  At this rate we'll have captured the entire of Stalingrad by 1985.  About that tank you repaired."

"Did it give you any trouble?"

"A mortar blew its tracks off."

"Ah well you see, mortar fire isn't covered by the warranty Herr Hauptmann.  I'm very sorry but there's nothing I can do."

"Can you at least go and pick it up?"

"Kleinschmidt does the pick ups."

"I saw him, he was covered in grease and, well I didn't want to interrupt."

The mechanic rolled his eyes.

"Since its you Hauptmann I'll go and get it as soon as I've had dinner.  There's another exit if you don't want to pass Kleinschmidt on your way out."

"Thank you," replied the hauptmann with visible relief.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Travelling Pathetically - Leathery Winged Swooper of the Night Edition

 This was really supposed to be a blog entry about Wolli Creek.  My excursions into the outside world are getting smaller and smaller and this time I only intended to go a few kilometres from home.  Specifically to Wolli Creek.  I thought I would catch the train (after masking up and bathing in disinfectant obviously) to Wolli Creek and wander around a suburb considerably younger than I am and then perhaps go and take a look at the eponymous creek.

Wolli Creek (the suburb, not the creek) was carved out of some former industrial land on the banks of Wolli Creek (the creek, not the suburb) to provide a home for Sydney's Mongolian community.  It was called Wolli Creek because the original suggestion, North Arncliffe, was just a little too unimaginative.  Although apparently only a little.

Suiting deed to word developers were unleashed on this hapless piece of industrial leftover and and soon glittering tower blocks were rising to the sky; to date not all of them have fallen down.  I would, I thought, wander about this gleaming piece of residential modernity followed by a quick trip to the creek.  Unfortunately the trains weren't running.

Thinking on my feet (well my backside actually, I was sitting in a cafe at the time) I came up with a new plan.  If I could not visit Wolli the Suburb then Wolli the Creek would be my destination.  Wolli Creek flows a few kilometres from my home gradually intersecting with the noxious flow that is the Cooks River at the aforementioned suburb that I wouldn't be visiting.  My walk would take the form of a rough triangle.  The land between Wolli Creek and the Cooks River consists of a low hill occupied by the suburbs of Earlwood and Undercliffe, territory somewhat familiar to me as my Mother was raised there.  I would walk along the base of the triangle to Earlwood, over the top of the hill and then follow the valley of Wolli Creek to its meeting with the river whereupon a sharp left turn would enable me to follow the river back home.  It also had the advantage that I would be able to stroll through the Wolli Creek Nature Reserve.

Wolli Creek Nature Reserve exists for the usual reason.  Successive state governments having been foiled in their plans to smother the area in concrete by the protests of residents have reluctantly given formal approval to an established fact and provided the shreds of bushland along the creek valley with an official right to exist.

I set off full of hope into the cool, cloudy day.  It had been raining all week and I was a little afraid that I would be caught in a downpour.  I needn't have worried, a short while later I was gasping up the hill towards Earlwood in the blazing sun having removed as much of my clothing as decency (and the law) permits and noting that once again I had managed to come out without a hat.  A lesser man might have fled for home but I am made of sterner stuff, sunburnt sterner stuff, but sterner stuff nonetheless.  My destination was Girrahween Park just over the top of the hill which connected with the reserve (and which I got lost in as a small child).

Once in the park I was sheltered from the worst of the sun (ie I burnt without being aware of the fact) and struck off towards the creek and its junction with the Cooks River.  There is an established walking track so I wasn't exactly hacking my way through the wilderness with a machete (which was good as I had left my machete at home along with my hat) but I was able to stroll along surrounded by trees and bush with nothing to hear except the song of birds, the rustle as insects and lizards fled my approach, the buzz of a nearby chainsaw, the rattle of trains and the chatter from other people who kept on popping up at inconvenient moments walking their dogs, their children and occasionally each other.

Ah yes, far from civilisation

It will have been noticed, if any of you have been paying attention, that a lot of my walks seem to involve creeks or rivers.  The simple reason is that these are the parts of land that are the most difficult to build on and therefore stand a better chance of having actually survived with a portion of the natural environment intact or at least intact to the untrained eye.

I was a little surprised at the presence of people, if I had done a little more research I would have realised I was walking along the Two Valley Trail which is popular for recreation.  Fortunately there weren't too many people out and I was able to spend most of my time alone in nature apart from the trains and the chainsaw and the frequent glimpses of housing and industrial estates (which I have carefully excluded from the photographs).

I took a photo of a rock.  In my defence it was a big rock

From time to time handsome sandstone outcrops stopped and posed for photos.  I took the one above after waiting patiently for five minutes for another walker to get the hell out of the way.  To give her and her partner time to get out of the way I hung around at the outcrop for several minutes no doubt screwing up the photo opportunities of those who came after me.  Eventually I moved on and headed towards what turned out to be the highlight of my walk.

A sign, not unadorned with guano, announced that the area I had entered was a camp for the grey headed flying fox.  I was cautioned against approaching any such bats that I might see lying on the ground and was informed that the bats carried a virus that could be harmful to dogs and humans.  Therefore I was strictly enjoined against permitting my dog to eat them as it might kill the dog (it probably wouldn't do the bat any good either).

Eager to spy the promised flying foxes I studied the trees in my immediate vicinity but saw nothing.  Well I saw branches, leaves and occasional bits of sunlight poking through but nothing batlike.  I was about to leave in disgust when something caught my eye.  Could this possibly be a bat?  It was, surrounded by leaves and branches and with its wings wrapped around it it didn't look terribly batlike but there it was.  I dug out my camera and practically ran the battery out of charge attempting to take a picture that would somewhat resemble a bat more than a deformed pine cone.  I wasn't entirely successful.

This is the best I could do

Then I turned the corner and walked face first into half the bats in Sydney.

Like this

And this

I think this is a mother suckling her young.  Bats don't have a problem with breastfeeding in public

I was utterly gobsmacked at the number of bats on display.  It was like being in an orchard if what you were growing was bats.  There were bats everywhere.  Incidentally they are freaking noisy.  It's daylight, I thought they were supposed to be asleep.  I was entranced, I took as many photos as my failing battery permitted and cursed the solitary bat sleeping alone that had caused me to waste so many photos.

Having passed through Bat Central I continued on my journey.  The path was gradually descending towards the creek and from time to time I was able to get glimpses of the waterway which had inspired (for want of a better word) my journey.  It was very and I took a couple of token photos but with bats still ringing in my head it can't be admitted that I was paying too much attention.

See, a creek

 As mentioned before I was somewhat familiar with the geography and while I had never been here before I knew roughly where I was.  I was skirting Undercliffe (most of which, despite its name, is at the top of the hill) and heading towards the triangle of land where creek and river met.  I say I knew roughly where I was, that's true.  Specifically I had no idea where I was until I stumbled out into a patch of open land which proclaimed itself as Turrella Reserve.  There was a little more walking through occasional pieces of bushland but now I had entered into more open park territory and strolled among grass and picnic tables set up to provide comfort for people who had a burning desire to come and see Wolli Creek meet the Cooks River.  On the other side of the creek was Wolli Creek the suburb in all its glory and in deference to my original intention I took a photo.  This was the closest I would get to the suburb all day.

Wolli Creek, the suburb

I swung around the pointy bit where the two waterways met and headed up along the Cooks River for home.  When I was a child I would catch the bus to my Grandmother's house in Earlwood and as the bus started to climb the hill I would see the occasional rooftop back at river level and wonder what was there.  Well it only took about forty five years but I finally found out.  Crammed between the river and the hill rising to Earlwood is a narrow strip of rather handsome houses looking out onto the river.  I wasn't bushwalking anymore, rather a combined foot/cycleway in heat radiating concrete stretched between the houses and the river heading in the direction I needed to go.

Where the waterways meet.  Wolli Creek is on the right.

I have frequently mocked the Cooks River for its pollution and general noisomeness all of which is true but life tends to find a way and the fringes of the river still have trees, mangroves and, of course, ibis.  Because there is no part of Sydney so environmentally devastated that an ibis can't find food there.  Attempts are being made to fix a little of the damage done to the waterway over the years.  Most of the riverbank is completely altered from its natural state but since its natural state was mangrove swamp this might not necessarily be a bad thing.  Still occasional patches of wetland are being planted and nurtured and in certain spots the containing walls (built to prevent erosion) have been replaced by a more environmentally friendly alternative.  I know this because a sign next to one of these spots informed me of the fact.  This new type of retaining wall (more a retaining ramp) allows crabs and wading birds to return to an area they were summarily evicted from when the walls were built.  I looked without much interest at the area the signpost was referring to and realised it was alive with crabs.  Apparently word gets around.  Unfortunately the crabs were far less interested in posing for photos than the bats.

Basically the only crab photo I got

The other thing the sign mentioned was a warning about an invasive species of turtle that was apparently taking over territory and making it difficult for native turtles to compete.  Apparently environmentalists need a lesson in multiculturalism.  I looked carefully but I saw no invasive turtles.

This is a photo of the Cooks River about fifteen minutes walk from my home

With the crabs taken care of I headed for home.  I knew I was getting close when the trees surrounding the river gave way to a golf course.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Clash at Ponyri

 The train rattled through the Soviet countryside, outside evidence of soldiers preparing defences was everywhere.  Studiously ignoring the military preparations two passengers on the train were conducting the sort of incredibly cautious conversation two strangers might have when they lived in a murderous dictatorship.  Topics included the weather, football, the brilliance of Stalin, the certainty of victory in the Great Patriotic War and relief that their train carriage was devoid of bourgeois trappings such as windows and seats.  The train screeched and groaned to a halt, interrupting their chat.  One looked up in surprise.

"Are we supposed to be stopping at Ponyri?  I thought this was an express."

In answer to his question the trains conductor appeared.

"Apologies comrades!  There will be a slight delay, there is a Panzer IV on the tracks.  However anyone who wishes to attack the German Ninth Army may alight here."

"That's me," said one of the men getting to his feet.  His comrade made a mental note to report the man for revealing military secrets and bade him farewell.  

Having had enough of crappy Italian tanks and dubious French troops for the time being Dave Wilson and I settled down for some deeply traditional ASL.  Germans vs Soviets in the monumental military balls up that the Germans called Operation Citadel (actually they called it Unternehmen Zitadelle; translation is just one of the helpful services I provide).  Having selected the most obvious place for a counter offensive the Germans politely waited until the Soviets had built up massive defences and then charged straight at them.  The component of this "suicide by pakfront" we decided to play was ITR 4 - Clash at Ponyri.  I shall command the Germans in their desperate attempt to seize Ponyri railway station while Dave's Soviets are determined to defend the ticket machine to the death.

To win I have to capture a minimum of five of seven designated victory buildings and a tower which for some reason is the focal point of the battle.  To do so I have an embarrassment of riches.  I have twenty three squads (including three of assault engineers) and six officers including a mighty 10-2.  Between them they have three medium machine guns, eight light machine guns, two flamethrowers, four demo charges and a radio; artillery for the use of.  Backing up this wealth of human material are eleven AFV, three StuG SP guns and a collection of Mark III and Mark IV panzers commanded by a pair of 8-1 armour leaders.  I had such a large force I wasn't entirely sure what to do with it, a fact that would become increasingly obvious as time went by.

If the attackers are rich in number the Soviets aren't exactly lacking either.  Dave has fifteen and a half squad equivalents of first line troops and a couple of squads of conscripts making up the numbers.  They are led by four officers including a pretty impressive 9-2.  These stalwart defenders of the Rodina are equipped with a pair of heavy (in every sense of the word) machine guns, two medium machine guns, two light machine guns, a pair of antitank rifles (for some reason), a 50mm mortar and a radio connecting them to their own artillery.  Providing extra punch are four guns; two anti tank guns (one 45mm the other 57mm) a 76mm infantry gun and a 76L artillery piece.  They also have a dug in T-34 tank providing extra support.  Additionally there are thirty two concealment counters, four wire counters, thirty two factors of anti personnel mines and six factors of anti tank mines.  He also has three foxholes, three trenches, a roadblock and can fortify four building locations.  The Soviet troops have molotov cocktails and can HIP two squads.  

Lest this seem inadequate Dave also gets three sets of reinforcements; on turn three he gets a trio of first line squads (led by a gallant 7-0) and a pair of monstrous SU-152 SP guns, on turn four he receives a pair of elite squads clutching a demolition charge and on turn five, largely as comedy relief, he receives two SU-76M rolling targets and a pair of lendlease American Stuart tanks.

Below is the at start set up. As you can see I have set up the bulk of my force in the south.  My intention was to smother the front line in smoke shells and then overwhelm the forward Soviet defences in the first turn.  With a little elbow room gained hopefully I could then do a full scale drive in the succeeding turns.  In the centre the plan was more or less the same, I hoped to use smoke to get into the woods and buildings and at least pin down his forces there while I hopefully cut loose down below.  Right at the top were a pair of tanks and a handful of squads more or less as a diversion to stop Dave cheerfully reinforcing the front.

At start set up

The first thing that we learned in this game was that we would spend a lot of time looking up rules.  Firstly if you roll boxcars while attempting a smoke round have you simply run out of smoke or have you malfunctioned the main armament as well.  Since I did this twice in the first fire phase it wasn't an academic question.  We decided that you did both which left me with two AFV without either smoke or a functioning MA, not exactly the start I was looking for.  Elsewhere things went a little better and smoke was indeed brought down on locations I considered appropriate.

Technical difficulties notwithstanding I managed to achieve most of what I wanted in the first turn but the lack of smoke in key areas would force a modicum of caution on me and most importantly would leave me badly placed to deal with the artillery which Dave was just about to bring down around my ears.  While the lack of smoke had hampered me down at the bottom of the board its presence had been helpful in the centre.  I had managed to get across the road with acceptable casualties and had discovered and disposed of his first gun (ok he malf'ed it on an intensive fire shot).  I had also started pushing troops through the buildings to out flank his position in the woods.

End of German turn 1

The Soviet turn started with my repairing one of my MAs (yay!) but rapidly continued with a storm of artillery raining down on my troops.  I was actually fortunate, my AFVs and my super kill stack (the 10-2, three 548 squads and all three mmgs) survived, I even generated a hero.  A couple of squads broke and the need to avoid the blast radius imposed some very circuitous movement on the part of the survivors which delayed their arrival at the battlefield.  My own artillery wasn't a factor as there simply wasn't a point where I had a decent line of sight to bring it down.  I had placed the officer with the radio in the centre which in retrospect was a mistake, it would have been better to have it down the bottom where there was at least a line of sight up the road.  As it was my artillery would do nothing all game.

Right up at the top of the board my diversionary force astonished me by surviving an attack from a pair of squads with a pair of medium machine guns (16+2) and things would go almost suspiciously well for me in those parts for a couple of turns.

End of German turn 2, so far so good


It's fair to say that the first couple of turns were the high point of the game for me (that's an ominous sign).  My forces in the bottom part of the board handily disposed of his defenders and snatched a victory building.  The StuG with the malf'ed MA I sent up the road on a fire drawing exercise which ended a hex later when it ran over AT mines in the street and was immobilised.  In the centre I pushed through the buildings and managed to pin his defensive force in the woods back against his own barbed wire where firepower and flamethrowers pretty much wiped them out over the course of the next few turns.  I need to give a shout out to my flamethrower troops, they scorched and sizzled their way forward without ever running out of fuel.  In less happy news Dave's sniper managed to wound my officer with the radio thus reducing him to three movement factors (and making him incapable of carrying the radio but neither of us remembered that bit).

With his forward defenses broken I could thus push forward and immediately ran into two problems.  Firstly it became obvious I had overcommitted to the bottom of the board and tied down my best officer and a lot of firepower where it could only be of marginal value.  The second problem was that I suck at commanding armour.  To be fair with three hidden guns and a dug in T-34 lying around the place there was always going to be an element of sacrifice but I just never managed to deploy my tanks effectively.  I found all three guns and the T-34 in turn three so I guess it was understandable that the tank that found them had a pretty short life expectancy but I was never able to amass a force of tanks that could shoot their way forward and instead Dave had a pretty easy time picking them off despite the fact that he broke the 45mm AT gun and I managed to chase off the crew of the 57mm.

Happy time almost over

Another rule that Dave and I agonised over was what to do with an immobilised AFV that disabled its MA and technically should have been recalled.  It obviously can't go anywhere but since it is technically under recall can it use its secondary armament against the enemy, essentially for the rest of the game?  I was prepared to say "no" purely on the spirit of the rule but Dave had no objections and since the only AFV to be immobilised, disable their MA and be recalled were mine I was happy to go along with that.  Not that it actually did me any good.

A glance at the picture above seems to show me in reasonable shape the occasional wrecked tank notwithstanding but now I had reached the hard core of Dave's defence and his reinforcements were on their way.  And here I was pretty much stuck.  Dave's dug in T-34 ruled the battlefield whereas the kindest thing that can be said about my armour is that their burning wrecks provided me with a little more smoke cover.  Strangely at this point Dave was also feeling dubious about his chances of success.  He had placed a goodly number of his squads into his forward defences in the woods and those I had destroyed.  I put icing on the cake by blowing in the wall of a fortified building location (I think the only time in my entire history of playing the game where a DC was something more than a 1pp inconvenience to me) and killing the defending squad inside.  

 Up at the top of the map I was grinding my way through his defences (and capturing another victory building) and pure luck had put me in a good position in the large building I had essentially been trailing my coat in front of.  That immediately went horribly wrong and strangely right.  I had got three squads into the building and had managed to break the pair of squads manning the mmgs.  However a subsequent shot from a nearby unit broke all three of my squads and their leader and they promptly surrendered to the one unbroken squad he had left in the building.  This left that squad so swamped with prisoners that they were unable to fire and I was able to move another squad into the building and chase his broken units out.  The result was that he had one squad in a fortified location incapable of firing and I had one squad with a newly captured Soviet mmg who would gain the building if they were prepared to accept the risk of depopulating half of Germany in order to break one Soviet squad.  I consulted my conscience and decided I could not leave that many widows back in the Heimat wailing for their men.  OK, that's a lie I busted the mmg trying to kill them and then got broken before I could pick up the other one.

The happy time was over as Dave's SU152s lumbered into the battle.  They didn't really do much, with a breakdown number of ten Dave was really keen to use them over much but there was no way I was going to try running troops across in front of them.  Well, not until I got really desperate.  It was now that my overweighting to the bottom came back to haunt me.  Three squads with three mmgs and a 10-2 leader are rather ineffective against SU152s and a combination of buildings and some damned fruit trees meant that they were incapable of hitting the guys Dave had up in the water tower (which included his officer with the radio meaning he could drop artillery fire pretty much anywhere he wanted.

Things are now a little awkward

I tried to bring my remaining armour forward which was convenient for Dave as his T-34 was running out of things to shoot at.  Despite this I managed to take out the crew of his 76mm artillery piece which was the only bit of ordnance he had left on the board and I pushed my infantry forward from the centre.  I was readying myself for a final charge to the water tower.  I wasn't crazy about it but there seemed very little option.  I had worked a couple of AFV around behind the tower and had hoped I might be able to shoot him out of the position.  Sadly a combination of my own ineptitude and Dave's reinforcements put paid to that idea.  He simply drove an SU-76 up next to one of my vehicles stopped and destroyed it in the advancing fire phase.  A Stuart did the same to the other vehicle.

Getting ready for a forlorn hope

Time was ticking away, I had four buildings and was challenging for a fifth but it all meant nothing if I couldn't capture the tower.  There was one tiny flicker of good news, a sniper result against the exposed crew of the other SU-76 gave me my only armour "kill" of the game as the terrified crew decided that elsewhere was a better place to be.  My infantry was as well placed as it was going to be.  Across the way he had a pair of heavy machine guns guided by a 9-2 and enough armour to open a tank museum.  There wasn't going to be anything pretty about this, I was basically hoping that Dave's dice would be rubbish.

The end.  The Germans are denied

Well what can I say.  Sometimes a mad dash into the open under a hail of fire works.  Today was not one of those days.  I did get a bunch of guys across the road, a half squad captured his 76mm gun but most of them broke under fire from his T-34's machine guns and a hit from an ISU-152.  I got troops into the tower location but ultimately they died before they could climb the ladders (or whatever the hell they are) to get to his troops high above.  Meanwhile his artillery was threshing the area my broken troops had retreated to.  It was enough, I gave the concession with one turn to go.  Even if I rallied everything the only thing I could try was a repeat of the same.  Still it was closer than I really deserved.  Dave and I both really enjoyed this game.  Despite the number of units it played relatively swiftly (ten hours) and each of us had our opportunities.

The whistle blew and the train lurched forward.  The passenger who had just finished filling out his Citizen's Denunciation Card looked up as his former conversation partner jumped back on followed by a pair of NKVD troopers.

"Oh you're back.  What happened to counterattacking the German Ninth Army?"

"Done it," replied the other.  He indicated the two men behind him, "I may have mentioned that you didn't seem keen to join in.  These guys would like a word with you."