Saturday, July 31, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Supply Detail

 Sous lieutenant Raoul Outlebarrel chewed his lip and drummed his fingers on his knee.  Occasionally, for variety, he chewed his fingers and drummed his lip on his knee.  So far it had to be admitted that his war had not proceeded as he had hoped.  It was grossly unfair that the Commandante had blamed him for that ghastly cockup on the road to Marseilles.  After all he had warned them about the power of the German mortars.  Well, no he hadn't but he had thought it very hard, was it his fault if people couldn't pick up on his body language?  Now he had been given this mess.

"A nice little job for you Outlebarrel," the Commandate had said with what Raoul was certain was an evil smirk.  "Little garrison of Germans, cut off from support, lots of troops for you.  Wipe them out and don't mess it up."  

Raoul had said all the right things of course and struck the appropriate heroic poses but looking across the ground his troops would be fighting on things didn't look quite so simple.  For one thing the previous officer (the Commandante's cousin surprise surprise) had scattered his troops like toppings on a pizza.  Still it could have been worse.  All he had to do was gather his men together and overwhelm the scanty defences.  What could go wrong?

"Enemy tanks approaching!"

Outlebarrel shook a fist at the sky,

"That was a rhetorical question you bastard!"

So this is the second of the Provence Pack scenarios.  Once again I command the Free French attempting to liberate the seaside resorts of southern France.  Once again Dave Wilson stands ready to crush my hopes and dreams.

There is a small group of Germans cut off and running short of everything except concealment counters.  Surrounding them not particularly effectively is a large but inconveniently spread out force of Free French commanded by yours truly.  The Germans win if they have two and a half unbroken squad equivalents on Board 3 (the location of the cut off garrison) and also have to control six buildings on the same board.  There is also a German set DC on the only bridge across the stream separating the Germans from the reinforcements.  If the French manage to clear this the Germans will need to hold eight buildings, if the Germans manage to detonate it then they only need to control four.

Steaming to the rescue of their trapped colleagues are a tough bunch of assault engineers backed up by three somewhat shop soiled Hotchkiss tanks filched from a French car park.  As commander of the Free French (and a random handful of partisans) I have to try and capture sufficient buildings so that the Germans can't fulfill their victory condition while simultaneously holding off their rescuers, defeating their tanks and hopefully clearing the set DC.  Just on that last point.  I've no idea why clearing it is a good idea for the French.  If the DC goes off and destroys the bridge the tanks won't be able to cross the creek.  Since if the tanks make it into the village the garrison there suddenly becomes fanatic (because wouldn't you be inspired to heroism by the sight of a small second hand French tank from 1940?) trying to blow the bridge up would have been the first thing I would have done.  But no, clearing the DC is what the rules say and who am I to argue with the rules?  Dave need not make any comments at this point.

My forces are divided into five groups.  One group with eight infantry squads (four first line, four second) plus a 60mm mortar an mmg, and a pair of bazookas sets up on board 3 on level 0 hexes on or north of hexrow Y.  Group two consisting of four squads (two elite and two first line) plus a pair of bren guns, six concealment counters and a trio of foxholes set up on boards 15 & 13 west of the stream.  Group three consists of three partisan squads, a 9-1 leader and an lmg have to set up within two hexes of 12E9 (not coincidentally the location of the DC previously mentioned).  Group four consists of two 81mm mortars and two .50cal machine guns (plus the crews to man them) and a pair of foxholes.  They set up on level 0 of board 15 on or south of hexrow L.  Finally there is a single 105mm artillery piece sitting alone on top of the highest ground he can find on board 15.  It's a formidable force, no doubt about it but it is scattered from hell to breakfast time across a wide area.  Actually focusing enough firepower on any given spot would prove difficult.

Dave has the Germans, a garrison consisting of four and a half squads (two and a half first line, two second line) from the 242nd infantry division who beat me up last time cringing in the village counting their bullets (troops on board three have ammo shortage until the tanks turn up) plus an isolated detachment of pioneers holding a single building on a hill which apparently must not fall into enemy hands (two elite 548s plus a 9-2 and an mmg).  On turn one six squads of 548 assault engineers toting a pair of lmgs and DCs enter board twelve supported by three Hotchkiss tanks to attempt to bring relief to their comrades.

The tanks have to cross the stream by the bridge.  The infantry do not but I expected that at least some of them would to support the tanks and my initial set up reflected that with the two .50cals and the mortars positioned to do as much harm as possible to anyone trying.  For the rest I bulked up my forces near the woods to the east of the village hoping to use them as a springboard to attack the village and simultaneously guard against the arrival of his reinforcements.  The remainder I positioned as close to the village as the set up restrictions would allow.  I did make one ghastly howler however.  The partisans have to set up within two hexes of the demo charge on the bridge, they are obviously the clearance team.  I should have set them up on the bridge so that they could begin their clearance attempts immediately instead I set them up adjacent because for some reason I thought that clearing DCs would be like clearing a roadblock.

Set up.  That unsightly grey smear isn't a runway, it's Dave's rather poor attempt at drawing a road

The Germans actually get to go first in this one so I had to sit there and wait while Dave's village defenders snuggled a little further under their concealment counters.  His reinforcements steamed on, the tanks making a (rather slow) beeline for the bridge accompanied by precisely no infantry.  The infantry instead slunk cautiously through the buildings heading for the stream, obviously intending on getting their feet wet.  His elite defenders sitting alone on their hill poked their heads up to the next level of their building to enable them to actually see the surrounding countryside.


End of German turn 1. The scales have fallen from my eyes but is it too late?

Things looked bad for me from the get go.  My partisans were being menaced by tanks and his reinforcements were approaching with impunity.  I turned to my ordnance for assistance and was not disappointed (well only a little bit).  My American mortars didn't have smoke but they did have its glow in the dark cousin WP and I managed to shroud one of his tanks in billows of "smoke".  My partisans, attempting to make up for their initial error moved onto the DC and prayed they would survive long enough to clear it (spoiler alert; nope).  It has to be admitted I got a little obsessed by clearing that DC, there were much better things my partisans could have been doing, surviving for one.

I pushed forward into the trees near the creek attempting to get around the hill that sheltered the village with a certain amount of success, driving off his most forward defenders while troops behind occupied the wood to, hopefully, hold off his reinforcements.  I also attempted to prevent his kill stack on the hill from hitting anything useful by providing a second rate target to shoot at.  I'm not sure what I was thinking of here, I must have had a brief sanity vacation.

End of French turn 1.

My partisans duly paid for my foolish set up as they were monstered and beaten up by a pair of rampaging Hotchkiss tanks.  Those that didn't die fled.  Wait a minute, did I say "a pair of Hotchkiss tanks"?  Indeed I did for from up on the hill my 105mm peered at the little metal box in the distance and put a HE round straight through the hull.  One tank at least would not be reinforcing the village.

Unfortunately it was starting to look like it wouldn't have to as a bunch of disturbingly professional looking assault engineers infiltrated their way forward until little but a stream separated them from their comrades.


The main job my partisans seem to have is to be a tank magnet

My mini flanking manoeuvre had a little more success than I knew what to do with.  It overran a mortar halfsquad with no loss and stomped them out of existence in close combat.  I had captured a building and now gazed with interest at the remaining garrison of the village.  All I had to do now was reinforce them.  Unfortunately a significant amount of my force was an inconveniently long way away.  Still with his kill stack on the hill now shrouded in WP I could start moving reinforcements in the direction of the village.  In the meantime I would have to cling on and hope.

Sadly the first of his reinforcements managed to run through mortar fire and plunged into the stream. This trickle would become a flood.  Meanwhile my troops seemed to be moving to reinforce with agonising slowness.  The ruins of my partisan force huddled underneath a conveniently located tank wreck weeping with fear.

With his kill stack shrouded in WP (and the 9-2 leader wounded down to a more manageable 8-1) I pushed forward at the other end of the village as well.  On paper it looked like a neat double envelopement attempt if you overlooked the paucity of the troops involved and the battle hungry combat engineers splashing to the rescue.  Also in revenge for the wounding of his 9-2 the German sniper had managed to kill my 9-1.  

Back at the bridge Dave had paid a high price for his attempts to wipe out my partisans once and for all when my 105 took out another of his tanks.  It looked like his troops in the village would not be getting their ammunition, sadly it didn't look like they needed it.

Yeah, things could be better

It would all hang on whether I could hold off  his reinforcements.  I had one moment of glory when an 81mm mortar wiped out an entire squad (and subsequently immobilised his remaining tank) but the other five made it to the stream.  Scrambling up the bank and shrugging off fire from a .50cal a pair of squads made it through.  The game hovered on a knife edge.  I had defenders in the woods and my remaining troops were trickling piecemeal onto the battlefield.  If I could cling on there was still a chance.  The remnants of my partisan force even made another attempt at clearing the DC (they failed and got shot to pieces for their pains).

Can I hold on?

I did have hopes, perhaps grounded in delusion rather than reality, yet hopes I did have.  Then in one dreadful fire phase Dave simply shattered my right flank while simultaneously bringing the rest of his reinforcements across on the left.  He didn't need to fight his way forward, he could just walk in.  The game literally went from "in the balance" to unwinnable in the course a single fire phase.  To be fair Dave was pressing and I was barely clinging on so it probably didn't change the ultimate outcome.  Still the game ended rather abruptly as I surveyed the wreckage of my forces and gave the concession.  So far it has to be admitted the Free French are not doing well.

Um, no I can't

In retrospect the set up of my partisans was a bad mistake.  Also despite being constrained by the setup requirements I could have had my troops a little closer to the village.  I focused too much on the bridge when I should really have been looking further south.  Dave's tanks did sterling work and paid the price but I never had the firepower in place to effectively challenge his infantry reinforcements.  Still onward and downward, I hear its peak hour at the Golf Hotel.

The messenger stood nervously as Sous lieutenant Outlebarrel scribbled out his report.  Delivering bad news was one of the worst parts of his job.  To his surprise the young officer seemed in good spirits.

"Tell the Commandante that no ammunition got through to the garrison and we destroyed an armoured counter attack."

"Just that?" asked the messenger.

"Is there anything you wanted to add?"

"We did sort of fail rather badly."

"Failure is in the eyes of the beholder and the Commandante isn't here to behold a damn thing."

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Travelling Pathetically - 10 Kilometre Limit Edition

 I'm allowed to go outside for exercise as long as I stay within ten kilometres of the crumbling apartment block that currently constitutes my home.  Having firmly decided that exercise was marginally better than housework I studied the map to see what areas of interest there might be within the restricted range.  Ten kilometres doesn't sound like much but when you draw a circle around my home with a radius of ten kilometres you get a piece of land that is actually larger than the entire nation Liechtenstein.  The mathematics necessary to work this out was subcontracted to my father who has the advantage of being able to count.  Unfortunately most of the territory involved is covered in houses.  These are difficult to walk through and the owners often complain.

Nevertheless I found a patch of likely looking green on the map and decided that this would be graced with my presence for the day.  Having followed Wolli Creek down to its confluence with the Cooks River in a previous, bat intensive, expedition I would now turn right and follow the creek upstream through a series of reserves and random bits of bush now serving largely as pollution traps for the creek itself.  Once I ran out of trees I would take a hard right (Alan Jones would be so proud) and traipse through suburban streets until I reached Cup and Saucer Creek which I would follow down to the Cooks River.  Then I could just trot along beside the river until I reached home.  And all while remaining within the necessary ten kilometres of my front door.

Of course in these plague intensive times any trip outside is fraught with peril and I made my preparations accordingly.  Once equipped in a fashion that would have made Edmund Hilary think I was overdressed I set forth on my journey.  On the way I had to fend off the advances of my puffin who saw me in a mask and boots and thought the day was going to go in an entirely different direction.

Not, you might think, an entirely auspicious start

Above is where my journey began.  The bridge is over Wolli Creek which is hiding (possibly out of shame) behind the various collection of noxious weeds and invasive species which are hogging the camera.  Somewhere in amongst that mess is a narrow walking path that leads under the bridge and follows the creek upstream.

And this is the creek itself, careful photography has managed to avoid the plastic bottles floating on the surface

Despite the, shall we say, less than impressive beginning once past the bridge things began to improve.  There has been a definite attempt to improve the water quality of the Cooks River and the streams flowing into it of late and the shreds of bushland form an important part as they help to filter pollutants from storm water before it hits the creek.  Not actually pouring toxic waste in has helped a bit as well.  The bushland itself has to be maintained by people with nothing better to do a concern for the environment to ensure that those pushy invasive species (which apparently aren't so great at filtering pollutants) don't overrun the area.

I've mentioned before in this blog (several times, if you want originality go elsewhere) how peaceful simply being in a patch of nature, however small, can be.  Even on this walk where warehouses (and just normal houses) were almost always visible through the trees there was a certain sense of stillness which was deeply appealing.  Trees grew, birds flitted and if I stopped and listened carefully I could hear the sound of, all the other people tramping along this path chatting to each other.  Speaking of a pushy invasive species.  The photographs I took were all carefully arranged to make it look as though I was the last person on earth.  If my plans come to fruition I shall be.

The creek's hiding again but its in there somewhere

I can hardly claim that this was a strenuous walk.  The most physical exertion I underwent was scrambling to the side to allow people in active wear to pass by.  I don't have active wear.  Most of my clothing would fit the category of inactive wear.  Some of it barely meets the standard of "wear".  Despite my annoyance at these interruptions the presence of these people pleased me (in an abstract way).  If sufficient of the locals like walking along this path (and it appears that they do) maybe they can ensure that a property developer doesn't drop a housing estate into the middle of it.  You might think that words like "creek" and "flood zone" and "heavily polluted" might put a property developer off.  You would be wrong.

As I went along the "bush" widened out a bit from a narrow strip overlooked by houses to a somewhat wider strip overlooked by houses.  Trees and boulders clustered around and did their best to look like genuine wilderness.  At ground level small crawling things made encouraging rustles in the leaves to promote the idea that there was a functioning ecosystem happening here.

Far beyond civilisation

Of course it couldn't all be trees and boulders (photo of a boulder coming up) a couple of broader areas had been cleared to provide reserves ie places where people could walk their dogs without walking into a tree every thirty seconds.  I plodded dutifully across these reserves nodding politely to the people walking their dogs therein who recoiled in horror at my presence.  This may be due to COVID but not necessarily.  One small and rather confused dog came up to me and then trotted ahead of me back towards the trees pausing every so often to make sure I was following.  Fortunately his owner arrived before I had to make difficult decisions about what I was going to do with the thing.

A small and rather confused dog

The owner explained to me that the dog was almost blind.  Possibly it got me mixed up with its owner which makes me suspect that the owner must also smell of cigarettes and stuffed puffins.  With the brief canine interlude behind me I left the reserve behind me and reentered the wild.  Briefly before emerging onto another reserve which resembled the previous one but with fewer dogs.  Rereentering the wild I took pictures of some photogenic boulders (see below) and plunged onwards.

Boulders as promised

I wasn't breaking any speed records, indeed one couple in active wear I met coming from the other direction I met again when they passed me on their return journey, but that didn't concern me too much as every step took me closer to suburbia (which was only about fifty metres away in any event).  While I could I enjoyed the trees and the calm in the sure and certain knowledge that concrete and tarmac awaited.

A photo specifically for Clare, its either fungus or a tumour

And just like that the trees did come to an end.  The creek itself carried on but it would do so on its own.  We'd had some good times but it was time to go our separate ways.  Now I clumped reluctantly through the back end of Earlwood heading for the second half of my desination; Cup and Saucer Creek.

One can only assume that by the time they got around to naming Cup and Saucer Creek the early colonists had simply stopped trying.  The next creek they found was probably called That Dinner Service Your Mother Gave Us That I've Never Really Liked Creek.  Cup and Saucer Creek flows, or rather, trickles through various residential areas but according to the map there was a walking path alongside it and a couple of parks along the way.  The map did not lie.

Cup and Saucer Creek, not exactly an untamed waterway
As with previous creeks I've encountered this one was more of a gutter albeit a gutter with flood warning signs every twenty metres or so.  I'm not sure whether the fence is there so the creek can't escape or so that people can't get in and bang their heads on the concrete in futile attempts to drown themselves.  Alongside this well defined waterway a strip of lawn and a walking path allowed the pedestrian to fantasise that they were, well walking beside a gutter next to people's houses.  Even my imagination managed that.

The walking path (and indeed the creek) led to a park where another brick and concrete encased stream joined it without apparently adding too much to the water volume.  Untamed wilderness it was not but it was pleasant to stroll through not one but two parks as I headed in the general direction of the Cooks River.  I took a photo of some ibis because its not really Sydney without an unsolicited ibis photo.

As you can see the creek is still home to wildlife

As I walked along I have to admit I was getting increasingly perplexed by the lack of water.  A meagre trickle ran along the concrete bed of the creek which seemed to have been designed for something a little grander.  Naturally a certain amount of that was flood protection but even so there didn't seem to be a great deal of water flow happening.  Then I turned the corner and found that the creek had quadrupled in size.  The reason wasn't hard to find.  A large pipe was pouring water into the creek.  My curiosity was piqued, what was the meaning of this?  Fortunately a conveniently placed bridge allowed me to cross the creek and find out.

What I had encountered was another pollution control project.  They're really doing their best to clean up the Cooks River with no little success.  You may not be able to drink the water but at least it doesn't burn your skin off anymore.  In front of me was one of the reasons for said success.  It looked like a natural wetland with ponds, bush and the usual assortment of feathery things hanging out on the surface.  In fact it was a wholly artificial water filtering project cunningly designed to look like a natural wetland.  Water is pumped out of the creek and allowed to filter through a series of ponds and layers of sandstone which trap sediment while the native bush (somehow) sucks out some of the other pollutants.  The newly cleansed water is then dumped back into the creek to continue its journey to the river.  The pipe I had seen was doing the dumping.

Not bad as water recycling plants go

Of course you can't just build a series of ponds and expect nothing to happen.  The moment they did so birds, insects, fish, snakes and turtles turned up to take advantage of what was essentially a housing development for the local fauna.  The fish, snakes and turtles were of a retiring type but one particular, rather handsome, bird was so unconcerned by my presence that I suspected it was trying to steal my camera.

I don't actually think I have ever seen this bird before.  I have no idea what it is

Finally having exhausted my interest in water cleansing (and becoming increasingly nervous about the birds) I left and made my way to the picturesque (and only occasionally foul smelling) river that would lead me back to my starting point.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Plague Update #53 - I May Never Go Outside Again!

Well the plague is spreading through my fair city darkening the lives of all those it touches.  Along the way its managing to darken the lives of those that it so far hasn't gone anywhere near.  This is our punishment for smugness, for thinking that we somehow had everything under control.  With the lockdown extended and, finally, becoming more draconian the only thing in the city that isn't under the control of the government is the virus itself.

Down in Melbourne gleeful schadenfreude turned into weary despair when it became apparent that a couple of Sydney removalists had dropped off more than a bunch of tasteless furniture during their recent sojourn to that city.  Melbourne too is now under lockdown and given the circumstances the Federal government has been unable to avoid giving them money.

As for me things have come to a pretty state indeed.  When all of this started about seventy years ago one of my first reactions was to do some housework.  In a classic case of history repeating itself this seems to be all that I have left this time around as well.  I knocked the spiders out of my vacuum cleaner the other day (and then sucked them up) and the weekend found me staring at my bath trying to figure out how to clean it without drowning myself much to my puffin's amusement.  The fuzzy little bastard wasn't so amused when I sprayed him with exit mould and used him to scour the tiles in the bathroom.  Serves him right for sniggering.

It's got to the point where I daren't go out for coffee.  Actually that's a lie.  I would go out for coffee in the middle of a zombie apocalypse as I mentioned to my favourite cafe owner the other day.  Her response was succinct.

"How the hell did you get my home address and get your carcass out of here disease bag!"

Obviously this lockdown is hard on all of us.

Fortunately our state's Health Department is on the case.  After gruelling work by dedicated teams of professionals they have finally discovered who has been leaking the state's infection numbers on Tik Tok before the official announcements.  For those of you who don't know what Tik Tok is, its a Chinese government surveillance app that people download to their phones for some reason.  Its entirely possible we will defeat the Chinese by boring them to death.

Updated restrictions turn up so that official spokespeople have something to contradict in the daily press conferences.  One of these restrictions is on exercise.  If I restrict my exercise any more I'll stop breathing.  As far as I can tell exercise can be carried out only within ten kilometres of home and with no more than one other person.  Apparently if you wander eleven kilometres from your home COVID related death is inevitable.  This puts me in a bit of a quandary as I have already wandered through the most visual pleasing parts of the countryside (cityside?) within ten kilometres of my home.  It's also a measure of how desperate things have become that I'm actually seeking out places where I can exercise.  I never do that.  Now however it is a choice between that and doing the housework while a collection of stuffed toys chuckle under their breath.  Will this horror never end?

Friday, July 16, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Cut the Road to Marseilles

The Stuart tank lurched to a halt on a dusty French road next to a pair of farmers who were unenthusiastically shovelling dirt from one hole into another.  The hatch banged open and Sous lieutenant Raoul Outlebarrel emerged, his uniform gleaming in the sun.  He struck a heroic pose on the chassis of the tank which was marred only slightly when his heel slipped and deposited him into the dust at the side of the road.

"Shit," he muttered, "I mean merde!"  He picked himself up and looked around to see if anyone had noticed.  One of the farmers ignored him completed, continuing to poke at the earth with his shovel.  The other regarded him with a look best described as "impolite disinterest".

Brushing himself down Outlebarrel resumed his heroic pose somewhat closer to ground level and addressed his fellow countrymen.

"Rejoice brave farmers of France.  You have been liberated from the ruthless tyrant!"

"Oh so you've met my wife," replied the first farmer.

"Er, no I meant the Germans."

"Oh them, and who are you exactly?"

"I am a Free French soldier," replied Outlebarrel proudly.  A flicker of embarrassment crossed his features.  

"Forgive me but can you tell me where to find the road to Marseilles?"

"Lost are you?"

Outlebarrel squirmed, "I wouldn't say lost exactly.  I am home in beautiful France."

"Oh good, that's helpful.  For your information Marseilles is down at the bottom."

The farmer took pity.  He pointed at the ribbon of tarmac that stretched to the horizon.

"This is the road to Marseilles.  It's in that direction.  You'd better get a move on, it won't liberate itself."

With a word of thanks Outlebarrel scrambled back into the tank which lurched forward covering the two farmers in dust.  The second farmer spat and turned to his companion.

"You didn't mention there's a whole bunch of Germans in the way."

"He didn't ask," replied the first with a shrug.

"Who was he again?"

"He said he was Free French."

"Seems fair, I can't imagine anybody paying for him."

 Dave Wilson and I chose the Provence Pack partly because the scenarios looked interesting but mainly because we're cheap and the scenarios are free.  The first scenario is PP1 - Cut the Road to Marseilles.  This pits a not particularly good bunch of Free French infantry backed up by half the Stuart tanks in creation attempting to drive some disturbingly capable Germans out a group of buildings.  This will in some way "cut the road to Marseilles".

I shall command the Free (or at least heavily discounted) French of the 3rd Algerian Tirailleur Regiment as they attempt to push the Germans out.  For this pushing I have eight squads of infantry divided equally between first and second line troops plus a commando detachment consisting of a single 648 squad and a partisan 337.  The commandos are commanded by their own bespoke 9-2, leadership for the remainder is somewhat more mediocre.  Support weapons are present in the form of a single mmg, a single bazooka and a single 60mm mortar.  But then there is the armour, hoo boy do we have armour.  Four armoured halftracks (two of them inconveniently unarmed) are waiting to cart my bold tirailleurs to the battlefield.  Supporting them are no fewer than five Stuart tanks.  Lest this seem insufficient turn four sees the arrival of two more Stuarts under a 9-2 armour leader (historically this reinforcement was to assist the tirailleurs to flee from what was rapidly becoming a military debacle but surely that won't happen this time...).

Proudly standing on the wrong side of history Dave commands the landsers of the 242 infantry division.  Given that by this time southern France was a dumping ground for the most unemployable fragments the wehrmacht could produce their quality is almost suspiciously good.  He has twelve squads, half first line, half second.  No armour for these boys but they do have four medium machine guns, two heavy machine guns and no fewer than three 81mm mortars.  They also have twenty four concealment markers.  By SSR the support weapons can't set up manned.  Further more all German troops are under a TI marker until one of them has a line of sight to a known enemy unit.  However they can set up in the same hex as the support weapons and if their opponent is stupid enough to set up in their line of sight (ahem) they'll be able to grab them immediately.

To win the Germans must control at least four buildings within three hexes of 17R4 at the game end.  They can also win immediately by taking out five Free French AFV.  My job therefore was to throw the Germans out of stone buildings with an inferior force while also doing my best to keep my force multiplier safe from the fighting.

I have to admit I didn't like my chances.  Eight squads, half of them second line didn't seem like much of a force to be pushing a dozen Germans out of stone buildings even with tank support.  I came up with a high risk (hopefully) high reward strategy.  Either things would go well or the game would end on turn one.  I was fully prepared for option B.

At start
Above is our at start set up.  You will see that I eschewed hiding the partisan squad somewhere the Germans couldn't see it.  That meant Dave could grab his support weapons immediately but I thought it was necessary as I wanted to get things happening quickly.  The partisans and commandos would plough through what were hopefully dummies and grab the small building between the two woods.  Two of my tanks and four squads mounted in halftracks would swing around to the north, unload directly in front of the units in the wood and, assuming they survived jump into close combat immediately.  I hoped to clear a passage south towards the victory buildings.  The remainder of my infantry would sneak forward to the small patch of woods directly to the east of the victory buildings supported by the remaining tanks and hopefully I would catch the defenders between two fires.

It didn't quite work like that although it probably came closer than I deserved.  My halftrack boys did indeed dismount directly in front of his defenders, survived all defensive fire and plunged into close combat but despite 2:1 odds (Dave had scattered halfsquads across the north) couldn't clear them out in the first turn.  My partisan squad did manage to clear out some dummies but got broken in the process (not by the dummies obviously) and my 9-2, commando squad combo assault moved next to the obviously real occupants of the building.  A morale check from an mmg was sufficient to sent the 9-2 yelping for the rear of course but the commandos stayed strong and plunged into close combat where they were promptly ambushed and the defenders withdrew.

End of French turn 1

Things went a bit not good after that.  Although not in the area I was expecting.  My flankers did indeed dispose of his northern shield in CC just a little later than expected and soon four squads, plus tanks and halftracks were pounding south towards the enemy.  The enemy had been occupying his time carving up my eastern troops for dogmeat.  Trees and concealment counters were of no avail and virtually the entire force was shivering in the rear waiting for their officers to recover from their crying jags and rally them.  Still I had my tanks and with them I started to "encircle" the defenders.  Does it really count as an encirclement when the defenders can simply shoot the encirclers to pieces?  I also broke the MA on a Stuart.  My sniper too paid the ultimate price but since the alternative was a squad or a leader I was quite ok with that.

The scenario is developing in a manner not necessarily to my advantage

I thought I had lost it on the first turn but somehow stumbled through to turn two.  With half my infantry down and the remainder some way from the victory locations there was only one thing to do; be suicidally reckless with my armour and hope for the best.  This worked right up to the point where it didn't.  In the north my Stuarts rolled forward and sprayed the occupants of the nearby buildings with canister.  Just to prove that lousy morale checks weren't the sole preserve of 9-2s all of Dave's defenders went down.  If I could get some troops there I had a way in.

I pushed forward with my halftracks (bad move that) and actually broke  mortar crew with machine gun fire.  My own mortar team incidentally had been slowly dragging its ridiculously heavy weapon forward but its time was about to come.

It seems nobody on either side can buy a morale check

 In the south a Stuart had swung around and had been taking largely impotent potshots at the occupants of a building.  It was blown to pieces by an 81mm mortar shell.  Strangely I didn't take the hint.  With my eastern dwellers now largely rallied (except for one squad which would remain disrupted to the end) and my tanks swarming (apart from the destroyed one) I started pushing forward.

Armour losses are mounting

Using tanks and half tracks to sleaze defenders and provide a modicum of cover I grabbed the northern buildings and forced my way into a couple of others.  Dave's defences were crumbling and the victory buildings were in my sight.  Unfortunately what was in Dave's sight was my armour.  Another tank fell to a mortar and then a third.  Dave's infantry was buckling under the impact of my bold tirailleurs but their armoured support was looking distinctly dusty.  By the end of turn three I had the buildings I needed and my 60mm mortar had justified its existence with a critical hit on one of his mortars.

Sadly it was to no avail.  With four AFV down Dave only needed to take out one more for the automatic win.  My turn four consisted of frenzied efforts to move my vehicles out of line of sight.  Unfortunately I wasn't successful and a mortar blew a halftrack to scrap to meet the five AFV limit and an automatic win for Dave.

Five AFV down and that's a wrap

 This scenario was much more fun than I really expected.  Although I wonder how much excitement there is for the German player who essentially has to sit where he is and hope his rolls come good.  I'm not even too disappointed with my tactics (a couple of glaring exceptions notwithstanding). Although I have to admit I underestimated the ability of the German mortars to kill armour, especially the open topped halftracks and that ultimately was what lost me the game.  Much thanks to Dave for the game.  Next time we're trying the next scenario in the pack, Supply Detail.

Sous lieutenant Outlebarrel stumbled from the trees brushing bits of halftrack out of his hair.  Most of the tirailleurs were already some distance ahead of him fleeing the wrong way along the road to Marseilles.  

"Come back," he yelled, as much for the look of it as anything else.  He certainly had no intention of returning to the battlefield.  "We must launch a counterattack," he shouted just in case a senior officer was listening.  Ammunition from a burning tank started cooking off behind him.  "Tomorrow," he hastily amended.  "We must launch a counterattack tomorrow."

The two French farmers looked at the pillars of smoke rising from beyond the trees.

"Feeling liberated yet?" asked the first.

"Yes," replied the second, "but that's because I've loosened my truss."

Saturday, July 10, 2021

There's not a Lot Going on in Tasmania

 I haven't really reached out to my Tasmanian correspondent in recent weeks.  Ever since our road trip and the associated "unpleasantness" I thought I had better leave her to calm down for a while.  As to the unpleasantness itself, my lips are sealed.  All I will say is that it involved an unlocked door, some "special" clothing I own and a box of kumquats.  However, since this blog long passed the point where I can sustain it with my own creativity I forced myself to make the connection.  Fortunately she appeared to be prepared to let bygones be bygones and greeted me in her usual style.

"What the hell do you want you depraved freak?"

I mentioned that the whole point of being a correspondent is that she's supposed to correspond every so often but it turned out she had good reason for her silence.  Her palms were covered in fungus.  I made the appropriate sympathetic noises and offered to send her some penicillin.  I have a large store of this since I physically can't consume all of the medications my tech support press on me.  Besides some of them claw their way out of the boxes and escape.

At some point during the obscenity riddled rant that followed I did glean the fact that she was referring to her house plants and not, as I had first thought, an unfortunate medical condition.  Although I guess its pretty unfortunate for the palms.  My tech support who were listening in suggested scouring the palms with acid.  When I pointed out that we were talking about plants they retracted their advice and subsided into silence.

In fact my correspondent is doing the lowgrade, domestic version of scouring them with acid.  She's spraying them with apple cider vinegar.  If nothing else they should be delicious by the time the fungus kills them off.  With the diseased plant situation safely under control my correspondent unbent sufficiently to provide me with the latest information from her little patch of Tasmania.

One of her fish is continually faking its death.  As alert readers of this blog will be aware fish don't generally need to fake their death once they enter the care of my correspondent.  However the unexpected survival of quite a few of the fish she possesses has prompted every friend, relative and random stranger with an unwanted piscine to dump them on her and then flee the state.  The result of which is that her home is starting to resemble a low rent aquarium with fungus riddled palms.

The child who presented the fish in question warned my correspondent that it was a drama queen.  My correspondent replied with the kindly warmth adults use to hide their contempt when children say something particularly stupid and ignored it.  The next day the fish was floating belly up in the fish tank.  With a weary sigh (and no doubt a sense of deja vu) my correspondent went off to fetch a net to snag the floating corpse and return it to the sea via the sewage system.  On her return said fish was happily swimming around down at the bottom of the tank.  It has done this several times now and it has got to the point where when the thing finally dies my correspondent is likely to leave it floating in the tank for a month out of sheer skepticism.

With diseased palms and semi dead fish removed as talking points my correspondent turned instead to the lockdown I am currently suffering under with great glee.  Apparently my being locked down is something she feels is long overdue.  When I pointed out that the entire of Greater Sydney was locked down as well she thought that was a little unfair but worth it if it stopped me leaving the house.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Plague Update #52 - We're All Saved, Again

 Hurray!  Australia is saved!  Our prime minister recently announced a "new deal" which will enable us to deal with COVID, put it behind us and get on with our lives.  Apparently it involves vaccinations and dangling carrots like permitting people who have been vaccinated (roll on September) to indulge in the heady fruits of freedom that may be denied to the infectious herd.  Oh, and the number of people allowed into the country is going to be restricted.  I'm not saying this is unwelcome but it does rather raise the question of what the hell was the "old deal" and why did we stick with it for so long.  I'm also a little confused about the "allowed into the country" thing.  I didn't realise anybody was still traveling.  Except for our prime minister of course who went overseas for the G7 summit and has spent the last two weeks personal quarantine himself as a result.  Given what happened in that time being plausibly absent from the centre of responsibility probably isn't a heart breaker for him.

And, apparently people are still traveling.  For starters there are, apparently, still Australians stuck overseas trying to get home.  How much of our population was overseas for goodness sake?  This pandemic has been going on for over a year now, even with entry restricted to the numbers we can quarantine at any one time how can there possibly still be anyone left overseas?

Celebration of the country's new golden path away from lockdown hell was muted due to the fact that a large proportion of the country is currently in lockdown.  NSW Health (in light of the circumstances they may wish to change that name) has put out a list of locations that require testing and/or self isolation.  It will soon be easier simply to name the venues that haven't had an exposure.  

In an interview over the weekend a government minister announced that he is confident that plenty of doses of Pfizer vaccine are on their way.  Or to put it another way he announced that plenty of Pfizer doses aren't actually in the country.  This is not entirely surprising.  One of the disadvantages with living on an island a long way from the parts of the world that actually make things is that there tends to be a bit of a delay before said things turn up.

There have been dark mutterings about the media's role in spreading disinformation and alarm about the vaccines which in my mind is somewhat unfair.  What the media does is report stories that they think will receive attention in order to generate revenues for their owners.  The way to deal with that is to get in front of such stories and present a coherent narrative that will hold steady despite the occasional blip.  And I can literally feel every politician in the country staring at me in complete incomprehension.  Politicians tend to undertake actions based on reports in the media.  The concept of generating reports in the media as a result of their actions isn't something that comes naturally to them (except in a negative sense when they get caught in a public toilet with a fistful of party drugs and a wallaby in a negligee).  

Just on that topic, over in North Korea a number of senior ranking party officials have been sacked for what was referred to as "neglecting their duties in fighting the global health crisis".  Its a little disturbing that apparently North Korea can teach us lessons on ministerial responsibility.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Silly After Action Report - El Hemeimat Ridge

 It takes a certain type of mentality to jump out of a perfectly functional aircraft.  One needs courage, determination and a deep desire to avoid having to pay duty on that second bottle of alcohol you brought onto the plane.  The soldiers of the Folgore paracadutisti division were such men.  Hard eyed, lean sinewed, tight fisted.  Trained in the finest customs avoidance techniques by the German Wehrmacht these Italians were a battle hungry elite prepared to hurl themselves into combat from the skies.  The Italian high command took one look at them and sent them to occupy foxholes in the desert.  Given the quality of their weapons it wasn't so much "death from above" and more like "the possibility of injury from round about knee level".

I plundered LFT's offering on Italians to come up with this one for Dave Wilson and me to play. Scenario FT238 El Hemeimat Ridge.  I, of course, shall command the Italians.  And what Italians!  Such Italians haven't been seen since the days of the Roman legions.  447 elite squads are not enough for these boys, they insist they are 448s with no lower broken morale and a +0 on their HOB die roll.  I was lightheaded with delirium at the thought of commanding such troops (also delirious was VASL which couldn't handle the concept at all so we had to make do with 447s which we had to remember were Italian supermen).

I have eight of these battle happy bullet magnets plus three equally steroid pumped crews to man a 47mm gun, a 20mm AA gun and a hmg.  Here reality intervened because the support weapons were the usual collection of malfunction happy Italian rubbish.  There was also a medium machine gun, a light machine gun and a heavy antitank rifle.  Three more than usually inspiring Italian officers commanded this small but doughty force.  To shelter them from the hail of fire soon to be heading in their direction were four sangars, six trenches and a pillbox.  Eighteen minefield factors and twelve dummies added to the confusion.  On turn four, should I survive that long reinforcements would arrive in the form of another seven squads, a pair of officers, two more light machine guns and (trying to show they're making a contribution) three German armoured cars.  My job was to defend the ridge identified in the scenario title.  The Italians win at game end if at least four squads (or AFV) are on level 3 hill hexes.

Preparing to sweep the ridge of Italian life and gain revenge for the capture of Menton are Dave's Free French.  It isn't the only the Italians who are elite in this one.  To take on the Folgore the Allies have sent in the Legion.  Dave has nineteen squads thirteen of which are elite and two of which are elite elite sappers.  Five officers including a pair of 9-1s lead the legionnaires forward.  They have two medium machine guns, four light machine guns (although two are of inferior French design) and three antitank rifles plus a demolition charge.  Supporting the human material are a British 76mm mortar, two French Conus armoured trucks toting 75mm artillery pieces (smoke, for the purposes of) and a solitary bren gun carrier which must have been sitting around some British headquarters when a light fingered legion detachment wandered by.  There would be a LV hindrance for the first three turns to simulate the dawn's early light (or, more accurately, the dawn's early dark) to give the intrepid legionnaires some cover as they crossed the open desert to the Italian positions.

Below is my at start set up.  On the left my line would be anchored by the 20mm, in the centre by the 47mm and on the right by the mmg guided by a 9-1 leader.  My hmg would set up in the pillbox behind the ridgeline to deal with any legionnaires who survived the no doubt vicious battle for the forward positions.  I was mindful that both his gun trucks and his mortar had generous quantities of smoke and the hope was that by spreading out not all of the defenders would be blinded.


Well to be fair not all the defenders were blinded.  Still no fewer than three smoke rounds blocked the lines of sight and air passages of my troops but in return one of his gun trucks would run out of smoke and break its MA into the bargain.  Shrouded by smoke and the dim light the legionnaires began their advance.

End of Allied turn 1

It wasn't long before both Dave and I started to have serious concerns about the quality of our so called "elite" troops.  Despite having morale of at least seven (and usually eight) Dave's troops proved spectacularly disinclined to pass morale checks.  The only reason why this wasn't a serious issue for him was because my Folgore proved to be incapable of hitting the side of a barn.  In a direct mirror image of this my troops rolled low on morale checks but Dave rolled even lower on fire shots with the result that my troops failed a number of 1 & 2MC checks with what were decent rolls.  If nothing else this added to the tension as for the first three or four turns both of us was convinced that the other was winning handsomely.  Despite the apparent hesitation of his troops Dave's forces moved forward in the teeth of wildly inaccurate Italian fire and reached the base of the ridge.  Victory would lie at the top.

For the first couple of turns the prize jewel in the Italian armoury was its sniper.  While the Folgore were apparently firing up into the air and shooting their own feet off (it takes skill to do both simultaneously) my sniper went on a one man vendetta against Dave's supporting firepower.  He started by breaking the mortar crew and went on to force the recall of both gun trucks before reluctantly redirecting his attention to an inoffensive 8-0 whom he first wounded and then (in a clear violation of the Geneva Convention) shot dead while he was having his wounds treated.  The mortar crew would rally but at least some sources of smoke were lost to Dave.

And this was good because my forward defenders had been swept away in a hail of advancing fire (which among other things generated the sniper shots) and Dave's gallant legionnaires started climbing the ridge.

The French are coming

As can be seen from the picture above Dave is threatening on both flanks and is advancing towards the heart of my resistance.  The centre, for the moment, holds firm simply because Dave hasn't managed to get anyone near it.  In point of fact it was the terrain which was Dave's principal enemy at this point.  This ridge line is an absolute bitch to try and climb and isn't helped when you have a bunch of guys who are shooting (however inaccurately) at you every step of the way.  Dave's situation wasn't helped by the fact that on the rare occasions that my Folgore shot straight his troops would invariably break.

Dave got himself into a handy position on both flanks but had difficulties effectively exploiting it as my remaining troops held their ground sternly.  In the centre his forces slowly scrabbled their way up wadis and through crags to reach positions from where my defenders, still shrouded in smoke thanks to his rejuvenated mortar, could actually shoot at them.

The battle for the ridge begins

Things hung in the balance like this for a couple of turns as Dave struggled to turn his initial gains into a decisive advantage and I clung on by my eyelids and looked anxiously for my reinforcements.  And I needed those reinforcements.  The Italians need four squads on level three hill hexes and thanks to the casualties so far I simply no longer had them but every one of my remaining units that survived made the reinforcements job easier.

The decisive moment really came when Dave succeeded in turning the left.  I should perhaps have put a little more force there to start with and breaking the 20mm gun didn't help matters much although since the crew died shortly afterwards perhaps it didn't have too much of an effect either.  On the centre right I was holding firm thanks to the heroic actions of an mmg team under the direction of a 9-1.  These guys dominated their little patch of the battlefield and, when Dave finally got troops into their location, cheerfully picked up bayonets and dispatched the intruders before going back to shooting.

Things are not going well.  Frankly that should be my battlecry

Which was good because my 47mm gun in the centre proved to be a distinct disappointment.  It's crew got off one shot before a WP round terrified them so much that they lost interest in proceedings for a good while.  To add insult to injury Dave would eventually capture the gun and use it to destroy a German armoured car.  Still the terrain was hampering Dave's attempts to close up on the ridge and on the right my mmg team ruled the battlefield.  About my hmg team in the pillbox not much can be said.  When the legionnaires poked their heads above the skyline they opened fire and were swiftly broken.  Once they recovered they celebrated by breaking their own weapon.  Apparently more concerned about the threat they posed than their performance to date would justify Dave drove his carrier into the hex and parked it preventing them from firing out.  This allowed my hmg team to do the only useful thing they did all day.  Sallying forth in CC they tore the tracks off the carrier and beat the inherent crew to death with them.  It has to be said that CC was the Italians friend in this scenario.

As my reinforcements waited in the wings rehearsing their lines and overcoming stage fright things weren't going well on stage.  I did have four squads on level three hexes unfortunately two of them were prisoners of the French and another was broken.  But Dave had his problems too.  His forces on the left were in good positions but were not numerous enough to truly interdict my reinforcements.  In the centre another squad had died in CC and a squad that went berserk was shot to pieces approaching the Italian positions.  My mmg crew held the right.  If stasis could be maintained for another couple of turns the reinforcements would be in position and there might be a chance for me to pull off a win.

An now my reinforcements had arrived!  Racing forward under the dubious protection of the armoured cars they panted towards the battlefield.  Unfortunately one of said armoured cars rolled past a hammada hex and tore its own wheels off.  That left two.  Up on the ridge Dave had finally managed to capture the 47mm gun which proved itself far more capable in the hands of its new owners and killed another armoured car.  Still the infantry was pushing forward and the remaining armoured car was mounting the hill (I apologise for any disturbing visuals the preceding sentence may have produced).

I still have faint hopes

Unfortunately stasis couldn't be maintained.  I had so few troops left on the ridge that any poor roll would lead to complete disaster.  A fanatic Italian squad in a trench failed a lowly NMC and suddenly I was virtually out of defenders with my reinforcements just barely setting foot on the other side of the ridge.  I was also almost out of time which led to me rushing my reinforcements forward and paying the price.  I conceded in turn six with the bulk of the ridge in French hands (although my gallant mmg position held out to the end) and my surviving reinforcements facing the prospect of attempting to recapture in one turn what had taken Dave four to achieve.  Congratulations to Dave whose skillful use of smoke and positioning compensated for some frightenly fragile troops.  Fewer congratulations to me who mishandled my forces on a couple of occasions.  In retrospect perhaps setting up more defences on the left is the answer since that's where the reinforcements arrive.

And now those faint hopes are gone
 Tune in next time when it is my turn to command the Free French (we'll gloss over the game we played in between where I lost in such an embarrassing fashion that it isn't worthy of an AAR).