Saturday, October 16, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Shoestring Ridge

 Carefully a column of Japanese soldiers moved silently through the blackness of the Philippines night.  Not a word, not a sound broke the stillness except for the controlled breathing of the soldiers and the crashing and and hysterical cursing as Lieutenant Koda Bushido tripped over his sword yet again and fell sprawling into the bushes.  The first five times it had happened the men had been amused but now they were approaching the American positions and secrecy was essential.

The darkness seemed to press in on them.  The only light came from the full moon shining over a cloudless sky.  And the from tips of the American's cigarettes ahead of them.  And a bunch of fireflies that happened to be buzzing around.  And the luminescence of a rotting log.  And the lights of Dumalaan village in the distance.  One of the soldiers was actually managing to read a book as he advanced.

There was one other source of light,

"Bushido, put your damn phone away," snarled the major as he attempted to deploy his troops.

"Sorry," muttered Bushido, "but there's a pokemon around here somewhere."

The major grasped the hilt of his own sword, "I'll pokemon you if you're not careful."

Hidden in foxholes along the ridge the Americans dozed, blissfully unaware of the grim fate sneaking up on them.  Suddenly a bloodcurdling scream split the tropical night.

"My bad," said Lieutenant Bushido, "there was a spider on my leg."

To make up for some non-existent feelings of guilt over skipping the night scenario in the Provence Pack Dave Wilson and I pulled out Scenario 61 - Shoestring Ridge and decided to give it a go.  Here I shall command a batch of reasonably high quality Japanese soldiers trying to use their stealth advantages and the darkness of the night to get past Dave's American defenders.  The Japanese enter from the north and win immediately if they get 20VP off the southern board edge.  Between them and this objective are a bunch of hills, a bunch of American soldiers and a single US marine.

I have seventeen squads, four elite and thirteen first line encouraged into battle by four officers headed by an inspirational 10-1 (no he didn't die although he was wounded).  Four crews man three medium machine guns and one heavy.  The soldiers are toting another five lmgs and four knee mortars between them.  Quite an impressive force, it would take a high degree of mismanagement to fail with this bunch.

Dave has ten US squads, six elite and four first line plus four more half squads.  He too has four officers led by an inspirational 9-2.  These guys have four mmgs, a 37mm gun and a radio connecting them to a battery of 60mm mortars.  Seventeen foxholes, ten wire counters and fifteen trip flares make up his fortifications.  Finally, proudly alone in a foxhole of his very own is a single hero manning a .50cal machine gun.

According to the set up instructions I had to enter at least eight squad equivalents and two leaders on each board.  Nevertheless as far as I was able I set up weighted to the top board (board 2).  My intention was to set up a powerful firebase on the hills in the centre and then hopefully swing a significant force around the hills at the top and race for the exit while the rest of my boys hopefully prevented the Americans from shooting the crap out of them.  I allocated a distinctly secondary force to the board 25 defenders as the terrain just seemed like too much effort.  

At start.  I tossed a couple of dummy cloaking counters into the mix just for giggles

With sacrificial half squads leading the way I pushed forward, eating up the unoccupied ground and probing for his defences (ie walking straight into them).  My first turn went as well as I could hope.  A few cloaking counters lost as some of his troops opened fire at the top of board two but no casualties and a very neat line of Japanese cloaking counters stretched out across the map.  In the centre I had "discovered" a couple of wire entanglements but all in all it was quite a low key beginning.  Starting with Dave's turn starshells would light up the night.

End Japanese turn 1, so far so good

In Dave's turn my newly positioned kill stack managed to break a squad in a foxhole but one of my mortars discovered that it had left both its smoke and WP shells behind.  Unable to bear the disgrace that mortar committed suicide in the next fire phase.  Fortunately the halfsquad manning it had already been broken.  Some units are just cursed.

 Turn two was the moment when I discovered the major flaw in my plan.  My troops moved forward at the top of board 2 and ran into a line of wire and trip flares that Dave had strung to block egress (and Japanese).  This effectively stymied me for several turns as my guys proved utterly incapable of getting off the wire once on.  My over commitment  in this area meant I was ill placed to reinforce my centre where the small forces allocated were making genuine gains.  His troops in the valley were wiped out in CC and some bold Japanese had sprinted in the direction of his main defensive line in the hopes that their death would reveal the American positions to their comrades.  On board 25 fortunes were mixed as I lost another halfsquad but a squad made it all the way forward and snatched an American foxhole for itself (it was unoccupied but still).

Breakthrough in the centre.  Unfortunately most of my troops are at the top

Dave complained that he didn't get much value from his OBA and this was true in terms of harm inflicted (although it did manage to stripe a pair of crews with mmgs) but it was certainly an irritant.  The injury to the mmg crews came as I attempted to move them towards the centre to support my unexpected success there.  For the rest I stuck stubbornly to my original plan, surely to god my troops would get off the wire eventually.

On the lighter side of the news Dave revealed his 37mm and promptly went on a rate tear.  Sadly for him the only result was a berserk Japanese unit.  I doubled down on the berserkers when my 9-0 on hill 25 also went berserk and took his troops with him.  Meanwhile in the thinly populated but disturbingly successful centre the point force (a half squad and a dummy cloaking counter) closed in on the marine hero in his foxhole.

Success in the centre and bottom.  Still stuck on the wire at the top

My berserkers died in a welter of blood spattered close combat their American foes taken into the afterlife with them.  Casualties were actually getting a little shocking for both sides but strangely I was the most concerned.  The Japanese need to exit 20VP, a little difficult to do if there aren't 20VP left whereas it doesn't matter if there are no Americans left on the board at all as long as the Japanese don't get off.  Which was convenient for Dave as his troops were dropping like flies.

I managed to take out his .50cal hero in CC (with a second line Japanese halfsquad just for extra flourish).  I broke his gun crew and smothered the location in WP just for good measure and broke his leader/mmg stack as well.  In an act of staggering stupidity which I cannot believe even now I moved a stack of two mmg crews opposite one of his foxholes still containing a squads worth of infantry.  These guys would deservedly die the next turn and rob me of vital firepower.  Finally, halle-bloody-llulah my troops at the top finally managed to worm their way under the wire.  

I should have raced my guys in the centre for the exit.  Instead I swung around to take out his foxhole line

Yes I was under the wire at last but the delay had allowed Dave to move troops to block their immediate path forward.  Reinvigorated my troops pushed forward, seeking close combat at every opportunity.  Dave's men died left and right which left the survivors of my force with a pretty clear run to the exit.  And not enough time left to get there.  I did the maths and calculated that at best I could exit 19VP, one less than I needed in the time remaining.  Dave's wire and self sacrificing troops had pipped me at the post.  I gave the concession at a time when there were barely any American troops left on the board.  

It's appropriate that the scenario end with yet more of my troops hung up on the bloody wire

Neither of us normally play night scenarios and we had to do this one with the rule book in our hands at all times.  Still it was fun slowly watching my hope of victory drain away like water through a bucket with a hole in it.  Thanks to Dave for the game.  Having satiated our desire for night games Dave wanted to play Clash Along the Psel.  Half way through he apologised for this choice and we mutually agreed not to mention it again so the next AAR will be for Khamsin.  Desert, wind, dust what could possibly go wrong? 

"All right," said the major with a heavy sigh.  "Pull back."

A corporal stared in astonishment.

"Pull back?  The Americans are broken and the exit is directly ahead!"

"Yes," replied the major, "but it will soon be dawn."

"So what?  We're not vampires are we?"

Lieutenant Bushido rose from a foxhole, blood dripping from his fangs.

"Oh you have got to be kidding me."

Friday, October 8, 2021

Travelling Pathetically - Riverside Edition

 I have mentioned in the past that I live near a river.  Specifically the Cooks River.  The Cooks River is probably most famous because forcing someone to drink the water is officially considered a war crime.  A golf course separates my home from the raging flood waters that periodically don't threaten to drown us all.  Between the golf course and the river is a narrow path that permits one to wander alongside the river under the shade of what may or may not be native trees and enjoy something that vaguely resembles nature.

It is a measure of how desperate I have become for something to do that this last little fragment of semi bush within a five kilometre radius became the focus of my latest trip outside my home for thoroughly legal exercise reasons.  I asked my platypus if he would like to come to the river.  He seemed quite excited until I mentioned it was the Cooks River at which point he backed away slowly and finally hid in the bathroom.

Despite being platypus bereft I set out on what I freely admit was the most half baked expedition to date (if you don't count the time I wandered around the grounds of my apartment block).  The day was warm, the sky was blue and birds sang.  At least I presume birds sang, they usually do.  Access to the river is gained by passing through the golf course.  Access to the golf course is gained by simply walking in.  As long as you don't actually set your picnic rug up on the green they seem to reasonably tolerant about such things.

The golf course would be my companion for the first half of my trip but by being careful with my eyes I was able to almost completely ignore it.  Who cares about golf, the river awaited my eager eyes.

And this is what my eager eyes saw

With the river on my right and an ignored golf course to my left I strolled downstream.  If I followed the river for long enough I would wind up in Botany Bay.  I didn't follow the river for long enough.  In actual fact during a five kilometre walk I doubt if I was ever more than a kilometre from home.  The reason being that the river takes it into its head to make a broad curve to the left depositing the walker not too far from where they started.

I ambled along enjoying the greenery and taking photos of random birds and plants that didn't jump out of the way fast enough. 

Example of a bird that didn't jump out of the way fast enough

For a while the river itself took second place as I busied myself taking photos of flowers while angling the camera to ensure that no golfers were caught in the background.  I always try and make it look like I'm the only person around, a task that got increasingly difficult as the day wore on.

Random plants of a decorative nature

With the plant life thus effectively dealt with, apart from the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus (see below) I could return my attention to the broad expanse of well, mainly water that was jumping up and down and insisting that I give it a little camera love.

At first my view of the river had been obscured by trees that had inconsiderately taken advantage of the fact that nobody was golfing there right at that moment to grow up along the rivers edge.  However the path came closer to the water and the trees slunk away muttering about revenge.

Yep, that's definitely a river

And so is this

The golf course came to an end and I heaved a sigh of relief and stepped forward with greater enthusiasm only to walk face first into more people than I had seen in one place for over a year.  It was, as I have said, a warm day and such of the population who couldn't plausibly claim to live within five kilometres of a beach had decided that a park by the river was the next best option.

There was some attempt at mask wearing.  Basically people sat around in groups without masks but if one of them got up to, for example, toss something in a garbage bin a mask was religiously donned for the fifteen metre trip to the bin and back before being removed again once they were able to inhale the breath of their companions.  It is amazing how adept we are at adapting to a circumstance while simultaneously completely missing the point.

As promised, a fungus. Or possibly a piece of discarded salami.

The one good thing about the park was it had obviously been decided that a view of the river was essential for the enjoyment of all things parky.  I turned my back on the thronging hordes of humanity and tried very hard to pretend I was the sole survivor of some global catastrophe instead of one of billions of survivors of a global inconvenience.

Down by the water were birds.  Small and rather nondescript birds it had to be admitted but taking a photo of them involved pointing my camera in the only direction that wouldn't be invading someone else's privacy so I took a picture of them.  And because I'm running out of things to say in this blog entry I include that picture to substitute for a certain lack of creativity on my part.

Not perhaps the most interesting of birds but I assume most of you have already stopped reading

With the river and small birds adequately covered (and the sheer mass of people becoming increasingly irritating) I stepped out determined to reach a spot that I hadn't really identified prior to setting out.  You see I was aware that the river looped the way it did so I knew if I stopped walking at a certain point and struck out in a straight line I would effectively find the shortest way home.  What I wasn't entirely certain of was where that point was.

Along the way I took a photo of a parrot upside down in a tree, as you do.  It took me ten minutes to get that photo while the damn parrot moved from one side of the tree to another with what I'm pretty certain was active malice.

A parrot upside down in a tree.

Finally any pretence of bushland came to an end and I was in a manicured park pure and simple.  The river was still there to my right but I was over it by now.  Through a sophisticated analytical process known as random guesswork I had determined that I had arrived in the spot where I could strike out for home.  I wasn't actually correct but I was close enough so that I didn't get lost on the journey.  Along the way I took a bunch of photos of a family taking their children out for an afternoon walk.

Cuteness overload

After that there really wasn't anything to do but head for home before the parents called the police.   I bought chives along the way.


Plague Update #56 - Yet Another Shot at Freedom Edition

 If you put in the effort you will reap the rewards.  This is one of the lies we are told to persuade us not to be lazy, unproductive burdens on society.  A more accurate term would be; "If you put in the effort you may or may not reap the rewards, perhaps."  As an incentive the second term is a little lacking which is why my state government has been encouraging vaccination and dangling such precious carrots as being able to leave your suburb without attracting police attention.

Well the people of New South Wales have responded, reaching for the needles with an enthusiasm normally reserved for tattooists and heroin addicts.  And, in defiance of those with a cynical view of the world, the rewards are coming.  As of Monday people who have received both vaccination shots will be able to receive a certain number of guests in their homes.  We will be able to travel outside our immediate area (although interstate and regional travel is still a bit iffy) and sit down for a meal in a restaurant or cafe as long as there is a decent distance between them and anyone else trying to do the same thing.

Our new premier announced this relaxation of restrictions with relish while the Chief Health Officer stood beside him biting her tongue and looking hopeful.  In the background the arena slaves dragged away the mutilated body of our previous premier and raked fresh sand over the bloodstains but that's a different story entirely.

Speaking personally this sudden influx of semi-freedom couldn't have come at a better time.  I have exhausted pretty much every interesting walking location within five kilometres and was in serious danger of having to amuse myself.  Yesterday I woke up to find my puffin looking at me speculatively while holding a carving knife.  I suppose it serves me right for passing out on the kitchen floor but it was still a little disturbing.  My real mistake was registering as an organ donor.  Now my plush toys are eager to sell my organs before I damage them further.

My employers joyfully announced that we could once again return to the office unless we didn't actually want to.  So far very few of my colleagues seem inclined to celebrate their freedom by encasing themselves in a concrete and steel prison in the middle of the city.  This "privilege" incidentally is only open to those with their vaccination certificate.  I have such a thing, I just need to figure out how I can get it from the government website it resides on to something I can wave at officious office guards attempting to prevent the diseased from returning to work.  

All of the above freedoms are only available to the vaccinated.  The remainder will have to wallow in their personal plague pits until such times as the rest of society feels comfortable associating with them again.  Speaking personally I'm not sure how comfortable I feel associating with humans again generally regardless of their vaccination status although not being vaxxed will at least give me a plausible reason to avoid them.

In a fit of what I can only term unjustified optimism a number of my acquaintances (I intended to say friends but decided against it on legal advice) are already scanning possible overseas holiday destinations.  I suspect we have a way to go before that becomes a reality.  This will come as some relief to my manager who turned a little pale when I suggested a twelve week holiday in West Africa.  Frankly I would probably take a long weekend in Mudgee right now.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Silly After Action Report - A Cab for Ste Anne

 Capitaine LeMon stared at the rather adhoc vehicle park in front of him in dismay.  He waved his hand at the small and motley collection of trucks presented for his inspection.

"Where the hell are the rest?" he demanded.  "I need to get these troops to the front."

A corporal in grease stained overalls (he's not a mechanic he just has an "interesting" private life) shrugged apologetically.

"It's all I could get mon capitaine.  Most of the trucks have been requisitioned to distribute the asparagus harvest.  It's considered vital for morale."

"I would be very happy," snarled LeMon, "if nobody ever mentioned asparagus to me ever again."  He cast a glance behind him to where a ragged figure rocked back and forward in the dirt drooling and crooning to himself.  From time to time he drew doodles in the dust with what, on close inspection, turned out to be an asparagus stalk.

"How's Outlebarrel doing?" asked the corporal.

"I plan to put him in the front line of the attack," responded the Capitaine.  "With any luck there are still some Germans out there who can shoot straight.  Let's face it a telegram that begins with 'I regret to inform you...' is pretty much the most positive news his parents are ever likely to get."

So finally we come to the end of the road.  The very last of the Provence Pack scenarios.  Keen observers will note that we missed PP9 - Night Hodgepotch.  We intended to play it.  I unearthed the night rules from the dusty crypt they'd been hidden in especially.  Then we looked at the special rules.  Then we looked at them again.  We needed a deck of playing cards, 52 dummy counters only thirteen of which represented real units and nobody knew where any of them were.  Our conclusion?  Bugger this for a game of soldiers.  So we moved on to the final scenario PP10 - A Cab for Ste Anne.  Finally the French have reached Toulon and all that stands in the way of them hoisting the Tricolor over the local post office are the stalwart landsers (or whatever the Polish, Russian and occasionally Azerbaijani equivalent is) of the German 242 Infantry, a formation whose name is writ but lightly in the military history of the world.

My Free French will claim victory if the Germans are driven out of the buildings they hold.  Specifically I win immediately if the Germans are ever reduced to four buildings or less on board 20.  Alternatively I win at game end if there are no German non-crew MMC on board 41 and the Germans hold nine or fewer buildings on board twenty.

To dispossess the hated Boche (and the mildly disliked Poles, Russians and Azerbaijanis) from the precious buildings of France I have the usual collection of impressive troops along with the usual tediously complicated set up/entry conditions.  On board 41 facing across a dry stream bed to the German etc positions are six elite squads with a pair of crappy French lmgs.  These proud warriors of France (Senegal actually) are led by a 9-2 and an 8-1.  Over on board 20 where buildings abound I have four elite squads and their own pair of crappy French lmgs.  This "force" too is led by a 9-2.  I had so many good officers I seriously hoped the sniper might run out of ammunition before he killed them all.

But this is just the start.  Beginning with turn two another fourteen squads (eight elite, six first line) enter at the far end of the battlefield and roll in the general direction of the firing.  Did I say roll?  Indeed I did.  These lazy buggers demanded a shuttle bus service to the fighting.  I have six trucks in total all of which are in no way sufficient to lift all of my reinforcements in one turn.  Which means that that my reinforcements trickle on over several turns while the trucks race backwards and forwards picking them up and dropping them off.

As defender Dave was allocated a modest force of three squads, two leaders (one of them a 6+1) and a 20mm AA gun to defend board 41.  For board twenty he had everything the 242nd could muster; thirteen squads, a mix of first line, second line and conscripts.  These reluctant warriors had three light machine guns, a medium machine gun and another 20mm AA gun.  They also had a pillbox, eighteen factors of known minefields and twenty concealment counters.  Three not particularly impressive officers command.

Before the game I was given the opportunity to rubble five building locations which I did with maniacal glee.  Below is Dave's set up with his forces lurking nervously beneath concealment counters.  For some reason I didn't take a picture of my set up.  Please imagine your own deployment, it will no doubt be far better than mine.

With Dave's pillbox set up in what appeared to be a highly vulnerable position I set up a pair of squads with lmgs guided by the 9-2 where they could fire directly into its embrasure.  Even with his troops concealed that gave me a 6+1 shot from the get go.  The other two squads I set up as close to the pillbox as possible.  If all went well with the prep fire shot (spoiler alert, all did indeed go well) I would advance one squad on what would hopefully be either a pinned or broken pillbox defender while  the other wormed its way around the minefields to the rear of Dave's position.  The remainder of his forces I ignored, my reinforcements could deal with them.

On board 41 I set up another two squad/lmg stack guided by my other 9-2.  These would hopefully suppress some of his defenders while the rest of my force crossed the creekbed (and in one highly optimistic case the bridge) to bring the battle to him.

End of French turn 1

Turn one wound up pretty good for the French.  My kill stack broke the squad in the pillbox (although the 8-1 guiding them survived).  Said squad would die attempting to withdraw from melee but the 8-1 would hang around to tie up one of my few squads which was annoying.  Over on board 41 my vaunted "kill" stack managed to strip concealment from one half squad.  Undaunted the remainder of my force pushed across the creekbed to close with the enemy.  Except for one officer who got pinned trying to cross the bridge.  Which left the halfsquad accompanying him in an awkward position as he no longer had the movement to reach the cover I had intended for him and he wound up standing out in the street smiling nervously at a bunch of Germans.  He was fortunate to get away with a pin result.

End of German turn 1

Dave's turn consisted of trying to reclaim his pillbox and also seizing a bunch more buildings that I would then have to recapture.  His attempts to reinforce his lone 8-1 currently doing battle with an entire French squad would crumple under the fire from my kill stack which would utilise the stone walls around it to prevent any return fire.  His building seizing attempts were more successful as he added several more locations I was going to have to push him out of.  In revenge I killed his 8-1 in melee and started loading my reinforcements into trucks.

Up on board 41 I was slowly disposing of dummy stacks and jumped into CC with one of the few real units I had discovered so far.  Possibly a little drunk from my CC success against his pillbox team the victors of that battle cheerfully hurled themselves against a neighbouring squad.  It was true that Dave had taken a number of extra buildings that I would need to reclaim but I could hear truck engines in the distance.

Oh yes, my reinforcements.  Slowly and painfully the trucks trundled forward dumped their troops as far forward as they could get and then turned to run off the board again ready for the next load.  Dave whistled and talked amongst himself while I went through that painful process.  I got my first batch of reinforcements into position to block Dave's adventurous boys in the south, they would claim no more buildings.

Dave's turn was noticeable for three things.  For possibly the first time in my ASL career I fired a snapshot (a 1-1 shot which broke a hitherto concealed squad), secondly he unveiled a 20mm gun inside a building to the rear, changed covered arc and promptly broke it.  The barrel must have hit some of the brickwork.  Finally a "German" conscript squad tried its hand at CC with an elite Free French unit and died an unlamented death.  Dave's dice had not been kind so far (and for once CC had been my friend) and a goodly number of his troops were broken.  Was it enough?  It was.  Dave suggested he might concede.  I asked that if he was going to would he please do it before my next movement phase so I didn't have to bugger about with all of those trucks again.  Dave agreed and the game came to an end.

So a rather quiet note on which to end our Provence Pack journey.  Stand out favourites in my opinion were PP1 - Cut the Road to Marseilles and PP5 - Today We Take Hyeres despite the fact that I lost them.  I'll give an honourable mention to PP-8 A Little Bit Closer to Heaven because I won it.  PP-3 Viet Relief I didn't do an AAR for because it would be one long string of expletives.  The special rules and the sometime convoluted victory conditions are sometimes difficult to interpret.  I wouldn't have been surprised to find a scenario where your reinforcements only enter if you're playing on a day with an "r" in it.

Going forward both Dave and I are ravaged with guilt about missing out on the night scenario so we're going to do a couple of those starting with ASL-61 Shoestring Ridge.  

Capitaine LeMon stared at one of the trucks supposed to bringing his troops forward, his face as black as thunder.

"So this is why they couldn't fit all of my troops in one lift," he snarled as soldiers unloaded crate after crate of asparagus from the back.

Sous-lieutenant Outlebarrel had the decency to look a little embarrassed.