Monday, August 29, 2022

Plague Update 58# - Just When You Thought it was Safe to Breathe on Your Neighbour Edition

 I  must admit I thought that my previous plague update would be my last one.  It did really look like we had a handle on things.  Vaccines had been sourced and distributed to the non-deranged section of the population which turned out to be surprisingly large (and even more surprisingly included me).  Governments fell over themselves to assure the population that there wouldn't be anymore lockdowns no matter how many people died.  There were even a couple of outbreaks at aged care facilities (a term that may need to be adjusted for the sake of accuracy) to confirm that fundamentally we have learnt nothing from the events of the past few years except perhaps how to dispose of the unwanted elderly without having to introduce euthanasia laws.  Even migrants went from being unwanted plague rats to suddenly being desperately needed to keep the economy running.  The alternatives (paying decent wages and instituting a vocational education system that actually works) being too ridiculous for contemplation.

Yes all was going well.  Then monkey pox turned up and as if that wasn't enough foot and mouth disease didn't actually turn up but it did move in next door.  Money pox is the latest thing to come out of Africa a continent currently dealing with the embarrassing fact that one unfortunate meal choice in Wuhan has managed to kill more people than all the ebola Africa has ever produced.  Still it doesn't look like monkey pox will regain them the crown of disease capital of the world.  

The papers (or at least the ones I read) are talking up the dangers of widespread monkey pox infection while being forced to admit that so far there have only been a handful of cases in the country.  Which doesn't mean there wont be a full scale outbreak tomorrow.  People worried about the above can take comfort from the fact that our government has responded to monkey pox in the same way it responded to covid.  That is it overlooked the situation until it was too late and has not stockpiled (or even approved) the necessary vaccine.  The vaccine it has approved has the possibility of unfortunate side effects (death being one of them) among the immuno-compromised and pregnant communities.  So let's hope the monkey pox keeps a low profile.

By comparison it has to be said that the reaction to foot and mouth in Indonesia was much more robust.  Various "bio-security" measures up to and including flooding Torres Strait with oil and setting it on fire were canvassed before we decided to just ask people who travel to Indonesia to avoid visiting farms on their return.  So far the Indonesians seem to have kept the outbreak within their borders.  This is good news for us although slightly less good news for Indonesian farmers who would probably prefer it if foot and mouth emigrated for good.

Meanwhile covid continues to infect people all over the country but you can't really find the hospitalisation and mortality figures unless you really try and apparently most of us don't.  I wonder how covid and monkey pox are feeling right now.  We are dealing with outbreaks by simply ignoring them meanwhile the mere sight of foot and mouth dropping in on a neighbour reduced us to panic stricken hysterics.  The key seems to be that both covid and monkey pox affect people (although the name would imply that monkey pox isn't great for monkeys either) whereas foot and mouth affects cattle.

You may find it a little surprising that a disease that affects cattle is treated a great deal more seriously than a disease that affects humans but there are very good reasons.  Firstly with seven billion plus hanging around the planet its not like humans are going to be declared an endangered species any time soon.  Secondly, unlike cattle you cannot eat people* so one consequence of foot and mouth is that vegans get incredibly smug and I think we can agree that those are not the sort of people we want to encourage.

On a personal note the most impact all these various diseases have had on me is to make my job difficult as various colleagues insist on getting sick.  I would complain about that but every time I try they point out that I recently took a six week holiday masquerading as cancer recovery which everybody agreed was selfish and inconsiderate in the extreme.

*Ok technically you can eat people but you should see the trouble I get into whenever I try

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - Harbour Terraces Edition Part 2

 Lavender Bay isn't the sort of place I normally go to.  Not out of any particular dislike, its just that it isn't nearby and I always get a feeling of nervousness in suburbs where the homeless probably have a higher net worth than I do.  For the record Lavender Bay is a little to the left of North Sydney unless you're approaching it from the other direction in which case it's a little to the right.  And down by the water of course.  

At first glance it doesn't really seem like the sort of place to go for a walk but Lavender Bay has a secret.  Not that it's actually a secret, that's just what it's called.  Specifically Lavender Bay is the home of Wendy Whiteley's secret garden.  Don't tell anyone.  Wendy Whiteley was once married to Brett Whiteley who was, apparently, an artist.  People deal with grief in different ways and when Brett Whiteley died Wendy's grief was channeled into one of the most creative acts of trespass in modern times.

Down by the shoreline near her house in Lavender Bay was a derelict rail yard (Australia went through quite a phase of putting ugly maintenance buildings in the most scenic places; the Opera House was once the site of a tram shed).  Without any sort of permission Wendy Whiteley gradually cleared away the refuse and once that was done started planting and landscaping.  Over the last twenty five years she has gradually built up a terraced garden stretching across a chunk of former wasteland replete with trees, plants both exotic and native with winding paths, steps and places where you can sit and enjoy the preceding.

At some point the state government decided that eviction wouldn't be a vote winner (digging up all the trees would have been hard work too) and graciously leased the land the garden grows in for the next thirty years.  The general public are welcome to wander around.  I'm quite specific public but I decided the welcome extended to me as well.

I chose a good day.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining it was the perfect day to be out on the harbour.  And out on the harbour I would be, if only briefly as I needed to make my way from my domicile in the Inner West to the more saltwater adjacent climes of Lavender Bay.  From Circular Quay I would hop on a ferry across the harbour to Milson's Point.  Once back on dry land I would turn left and walk until I reached the garden.  This is the sort of simple itinerary that usually goes horribly wrong with me but today it more or less worked.

The building in the centre rear is where I work.  How did that sneak into a weekend photo?

Every time I go out on the harbour I wonder why I don't do it more often.  Probably because I carefully select days when the weather is fine.  The weather was indeed fine and I sat on the ferry with a sort of childish delight.  This was quite appropriate as my destination was Milsons Point the ferry stop for Luna Park still operating to the fury of nearby residents.

I have arrived

In my defence I wasn't the only one exhibiting childish enthusiasm.  Approximately fifty million children were milling around the entrance to Luna Park exhibiting enthusiasm in a whole range of age categories.  I hadn't actually expected this.  If I wanted to get to Lavender Bay and the garden I would have to fight my way through the thronging hordes (or possibly hording throngs) that occupied a goodly amount of the intervening space.  Once again I remarked how two years of pandemic has made me utterly illequipped to deal with people in multiples of more than two.

I did eventually make it through and not too many children were crushed en route.  Or at least if they were I could plausibly blame others.  With the anguished cries of bereaved parents (and not a few surreptitious "thank yous") ringing in my ears I struggled past Luna Park, wiped the children off my feet and headed towards Lavender Bay.  Helpfully I was already pretty much there.

Not actually the garden

Before I reached the garden I was given a teaser in the shape of a tree lined walkway which followed the shoreline.  I followed it along until I reached a boat stable and started looking around for a way inland.  Such a way presented itself in a narrow path that led under a rail line and, once past, promptly started to climb.  Following the path's example I too climbed admiring the handsome dwellings that presented themselves for my inspection.  On my right was a collection of trees but I didn't make the obvious connection and kept on with the path until I hit a street.  Google maps informed me that I had walked right past the garden but if I turned right down the street I could access it from there.

Turn right I did and walked past a park (again the penny didn't drop) until I ran out of street.  Making my way back I tentatively entered the park and walked to the end of the mowed area.  Steps led down to a narrow path among the trees.  Having thus found the garden despite my best efforts I stepped forward to enjoy it.

A part of the secret garden.  There was more but it was discreetly avoiding the camera

The garden itself isn't exactly huge but it occupies the side of a hill reaching down to the rail line (which is still there).  On the other side of the rail line is the harbour.  Space for vegetation to grow has been created by terracing with what looks suspiciously like old wooden railway sleepers (I'm sure that's just a coincidence) the aforementioned narrow parks snake in and out of the greenery and have a tendency to go up and down at inconvenient moments.

As I strolled along enjoying the shade I encountered a pair of brush turkeys.  They were literally close enough for me to reach out and touch which still wasn't close enough for me to get a decent photo apparently despite the fact that they did everything except strike a pose and advise on lighting conditions.

a not particularly great photo of a brush turkey

a not particularly great photo of two brush turkeys

I sat on the steps for a good ten minutes taking increasingly fuzzy pictures of a pair of birds that I felt I was going to have to kick out of the way if I wanted to get past.  Eventually tiring of this I eased past them and left them to their pursuits.  Fortunately their pursuits didn't include me.

Trees, plants and the occasional outcrop of rock awaited me.  I was surrounded by trees (and apparently brush turkeys) with a harbour below me and high rent real estate above me.  The narrowness of the paths gave a hint of intimacy and allowed me to imagine myself in real wilderness (I would have a nervous breakdown if dropped into "real wilderness").  Strangely this feeling was not hindered by the fact that there were quite a number of people wandering around the garden.  There are sufficient different paths to permit you to avoid them if you try and, as usual I managed to arrange the bulk of my photos to give the impression that I was the last person on earth.

absolutely nobody here but me

One couple I particularly attempted to avoid was the pair who had asked me if I needed directions as I was climbing up the path.  I had proudly denied such a need but if I had accepted I would have found my way into the garden about ten minutes before I did.  I averted my face as they went past and I'm sure they were sniggering at something else.

another garden photo

Over the course of the next couple of hours I criss crossed the gardens turning abruptly every time it looked like I was about to run into people.  I did this so often that I started to get dizzy and decided that ignoring people was slightly easier than avoiding them.  Actually I didn't need to go to any effort at all as they proved more than capable of ignoring me; standoffish pricks.  Ruminating on the appalling rudeness of my fellow garden visitors I listened to bird song (well bird screech really) and enjoyed the environs.  Naturally I paused to photograph the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus.

The Clare McIntyre memorial fungus

At one point I wandered out of the garden and onto the path I had taken to approach it.  If I had just turned right as I was coming up I would have avoided several minutes of wandering through the streets of Lavender Bay looking silly.  Why didn't I?  I don't have a rational explanation or rather the rational explanation would highlight the rather irrational way I approach the world and therefore I choose not to publicise it.  Restraining orders are one thing but I don't actually want to be taken into care.

As I passed by one particular tree a rather handsome parrot posed for a photo.  The quality of this photo leads me to the suspicion that the brush turkeys were being blurry on purpose.  

brush turkeys take note

Eventually with the shadows lengthening I decided to try and find my way out.  I didn't actually know the shadows were lengthening as shadows are a bit of a thing in the garden but a glance at the time indicated that in the outside world any shadows would definitely be showing signs of length.  To make up trip a circuit rather than just a there and back I eschewed returning the way I came and instead made my way through Lavender Bay (the suburb not the actual bay) and down to Milson's Point just in time for the ferry.  Which was overloaded so I had to take the next one.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Silly After Action Report - The Vital Hours

 "Quiet everybody," Sturmbahnfuhrer Sepp Krafft glared at the excited gaggle of teenagers milling in front of him.

"We are the defenders of the Reich," he announced in what he felt were suitably portentous tones.  "On your young shoulders will fall the burden of protecting," he broke off and peered at something protuding from the tunic of one of the younger recruits.  "What the hell is that?"

Somewhat shamefacedly the young trooper produced a small teddy bear.

"I can't sleep without it," he admitted, blushing.

"Give it here."

"But sir,"

"I said give it here.  You can have it back after the battle."  Krafft turned to the rest of his "men" who were sniggering at their colleague's discomfort.  "Enough of that.  Have you prepared defences?"

Bursting with pride the young SS troopers displayed a rather wretched collection of badly dug foxholes and fire positions pointing in the wrong direction.

"The British won't break this line," announced one of them with what Krafft thought was unwarranted optimism.  "We've named it the Krafftwerk," he added obviously expecting praise.

"Of course you have," muttered Krafft.

"They're coming," yelled one of his veteran NCOs.

"To your positions," ordered Krafft.  "Remember the eyes of Germany are upon you."  The statement would have carried a little more weight if he hadn't emphasised the point by flourishing the teddy bear he was still holding in one hand.

"What do you think sir?" asked the NCO as the group of half trained adolescents fumbled with their weapons and dropped hand grenades on their toes.

"If I get a Knights Cross out this it'll be a bloody miracle."

Thirsting to avenge his defeat in the desert Richard Weilly suggested we play Scenario WO37 - The Vital Hours.  This is set in the early hours of Operation Market Garden and historically was the start of a series of delays which incrementally led to the failure of the operation.  Sepp Krafft's trainee SS troopers did well under pressure (although he still didn't get a Knight's Cross despite dropping several hints).  Now it was time to see if I could produce a similar result against Rich's British paratroopers making their way down the country road on route to the bridge at Arnhem.

The British win by accumulating 12 victory points by either exiting troops off the east edge of the board (presumably on the way to Arnhem) or capturing a number of buildings by the side of the road or some combination of the two.  I win by stopping him.  As befits an elite outfit like the 1st Airborne Richard has seven and a half elite squads let by a pair of officers (one a 9-2) equipped with two lmgs and a PIAT.  Entering on the first turn are another four elite squads a 9-1 officer with another PIAT plus a dismantled mmg and another light.  Also turning up is a 75mm artillery piece hauled by a jeep.

To keep the paras at bay I have eight and a half second line squads (SS by SSR), three officers including my own 9-1 two light machine guns, one medium, a panzerschreck and a 20mm AA gun.  Plus some concealment counters to spread the love.  Rolling on in support is a completely unarmoured halftrack toting another 20mm.

Below is my set up.  The British set up in the area delineated by the blue lines.  As you can see I've made the stream my main line of resistance.  The 20mm gun is hidden in a building across the road from my 9-1 which of course is up on the first floor with the mmg.  My main focus was defending the village although I do have a squad deep in the rear to protect against an exit rush.  Note the British can only exit between hexes G20 and K20 so the lone squad is quite decently placed.

Set up
It will be obvious to even to most amateur observer that I've left a gaping hole on my right that the British can just wander through.  Even I noticed that right after Richard did it.

At first though things seemed to be going well.  Richard threw his onboard force directly at my defences and lost an entire squad to suspiciously well aimed small arms fire as he did so.  Despite this he broke into my defences and managed to keep the attention of my forces concentrated on the threat immediately in front of them.  When his reinforcements came on he moved them to the extreme right in line to flank my entire position.

The British have taken casualties, I even have some prisoners but the Krafftwerk has been lost

For my part I dealt with his reinforcing flankers by ignoring them.  There wasn't anything I could do about them and I had a bunch of battle hungry red berets steaming down the road in front of me.  I would just have to hope that my rearguard could in fact guard my rear.

As for the frontal battle I did my best to withdraw slowly and present a solid, concealed, front with mixed success.  Since Richard was bulling straight down the road for the most part I shuffled troops on my left a little closer to the incipient battle zone and hoped for the best.

The front may be concealed but solid is not quite the word I would use.

My 20mm joined the fray although it achieved nothing except to display to Richard where my 20mm was.  Still things weren't going too badly (we'll just overlook the three squads of flankers for the moment shall we?).  I still held all the victory buildings and had tightened up my defenses around the road.  Of course another way of putting that is to say my outer defences had been driven in and I was reduced to a clot of troops with little way of escape.  Context is everything.

Having broken through my outer crust however Richard was now in the position of being able to amass impressive amounts of firepower against my undergunned defenders.  Amass this he did.

Richard is amassing while I take what comfort I can from the fact that he isn't finished yet

Then things went quite badly wrong.  Although not if you're Richard.  Unfortunately I wasn't.  My 20mm continued its parade of uselessness by breaking and the emboldened (what a dreadful word) Richard to send troops forward against my position in the farm houses.  While this was happening, his  massing completed, Richard launched an attack against my main position with the 9-1.  He also drove his 75mm gun straight down the road to support his troops.  He had managed to get a halfsquad into the ground floor of my (remaining) main defensive building while an impressive kill stack headed by his 9-2 stood proud in the street outside.

Things aren't looking good for the training battalion

The only reason why the game didn't end there is the legendary worthlessness of the 9-2.  I hate 9-2 officers.  They promise so much and, at least in my hands, produce so little.  At least with a 10-3 or a 10-2 you know he's going to get sniped in the first turn so you don't place any reliance on him.  But a 9-2 should be your go to guy.  On this occasion it would be Richard who would suffer the curse of the 9-2.  A simple morale check would send him yelping for the rear and buy my defenders another half turn or so of life as his troops rolled their eyes and realised they would need to do this without his assistance.  

Freed of the constraints of their officer the British paras swept into the building and reduced what was left of my force to a broken rabble.  I hadn't helped matters by rather stupidly reinforcing a melee taking place on my left.  He had sent a squad in to CC with my gun crew who had rather improbably survived.  I then reinforced that with a squad and leader so that I had parity in numbers and a negative one modifier to boot.  This was apparently what Richard had been waiting for as he cheerfully slaughtered the lot next turn.

Oh dear


Richard would rally his 9-2 the next turn whereupon he would promptly pin and take no further part in the game.  My reinforcing half track rolled on only to discover there was precious little for him to reinforce.  It was at this point that I chose to conceded.  I had precisely three unbroken squads left scattered widely about the battlefield plus one unarmoured half track doing its best to look menacing as a bunch of traumatised teenagers ran in all directions around it.  I could perhaps have dragged the game out for another turn or so but with Richard's force solidly placed in the village (with the 9-2 shouting encouragement from the rear) and three squads of flankers bearing down on my single rearguard unit I really didn't see a way to victory.  Richard executed his plan well, driving relentlessly forward without allowing my defenders any scope for regrouping while his flankers just strolled across out of sight of my defenders until they got the opportunity to pop up in my rear and make a nuisance of themselves.  Not my best performance it has to be admitted but my next one would be worse.

"Well that was a disaster," muttered the Krafft.  All around him hysterical teenagers wept for their mothers and moaned about the unfairness of life.  Krafft stared glumly at the ceiling his dreams of a Knight's Cross fading before his eyes.

"Bad news sir," announced his NCO.

"Now what?"

"The Reich Child Counselling Organisation wants to speak with you about todays action.  Something about triggering of vulnerable youth and the lack of safe spaces on the battlefield.  Oh and that kid wants his teddy bear back."

Krafft clutched the bear a little tighter to his chest.

"I will defend it to the last."

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - Harbour Terraces Edition Part 1

 The bottom of the barrel is really starting to be scraped.  With random bushland in the immediate vicinity pretty much exhausted I cast around in some desperation for somewhere to walk.  That is I cast around for somewhere to walk that wasn't too far away, didn't involve a great deal of effort and might be somewhat photogenic.  Suddenly a word popped into my head; "Barangaroo".  After several unsuccessful attempts to dislodge it and having exhausted most other options I decided to give it it's day in court.

According to its website Barangaroo is "place making in progress" proof if proof were needed that a command of the English language is no longer really essential to get a job writing visitors websites.  What I think they mean is that it isn't finished yet.  And indeed it isn't.  Arguments still go on over the final bits of development and whether property developers should really be expected to keep all of the greasy promises they made when it was first decided to convert some superannuated dockland into tall buildings and (despite the best efforts of the developers) some park and amenity space for the public.

It was the park and amenity space for the public which would be my destination.  I would take the light rail to Pyrmont Bay (one of about seventy light rail stations serving Pyrmont) and trot across Pyrmont bridge, through the gleaming canyons of Barangaroo (the developed bit) until I got to the actual park itself which was inconveniently situated on the headland as far away from the rest as possible without actually turning it into a island.

My destination is beyond the clutch of buildings in the centre

Things have changed since the last time I made it out these parts.  Then the pandemic was in full swing now, well the pandemic is still in full swing but we've made a sort of gentleman's agreement not to bother about it too much any more.  The result was that instead of a quiet stroll along a semi deserted waterfront I found myself kicking and snarling through a thronging herd of people inconsiderately attempting to amuse themselves and (more understandably) making increasingly desperate attempts to locate their children anywhere but their own homes.

Pyrmont Bridge turns up on the Barangaroo side of the water right near the Sydney Aquarium where the eager hordes gathered in the hopes of seeing sea dwelling creatures without running the risk of drowning.  I do have to wonder whether its a good idea to have an aquarium right near the water.  One unlocked gate and the entire exhibit roster could be swimming towards the heads and freedom.  It's probably safe to say that the neighbouring wildlife park doesn't have the same problem.  Neither aquarium or wildlife interested me today (or any other day) and I strode resolutely by breaking step only to kick the occasional small child out of my path.  On the other side of the Harbour the National Maritime Museum had a couple of superannuated warships parked so I took a photo of one then hurried on.

One of the superannuated warships in question

Once past these animal holding tanks I was at King Street Wharf where a stretch of identical looking restaurants and bars competed for customers.  At least I presume they competed for customers.  I could easily believe it was just one long restaurant with a rather complicated menu.  I'm sure the restaurants (or restaurant) serve delicious food but the entire thing looks rather like an artist's impression of a waterfront development.  It's a little difficult to believe that people actually come here.  This feeling was in no way altered by the fact that it's clinical, pristine surrounds were actually overrun with people.  

But King Street Wharf wasn't my destination either and I plunged on and entered the shadowy landscape of Barangaroo South.  Barangaroo South is a collection of brand new office towers about which all of the usual flatulent things have been said when developers attempt to describe brand new office towers.  They haven't fallen down yet which is a definite positive.  Down at ground level I wandered down quiet, near deserted streets.  There were restaurants here too and shops in fact everything the office worker or casual tourist might desire particularly if they have an aversion to direct sunlight.  

Looking back at Barangaroo South, not the best place to be if you have a vitamin D deficiency


Barangaroo Centre is still under construction and various arguments rage over whether developers should be permitted to build over just some of the currently existing public space or all of it.  My destination lay beyond.  With the harbour on my left and temporary walling on my right I strode towards the headland along a rapidly narrowing boardwalk.  Finally, just before I got to Barangaroo the park the boardwalk more or less petered out and I skirted the water with so little space to spare that I could actually reach down and touch the water if I wanted to, I didn't.

Being a former container port the area had been rather dramatically changed from its original shape and attempts had, apparently been made to restore it to its pre industrial condition.  For some reason this involved an immense amount of sandstone.  Native plant species had been looted from all over the Sydney basin and replanted here for the amusement of the public and there were sandstone terraces.  I'm not sure how this was in keeping with its original shape but it did mean tiers of bush rising in front of me and a disturbing number of steps climbing from one terrace to another and connecting various walking paths.  In fairness it has to be said I could just have walked along the shoreline and avoided all the steps but having encountered some actual trees I couldn't resist the urge to make my way among them.


This tree was being held in solitary confinement for crimes unspecified

So into the trees I went, making my way through greenery and occasionally looking out at what, despite our best efforts, is still one of the most picturesque harbours in the world.  Up I went, along I went, down I went and then up again.  I realise this isn't the most riveting of passages but sometimes that's all there is.  At the top was Stargazer Lawn which had plenty of space for people to stretch out and relax so I avoided that and returned to the trees.  Occasionally I descended to ground level but swiftly dashed back up the stairs to avoid the throngs of people.

My destination (note sandstone)

Once safely ensconced in the trees I gazed back to where I had come from.  I couldn't resist taking a photo of the Crown Casino tower which dominates Central Barangaroo.  It soars, magnificent in its ugliness a permanent penis slapping the face of the Sydney public.  I have to admit I quite liked it but then my taste has always been questionable.

Every city must have its icons.  Somehow we wound up with this.

With my homage to money launderers and wretched politicians made I returned to the trees.  It wasn't natural bush of course.  It was an artists impression of what natural bush might look like before somebody dumped a container port on top of it.  Still the bush was growing enthusiastically and getting more natural by the day.  The relaxed feeling I get when surrounded by trees was compensating for the fact that my knees are no longer used to going up and down a lot of stairs.  I paused, officially for a photo and not at all because my knees were hurting.


Knee relief photo No.1

Knee relief photo No.2

I'm making a bit of a meal of this actually because it wasn't all that long before I had walked around the headland and returned to not quite water level.  Here a decision had to be made.  Specifically what was I going to do now?  I had run out of Barangaroo and I was several kilometres away from home.  Fortunately I knew that if I kept following the waterline I would eventually wind up at Circular Quay and a railway station.  To do so I would have to make my way through Millers Point and The Rocks, two of Sydney's oldest and most picturesque suburbs.  You might think I would take lots of photos, you would be wrong.

As I was walking along Hickson Road I did see a sign that said "End Art" although whether it was a warning or an instruction I couldn't work out.  I made my under the Harbour Bridge marveling, not for the first time, at the sheer monstrous bulk of its construction and skipped lightly towards Circular Quay through The Rocks.  The Rocks were having markets as they are wont to do on Saturdays.  So when I say "skipped lightly" I really mean "stumbled cursing".

Friday, August 12, 2022

Silly After Action Report - Cutting Out a Strongpoint

 The crew of the medium machine gun hunkered a little further down in the trench in a futile attempt to shelter from the Sun and watched the feldwebel with polite interest.  He was alternately thumping the radio with his fist and screaming into it.  A stream of Italian issued from the radio but the feldwebel didn't seem satisfied.

"Does anyone know the Italian for spotting round?" he demanded.  The machine gun crew disavowed such knowledge.

"I thought you spoke Italian," replied one.

"I was a tour guide.  I can direct Italians to the sights of Berlin, help them with their hotel bookings and liaise with the police if their wallet gets stolen.  Bringing down an artillery concentration isn't what the best tourists do in a new city."

One of the other soldiers jerked a thumb at an Italian gun position further down the trench.

"Why not ask them."

The feldwebel hesitated but, desperate times...

"All right, lets go meet the allies."

The meeting between the two sets of comrades in arms didn't get off to the best start when the Germans pointblank refused to accept the Italian's surrender but eventually the feldwebel was able to communicate his request for assistance.  The sergente who appeared to be in charge seemed sympathetic but shook his head.

"I'm sorry feldwebel but I was transferred from the transport corps yesterday.  I don't even know how that thing works," he jerked a thumb at the 47mm antitank gun nearby.

"What about the others?"

The sergente rattled off a quick question in Italian.  He was roundly ignored by the troops with the exception of one who raised a tentative hand.

"Arturo there thinks he knows how to spell the word artillery," the sergente's eyes conveyed doubt that this was in fact the case.

"Where are your officers?"

"At lunch."

"When are they due back?"

"April.  Assuming they don't go back for seconds."

There was a sudden shout from an Italian manning a mortar a little further away.  The feldwebel peered in the direction he was pointing.  It was difficult to see through the heat haze but groups of men were definitely approaching from the direction of the British lines.

"Crap," muttered the sergente, "I knew we shouldn't have shot at that staff car."

"Why did you?"

"We thought it was our CO."

So this is the upgraded ASL 267 - Cutting Out A Strongpoint a scenario which I have wanted to play for quite a while.  Richard Weilly was happy to pander to my Italian predilection and took command of the attacking British (with South African armoured support).  Richard's troops are attempting to take out a small but well armed position of Italian and German troops which have been making a mild nuisance of themselves.  The Axis (that's me) have to set up within a trench system surrounded by a ring of antitank mines.  Richard wins if there are no unbroken Axis infantry/AFV with functioning MA within the strongpoint at game end.  As long as the Axis do not amass 16 or greater CVP.

I don't have many men to defend this strongpoint.  In fact it almost looks like I have more weapons than troops.  I have a single Italian first line squad, two crews and an 8-0 officer.  Between them they have to man a medium machine gun, a light machine gun, a 47mm atg and an 81mm mortar.  The German contingent consists of a single second line halfsquad and an 8-0 officer.  They have a medium machine gun and a (German) radio to connect them to (Italian offboard artillery).  Language difficulties would present themselves when trying to dial in my fire support.

Rolling to the assistance of this hopelessly outnumbered bastion is armour support in the form of a captured British Matilda tank (crewed by Germans) and, following like ducklings in its wake, four L3 tankettes (crewed by Italians because let's face it no one else would).

Richard's force consists of three first line squads, two half squads and three officers led by a 9-1.  They have three light machine guns, an antitank rifle and a 51mm mortar.  Turning up in somewhat belated support are a pair of 2 pounder guns carried en portee on the back of trucks and three Marmon Herrington armoured cars of the 6th South African armoured car regiment.  The sun beats down on the desert sand and intense heat haze is in effect.  Richard and I tried very hard to figure out if dust was involved but eventually agreed that since the environmental conditions didn't say so there wasn't any.

End of the British first turn.  There wouldn't be any shooting for several turns while Richard worked his way into position.

It has to be said that the game started rather slowly as Richard gradually eased his forces towards my little strongpoint.  For my part I saw little value in firing at concealed units through an extreme heat haze.  I waited patiently for targets to present themselves.  The silence was broken only the tramp of desert boots over the sunbaked earth and the hysterical cursing of a German feldwebel as he tried and failed to make radio contact with some Italian artillery who appeared to have taken the afternoon off.  Not too far away an Italian sergente was studying a 47mm gun trying to figure out which end the shell came out of.

Finally Richard was ready but targets didn't present themselves, instead smoke did.  Having the advantage of speaking the same language as his fire support allowed Richard to bathe his chosen approach area with thick clouds of smoke.  Suddenly I had an even better reason for not opening fire.

Smoke, smoke and more smoke.  The British are out there somewhere


With smoke proving a more than adequate substitute for the heat haze my guys relapsed into immobility as the British took advantage to push forward.  With only a tiny handful of troops I just had to wait until the British emerged from the smoke and then hope for the best.  Then to my absolute astonishment the best arrived.

Richard had pushed into the smoke with an lmg squad commanded by his best leader.  Seizing an unoccupied trench at the edge of the smoke the interior of the strongpoint and my scanty defenders lay open to him.  Then my feldwebel temporarily solved his language difficulties and dropped a 70mm artillery concentration right on top of them.  Snake eyes gave me a critical hit and both squad and leader died in a hail of Italian made (but German guided) shrapnel.  To add icing to my smoke laden cake another British squad emerged from the smoke to be sent packing in a hail of Italian machine gun fire.

Somewhere underneath all that smoke are the remains of a 9-1 and a British squad; not very big remains.

All this was gratifying but didn't alter my fundamental position which was a small heavily outnumbered force shrouded in smoke while a larger British force pulled itself together to try again.  But fear not gentle reader for my tanks are coming.

My tanks rolled onto the board but their immediate impact was, shall we say, muted.  L3s aren't exactly the speediest vehicles on earth and the Matilda made the L3s look like mechanical cheetahs.  In the meantime my strongpoint defenders twiddled their thumbs, choked on smoke and gazed nervously as Richard reorganised his attackers and pushed forward once again.  

With the smoke shrouding his movements Richard once again pushed forward into the trenches closest to my defenders.  His moment of glory done my feldwebel had broken the radio and 47mm shots into the smoke produced acquisition counters but no damage to the newly emboldened attackers.

My tanks are trundling to the rescue, they might arrive by Christmas

To make matters worse Richard's 40mm portees turned up and proved much speedier at rolling through the desert than my armour.  They positioned themselves where they could deal with my approaching tanks.  The Matilda might not be too concerned but the L3 crews examined the rivets on their armour and trembled for their life expectancy.

 In the strongpoint itself Richard had braved the 47mm fire and plunged into close combat with the guncrew wiping it out in some brutal close combat.  It was at this point that I did the smartest move I made during the entire game.  I didn't realise it at the time but in retrospect it was genius.

My sole Italian squad, burdened by machine guns was sitting in a trench next to Richard's newly acquired 47mm.  Taking advantage of the smoke I moved behind the British attackers and put a hexes worth of distance between us.  Since Richard has to take out each Axis MMC in the strongpoint he now had the choice of doubling back or splitting his surviving troops.  Leaving an officer to mind the 47mm he doubled back and soon another melee was raging.  His armoured cars arrived and moved to where they could intercept my armour (which still hadn't got anywhere useful) while his portees gained acquisition on approaching L3s.

Another close combat rages I would lose this one too

Richard did indeed manage to wipe out my Italian squad (and leader) in close combat but while he was doing so the crew of my 81mm mortar who had so far done nothing took the opportunity to advance into CC with the 8-0 Richard had left to guard the 47mm.  They killed it and reclaimed the gun for its rightful owners.

Finally, finally my armour had arrived.  Armour isn't exactly my speciality in fact I suck using armour but the fact that it didn't matter if none of it survived was rather freeing.  Cheerfully I sent the L3s forward to take on the portees while my Matilda inched slowly closer to his armoured cars.  Luck was on my side and bounding fire from an L3 broke a portee crew.  Meanwhile Richard declined to wait for my Matilda to arrive and sent forward an armoured car to work around behind it.  Braving a blizzard of L3 fire (I got rate multiple times just to prove how ineffectual the L3 was as a tank killer) his car rolled forward but as it approached the Matilda it showed the L3s how it was done drilling a 40mm hole through the Marmon Herrington.

All this was nice but the strongpoint was the vital ground and having dispatched my Italian squad Richard's British moved forward for the third time against the 47mm and its fresh crew.  The 47mm fired at pointblank range and shattered two squads and his surviving leader with a single shot.  At that point Richard conceded.  He didn't have the time left to patch his troops back together again for a fourth attempt while outside the strongpoint he was down a car and a portee with no loss to my armoured forces.

To be fair it was two lucky rolls that won the game for me.  The critical hit with the artillery and that final shot with the 47mm.  Between them they broke or killed three of Richard's four squad equivalents and two leaders.  Richard was entitled to blame the dice (his proved lousy trying to take out my L3s which aren't exactly invulnerable) but wins against Richard are few and far between so I'll milk it for all it's worth.

"They're leaving," the feldwebel punched the air in excitement and waved across at the sergente just visible through the smoke.

"Nice artillery direction," shouted the sergente.  "That was amazing."

"What about you," replied the feldwebel.  "First day on a 47mm and you're carving them up.  It's going to be Iron Crosses all round after this."

"My officer will definitely get a medal," agreed the sergente.

"Him?  He's not even here."

"Does that matter?"