Thursday, October 27, 2022

Kill Yourself!! It Might be Fun

 I was strolling along on my way home from my place of work employment when I encountered a little poster in the window of an office building.  The poster had one of those little "seize the day" type messages that the author probably thought was profound.  The message read as follows;

"If you are are afraid to live your life because you might die then you have already died"

Which to me sounds like a marketing slogan for heroin.

There are no end of the supposedly uplifting little messages all of which boil down to "Behaving like a reckless idiot is fun."  Of course there is a certain level of truth to such statements.  Behaving like a reckless idiot is fun right up until the moment when it isn't.  At that point you just have to hope that whatever horrific consequence you're about to suffer doesn't destroy your memory as then you won't know why you're confined to a nursing home at the age of twenty three while an underpaid staffer mops drool off your chin and bathes you in kerosene.

I have my own glib little message, it goes; "Live every moment like it's your last and it probably will be."

 I am basically a positive human being and I always like to think the best of people.  For this reason I have ditched my original opinion that the writers of such gems are gabbling idiots and have come up with a far more respectful hypothesis.  I think they're trying to kill us.  I am always prepared to believe that a person is malicious rather than stupid because I think that is the nicer thing to believe.

In a stroke these comments are transformed from statements of vapid idiocy into an incredibly subtle attempt by the indirectly murderous to thin the human herd.  By wrapping up their nihilistic messages of doom in an apparently upbeat package they can persuade the more gullible to proactively engineer their own destruction.  

Let us take a moment to admire the self effacing genius of these killers.  Not for them the opportunity of gloating over a mutilated corpse with a bloodied axe in hand.  No; it is sufficient for them to sit at home, comfortably anonymous, perhaps watching television with loved ones/future victims secure in the knowledge that thanks to them someone somewhere is attempting to seize the day and will wind up with their vital organs several feet from the remainder of their body. 

Such messages have a long history dating back to the hoary old original "there is nothing to fear but fear itself."  This was the first attempt at indirect murder but it wasn't particularly successful because the statement was so obviously untrue.  There are plenty of things to fear apart from fear itself; bears, wolverines, traffic accidents, outraged husbands, infuriated wives, mildly annoyed second cousins with anger management issues and access to firearms.  The list goes on.  

Todays indirect murderer has advanced long past such neophyte attempts at execution.  Not only can they claim a healthy crop of victims but if they are really good then one day one of their creations will appear on a desk calendar; discreetly credited to "anon" of course.  For the truly exceptional the need for anonymity disappears and they can have speaking tours, book sales and interviews on whatever passes for prime time television these day.  Meanwhile professional assassins stare with seething jealously at their kill rate and start making their own plans.  Oh that's something else that can kill you; jealous assassins.  Possibly it would be better to stick with the discreet desk calendar after all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - Coastal Edition

 They say that optimism is the triumph of hope over experience.  In an attempt to provide a practical example of the preceding my two friends who joined me walking around North Head joined me on what was supposed to be a walk from Clovelly to Bondi.  Despite the experiences of the previous walk I thought there would be an enjoyable stroll, pausing to take pictures of such scenery as presented itself while at least one of my friends envisioned a cross between a power walk and a death march.  The other friend I'm sure simply came along for the amusement value.  

Manly Dam is still on the agenda at some point when you don't need scuba gear to get around it but given the problematic weather of late we have put it off to an unspecified date in the future.  The problematic personalities will likely cause issues of their own.

Clovelly to Bondi is hardly ploughing through the bush.  It's an established walking path, fully sealed and occupied by tourists, locals and at least one obnoxious jogger.  Still the scenery is supposed to be nice (to be fair its difficult to mess up ocean meeting land as far as scenery is concerned) and if violence broke out between us rescue wouldn't be too far away.  

We met at Clovelly Surf Life Saving Club at 9.30am and by that I mean we didn't meet at 9.30am.  I turned up at 9.30am wandered around, got a coffee, looked at the ocean wandered around some more and eventually met one of my friends while I was wondering if I could decently leave before he arrived.  There was then more hanging around waiting for the third musketeer.  To be fair the late runner had the greatest distance to travel, he's also the oldest of us so it was entirely possible he had forgotten where he was meant to be going.  Such unworthy suspicions were put to rest when he arrived and promptly disappeared into the nearest public toilet.  The amount of teeth grinding exhibited by my other companion should have been a warning.

I had tried to be helpful by taking a couple of photos before the others arrived.  This didn't stop them from greeting the sight of the camera with sheer incredulity.  I couldn't have astonished them more if I had lit my cigarette with flint and steel.

A pre-walk photograph

Eventually about an hour after our intended departure time we set off.  Rubbing shoulders with a disturbing number of people (to be fair my definition of a disturbing number is now "more than one") we pointed our noses in the general direction of Bondi and ordered our legs to follow.  Some of us ordered their legs to follow a little faster than others.  In my defence I had pointed out that the whole point behind my going for walks was to amble along at a sedentary pace and take photos.  This did not generate a great deal of sympathy.  

The draw card of the walk is coastline, liberally festooned with cliffs and the occasional beach.  The sea was doing its best to be helpful drawing itself up imposingly and slamming against aforementioned cliffs with great gusto.  I paused for photos, dashed to catch up and paused for photos again.  My progress must have looked like I was having difficulty changing gears.

Again before we started walking

Despite my interrupted progress we were making what seemed to me to be good time, particularly since I didn't have any particular time in mind.  It is fair to say that this was not the opinion of everyone on our little trek.  Along the way at least two of us admired some of the houses we encountered.  I took a photo of at least one.

I'll bet you expected this to be a photo of a house

We passed places where people lived and encountered somewhere they definitely didn't.  Waverley Cemetery must be one of the highest rent burial grounds in the world.  My property developer friend shed a tear of genuine pain as we passed.  I suppose its churlish to expect good house keeping from the dead but cemeteries have always struck me as being rather messy looking places with headstones and the like scattered all over the place.  It's like littering done in stone.  I'm sure there is an order to the place but I got a definite "just toss the corpses in wherever they'll fit" vibe as I passed by. 

A cemetery, if you dig too close to the edge you may wind up with a sea burial

With the cemetery behind us there was nothing for it but to go on enjoying the sea lowering its head and charging full tilt at the land.  The weather was grey and the air was misty, these are the excuses I'm giving for the poor quality of the photos and you're just going to have to accept it.

Sea, cliff and cemetery, my cup runneth over

In the fullness of not very much time we encountered Tamarama Beach.  I realise I have completely passed over Bronte.  All I can say to that is that I didn't notice it at the time and I can't really say all that much about it now.  Tamarama Beach however drew us in.  Firstly there was stuff scattered all over the beach.  I thought it was children's playground equipment but it turned out to be Sculptures by the Sea.  In fact if they were any more by the sea they would have been under it.  Something I thought was a garbage bin may have been a sculpture or possibly a garbage bin.  I wasn't quite game enough to toss my cigarette butt into it in case I was considered a cultural vandal.

A sculpture by the sea or possibly beach obstacles to prevent an invasion


The second thing that attracted us at Tamarama Beach was a cafe; coffees and hot chocolates were acquired not without difficulty as the gentleman serving us apparently had some problem understanding us despite the fact that everyone involved was speaking English.  We sat down and enjoyed our somewhat difficult to obtain beverages and started to chat.  It became very obvious that we would be going no further today.

It is a sad indication of our increasing years that the dominating topic of our conversation was our respective health and the various issues we were undergoing.  Eavesdroppers were probably expecting us to keel over on the spot.  After half an hour of this conversation I was a little astonished that we had made it this far without a fatality.

The reason for our ending our walk here was that one of our number (not the property developer, the other one) was eager to get home and greet his wife who was returning from a sojourn on a different continent that day.  We expressed our skepticism at this but we couldn't shake his story and eventually had to accept it.  Since both my companions had parked at Clovelly they had to retrace their steps and because I had nothing better to do I went with them.  Along the way I stopped to take photos of bits of the sea that had missed my camera on the way out.

The same sea but from a different direction

As is always the case the journey back seemed to take less time than the journey outward.  We passed by the cemetery again and I waved in what I hoped was a friendly fashion.  None of the occupants waved back.  This is one of the advantages of being dead, you don't have to worry about social niceties.

We had almost arrived back at our starting point when my attention was attracted by a small bird.  Clutching my camera I pointed it at the bush the thing was hiding in and took a photo.  Dissatisfied with the results I took several more equally unsatisfactory photos before I gave up and joined my friends who after a brief discussion decided not to murder me.

Probably the best of a not particularly good bunch of bird photos

It was decided that on the whole if Manly Dam ever does rise from beneath the waters that perhaps the property developer and I might like to enjoy it ourselves without the input of the third member of our somewhat shabby triumvirate.  On this note of rare unanimity we made our way home.

Here is the house photo because I know you've been waiting for it

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Silly After Action Report - Bullseye!

Major Karl-August von Misseltow looked up as a stern faced policeman was ushered into the room.

"Are you Hauptmann Erich Lueger?" demanded the officer.

"My name is von Misseltow," replied the major stiffly and tapped the rank badges on his shoulder.  The policeman looked a little confused.

"Apologies Herr Major, is this the headquarters of the 25th panzer grenadier division?"

"No, its the headquarters of the 107th panzer brigade.  I think you have the wrong address."

The police officer apologised again and departed.  Hauptmann Lueger stuck his head around the interior door.

"Thanks KA, I owe you one."

"You wouldn't have to owe me anything if you didn't keep trying to sell our vehicles on the black market.  Half the population of Holland must have a Panther in their garage by now."

"Nah, late model Panzer IVs are the big seller.  Solid, reliable and no tendency for the gearbox to tear itself out of the engine."

"We need a Panther for the attack tomorrow, are there any left?"

"No problem KA, someone just forfeited their deposit so we're good to go."

"Do you have to call me that?"

"Sorry, it's just that Karl-August is a bit of a mouthful."

"It's better than the name my younger brother got."

"What's his name?"

"Karl-September von Misseltow."

With it being my turn to select a scenario I dug around in a pile of mouldering cardstock and, coughing and waving away the dust, I managed to produce ESG 101 - Bullseye! despite the desperate protests of paper lice trying to feed their families.  This scenario involves the German 107th panzer brigade, commanded by me, trying to capture the bailey bridge at the town of Son and bring an end to Operation Market Garden.  Richard Weilly would command the defending Americans.

To win the Germans, who start on one side of the bridge need to get two or more squads onto or over said bridge to the other side.  Standing in their way are headquarters elements of the 101st airborne division.  To complete my mission I have nine squads (four elite and five first line) two of which obviously have to survive to the end, a trio of light machine guns, two medium machine guns and a 50mm mortar.  Three officers including a 9-1 lead.  Armoured support is present in the form of a Panther tank, a StuG IIIG two half tracks and a PSW 232 armoured car.

Richard has the equivalent of six squads of elite paratroopers with three medium machine guns, a 60mm mortar and a pair of 1944 bazookas led by four officers including a 9-2.  A 57mm antitank gun is also present as are a pair of jeeps armed with machine guns.

We started the game and immediately ran into a problem.  The special rules noted that the jeeps could not be scrounged and a debate ensued as to whether abandoning the jeeps and taking the machine guns with you counted as "scrounging".  Eventually we decided to go black letter law which defined scrounging as taking weapons from abandoned vehicles and since the jeeps weren't abandoned the crews could indeed take their weapons with them when they left.  This added another mmg and a .50cal to the American OOB.

At start

Above is the set up.  The ground is moist making off road movement for vehicles a little more difficult.  I have set up with two forces, one based around the Panther coming in from the east and the other with the StuG rolling on from the south.  My plan, in so far as I had one was to use the StuG to smoke out the steeple where I figured he would have at least one machine gun and move up from the south while the eastern force would skirt the orchard and capture the wooden buildings to give me a base to dispose of his troops south of the canal.  The Panther would take advantage of its supposed invulnerability to try and beat up on his troops in buildings on the other side of the canal.

End turn 1


So things haven't turned out too badly at the end of the first turn.  I have the eastern buildings and have my StuG set up to dump smoke on the steeple which in the next turn it dutifully did.  The armoured car as away in the east because I used it to chase away Richard's mortar team which had been sitting in the open on the other side of the canal.  My own mortar is settling itself for taking long range shots at the centre woods to discourage defenders from hanging around there.

End of German turn 2

It's fair to say I lost the game on this turn.  The Americans are allowed to HIP one MMC and I suspected that the little patch of woods in the East would be the perfect place.  I was proved correct when they popped up and fried the armoured car in defensive fire.  I wasn't daunted, I had kept a squad back for this precise purpose and advanced them into close combat with the bazooka wielding halfsquad.  The next turn Richard would roll snake eyes in CC killing the squad and generating a leader for the half squad which was now happily placed in the rear of my Panther.  From this point on I was looking in two directions at once and my concentration suffered.  Still his steeple troops were smoked out and the remainder of my troops were creeping forward towards his defenders.

A mild breeze sprang up distributing smoke evenly along the front line I pressed forward with my southern infantry I rolled my halftracks into the village street to provide a little cover for my troops.  I didn't really mind if they got destroyed, either way they were cover.  Reluctantly I had to send troops back to the East in an attempt to dissuade his new embolden halfsquad from hitting my Panther in the rear with a bazooka.  This they managed for a turn or two.

End of German turn 3

Richard surprised me by skulking the majority of his troops south of the canal rather than defend the buildings to the bitter end (this is why he's a better player than I am, well that and the mental stability).  With the number of machine guns he was accumulating across the canal he didn't really need to defend too vigorously.  While his troops were there I could hardly just charge for the bridge.  I ground forward catching some of his troops in close combat (because apparently I never learn).  I moved the StuG forward to provide a little more cover for the Panther.  Apparently I had forgotten that I was supposed to be getting across the bridge, I was bogged down grinding through his southern defenders while my armour support was apparently terrified of getting its paint scratched.

End of German turn 4

To be fair progress was being made but to be very fair it wasn't being made anywhere near quickly enough.  Richard also chose this moment to unveil his 57mm atg lurking in the brush near the canal.  That wasn't a surprise, it made short work of my surviving halftrack although the ensuing smoke didn't exactly help its cause.  Richard threw back his head and laughed at the smoke.  We were playing on VASL so I didn't actually see that but I'm assuming he did.  It was the sort of thing I'd do myself.  Then he fired through the smoke (and through my Panther) to kill my inoffensive StuG hiding in the orchards.

End of Allied turn 4

There are no more photos as I was too blinded by tears to take them.  Suffice to say that with two turns to go and my Panther focussed more on the bazooka team sidling up behind them it was down to my infantry to hurl themselves recklessly against the defenders and hope for luck.

Hurl themselves recklessly they did (I'm more suited to World War I generalship than World War II to be honest).  My men fought, crumbled and died.  The survivors almost reached the canal bank but it was a last gasp.  Meanwhile the Panther having failed to hurt the bazooka team with either its MA or machine guns dutifully erupted into flames when a rocket went up its rear.  No that's not innuendo you just have a filthy mind.  Battered and mangled I gave the concession while I still had a few troops alive.  In truth I obsessed over the well being of the Panther so much that I didn't really use it for anything productive.  Many thanks to Richard for the game which at least appeared competitive for a few turns.  I tend to be foolishly reckless with my armour.  On this occasion I was foolishly cautious.  Who says I'm not versatile.

Major von Misseltow stared at the battlefield in dismay.

"Should we send for vehicle reinforcements?"

"Hell no," replied Lueger, "I've got orders to fill."

Von Misseltow sent the retreat order while Lueger gazed at the wrecked vehicles speculatively.

"Can I interest you in a slightly shop soiled PSW 232?"

"It's on fire," retorted von Misseltow.

"Ten percent off."

"Make it fifteen."

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - Eels with a Dash of Turtle Edition

 Those of you who have followed my blog over the years will be aware that there are a number of recurring themes.  There are birthday greetings to various emperors, war games write ups, travel journals and the doings of a group of psychologically disturbed plush toys.  Something else that crops up from time to time is eels.  I have developed an unnatural fondness for what is basically a fish that was too lazy to grow fins.  Despite this I go out of my way to find eels whenever I can.  This isn't exactly difficult as eels seem to be everywhere.  If you spill a glass of water in Sydney an eel will turn up before you have time to fetch a mop.  Once they develop a chlorine tolerance no backyard swimming pool will be safe.

My obsession with interest in eels began in 2014 when a friend and I walked through a bit of Sydney Park.  They were still in the process of constructing the wetlands and my friend told me there were eels although we didn't see any that day.  I sought out and discovered eels in various other wet (or at least damp) places around Sydney but yesterday having run out of conveniently available bushland to walk through I decided to drop down to Sydney Park and see if I could encounter eels.

Sydney Park stretches over some 40 plus hectares of former garbage tip and brickworks and it has to be said that it's probably a bit more aesthetically pleasing now than it was then.  There are paths, wide open grassy bits, hilly bits and tree covered bits.  There are also wetlands.  These wetlands aren't natural, rather they're a water recycling system that takes storm water, filters out the mucky bits (most of it I would suspect) and then uses the newly clean water to water the park.  Along the way a series of ponds provide a home for a variety of plants and animals that like hanging out in close proximity to water.  It is possible the eels were introduced but I suspect its far more likely that they simply turned up one day and have proved impossible to evict.

Despite the presence of wetlands, trees and other nature stuff Sydney Park isn't the usual sort of place I would go for a walk.  For starters its full of people.  For second its full of dogs.  I don't dislike dogs (and I'm at least ambivalent about people) but I don't like encountering large numbers of them when I'm out for a walk (or at any other time to be fair).  Still the siren call of eels overwhelmed my latent misanthropy and I set forth under cloudless skies to sample the delights of Sydney Park.  When I arrived it was obvious that half the population of Sydney (both human and canine) had had the same idea.  I did my best not to photograph any of them.

I passed by surviving brick works buildings on my way into the park, preserved as a monument to the days when we had a manufacturing sector and headed in the general direction of the wetlands.

Brickworks remnants

Chimneys are an integral part of brickworks

I was met with a vast horde of dogs many of whom had humans attached to them by a leash.  Skirting around and sometimes over the exuberant canine horde I headed away from the trimmed, well groomed part of the park towards soggier environs (which to be fair were equally well groomed but they had gone for the designer messy look).  Along the way I took the opportunity presented by occasional breaks in the people to take photos.

Ah the untamed wilderness (with disabled access)

I encountered my first piece of wetland when the path I was following ended at a fence.  On the other side of the fence was more wet than land.  A broad pond presented itself and I looked eagerly into its depths but no eels presented themselves.  A series of terracotta pipes did present themselves, I thought they were part of the drainage system but apparently they were an art installation designed to symbolise, well something to do with terracotta and water I suppose.

A wetland with terracotta pipes

Although no eels had paraded before my eager eyes lots of quite minute life did so.  Loads of what were either tadpoles or very small fish swam through the water in front of me and dragon flies hovered over various bits of waterlogged plant life.  I was unreasonably pleased at seeing dragon flies as I simply don't seem to encounter them that often nowadays, I was glad to see there are some left.

No eels but a rather handsome dragon fly

Eventually having satiated an unknown desire for dragon flies I headed on to the next pond circling left as a sign had promised me a frog pond.  Apparently four different types of frogs make their home in the wetlands and while the signs made no explicit promise I assumed that the frog pond would be the place to see them.  There were mini cascades running between pond one and pond two (they have names which I didn't bother learning) to provide an environment for the sorts of plants that like to hang around cascades.

Enough of cascades, the frog pond beckoned.  I arrived at the frog pond or, to be more accurate, I arrived at a sign that informed me the frog pond was directly behind it.  All I could see was rushes and grass.  There were certainly no frogs disporting themselves for the amusement of the general public.  Now that I had arrived the sign confessed that one might not see frogs (you could have hidden a gorilla in those rushes) but you might hear them.  I listened, I didn't hear them.  Mind you it was difficult to hear anything except enthusiastic barking.  And dogs.

 The frog pond.  Presumably the frogs, and the pond, are in there somewhere

Feeling just a little cheated frogwise I headed back to the wetlands proper.  I didn't know it yet but things were about to look up.  The principal drawcard of the wetlands is the birdlife they attract but up until now birdlife had been a little thin on the ground, or water.  There were hardly great flocks of birds hanging around but as I approached the next piece of reed clogged water definite signs of avian life presented themselves.  There were ibis because there always are, the one below manages to look a little less scraggy and desperate than they usually do.

An uncharacteristically impressive ibis

When I arrived at the viewing platform a coot presented itself for my photographic delectation.  I know it was a coot because I outsource my bird identifying to a friend who knows about this stuff.

The top one is a coot, apparently

I leant against the rail and watched the coot for a while and an eel swam by.  I fumbled for my camera but it was gone.  Displaying a level of patience I exhibit in no other part of my life I hung around waiting for it to return.  Return it did and indeed it seemed quite happy to pose for photographs.  I took lots of photographs.  They were not particularly successful.  If you're wandering through the bush and you encounter bigfoot I am definitely not the person you want holding the camera.  The trouble is the water was brown and green and eels are also brown and green.  Also of course the eels are under said water and I am not.

The best of the eel shots.  I have many more which are worse

Despite the photographic issues I was delighted with my day.  There had been birds, dragon flies and eels.  I skipped out of the park and trotted through Newtown for coffee.  Along the way I met a friend and boasted about my eel success.

"Did you see the turtles?" she asked?


So the next day I went back to the damn park to see if I could see some turtles.  More hordes of people, more packs of dogs, about the same number of dragon flies and an equal lack of frogs.  Fortunately my friend had been able to tell me which pond the turtles normally hung out in.  I went there trying not to get my expectations up too high.  There was more birdlife on the water, specifically in the shape of a pair of handsome black swans with an incredibly gorgeous little baby cygnet.  The parents (I presume they were parents) kept close to the cygnet which was wise as there were eels in the water.  I saw one lurking with intent but I'm pretty sure the pond had the same number of cygnets when I left as when I arrived.

Two and a half swans

Because its too cute not to have another photo

Delightful though they were the swans were not the reason for my visit.  Neither was a tree full of ibis. I still can't believe they roost in trees.  I always thought they slept under a urine stained blanket at a railway station.  Even the eel disporting itself in the water didn't hold my attention for more than fifteen minutes or so.  Instead I scanned the water for turtles without success.  Then I took a closer look at the end of a log sticking into the water.  The end of the log was occupied by a turtle.  Pretty soon the end of the log was occupied by two turtles.  I took a photo until I realised what they were doing at which point I felt embarrassed for invading their privacy.  I'm still going to post the photo though.  How often do you get the opportunity to see some hot testudine porn?

Introductions are made

Insert your own wildly inappropriate sound effects here

I'm presuming this is the female as the other one seems to have buggered off the moment they were finished

The turtles, quite cleverly, were in the most difficult to access part of the pond.  The photos above were taken at the very edge of my camera's zoom function and I'm amazed they turned out so well.  My cup ranneth over.  There had been eels, dragon flies, swans and turtles fucking.  What more can you ask for from a day out?

I strolled out of the park and promptly got lost.  On my way back to finding myself I passed a cement works.  Naturally I didn't take a photo of that.  Oh wait a minute, yes I did.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Silly After Action Report - Spittelmarkt

 A harried looking Soviet tank officer brought his T-34 to a screeching halt and took his life in his hands by popping the hatch and looking around.  Unfortunately the map in his hand was printed in Cyrillic and since it didn't depict rubble it was of limited use.  So far he had been navigating by tourist guide.  Behind him a long queue of tanks, assault troops and, for some reason, an American halftrack were jammed on the rubble strewn street waiting for him to make up his mind.  

Sweating nervously the officer spied a ragged civilian cringing in a pile of rubble.

"You," he screamed in his best German.  "How do I get to the Spittelmarkt?"

"You go straight down Saliva Boulevard and turn left at Expectoration Platz," replied the German without missing a beat.

"Did you enjoy that?" asked the tank officer.

"Little bit, yeah."

The tank officer could feel the eyes of his regimental commander burning into his back.  The regimental commissar was no doubt considering burning other things into his back.

"Look I'm desperate ok.  Tell me where the Spittelmarkt is and you won't be the loser."

The German relented, "Ok, straight down the road, try and avoid the rubble.  It's the place with all of the machine guns and StuGs.  You can't miss it."

With a wave of thanks the tank officer dropped back into his vehicle.

"Straight down the road," he told his driver.  "We can't miss it."

"A statement that cuts both ways," muttered his driver as he revved the engine.

After botching Operation Barbarossa as the Germans I was kindly given the opportunity to botch the taking of Berlin as the Soviets.  Dave Wilson and I played this one over a couple of sessions.  It is late April 1945, Berlin is in ruins and appropriately Wagnerian music is playing as the defenders of Berlin stage their own personal gotterdammerung amongst the rubble.  Down at the Spittelmarkt various misplaced Scandinavians plus a smattering of locals who didn't get out of the way in time are preparing to defend several square feet of Berlin to the death.  This is scenario FT 196 - Spittelmarkt.  I command assault troops of the all conquering Soviet army looking to capture the vital U-bahn station before reinforcements can be rushed in from Airbnbs in Kreuzberg.  The objective is to ensure that no good order German squads (or functioning AFVs) remain within two hexes of the Spittelmarkt itself which from the map is little more than a glorified road junction.

To plough through the rubble I have a formidable force.  Ten first line squads, a pair of 458 elite squads and three squads of 628 assault engineers.  These are led by four officers including a doughty 9-1 and have a trio of light machine guns and three demo charges to assist them along.  Also present are three T-34/85 tanks and an American sourced M3A1 half track tossed in I can only assume for historical verisimilitude.  On turn two a pair of IS2M tanks arrive to provide some heavy metal.

Defending the Spittelmarkt is a collection of SS who should really have read the writing on the wall by now.  Eight squads ranging from 447s to awesome 658s with three leaders and a hero plus a hmg, a pair of panzerschrecks and two light machine guns stand ready to defend approximate a block of downtown Berlin.  Assisting them are a pair of StuG IIIGs and four roadblocks.  Coming on on turn three are some distinctly unenthusiastic Volksturm in the form of a second line squad and two conscripts with a 7-0 leader an lmg and another panzerschreck.  Before the game starts we both get to place a bunch of rubble counters where we think they will do the most good.

Below is the at start map.  I've set up heavily weighted on the right as that looked to be the safest way forward while secondary forces would attack the centre and left.

My assault engineers are all on the right as is my entire armoured force

Things didn't go too badly in the first couple of turns.  My forces on the right ate up territory heading for the Spittelmarkt while managing to keep out of the sight of the hmg team which was of course up on the second floor of a building I failed to rubble effectively.  In the centre I pushed forward against his defenders in the rubble and overwhelmed them in close combat.  Only on the left had disaster struck as I had misjudged lines of sight and a chunk of my attacking force were carved up by the hmg team.  Still casualties were acceptable so far and I was pressing in on Dave's defences.

So far no tank losses, this would soon change

I had now struck the centre of Dave's defences.  I parked a T34 behind a roadblock to take on a StuG only to get smothered in smoke.  Another T-34 went up in flames when he fired a panzerschreck out of a building.  I began to get that creeping feeling of helplessness I always get whenever I play armour against Dave.  This feeling would only increase as the game proceeded.  Still for right now I wasn't looking too bad.  A tank had been sacrificed but my beasts were coming and my infantry was definitely pressing forward.  Also one of his StuGs had run out of smoke, it's always good news when Dave runs out of smoke.

In the next turn Dave's StuG would manage to shock another T-34 despite the presence of a road block and smoke but my infantry were starting to grind forward and the IS2s were coming up to replace losses.  I killed his shreck halfsquad and started heading towards the Spittelmarkt itself.  I didn't even bog an IS2 grinding through rubble.  Dave's hero would meet an unlamented end and I deluded myself that things were still going reasonably well.

Things are still going well, says he in a fit of self delusion

Dave repositioned his armour to better protect what appeared to be the most important building while I brushed aside the last of his outlying defences on the right.  The Spittelmarkt appeared to be within my grasp.  I had even managed to reconstitute a bit of a left flank which was tiptoeing forward hoping not to be noticed.  However Dave's surviving forces (most of them) received a boost as a bunch of ragged, fear crazed civilians turned up to "bolster" the defences.  How could I lose from here?  Read on.

OK, things could be worse.  Patience young Jedi

"I've got this," I thought in what in retrospect can only be considered deranged hubris.  I sent a T-34 around behind one of his StuGs forgetting for a moment that this never works and pressing forward with my infantry.  Everything seemed set for the final assault.  One of my IS2s had nestled behind a roadblock and was exchanging shots with his other StuG similarly behind a roadblock.  Turret hits would be the order of the day.

So pressing forward, let's just ignore the vulture hovering over my head

Somehow, at this point I can't remember how, Dave managed to extract his StuG from the menace of two tanks including an IS2 without so much as a scratch on the paintwork.  His other StuG smoked out my other IS2 but in a brief moment of glory this didn't stop it from blowing up the StuG in gouts of flames with a return fire shot.  Things really were looking quite good.

If you're wondering what I'm doing with the M3A1 halftrack the answer is "I don't know"

Then I went slightly mad.  In reference to that last sentence, delete the word "slightly".  I lost my remaining T-34s to fausts and schrecks but the real problem was an act of staggering stupidity on my part.  With my assault troops in readiness I decided to send a major kill stack (a pair of 628s, lmgs and the 9-1) into the building rubble despite the fact that him hmg team was adjacent.  I think I was hoping the plus three modifier for rubble would protect them.  The 9-1 and a squad died and the remaining one was broken and suddenly my assault force was in ruins.  It really was a piece of prize idiocy on my part.  The game to all intents and purposes ended there but I struggled on.  I still had my IS2s and a smattering of other squads so significant firepower was still at my command.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

We could have ended it there but I wanted to see if I could achieve anything further so Dave very kindly agreed to keep crucifying me.  With my attack on the right drowned in a welter of blood I shifted my focus to the left while I attempted to salvage something from the wreckage.  My trump card here was my second IS2 weaving its way slowly through a cluster of buildings to somewhere it could be helpful.  I had successfully stripped some concealment and was attempting to break down the remaining defenders to help my attenuated assault force forward.

Perhaps there is still a faint chance

I now had both my IS2s up on the front lines while his surviving StuG had retreated back to its original location.  I had managed to chase some of his troops on the left out of their positions and I was gearing up for the final push.  I even had a toehold in the building with his hmg team (which, incidentally, is out of position for the victory conditions).  I would  need to use the weighty firepower of my IS2s to shoot my way forward.  At that point Dave decided to try a deliberate immobilisation attempt on one of my IS2s.  He was successful.  The crew bailed out whereupon a snake eyes on an IFT shot guaranteed that one of my two remaining tanks was now out of the battle.  The writing was not just on the wall, it had been tattooed onto my face.  I took the hint and conceded.

No, no there isn't

Well I lost that one.  I lost it with one stupid decision and threw away a very winnable game.  Despite that we both enjoyed this one (perhaps Dave a little more than me).  Once again I learnt that I am simply incapable of using armour efficiently.  The best use I made of my T-34s was using their burning hulks as cover.  Many thanks to Dave for the game.  Next time I'll try not to be an idiot (bold promise I know).

Two Volksturm troopers watched with polite curiosity as a Soviet tank officer staggered into view.  He smelt of smoke and despair and for some reason he had a Baedeker's Guide to the Ruins of Berlin in one hand.

"Is this the Spittelmarkt?" he demanded in German that would have been quite good if it wasn't for the edge of hysteria.

One of the Volksturmers nodded.

"The U-bahn station is just down the road," he added helpfully.  The Soviet officer looked around wildly as if expecting a U-bahn station to leap on him from behind a bush.  The Volksturmer pointed and the Soviet officer staggered off.

"Why do you think he wants to get the U-bahn station?" asked the other Volksturmer.  His companion shrugged.

"I think he just wants to get away from here."

"Speaking of which..."

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Birthday Greetings #84

 It's been quite a while since I did a birthday shout out for the simple reason I was running out of the type of people I normally commemorate in this blog.  However my interest has been rekindled so I'm very happy to say a happy birthday to Alexios III, Emperor of Trebizond.  Of course this does give rise to a number of questions like "what the hell is Trebizond?,  Where the hell is Trebizond? and Huh?!!  Let me answer those questions a succinctly as I can.

Some empires are built on bloody fisted conquest, others by subtle political manipulations.  Then there are empires which are formed largely because everyone who might have been minded to prevent them was busy with something else at the time.  The empire of Trebizond falls squarely into this category.  The city of Trebizond was (and under its Turkish name of Trabzon still is) a city on the southern shore of the Black Sea.  Until 1204 it was a modest and little thought about part of the Byzantine Empire which stretched across the Balkans and a good deal of Asia Minor.  Then in 1204 the Fourth Crusade happened.  The Fourth Crusade was the latest attempt by the Christian states of western Europe to dispossess the incumbent Moslems of the Holy Land.  For various convoluted reasons (Venetian skullduggery) this army of the faith wound up capturing, sacking and burning to the ground Constantinople the capital of Byzantium and the largest Christian city in the world.  It never got anywhere near the Holy Land.

Having literally ripped the heart out of the empire the Crusaders then appointed one of themselves as the new emperor, however there weren't all that many of them and outside the smouldering ruins of Constantinople various Byzantine successor states managed to set themselves up on the territory of what had once been the Byzantine empire.  Even by these standards Trebizond was a distinct non-entity.  It was ruled by descendants of the previous dynasty but one that had ruled the empire proper and that seemed a good enough reason to claim an imperial title for what was little more than a port and a strip of beach front.

Despite this the "empire" survived for over two hundred years until the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II crushed it with a sort of backhand flick of his wrist when he was trying to swat a fly.  Our boy Alexios III however reigned when the empire was at its height.  "Height" being in this case a somewhat relative term.  It was a strip of coastal territory bounded (and protected) by the Pontic Mountains to the south.  It also had some claim on a chunk of the southern coast of Crimea on the other side of the Black Sea.  Despite its modest proportions Trebizond was quite prosperous having benefited from the Mongol destruction of Baghdad which made it the only surviving city at the western end of the Silk Road.  In fact a good deal of the history of Trebizond involves it benefiting from the destruction of other places by other people.

Coming to power in 1349 Alexios immediately discovered that he had a problem; the fact that the empire was surrounded by enemies any one of which could have crushed it with one fist didn't stop the local nobility from constantly intriguing, rebelling and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  It is indicative that Alexios was accepted as emperor because he was young and inexperienced and thus the nobility thought he would be an easy mark.  A civil war was fought which Alexios managed to win (or at least survive which is much the same thing) and the nobility were brought more or less to heel.  Alexios himself gained quite a bit of revenue from confiscating the estates of traitors.  The amount of wealth he gained is an indication of the sheer number of traitors he encountered.  Nevertheless he persevered and wound up dying of natural causes which, when you're a ruler with a treacherous and murderous nobility counts as a definite win.

Alexios used the money to endow monasteries and, more sensibly, to build up the defences of Trebizond itself.  This didn't stop the occasional adventurer, Italian city state, local despot or disgruntled nobleman from attempting to conquer the place but it did make their job a bit harder.

In foreign relations Alexios relied on his sister and his daughters.  That is he married them off to every greedy, ambitious neighbour he could find in the hopes that they might be persuaded not to conquer their father in law.  This was actually the backbone of Trapuzentine foreign policy for much of its existence and it seemed to work for as long as the supply of daughters lasted.