Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Travelling Pathetically - Lane Cove River Edition Part 2

 Another weekend arrived and in a thoroughly uncharacteristic display of perseverance I returned to the scene of my departure from Lane Cove National Park when a few spots of rain had chased me away from my goal.  Once again Cheltenham was graced very briefly with my presence as I hopped off the train and retraced my steps through suburban streets (well street) towards the bush.  Soon the tarmac faded away and the tell tale signs of the Australian bush appeared.  Those signs were ones announcing that fox poison had been laid in the area and others informing the more olfactorily sensitive of  a "possible" sewer overflow.  One sniff was enough to delete the word possible from that sentence.  It was either that or the government had been conducting chemical warfare experiments.  I paused to wrap a urine soaked cloth around my face (not that this had anything to do with sewer overflows or chemical warfare) and plunged into the somewhat odiferous bush.

The day was warm (whiny climate activists would say hot) and the sun was shining which was a distinct contrast to my previous journey.  Perhaps in deference to this fact birdlife, suspiciously absent from my first walk presented itself in all its noisy glory.  Cockatoos, swarmed, screeched, swooped and shat.  I paused for a photo and in response the cockatoo in question crapped all over my backpack.  My walk wasn't five minutes old and an avian sewer had overflowed onto me.  Cleaning myself up as best I could I stumbled onward the warm positive feelings I had toward cockatoos just a few minutes earlier a distant memory.

This handsome fellow would crap on my backpack about thirty seconds after I took this photo


The first part of my journey involved retracing my steps to the place I left the path last time.  I presume I did this as I wound up further down the Lane Cove River at the end of my walk than I was at the beginning.  Before I got to the river I had to follow the creek that I had walked beside to exit last time.  As is my wont I examined the water closely for platypus.  I didn't see any for which I was rather grateful.  Given the smell I suspect any platypus sightings would involve seeing them floating belly up on the surface.

This creek will eventually meet the Lane Cove River and so will I

With my starting point achieved and the worst of the cockatoo crap wiped off my equipment I set out on my walk proper.  Despite previous experiences I had visions of strolling down a bush path with a river gurgling and bubbling a safe but still photogenic distance away.  Of course I was wrong.  The first thing the path did was strike away from the river and for the first three quarters of my walk river sightings were rare and treasured things.  Instead I struggled up the side of the river valley and then back down again, there would be a teasing glimpse of water and then the climbing would begin anew.  Somewhere just out of reach were the suburbs which encompassed this narrow strip of bushland but here among the trees it was easy to imagine civilisation was a long way away.

This is more like most of the scenery, not a river in sight

Despite the absence of cool tranquil waters the bush was as appealing as bush usually is and the presence of a decent tree cover took the sting out of the sun which was getting quite enthusiastic about its job.  I was happy tramping along, I knew the river would reappear eventually.  The park authorities are doing their best to talk up the park as a location teeming with wildlife (from all the signs it would appear it is teeming with foxes at least).  On the rare occasions that signs took a break from warning about fox poison and sewer overflows they would spruik the magnificent local flora and fauna.  Top billing was given to the powerful owl.  A photo was helpfully provided in deference to the fact that if you had enough daylight to read the sign you were not going to see an actual powerful owl.  The powerful owl is apparently endangered.  It makes you wonder about the condition of the weaker owls but the sign was silent on this point.

I wasn't worried about not seeing powerful owls as I can not see them at home.  However in a belated attempt to make up for the entire aerial crapping incident the daylight birds decided to put on quite the display for me.  Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, big, white and apparently loose of bowel had already made their presence known in numerous ways (some of them more intrusive than others) but now a rustling in a nearby tree alerted me to something else.  I saw a dark shadow, squinted, peered and realised I was actually looking at the bird itself.  A huge black cockatoo was hanging out in a tree with a bunch of its mates at a distance just too far for adequate photography.  They didn't get any closer but they obligingly hung around while I tried to take as many photos as possible.  These birds were immense, jet black with yellow banding on their tail feathers.

The best of some blurry black cockatoo photos

I was stunned at their size.  White cockatoos are hefty birds but these were in a different league.  One could imagine them swooping down and carrying off small children.  At least one could if you have my sort of imagination.  Glutted on black cockatoos I continued down the path and came face to face with a brush turkey.  In contrast to the more discreet cockatoos this one stopped three feet in front of me and posed for photos.

Upset at the attention the cockatoos were getting this brush turkey demanded equal exposure

And after the brush turkey which I had to practically elbow to one side in order to get by I took a couple more blurry cockatoo photos because well you do don't you?

I was cockahoop after my dual avian triumph and set out with a new spring in my step which was almost disastrous as a sudden flash of movement and crackle of undergrowth informed me that a lizard had removed itself from under my boot at the last possible moment.  Then to show there were no hard feelings it also paused for a photo.

This lizard departed my path in the nick of time

Somewhat shaken at how close I had come to depleting the world's lizard population I made a resolution to pay closer attention to where I was walking, part way through that resolution I came even closer to stepping on another lizard which fled into the bush just before it got my footprints on its back.  I paused, took a deep breath and really promised to look where I was going.

I continued along the path, from time to time I got a glimpse of the river now somewhat largely than the slender trickle I had witnessed up until this point.  I wasn't too worried as I was looking at hollow logs.  When I was a child one of the first nature programs I watched was In the Wild with Harry Butler.  Harry Butler was a bearded, camouflage wearing individual who would roam the countryside and upon finding a hollow log would ram his hand inside it and drag some long suffering animal specimen into the light of day for the entertainment of his viewers.  I was far too young to suspect that these might be pre-prepared hollow logs or at least that the program discreetly chose not to run the thousands of times he came up empty.  I was not mad enough to ram my hand into a hollow log.  Harry Butler might find a bandicoot but I would probably find a death adder or at least that the hollow was only a few inches deep and I had just broken all of my fingers.  Nevertheless as a hat tip to my impressionable youth below is the Harry Butler Memorial Hollow Log.

Harry Butler would find half a zoo in that thing

Sated on birds and hollow logs (I am disturbingly easy to please) I continued on.  Glancing to the side I noticed a snake.  At first I thought it was a bicycle tire then I thought it might be dead.  At this point the snake decided that I was very much alive and made itself scarce at a speed that indicated it might be motorised.  Not for the first time that day I made a resolution to pay more attention to where I put my feet.

Fortunately this chap was too intelligent to actually sun himself on the path

I have to admit that by this time my cup was running over.  Logs, birds, lizards, snake.  It made the absence of river quite bearable.  Now, however after a few hours walking the river was preparing for its big entrance.  It started quite modestly with yet another sign.  This one announced that I could take the shorter route to Lane Cove River weir or the longer route which was graced with the title of "Lane Cove Riverside Walk".  I decided to take the title at face value and signed up for the longer walk, what's another five kilometres between friends.

Technically I saw the river almost immediately.  This is because I had to get to the other side of it by crossing over the M2 motorway.  I took a photo from the bridge.

Beside the M2

Under the M2

And finally on the M2 with some genuine river

To be fair to the people who named the walk it did indeed make its way down to the Lane Cove River and I finally managed to enjoy my riverside stroll that I had envisaged from the get go.  It was getting late in the afternoon now and shadows were starting to lengthen.  This is apparently the time that every lizard in creation decides to race across the path on its journey from one place to another.  Forget watching where I put my feet, I consider myself lucky that I wasn't trampled in the rush.

Just one of the thousands of lizards that rampaged across my path

And finally a close up photo of Lane Cove River

With a definite sense of accomplishment I walked along the river taking the occasional photo but largely just glad that I hadn't succumbed to a heart attack before I reached the water.  This sense of accomplishment took a severe knock when I checked how long I had walked for and discovered that I had only covered twelve kilometres in about five hours of walking.  Admittedly I had spent a bit of time fangirling over the black cockatoos (there is a joke to be made about my being partial to a black cockatoo but I'm far too well brought up to make it).  I was certain I had covered more distance than that and was more than a little disappointed.  I hadn't made a formal decision on when to end the bushwalk but with my morale at a temporary low ebb my arrival at a picnic area with road access seemed like a good point to call a halt.  To cheer me up a family posed for me with their young children.

Well what the hell did you think I meant?

So on a modestly upbeat note I ended my walk.  I still have a chunk of the river to go so prepared to be bored again before too long.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Virulent Green Potatoes

 My dining habits have, if not improved then at least diversified of late.  In return for more of my personal details than I'm really comfortable with Hello Fresh has agreed to deliver a box of meals to my door each week.  I can't help thinking if you wanted to run an identity theft racket or pursue a career in assassination then starting a company like Hello Fresh might be a good start.  It is amazing how much information people will hand over in return for some mild convenience.  And the convenience is mild, Hello Fresh doesn't cook the meals for you or wash up after you (although maybe I should subscribe to the platinum service).  It simply dumps the components of a meal on your doorstep along with a recipe and leaves it up to you.  It's basically meal delivery done by Ikea.  I keep expecting to see an allen key in the box along with the ingredients.

More irritatingly they make some broad assumptions such as "our customers are relatively functional human beings" and therefore the recipes tend to include instructions like "from your pantry take olive oil and balsamic vinegar."  I'm sorry, from my what I take what and what?  The first thing I had to do once I got my inaugural Hello Fresh box was go shopping to acquire all of the things that they rather optimistically assumed I would have as a matter of course.  Then they tend to oversupply other things.  A lot of the recipes include garlic, at least a lot of the ones I order do because I like garlic.  Therefore each week among all of the other ingredients there will be a whole garlic.  However since few recipes require more than a clove or two what it means is that after several months I have about half a tonne of semi mutilated garlic hanging around the place.  On the plus side its been ages since I've been attacked by a vampire.

Another annoying point is the short lifespan of the ingredients they provide.  A box is provided once a week and I strongly recommend that you cook the meals within that time.  Things go off with amazing celerity.  This was a shock to me.  I am used to treating my refrigerator like a cryogenics storage facility.  I toss something in there and if I pull it out six months later I expect it to be not just fresh but possibly capable of being restored to life.  You would be amazed how often this works.  Not with the Hello Fresh food however.  If you don't eat it in that first week you're probably best to just clear out the fridge and create space for the next weeks arrivals.

I am sure that there will be some of you out there (hi Mum) who will be thinking "well of course you do that.  Anything else would be horribly dangerous".  All I can say is I have reached the age of fifty four and the only time I've had food poisoning was when I ate at a restaurant.  The first few times I pulled out packets of putrid sludge that a relatively few weeks ago had been Hello Fresh supplied vegetables I assumed there must be something wrong with my fridge.  As assumption that was disproved when I realised that the light cream had frozen solid.  And don't get me started on the potatoes.  Correct me if I'm wrong, actually don't correct me if I'm wrong, I hate that.  I was under the impression that potatoes kept quite nicely if you just ignored them until it was time to eat.  Now I am staring at a pair of globules that resemble nothing so much as alien testicles.  I'm afraid that if I eat them something will burst out of my stomach and assault Sigourney Weaver.  They are not just green, they glisten.  The only time you normally see something this colour its seeping out of a toxic waste dump or on a Saudi prince's lamborghini.  Look at me it shrieks.  I have so much money I don't need good taste.  Even a Saudi prince however would baulk at seeing that colour scheme on his potatoes.

I examined the potatoes for an unreasonably long period of time.  I think I was waiting to see if they were only joking and if I watched long enough they would revert to a more normal potatoey colour.  After fifteen minutes of so I reluctantly concluded that whatever the hell had happened to them was irreversible so I did the only sensible thing.  I ordered KFC.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Silly After Action Report - Partisan Stronghold

 "We're certainly glad to see you guys," said the German officer with his best "I'm attempting to pretend to be sincere" smile.

Major Sizlan Barbacu was almost certain the man was lying but didn't want to start a diplomatic incident with people not famous for being diplomatic.  Behind Barbacu his troops, elite mountain warriors of Rumania, were fanning out, taking photos and buying postcards.  It seemed that the German was waiting for him to say something.

"So, ah where do you want us?" asked Barbacu attempting to put at least a modicum of enthusiasm into his voice.  The German waved a hand vaguely, managing to encompass a broad swathe of hilly not particularly inviting terrain.

"Over there somewhere.  The place is full of partisans."

"And lice," replied Barbacu.

"We'd like you to clear them out."

"The lice?"

"The partisans.  Although anything you can do about the lice would be appreciated.  If you succeed General von Manstein will mention you in an Order of the Day.  What more can you ask for?"

"Decent equipment, better weapons, more training, a functioning command structure..."

"Let's not get silly."

After my last attempt at picking a scenario I tried very hard to find one that was reported to be balanced.  I came up with this FT183 - Partisan Stronghold.  Here a bunch of tough (for Romanians) mountain troops attempt to clear out a group of Crimean partisans who absolutely are not unarmed civilians.  To win th Romanians have to amass more CVP than the partisans and capture (or rubble or burn) their stronghold, a fortified building.  Prisoners are not encouraged and the Romanians are actually penalised for having them at the end of the game.  This is partisan warfare, red in tooth and claw.

Dave Wilson would command the partisans, seven 337 squads (one fanatic by SSR) guided by a 9-2, a hero and another more modestly talented leader who was probably feeling a deep sense of inadequacy.  They have a single light machine gun and demolition charge to their name.  Ten concealment counters help to disperse Romanian firepower.  Dave can designate one building as fortified with a tunnel leading to a convenient patch of woods.  Also he has Level B booby trap capacity on board 4.  What this means is if I roll an 11 on a PTC a unit in the relevant hex is casualty reduced.

To cleanse these particular ethnics I have eleven squads of elite Romanian troops led by three officers who range the gamut from adequate to not so.  My troops have a medium machine gun, a light machine gun and a demolition charge of their very own.  Up on the hills a 75mm artillery piece and a secondhand 60mm mortar provide fire support for the troops.

Set up.  The two red circles mark the most likely spots for the fortified building

Above is our set up.  Dave had to set up at least one squad in the stronghold and four squads in building locations.  Given that this was Winter in the Crimea the surprising this is that he persuaded anyone to go outside.  I had tagged the two rear buildings as most likely to be the stronghold as they're about the only two that can't be hit by the 75 no matter what hill hex you put it on.  I had a couple of squads deployed and intended to do some fire drawing early followed by a flanking attack on the left.  Secondary forces would struggle across the hill on the right adorned as it is by out of season orchards.

Things went quite well on the left and centre.  I pushed forward taking minimal casualties to drive in his defences while simultaneously circling around to aim at the woods and potential stronghold building no.1.  On the right things were a little more problematic as partisan fire pinned most of my troops and left a single CX halfsquad to plunge into CC.  Plunge it did and achieved more than expected by surviving until the next turn.  The 8-0 putatively leading the troops in that sector broke at the first whiff of grape and would subsequently disrupt on a self rally attempt.  It would play no further part in the battle not that it had done much so far.

End of Romanian turn 1, not bad on balance

In Dave's second turn he would attempt to pull his troops on the left back to face the challenge of my flankers.  My 75mm and mortar pummeled them and broke a squad moving through the woods but in revenge Dave's sniper would break the gun crew.  These guys would eventually self rally only to be promptly broken by the sniper again.  The 75 would not play much further part in the game.  Still it had inflicted casualties and soon Dave's entire left hand position would be compromised.  On the right the melee raged on which satisfied David but not me as two and a half squads were being delayed.

End of Partisan turn 1.  Things are going suspiciously well for the Romanians.

Over the next couple of turns I managed to encircle and eliminate the partisan defenders on the left.  I finally also managed to resolve the CC on the right (at some cost) and, rather belatedly, started moving across the hill towards his other potential stronghold.  In the centre my troops moved forward to menace his final position.  In the rear I broke the mortar which meant that all of my artillery support was out of the game.

Some losses have been taken but I seem to be moving in the right direction

 With the Romanians running or at least sauntering rampant Dave decided to fall back on his strongpoint using his previously undisclosed tunnel to do so.  I on the other hand was slightly out of position as taking out his left position had left my troops a bit scattered.  It was time to close in on the final resistance point.  The stronghold was of course in the rear building on the right, the furthest from my troops.  With that and the building in front held Dave challenged me to throw him out.  An honourable mention needs to be given to a partisan dummy stack which made convincing threat displays and forced me to waste troops and firepower dealing with it.

Pressing in on the final resistance point

Dave had two squads and two officers left.  I had considerably more despite losses (more on that later).  All he could do was cling to the walls of the buildings and prey sorry, pray.  I summoned troops from everywhere.  Sadly my squad/mmg combo (commanded by my best officer) wasted its firepower on the dummies and bought Dave a few more seconds of life.

Four turns have gone out of five and a half, am I too late?

 With the pesky dummies swept away I pushed boldly forward surrounding his final defensive position with a ring of fire.  At this point Dave suffered a blow when his 8-0 and one of his two remaining squads chose this particular moment to go berserk in defiance of the tactical situation.  Dave watched helplessly as they hurled themselves into a maelstrom of Romanian fire and left him with precisely one squad and one leader left in the stronghold.  I for my part had precisely one turn left to turn them out.  

Endgame.  Dave is surrounded but clings on at the last.


Well I tried.  I pushed my troops forward heedless of his fire and plastered him with as much advancing fire as I could.  It wasn't enough, a dozen or so partisans stayed holed up inside the only victory building of the game.  In retrospect I think I allocated a little too much force to the attack on the left, the right hand building was the obvious choice for the stronghold and a little more firepower a little earlier might have been decisive.  Always assuming they survived.  Booby traps were going off all over the place.  I rolled five pin checks on board 4 for and rolled an 11 four times.  I killed the equivalent of two squads of my own troops without Dave having to fire a shot.

I really enjoyed this game, despite the result I was pleased with my play and despite appearances it was a nailbiter to the end.  I was concerned that Dave might not have enjoyed it quite as much, by the end of turn three all the partisans could do was shelter inside the building and hope but he claims he had fun.  Of course winning always helps with that.

"Well that was disappointing," said the German officer shaking his head.  "No Order of the Day mention for you."

Barbarcu silently held out a cardboard packet.  Written across it in brightly coloured letters were the words "Lice Begone!"  The German stared then snatched at the packet with desperate eagerness.

"OK, Order of the Day and Iron Crosses for any four soldiers you care to name."  Clutching the packet to his chest the German dashed off towards his staff car.  A corporal (its always a corporal) approached Barbacu.

"What are your orders sir?"

"Let's get the hell out of here before he starts rubbing that stuff on his body."

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Travelling Pathetically - Lane Cove River Edition Part 1

 Casting about with a slight sense of desperation for unconcreted parts of Sydney to walk on my mind suddenly hit upon the Lane Cove River.  Overshadowed by the Parramatta with which it shares a harbour the Lane Cove River flows down through some of the northern suburbs of Sydney until it bumps into the Parramatta River at Greenwich and promptly loses all sense of individual identity.  This is how it goes when you're the number two river in a basin.  At best you're an afterthought at worst you get labelled with the demeaning tag "tributary" as if the Lane Cove River didn't have a vibrant existence of its own quite independent from its morbidly obese undeservedly famous cousin.

At least I assume it has a vibrant existence of its own.  It has to be admitted that I rarely think of the Lane Cove River.  Even my decision to go walking along it was prompted solely by the proximity of its mouth to Woolwich the target of my previous walk.  Sadly the Lane Cove River's relative obscurity is uneasily close to the truth.  It doesn't help that for a lot of its course it flows through bush and parkland rather than the appealing concrete and steel that graces the banks of the Parramatta.  There are two reasons for this, first the terrain the Lane Cove flows through is somewhat more rugged and therefore more difficult to build on, the second is that the people who live around it tend to be of a somewhat higher net wealth than those along the banks of the Parramatta and therefore tend to be a little more successful in demanding leafy surrounds for their dwellings than the average factory worker.  Remember when we had factory workers?  Me neither.

This is not to say that the Lane Cove River area is untamed wilderness, as I've mentioned before nothing around Sydney is.  There has been logging and farming and industry but it is fair to say that the taming was perhaps not quite as psychotic as it has been in other parts of the city and once the taming stopped nature was able to return.  Now a good deal of the course of the river is framed by national parks, nature reserves and occasionally just the odd chunk of land that has been unaccountably undeveloped.  In a fit of what I freely admit was utterly unjustifiable confidence I stared at the map and wondered if I could walk the length of the river in a day (spoiler alert, no).  I traced the thinning blue line on the map until it disappeared, that I decided was the source of the river or at least as close as I would get.  I would travel to this spot and walk along the river until, well to be honest until I got tired or it rained or I thought of something better to do.

In keeping with my journeys to the north side of the river (and by river I mean the Parramatta because who ever considers the Lane Cove?) the weather was grey and threatened rain.  I kept an eye on the sky until such times as it became rather important to watch where I was going.  The simple truth is that I put more preparatory effort into the preceding three paragraphs than I did into the actual bushwalk.  My point of departure was Thornleigh in Sydney's leafy northern suburbs.  Back in colonial times Thornleigh was the site of orchards for the fruit salad hungry population of Sydney.  Now it is a suburb and the best thing that can be said about it is that it makes an excellent departure point.

I walked past a dog park and stepped off the road into a rather scrubby and nondescript piece of bush.  I followed what fortunately turned out to be a track and suddenly I was in a river valley.  Or, more accurately I was in a depression with a slightly damp bottom (not the first time I've experienced that).  If not the actual start of the river this was as close as I was likely to get.  The suburban houses had fallen away and I was surrounded by trees, true the roar of traffic informed me that this fringe of nature was indeed little more than a fringe but it was remarkably easy to ignore.

A modest entry

Having found what for want of a better word I shall call the river I turned right and set off along its bank.  If nothing stopped me I should eventually turn up at Sydney Harbour.  I didn't of course but such thoughts were for the future.  The trees crowded around me, charred bark showing the scars of the most recent bushfire and the damp patch rewarded my attention by eventually turning into a small but genuine steam.  The Lane Cover River was up and running.  I didn't realise it at the time but as I walked I was also slowly dropping in elevation.  This wasn't an issue at the time but I noticed it when the time came to leave the river.

On my way to the river.  There is a major road somewhere nearby but I couldn't see it

The grey skies and the closeness of the trees made the day cool which pleased me as I had unaccountably neglected to bring any water with me.  Searing heat was not my friend.  For a little while boulders and trees surrounded me while the brown waters of the creek lay slightly out of eyesight to left.  It wasn't a huge creek, indeed it was more a series of interconnected puddles but the water flowed, albeit sluggishly so I'm pretty sure it counted.

Somewhere down there is the creek/river

Eventually the creek got a little more enthusiastic about its job and, perhaps somewhat emboldened, deigned to show itself to the casual walker.  Now I was really walking alongside the river (or creek).  As is my habit I stared closely at the water just in case a platypus should reveal itself for its adoring public.  This never happens but I keep looking just in case.

Vindication, from this modest beginning the mighty Lane Cove River shall grow

Having (very temporarily) satisfied my craving for platypus searching I headed onwards eyes wide for the next objective that absolutely must be satisfied whenever I wander through anything more overgrown than a backyard lawn.  That is, of course, the Clare McIntyre Memorial Fungus and I'm pleased to say there were a number of worthy aspirants to that hallowed title.  Our first contender came out of the blocks fast artfully draping itself in designer moss and encouraging attention by its very reticence.

First fungus option

I took its number, subscribed to its instagram page and moved on.  Other contenders would emerge later.  Meanwhile the creek headed on towards its fateful intersection with the Parramatta River and so by extension did I.  The path I was following was seemed a little indecisive and wandered from one side of the gradually broadening creek to the other.  The water was still sufficiently shallow that strategically placed rocks allowed one to cross without getting ones feet wet.

Now down on the valley floor I was able to observe a distinct variation in the vegetation.  Down here there were ferns, rich lushly green trees lower in height but wealthier in leaves than their compatriots at higher elevations (for context "higher elevations" means perhaps twenty metres).  Every available space was occupied by something growing enthusiastically.  As seen above even the fungus had moss growing on it.

Down at the creek

The sheer profusion of green made the second fungus contender all the more stark.  It had obviously decided not to compete with the first for sheer flamboyance and instead had gone for gritty minimalism.

Fungus contender #2 stark and simple

I would have liked to linger and perhaps interview the fungus and get an idea of its hopes and dreams but while I was doing my fungal paparazzi expedition the grey skies got even greyer and the moisture in the air promised rain.  Reluctantly I left the fungus to its monochromatic existence and hastened along the muddy path.  Did I mention the path was muddy?  Obviously this close to the creek the border between land and water got a little blurred.  The first spots of rain presented themselves for my inspection and suddenly finding a way out of here became a matter of some importance.  A narrow river valley is not where you particularly want to be if serious rain starts falling. 

It is at this point that I have to admit that I hadn't really come up with a destination for this walk.  I hadn't seriously expected to get all the way to Greenwich but I figured I would walk until I was tired and then investigate exit options.  Now exit options seemed to be a matter of immediate importance.  By sheer coincidence there was one nearby.  Another track snaked down from the more developed parts of Sydney to meet up with the one shadowing the creek and I headed up it towards the high ground and civilisation.  Upwards I ploughed pausing only to leap to the side as a psychotic mountain biker hurtled past me without warning.  As I climbed the vegetation changed from lush water impregnated foliage to austere gums climbing for the skies with needle leaved bushes and grass in between.  The change was abrupt and striking.

Having chased me away from the creek the rain then perfidiously turned itself off and it didn't rain a drop for the rest of the day.  But now I was committed to the exit and made my way out promising to return when the weather was in a slightly less "let's fuck with Neil" mood.  Along the way the third fungus contender presented itself.  This one was a monument to traditional fungal values proudly decked out in conservative orange.

Fungus contender #3 Old school and conservative

I emerged from the wilderness at the suburb of Cheltenham which shares a name and almost nothing else with a famous spa town in the Cotswolds in Britain.  I had walked a grand total of seven kilometres which didn't seem impressive at the time and hasn't improved with age.  For anyone who wishes to vote for their choice of Clare McIntyre Memorial Fungus please organise the competition yourself.  I couldn't be bothered.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Silly After Action Report - Hube's Pocket

 Captain Illya Phlegmovitch Chestikoff looked around at the forested hills with disapproval.

"Why are we ploughing through this mess?" he demanded in a tone he thought of as probing and insightful although the opinion of his comrades leaned more towards petulant whining.

"The Germans have made their move," replied the colonel with a sigh.  The regimental commissar tapped the pistol in his holster suggestively.  The colonel was tempted but decided to try patience, briefly.

"The Germans have committed an SS panzer corps to try and rescue General Hube's encircled trucks."


"I don't know, maybe they're short on transport.  Besides trucks are always useful to the war effort."

"We could do with some," muttered Chestikoff.  "I'm sick and tired of clinging to the paintwork of a T-34.  The bastards are always driving through orchards."

Nobody mentioned that it was only the tank Chestikoff was riding that went through orchards, so far he hadn't taken the hint.

The colonel's patience was exhausted.

"If you capture a truck you will never have to ride on a T-34 again."

Rare elation showed on Chestikoff's face, 

"Do you mean it."

The commissar stepped forward,

"I personally guarantee it."

So here we are with ASL Scenario G - Hube's Pocket.  This venerable scenario actually predates ASL itself in various forms.  Here I shall command the gallant troops of the Soviet 5th Tank Corps as the try and keep a valuable collection of transport assets from being salvaged by the SS Frundsberg division.  Since the Germans move first I guess I am technically the scenario defender.  Both sides, starting with the Germans, enter onto the board.  The Germans are heading from west to east to bring succour to the desperate truck drivers of the First Panzer Army.  My Soviets are driving north-south to head them off at the pass.

The game notionally lasts for a monster fourteen turns.  My opponent Dave Wilson has to exit at least ten vehicles in one or two convoys off the western edge of the board.  Said truck convoys enter on the east edge so there is a fair way to go.  All I have to do is stop him.  Should be easy, right?

It has to be admitted I have a fair force to do the stopping.  Eighteen squads, eight of the elite the remainder first line.  Three officers command spearheaded by a 9-1 and three lmgs are the sole support weapons allocated.  But here come the tanks, six T-34 M43s and a trio of upgunned T-34/85s.  Collectively a powerful force, how could the Germans stand against it?  For answer check Dave's OB.  Eleven squads of elite SS troopers, four officers including a monstrous 10-2 and a full supporting cast of support weapons including DCs, panzerschreks, lmgs and hmg.  His own armoured support was equally impressive.  Four halftracks including one carrying a dismountable heavy machine gun, three PzIVH and the queen of this and any other battlefield a Panther.  It was on the rock of this Panther that my hopes would founder.

Figuring out what to do wasn't too hard.  The Soviets had to interpose themselves between the relieving SS troops and the truck convoys which would turn up on or after turn five.  The Germans have sixteen trucks and have to exit ten of them so if I kill seven trucks it doesn't matter if I lose my entire force doing so.  As I said figuring out what to do wasn't hard.  Figuring out how to do it was a little more problematic.

I decided I would send my elite troops into the hills accompanied by my three T34/85s.  These would be my delaying force to hold up Dave's troops.  The first line squads accompanied by the bulk of the less well endowed T34s would plunge south looking to cover all of the road entry points from the east.  It is fair to say that things didn't go entirely to plan.  I knew enough to know that the 76mm gun on the T34s was virtually harmless against the Panther's frontal armour.  If I had researched just a little more I would have realised that the 85mm gun on my "war winners" wasn't much better.

End of German turn 1

Above is the end of the first German turn.  He has sent a strong mobile force (consisting of a pair of PzIVs, the Panther and a couple of troop carrying halftracks along the southernmost road.  The rest of his force is easing towards the hills.  Perhaps the most brilliant tactical decision I made during the game was to plonk my sniper down right next to his.  This would pay dividends later.

End of Soviet turn 1

In my first turn I stuck to my battle plan, driving south as far as I could.  I dropped off a couple of first line squads in a convenient building where they could cover the northernmost of the trucks entry roads and the remainder kept going.  My troops were of course clinging to the hulls of the T34s and one of my elite squads was broken when the tank swung its turret to dismount them.  After that little debacle I discreetly stopped the tanks and allowed the infantry to get off of their own volition.  You may also see if you look closely that I have a pair of squads on the far left, inching down the board edge.  I have no idea what I was doing with those.  I think I had thoughts of setting up a final blocking position or something if all else failed.  In actual fact it just deprived me of the use of those squads throughout the game.  It was a stupid think to do and I would feel the absence of those two squads keenly later on.  Close observers will note that the Germans have managed to get into a position to dominate the southern road entrance which means it will be up to my second stringers to divest them of this.

In his second turn Dave solidified his grip on the western edge of the hill mass, unloaded the hmg from the halftrack and also unloaded troops in the woods mass in the centre of the board.  More things I would have to get through somehow if I wanted to control that southern road.  With a pair of PzIVs sitting in the south he turned his Panther north towards the hill mass where it would create panic in my soul far beyond any actual achievement.  He also drove one PzIV up onto a tiny second level hill in the west where it proved to have a disturbingly clear line of sight to where I needed to go.

End of German turn 2.  Not a shot has been fired and I'm already worried

With my broken troops freshly rallied I essentially mirrored Dave's movements in the west doing my best to lurk behind concealment counters and ready myself for what I assumed would be the inevitable onslaught.  Meanwhile in the east the presence of Germans across my line of advance imposed a level of caution and something of a traffic jam as I realised that possibly I had allocated too many troops to a reasonable small area.  The mask dropped from a couple of concealment counters as I started moving units into line of sight of his tanks.  This would rapidly turn out rather badly for me.

Somewhat late in the day I've realised I'm going to have to fight my way through in the east

So far shooting had been scanty as we settled into convenient positions and then looked around to see if we could find the enemy.  This ended with a bang as Dave's PzIV (the one on the far left) managed to shoot across virtually the entire map and nail a T34 that had been hoping that distance and luck would preserve its wretched existence.  Dave didn't seem to keen on going forward in the west and I didn't really have the troops to do so myself.  Once again I cursed the stupidity that had kept two squads of troops virtually out of the battle.  What I did have was T34s and I moved them up onto the hill just on the other side of the ridge from his Panther.  The crews exchanged comments on their opponents respective mothers but otherwise kept the peace.

One T34 down many more to come

Things started to look a little better in the east.  Another T-34 went up in flames as it attempted to push forwards but a comrade took advantage of the fact that the Germans had fired to roll down the eastern board edge and managed to put an APCR round through the front of one of the PzIVs (although the crew would escape to pester me later).  Unfortunately I compensated for this modest success by doing something spectacularly foolish in the centre.  The Panther loomed large in my calculations.  Destroy that I reasoned and I would be well on my way to winning the game.  OK, not an unfair assessment but my execution of this laudable goal would be severely deficient.  I rolled not one, not two but all three of my T34-85s up on to the top of the hill where they could gaze down on his distinctly isolated Panther.  Surely with three 85mm guns spitting APCR I would gain the kill even if I did lose a tank or two in the process.

I cannot emphasise the importance of checking out the capability of the weapons at your command.  If I had done so I would have realised that even with APCR the chances of killing the Panther through the front were microscopically low.  I had also forgotten or chosen to ignore the fact that a nearby clump of trees housed SS grenadiers who were sweating under the weight of all the panzerfausts they were carrying.  First blood however went to a lowly halftrack.  Congisant of the fact that if success was to be achieved I would need to gain hits early all my tanks were CE.  One of them parked right next to a halftrack which took the opportunity to fire at the exposed crew.  I had taken the odds, even at point blank range it was only a 6+2 shot and my crew had eight morale.  So Dave rolled snake eyes and the crew of that particular tank wound up weeping on the floor of their vehicle while the war got along without them for a while.  The other two tanks dutifully presented themselves on the ridge and gained acquisitions on the Panther will simultaneously pointing out to me exactly how hard it was going to be to kill the thing.

Further disaster occurred on the left as Dave's 10-2 guided a squad and hmg to slaughter my best officer and an elite squad despite the concealment counter that they clung to in desperation.  With that butchery over the 10-2 shepherded his boys towards the patch of woods that would allow them a clear shot at my tanks.

Just for a brief moment things look good

The next turn brought some ups and downs.  Over on the far right my T-34 would follow up its tank killing ways by shocking his remaining PzIV in the vicinity.  It would be a drawn out process but that PzIV would wind up destroyed as well.  Half Dave's tank force was out of action.  Unfortunately the half that remained included his Panther.  On the left his troops started pushing forward against my now attenuated and leaderless force.  And of course his guys found a panzerfaust and fried one of my T34/85s.  By this stage I had realised the folly of my position but any attempt to remove myself from it would simply result in more shots against my vehicles so I decided to stay and fight it out.  Very briefly that worked.

By some miracle one of my T34/85s managed to shock the Panther and put it out of the game for a couple of turns (sadly it didn't wind up getting killed) and the other used its machine guns and 85mm on infantry targets.  The slaughter was terrible, Dave's 10-2, a squad and the hmg were vapourised and another couple of squads and a 9-1 were broken and sent fleeing down the hill.  Briefly I dared to hope.

Things could be worse

Unfortunately that was the high water mark for me.  Over on the left a panzerschreck toting halfsquad broke its schreck but made up for it by finding a faust in the next turn and frying the tank I had left supporting my infantry.  Said infantry were now being monstered by considerably more SS troops and in the centre the swiftly rallying SS took out another tank with a faust.  A lone SS squad moved into the hex with the resultant burning wreck waited patiently for the advance phase.  Then it jumped into CC with the remaining T-34/85 found an ATMM and that was all she wrote.  Just to add insult to injury the Panther chose that moment to recover and now I was in a dreadful situation.

I still had a few tanks left and quite a bit of infantry but I couldn't effectively cover all of the entry points for his convoy (which didn't actually appear in the entire game).  Still obsessing over the Panther I tried one last roll of the dice.  It was still sitting on the hill devoid of infantry protection so I said a quick prayer and drove one of my remaining T34s on a circuitous route that resulted in it sitting right behind him (this is what I should have done with a clutch of tanks but whatever).  If I could hit the Panther in the rear maybe I still had a chance.  I didn't still have a chance, Dave simply rotated the turret of the Panther two hexes and blew away my forlorn hope.  At that point I conceded.  

The end, dead Soviet tanks litter the battlefield

The number of mistakes I made in this scenario is embarrassing.  I overcommitted infantry on the right, stuck two squads out on the left to no good purpose and finally presented all of my best tanks in a neat little row for Dave to kill which he obligingly did.  I'm not sure how the Soviets win this one but "not what I did" is the best advice I can give more a player giving it a shot.  Interestingly Dave played this as the Germans some years ago and lost because he did exactly what I did and tried to dominate the battlefield from the hilltops.  This time he hid behind reverse slopes and invited me to come to him.  Like a good little sub I obliged.

Captain Chestikoff wiped pieces of fruit from his uniform and cursed the tank driver.

"There aren't even any orchards in this scenario," he snarled, "how the hell did the bastard find one?  I'll never make it to the battlefield at this rate".  He looked up at the battlefield and his expression changed.

  "On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't criticise our bold tank drivers too much."  He looked around for his fellow officers but he seemed alone on the field.  The remnants of the assault force were shambling back and looking to him for orders.

"Screw it, let's see if we can get some lend-lease trucks instead."

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Silly After Action Report - Expendable Allies

Hauptmann Andreas Ketteldrumme looked around at the various signs of military busyness taking place.  It was 1945 and here they were in eastern Germany preparing to launch an attack on the Poles.  It gave Ketteldrumme an uneasy feeling of deja vu.

"I'm pretty sure we've done this before," he muttered.

Leutnant Hümmelchen looked across at him in surprise.  A fresh faced youngster, Hümmelchen had missed Germany's days of conquest.  Defeat was all he knew.

"Done what before?" asked Hümmelchen.

"Attacked the Poles."

"Did we win?"

"Back then we were enroute to conquering Warsaw.  This time we're trying to stop the Poles from occupying Bautzen.  You work it out."

"Well, perhaps this time we'll win."

"And perhaps pigs will fly backwards over a full moon while farting Deutschland Uber Alles."

It's my fault.  I was looking for a scenario to play with Dave Wilson and happened across this one simply because it was near the top of a pile of scenario cards.  Still with solid troop numbers and honking big tanks it looked like it could fun.  It was, for one of us.  This scenario ASL J215 - Expendable Allies is so late war it almost starts another.  Here the armoured paratroops of the Hermann Göring are steaming to the rescue of the town of Bautzen under threat from Polish troops serving with varying degrees of enthusiasm under Soviet commanders.

In order to win I need to seize three buildings all situated an inconvenient distance away from each other by games end while not losing 55 or more CVP to the Poles.  But wait, there is another way to win.  The Germans can win at the end of turn three if they have captured just one of the three buildings provided they have also amassed more CVP than the Poles.  It certainly looks like I have the tools to do the job.

Coming on from the east on turn 1 I have thirteen squads nine first line and four second line (even the Hermann Göring was getting a little ragged around the edges by this time) led by three officers including a 9-1.  They have three light machine guns and one medium.  Backing them up are two Panther tanks, three PzIVJs, a halftrack toting a 75mm gun and three halftrack troop transports.  On turn two a second force enters from the north consisting of five squads (two first line, three second), a pair of officers, a lmg and a panzerschreck.  Supporting them are a pair of StuGIIIG(L) SP guns and, low of profile but hard of punch, a JgPzIVJ.

Holding this recently snaffled piece of Germany are Dave's Poles in Soviet uniforms.  Thirteen first line squads are led by no fewer than four leaders (although one is a miserable 6+1).  They have three lmgs, two atrs, a DC and one of those hernia inducing Russian medium machine guns.  Also present are two ISU-122s with a monster 122mm gun and two very capable T34/85 tanks.  On turn four Polish reinforcements arrive in the form of three more first line squads and a 9-1 leader.  They bring another lmg and atr to the fray and are accompanied by two IS2 tanks.  Same 122mm as the ISUs but in a fully rotating turret.  Also he gets a truck for reasons best known to the scenario designer.  

Dave's force seems formidable but it labours under two handicaps.  Firstly at least two of the victory buildings are easily accessible to the Germans within three turns so he has to split his defence.  Secondly three of his total of six AFV are manned by inexperienced crews and thus a little less fearsome than their armour and firepower would imply.

At start, Poles lurking under concealment counters and a massive German traffic jam

Above is the at start set up.  Dave has perforce split his troops three ways to cover the victory buildings.  With his AFVs staring down the roads in my entry area I decided on a cross country attack.  I planned to get the bulk of my force up onto the hill and simply rain firepower on the defenders while hoping, perhaps optimistically that Dave wouldn't do the same to me.

Turn 1 did indeed fulfill my hopes.  My Panthers (and a goodly number of troops) rolled up on to the hill and took up positions behind conveniently placed stone walls and well sited buildings.  Such as hadn't made it up were at the base of the hill athirst for the opportunity to climb.  Even better than that a Panther took out one of his monster ISUs in the advance fire phase (Dave does this all the time but it rarely happens for me).  It has to be said I was somewhat cock-a-hoop after turn 1.

End of German turn 1, the Germans are on the hill.  Unfortunately so are a bunch of Poles

Dave's first turn left him scrambling to retrieve what appeared to be a threatened position.  His surviving ISU 122 heaved its bulk around to point its snout menacingly at my Panthers (now hiding behind a wall and thinking small thoughts).  Despite the presence of German infantry the SP gun remained proudly CE throughout a stance justified by his breaking the only troops capable of laying down fire on it.  To add insult to injury his 6+1 fired the antitank rifle at a half track and immobilised it, the crew promptly fled the vehicle weeping hysterically.  Why they thought they would be better off without armoured protection is something I can't explain.

End of Polish turn 1.  The more overtly aggressive of my troops have been punished

Turn 2 saw the arrival of my reinforcements which if nothing else provided the remainder of Dave's force with something to shoot at.  I strongly suspected that the stacks he had in the woods covering the board 59 edge were dummies and decided to put my money where my mouth was.  That is I decided to sacrifice my troops on the basis of a guess.  I was partially right.  On the left a boldly advancing halfsquad hit nothing but question marks but on the right its companion blundered into a real unit.  The subsequent close combat would prove messy for both sides.  In a rather transparent attempt to be sneaky I splashed some troops and a StuG through the stream.  This enabled them to keep concealment at the price of being nowhere particularly useful.  The other two AFV and my remaining infantry pushed forward and found themselves rather alone with a pair of T34/85s giving them a speculative glance.

Up on the hill I rallied some troops and pushed them forward where they were promptly broken again.  Halfttracks managed to manoeuvre around the buildings.  I have no idea what I was doing there but it looks impressive when other people do it.  The principal event of turn 2 up on the hill was the demise of his remaining ISU.  Not wishing to risk their armour the Panthers hung back and I swarmed it with PzIVs.  It took every last shot all three tanks could fire but in the end the job was done and Dave was bereft of armour on the hill.  Even the 75mm toting halftrack had a go (he was still CE and 12+2 is not a bad shot).

The last of the ISUs goes down.  The wreck is buried under a pile of acquisition counters

In his turn Dave sought to retrieve his losses by having a go at my rather sloppily handled reinforcements.  Sadly for him neither of his T34/85s turned out to have APCR (actually they did but the Poles couldn't read the Russian labels) but despite that he punched an 85mm shell through the front of a StuG whose armour proved sadly deficient at its job.  The crew however leapt out to continue the fight as long as the fight was very close and didn't require much firepower.  Up on the hill he stunned a halftrack but otherwise preferred to keep his forces hidden in their building.  It was up to me to roust them out.

End of turn 2, things are looking grim for the Poles

Turn 3 rolled around and the clock was ticking.  I wanted no mistakes on this so I used every bit of firepower available to me.  I dropped a smoke round on his annoying 6+1 with the atr, I sleazed a nearby squad with a halftrack (who surprised me by surviving) and then I literally pounded his troops apart with weight of metal.  My infantry surged forward eager for a fight (or so they claimed afterwards) but their role was simply to advance into building hexes occupied by nothing but bodies.  I had the building within the time limit and despite losing a StuG and some troops of my reinforcements was comfortably ahead on CVP.  I even advanced a halfsquad into CC with his 6+1 but that resilient loser held firm and locked me up in melee.  Dave had one turn to try and retrieve the situation. 

End of German turn 3.  All that's left of Dave's forward position is the indomitable 6+1

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Dave had been banging away at my JgPzIVJ sometimes hitting but rarely denting its frontal armour.  Now with nothing to lose he unleashed his remaining tanks.  One burst out of the building it had been hiding in (my defensive fire shot missed) and circled around for a shot at the JgPzIV's vulnerable rear.  The other headed on a deathride for the hill to see if it could take out a Panther.

It was a forlorn hope at best.  Hiding under the wreck of my StuG was a halfsquad with the panzershreck and as his T34/85 squeaked to a halt they managed to toast it nicely.  The other result was just the dicebot messing with Dave.  I had a Panther in motion directly in his remaining tank's path.  My defensive fire shot was actually low enough to gain a hit and that was the end of his last tank.

Once the game was over we checked out the win/loss ratio on ROAR.  It was Germans 10/Poles 2.  I fiddled with my clothes and looked at the ceiling.  I swear it wasn't deliberate but it does look like I ran a bit of a hound past Dave.  Actually, assuming average dice I'm surprised the Poles won that many.  It all comes down to that first hill and due to the set requirements the Germans have a covered approach.  My reinforcements did very little, their principal role seems to be to ensure that the Polish player can't simply pack the hill with every unit he possesses.  Personally I would suggest removing the turn 3 victory condition and simply force the Germans to take all three buildings.  That might make for a closer game.

With profuse apologies I promised Dave that I would play any scenario he cared to present for our next game.  Being somewhat more diligent than I he looked for the most balanced scenario he could find and came up with the lengthy and venerable Hube's Pocket.  It's fourteen turns long, I may die before we finish it.  According to Dave that counts as a concession.

 "Victory," shouted Hümmelchen in exaltation, "Bautzen remains German!"

"Well, Sorbian actually," muttered Ketteldrumme but he felt that he couldn't rain on the young leutnant's parade too heavily.  "Victory" it was probably the first and definitely the last time he would say the word.

"Do you think there will be a parade?" asked Hümmelchen excitedly.

"I think the Soviets are planning a big one for Berlin."