Saturday, December 3, 2016

Silly After Action Report - I Suppose That Could Have Been Worse, Somehow.

In late 1944 a small group of senior Hungarian officers met in a heavily camouflaged coffee house somewhere outside Budapest.
"Well," said one, "we really screwed that up."

"Oh come on," said another.  "How were we to know that Hitler was a demented lunatic and his nation apparently has a deathwish?"

"We could have just watched the news," suggested a third.

"Ssh, they're coming," hissed the first.

A group of German officers strode into the coffee house and found seats by the simple expedient of shooting some of the occupants.

"Heil Hitler," barked one.

"Er, yeah right.  Heil and all that," replied the most senior of the Hungarians.  "Tell me, is there even the slightest chance that our country isn't going to be crushed underneath a Soviet juggernaut?"

The German officers consulted briefly among themselves.

"None whatsoever," replied the one designated as unreliable ally liaison.  "But we have good news!"

"Really?  Has Stalin had a sudden heart attack?" asked one of the Hungarians.

"Has Hitler?" muttered another under his breath.

"No and no," replied a German officer with sharp hearing.  "But, get this, the Romanians have betrayed the Axis and are now fighting alongside the Soviets.  They're helping to invade Hungary."

"The Romanians?  Those bastards!  We'll kill every son of a bitch!  Don't worry General von Whatever, we're with you to the end.  As long as we get the chance to beat up the Romanians."

"Absolutely," replied the German whose name was actually General von und zu Etcetera.  "But first we need you to help defend Debrecen."

"Are the Romanians attacking it?"

"Actually no, its the Russians I'm afraid."

"But we'll get to fight the Romanians afterwards?"

"Ahh, yeah, sure, whatever."

"You can rely on us Herr General"

"I wish that were true."

So this is how I wound up playing ASL Scenario AP117, Second City.  Here Hungarians are defending the town in Hungary that isn't Budapest from rampaging Soviet forces.  Thinking better of relying completely on their Hungarian ally the Germans sent the contents of a tank repair workshop to assist them.  Richard Cornwall has taken on the joint Axis forces while I command the noble Soviets en route to the lair of the fascist beast.  And when I say "noble" Soviets I mean of course thoroughly egalitarian worker and peasant type Soviets without a hint of class prejudice or aristocratic breeding.

To defend Debrecen Richard has eight squads of elite Hungarians backed up by a 20mm AA gun and a pair of home grown armoured vehicles, a Turan tank (lousy gun but awesome machine guns) and a Zrinyi SPG (awesome gun and no machine guns at all).  A couple of light machine guns, one medium, a pair of not particularly great officers and some concealment counters round out Richard's at start OB.  On turn three his German allies come steaming to the rescue with five elite squads of various calibres with a full complement of flamethrowers, demo charges, panzerschreks and a couple of somewhat shopsoiled panther tanks.

And what do I as the absolutely not noble, my parents weren't even muzhiks, Soviets have to attack with?  I have six elite squads, four smg toting first line squads and six other run of the mill first liners for fourteen squads in all.  I also have three light machine guns, a single medium and a couple of demo charges.  Four officers are there to urge the troops on and I have a charmingly eclectic group of armoured vehicles in support.  Two Sherman tanks bring the promise of multiple machine guns and smoke rounds to the fray, an SU-76 provides a large 76mm gun on a small chassis and finally an M17 halftrack mounting a quad .50cal "meatchopper".  Apparently a lend lease ship simply dumped a bunch of stuff on this unit and then left.

The city Richard is defending has been chopped up into eight "blocks" ringed by roads.  If I can capture five of them I win.  Richard surprised me by setting up a forward defence, essentially defending in front of the target area.  Of course it meant I slammed into his entire force pretty much immediately but if I slammed hard enough it offered the opportunity for a breakthrough.

Spotting his less capable Turan anchoring the (my) left flank I decided to set up the bulk of my forces on the left and centre while sending lesser forces against the right (anchored by the formidable Zrinyi).  Soviet troops can't deploy which means that you have to do your drawing fire with full squads.  I was in a hurry and I fully expected to lose troops as I sent my first liners out to draw his fire.  A couple of squads went down but I was quite successful in stripping concealment on my left and centre and sufficient troops survived to menace his forward positions.  One Sherman I had detailed with dropping smoke in front of some defenders (it didn't) the other (along with the SU-76) supported a left board edge drive to flank his front line defenders and hopefully take out the Turan.  Over on the right I hastened slowly, not taking too many casualties but not getting far either.  The half track I sent over to support the right or I would have only it bogged trying to get over a hedge and froze into surly immobility.  For his part Richard belched smoke from both his vehicles providing some cover for his defenders but also my attackers.  His 20mm had made an appearance just behind the front and attempted without success to kill one of my squads.

End of my turn 1.  I'm coming from the top and trying to drive down.
I started off with four officers.  By the end of the first turn one was dead and another wounded, damn sniper.  That's after his sniper had already killed my sniper.  Since four was Richard's sniper number you would think this meant a lot of good results for me as well.  You would be wrong.

In the second turn I really got moving.  I managed to persuade the halftrack to get moving and aided by that awesome 24FP plus Richard's smoke I managed to drive in his right forward position and pushed towards the nearest objective block.  Things went well in the centre as well, I actually won a close combat (sorry Richard, just your bad luck that the one in a hundred event happened while you were playing me) but the right wasn't going too well.  I was easing forward, helped by his smoke but I wasn't really outflanking anyone.  I decided on forward tactics and pushed my Sherman out into the road near his 20mm while the more vulnerable SU-76 slunk up behind keeping to the shadows and looking out for an enemy with its back turned.
End of my Turn 2, pushing unexpectedly through the centre
That decision would turn out badly for me in the next turn.  Meanwhile I'd got the bit between my teeth in the right and centre pushing forward to his next line of defences and menacing the bulk of his remaining forces.  A modest one squad flanking attempt on the far right ended in tears but I was largely trying to occupy the Zrinyi's attention as much as anything else.  On the left a wounded officer hobbled painfully towards his Turan clutching a blood soaked demo charge to his chest.

On his second turn his damn 20mm immobilised one of my Shermans.  I cursed of course but the crew stayed staunch and it wasn't in a bad position to inflict harm on the enemy.  It was when the thing broke, then malfed its cmg and then turned out to have no smoke shells that I really started cursing.  Despite the tank failure I felt I was making headway.  I managed to wipe out his 20mm crew and he had taken some significant losses which I added to when the .50cal halftrack took out another squad and I pushed into the first block.  Then I did something which in retrospect was unwise although the odds seemed worthwhile at the time.  I rolled my surviving Sherman behind his Turan and accompanying squad.  If I could take them out he simply wouldn't have a flank.  I knew Hungarians could get panzerfausts but I thought the odds were worth taking.  This opinion was only increased when his squad pinned attempting to find a faust.  The opinion rapidly changed when he made a second faust attempt, found one and then fired on the Sherman.  What with moving, pinned, avoiding backblast etc he needed a three to get a hit.  He got a three and my last Sherman exploded into flames.

Suddenly tankless (and with a certain amount of swearing) I was in a bind.  Despite mauling his troops I hadn't achieved a breakthrough and on turn three his German reinforcements arrived.  Richard managed to pull back what was left of his force to create another defensive line.  I bulled forward into the first block, capturing it while Richard pulled back what was left of his force (apart from the Turan and that damned squad) towards the rear.
It looks like the way is open but just out of shot a swarm of Germans are arriving to bolster their ally

I conceded at the end of Richard's turn 3.  Half his at start force plus both AFV had survived and were setting up rear positions but more importantly his German reinforcements including a pair of panthers had rolled up to stabilise the line.  With both Shermans out of the picture I had no more smoke capacity and my somewhat battered force was left with the job of winkling elite Germans out of stone buildings in the four remaining turns.  I couldn't see myself doing it.  Possibly I could take another block or two but Richard need take no chances, he could even concede me a couple of blocks and simply hold the remainder for dear life.

Thanks to Richard for the game and for putting up with my whining and swearing.  Despite appearances I actually thought this was a fun scenario with some interesting tweaks but I do think its a little tough on the Soviets.  I think they need to effectively win the game in the first couple of turns or they're going to find it very hard going indeed.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Really Just An Excuse to Post Photos of Mr Moo

Ah Mr Moo, we've come a long way together.  From the early days when you were a defiant young steer inspiring revolutionaries everywhere with your refusal to cross the road right up until today when beaten but unbroken you see out your days grazing with your fellows who gaze upon you with the sort of reverential awe I only give to hamburgers.

Mr Moo with some more expendable cows

Oops, sorry didn't mean to mention the "h" word.  Yes, reluctantly we both must concede that there is a road trip to the abattoir somewhere in your future but let us hope that day is a long time coming.  As long as you keep eating twice your body weight in grass there is hope.  I must confess I always assumed that my colleague's father in law raised beef cattle for the purposes of selling them as, well, beef.  I didn't realise he kept the cows largely because he likes a well trimmed lawn.

But this could be your salvation Mr M.  Of course its pretty hard cheese on the grass but screw it, grass doesn't have an activist group noisily protesting on its behalf.  Heavily tattooed hipsters don't turn up their nose at grass and treat those who eat it as psychotic murderers one step worse than Hitler.  In short, grass doesn't have any sort of advocacy body so its feelings can be safely ignored.  Eat that green stuff Mr Moo, eat it until it comes out your ears.  Perhaps you can persuade your owner that a nicely trimmed herbaceous border is utterly dependent on your continued survival.  You don't have time for sympathy or fellow feeling, if any of the other cows show signs of serious grass eating you should nudge them towards the front when the truck comes for that "special trip".

The other thing you have to do is kiss up to my colleagues daughters.  Pander to them nauseatingly.  If there is something that might save your life it is the tears in his granddaughter's eyes when the time comes for the farmer to pack you off to the slice and dice.  If you play it right you might get one of them to throw her arms around your neck in tears at the thought of this happening.  If either of them do this its important that you don't throw them off and trample them into the mud.  That would probably undo all the good work you've done so far.  I'm going to be speaking to my colleague about "Save Mr Moo" t-shirts and we'll get something trending on twitter so, you know, we're doing all we can.

I'm posting photos of you on my blog so that all my readers (about a dozen at last count none of whom have any influence with your owner) can see what a fine cow you are and how much you deserve saving.  Again, I can't emphasise the "not trampling small children into the mud" bit hard enough.  I know kids can be annoying but these girls have gone through a lot what with having a mother who thinks she's a fox and living in Tasmania and all.  Any slack you cut them now could add years to your life expectancy.  Anyway that's all for now Mr Moo, I wish you many more years of eating grass and, er, well whatever it is that cows do.  Whatever it is, I'm sure you're brilliant at it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Immersive Reporting

A week or so ago I charged this blogs introduced species reporter with discovering the truth about Tasmania's fox plague as represented by some droppings of dubious provenance and a fox corpse conveniently located by the side of the road.

I didn't hear anything from her for several days and on Thursday I fielded a worried phone call from her husband.  Apparently she had smeared herself in camouflage paint, dressed in fox skins and vanished into the Tasmanian bush.  Furthermore disturbing reports started to filter in of some strange hybrid foxwoman attacking sheep in remote pastures.  I was just about to press the button on the self destruct device I had planted in her skull while she was asleep when a blood spattered message stick was dropped on my doorstep by a slightly mauled courier.

Once I'd washed the matted sheep remains off the stick it's message was explosive.  Vile fraud has been perpetrated on the innocent Tasmanian people!  The fox carcass which was supposed to be proof that Tasmania was sinking into the sea under the massed weight of foxes predating the local wildlife has turned out to be imported.  A careful autopsy has proved that the unfortunate animal died elsewhere and was imported into Tasmania post mortem.

Which just leaves the question of why anyone would stuff a fox corpse into their suitcase before taking a trip to Tasmania.  "Conspiracy," say some.  Those who stand to gain from fuelling a fox scare are using dirty tactics to keep the fear alive (at this point it might be worth reminding the reader that the Tasmanian government has so far spent around $50 million dollars investigating a non existent fox menace).  Others suggest it's simply a Tinder date that went horribly wrong.  Alternatively it might be a hoax from the sort of person who finds carrying a dead fox around in a suitcase intrinsically hilarious.

I must get my fox conspiracy reporter to investigate but that's going to take a little time.  According to her husband easing her back into human society is still a work in progress.  They're currently keeping her in a paddock where she's guarding the garlic crop and making Mr Moo nervous.  They hope to reintroduce her to cooked food and her children in few weeks when she can be trusted to tell the difference.

All at Sea

There is a cruise ship parked at the international passenger terminal.  It is a huge, white floating monstrosity which glories in the flatulently pretentious name "Celebrity Solstice".  At this point I can't help wondering if cruise lines are naming their ships based on suggestions from their CEO's nineteen year old, ex stripper third wife.  Possibly they just give her a sheet of multi syllable words and tell her to pick any two.  Presumably the Celebrity Solstice has a sister ship called the Paparazzi Equinox.

Who wouldn't want to cruise the world on the Paparazzi Equinox?  The  name reeks of luxury and privilege.  Well it reeks of something anyway with a little healthy paganism thrown in.  Can't you see yourself on the geriatric hedonist deck of the Paparazzi Equinox as it wanders around the worlds oceans swamping low lying island nations and terrifying the local sea life as she passes.  For the passengers it must be like sitting in your lounge room being attended by a third world domestic staff while the scenery changes very slowly outside your window.

I can imagine myself aboard the good ship Paparazzi Equinox staring in wonder at the luxury and facilities and finally of course in horror as the dock slides slowly behind us as the slaving gang who dragged me onboard muffle my screams and hustle me below decks.  And so many decks!  By the time they dump me down in the hold the most important item present is the caged canary serving as an early warning system should the air get difficult to breathe.

Slowly the Paparazzi Equinox makes its majestic way out through Sydney Heads pausing only to hose off a Manly ferry which got inexplicably tangled in the propellers.  The siren booms a warning. "Stand aside peasants, you are in the presence of something so wealthy and powerful that we didn't even have to bother coming up with a sensible name for it."  Meanwhile I'm down in the dimly lit hold engaged in a vicious, life and death struggle with rats, half starved service staff and a small tribe of Troglodytes hitherto unknown to science.  Next time I'm taking the plane.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Silly After Action Report - A Drama, or possibly A Farce, in Three Acts - Adapted From the Musical

Act 1

Well in my last AAR I noted the remarkable absence of air support for the Germans trying to conquer Poland.  I'm pleased to announce that in the next scenario I'm taking the Germans and there is a mass of air support.  Unfortunately its all Polish.  Scenario BFP112 - Killer Carp has a set of decidedly second rate Germans (that's even before we factor in my leadership) plugging through the woods towards a Polish village.  On the other side is a roughly equivalent group of Poles plugging through more woods to the same Polish village.  The skies are ruled by Polish aircraft.  I'm definitely going to be writing a stern letter to the local Luftwaffe commander about this.

There is little to report for the first couple of turns.  My forces came on and made their way villageward without too much interference from a non existent Polish defender.  The air support turned out to be a damp squib as Ivan tried three times to attack the same group of concealed troops and failed each sighting task check.  So much for the air support.  Over on the other side of the board Ivan's forces also moved unhindered through the trees towards the village.

Ho hum, trudging through the forest

Let me see if I can inject a little excitement into this.  The German forces moved forward cautiously, a foe could lurk behind every tree.  Overhead the drone of Polish aircraft searching for targets chilled every man to the bone but orders were orders and Europe wasn't going to devastate itself.  Guns at the ready, eyes narrowed, ears straining for every whisper of sound the German troops moved from tree to tree, wriggled cautiously through grain filled clearings and always cast one eye upwards for the dreaded Carp of the Skies.

At the other end a gang of Polish ne'erdowells shambled forwards shouting and singing kicking badgers and shooting at endangered species as they came.  Pausing only to belch and toss beer cans all over the place they wandered in the general direction of the village because it was the only place for miles that sold cheap vodka.  The noise of aircraft overhead and the sound of gunfire as the Polish troops shot at them for fun added to the din.  The Polish officers were either drunk or back in Warsaw trying to arrange for their mistresses to be evacuated to France.  As they blundered into one end of the village the Germans crept stealthily into the other.  Which didn't stop Ivan rolling a snake eyes to obliterate what I was hoping to be a kill stack before it could fire a shot.

Both Ivan and my troops have reached the village now and have occupied about half the buildings each.  In order to win one of us will have to take at least one building from the other (or move troops onto the other side's entry board, a prospect that seems to be lessening by the minute).

Act 2
I approached the resumption of play with trepidation.  Two mmgs were sitting alone in a building while a pair of broken squads cringed in the nearby woods accompanied by a wounded officer weeping and holding his leaky bits.  But things were about to look up.  Panting along a little behind my main force were my reinforcements, three squads each one toting a large, cumbersome but ROF 3 heavy machine gun.  This allowed me to reinforce my right, left and centre more or less simultaneously.  I also benefited from the terrain which gave the Germans a wooded area more or less in the centre of the board where forces could mass unharmed (or recover from breaking) before moving forward into the village.  Its fair to say the next couple of turns went badly for Ivan.  Over on his right he had a concealed stack six counters high.  I knew that meant a pair of squads, a pair of support weapons and, no doubt a competent leader to go with them.  Over in the centre his 10-1 commanded the hmg unit which had crucified my kill stack while other units filtered through the woods. On his left a mortar, plus an mmg team had stopped an over optimistic flanking manoeuvre in its tracks.

Not great, a pile of unattended MMGs sit in the centre while broken squads cringe behind and their officer snivels about his quite trivial injury

Nothing much happened for a turn or two on the left.  Ivan shot at me a bit, stripped a little concealment and broke the occasional squad but my guys slunk back into the trees and I pushed other concealed units into their place.  Unfortunately with a range of five to my meagre four I wasn't confident I had the firepower to deal with him.  On the right the gods smiled on me.  His would be kill stack failed to scratch my troops in the building and in return a meagre 6+1 shot broke a squad and officer and reduced the stack to more manageable proportions.  I got a shock though when he sneaked a halfsquad past me.  I thought it was on a concealment stripping mission and ignored it to allow myself to fire on his kill stack.  Instead the damn thing kept on going and charged into my rear area.  Suddenly Ivan had a unit in the rear board victory location, the status quo would not be sufficient.  Ah but then my automatic weapons started their execution.  I pounded his kill stack some more and even broke his hmg team and officer.  Another hmg started shooting up his forces on the left breaking the bulk of the forces he had there. 
Despite some nasty Polish casualties getting across the road towards the other building hexes that might give me victory was still looking doubtful.  Then Ivan fired on some guys in the woods and they went berserk.  Problem solved, they charged across the road, laughing contemptuously at Polish fire and into a building containing a Polish half squad.  Advancing fire killed the half squad and my berserkers settled down in their newly occupied building and looked around for their next victim.  I took advantage of this charge to actually snatch another building and  push some reinforcements towards my berserkers as well.  My occupancy of the second building didn't last long but I'm now firmly lodged in the village and hoping to use my burgeoning automatic weapons to essentially blast my way to victory.

Weight of metal is starting to tell in the centre.

Over on the left I can start to move as his forces have been gutted.  The right is a concern as various bits of his kill stack have managed to reassemble themselves so I will have to guard against a counter attack from that direction and I have to stop any more half squads following the example of their comrade who is now living it large in the rear area safe from retribution.  In the centre Ivan has brought up his reserves and rallied some units but his position is a little worse than it was.  I hope to  make it a lot worse.
Act 3

You know how in the previous act I said that Ivan's forces on the left had been gutted?  Well they had and Ivan didn't help matters by breaking the mortar which was pretty much his only support weapon left to guard the flank.  So what did I do?  I moved boldly forward and in advancing fire shot at a cluster of broken halfsquads to keep them under DM.  Naturally one of them rolled snake eyes and promptly went berserk.  These heroes charged forward laughingly shrugging off hmg fire and a 20+1 attack to hurl themselves into close combat with a squad and a half of my own.  The close combat didn't happen as the 2 flat advancing fire shot broke all of my forces and forced them to rout through interdiction to rather dubious safety.  In one move my left flank was destroyed.

Fortunately things went better in the centre.  With my own berserk guys licking their lips at adjacent troops Ivan brought up three squads to bolster his firepower.  The berserkers broke one with advancing fire and an adjacent lmg team broke another.  Meanwhile in the village things went from bad to worse for him.  I now had so much firepower nestled behind wooden walls that I was literally able to shoot him to pieces.  It wasn't even close.  Towards the end Ivan had to take silly risks just to try and get some troops forward but even before then he just couldn't build and maintain a position.  His squads proved incapable of standing up to even NMCs.  This wasn't just Ivan's problem, my own troops were equally fragile but I had the centre woods as a safe and centrally located rally spot and the amount of firepower I was able to bring down limited Ivan's chances for inflicting truly game changing casualties on me.

My berserkers died of course, they were halved charging into the hex containing Ivan's surviving squad and the remainder were killed in CC but by this time I had troops to burn and Poles were getting increasingly thin on the ground.  He finally managed to break my lmg team in the building on my right and I had a horrible turn when I broke an lmg and an hmg in the same firephase but even with these inconveniences the sheer weight of metal I could throw out decimated his troops.  Three reinforcing squads with hmgs might just be a little too much.  Possibly it might be more interesting if they were reduced to two.

The end; don't bother looking for any more Poles, there aren't any.

Ivan conceded with one turn to go.  Of his at start OB he had precisely four unbroken halfsquads left scattered across the board.  I'm always glad to get a win but Ivan and I agreed there wasn't much replayability in this scenario.  Basically the Germans and the Poles line up in their respective parts of the village and then just blast away at each other.  The first player to get a good turn of firing (in this case me) will probably inflict sufficient damage to put the other into a position where its difficult to win.  Our respective flanking moves didn't really come off.  I got nowhere and Ivan managed to sneak just one halfsquad through.  I guess the air support is intended to be a bit of a leveller for the Poles and its true that Ivan had dreadful luck with his sighting task checks failing all three for no result but even so a sighting TC against concealed units in cover needs a six, less than a 50% chance.  Thanks to Ivan for the game and to his perennial good humour as automatic weapons and dice conspired to destroy every clever idea he came up with.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sheep As Ships

OK, I guess I'm going to have to explain the title.  Not only is the joke bad even by the low standards set in this blog but it occurs to me that it might be a little obscure to some.  Of course all I have to do is mention the name Senegal and all becomes clear.

Senegal has been the subject of a brief shout out in this blog before when I noted that they actually have a decoration to reward good truck driving.  Since this, no doubt, ignited an intense fascination with all things Senegal here are some quick facts about the country.  Senegal is a country in west Africa.  It's capital is Dakar.  Now you probably know enough to get a position as a lecturer in west African studies at any of our major universities.  I've decided I wouldn't mind going to Senegal if only to see an award ceremony where truck drivers are honoured for, presumably, not running down too many pedestrians.

I was googling the Senegalese navy the other day (as one does) and got a neat little precis on what they do and what sort of ships they have.  At this point I imagine you screaming, "Neil, I can't live another moment without knowing what sort of ships the Senegalese navy has and what they do with them!  Tell me, tell me now!"  Well, if you insist.  The Senegalese navy consists of a handful of offshore patrol vessels and a couple of geriatric landing craft.  Modest, you might say, even minimalist.  Very true although an argument can be made that the Senegalese navy is more suited to purpose than the Australian.  Let's face it, the Senegalese navy is unlikely to be called on to refight the Battle of Midway any time soon.  What they are called on to do (with depressing frequency) is chase off foreign flagged fishing vessels illegally fishing in Senegal's waters.  For Australians such an occurrence is a minor economic nuisance, for Senegal with millions of poverty stricken coast dwellers the industrial scale raping of their fishing resources is in danger of depriving desperately poor people of their primary source of protein.  The landing craft are for hauling the army's heavy equipment to places that have beaches but limited road access.

When they're not chasing off fishing vessels or acting as the army's removalists the stalwart men of the Senegalese navy kick back with their religiously appropriate non alcoholic beverage of choice and settle down to watch This Sheep.  This Sheep (Khar Bii in the local dialect) is the most popular television programme in Senegal.  It's kind of like American Idol only Senegalese and about sheep.  It's fair to say that the Senegalese are rather fond of sheep and not just in the usual, with mint jelly way.  Any Senegalese with a little bit of extra space will be keeping a couple of sheep.  For the record a spare bedroom in an inner city apartment qualifies as "a little bit of extra space".  The programme This Sheep is quite simply a contest to find Senegal's most handsome and impressive sheep.  People enter their sheep in This Sheep and judges come out and assess each sheep based on criteria such as health, horns, heft, coat and symmetry of testicles.  Nationwide kudos, a cheque and the certainty of interest from breeders await the winner although for mine the greatest attraction must be to see the local equivalent of Simon Cowell checking the symmetry of a sheeps testicles.

But back to the navy.  As I said, the Senegalese navy seems quite fit for purpose on the other hand I'm not entirely sure the Australian navy is.  Centrepiece of our navy is a pair of massive great LHDs (that's Landing Helicopter Dock not some kind of disease).  These monstrous beasts can carry a reinforced infantry company, all of its equipment and tank support within their capacious bellies.  The role of the bulk of the remainder of the navy is to protect these two ships (you know as opposed to Australia, for instance) which would be OK if I could think of a single reason to have them in the first place.  I'm not saying we don't need some sort of amphibious capacity but the ability to move two tank heavy infantry companies from one place to another is either ridiculous overkill or nowhere near adequate.

Seriously, can anybody think of a nation within easy sailing distance of Australia that could be overrun by a couple of infantry companies and doesn't have the wherewithal to sink the ships en route?  Holy shit, we're going to invade New Zealand!  We'd better be careful though.  When the Senegalese hear that we're invading a peaceful underarmed nation with a fondness for sheep they'll be sending the kiwis reinforcements.  Worse, they might cut off my satellite feed before I get the opportunity to watch the latest episode of This Sheep.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Birthday Greetings #61

Some people inherit empires, the throne passes from father to son in a seamless transition while the collection of thugs, chancers and freakshows collectively described as the aristocracy look on approvingly.  Others make use of the access to sharp pointy things that high rank in the army provides to promote themselves a little further than perhaps their predecessor expected.  Still others sleaze, manipulate and cut deals which result in them slithering onto a jewel crusted throne despite the fond hopes of various other candidates.  Finally there is the occasional guy just wandering blamelessly past minding his own business when a bunch of people throw a purple robe at him and say something like, "Congratulations your majesty, try not to piss off the army."

As an example of the last category our current birthday boy is a little hard to beat.  Happy birthday to Marcus Coeccius Nerva Caesar Augustus, more commonly known to us as Nerva.  He was a Roman emperor and his principal qualification for the job seems to be that he was in the vicinity when his predecessor came down with an acute case of assassination.

Nerva's background is somewhat obscure.  Of course by "obscure" I mean obscure for a high ranking member of the Roman establishment who had already held a consulship and was a member of the senate.  I don't mean obscure like the bulk of the Roman population of whom we know nothing and care less.  Still Nerva's background is a little "grey".  He didn't follow the usual "course of honour" for a high ranking nobleman but nevertheless he seems to have been if not at the centre of power then just slightly adjacent to the centre of power for much of his adult life.  He survived Nero, the Year of the Four Emperors and then in turn Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.  None of them thought he was worth killing.  All of them seemed to trust him.  When you consider that a lot of these people wound up killing each other its entirely possible that someone who could persuade each and every one of them that he was on their side while maintaining enough anonymity so that he wasn't purged by the succeeding administration was a very dark horse indeed.

Nerva's immediate predecessor was Domitian who got himself murdered by a conspiracy that Nerva appears to have had no part in.  But then Nerva appears to have had very little part in anything yet at the time of the killing he was a senior senator with two consulships under his belt.  Possibly attempting to explain the choice historians have pointed to the fact that he was elderly and childless and could be considered a "safe pair of hands".  Nerva increased his popularity with the senate by promising not to have any of them killed unless, you know, he really had to.

Possibly a quiet non entity (or someone who could produce a reasonable facade of quiet non entityness) was exactly what the empire needed while everybody calmed down and got over Domitian who by all accounts was a bit of psycho.  Nerva certainly made all the right noises; no more treason trials, fortunes confiscated by Domitian were returned, exiles were invited to come home.  This coupled with tax relief and a public works programme seemed designed to get people feeling a bit happier about Nerva on the throne.  Unfortunately all of this cost money which couldn't be completely defrayed by Nerva auctioning off Domitian's old furniture.  As a coherent economic policy a garage sale wasn't considered to quite cut it.

In addition to financial woes there was a certain amount of murderous anarchy going on.  This was basically the Roman equivalent of political debate but it was starting to get out of hand.  While Nerva had abolished treason trials he hadn't stopped informers from operating.  The result was a free for all of everybody denouncing everybody else while simultaneously trying to cover their own arse and reassure anyone who listened of their own undying loyalty (although who to was sometimes a little difficult to discern).  Finally the army in the form of the Praetorian Guard stepped forward and pointed out that senatorial opposition notwithstanding they had rather liked Domitian and would Nerva please hand over his killers for hideous retribution followed (if it was considered necessary) by a fair trial.  Nerva refused.  The Praetorians insisted.  Their method of insisting included laying siege to the palace that Nerva was currently living in.

The histories point out that Nerva caved, handed over the murderers and adopted a well liked and popular soldier as his heir.  That's true; on the other hand he is pretty much the only person the Praetorians disliked who emerged from a meeting with them with all of his blood still in his body.  There was something about this guy.  Anyway the handover of the killers and the adoption of Trajan (a wine happy pederast from Spain) as his heir pretty much settled everything to everyone's satisfaction.  A few months later Nerva died of natural causes (a stroke followed by a fever.  As far as we can tell it wasn't a sword stroke) and Trajan took over in a seamless transition while the collection of thugs, chancers and freakshows collectively described as the aristocracy looked on approvingly.