Monday, December 14, 2009

The Cold Equations

"The Cold Equations" is a science fiction short story by Tom Godwin first published in Astounding Magazine in 1954. From the Wikipedia entry here:

A star ship is traveling amongst Earth's many colonies in space according to a schedule from which, owing to the limitation of physics and available fuel, it may not deviate. When reports of a fever outbreak on the frontier planet Woden reach the starship, it drops off an Emergency Dispatch Ship, a space vessel of limited range, with a pilot and the serum that will cure them. The pilot discovers a stowaway, an 18-year-old girl named Marilyn who wants to see her brother, a colonist on Woden. The girl believes that she will have to pay a fine, but the situation is far more serious. The ship only has enough fuel for the pilot and his cargo. Her additional mass will cause the ship to run out of fuel before it can land, dooming both the pilot and the sick colonists. The pilot tries frantically to come up with a solution, but there is no way around the "cold equations"; he does not have sufficient fuel. The best he can do is to alter the ship's course enough to give her a single hour's reprieve before she must be jettisoned. In that time, she writes letters to her parents and her brother, talks with the pilot about death and, in the last few minutes, is able to speak with her brother on the radio, allowing them to say their goodbyes. When the horizon of the planet breaks up the radio contact, the girl enters the airlock and is ejected into space.

Day Three started out ominously for the Russian. On his very first attempt, the artillery observer in AA25.2 disabled his Field Phone. So much for the 120mm artillery. Then, as the German drove his Pzkpfw IIIH platoon on-board, a critical hit from a Lt. MTR turned into a dud. Things quickly picked up, however, as the defenders of the F16 Warehouse managed to hold up the assault on the Power Station for almost two turns. This bought time for the 10-2 leader in X21.1 to bring his two HMGs to help shore up the defense. The 9-1 and his MMGs in J21.1 did some damage to the advancing Sturm Company, and then a company-strong Human Wave from the Foundry Hall completely disrupted the German attack. By the time he regrouped, the German had lost two of his three reinforcing tanks to mortar and ATR attacks and the 10-2 had set up shop in the second level of the Power Plant. His assaulting Sturm company had been shattered.

Over by the Commissar's House, the expected heavy assault did not occur. The German planned to use his StuG's to support two platoons of 4-6-8s as they set up a machine-gun nest in the GG21 building. As the StuG's moved forward from their initial setup hexes, they discovered the hidden dug-in T-34s. Both were destroyed. The MG nest in GG21 came under fire from the tanks and falling Rain prevented the German from laying Smoke with his artillery. The German was able to capture the Commissar's House, but not before it was set aflame by the Russian defenders. As the end game played out, the Russians were able to contest the GG21 building and push back the German perimeter a bit along the riverbank.

In the factories, a cat-and-mouse game ensued between the NKVD defenders and a reinforcing German rifle company. German battalion mortar was able to rough up the reserve units in the Deburring Hall, but very little of the factory complex was ceded. At days end, the CVP score was Russians 63, Germans 57. By any measure, a fabulous victory for the Russian.

My reward for this stunning victory was to have my ELR drop again, down to 1. That pretty much seals the campaign for the German. An ELR this low means that the majority of failed morale checks will result in replacement by a lower-quality unit. For non-Fanatic Conscripts, it means Disruption. In a strategic sense it means the Russians will be incapable of defending any terrain outside the factories. Elite units will rapidly degrade into Conscripts, and Conscripts will Disrupt. Disrupted units will not rout normally, and will be easily surrounded and destroyed. Conscripts cannot reliably man support weapons, as an weapons so manned have their B/X# lowered by two. All the German needs to do now is drive hard straight down Leninskii Prospekt to cut off the factory complex from reinforcements, then pound the isolated pockets in the factories until they are gone. Survive for a few days with ELR 1? Certainly. Survive NINE days? No chance.

The cold equations of ASL cannot be bargained away. I concede.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"I can't keep doing this on my own...with these...people."

KIRK: Khan, you bloodsucker. You're going to have to do your own dirty work now, do you hear me? Do you?

KHAN: Kirk. You're still alive, old friend.

KIRK: Still, "old friend." You've managed to kill everyone else but like a poor marksman you keep missing the target.

KHAN: Perhaps I no longer need to try, Admiral.

KIRK: Khan...Khan - you've got Genesis, but you don't have ME. You were going to kill me, Khan. You're gonna have to come down here. You're gonna have to come DOWN HERE.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

October 19, 1942

Retained Forces:

1 x 3-2-8
11 x 4-4-7
3 x 5-2-7
24 x 4-2-6

10-2, 10-0, 3 x 9-0, 8-0

2 x HMG
3 x MMG
3 x LMG
2 x ATR
3 x Lt Mtr
1 x 45LL ATG

Purchases: [16 CPP]

1 x Militia Coy (Full, On Map Setup) [4 CPP]
1 x Rifle Coy (Reserve) [4 CPP]
1 x T34 M41 Ptn (Dug In) [3 CPP]
1 x Med Artillery Module (Normal) [3 CPP]

1 x Pre-Registered Hex [1 CPP]
40 x FPP [1 CPP]

So far, the German has studiously avoided conflict in the factory complex in favor of an enveloping attack down the railway embankment in the west and the riverbank in the east. My opponent surmises, correctly, that by pressuring the Russian flanks he will force me to give up the northern factories without a fight. The first two days of fighting, barring a few minor incidents, have solidly favored the German and he is now in a position deliver a crippling blow.

Fortunately, it is unlikely that the German can continue to ignore the factories. They are teeming with conscripts which, as their little foray into the debris field on Day Two illustrated, cannot be wholly ignored. Day Three finds the German left flank overextended and in danger of isolation. Further advances on the left will come only with significant losses and, even in the event of a resounding success, will leave the vanguard exposed. On the German right, continuing to flank the factories achieves very little as the western board edge will open up to German reinforcements soon enough. The German must enter the factories on Day Three, and it is in the factories that the beleaguered Russian defenders are best able to bloody the German nose.

When I play the German side, my guiding wisdom is "Neberwerfer - Use 'Em If You've Got 'Em." At a cost of 3 CPP, a Pre-Registered Nebelwerfer barrage packs a wallop and leaves enough CPP for necessary infantry purchases. Thankfully, in CGI the German has only two modules of Rocket OBA and he has already used one of them. I expect the second will be used on Day Three, with the pre-registered hex somewhere in the vicinity of N14. Throw it into the factories, and it WILL hit something. Attack an edge of the barrage with as many 5-4-8s as can be mustered. The only option available to the Russian is to sit there and take it. Again, from the Russian perspective it's not about holding ground, but extracting as high a price as possible as the German is taking it. I plan on rallying whatever squads that survive the barrage and killing as many 5-4-8s as possible.

Two other areas of significance are the Commissar's House (building BB18) and the Assistant Power Plant and Oil Heating facility (building K22). Both of these buildings are key for the German to take, because they provide commanding overwatch positions from which to direct large MG kill stacks. I expect a push toward both buildings.

In the east, the Commissar's House is as good as lost. Were I to fortify it and load it up with defenders, there is still a chance (too large, in my opinion) that the German will reprise his Day One artillery orgy and hit it with pre-registered 150mm concentrations. Alternatively a Battalion Mortar module could smoke it in, allowing a horde of Sturmtruppen to swarm over it. At best, I can hope to set it aflame before being overwhelmed. If by some wild miracle the German doesn't take the Commissar's House I will count the day as a staggering success.

In the west, the Power Plant is not yet directly threatened and I should be able to hold onto it long enough to burn it down.

Far Right Flank

My defense in this area will center on building BB24, and I will hold it at all costs. Like the Commissar's House, this building provides a commanding view of the battlefield. Unlike the Commissar's House, it is not likely to be exposed on three sides to German attack. The larger part of the Reserve Rifle Company, the Dug-In T34s and the 10-2 with his HMGs will be tasked with protecting this building. The dug-in tanks will set up Hidden, and will hopefully stiffen the defensive line. The 10-2 will also be Hidden and in position to punish any attackers moving on the Commissar's House along hexrow BB. The artillery will be pre-registered on hex Y14 and will try to crush any German force approaching the Deburring Hall (see below) or Commissar's House.

X21.1 [HIP] 10-2, 4-4-7 + HMG, 4-4-7 + HMG
X21 Dummy Cloaking Counter
Z21 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + ATR, 4-4-7 + Lt Mtr; [HIP] Dug In T34 > AA20
Z22 Dummy Cloaking Counter
AA22 Dummy Cloaking Counter
AA25.2 [HIP] 7-0 + Field Phone directing 120mm Artillery Module
BB19 8-0, 4-4-7 + LMG, 4-4-7 + LMG
BB21 2 x ?
CC19.C 4-4-7 + LMG
CC22 2 x ?; [HIP] Dug In T34 > DD20
CC23 [Cloaked] 7-0, 4-4-7 + LMG
CC24 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
CC25 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
CC26 Dummy Cloaking Counter
EE25 [HIP] Dug In T34 > FF23
EE26 Dummy Cloaking Counter

The Deburring Hall

Factory S17 is the Gun Tube Thermal Processing and Deburring Hall, and it must not fall this day. I can stand to lose all three of the L10, L14 and O10 factories but must under no circumstances lose the Deburring Hall, as it must become a bastion of the Russian line. Were this CGIII I would be less concerned, but the victory conditions of CGI demand that the Russian stand and fight for as much of the factory complex as manageable.

The remainder of the Reserve Rifle Squad must keep the German at bay here. The artillery observer is in a position to support a strong attack on the Deburring Hall. If a strong attack materializes, the artillery will be sorely needed. In addition, if the attack comes through the O10 factory the forces set up there can fall back to an end-line defense of the Hall.

X17 2 x ?
X18 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + LMG
X19 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
W18 [Cloaked] 4-4-7
V17 [Cloaked] 4-4-7 + LMG, 4-4-7 + LMG
U17 [Cloaked] 9-1, 4-4-7 + HMG, 4-4-7 + MMG
T17 4-2-6

The Factories

The L10 factory, like the Commissar's House, is as good as gone. The Germans are in a position to attack eastward from the area around J14 and cut off any Russians set up in hexes numbered less than that. The Foundry Hall (factory L14), on the other hand, must be bitterly contested as it stands between the German and the Power Plant. Over in the O10 factory, the picture is not so clear. The German may pummel it with rocket OBA, or not. He may bust in with a Sturm Company, or not. Most likely he will creep forward gingerly, taking what I give him. I will try to entice the German into an aggressive attack here, then punish him with the artillery if possible. Otherwise, the standing order is to fall back to the Power Plant.

J18 2 x 4-2-6
K17 2 x 4-2-6
K18 2 x 4-2-6
L13 4-2-6
L15 2 x 4-2-6
L16 2 x 4-2-6
M15 2 x 4-2-6
M19 9-0, 4-2-6 + Lt Mtr, 4-4-7
O14 4-2-6
O15 4-2-6
P12 4-2-6
P13 4-2-6
Q10 [HIP] 8 AP Mines
R9 [HIP] 8 AP Mines
R11 3 x 4-2-6
R12 2 x 4-2-6
R14 10-0, 4-2-6 + ATR, 4-4-7
S12 2 x ?

The Power Plant

Building K22 is the Assistant Power Plant and Oil Heating facility. My opponent believes this to be one of the most important buildings for the Germans to take. At the end of Day Two, the German vanguard advanced just within striking distance of the Power Plant. My strategy for it's defense relies on two factories in front of it: the narrow F16 factory and the Foundry Hall (factory L14). To protect the Plant itself I have hidden a 9-1 and both MMG on the first level, to bring fire on any Germans who get close. I've also put those new Militia units that are packing SW (an LMG and MMG) along with Rifle squads inside the Plant to provide additional fire support. The ATG is close by in I22. Along the board edge I've set up all three available Lt Mtrs on the rooftop of building B23. Since building B17 burned to the ground, these mortars should have excellent fields-of-fire and may be able to harass German units moving down hexrow A or Tramvanaya Street.

B23.R 5-2-7 + Lt Mtr
C23.1 5-2-7 + ATR
C23.R 5-2-7 + Lt Mtr + Lt Mtr
F16 2 x 4-2-6
F17 2 x 4-2-6
F18 2 x 4-2-6
F19 9-0 + ATR, 2 x 4-2-6
I22 [HIP] 3-2-8 + 45LL ATG > H20
J21.1 [HIP] 9-1, 4-4-7 + MMG, 4-4-7 + MMG
J22 4-2-6 + LMG, 4-4-7
K22 9-0, 4-2-6 + MMG, 4-4-7

The Russians are in a tight spot. I must savage the German on this campaign game day to have a chance of winning.

Ludinov watched Golovkin through field glasses as the political officer drew his pistol, pointed it toward the soldier at his feet and pulled the trigger. The Major heard the distant pop seconds later. The soldier had given in to his fear, and Golovkin reacted in the only way that he could. Stark, gut-wrenching terror was as commonplace in Stalingrad as dirt and soot and smoke. Fear was a fact of existence here. Cowardice, however, was a contagion, a malignancy to be cut from the body. Golovkin had no fear of the German, or of death, or even of Comrade Stalin himself. It was cowardice that terrified Golovkin.

From his perch in the Red House Ludinov could see the German lines, now only a few hundred meters distant. He imagined that this would be his last visit to this vantage point, though he had declined to share that thought with the Commissar. If the German commander stayed true to form, he would saturate the building with artillery fire before taking it's smoldering remains. However it might play out, the Germans would be coming in strength. Behind him a platoon of T-34s had dug into positions staked out by Ludinov. Perhaps they would make the difference.

The divisional commander had secured artillery support for the coming day's action. Ludinov allowed himself a smile at the thought of turning the tables on the Germans for once.
Let them watch their comrades be blasted apart. The smile was short lived. Everything was in place. In a few short hours hundreds of brave young men - his men - would die. There was nothing left to do but to watch, and to wait. As he turned away from the window Ludinov heard another pop. Still afraid, Comrade Commissar?


After Dade shared this VASL map and we discussed the situation, I thought a little analysis would be in order.

The German Setup for Day Three appears to be manageable. Clearly he intends on taking the Power Station, as it appears he has set up the bulk of his assault force to blast through the F16 Warehouse. He does not appear poised to push into the Foundry Hall, but if he does I have a reinforced company of Militia waiting for him - that is, if they survive the Neberwerfer barrage that just might land on their heads.

In the middle, he appears to have left the L10 factory wide open, and is practically begging me to attack into the Manufacturing Hall. This lends a bit more credence to the idea that a Nebelwerfer barrage is on its way.

On my right, he appears to be laying back. Wow. I was expecting at least a token effort to threaten the Commissar's House. In our discussions, Dade stated that he believed that I had purchased two Rifle Companys in Reserve. If so, then he may think I am much stronger in this sector than I am. Both retained StuG's are lurking by the riverbank, ready to drop Smoke on troublesome stacks. I expect him to take the GG21 building with a kill stack of MGs, then start hammering away at my squads.

What intrigues me most is the setup of troops in and forward of the Chemist's Shop, in particular the stack in GG10. There does not seem to be enough here to threaten me, nor to defend against a serious push. Again, this is probably a response to my Reserve units since they are no threat to advance. I would not at all be surprised if Dade purchased a Sturm Company and a few platoons of halftracks. The halftracks could drive right down Pribayatinskaya Street or Leninskii Prospect and deposit an assault force right at my doorstep.

My response will depend entirely on where Dade commits his reinforcements.

If he rushes up the east side of the map, either with halftracks or not, then I bide my time and hit him with my artillery. Ludinov (10-2) and his HMGs will get their licks in when they can and if necessary will relocate to support whichever section of the line is in trouble. The 8-0 in the Commissar's House will keep trying to Kindle until successful, then look to get out of harm's way. The German setup is consistent with a forthcoming artillery pounding, so the Commissar's House might get set aflame by German shells. I have to be cagey with my dug-in T-34s. I am in a position to lure both StuG's into the tanks' kill zones, and I'd really like to bag them. If he sets up a kill stack in the upper levels of GG21 or GG22, all three dug-in tanks can zero in on it. With a little luck I can cause some havoc in this sector.

If he follows on behind his schwerpunkt toward the Power Plant, things will be very different. First of all, if the German is content to creep forward with the pittance he's allotted to the East then I will simply hold off on the artillery and Retain it (and it's Preregistered hex). Ludinov will high-tail it toward the Power Plant; at the end of Turn 1 he will be in U22 and at the end of Turn 2 he will be in P21 protecting the Plant's right flank. Golovkin (10-0) will backstop the defenses in the O10 factory and the 9-0 will be responsible for the Foundry Hall. The fighting over in this sector will get ugly, and I fully expect to lose at least a company of Militia. The Anti Tank Gun in I22 doesn't have any targets with the StuG's over by the river, so the 3-2-8 manning it might just try and push it out of harm's way (perhaps back to J24). The hidden 9-1 with his MMGs will have to play it cool, biding his time and waiting until the German makes a mistake. Again, it is entirely possible that 150mm artillery will just crush the Power Plant into dust, but I don't think so - the German posture indicates he wants to take the building and hold it. Heavy artillery has too large a chance of knocking it down or setting it on fire. If possible, the 9-1 will kindle the building if the Germans appear to be close to taking it.

As for the F16 Warehouse: stand and die. The 9-0 may slip out the back at the last minute, but really - what are his chances of surving? He'll get the Order of Lenin posthumously.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

These Germans have proved...troublesome.

Wendell: "It's a mess, ain't it, Sheriff?"

Ed Tom Bell: "If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here."

-- No Country For Old Men (2007)


Once again, as they are wont to do, the Sixth Army took a big chunk out of Uncle Joe's boys. Early on, things were looking up. Rather than drop his Nebelwerfer barrage on the factories, he opted to blast my left flank and follow up behind with a Sturm company. The barrage pretty much obliterated my picket in the F11 and F13 buildings but left intact the conscripts lurking in the factory beyond. Over on the right flank, the trap was sprung: he moved an MG kill stack out into the shellholes, and my hidden 10-2 laid on with his two HMG and eradicated a 9-1 and two 4-6-8s. I'm sure they made their pretty wives proud. My SMG platoon swept into the remains of the Chemist's Shop and, for a while, it was completely in Russian hands.

Then the StuG's showed up.

The squad crewing my Anti Tank gun was broken by a sniper, so there was no real threat in place to oppose the German vehicles. My opponent played them very aggressively, driving them right up to the 9-2 and his cadre of riflemen. Because the IIIBs lack any MG armament, they are especially vulnerable to close combat. However, the squad in place to make the attempt failed to pass his PAATC. I did manage to get an ATR in place to take shots at one StuG's rear target facing, but I couldn't make it count. I had seven shots at the rear facings of vehicles in this game and none of them generated an effect. The StuGs, on the other hand, dominated the eastern flank and allowed the German to capture the entire riverbank. I kept the Commissar's House, however.

This campaign game is turning into an object lesson in exactly why the Russian must prevent a breakthrough along the riverbank.

Over in the factories, the conscripts did okay. Seeing that the German was laying back behind the Manufacturing Hall, I decided to counterattack out of the big O10 factory in an effort to retake some of the Manufacturing Hall and to tie up troops that might otherwise interfere with my assault on the Chemist's Shop. At first, things went swimmingly well, with the 10-2 knocking down German squads in the debris field. However, conscripts cannot really sustain a push, and soon enough they were scampering back to their holes. I did retake all but the northernmost two hexes of the Manufacturing Hall, so I call the effort a success.

The worst outcome of the day actually occurred in the Refit Phase, when the Russian ELR dropped to 2. If any one thing costs me the campaign game it will be this. From now on, my troops are going to melt away into conscripts at an accelerated rate. If my ELR drops to 1, it will be all over.

At the end of the day, there were two very different situations on the West and East sides of the map. In the West, the Germans were right where you would expect them to be at the end of Day One - with a toehold in the Manufacturing Hall and knocking on the door of the L10 factory. In the East, however, they were threatening the Commissar's House, which is The Thing That Must Not Happen. Shaping a defense for Day Three will be a challenge.

Golovkin wiped the blood from his brow. A sniper's bullet had shattered the window through which he had observed the German advance, and the broken glass had peppered his face. The pain was nothing, but the blood was becoming bothersome. A half-dozen grim faced soldiers huddled beside Golovkin in the shell crater, the survivors of the assault on the Chemist's Shop. Some had made it out, after all.

That fact gave Golovkin no comfort. German self-propelled artillery had pushed down the riverbank and threatened the Red House. All thoughts of consolidating the line were dismissed once that happened. Ludinov, fortuitously, had relocated to this most important of buildings in the nick of time.
We still hold it, thought Golovkin, but for how long?

"Comrade Commissar, are you injured?"

Golovkin noticed he was staring, blankly, at his bloody hands. Looking up he spied the nervous young submachinegunner he had spooked before the battle. "No," replied Golovkin, "it is nothing." He could see that the submachinegunner had lost the first two fingers of his right hand.

The submachinegunner was broken. "Comrade, I must go back. My hand..."

"No." Golovkin fixed his gaze on the young soldier. "You forget your duty! You will stay, and you will fight!"

"But Comrade Commissar, I cannot shoot."

Golovkin leaned close. "I can."