31 January 2012

TacOps AAR Part 7: Sound and Fury

0810 to 0819

This bit opened with another helicopter going down to an airstrike and some artillery fire that either missed or did little damage.

I lost my final Chinook at 0813 and so I had very little idea of where Red, who was spreading out, actually was. I did think that he would drive down the road at the bottom of the map and had an anti-tank unit hidden in the wooded area in grid square 1100, just waiting to get LOS on some BTRs and ruin their day.

Three Blue Airstrikes at 0816 knocked out a few troops and another BTR, but very little happened in three turns after that – certainly no casualties. In summary, one could call this period, to quote Macbeth, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Well, except for the loss of the final helicopter in this battle.

30 January 2012

When they arrive, they arrive... TOAW III

A large number of high-skilled US units are starting to carve a deep salient in my flank. While I'm still winning, I might not be for much longer...

28 January 2012

After Pearl Harbor - Part Seven: So Near To Defeat

Part One

I've done six previous posts on the subject of the Japanese campaigns in the six months or so after Pearl Harbor and learned quite a bit in the process. So I'm going to list a few thoughts and reflections that have come to mind during all of this.

  1. The forces of the Allies were seriously under-prepared and ill-equipped. The British had already been fighting a war for two years thousands of miles away. Not only were their resources and attention focussed there, it would take a couple of months to get reinforcements into theatre in any significant numbers - remember that most Allied convoys to Egypt would have to go the long way round Africa due to the Axis naval threat in the Mediterranean and that's just part of the journey. However, none of this excuses the multi-level disaster that was Singapore.
  2. The Japanese got seriously far in their empire acquisition in a relatively period of time. Berlin to the outskirts of Baku is just shy of 2,000 miles as the crow flies. Tokyo to Singapore, not even the furthest the Japanese went, is about 3,300 and it's almost 600 from south Vietnam to the latter. Japan got from Indochina to Singapore in under two months - through pretty thick jungle. This says something about Japanese martial skill.
  3. It was only really luck and good intelligence that stopped the Japanese assault in its tracks. If Nimitz hadn't found out that the Japanese were going to target Midway - or Yorktown had gone up earlier than it actually did, it is hard to see the Japanese not taking that island. The United States at worst would have sued for peace.
  4. The Japanese were just as barbarous as the Germans in the way that they fought their wars. Some of the things that I read during the course of the research for this shocked me. The Nazis generally did not leave dead British soldiers hanging on the sides of roads or force them to engage in brutal manual labour. Of course, the Japanese did not exterminate ten million people in concentration camps and ghettoes, but some of their other stuff was just as brutal i.e. using prisoners for chemical warfare experiments. The world is well rid of both of those regimes.
  5. The environs in the Pacific were worse in many ways than in Europe. I watched The Pacific a while back and the unpleasant environments that war was fought in are clear to see - hot, sweaty and damp. Sanitation was a real problem - especially for Americans and Brits who weren't necessarily used to it.
  6. Morale must have been pretty bad for the Allies in the early months of 1942. How many Allied victories were there from 1939 to mid-1942? A couple at best. In the meantime, the Axis powers won victory after victory. With the U-boats wreaking havoc on Allied shipping, I can see why some people were thinking about a negotiated peace.
I hope that you have found this series as interesting and enlightening as I did while I've researched it. I also hope that you've got a deeper appreciation of what the men and women in that conflict went through - because at the end of the day, we're the ones who have to pass the stories and ensure something like this never happens again.

I know I have.

27 January 2012

TacOps PBEM AAR Part Six: Big Targets for Rotor-wings

0800 to 0809

The BTR series of armoured personnel carriers are designed to be “battle taxis”, bringing soldiers to the battlefield or transporting them long distance. While they provide good protection against helicopter fire, they are not tanks. As was about to be demonstrated.

At 0800, my choppers unleashed a large salvo of Hellfires and nearly all of them struck home. A Red aircraft did kill one of the helicopters, but the losses were pretty much all Coyote’s. I scored just under 496 attrition points just in that turn and nearly another 650 the following one as three ICM (that’s armour-penetrating) artillery strikes went dead on target, followed by more Hellfires, although I did lose an AH-1 to an SA-16 MANPADS when I got too close.

I was deliberately targeting those BTRs – I knew that if they were destroyed, there were infantry units that were either dead or unable to cross the map as they bailed out (in fact they were coming out to further fire, which cut some of them down – in a way, I feel sorry for the poor guys). In fact, four red units (two BTRs and their AT4 teams inside) actually fled the map at 0803 – I don’t know why Coyote did that.

If the whole battle carried on like this, I would have won easily. I was nailing Red with artillery fire and he wasn’t getting any on me. I even pulled off a successful airstrike. Watching the replay, the devastation I was causing is all too clear. Red’s force was reduced by over half in nine minutes, from a brigade of APCs and Motor Rifle Troops to a few of APCs with some scattered (and probably bewildered) foot-sloggers. I eliminated no less than 46 of the BTR-60s. The situation can be seen below.


But all this came at a price. I lost all but two of my helicopters in the process – losing transport and observation capability I wasn’t going to get back. I’d actually conducted much of the artillery bombardment semi-blind; I was going to have to go the rest of the battle like this.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

One would like to think that, sixty-seven years after the liberation of Auschwitz, prejudice and hatred on the basis of religion were a thing of the past.

Sadly, it isn't. Many people still haven't learned.

26 January 2012

Nope. Still don't believe it. (Grand Review: 'Above Suspicion: Silent Scream')

My review of the previous Above Suspicion can be found here. Most of it still remains true a year later - although having seen Kelly Reilly in the first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movie, I don't think bad acting is the cause.

It's quite simply the fact that DI Anna Travis is so bad a character that even a RSC alumni (are there many good female roles in Shakespeare apart from Lady Macbeth?) couldn't lift her from the dregs of woefully bad. In the world of Above Suspicion, she is being considered for accelerated promotion. Quite frankly, I wouldn't trust this woman with a Safer Neighbourhoods Team. This is quite frankly one of the few shows that is better when its lead isn't in the scene. Again, the make-up is awful - way too much mascara [Your only qualification on the subject of good make-up is the possession of a Y chromosome, Silent, although some might say that's enough - Ed.]

Shall we discuss the way in Travis makes an idiot out of herself in this one? How about the one where she goes to the house of a murder suspect alone and so gets beaten up as a result - then waltzes straight back into work while still on painkillers? What part of "go home" does this woman not understand?

Silent Scream's plot isn't that brilliant either. Film star gets murdered and dark secrets come out. Same old, same old. Been done a thousand times and mostly far better. There's a subplot about DCS Langton finding out who told his superiors about the big error last time (where the main suspect got into the incident room by pretending to be an FBI agent), which resulted in him being passed over for promotion. Quite frankly, it's derivative and clichéd - I'd prefer not to discuss this. It's a shame as it was promising to begin with.

So, we've got another poor ITV crime drama with an appalling lead character and a bargain basement plot. No change there then, which is a deep pity.



4/10. Please don't waste any more money on this, ITV.

23 January 2012

TacOps PBEM Part Five: Completing Phase One

0740 to 0759

The reason that I’m doing these two posts together is that not a massive amount happened here – in terms of volume of fire at any rate.

At 0742, I found the last Red Unit on Objective E and attacked it with a helicopter, a mortar and airstrike – only the former doing any good. REDFOR dropped a load of artillery on an area with nothing actually in it and an MLRS strike on an area that actually did. Finally, three helicopters and an infantry squad from one of those finished off the final infantry squad.

REDFOR now had “Nothing to do for the next 14 minutes except pre-plot artillery and use harassing fires to slow [my] redeployment”. I spent that time preparing for the reinforcements for Red that would come from the eastern edge of the map, moving my Cobras to cover the main roads that Coyote would likely use to ingress his forces.

The turns moved rapidly, with only my movement – the remaining Red forces on the map stayed put and lowered their engagement ranges down to 110 metres to avoid being detected by me. A Red airstrike at 0755 killed a few helicopters and I lost a mortar unit at 0759.

At the same time, some of Red’s BTR units arrived on the map and got a taste of Hellfire. A taste they would never forget.

20 January 2012

After Pearl Harbor Part Six - The Second Battle: Midway

The Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu maneuvers to avoid bombs dropped by USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress bombers
Part One

The Battle of Midway from 4 June to 7 June 1942 is arguably the most important naval battle in the Pacific War. With one fell swoop from the forces of two US carriers, Japan lost three of its aircraft carriers - a fourth would follow later. The United States only lost one. Japan's naval supremacy in the Pacific entered a downward path that they would never recover from.

As the story of Midway is well known, I'm going to take a different tack on this post. I'm going to discuss carrier operations c. 1942 with some of my computer game experiences helping in the analysis of this. I find that war games can be very educational in this regard.

Pre-launch

I don't imagine the air conditioning on US Navy warships was all that good back in 1942. I guess key components could be kept cool, but for many you're basically in a large metal can that has the sun shining on it the whole time. In the Pacific in mid-summer it wouldn't be pleasant.

It'd also be cramped. Sailors have long faced a lack of privacy and a tiny living area - sometimes having to "hot-bunk", which I really wouldn't want to do.

Take off

Launching from an aircraft carrier wouldn't be all that hard. Just push the throttle forward to maximum power and use the wind speed generated by a combination of the carrier's own engines and the prevailing wind to get airborne. Of course, if your engine didn't work properly, you could drop into the sea, facing the chance of either being run over by your own carrier or drowning trapped in your aircraft.

I've never had any particular problems with carrier take-off in the Battlefield games at all (it's a bit harder in Il-2) - in fact it's easy in all walks of life to "take off". The question is staying airborne and landing safely.

Transit and return from target

The ocean is a big place and finding a small ship is not easy, especially when you don't have radar. Even then, you might misidentify your target in some form.

In addition, a spotter plane that found an aircraft carrier would need to call the report in. You couldn't do it like today with an encrypted satellite phone and your own voice. I may be wrong, but for distance transmissions you were having to rely on Morse - which takes time to send. It was not unheard of for a spotting aircraft to be destroyed before it get a contact report off.

Navigation was a lot harder back then as well. You were basically relying on a compass, a stopwatch and sometimes the stars - no real landmarks at sea. A small error could quickly mount up and result in you missing your target by miles. Or even worse, failing to find your carrier before you ran out of fuel. This can be demonstrated in particular by the early performance of Bomber Command over Germany where the vast majority of bombs didn't even get within five miles of their target. That's a big miss.

Attacking the target

No fancy stand-off weaponry back then. There were two basic ways to attack a carrier - dive-bombing or torpedoing.

Dive-bombing basically involves swooping down on the carrier and releasing your bombs so that they hit the deck. This is harder than it sounds. I've had enough problems in Battlefield trying to get bombs to drop accurately onto target - I usually just do lay-down and hope, with little success so far.

You've got to come in at a steep angle against a moving ship that is shooting at you. With a lot of guns - US carriers had a large number of AAA guns on board up until the missile age. One hit in the right place and you're either going to explode or not be able to pull out of the dive.

Torpedo attacks involved coming in straight and low, so the torpedo (which ran straight) would not go straight down when it hit the water. Again, you've got flak coming at you from the ship, with some small arms fire for added "effect". A hit here and you have little room for manoeuvre before plunging into the sea.

Landing

"Trapping" on a carrier is regarded as one of the most scary things to do in aviation, especially at night. You have to find the carrier in the first place and then come in at the right angle and approach to catch one of the four arrestor wires on a deck moving in three dimensions, which will bring you to a screeching halt. There were none of the optical landing systems back then - they would be invented after the war. You were reliant on eyesight and the landing officers waving you in. Come in too low and a "ramp strike" was a distinct possibility or having your landing gear collapse on you.

If you miss the wires today, you just slam the engines on afterburner and go around - as the landing area is at an angle to the rest of the ship to prevent a "bolter" from hitting aircraft parked forward and allowing for a safe fly-off. Back during the war, you'd either hit the aircraft, hit a safety net and have your aircraft badly damaged, or go off the side.

I've never made an arrested carrier landing in any game, so I can't comment on this.

Leaving your aircraft

Ditching from an aircraft over the sea is not something that any pilot would ever want to do. If you landed close to an enemy carrier, you were going to end up a POW or dead - considering the Japanese, some might have preferred the latter. If you landed in the open ocean and managed to avoid drowning by being pulled under by your own chute if you failed to release it on landing (a distinct possibility if you were injured), you had to hope someone found you...

Conclusion

It's a simple one really - it takes skill and bravery to be a carrier aviator. I don't think I could do it.

SOPA and PIPA shelved

Good. They were badly written and too vague.

Now I would suggest that media companies, both Internet and mainstream, work together on a better bill. Online piracy is a real problem and needs handling - but not at the expense of freedom of speech.

19 January 2012

Sherlock - "The Reichenbach Fall"

I don't think this is a spoiler, so here we go.

How on earth did he do that?

17 January 2012

TacOps PBEM Part Four - Hide and Seek

0730 to 0739

If you're not willing to shell your own position, you're not willing to win.

One of my favourite web comics, Schlock Mercenary, revealed another maxim from its “Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective” – number 20, the above mentioned gem (my calendar for this year is the Schlock one featuring the first 12). There was a fair bit of that going on in this battle, even if it wasn’t intentional.

I cleared Objective B at 0732, thanks to the Hummers arriving and dealing with the foot sloggers rather than the helicopter. In that same term, a Red MLRS attack killed three of my soldiers and cost me another unit. Nasty things – have been since the Second World War…

I cleared C two minutes later, leaving Coyote with only three squads on the entire map, only one of which was actually parked in an objective – Objective E. To try and find the remaining holdout, my choppers circled around over E and then two (one not over E) were bagged by a pair of Floggers conducting airstrikes [So they’re good for something – Ed.]

Somehow I managed to miss a unit less than three hundred metres away from me from a helicopter…

SOPA and PIPA

So, Wikipedia are doing this "blackout" tomorrow in protest against PIPA (SOPA being pretty much dead now), a piece of proposed legislation in the US Senate that, they argue, will severely damage the freedom of the internet.

I support efforts to stop online piracy - it does damage the incomes of a lot of decent people who deserve to profit from their creativity. PIPA however seems to be going a bit far - shutting down a site solely based on an accusation isn't justice and the proprietors need to have the right to defend themselves. I trust that these media companies will at least ask for the removal of offending content first - it will ultimately damage them otherwise - and courts will be sensible in this. The United States government, of whatever political hue, is a strong guardian of freedom of speech - there are a lot of things they could have done pretty easily in the last twenty years and haven't, whereas many other states would do them without blinking.

Speaking of "freedom of speech" (which will still exist on the internet), I wonder if people are going to protest against DNS shutdowns in Iran and China? A violation is a violation regardless of jurisdiction.


15 January 2012

Plans for 2012

Much later than planned, here is what I intend to blog about for 2012:

  • Something for the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War - not a massive series though.
  • A Grand Review of Borgen. Also with Doctor Who scheduled for autumn, I'll be doing an odd TV episode - whatever takes my fancy.
    • I'll be doing Above Suspicion: Silent Scream, just like I did Deadly Intent last year. No, I still can't take Detective Inspector Anna Travis seriously.
  • I'll definitely be reviewing Skyfall. I may also get one or two DVDs out and review some of the older Bond films.
  • One big series this year - the North African campaign, focussing on El Alamein.
  • The US presidential election naturally.
  • Pentecost or another Christian festival.
These may all change, of course.

TOAW III - eventually you run into a problem

So, I'm eight turns in to my invasion of South Korea.

 So, the forces of Kim il-Sung have run a considerable way into South Korea, but have now run into problems.

Firstly, the Americans are starting to arrive in numbers and have managed to halt my advance to a certain extent, throwing me back in others.

Secondly, I lack decent air coverage.

Thirdly, with the main railway line to the west of the country broken and only one lot of rail engineers, I can't bring massive lots of reinforcements down and my supplies are naturally effected.

Finally, that's a dangerous looking weak bit of my line to the east.

So, I guess this - or slightly further back - is going to be my temporary stop line.

14 January 2012

D'ni sim now open at Phoenix Roleplaying!

D’ni sim* now open! If you’re as big a fan as I am of the Myst series of games and books, then you’re sure to love this sim!
D’ni: Infinite Ages is not one sim, but a collection of active and prospective sims based in the Myst Multiverse on Phoenix Roleplaying.
Currently D’ni: Infinite Ages – Prison Break is open and accepting new character applications (for a list of all proposed D’ni: Infinite Ages sims to date, please visit this thread)
Prison Break
Criminals, undesirables, and other evil sorts were often imprisoned by the D'ni in Prison Books - books designed to hold an individual indefinitely, giving them no ability to leave. Suddenly and inexplicably the D'ni vault containing all of its prison books was found open, books scattered across the floor, and their occupants no longer visible in the Linking Panel. Where did they go? How did they escape? What will they do now that they're free?
Phoenix Roleplaying is a multi-genre, international simming community. We welcome new players and invite you to play a part of our growing community. Want to see a genre or sim we don’t yet have? We welcome your ideas! Sign up now!
*Sim/Simming: See Simming League
Disclaimer: Content on Phoenix Roleplaying may include adult themes. View our rules here

13 January 2012

TacOps PBEM Part 3: The Lull

0720-0729

Things got a little quitter – we had two minutes of non-lethal artillery fire from Red as I held off my own artillery until I got better target data (i.e. actually found someone). When I did start, I dropped 155mm shells on a part of Objective E that I now realise was completely empty.

Much of REDFOR’s initial force was gone – all he had were a few squads of straight-leg infantry. To quote Gary’s own notes at 0728, when ¾ of his force had gone:

I've been getting good artillery resupply but I'm unable to see large sections of the map now to spot the most lucrative targets.  Have to target some likely locations now so the ammo does not go to waste, especially the multiple rocket launchers.

Lack of ability to see key parts of the map was a key feature in this game for both of us. Of course, it is a key feature for much of warfare – remember pre-Overlord that the Germans were completely unable to get reconnaissance photos of the area where the real invasion force was forming up because their aircraft kept not making it back – so were duped by the fake force.

At 0728, I lost two Hummers to RPG fire as I found the remaining two man unit in Objective D. It barely lasted 90 seconds as an AH-1 finished it off. Two down, three to go.


11 January 2012

TacOps 4 AAR - Part 2


0710 to 0719

This was a time filled with artillery, cannon and machine gun fire. It is surprising how much the accuracy of small arms fire falls off at distance – I remember the reason why the Russians developed the Dragunov support rifle as opposed to a full-blown sniper rifle is that most of their Second World War engagements were at distances of under 400 metres.

An airstrike at 071145 finished off a couple of the infantry units in square 1004 – it was one of the few successful airstrikes I would have in this battle. ZSU-23-4s: nightmares on six legs. I also lost some of my Hummers to RPG fire – it’s clear why the Americans are moving away from them as they were never meant to operate in an urban environment. While the artillery was a nuisance as it kept suppressing some of my units, it didn’t do a lot of damage.

The cannon fire and machine gun fire from my helicopters slowly began to take its toll on the OPFOR infantry – perhaps I should have gotten a bit closer. The rocket pods made a lot of noise but did little to the foot soldier. These and the artillery focussed on Objective E, getting the enemy presence down there to a mere six soldiers by close of 0719. Objective D actually only had two soldiers, but I had difficulty even finding them.

The casualty level was still a bit lopsided – 27% to 3% - but it was getting better.

08 January 2012

TOAW III - Korean advance

Bought TOAW III this week and am currently playing the Communist forces in the tutorial scenario. That's me in Red. While most of the UN forces aren't visible, I can see why at this point (16 July 1950), the UN got thrown back so far. It's not often remembered that the DPRK controlled 90% of South Korea at one point in the war.

Borgen initial thoughts

Have watched the first two episodes of this and am rather impressed - it reminds me of The West Wing only with more jokes. Got to extend a warm thank you to the BBC for buying this - it's another reason for the licence fee.

After Pearl Harbor Part 5: The First Battle - Coral Sea

Lexington explodes
The series starts here.

[Change of plan - I'm doing Coral Sea and Midway as separate posts and doing a final concluding post]

One of my favourite war novels is called The Sixth Battle by Barrett Tillman. Published in 1993, it revolves around a war in Southern Africa and features a supercarrier battle between US and Russian Eurasian forces. Early in the book, some of the characters are discussing how many battles between carrier groups there have been. Using the definition of a mutual exchange of air strikes, they come up with five, the first two being Coral Sea and Midway.

These two battles would prove pivotal in the war in the Pacific, as well as a much smaller, but no less audacious operation.

The Doolittle Raid

The Americans badly needed a morale boost and they got it on 18 April 1942 via the Doolittle Raid, where 16 B-25 bombers launched off the deck of USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo - a city that the Japanese had previously thought untouchable. It didn't do a lot of damage, but the psychological impact of the raid was immense - on both sides. All of the aircraft were lost - 15 crash-landed in China or ditched in the sea and the other one landed in the Soviet Union (which would remain neutral vis-a-vis Japan until August 1945), where it and its crew were interned. Three aircrew died during the raid, while eight of the others were captured - three being executed and one later dying of disease. Everybody else eventually made it back into operational service - James Doolittle, commanding the raid, ended up getting promoted two ranks to Brigadier General (he would eventually end up a full General) and getting the Medal of Honor.

The raid forced Japan to recall a raiding force from the Indian Ocean and delayed the launch of a new carrier that could have played a role in later events.

Target New Guinea

The Japanese were planning three major operations - against the Aleutian Islands, Midway and Port Moresby, New Guinea (now capital of Papua New Guinea).

The reason for Port Moresby (the offensive was codenamed Operation Mo) was simple - firstly it would provide a base for land-based aircraft to support any invasion of Australia and secondly, it would allow access to phosphate for Japanese agriculture. With the bulk of the carrier forces tasked for the other two, only modest forces were allocated for this particular operation. The invasion force sailed on 1 May, with two fleet carriers (Zuikaku and Shokaku) and an light carrier (Shoho) providing the key part of the strike force, escorting 11 transports that would make the main invasion.

The Americans knew that an attack was coming - they were reading the Japanese naval ciphers and so began to position their forces to counter the attack, two carrier task forces centered around Lexington (TF11) and Yorktown (TF17). They were still taken somewhat by surprise - as they were refuelling on 3 May, the Japanese started to land on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, which was undefended as the local forces had been evacuated. TF17 heard the news and rapidly turned for Guadalcanal, where it would launch an air strike the following day against the landing force.

42 aircraft struck at the Tulagi landing force, sinking four vessels. It didn't stop the invasion (Japan would hold Tulagi until August)

The IJN promptly sent their two fleet carriers  south and recce planes into the area where they thought that the carriers were, failing to find anything. Each side spent the next three days looking for each other, mostly without success - American B-17s found Shoho but failed to hit it. Japan bombed Port Moresby in readiness for the invasion.

Day One - 7 May 1942

Early in the morning, Japanese patrol planes found something.

Misidentification of enemy vessels is something war games don't simulate enough. This is not just getting the ship name or class - this is completely misidentifying the type of vessel or its side. Easy to do in the dark or at a distance in a time with limited availability of radar (limited to large ships) where most scouts relied on Mark One Eyeball aided by binoculars. In addition, both fleets were 30 miles from each other and neither knew it.

So the Japanese scouts called in a light carrier and so the two fleet carriers launched against it... only it turned out to be a tanker and a destroyer. They disabled the former and sunk the latter, then, after dark started to come into land on what they thought was one of their carriers - only to discover they were trying to land on Yorktown. The Americans didn't realise the situation themselves until the aircraft were on their final approach.

That same day, American planes from TF17 found what they thought were Japanese carriers - but were in fact merchant ships. The Americans launched a strike at it and ran into the Shoho group, sinking the light carrier after a long dogfight, although most of that carrier's aircraft were able to recover to the other two carriers or dry land.

Both sides then held off for further attacks for the rest of the night.


Day Two - 8 May 1942

The second day of the battle began with both sides launching roughly 120 aircraft a piece. The Americans found Shokaku and damaged it at the cost of 43 aircraft. While they didn't sink the carrier, the damage caused made both fleet carriers turn back and resulted in neither being available for Midway.

The Japanese attack was more successful - their strike damaged Yorktown (although that damage was quickly fixed on return to Pearl Harbor) and wrecked Lexington's fuel lines. A chain of secondary explosions led to a conflagration and the second carrier was scuttled.

Both sides broke off at this point - the Japanese no longer had air cover for their invasion fleet and recalled it, while Yorktown made for Pearl.

The Japanese could at least claim a tactical victory here - but it was a pyrrhic one as they would never get near Port Moresby again.

They certainly could not call the next one a victory.

07 January 2012

Some have greatness locking onto them (Grand Review, 'Area 88' 2005 TV Series)

This might just be the best £4.99 I’ve spent so far in my life. I’ve got to thank Kevin “Zuzutoo” Diamond for it as well. For less than the cost of a lunch out, I bought a wonderful Japanese television series, which I will now proceed to discuss.

Plot

The twelve 23-minute episodes of Area 88, set in the late 70s/early 80s, are the second television adaptation of a manga of the same name – which I can’t seem to find to buy… There are plot differences between the three versions, but the gist is such: Shin Kazama, Japanese pilot gets himself shanghaied into a mercenary air force by a man who wants to steal his girlfriend (now that’s a plot that goes back a while – all the way back to 2 Samuel, Chapter 11 in fact). He can only get out three ways – complete three years’ service, raise $1.5 million dollars via the missions (he has to pay for his fuel, weapons and aircraft…) to buy himself out – or desert with all that entails. So, Shin has to fight to survive, flying his F-8 Crusader[1] and later an F-5E Tiger II against the MiGs of the rebels. At the same time, war photographer Shinjo (also Japanese) arrives at the secret Area 88 base, on a mission to take one particular photo…

The DVD comes with Japanese (with subtitles) and English audio – I went with the latter.

Characters

The anime has an array of wonderful characters – many of them putting Shin into their shadow. From arms and information dealer McCoy to short-tempered Greg to woman in a man’s world Kitri (whose introduction is up there with that of Merlin’s Morgause in the “how to make an entrance” category), they’re all memorable and distinctive. This includes the “one-shot” characters. I think watching this in English was the better choice as the characters came out more easily for me – I’d have had to focus on the actual dialogue on the screen otherwise.

Look

From the opening shot of either of the title sequences (it changes from episode 4 onwards), you’re in for a visual treat. The jet combat alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s other wonderful imagery and the animation is superb, even if it does contain the most unusual location I’ve seen the words “Isle of Wight” on screen.

I mentioned the jet combat and I’m going to do so in more depth now. There is a veritable smorgasbord[2] of turn of the 80s aircraft, from A-4 Skyhawks to MiG-23s to Saab Drakens – even a Blackburn Buccaneer of the sort that graces the banner of the Phoenix Roleplaying blog, all wonderfully drawn. If I was a squeeing man… The combat is within visual range (clearly McCoy can’t get Sparrows) and certainly spectacular – got to mention the use of Harrier as SAM platform in one episode.

Sound

The music is superb. The opening theme tune is certainly hummable and complements the title sequence perfectly, although after several re-watches it gets a bit too long.

Story

While certainly a high-octane jet on jet action series, the twelve episodes of Area 88 are also a deep explanation of war and its effect on a person. Shin gradually gets sickened by the death he sees and causes. There’s one episode that has a wonderful discussion on snipers and the loss of pilots is fairly frequent. There’s another episode where a pilot is reluctant to pull the trigger on a former comrade who is now flying for the rebels, although it’s arguably the weakest of the twelve.

The overall plot arc of the twelve episodes isn’t that fully integrated into the story, but where it emerges it does well – particularly in the final dénouement, where the whole story is partly, not entirely resolved.

Summary

It’s by no means perfect, but I’d say it was one of the best air combat stories I’ve ever seen, certainly on the small screen. I aim to get another Japanese series in the next few months – recommendations can go in the comments. Well worth getting hold of – even for more than I paid for it.

It’s also given me some ideas for Fighter Ops

9/10

[1]Which I initially mistook for an A-7 Corsair II…
[2] Speaking of Scandinavia – yes, I’m planning a Grand Review of Borgen.

04 January 2012

"Tighter than a new tube sock on a cow" - the Iowa caucuses

I don't know which American commentator actually said that, but if it's not Dan Rather, it's clearly his successor.

With just 8 votes in it, Romney's squeak win doesn't help him all that much. I still think he'll get the nomination (and lose in the general to Obama) but Rick Santorum has made an impressive comeback.

02 January 2012

5,017 pageviews

The figure for December 2011, my highest figure to date. I don't know what brought all of you here, but I'm glad you're coming. Thanks!

Snoozing occurs in real time (Review: 'NCIS: Los Angeles' 3.1, "Lange, H.")

So, my first review of the year goes to the season three opener of an spin-off of a spin-off. I could do a Sherlock review, but NCIS: Los Angeles, a show about undercover naval investigators in California, does need some love. Although it's not earning it with this episode.

"Lange, H." is a real-time episode following on from the season 2 conclusion that involved someone trying to kill G. Callen [we and he don't know his full first name] and the titular Henrietta "Hetty" Lange (wonderfully played by Linda Hunt[1], although she's a bit subdued here) going to Romania to try to get a crime family to call off their hit on him. The team (save Nell and Eric, the two computer rats) follow her and during this rough hour of time, we learn a bit more about Callen's past and there's some shooting.

This is a rather poor season opener - the real-time constrains the story too much as it's played out between two distant locations. While there is humour (particularly between Kensi and Deeks [2], as well as some great stuff about eating in the Ops Room and a knowing gag about location doubling) and a lovely little acknowledgement of the fact that Nell Jones has earned her place in the team, the whole story is a bit flat. It's like everyone came back from their holidays and was trying to get back into the swing of things. As for that cliffhanger - oh, come on!

Let's have something better next week.

5/10.

[1] Trivia fans - she's the only woman to win a Best Supporting Actress award for playing a man.
[2] Why is that female characters are almost always referred to by their first name as opposed to their surname?

01 January 2012

Delaying Action - A TacOps 4 AAR - Part One

[I’m posting these as individual parts and as I watch the long replay, but I’ll eventually put a single PDF version of this report together that will replace all the posts on here, which may well be revised]

First rule of politics, kiddo: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
-          Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

I wish that I could tell you the story of how a young, plucky Brit with very limited TacOps experience held off the superior numbers of a veteran player (kind of like that time I held someone to a draw in a game of Harpoon ANW) with nothing but a stiff upper lip and Kaylee Frye on an M60.

Sadly, though, I can’t. I lost this, mostly due to my own inexperience. That said, I feel that I didn’t make a complete pig’s ear of it.

Task Force Nankervis, one of the largest scenarios in the boxed game, involves a USMC Brigade having to seize a valley in a helicopter assault and then hold it (with reinforcements) against an OPFOR attack through the valley. To win, I would need to clear all five objectives and stop 60% of the superior Red Forces from traversing through east to west. The game options I chose hid information about the enemy order of battle from me (and vice versa), which made things more interesting.

I’ll break down this battle in ten minute chunks, covering ten minutes at a time.

0700 to 0709


My initial assault was with my helicopters against objectives A and C – dropping off most of my the forces there. Intensive ground fire followed and within two minutes, I’d suffered fifteen per cent casualties, including 21 transport choppers and a lot of valuable anti-tank units that would been very handy later. Red gained almost 5000 points and I only eliminated a paltry 40 point infantry squad. Therefore, I withdrew twenty of my CH46 and CH53s off the southern edge, thinking that they had fulfilled their purpose. This was in retrospect a major error – it deprived me of valuable airlift capacity and also machinegun platforms.

In the initial exchange of notes after ENDEX, Coyote noted my opening moves were very aggressive – perhaps too so in hindsight.

At 0704, my Apaches wreaked havoc with Hellfires (now there’s some alliteration) on the BTRs that were located to the north-east, but 152mm fire from Coyote caused the same on units that were too closely bunched together - I noticed this and started to disperse them.

I took Objective A at 0708, but my attack on Objective C faltered under heavy RPG fire that took out a large number of vehicles. I also started using the machine gun carrying Chinooks  against the infantry in Objective E.

The opening ten minutes weren’t brilliant for me at all. I’d already suffered 25% casualties for only 2% on REDFOR – only eliminating 12 of their 203 BTRs.