29 November 2012

The Desert War: Conclusion

I could cover the last two years of the war and what happened to the key commanders - especially Rommel. However, I'm sure that you can find that information easily, so I'll finish up with some brief thoughts on the campaign itself and what we can learn from it.

Was it worth it?

The Allies did not win the war through the defeat of the Afrika Korps - they won it through the ground of invasion of Germany from two directions and via a highly bloody (on both sides) strategic bombing campaign.

Losing this campaign though would have been catastrophic - Middle Eastern oil supplies would have been in great danger and the loss of Egypt might have forced Churchill from office in favour of someone who would make a peace deal... that would have let mainland Europe to either the Nazis or more likely Stalin.

It can be argued that diverting forces to North Africa when they could have been used preparing for an earlier Second Front in Europe was a waste of resources and holding the line might have been enough...

I disagree. The Allies needed a clear strategic victory in 1942 at a point when they were facing defeat nearly everywhere. Forcing the Germans out of North Africa and liberating a number of future African countries did just that.

The Italy campaign on the other hand...

What can we learn from this campaign?

  1. It's not what you have, it's what you do with it - Rommel was an extremely capable general. Most Wehrmacht commanders would not have lasted as long as he did and if Rommel had not gone out of the equation permanently in 1944, the concept of him leading the Battle of the Bulge is a terrifying prospect. 
  2. The capacity of so-called military experts to be completely inept is massive.
  3. Logistics are vital in any war, especially when there is not a ready-made source of water and food nearby.
  4. Sometimes 'the sideshow' can be vital to the main event.
  5. Our veterans have had to fight in unpleasant conditions in wars that seem to have little to do with their home country... but they are usually of importance to the wider world and ultimately us. For this they should receive our gratitude.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this interesting.

The Leveson Report

So, self-regulation with a statutory underpinning. Best of both worlds, really - you've got to have a firm legal basis to go after the people responsible while not requiring licensing, which would set a bad example. Personally, I'd have preferred a statutory regulator like Ofcom, but this will have to do.

For those who operate outside the PCC Successor system, the existing legislation will be enough for the worst cases... what is ultimately needed is a change of culture and a realisation that Kelly Brook topless is not news.

25 November 2012

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 4

Iranian F-4s during the Iran-Iraq War (from Wikipedia)

 

Turn 3

 

Both sides get new lots of points at the beginning of each game day – Israel has slightly more Military Points at the moment but in terms of Political and Intelligence Points the two sides are equal.

 

A new day started and with it came the angry Palestinian reaction – with violent protests erupting in the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli public were not hugely happy about this, partly blaming the government. Iran stoked this, managing to make the Jordanians cool on any support they might have had for Israel.

 

Iran managed to repair 77 of their aircraft, implanting a wide-spread stand down in the process. Generally, only one squadron was ready per base, these tending to be the units that had most working planes and/or had the best aircraft.

 

Iran rolled a strategic event – Intifada Erupts. Spending 3 of its military points, it managed to influence the Israeli opinion track down to +3. Separately, playing Palestinian Unrest moved Jordan to 0 (Turkey remained unmoved). Each day, Iran can alter readiness states for its fighter squadrons and rebase three.

 

Israel’s diplomats reminded the US, the GCC and Iran that a nuclear Iran was not in their best interests – they also arranged for a US destroyer to park itself off the Israeli coast as a further missile defence.

 

Iranian supported terrorists set off a bomb in Tel Aviv, but completely failed to scare a populace used to this things.

 

Civil/Economic attacks have a high chance of backfiring.

 

Another 21 of Iran’s ready aircraft broke down, leaving only 54 aircraft available in the whole country to go after any incoming raid. At the moment  though, none was likely.

 

Although things might well change.

24 November 2012

The Desert War: 1943 - Patton finishes the job



As 1943 began, the Germans were beginning a full scale strategic retreat that would only end with the fall of Berlin. However, they were going to make sure that the Allies paid for every mile they took.

In the west of North Africa, an offensive into Tunisia had bogged down under a German counter-attack. To prevent another one, Rommel now ordered a counter-offensive in the west.

When looking at the closing stages of this campaign, it is important to remember the vast differences in experience levels of the two sides. The German forces had been at this particular conflict for about two years - the American troops had no experience of desert warfare at all and had only come into the war in December 1941. What experience they had in a modern environment was against the Japanese - half a world away and in very different terrain. The senior commanders of the US Army had seen action before... but that had been in 1918 during the relatively brief involvement of the United States on the Western Front. The US Army had been allowed to deteriorate considerably in the 20 years of peace, mostly due to lack of money from Congress.

Thus it was entirely logical to go for the much weaker forces.

Faïd Pass and Sidi Bouzid

On 30 January, German forces under the command of Hans-Jürgen von Arnim launched an attack at the Faïd Pass, occupied by French forces. The local commander called the Americans of General Lloyd Fredendall's II Corps for assistance, but they were too slow to react to a swift German attack.

SW of this pass was Sidi Bouzid, a major communications and supply hub of the US II Corps. It's at this point that one should make that Fredendall really didn't know what he was doing. Prone to informality and using his own slang, he created confusion in a situation where clarity was essential. He did not visit the front line, overruled local commanders and ignored advice about mutual support.

As he did here - the American defences were spread on two hills wide apart. They were not in a position to help each other. On 14 February, 140 tanks from two Panzer Divisions attacked through the pass under cover of a sand storm, most of the American vehicles had been destroyed or driven west. A US counter-attack the following day suffered heavy casualties under air and tank attack, its gains were only temporary as the US forces were forced to the Kasserine Pass west of Sbeitla.

Kasserine Pass

Rommel now proposed a strike into French Algeria to further undermine the US forces before the British could arrive from Libya, aiming for Tébessa, a major supply dump. Berlin approved this, but changed the single strike into two separate ones. Rommel was unhappy, but he continued with the assault anyway. There had been no large scale contact between US and German forces, but he was confident that he could defeat the Americans.

21st Panzer went against Sbiba Pass; totally inadequate American forces collapsed within minutes. Rommel himself led the forces heading for the Kasserine Pass. The Americans fell back en masse, allowing equipment to be captured - the sheer success then slowed the Germans down as they had to detach troops to mop up the pockets of resistance.

On 22 February, with Rommel's objective clear, British forces replaced the Americans in the line and the Afrika Cops now faced much stronger resistance. Behind their lines, the Allies put together a large artillery force and then used it to launch a pre-emptive artillery attack on the German positions, destroying many tanks.

Rommel was now facing the British coming in from Libya, so he ordered a retreat that was sped up by a massive USAAF airstrike. On the 25th, Kasserine Pass was recaptured, but at a heavy price - 10,000 Allied casualties for only 2,000 Axis ones.

Patton and El Guettar

While the situation was now stabilised, the series of defeats eliminated any remaining confidence in Fredendall. Eisenhower relieved him of command with the recommendation he be assigned to a training unit - he would spend the rest of the war in the United States.

His replacement was George S. Patton, one of history's great generals and one of the Second World War's bigger egos. An Olympic pentathlete (he came 5th in the first event in 1912 and would have been in the 1916 games had they not been cancelled) and an expert swordsman in particular, he launched the first US armored vehicle raid in the Mexican Expedition of 1916-17. When the US went to France in 1918, he was assigned to the Tank Corps, where he was wounded and decorated.

After that war, he moved back to horse cavalry as the US forces were shrunk in size, but returned to armour just before the US entered this war. He entered North Africa commanding the landings in Morocco.

Patton believed in strict discipline and being seen at the front - he was also more than a bit of a bigot (of course, this was still a segregated Army and a largely segregated country).

With his arrival as commander, the Allied forces began to prepare for another offensive against the Axis forces in Tunisia. This was launched on 17 March, with US forces reaching El Guettar. The Italian forces retreated and fortfied the surrounding hills, as well as blocking the nearby pass. The Germans then launched a counter-attack on 23 March - they had initial success, but then got stuck in a minefield, which allowed the US to destroy 30 of their tanks and force a withdrawal.

The Americans began to push back, but on reaching Hill 369, the battle turned into a stalemate. The hill was captured after four days of fighting, but the Germans had arrived and things weren't getting easier.

Then the British arrived from the east, linking with the American forces. By this point, a badly ill Rommel had left the theatre to recover, handing over to von Arnim - he would not return.

Endgame

What the Axis forces really needed now was an evacuation - Hitler refused to do so; continuing to supply the forces there by air. The Americans were now in a position to interfere with this supply run and appointed James Doolittle (of the Doolittle Raid) to run Operation Flax. Starting on 5 April, US and later British fighters attacked the aerial convoys, inflicting heavy losses on the German aircraft, especially their transports. Göring, faced with these losses, eventually terminated all flights into Tunisia, evacuating nearly all the local Luftwaffe presence by early May.

On 22 April, the final Allied offensive, Operation Vulcan, was launched. Stiff German resistance resulted in heavy casualties, but the Allies too the positions one by one, overwhelming the enemy or making them run out of supplies. On 6 May, Tunis and Bizerte were taken.

A week later, the remaining Axis forces in Tunisia, now in a tiny coastal pocket, surrendered - 240,000 prisoners were taken, meaning the British now had more German prisoners in their country than British prisoners in Germany for the first time since the war began.

The Mediterranean route was now clear. The job was done.

James Bond: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

There is one massive problem with this movie – its star, George Lazenby. He just can’t act. He can handle the fight scenes, but he’s completely unconvincing in nearly everything else in this film – the lack of chemistry with Diana Rigg is clear to see. The script, clearly written for Connery (who would have done far better) does not help.

 

The action scenes drag on, the plot is badly paced and Telly Savalas isn’t as good as Donald Pleasance. The best thing about this tale is Diana Rigg, who steals every scene that she’s in and who has a very moving death.

 

There are much better Bond films out there.

 

4/10

23 November 2012

49 Years of Doctor Who

A happy birthday to one of the finest shows ever made.



Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983)

Every November since 1980, the BBC has run a telethon called Children in Need, which raises large sums of money for children’s charities in the United Kingdom. This annual event features musical acts from pop stars and musicals, as well as sketches featuring popular programmes, including those from the ‘other side’ (ITV), with frequent in-character appearances and crazy cross-overs[1]. Pretty much everyone involved waives their fees for taking part. This is interspersed with videos talking about CiN’s work and regional features on the various fundraising activities (e.g. non-uniform days, sitting in a bath of baked beans, bake sales).

 

Personally, I find it best watched the following morning with liberal use of the fast forward button.

 

Doctor Who has made annual CiN appearances since 2005, with a Christmas special trailer or excerpt at the very least, sometimes with a special (canonical) scene added. We are now going to talk about the first such involvement on the telethon…


A 20th anniversary special had been planned by JNT since at least June 1981 – this had been the reasoning behind his attempt to return the show to an autumn time slot. However, an agreement was made to put aside two episodes worth of money from Season 20 aside for the special, with the hope of getting additional funding from the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Enterprises, who had made a lot of money from the show over the years. Enterprises didn’t put up any money, but ABC in Australia did – not even asking for a credit for the AUS$60,000 that they put towards the costs.

 

It was now May 1982 – with funding in place, Nathan-Turner went to find a cast. This is how things went:

·         With William Hartnell having died in 1975, Richard Hurndall was recruited to take his place as the First Doctor. Hurndall would die a few months after transmission – it’s unclear if he lived to get paid.

o   A clip of Hartnell from the end of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” was added to the beginning in postproduction.

·         After concerns over scheduling were cleared up, Patrick Troughton would reprise his role.

·         Pertwee agreed to take part.

·         Tom Baker initially wanted to take part, but then pulled out. Footage from “Shada” would be used instead, with an in-story explanation for his absence.

·         Davison and the other two regulars were easily signed up.

·         Lis Sladen would appear alongside Pertwee, with Carole Ann Ford (Susan) appearing alongside Hurndall.

·         Frazer Hines was not able to do more than a cameo due to commitments to Yorkshire Television soap Emmerdale Farm[2], precluding tying him with Troughton; Nick Courtney’s Brigadier was assigned with him instead, thus giving birth to the Season 6B theory.

·         Ian Marter was unable to play Harry Sullivan due to commitments in New Zealand.

·         Any possibility of using Lalla Ward in the story was ended with her divorce from Tom Baker.

·         Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Richard Franklin (Yates) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) agreed to make cameos, as did Deborah Watling (Victoria), but the last had to pull out.

·         Louise Jameson offered her services at a late stage, but it was too late to write her in.

·         Only one of the four guest stars from “Arc of Infinity” proved available.

 

Robert Holmes was approached to write the story and got quite a way through the storyline, but struggled with it (not being too happy using past characters) and had to pull out – Saward instead gave him a four-parter for Season 21. Terrance Dicks took over and did a new story from scratch, that had appearances from a whole host of past monsters – after some reluctance, he added K9.

 

The production in North Wales also proved somewhat problematic – a Yeti costume was found to be flea-ridden, a hang glider scene was dropped due to prop problems and Mark Strickson had to cut short a holiday to do a remount after footage was damaged.

The plan had been to put it out on the anniversary date itself – 23 November 1983, but with Children in Need on the coming Friday (the 26th), the special was put back and broadcast as part of that event. Thus, WTTW in Chicago became the first network to broadcast the story; the first time a Doctor Who episode had been aired first outside the UK. Also, much to JNT’s annoyance, the Target novelisation came out two weeks before transmission.


The Five Doctors (1 90-minute special)

 

The five incarnations of the Doctor are taken out of time by a banned Time Scoop. Four of them end up in the Death Zone of Gallifrey. They must make their way to the Dark Tower, the tomb of Time Lord founder Rassilon…

 

This was one of the first stories I saw and it’s a great anniversary piece, although it should not be analysed too closely.


7.7 million watched this special, making it one of the highest rated episodes of 1983 and a strong success.

 

A major convention at Longleat also formed part of the celebrations; it seemed that the show’s future was assured and things were going well. Within 18 months, those beliefs would be sorely tested.


[1]For example, 2012’s event featured Lord Alan Sugar (of The Apprentice) on the set of Eastenders holding conversations with the characters regarding CVs…

[2]Now known simply as Emmerdale.

16 November 2012

Labour GAIN Corby

An expected victory, but the margin - over 7,700 votes - is definitely an impressive one. Plus any time the Lib Dems lose their deposit is always funny.

15 November 2012

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 3

Shahab-3 missile

 

The night was a quiet one for Israel as its government worked its contacts and prepared new ways to exert leverage. The only real event of note was a second Iranian missile launch. Of the four missiles fired, only one actually worked and was blown out of the sky easily.

 

Natural 12 on the launch roll.

 

43 more Iranian aircraft had maintenance gripes. It was clear that a major stand-down was needed to fix the problems in the fleet – it wasn’t as if Israel was ready to attack at the moment.

 

More activity in the coming turns, but with the Israeli defence as it is, Iran’s moves are limited… as we’ll see in the next turn.

14 November 2012

Gaza

It looks like another bout of major fighting is breaking out here. I have my own views on this issue, you can find them if you look on the blog.

I'm going to make no further comment here as I have no desire to get into a flame war. Comments will be blocked from this entry.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

I thought the creation of these posts was a stupid idea and still do. However, since we're having them, they might as well be Labour ones.

London isn't getting an elected PCC, but for those are having votes, you might as well go and vote. It's not likely to take long, with the low turnout expected.

The Desert War: 1942 - Montgomery turns the Hinge

Tanks waiting to advance at El Alamein

As 1942 began, it marked the end of a year where key events had dramatically altered the war. Both the USSR and the USA had been attacked by the Axis, becoming full members of the Grand Alliance (as Churchill termed it). Things had not been going that well for the former and were a disaster for the latter.

The USSR wished for a Second Front in Europe to relieve some pressure from their forces, who were  taking the brunt of the Axis firepower and would continue to do so. A significant portion of American public opinion favoured concentrating on the Pacific (who had actually attacked them) and those who favoured some involvement in Europe believed that the best use of American forces would be the invasion of France - feeling that the shortest route between two points was a straight line.

While the shortest route did ultimately prove to be a straight line (it took nine months from Normandy to the Rhine, as opposed to the over two years from Sicily to Austria), a land based invasion of France in 1942 was a complete non-starter; Dieppe was bad enough and a failure on that scale would have probably cost Churchill his job.

He was going to have enough political problems as it was.

The end of Crusader and Rommel's counterattack

Bardia fell on 2 January and the Allies continued to advance, reaching El Agheila. However, Rommel's supply lines were shortening and those of Auchinleck were getting longer. Thus Rommel was able to replenish his forces.

On 21 January, Rommel launched a surprise counter-attack. Meant initially to be a reconnaissance in force, lighter resistance than expected led this to turn into a full offensive and by early February 8th Army found itself back at the Gazala Line, where it had been in December.

At this point, both sides stopped and dug in.

Gazala and the fall of Tobruk

The British established a series of forts on a 50 mile line running south from Gazala to the old Turkish fortress of Bir Hakeim, believing that anything south of that was impenetrable by the Germans. Yep, it's one of those classic blunders. They also received new M3 Lee tanks and changed their air strategy from air superiority to combat support.

Rommel was also building up his supplies and had the advantage of shorter lines - the Mediterranean was still a risky proposition for Allied shipping (who were also dealing with the siege of Malta) and so those supplies tended to come the long way round.

On 26 May, after his 'good source' revealed the British were preparing a counter-offensive Rommel's forces launched an attack at the centre of the Gazala Line - aiming for Tobruk. It was a feint and the British fell for it. After the sun set, the tanks went south and round the line to the south, taking the British completely by surprise. Bir Hakeim was encircled, the start of a siege that would last until 11 June, when the remaining unwounded Free French troops managed to get out, having run out of ammunition.

The Allies launched two big counter-attacks and both ultimately failed.

With Bir Hakeim in his grasp, Rommel's forces raced forward, the British abandoning Gazala and having to leave a new line before they could settle in. Tobruk was now open.

Despite Churchill's desire to defend Tobruk to the end, Auchinleck was not of the same opinion. It's important to remember that there was no effective real-time communication between Egypt and London. Any messages would have to be sent over the radio in code - this took time to cipher and decipher. The local commanders had to have considerable freedom of action as a result.

(The Axis forces in Europe had the advantage of telephone links that Bletchley Park could not tap)

Tobruk was surrounded on 17 June and the final assault against the South Africa, British and Indian forces there began on the 20th with a heavy bombardment. The tanks raced through to the port facilities, capturing them by day's end. A breakout failed and the following day, 35,000 Allied soldiers surrendered.

Churchill, in Washington for a summit with FDR, is reported to have turned white when he heard the news. The American President's response was to send 300 vitally needed Sherman tanks to the British in Egypt. The British PM then went home and faced down a censure motion in the Commons (sitting in Westminster Hall as the Commons Chamber was destroyed in the last big raid of the Blitz - fortunately it was empty at the time).

For Rommel's part, he was promoted to Field Marshal.

First El Alamein

The British began to realise information was leaking - a German radio play in which an American attaché was depicted sending information to Washington may well have finally tipped them off. On 29 June, Fellers was reassigned out of Egypt. This did not close the leak immediately, but it was starting to help.

On 30 June 1942, German tanks reached a small railway halt in the middle of nowhere that would soon enter the history books. Auchinleck had declared that a line going through the town of El Alamein and ending with the effectively impassable Qabala Depression (as any forces would have head deep into the Sahara to go round it) would be the final defensive point - they had to hold here or Egypt was in grave danger of being lost.

In Cairo, panic was beginning to set in - documents were burned at the Embassy and the ex-pat community began to leave. Hitler and Mussolini relished the possibility of a huge victory - they were not going to get one.

Rommel decided not to give his forces a rest and pushed on, encountering heavy resistance. Both sides ground up against each other, with many casualties as the British held firm, while Allied forces launching attacks frequently got separated from their armour support, got lost or ended up in minefields.

On 10 July, an assault at Tel el Aisa resulted in the overrunning of 621st Signal Battalion's positions. This unit had been assisting Rommel by listening in on British communications, the British demonstrating a major failure of radio discipline. Rommel was now cut off from his information source.

After an offensive called Operation Manhood broke down and was cancelled on 31 July, things ended in a stalemate. Rommel, blaming his losses on a lack of supplies, poor Italian equipment and command (but not the soldiers) would go no further east.

The Allies took about 13,250 casualties (killed, wounded and missing) - the Axis around 17,000.

Enter Monty

Winston Churchill was not happy with merely holding the line, especially while possessing a bigger force. He took a very noisy, risky and uncomfortable flight to Cairo along with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Alan Brooke. While there, he fired Auchinleck from his post, the General ending up in command of the Indian Army.

To replace Auchinleck, a Lieutenant General named William "Strafer" Gott, who had commanded the Desert Rats was appointed to take over 8th Army. As he was flying back to Cairo, however, his transport plane was jumped by German fighters and took enough damage to make it crash - yet the 109s came back for another pass as it was going down. This highly unusual move (it's a waste of ammo to shoot up an aircraft that you've already effectively destroyed) has been taken by many, including the pilot of the transport - who survived the war - that the Germans knew he was on there

Brooke had not wanted Gott in charge, preferring a general with no experience of the desert called Bernard Montgomery. "Monty", a Western Front veteran who had survived a bullet wound that looked so bad that a grave was dug for him. He won the Distinguished Service Order as a subaltern (it usually goes to those above Lieutenant Colonel), which is usually given for acts of gallantry that just miss out on the Victoria Cross.

He was not really someone who played well with others - he lived a spartan life, opened a brothel for his troops to the disquiet of his fellow commanders and later expressed public support for apartheid. His ego was rather large. From a biography I read of him, he comes across (although I am no mental health expert) as borderline Asperger's. He had a fierce rivalry with the equally abrasive George Patton and would later come close to insubordination with Eisenhower.

At any rate, he proved to be a highly dynamic officer who made a strong effort to visit his men, acquiring a distinctive black tanker's beret on one of these visits. He ordered there would be no further retreat.

On 30 August, Rommel launched another offensive. However, with the advantage of ULTRA decrypts, the British knew it was coming and used their aircraft to harass the enemy supply lines, destroying 400 trucks. Short of fuel, the Desert Fox decided to withdraw on 2 September.

Montgomery launched a counter-offensive, but after suffering heavy casualties, a general known for his caution called it off. He would get a lot of criticism for this - as it allowed the Germans to escape to fight another day, but he felt his relatively inexperienced forces weren't ready for it.

Second El Alamein

Churchill, after refusing point blank to countenance any cross-channel invasion in 1943, got the agreement of the Americans to an amphibious landing in the Vichy French territory of North Africa. He wanted, for political reasons, a big victory before this landing happened.

Thus, on 23 October 1942, with the extra tanks and equipment promised by Roosevelt, Operation Lightfoot was launched at 2140 local time. The plan was to penetrate the German minefield near El Alamein (which was 5 miles thick) in the space of a single night, while launching a series of feint attacks. It would be a tall order even today - so it's no surprise that it didn't work like that.

Monty had the advantage of German command problems. Ill-health affected a lot of the forces in the desert - dysentery, malaria etc. Rommel was in Germany recuperating from stomach problems and had to rush back to take command. The local commander died of a heart attack, but his deputy took command in the meantime.

The fighting was heavy, but the British had the advantage of numbers as well as the fact the Germans believed they were fighting on a broad front. Rommel's tanks were running out of fuel, his units were being decimated and he was now seeking to withdraw. Hitler, not a man known for his military competence, was having none of it.

Monty's first offensive broke down, but he changed his dispositions and launched another, codenamed Supercharge. Rommel withdrew some of his forces, while his rear guard continued to fight hard.

On 4 November, the Desert Fox ignored Hitler and ordered a general withdrawal. By Armistice Day, the remaining Axis forces were either out of Egypt, dead or captured.

Montgomery's forces advanced more slowly than the retreating Germans - another example of caution that he has been criticised for, although in his defence he had supply problems. Thus, when he liberated Tobruk on 13 November, the enemy escaped again.

Rommel pulled his forces back to El Agheila, then by year's end to Buerat, well west of Sirte. He was going to be going a lot further back, for the Americans had arrived.

Torch and Tunisia 

On 8 November, the American forces landed in Morocco and Algeria. Onky resistance by Vichy French land and air forces was expected, although the reaction of the Navy (who had been attacked by British forces in 1940 seeking to eliminate their capital ships) was less predictable.

The previous day, an attempted coup by a local French officer who had switched sides led to local defences being bolstered, but resistance only lasted four days. The Americans cut a deal with Vichy French Admiral François Darlan that he would be given control (and allowed to maintain a Vichy-style regime) if he switched sides. This infuriated a lot of the Free French - Darlan was shot dead on Christmas Eve, but the tactic worked and eventually the local government got rid of its Vichy leadership, coming under the control of de Gaulle.

Also furious was Berlin and Rome, who launched an occupation of the main part of Vichy France, undertaken with minimal resistance - although in their last act, the French fleet at Toulon was effectively destroyed when the locals scuttled 77 ships.

With the Americans in his rear, it was one more reason for Rommel to pull back.

Churchill was ecstatic at these victories - he ordered that the church bells of Britain, silent since 1940, ring out in celebration. With the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, it was clear that this was (to quote Churchill's Mansion House address that year) "the end of the beginning".

Rommel was now in full retreat, but he wasn't done yet.

13 November 2012

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 2

The Opinion Tracks as they stood at the end of Turn 2

 

Turn 2: Day 1 Afternoon

 

A small correction from yesterday – Iran actually had 59 jets break down. Also, that terror attack is not happening until Turn 4.

 

With Israeli’s negotiators tied up doing other things, a special forces unit was tasked with destroying one of the remaining facilities at Natanz. These would take 24 hours to reach their target – what with tight security and all that.

 

Although I might well delay this until Turn 6 as night time ops have a better chance of success.

 

One of the two battalions of Shahab-3 missiles moved their missile launchers to their dispersed sites and fired off four missiles. Of these, only three flew properly with a fourth crashing nearby. As the missiles arced, they were quickly spotted by the American cruiser off Kuwait, which shot them all down with its SM-3 missiles. The Israeli Arrow and PAC-3 units weren’t even needed.

 

Iran promptly decided to have another go with its other battalion the following night.

 

The SM-3s are superb missiles in this game and any Iranian attack (up to 8 with the Shahabs, 16 if you buy the Sejil-2s) must go through them if Israel has it. Attacks against Turkey and the GCC countries aren’t featured in this game. If the missile actually gets through, then it still stands a big chance of just plain missing.

 

As the next Iranian move was a card retrieval, I won’t discuss it.

 

More dire news came from the IRIAF – only 95 of their 192 fighters were now working. It was clear that some stand-downs were needed to fix the problems.

 

The price of being a pariah state. There’s another lot of breakdown rolls in Turn 3, then I’ll get probably over 100 repair rolls. Something that needs simplifying. Putting aircraft in stand down prevents breakdowns, but also stops them responding to Israeli strikes. As these aren’t likely at the moment, Iran can take the risk.

 

Turn 3 will be short – only a couple of moves and those breakdown rolls to make.

12 November 2012

Let's Play Persian Incursion: Turn 1

Image from the Persian Incursion VASSAL module

 

I’m going to do this as a narrative, providing commentary in italics.

 

Turn 1 – Monday Morning

 

On a warm April day in early 2013, the Israeli Cabinet met to talk about grave things. It was clear that Iran was heading towards a nuclear bomb and it was now time to attack. A large Israeli strike force was on the tarmac at Ramon airbase, ready to strike the main base of the nuclear development – Natanz. With recent major concessions, unpopular domestically on the Palestinian issue, Turkey was willing to allow them to use their air space for a one-time flight through to the facility.

 

The goal of PI for the Israelis isn’t to blow the Iranian nuclear programme into next week – but to force Iranian domestic opinion to change in order that it gives said programme up. Blowing it up is a means to that end, but only one – the key is to alter the opinions of other international actors to provide you with assistance in doing that.

 

There are various starting options – I chose the one called the Palestinian Option, which boosts Israel’s position among the Gulf States at the cost of some domestic unpopularity and allows for a free flight through Turkey. Any others will require persuasion and/or dirty tricks.

 

Each major power takes a certain position at the beginning of each game day (this is Day 1), the two sides get Political, Intelligence and Military Points based on these positions – if a state ends up a full ally, other assistance becomes available. If the Americans (who start as supporters) go to full Ally, woe betide Iran, as B-2s with big bunker busters become available.

 

Israel had prepared well for this, with improved missile defences, buying AIM-120Ds from the USA and obtaining fighter decoys for the flight in. However, they did not have enough working bunker busters working to take out the underground halls at Natanz, so instead focussed on destroying the above ground facilities.

 

Basically, I messed up the strike planning. Each side can buy upgrades at game beginning and sometimes with the right cards in game.

 

Iran had been doing some preparing, but the arms embargo was hurting them. A pair of Pantsyr batteries from Syria and some improved air-to-air missiles from China should surely help here – although Natanz itself was still only covered by the local stuff, including a Tor-M1 battery. Laser decoys were in place to make things harder for the strikers. In addition, for the planned retaliation against the West, they’d gotten contact mines to strew into the Straits of Hormuz.

 

Most Iranian missiles and all their AAA does not really stand a chance against Israeli planes, provided enough prep is done.

 

24 F-15Is and 48 F-16Is took off for the long flight through Turkey, with 3 supporting aircraft and 8 tankers assisting them. As they approached, Israeli hackers launched a network attack through the planes against the Iranian air defence system, taking down the I-Hawk SAMs around Natanz.

 

As the jets crossed the Iranian border, they dropped into the radar cover of the Zagros Mountains, stopping the Iranians from detecting or engaging them. 12 of the F-16s broke off to attack the nearby airfields, putting holes in their taxiways, while twelve more started jamming the HQ-2 and Kub SAM systems that would threaten them. Iran was unable to stop this flight coming in.

 

This is really the largest attack Israel can conduct in the game – as you can see, it’s a pretty potent force to employ. You can suppress the SAM sites or launch dedicated destruction missions – data is provided for this choice.

 

As they reached the facility, one Tor-M1 launcher lit them up with his radar, hoping the others would be able to fire through the data link. For his trouble, he got a HARM anti-radar missile in his face. Nobody else was able to fire or stop the precision guided munitions as the GPS guidance allowed the F-15s to toss the bombs from outside their ranges.

 

This is realistic – Israel’s 1981 attack on Osirak wasn’t spotted at all and Iraqi forces didn’t even open fire until they were leaving. Saddam Hussein was not impressed and executed most of the local commanders for it.

 

Lob-toss, formerly a method relegated to nuke delivery (as this is the kind of thing where accuracy is not an issue and it gives you time to get out of Dodge before Dodge turns into a mushroom cloud), is now a highly viable option for conventional weapon attacks with improved guidance.

 

The bombs rained down on the site, wrecking most of the surface buildings and doing minor damage to the halls – but the site was going to need another go to finish the job. The Israeli strike force began to work its way out, the SAMs still suppressed.

 

Iran did manage to scramble 4 F-5s, these approaching the force in a death or glory charge. Unfortunately for them, none of them got glory and one of them got death as two F-16s pulled off. The AIM-120Ds fireballed three of the jets from over 50 miles away and sent the fourth limping back to base.

 

Most of their jets are no good either – especially during a daylight raid. Israel is passing through two sectors of the Iranian system and both get a chance to launch something, but only one did due to the efficiency of Israeli fighter suppression.

 

That nuisance dealt with, the Israelis returned home without losses, but 7 of their aircraft needed extra work to get them ready for another raid.

 

This strike is still deemed in flight until Turn 2 and these planes will not be available until Turn 4 as the pilots need their beauty sleep. Seriously, pilots should not fly tired and rest breaks get mandated for combat pilots.

 

The political game now began. The Turkish public was annoyed at the use of their air space, but understanding – although they were not going to allow for a further strike at the moment. Iran’s response was rapid, with its missile boats and other craft inflicting a partial closure on the Straits – but the whole operation had no political effect at present.

 

However, there was another move the Israelis could make – the Americans deployed a Bunker Hill-class cruiser off Kuwait, ready to intercept an Iranian missile response, which Tehran was rapidly ordering.

 

While these missiles were being readied, the Iranians involved themselves in a bit of black propaganda – releasing photographs of the Turkish Defence Minister in bed with what was purportedly two Israeli prostitutes. Unfortunately, Israel exposed that these women were in fact Iranian and the whole thing backfired on Iran – Turkey’s position remained unchanged, but the Saudis were furious and the Chinese withdrew their support.

 

‘Incriminating Photographs’ is a card both sides have in their decks and they can also expose these dirty tricks as well. Iran needs support from the Russians or the Chinese to get improved weapons such as the S-300 advanced SAM.

 

The Israelis had a spot of indecision over who they should focus their attention on to get the airspace open. In the meantime, a group of Mossad ‘ninjas’ blew up an Iranian secret police headquarters – which resulted in some quiet cheering in the houses of Bam.

 

And a two point move to Israel in Iranian domestic opinion. Ziva David, or rather her equally attractive buddies in fiction’s sexiest spy agency, earned their paycheque.

 

Israeli negotiators started talking to the Saudis to let them use their airspace for the next strike. It was going to take a while. Iran repositioned its Pantsyrs to cover the undamaged nuclear sites of Arak and Isfahan, while discovering that 54 of its fighter jets had broken down.

 

Iran has to roll for aircraft break down each turn – Israel only after each strike. Each side can repair their planes once per game day – i.e. every three turns. This will involve a lot of dice rolling – in fact, I did a lot before I double-checked the rules.

 

As morning turned to afternoon, both sides were making further political and military moves… Iran had a terrorist and missile surprise for Israel…

 

Iran’s goal is to inflict enough political embarrassment on Israel that its leadership gets a no-confidence vote from the Knesset. They can do this by various means – shooting down Israeli planes, calling in Hezbollah or going ballistic… Will they succeed?

11 November 2012

11/11/2012


The Second World War is something I am far too young to remember - I wasn't even born for the Falklands War. I have never been shot at, never seen an active battlefield except on a screen and the closest I've ever been to a theatre of conflict was flying 35,000 feet above Iraq on a holiday to Dubai.

Yet, people my age 70 years ago were frequently faced with mortal danger. Someone like me would have been sitting in a tank in the Egyptian desert, trying avoid the ending of my life in burning agony, while trying to inflict said agony on a bunch of Germans subject to the whim of a megalomaniac.

The tragedy of war is not just that that sort of things happen - it's that on occasion, they're the least worst option.

We will remember them.

10 November 2012

Persian Incursion

I've just bought this game. As it has some particular relevance to the Fighter Ops, I’m going to go through a play through and post each turn here – hopefully things will be interesting.

 

I’ve yet to finish the first turn – once I do, I’ll post it here.

 

 

09 November 2012

James Bond: You Only Live Twice

A Bond film set nearly entirely in the Far East, You Only Live Twice is an interesting postcard of a Japan that has arguably gone into history. I associate the Land of the Rising Sun with anime, the Toshiba laptop I am this one and maid cafes. I would love to go to the country at some point in my life (first or second).

 

Sean Connery does quite well for a largely phoned in role, but a lot of the early action sequences aren’t that exciting. The plot (an improvement on the novel by a great amount) goes along nicely, with a strong Cold War element – I am surprised that two of the early films have Red China clearly behind the evil plot.

 

The climax is great, the production design superb and Donald Pleasance is a great Blofeld. Mind you, his cat clearly wasn’t enjoying the battle – you can see him or her squirming when the control is attacked.

 

One of the better Connery films and one of the best of the lot.

 

8/10

08 November 2012

Better ways to spend six billion dollars: US Election Analysis

Change of plan - as it's going to take a few days for Florida to be decided for sure (although it will go Obama), here's my analysis.

Barack Obama got about eight million votes less than in 2008. Fortunately for him, Mitt Romney appears to be getting less votes than John McCain did.

(Edit: Final totals are not yet confirmed)

 There was a semi-open goal here and Romney-Ryan missed it by a country mile.

About six billion dollars were spent on this - and we merely got the status quo ante, pretty much.


Why Obama won
  1.  He was successfully able to claim an improving, although still poor, economy and two big foreign policy achievements: withdrawing from Iraq without that country collapsing into civil war (it's not brilliant, but it's not Syria) and killing Osama bin Laden.
  2. Excellent campaigning with strong leveraging of social media and micro-targeting of voters. The ground game was superb as well.
  3. His performances in the second and third debate, along with Biden's VP one. He looked presidential and knew his stuff.
  4. Strong support among minority voters, especially Latinos. The electorate was nearly exactly like 2008 - in fact there were more minority voters - when many pundits (understandably) thought it would look different, maybe (less understandably) like the GOP win in 2010.
  5. The GM bailout, which saved a great many jobs in Ohio in particular. Regardless of the economic sense or lack thereof of that, people don't like becoming unemployed.

Why Romney lost
  1. Flip-flopping on a scale greater than John Kerry between primary and general campaign - in an Internet age, it's easy to get called on.
  2. The '47%' comment. I said at the time that was a massive gaffe and it showed an apparent contempt for Democratic voters (most of whom actually work) that many Republicans seem to show.
  3. Reliance on a dwindling coalition of angry white people at the expense of nearly everyone else. Ignoring - no, actually offending with the "self-deportation" policy - 10% of the voting public is a bad idea.
  4. Allowing Obama to define him early as an out-of-touch plutocrat - and acting in a manner that seemed to make it true (not releasing those tax returns, $10k bets, "I like firing people").
  5. George W Bush, who he couldn't use on the campaign trail and whose legacy is positively toxic for the Republicans. There is no living Republican great statesman they can wheel out - Reagan is dead and wouldn't win the GOP nomination at present because he would not be conservative enough.
Ten takeaways from this election

  1. The capacity of people to engage in self-delusion is quite amazing. Think the polls might be off is understandable, but don't be that sure of it.
  2. Don't make stupid comments on rape - Mourdock and Akin learnt this to their cost.
  3. Nate Silver will be listened to a great deal more in 2016, but even he can get things wrong (he miscalled two Senate races here)
  4. We need to make sure that three hour polling lines don't happen next time - it probably put many people off.
  5. The GOP needs to get rid of the poisonous influence of the Tea Party in a way that does not drive those voters out of the party, or it will continue to lose.
  6. Scott Rasmussen's robo-polling is discredited, but the internet pollsters did very well indeed - YouGov were third closest overall.
  7. Negative campaigning works, sadly.
  8. Partisan gridlock is sadly likely to be the order of the day in the US for the next four years, unless Obama can do well enough to flip the House in 2014.
  9. Precedents are not guarantees, although the one about incumbents and strong primary challenges held up.
  10. A silly line can get around the Internet faster than you can print a newspaper.
So, that's it for this one. Now, let's hope Obama does better in the second term.

07 November 2012

US Election Results

Going to save a full analysis until Florida is sorted out, but it's clear that Romney blew this one comprehensively.

US Election Results 3

I am increasingly confident that Obama will win Ohio and Nevada. This election may be over within two or three hours.

US Election Result 2

Obama is doing well in Florida and Ohio - he wins those, this election is pretty much done.

US Election Results 1

Early indications, including high turnout in the cities and some of the exit polls, look good for Obama. My gut instinct is the result is at the higher ends of the polling for him.

06 November 2012

We've even got a stripper ('Doctor Who' Season 20: 1983)

One reason why the Doctor left Gallifrey

 

The inter-season break saw Britain get its fourth television channel (Channel 4) and the development start on a show that would cause severe problems for Doctor Who when it came to ratings in the Colin Baker era – The A-Team[1].

 

At the BBC, Season 20’s plan underwent a number of changes. Initially JNT planned for a 28-episode run in late 1982, with the 21st season intended to cover the show’s looming 20th birthday in November 1983. However, it became clear that Davison’s additional commitment to Sink or Swim meant that he could not handle the recording schedules for both and Alan Hart, BBC1 Controller, had to sort the dispute out, ‘awarding’ him to the sitcom. Thus, Season 20 would go in the same late winter slot as Season 19. Still desiring something for the anniversary, Hart advised JNT to put the budget for two episodes aside for a special, thus making this run 26 episodes… or that was the plan. Until union trouble reared its ugly head again.

 

Season 20 was planned to close on a four-part Dalek story called “The Return”, but an electricians union dispute forced a delay in the production of “Enlightenment” and the studio days had to go to a story that was needed to tie up some key plots. Thus the run would be 22 episodes and “The Return” would emerge under a different title in Season 21.


This run saw the departure of Nyssa and the arrival of a new male companion, Vislor Turlough, who would be the last male companion of the classic era. Tegan’s return to the show after her apparent departure in “Time-Flight” was always planned.

 

Speaking of women, both Nyssa and Tegan’s wardrobe got ‘sexed up’ for this particular run (the actors being allowed to change their outfits between stories), to the point that Janet Fielding suffered wardrobe malfunctions during the filming of two stories here.

 

By a happy chance, in this ‘anniversary’ season, every story features some element from a previous season.

 

Arc of Infinity (4 parts)

 

Omega (“The Three Doctors”) plots to cross into the universe of matter by bonding with the Doctor. Fearing the destruction of the universe, the Time Lords summon him to Gallifrey – with the intention to execute him. Meanwhile, Tegan goes to Amsterdam to look for his missing cousin and finds Omega’s base…

 

Containing extensive location work in the Dutch capital[2], this mediocre tale (for a start, Omega looks very different from his previous appearance) contains a lot of good elements, including Davison getting to play the villain, that are felt not to ultimately gel. Perhaps the most notable bit is the appearance of Davison’s successor as the Doctor, Colin Baker – playing a guard who gets to shoot him[3]!

 

Snakedance (4 parts)

 

The Mara (“Kinda”) possesses Tegan again, getting her to take the TARDIS to Manussa, where it plans to use the Great Crystal to return to power…

 

A sequel to the Season 19 story, this one is much-loved by Steven Moffat, although most fans don’t deem it quite as good as the first one – it finished in the lower half of the Mighty 200 poll. The guest cast includes an early role for the very well-known actor Martin Clunes (Doc Martin, Men Behaving Badly) – clips from it still get wheeled out when he’s interviewed.

 

A clip from the serial can be seen here.

 


The next three stories form what is usually referred to as “The Guardian Trilogy”, a trio of stories all involving the Black Guardian’s attempt to get revenge on the Doctor for denying him the Key to Time (Season 16), by getting an exiled alien to kill him…

 

Mawdryn Undead (4 parts)

 

Tegan and Nyssa are separated from the Doctor in time. They end up at a private school six years apart, where the Brigadier[4] is now a teacher, a pupil is actually from another planet and a group of scientists need the Doctor’s remaining generations to die.

 

A very ambitious and complex story that did nasty things to the UNIT dating debate[5], introduces something called the “Blinovitch Limitation Effect” and features a group of aliens who don’t want to destroy the world for a change, this is a rather good tale that was actually a late replacement for the planned story involving a space whale.

 

Vislor Turlough – Red for Warning

 

It’s an unusual approach when a companion in his first episode is about to brain the Doctor with a rock, but Turlough (he is generally known by his surname) is not your usual companion. He’s male for a start, but was also prone to lying, had a strong self-preservation instinct that could be termed cowardice by the uncharitable and started off working for the Black Guardian to try to get back to his home world[6] – his past was mysterious until his final story. He’s one of the better companions of the JNT era – we have worse to come, that’s for sure.

 

Mark Strickson (1959-present) took on the role, having previously been in a few episodes of BBC medical soap Angels. He was required to dye his hair red for the role as his natural blond hair was felt to be too close to Davison’s in long shots – his dark clothing choice was for the same reason. Post DW, he did a bit more acting, then became a wildlife documentary producer. One of his more noteworthy roles was in video mockumentary Lust in Space, playing the prosecutor in a ‘trial’ of Doctor Who for sexism.

 

Terminus (4 parts)

 

Turlough sabotages the TARDIS and the time machine lands on a liner, heading for a space station where those with a terrible disease go to die…

 

An interesting story with a lot of production problems (the strike impacting studio time and ultimately requiring remounts), this one is perhaps best remembered for Nyssa, suffering from high temperature, taking her skirt off suddenly and spending the rest of what is her final story in pretty much just a slip, including having an action scene while in this limited outfit. Sutton was apparently not happy about it.

 

Enlightenment (4 parts)

 

The TARDIS arrives on what appears to be an Edwardian racing yacht, but is in reality a disguised spaceship engaging in an interplanetary race. Meanwhile, Turlough has a choice to make.

 

The first Doctor Who serial penned by a woman (Barbara Clegg), also with a female director, this highly enjoyable tale was also the 1963-89 serial that I ever watched.


Turlough now safely on the side of good, it was time to finish the season with the introduction of another ‘companion’, who did not work as planned.

 

The King’s Demons (2 parts)

 

The travellers arrive in England in 125 where they meet King John – but the Doctor quickly realises this John is an imposter as the real one is about to sign Magna Carta!

 

An inconsequential tale, but at least the Doctor gets a sword fight. It’s also notable for the introduction of a companion destined to only appear in two tales.

 

Kamelion – the unfulfilled robot

 

After a freelance effects designer approached him with a working robot prop, JNT decided to incorporate it into the show – becoming shape-changing android Kamelion, voiced by veteran actor Gerald Flood, whose previous credits included a show called Pathfinders in Space, produced by Sydney Newman.

 

Unfortunately for this interesting idea, one of the designers (Mike Power) died in a boating accident with the knowledge of how to make the software work properly. His partner in all this, Chris Padmore, could not perfect the walking mechanism and the prop proved far more problematic than feared, breaking down constantly as well as being unable to mime along with Flood’s pre-recorded dialogue. With the logical alternative of getting a human actor probably a non-starter on cost grounds, JNT dropped him as a regular and decided that he would get only one more appearance in Season 21.


The ratings fell sharply, down to only 7 million on average. This was a level not since Season 18 and before that Season 7. Rot was setting in, but it was not yet clear – it was time for a celebration.


[1]I pity the fool who doesn’t know about this show!

[2]While the city is the capital of the Netherlands, the seat of government for that kingdom is located in The Hague.

[3]Baker still jokes that’s how he got the job – while it certainly brought him to the attention of JNT, this was not what sealed the deal.

[4]The original plan was to get William Russell in playing Ian Chesterton, but his schedule wouldn’t permit it.

[5]JNT ignoring Ian Levine’s warning on this matter as he liked setting the first bit in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977.

The Desert War: 1941 - Enter the Desert Fox

Erwin Rommel


Introduction, Part One

Winston Churchill publicly praised only two German officers during the war. One of these was Günther Prien, who on 14 October 1939 managed to get a U-boat into Scapa Flow, sink the battleship Royal Oak at anchor and get out again before the British realised what was going on. Then First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill conceded that one was "a remarkable exploit of professional skill and daring".

The other was Erwin Rommel, who he described in the following terms:

We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general

Rommel (1891-1944) had served with distinction in the First World War, being wounded three times and receiving two gallantry decorations. After that war, he stayed in the smaller Reichswehr, becoming an instructor - throughout this time, he was highly respected by his men and other officers, demonstrating courage and strong leadership. He also published books on military manoeuvres.

He got close to Hitler and achieved the rank of General in 1939. Asking for a field command, he got 7th Panzer Division, the only commander who had not been involved directly in the Polish invasion.

In France, his forces raced ahead of the others, being the first to reach the English Channel near Dieppe and also taking places like Cherbourg. He also made enemies among his fellow officers, particularly when he commandeered their equipment for his own advances.

With things going wrong in North Africa, Hitler tapped him to lead the Afrika Korps.

The end of Compass

In North Africa, the British raced on, heading for the Italian-controlled port of Bardia in Libya. The local forces were ordered to fight to the last man and denied air support. While the British under-estimated Italian forces by about half, the town was still taken in two days, with the bulk of the Italians surrendering - 36,000 defenders ended up as POWs and the British captured a great deal of materiel, along with a pumping station - vital for fresh water.

The main forces involved were the new Australian division and their involvement earned them fame overseas, including among the neutrals.

The Italian rout continued - Tobruk was bagged in three days, Derna in one. The Tenth Army fled west and were intercepted by the British forces. After attempts at a breakout failed, the remaining forces (except for 32,000 who escaped) surrendered on 9 February.

In just ten weeks, the British had advanced 800 kilometres, reaching El Agheila and taking the important city of Benghazi. 130,000 prisoners were taken, including no less than 22 generals. 400 tanks and 1,290 artillery pieces were also captured. The Tenth Army had basically ceased to exist as a fighting force.

At this point, the German invasion of Greece led to Commonwealth forces being diverted to try and stop that (they didn't), so the offensive stopped there.

Operation Sonnenblume and Rommel's arrival

At this point, Rommel arrived in theatre, with the Germans sending a small, but potent force to Libya. While this being built up, Rommel initially built up his defences and engaged in deception measures (including building fake tanks) to make the Allies think he had more forces than he really had. They bought the ruse.

Tobruk 1

On 24 March 1941, Rommel launched his offensive, taking back El Agheila and taking the British completely by surprise. He swept along towards Tobruk, capturing the towns along the way, although the supply dump at Msus proved useless to him as the British sabotaged the fuel stored there. Bardia was recaptured in the process.

Rommel had initially considered launching a flank attack around Tobruk before a direct assault to cut off the city, but deemed the defences there weak enough to justify going straight in from the west.

On 10 April, General Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron launched the assault - and got killed in the process as the 25,000 Allied forces stood firm. It was time for Plan B - or rather Plan A, with Rommel surrounding the city from its land approaches.

He then launched attack after attack, but the strong Allied defences repulsed them all - until on 10 May Rommel was order to besiege the city instead of attack it directly.

This he did, but it wasn't really a siege, as Tobruk was still open to the sea, Allied convoys were able to bring in fresh supplies and rotate forces there, as well as providing occasional fire support. The 'siege' went on.

Operation Battleaxe

In June, the British launched another offensive, which failed after only three days. Rommel had access to signals intelligence that a British attack was likely - he was able to make good preparations for this. In addition, he had some better equipment, such as the 88mm flak gun, which proved just as good at dealing with tanks as it did with planes, while his Panzer IVs out-ranged the British tanks, being able to take out their artillery.

Rommel would send in his tanks then retreat, luring the British into a trap where the 88s could destroy them. The Germans lost 50 tanks (and were able to repair 38 of those) to the Allies' 91, with the British also taking higher manpower losses as well.

Churchill considered firing Wavell at this point, but decided against it. He instead swapped his job with that of Claude Auchinleck.

"Good Source"

In the autumn, the Axis powers separately cracked the US diplomatic code - allowing them to read the messages of the neutral (but leaning to the Allies) country. In particular, this allowed them to read the reports of one Frank Fellers, the American military attaché in Cairo. He talked with the British, visited the battlefronts - and discussed pretty much everything in his dispatches. The dispatches that the Germans could now read.

Rommel called his "good source" and while not able to use it that much in 1941, he made a great use of it in 1942.

Operation Crusader 

As the year came near its end and the summer ended, the British were able to launch another attack with two whole corps. The offensive was launched on 18 November, with bad weather hitting both sides - the British lost air support, but the Germans lost aerial reconnaissance.

The attacks on both sides were brutal, with heavy losses. Rommel launched a number of counter-attacks, but ultimately his forces were cleared from the border area (pulling back to a line called the 'Gazala Line') and Tobruk was relieved. The Germans got the worst of and this was a clear Allied victory - the success continuing as 1942 began.

It wouldn't last and soon Suez would be under threat. However, events half a world a way were going to save the British and mark the 'end of the beginning'.

04 November 2012

James Bond: Thunderball

This is the highest-grossing (adjusted for inflation) Bond film of them all – and it’s hard to see why. The mark I give this could easily have been one lower.

 

Quite simply put, this film drags. The underwater fight scenes are long and confusing (as everyone is wearing masks), much of the middle is quite poor and knowing a thing or two about the awesome Avro Vulcan, I’m having suspension of disbelief issues. This film also reflects some old attitudes to sexual harassment, Health & Safety and animal welfare (shoot the shark to keep the other sharks distracted).

 

The four regulars here do enough to keep things reasonably entertaining, while there are some good moments too. That said, I can only give this:

 

6/10

03 November 2012

US Elections 2012 - my prediction

I predict that Barack Obama will be re-elected with a 1 to 2 percent popular vote lead and between 300 and 340 Electoral College Votes.

The Democrats will retain the Senate, the Republicans the House.

Big Nasty Bees to Honey (Book Review: 'Doctor Who - The Missing Adventures: Dancing The Code', by Paul Leonard)

 

April 1995 saw the release of the ninth “Missing Adventures” novel by Virgin – the second of three in this particular run penned by Paul Leonard, whose first novel Venusian Lullaby was highly acclaimed. As the title and the premise intrigued me, it becomes the second Third Doctor work covered in my “Eleven Faces of Doctor Who story”.

 

As discussed earlier, this book is a lot darker and more adult than the TV series – language and violence in particular.

 

Where we’re at

 

This is a UNIT story, located near the end of Jo Grant’s time on the show – explicitly set between “Planet of the Daleks” and her final story “The Green Death”. This means that we also have the Brigadier, Benton and Yates. While the TARDIS is functional, it has only limited use in an entirely Earth-bound story.

 

The plot

 

The Doctor (for some reason) builds a machine that can project the future – with its projection showing the Brigadier shooting him and Jo in cold blood. Determined to prevent this, Jo is sent on a secret mission to the war-torn African country of Kebiria, where a UNIT soldier has been killed, his blooding oozing a honey like substance. His last words to a reporter were “dancing the code”.

 

The Doctor, Jo and UNIT find themselves having to stop the Xarax, a race of hive-minded giant insects with the ability to copy human beings – and their technology.

 

What works

·         The three regulars all get good parts in this – Jo in particular, having a rather unpleasant time of it. The supporting characters are also generally well written.

·         A scene where a rebel camp is strafed by government jets, resulting in many civilian deaths, stands out as the most moving and horrific of the book, with a strong contemporary resonance considering recent events in Libya and Syria.

·         There is a suitably epic scale to this, with big battles, missiles flying about and a UNIT HQ shootout that would have not featured on the show as it would blow the budget.

·         The Xarax human copies are a great idea and well done.

·         The final twists are very good and there is a strong air of partial failure in the ultimate consequences of the Xarax activities.

 

What doesn’t

·         The precise meaning of the title isn’t satisfactorily explained in the book.

·         Some of the prose is a bit clunky and on occasion this book is hard to follow.

·         The explanation of the projection is telegraphed well in advance.

 

Conclusion

 

An enjoyable page-turner with an interesting variant on an alien invasion and big set-pieces. Not perfect, but certainly well up to standard.

 

8/10

02 November 2012

North Korea's Hotel of Doom to finally open?

BBC News Report

I wonder how long it will stay open for... Before it collapses or is deemed a health risk, that is.