In which we contemplate two forms of exile; and emerge with the understanding that it need not always mean defeat, or damnation.
“Damietta and damnation,” the saying once went; “who’s to know the difference?” But time and chance happen to us all; there is little left, now, of the muggy, corrupt garrison town that was once the foremost running sore on the arse of Venice’s overseas empire. It was twice overrun in the Nile Valley Campaign, and rather than try to take the old labyrinthine downtown house by house – in fact it would have to be catacomb by catacomb – the Milice di Venezia massed a thousand heavy guns to simply flatten it and be on their way.
Old Damietta is gone, its stone houses churned to rubble in successive offensives. The gardens that grew opium are craters; the stages where wide-hipped women writhed dangerously are splinters and dust. The city of that name that stands in the same place is a city of barracks and tents, soldiers and administrators. It has, to be sure, its whores and its drinking-places; they are provided by the Milice di Venezia in legal brothels and licensed clubs, inspected twice monthly and staffed by women recruited from the far reaches of Venice’s empire. It is not, in spite of all the Polizia Militare can do, impossible to find opium; but it is imported from China, not the deadly locally-grown variant, and in any case opium smoking is no longer the accepted vice of the entire garrison, with a den on every street corner.
Still, Damietta of the ripe reputation is an odd choice for the capital-in-exile of the Venetian government; even in these hard times, there are enough inveterate jokers in Venezia-oltre-il-Mare that the point has not gone unnoticed. “The best place to keep fucking the colonies” is a popular one; and of course that hardy perennial, “now we know what they’re smoking”, flowers all over the various fronts. Even in the inner circles of the government there is opposition. Damietta was a perfectly reasonable place to land, the bureaucrats and clerks admit, in the scramble to get away from the fall of Venice – the closest port not immediately threatened by German tanks, at a time when the Grand Fleet’s whereabouts were unknown and it might at any time appear in the Eastern Mediterranean; every sea mile then was danger. But having gotten safely ashore, they go on, why stay in Damietta, of all places? And, unless they are unusually self-controlled, they might cast a glance to the west, where the dull thump of English artillery is occasionally carried by the wind from the Sinai Line. The Egyptian forts there, currently occupied by the Milice di Venezia, are immensely powerful; they were not taken in the Nile Valley Campaign, but bypassed. Still, the English army facing the line is very large, and the Milice is stretched thin defending the Sinai, Thrace, and the Caucasus. Would it not be reasonable, the whisper runs, to move the capital-in-exile to Iran, or at least east of Suez, where it would be out of range of a sudden breakthrough?
In saying so, the bureaucracy may have some reason on its side; but wars are not fought by reason alone. The officers and the soldiers know why Il Doge refuses to move his government out of hearing of the enemy’s guns. He is sending a message of defiance; not only to the English government and its armies, by a symbolically taking the field against them instead of retreating to the safety of Iran, but also to the Jackal itself. It is worth noting that Constantinople, a city of great symbolic importance to a regime that makes considerable use of Roman imagery, is close enough to the Thracian front that the guns can be heard on still days. By placing his government specifically in Damietta, Abramo Aiello is saying, not only that he can fight England, but that he knows of the Jackal’s century-spanning plots, and that he is not afraid of them. What, after all, was the end result of all that corruption, all those lives destroyed in Damietta? The patrician houses of Venice were rotted to the core, actually worshipping the Jackal in their secret rituals; ready, presumably, to fall into line as a vassal dominion of Egypt, when the signal was given. And what of it? The Revolution came, and then the Venetian Spring; and the patrician families were swept away, their houses seized by the Syndicates and the cult cellars burned.
Italy has fallen, and the Balkans with it; German troops stand thirty miles from Constantinople, English soldiers occupy the length of the Nile. But, at least, it is out in the open now; the Long War is active at last, and from its exile in Venezia-oltre-il-Mare, the Lion of St Mark roars defiance at the alien. For four hundred years Damietta was a city of exile, the place where careers and lives ended; a city of despair and darkness. And now, it is still a place of exile; but not the exile of hopelessness and opium. The men of the Governo Militare expect to win, and to go home. Not all who wander are lost; and all roads lead, at last, to Rome. If the Damietta garrison still consists of men who would rather not be there, nevertheless, nobody would now confuse them with the damned.
We had some last-minute edits, and when the session started I was at war with Germany as well as England; this meant that the fortified Po Line could be outflanked, even if over the Alps. Nevertheless, with my strategic reserve of ten divisions, which I had thoughtfully stationed in Italy against just such an event, I was able to maintain an orderly fighting retreat; I flew in my skill-5 Mountaineer general and extracted a fair amount of blood in exchange for the Alps and the Po plain. Even so, the numbers could not be made to work; I was driven back and back, Venice fell, and then my right flank collapsed and it was time to evacuate Italy. The actual Po Line had held against heavy and sustained English attack; none of my fortified provinces were taken by assault, I abandoned them successively, in good order, as they were outflanked by the Germans. Consequently, even at the end, I still held Florence, and I was able to retreat all my divisions there and ship them out without losses, except that I did lose two divisions to English convoy raiders in the Med.
At this point the Balkans were a scramble; Jacob was perhaps a little readier for this war than me, but he only had two or three divisions in the Balkans – which was, nevertheless, sufficient to occupy Venetian Greece, since I had exactly zero divisions there. Consequently I chose to ship the Forza Italia across to Albania, partly because it saved me some sea miles where I might have encountered ten English battleships, and partly because I could easily deal with that one pesky division, meet up with my Persian force that was just then reaching Anatolia, and get a Balkan Front going. Alas, it was not to be; Jacob and Baron naturally redeployed their victorious troops from Italy, and my Albanian offensive became an Albanian enclave, reminiscent of the Salonika front in OTL WWI. Worse, I had only one port, and did not guard it sufficiently; when a dozen fresh English divisions struck the northern part of my perimeter, they were able to drive back my three divisions holding that coastal province and take Ulcinj before I could get reinforcements there. Desperate (and unsupplied) counterattacks were of no avail, and shortly thereafter the Albanian front, and about a fourth of my army, ceased to exist.
I had not really expected to hold Italy, and throughout the tense fighting there – you’ll note a lack of screenshots in this installment, which tends to go with moments of high excitement in the actual game! – I was maneuvering with the evacuation in mind; the decisive front, in my mind, was going to be the Levant. Could I get my armies from where they had been advancing into India, to defend the Levant and Anatolia before Baron shipped forty divisions into the Fortress City of Acre and went on to occupy all of Venezia-oltre-il-Mare? It turned out that I could; which is just as well, since otherwise I would surely have been knocked out of the war. Thus, I was able to get some fast divisions across the Strait to take Constantinople before Jacob could garrison it properly – an unexpected bonus which delivered me control of the Black Sea; I would have been content with garrisoning my side of the Strait against German attack. Likewise I occupied the line of Egyptian fortresses facing the Sinai, leaving my own Sinai Line as a fallback position (and abandoning the rest of Africa as untenable); I got garrisons into the Levantine ports; and my allies formed a line across the Caucasus and were even able to advance a little before Danish troops showed up to contest the mountains. In truth I think Baron and Jacob missed a bet by not straining every sinew to get to the Levant first; if they had gotten ashore there it might have been hard to hold them back, and Italy could have been mopped up at leisure, being un-reinforceable. The closest approach to this was a landing in Aydin, in Danish Anatolia, while I was still scrambling to form a battle line in Thrace. Fortunately, I had a tank division fresh from the occupation of Rhodes, which got into the rear of the English advance and threatened that one supply port, which Baron had unaccountably failed to garrison properly:
By dint of turning right-about-face and advancing in the opposite direction, Baron kept me from actually occupying the port and presumably wiping out his nineteen divisions, as he had done to me in Albania; but I apparently spooked him into believing that the landing was doomed, for he then withdrew and evacuated his troops. I am not sure if he was correct to do so; true, I don’t have very much on hand in the screenshot, but I do have more troops coming and might have been able to wipe out the landing, even in the mountainous terrain, if he had tried to stick around and fight. Then again, England has lots of troops and might have been able to dig up some reinforcements.
Since he didn’t, I decided that the divisions I thus gained should be put to some more decisive use than trying to advance in the Caucasus or in Thrace; both fronts were mountainous and by now very difficult to get any sort of decision in. Instead I decided to launch a naval invasion across the Black Sea, get into the rear of the Danish troops in the Caucasus, and ideally march through Georgia all the way to the Caspian to form a gigantic pocket. If it had worked, this might have been a decisive blow; it would have wiped out three dozen divisions, gotten us out of the Caucasus mountains and onto the steppe where an offensive can gain some ground, and gotten large forces in behind the stiffening resistance on the Ural Front. Alas, it was not to be; Jacob had a strategic reserve, and was able to counterattack rapidly and heavily, eventually causing me to evacuate the three provinces I had managed to take. At any rate, with my recent practice in evacuations, I was again able to get out without losing any divisions. Of course, wars are not won by this means.
While all this was going on, my allies had been making good progress in driving the Germans out of Kazakhstan, where at one point they had been threatening my Persian dominions; in taking various Pacific islands, including Australia; and in landing in the southern part of Africa. Thus the strategic situation as of August looks fairly promising:
Going east to west, the Pacific is more or less subdued; there is fighting in the Philippines but I don’t think it can last long. In Asia, notice the re-emergence of Russia, denoted here the “Mongolian Empire”; they have no less than three divisions in the field, but more to the point, we have driven the Germans and Danes back from the Khyber Pass to the Urals. That formidable barrier has stopped us for now, and the Caucasus Front is also a stalemate; neither side can get any attacks through strongly-held mountain lines. In Thrace, likewise, there is also little movement; occasionally the English will try an offensive and be thrown back, but conversely, they did manage to stop my incursion into Europe before it gained much ground. Notice that this Venetian front is the closest any of the New World Order are to Berlin, London, or Copenhagen. The Sinai Front is also quiescent for the time being, as Baron has apparently given up attacking level-7 forts behind rivers. We have continuous naval clashes in the Eastern Med, where the Royal Navy is currently on the prowl; I have spotted all ten battleships and eight battlecruisers of Baron’s conversion navy there, with supporting elements to match. My subs are bravely sneaking in to take potshots, but have so far failed to sink anything but convoys. Note also the location of the new Venetian capital close to the Sinai Front; it is in fact literally in Damietta, “Dumyat” on the HoI map. Finally we have two or three new Africa fronts, two landings by Fox and one by the United Colonies on the west coast. These are the areas of active fighting; the thrust into the highly-defensible Ethiopian highlands has run into some trouble, but in the south we are advancing rapidly, and the west is unopposed so far as we know.
This in fact is why the session ended early. At the beginning, Baron (being GM) had ‘reminded’ us of the rule against doing naval invasions without contesting the airspace in the invasion zone; I use scare quotes because nobody else was aware of that rule. I had thought the rule was that you had to have naval superiority with actual ships, not just aircraft. This highlights a bit of a problem with Baron’s GMing: Many of the rules were not written down, and some of them apparently existed only in his mind. Worse, that word ‘contesting’ is ambiguous; Blayne had sent his whole air force, 33 fighters and some miscellaneous bombers, to the relevant airspace, but what Baron had in mind was something like parity in fighters – and he had an air wing of 200 fighters doing defense. (Also some ships, but they slipped away at the crucial moment.) When he saw that Blayne had slipped ashore without any air battle, he lost his temper and stopped the session early so that we could have an acrimonious argument in TeamSpeak, and later in the forums, over the meaning of ‘contested’, whether rules should be written down, and whether a rollback to do it properly was in order. The upshot of this is that Baron is no longer GM, naval invasions must have 100% naval supremacy and at least 200 fighters, and the invasion of western Africa stands.