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Azure Three Bezants: The African Campaign

There have been Further Developments in the issue of the naval-invasion rules. In particular, after the acrimonious debate that ended the February 26th session early, Baron sensibly recused himself and asked Fivoin, as vice GM, to rule on the issue. Fivoin, determining that the rule had been unclear and that, if it had been clarified as intended, Tazzzo and Blayne could easily have complied and launched their invasions anyway, issued a finding of no fault, no rollback. Baron then quit the game, leaving us without a player for England.

We then lost Tazzzo and Jacob temporarily, in both cases to additional shifts at their civilian jobs; the way modern countries prioritise butter over guns is disgraceful and unmanly, and cannot last very long in the view of history. At some point a virile military movement will arise to sweep aside these garbage-heaps of feminised kindergarten-states. However, on the timescale of weeks and days on which we need leaders for our Great Powers, the certainties of such dialectic analysis are not very helpful; the “if” is sure, the “when” is uncertain but probably not before Sunday. However, Blayne was able to fill the slots with subs; Dragoon returned to play Fox, Clonefusion played Germany, and Achab played England. Thus on March 5th we soldiered on; on the 12th, however, we were unable to find subs and skipped the session. We have great hope of being able to find sufficient players for the 19th.

The Suez Front, early in the session. The Sinai Defense Force is retreating in good order towards the fortified Suez Line; there are level-7 fortresses on both sides of the Canal.

So much for metagame developments. In the actual game, the fighting was, at the beginning of the March 5th session, on four fronts, or perhaps as many as six depending on how you count Africa. In the north the front ran along the Urals, with most of this line lightly held and active fighting only in the southern part, near the Caspian. There was another front crossing the Caucasus; in both of these cases the Commonwealth powers (German and Danish troops, for this part of the world) held good defensive positions, for the simple reason that wherever their position had not been so good they had been driven out of them. However, as they had managed to dig into mountains, there was little movement in these areas.

Thracian Front; under heavy attack by superior German numbers, I was driven back, though more slowly as the front narrowed, and in good order – there were no encirclements. The retreat was slow enough to give me time to build three levels of forts in Constantinople itself, which still holds – although the forts are now effectively nonexistent due to English strategic bombing.

In Thrace, Venetian troops had managed to cross the Straits to seize Constantinople, fending off an English landing in Anatolia; however, as my troops here were outnumbered three to one at the start of the session, there was plainly little hope of launching any offensives – and the obvious strategy of crossing the Black Sea to land in the Commonwealth rear had been tried, and foundered on the large enemy reserves that suddenly turned up – reinforcements headed for the Ural front, perhaps? At any rate, there seemed to be little to be done here; I thinned out my line and took the troops thus freed up south for Africa instead.

The siege of Constantinople; as of February 1938 it is still ongoing, in its sixth month. Constantinople has faced siege before; and in this timeline it is supplied, if tenuously, across the Straits, not betrayed by faithless allies and left to fight on its own resources. My main difficulty on this front is in finding a balance between having enough units in the city, and not having them go out of supply.

Africa could be considered as one front, two, or three, depending on taste. There was Tazzzo’s landing in the southeast, Blayne’s in Morocco, and then there was the Suez Front, where I had occupied the line of Egyptian fortresses that originally faced the Suez border – now repurposed to face into the African interior. In the first part of the session, while I was redeploying from Anatolia, Achab pushed me out of this Egyptian line and back into my own fortresses defending the Suez Canal; there, defending two provinces instead of five, I was able to stop the retreat in spite of the very superior numbers of English troops. At the same time Clone was launching attacks in Thrace that were much more effective than Jacob’s similar efforts had been; my toehold in Europe was driven back and back, eventually ending up in Constantinople. Foreseeing this possibility, however, I had fortified that great city, and although attacks on it continued through the session it is still held for Venice.

The Red Sea Landing, right up the English rear. Unfortunately there was no followup for two weeks due to logistical difficulties.

Returning to Africa, the obvious strategy was the same one I had pursued against Kuipy: Cross the Red Sea, sweep north behind the Suez Line to cut it off from supply, and wait for the resulting pocket to starve. If this had worked against Baron, who saw me do it to Kuipy, that would have been immensely satisfying; against a sub, it was less so. Still victory is victory, so I ordered the naval invasion and got troops across. It was then I noticed that the large Lend-Lease shipments I was getting from my allies, which were instrumental in keeping my infantry supplied, were also taking up all my shipping – leaving none for the followup troops of the invasion. The game engine, apparently, will prioritise naval invasions over trade, but will not prioritise mere troop movements; my spearhead divisions were therefore left without support for two crucial weeks while I shouted to stop the Lend-Lease shipments. (This might have been more effective if I had a microphone and could, actually, shout. Chat just doesn’t carry the urgency.)

Eurasia, with a closer look at the Nile Front, in October. My motorised exploitation division there is about to go rocketing off into the desert, effectively unopposed; but the main landing is suffering a heavy counterattack.

One of the Jackal’s patented sandstorms blew up and slowed my free advance across the desert sufficiently that Matruh was garrisoned by the time I got there. Achab was able to shift divisions off the Suez Line – as he was occupying the Egyptian fortress line, I couldn’t advance there any more than he could – and counterattack, forcing my motorised spearhead back south and briefly threatening to drive even my main infantry force back across the Nile.

A swaying back-and-forth combat in the desert, as both sides try to rupture the enemy lines with temporary local superiorities.

I did eventually get the rest of my army across; but by then Achab had, obviously, had fair warning of my intentions. Instead of a swift coup-de-main seizure of his supply ports, I faced a grinding attritional struggle down the Nile Valley. Achab fought a tenacious rearguard action, constantly thinning out his line in places where he had stopped me for the time being, gathering together this Peter-robbing-Paul reserve, and counterattacking somewhere else. On several occasions my spearheads were in danger of being cut off; at other times the front was driven back towards the Nile, and it wasn’t until Foxy reinforcements arrived on a large scale from Ethiopia and Central Africa that I was able to reach the coast. Even then, each individual pocket, formed around a port, held on grimly until crushed by mere superior numbers. It was only at this final stage that Achab’s generalship failed: These doomed positions should not have been held to the bitter end. When it was clear that Africa was lost, the pockets should have been evacuated to Europe. I admire the tactical skill that allowed him to hold against superior numbers (both of divisions and of human players!) for so long, but this is somewhat overshadowed by the immense strategic error of losing fifty or sixty divisions to not-one-step-back orders. It’s true that my subs in the Med would likely have caught a few convoys, but that can hardly be compared to the half-a-million men that were lost when the ports were captured; as for surface fleets, England’s ten battleships still go anywhere they like.

New World Order advancing from the south and west; perhaps this is about the point when the struggle for Africa should have been given up as lost, and the strategic aim changed to evacuation, with as much of a delaying rearguard action as possible. Notice the Venetian gain in Algeria, where I have claims dating to the nineteenth century.

The first column reaches the coast, splitting the English forces into pockets that can no longer reinforce each other. Of these the Suez Front pocket is by far the most powerful, and indeed the front line on the Nile is going to prove unbudgeable until the English are driven from their supply ports.

England still holds a sliver of Africa, in Morocco, where the Atlas mountains are heavily fortified and a formidable barrier; I’m reminded of another conflict. It is, obviously, not from mere stubbornness that England is choosing to hold these barren peaks; the Atlas range is about as far north as it is possible to launch a rocket with the technology of 1938, even augmented by alien knowledge, and have any hope of reaching orbit. The Jackal does not give a damn whether England wins the war, as such; it will gladly spend a million subhuman lives and ten thousand tanks to retain its launch site and its last hope of reaching home. If, after the rocket is complete, the subhuman state it is currently controlling collapses, and its enemies storm through Europe, for lack of those million men that might have stopped them – well, that is not the Jackal’s problem.

Near the end. Matruh has fallen and any hope of evacuation with it. Forty divisions are about to surrender in what was the Suez Front, now the Suez Pocket.

It looks rather grim for the European powers, at this point; the one bright spot is the Caucasus, where an attack spearheaded by Danish troops has been making slow progress along the Caspian coast. If they can fight their way out of the bad terrain and into the open plains of Mesopotamia, it might yet be possible to force Venice to surrender; if that happens there will be many troops freed from the siege of Constantinople, and perhaps a cascade of victories can be achieved. But I would not care to take the Commonwealth side of an even-odds bet.

Overall war situation, February 1938. The loss of Italy remains a heavy burden for Venice, although the recovery of Algeria (lost to British rapaciousness in the nineteenth century) is some compensation. Egypt is liberated, and building divisions; even Mongolia has managed to put some tens of thousands of savage Slavs into the field on the Ural Line; the postwar settlement of these two defeated countries is a matter of some controversy. On the other side, the English people are having some difficulty reconciling the loss of Africa with their government’s propaganda. But it is Europe that is decisive – as long as the Commonwealth prevents any incursion into that ethnic and industrial heartland, they are not defeated.

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Azure Three Bezants: Italia Oppressa

In which we contemplate two forms of exile; and emerge with the understanding that it need not always mean defeat, or damnation.

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Azure Three Bezants: Recap

In which I summarise 800 years of narrative and 3 months of gameplay.

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Azure Three Bezants: The Last Throw

In which an ancient kingdom falls, and a much younger one is turned to a purpose older than human civilisation.

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Azure Three Bezants: The Siege of Cairo

In which old alchemical knowledge is given a modern application; and an officer of the invading army demonstrates moral courage.

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Azure Three Bezants: Groundhog Day

In which the third time, surely, is the charm; and in which we learn of the doubts and insecurities of Great Old Ones whose memories span eons and light-years.

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Azure Three Bezants: Two Victories, Three Wars

Oh, you mean a story,
full of blood and guts,
showing the wars
as a man might see them.
They’re full of lies, you know;
only the dead
have seen the truth of war.
And to kill a protagonist
while sometimes done
is a shabby trick;
the living reader
does not truly feel
the weight of death
that is written
in ink on paper.
In any case
a narrative demands
an inspired writer
whose head is full
of stories of war
and not of cotton.
Sick men write
no great narratives
although sometimes
a few lines of free verse
may sneak through;
they’re slippery, those
self-referential post-modern
pieces. You should trust them
as much as you trust
a fine well-written story
of war; which is to say
not at all.

Azure Three Bezants, superimposed Fasces Sable

In this session we reached 1936, and Venice fought three interlinked wars: Against Egypt, against India, and against England.

The first war was the result of Kuipy’s desire to get revenge for the Nile Delta War, recover my African enclaves, and push the Venetian border back across the Suez. To accomplish this he built up an army in his Arabian possessions, and attacked in April with a wargoal of five states. Fortunately, the small circle of moly I keep around my gaming chair kept my mind unclouded, and I was able to see the subtle warning signs:

Fortunately, even so subtle and elusive a Power as the Jackal, with its PLOTS SPANNING CENTURIES, cannot move in the world entirely without leaving tracks that the sufficiently wise may note.

There was nothing I could do about his control of the desert weather, but I did manage to move rather a large number of submarines to the Red Sea, where they could in principle interfere with his supply lines. The Jackal’s powers are much reduced by salt water; however, by PLOTS SPANNING CENTURIES it has managed to darken the minds of a particular set of Swedes, so that level-1 submarines are in fact entirely useless in HoI4 (more on this later). If the subs had any effect on the Arabian War I have yet to learn of it. Fortunately I wasn’t relying on them; I should have been so wise in other wars.

One of the Jackal’s special sandstorms, affecting only one side of a front line.

Instead I relied on my small but excellent army. As shown in the sandstorm screenshot above, the numbers of divisions were about equal; eleven on my side, eleven stacks on Kuipy’s – if we assume that those are all one-division stacks and there are no reserves, exactly equal numbers. (This leaves out whatever Kuipy had in Africa; since he failed miserably to break the Suez Line in spite of multiple attacks, those units might as well not have existed.) However, where our lines touched, his crumbled like paper, and I was able to punch two holes in his line and rush my tanks through:

First encirclement of the Arabian War.

Note the different widths and attacks of our divisions. Idhrendur’s converter creates three kinds of division: ‘Advance’, ‘Support’, and ‘Basic’. The Advance has line artillery plus supporting engineers and recon battalions; the support has either line artillery or support battalions, but not both; the basic has neither. How many of each you get depends on your army composition in Vicky. My army converted entirely as Advance divisions; I think I’m facing a Support here, or perhaps even a Basic with some tweaking to make it width twenty. In any case they were quite unable to put up any serious resistance against the glorious advance of the Venetian army; in pretty short order I had another encirclement:

Second encirclement, and ready to push for Yemen.

and once that pocket collapsed it was all over except for another heroic last stand in the southern Arabian mountains.

At this point the obvious next step is to use my complete naval superiority to cross the Red Sea, or alternatively the Med, and invade Egypt proper. I fact my esteemed German allies had done precisely that, but got chucked out again, indicating presumably that Kuipy Had Reserves hidden somewhere on the Dark Continent. However, while I was winning a crushing victory in the Arabian War, I had also got embroiled in the Indochina War, declared by India against my ally Japan. In truth I was rather expecting my participation in that conflict to be symbolic, pro-forma, and quickly over, which is of course exactly how people get involved in land wars in Asia.

Heavy fighting expected on the Persian border.

It turns out, however, that Ragatokk, playing India, is as tactically formidable as ever, whatever the industrial strengths. Taking advantage of some weakness in Gollevainen’s prewar deployment, he was able to encircle a large Japanese force in Indochina, then rapidly advance to the Pacific coast, driving the Japanese pell-mell before him and into their ships. (Gollevainen states that he was able to evacuate a large part of his army, but not all of it.) That still left a Manchurian front, which is still fairly well stalemated; Japan has not been driven off the mainland, but has lost the southern part of its Pacific rim. Nonetheless India was able to redeploy a reasonable army to my entirely undefended Persian front, and start advancing. So instead of invading across the Red Sea, I force-marched my divisions north as fast as they became available, eventually stopping the Indian advance in the Iranian highlands. Conveniently, due to the aforementioned heroic last stand in the Yemen mountains, half a dozen divisions were freed up just as my new Persian front began to advance here and there; rather than fight a grinding attritional struggle through those mountains, I shipped them across the Persian Gulf:

The Persian landing.

Shortly thereafter, the glory of Venetian arms (I’ll allow Germany an assist) was enhanced by another encirclement:

Glorious victory!

At this time, however, the third war started, and went rather more unfortunately for me. England, worried about the fate of Egypt after its disastrous loss in Arabia – neither moly nor cold iron are in fashion, this decade, in Whitehall – accepted the Accursed Republic into its faction, and immediately launched an attack across the Tyrrhenian Sea. This, unfortunately, is where I was relying on those useless subs, my army being already stretched to its limits – who defends everything, defends nothing, as the man said. You would think that fifty of the things, operating in so constrained a body of water as the Tyrrhenian, would at least inconvenience an invasion; the more so when supported by land-based aircraft. Not a bit of it. Baron was able to land at his leisure, and if he had any supply problems they weren’t worth noticing. Instead I scrambled to put together a fighting line at the edge of the Po plain:

Clenching the muscles of the soft underbelly.

Note the futile English attacks on the fortified Po Line in the west; seven divisions holding off twenty. For a while it looked like I would even be able to hold the edge of the mountains, and thus maintain at least my Venetian factories in the fight. In that case, I might have waited for the New World, in its power and its might, to come forth to the rescue, and the liberation, of the Old. (Not to mention completing the conquest of India, and the freeing up of the Imperial Japanese Army to fight in Europe.) Alas, it was not to be:

The Po Line still holds, but both flanks are ruptured and it is in danger of double envelopment.

We are currently negotiating a limited peace in Europe and Africa.

World map, September 1936.

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