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The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part II (May 1, 3050)

The month of April turns out to be an exciting one for the Opinionated Bastards. Read on below the fold.

Last Month’s Action Items

Hasek10 took the lead this time, so I went with his plans. The light lance remains on training duty. We’ll discuss procurement at the end of the month.

The Action of April 19, 3050

On April 14, the unit intelligence officer receives word of a pirate concentration near a grassland town some distance from our base of operations. Happily, the light lance is training locally rather than on an exercise elsewhere, so they join in the deployment.

We’ll probably need them, too. This is some battle. A full six lances of mixed enemy mechs and vehicles are facing our ten mechs (Private ‘Severe’ Pain’s Locust is currently in refit, adding some armor and two more medium lasers). Happily, when they catch wind of our approach, they flee. We’ll have to chase down and destroy half their force before we can declare victory.

Captain Halit has four levels in the Tactics skill, which means we get to reroll battlefield conditions up to four times. The end result is this: muddy grassland with a town in the center, in moderate rain, on a moonlit night.

Because this is a chase battle, units deploy in order of speed, fastest units in early rounds and slower units later on. Attached to our lance is a Lyran Phoenix Hawk. Since the contract stipulated House command rights, the Lyran pilot is not under our direct command.

Rounds 1-4

Nothing happens.

Round 5

The Lyran mech deploys, along with the rest of the enemy light mechs. In total, they have four Wasps, a Spider, and a Stinger.

The mud is proving tricky.

stuck

Round 6

Our two fastest mechs take the field: our Phoenix Hawk (piloted by Jose Ortega) and our Vulcan (piloted by Tedros Jamil). They both fire on a Stinger stuck in the mud a few hexes to the north, but do limited damage.

Round 7

The remainder of our ‘light’ lance arrives on the field. Our two Trebuchets come first; Private Frajtov is driving the short-range TBT-5S, while Woad has the LRM-equipped TBT-5N. Damayanti Ngo rounds out the deployment, piloting our Crab.

deploying

The pirates deploy a number of Vedette medium tanks in a flanking position. Fortunately, the weather will make it very hard for them to hit our mechs at any distance, and Vedettes are slow at the best of times. They may have trouble moving at all.

The light lance concentrates its firepower on a stuck Wasp, the Stinger having escaped the sucking mud and jumped further away. (Ortega pursues him in the Phoenix Hawk, but can’t line up a good shot.) They do a good job, hitting the Wasp for more than 20 damage. Its pilot fails to keep his balance under the barrage, and the Wasp tips over into the mud.

die, wasp

Round 8

Our heavy lance hits the field. Expert gunners with long-range weapons should begin to tell here. Three of them (Captain Halit’s Flashman, Double Dog‘s Rifleman, and Linebuster‘s Lancelot) deploy with the light lance, while two of them (Lieutenant Ishikawa’s Thunderbolt and Private Ec’s Lancelot) deploy further east, behind the enemy vehicle line.

heavies

The pirates deploy their lone heavy mech, an Orion, just to the southwest of our forces. Double Dog turns to face it, ready to engage.

In the Phoenix Hawk, Ortega has run up too much heat from weapons fire and jump jet use, and forgoes firing this turn. The western heavies engage the Wasp, and the eastern heavies focus on the enemy vehicles, including two PPC-equipped Manticore heavy tanks. The mediums (and the Rifleman) divide their fire between the Orion and the vehicle line.

Captain Halit proves his worth on his first turn in battle. Lighting up the stuck Wasp with his large lasers, he draws first blood, neatly coring the enemy mech.

The eastern heavies badly damage the pair of Manticores, knocking out the nearer tank’s engine and scything into the more distant tank’s armor.

The Orion, unfortunately, aims true and hits Woad‘s rear center torso with an AC/10. The Trebuchet’s engine and gyro both take hits, and Woad is unable to keep the mech’s legs beneath him. The Trebuchet bogs down in the mud, and rattling around the cockpit like a pinball does Woad no good, either. He’s alive and conscious, but it seems unlikely he’ll be able to get unstuck and stand back up, especially with an ailing gyro.

Round 9

Let’s talk about a particularly devilish foe: the SRM carrier. A simple tracked vehicle with an enormous box of SRM launchers on the back, the SRM carrier has one of the most devastating alpha strikes in the BattleTech universe. It mounts ten SRM-6 launchers, each of which fires six missiles, each of which does two damage. That’s a potential total of 120 damage; for comparison, the Flashman, the most heavily armored mech in our hangar, has 216 points of armor altogether. It’s altogether possible for a lucky SRM carrier to blow up a mech in a single turn.

Why do I bring this up? Well, our piratical friends have laid their hands on five of them, all of which are part of the rearguard with which we’re currently engaged. We’ll come back to the SRM carriers.

This rearguard, by my count, contains enough enemy force to fulfill our mission requirements, so rather than pursue the enemy across the map (and allow the rearguard to fire on us from behind), I decide to focus on beating down the enemy here. That means nobody moves very much, although the medium mechs move closer to the vehicle line to the east of our main body to secure better shots.

Woad is still prone and unable to stand up. His mech takes some light fire from the Orion, but weathers it without further drama. Double Dog, running hot, takes an ineffectual medium laser shot at the Orion, but successfully kicks an SRM carrier, stripping its armor. The Lyran Phoenix Hawk, standing next to him, finishes the job with a kick of its own.

Linebuster destroys a second SRM carrier with well-aimed laser fire from his Lancelot, while Lieutenant Ishikawa and Private Ec in the Thunderbolt and other Lancelot make short work of a Manticore heavy tank and the lone LRM carrier.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Three shoot at Captain Halit’s Flashman, but he’s moving, and the range, darkness, and rain conspire to protect him. He takes a pounding, but his armor holds.

Two shoot at Private Ec’s Lancelot. She’s not moving, and she’s much closer. Missile after missile slams into her mech’s armor. Holes begin to open up, and the explosions move inward to the mech’s frame. The dust settles. In all, 61 missiles hit Private Ec’s mech, destroying weapons and heat sinks, and damaging leg actuators. Several missiles hit the cockpit. The armor holds, but the shock knocks Ec out cold. Her mech collapses into the mud.

SRM carriers remaining: 3.

Round 10

Well, we should probably do something about those. Captain Halit and Private Frajtov will continue shooting at the Orion, in the hopes of bringing it down. Frajtov places his mech directly in the Orion’s path.

Everyone else is going to set up to shoot at an SRM carrier.

Linebuster hits one, knocking out its engine but leaving it alive. Lieutenant Ishikawa destroys one outright. The others survive unmolested.

Surprisingly, it’s Private Frajtov who takes home the trophy for largest mech destroyed to date. A simple medium laser shot at point blank range penetrates the Orion’s armor and lights off its AC/10 ammunition. Fire blossoms within the pirate mech, then bursts forth in a tremendous fireball which leaves very little of the Orion left.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Private Ec’s mech takes the brunt of the barrage. Happily—she was basically doomed anyway. In the end, there isn’t much left of her mech besides a frame and, surprisingly, a cockpit. (It survived with one internal structure point remaining; happily, she did not die in her first battle.)

Double Dog takes fire from the final SRM carrier, and it’s a doozy. It gets into his Rifleman’s internal structure, knocking out several weapons and damaging a leg actuator. He can’t keep his mech upright, and it topples, getting stuck in the mud.

That’s bad. Hitting an immobilized target is easier, and Lieutenant Dare’s mech is still in relatively good shape. It would be a shame to lose it.

SRM carriers remaining: 2.

srms, sadface
The mud-soaked battlefield as it stands now.

Round 11

We’re winning, per the objective; we only have to destroy half of the enemy’s starting force before it escapes, and we’re currently up to 45%. Mopping up here in the south should suffice to win.

As far as positioning goes, it’s pretty static. Now that the Orion is dead, Captain Halit can turn around to help with the vehicles. He hits a Manticore and kills it. Linebuster destroys another SRM carrier.

Unfortunately, Private Ortega, the only pilot with a clear shot at the last SRM carrier, misses altogether. Hopefully that won’t come back to haunt us next round.

One SRM carrier shoots at the Lyran Phoenix Hawk; the other shoots at the Rifleman. The Rifleman survives, somehow, amidst a bevy of internal structure damage. It’s alive, but I don’t know how much longer it can take this kind of beating.

SRM carriers remaining: 1.

Round 12

Captain Halit accounts for the final SRM carrier with a hail of laser fire. Just before it goes up in a towering explosion, it gets off a shot at the Rifleman.

The Rifleman eats it. Its engine is destroyed, its head is destroyed, and its AC/5 ammo explodes just to really clarify that yes, it’s gone. Happily, the autoeject system works, flinging Double Dog free of the flaming wreckage just before the ammo goes off. He’s badly wounded and unconscious, but he’s alive.

doubledog down

To add indignity to our vaguely Pyrrhic victory, Woad finally gets himself unstuck from the mud, but doesn’t risk standing with his damaged gyro. Wouldn’t want to set ourselves up for yet more repairs.

SRM carriers remaining: 0. Thank God.

Rounds 13-22

With the SRM carriers dead, there isn’t much else left in the south; a few damaged Vedettes, mostly. They go down much more easily, and don’t obliterate our mechs in the space of seconds.

Private Frajtov walks his Trebuchet past the still-burning Rifleman, pops out, and brings Double Dog up to the cockpit. At least he isn’t in the rain anymore. Private Ec, still unconscious in the cockpit of her very dead Lancelot, remains there for now.

An ad-hoc lance comprising Captain Halit, Lieutenant Ishikawa, Linebuster, and Private Ngo heads north to chase the pirates, now in full retreat, off of the map.

Further in that direction, the Lyran Phoenix Hawk beats up on an immobilized transport hovercraft.

wrapping up
At least someone’s having a good day.

Eventually, the pirates make it to the north end of the map, and I call it a day.

Damage Report

damage report

Man, it would have been nice to have some battle loss compensation in this contract.

There are some bright spots. Miraculously, Private Ec’s Lancelot is not a total write-off; it has enough internal structure left to rebuild. We are, therefore, only down one mech.

dead lancelot
It’s going to take a lot of work, though.

Four of our ten pilots are wounded, including Double Dog and Woad. Only Double Dog‘s wounds are serious enough to impact his piloting skills, but he should be fine in a few weeks.

injuries1
injuries2

Salvage Report

The Wasp Captain Halit nailed is a total loss, so I took as salvage an SRM carrier and a Manticore heavy tank. We’ll strip the weapons and armor and sell the chassis.

In doing so, we make nearly 800,000 C-bills, and add a spare PPC, some armor, a medium laser or two, and a ton of SRM-6 launchers (even after selling half of them).

The husk of Double Dog‘s Rifleman yields an arm and a leg, along with a few actuators and a heat sink or two.

The salvage we took comes to 35% against our total allowed of 30%. We’ll have to pay the employer back for the overage if we don’t get our salvage percentage down below the 30% mark; the payment required at present is about 185,000 C-bills.

Kill Board

Last Mission

kill log

All-Time Leaders

  1. Captain Halit (3, 1 mech)
  2. Lieutenant Ishikawa (3)
  3. Lieutenant ‘Linebuster’ Atkinson (3)
  4. Private Frajtov (1, 1 mech)
  5. Private Ec (1)

Repairs and Refits

The Rifleman is good for an arm and a leg, which simplifies getting the second Lancelot back in action.

Unfortunately, we need some expensive parts. The damaged Lancelot’s gyroscope is a total loss, and a new one sets us back 900,000 C-bills. Other parts come to about 200,000, eating into last month’s payout a bit.

By the end of the month, we’ve rebuilt the mech, which has earned the name Frankenstein from its tech teams.

frankenstein

Status

It is now May 1, 3050. I decided against advancing the game further because…

Mission Progress

deployment
After taking such heavy losses in equipment, morale among the pirates here on Gacrux has collapsed, and they’ve made overtures to the planetary authorities about surrendering. At the same time, the local government has located the pirates’ main base of operations and passed that information on to us. See the action items for more.

Personnel

organization

All pilots except for Double Dog are in good health. Lieutenant Dare’s concussion symptoms are lingering. The doctors estimate he’ll be back to 100% in a week’s time.

Captain Halit’s Negotiation has improved, which increases our company’s reputation.

Finances

We kick off May with 2.881 million C-bills in the bank, and two payments of 884,800 C-bills remaining in this contract. That leaves us with an expected balance of 4.6 million C-bills after this contract, and about 2.9 million C-bills after transit back home.

Supplies

Per Hasek10’s directions, I’ve obtained spare ammunition and armor suitable for a deployment of moderate length and intensity, and laid in stocks of common weapons and equipment.

Action Items

  • As far as this contract goes, we have two options. We can attack the pirate base, or accept the pirates’ surrender and head home. In both cases, we’ll be paid the remaining balance of the contract. In the former case, we have a chance at more salvage, although there are no heavy mechs among the enemy’s known forces. In the latter case, we don’t risk losing any further mechs in a costly battle, but we’ll have to pay 185,000 C-bills to the employer to cover our over-salvaging.
  • As far as the company goes, should we reorganize? We may be able to find more favorable engagements (read: MekHQ generates less difficult missions) if we go to a more traditional lance structure, heavy units supported by lighter units. On the other hand, that places a greater emphasis on pilot skill; we do have some skilled pilots, but they’re distributed mainly in the heavy mechs right now. If you think the answer is ‘yes’, you should describe a structure you think would be an improvement.
  • Mechwarriors are going fast, but there are some remaining. Give me a callsign and the pilot is yours; I’ll follow them more closely in subsequent updates, refer to them by their callsign in most cases, and bold their name so you can track them more readily.
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
  • For the record, the following mechwarriors have been claimed by members at the Bay12 Games forum.
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10)
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s)
    • Pvt. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing)
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack)
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies)

The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part I (Apr. 7, 3050)

The Opinionated Bastards sign on the dotted line, and will be employed by the Federated Commonwealth hunting pirates until July 7, 3050 (or earlier, if we’re very successful). Read on below the fold for more.

En Route

To save on transit costs, I had the techs mothball the light lance. With only five mechs in mech bays, we fit into a smaller combat dropship; the mechs in mothballs go in a small cargo dropship. Mothballing takes two days, but a tech can unmothball a mech in a single working day, so we should be deployed as soon as we hit the ground on Gacrux.

Along the way, our human resources division makes a few paid recruitment rolls, spending 100,000 C-bills per week to load up on mech techs and administrators in the other categories. The Opinionated Bastards now have a fully-stocked tech division, as well as administrators and doctors fit for a unit of our size. In all, the Opinionated Bastards total 121 personnel, including the 72 local astechs and 12 local medics supporting our tech teams and medical staff.

Rick Papatamelis
Rick Papatamelis is one of our new administrators. Hi, Rick!

(Note that since this is my first campaign following the Campaign Operations payment and maintenance rules, I’m using Campaign Operations rules for administration and tech support too; I had to triple the administrator allowance to get a reasonable starting position.)

Finally, I ordered some parts for delivery at Gacrux: ammunition, armor, and heat sinks, all of which are consumables after a fashion. (Heat sinks don’t get used up, of course, but they’re the most common part in our force and therefore the most likely to take critical hits.) I also bought some hand and foot actuators before I realized that’s probably a good thing to vote on, so check the action items for more.

map
The seven-jump path from Piedmont to Gacrux. The top of the map, in blue, is the Clan invasion. Terra is the white dot just below Yorii.

Monthly Happenings

Gacrux, our destination, is a fascinating place. We arrive on March 7, 3050. I deploy the heavy lance to seek out action right away to fulfill the terms of the contract, and set about unpacking the light lance. The latter, hosting all of our rookies, goes on training duty, in the hopes of bringing some of them up to a slightly higher standard of performance.

Nothing much goes on in March. The pirates won’t come out to play, which is quite a shame.

We do pick up a local; an astech by the name of Kian-zhi Ewerlof signs on permanently. He’ll apprentice under one of our proper techs for a while, and perhaps someday he’ll grow into a proper tech himself.

Status

It is now April 7, 3050.

Personnel

As mentioned above, we’re fully manned as far as administrators, techs, and support personnel go. Since we have administrators with an HR specialty, we can make paid recruitment rolls to find candidates for specific positions at a cost of 100,000 C-bills per weekly recruitment cycle.

Mission Progress

deployment report

The heavy lance is searching out the enemy. The light lance (such as it is) is training. Enemy morale is now Low. If it reaches Rout, we win, and we can collect the remaining payment and hit the road.

The Locust LCT-1M is refitting to a variant which mounts three medium lasers, a solid punch for such a lightweight mech.

Finances

financial report

After transit to Gacrux and the first month’s payout, we have 2.378 million C-bills. Our net income before share payment is 1.106 million C-bills. After shares, the company nets 884,800 C-bills per month. The May, June, and July payouts remain, for a total of 2.654 million C-bills remaining to be paid. At the end of the contract, discounting salvage sales and battle damage repairs, we should have 5.032 million C-bills. Transit back to Piedmont should cost about 1.7 million C-bills. We should therefore have about 3.332 million C-bills after all is said and done for this contract.

Supplies

supply report

Armor, ammo, heat sinks, and cheapo actuators make up the majority of our supplies right now. (Note that LRM ammo and SRM ammo are interchangeable. 240 shots of LRM 5 ammo is 720 missiles, or 60 shots of LRM 20 ammo.)

Action Items

  • First up, deployment. Should the light lance remain in training, or deploy? Units actively seeking out combat have a much higher chance of finding it. On the other hand, Hasek10 is correct in saying that the game will generate roughly even forces. (Not quite BV-equivalence, but approximately weight-equivalent for sure.) That could make for a tough fight, given the light lance’s actual weight and inexperience in piloting.
  • Next, ongoing procurement. I want to have about four million C-bills in hand before we leave; that leaves room for transit back, transit to the next world, and some downtime if we roll a bunch of undesirable contracts. Should we save the money, or secure sufficient spares and ammunition for a long, independent operation? In either case, I’ll get spares for commonly-used weapons and so on. If we’re planning on taking a long, independent contract, I’ll also likely want to get more actuators and some spare arms and legs. The latter would set us up for a longer contract out of contact with friendlies. The former might yield a treasury which can absorb the price of a light or medium mech.
  • Mechwarriors are still available to claim; all you need to do is say so and give me a callsign. I’ll try to follow claimed mechwarriors more closely in future updates. Available mechwarriors:
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Lt. JG Dare
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
    • Pvt. Kohler
    • Pvt. Kojic
    • Pvt. Payne

The Opinionated Bastards: a MekHQ BattleTech Mercenaries Campaign

Introduction

Welcome to what I hope will be the start of a long-running Let’s Play: a mercenary campaign, more or less following the Against the Bot campaign rules, using MekHQ and MegaMek to handle the bookkeeping.

That’s a lot to unpack. We’ll start with MegaMek. This is MegaMek:

MegaMek

MegaMek is an open-source implementation of the BattleTech rules, which greatly simplifies playing out battles. It covers just about everything in the BattleTech rulebooks, but it’s also a little on the dense and questionably-documented side, as open source projects are wont to be. (See also: my very own OpenTafl.)

Next up, MekHQ. This is MekHQ:

MekHQ

MegaMek runs battles; MekHQ runs campaigns. It implements some of the many, many variations in BattleTech’s rules for maintenance costs, mercenary contract generation, and so on and so forth.

Finally, Against the Bot. No screenshot here. Against the Bot is simply a set of rules on top of those implemented in MekHQ, concerning the generation of a mercenary company and some of the mechanics of running one left untouched by BattleTech’s rulebooks.

I have a few house rules I plan to layer on top. First, a set of rules I cooked up for pre-existing enemy damage. Especially in the Third Succession War era, it’s hard to come by spares and time for maintenance, but the Against the Bot rules have no provision for setting up the enemy forces to be as battered as yours. The pre-existing damage rules present a mechanism for wearing down the enemy force over the length of a campaign, an important part of warfare.

Second, I have a litany of little tweaks to the Against the Bot rules.

  • I’ll be using the contract payments and maintenance costs from the Campaign Operations rulebook. I won’t be using maintenance rolls or the unofficial percentage-based maintenance costs in MekHQ; Campaign Ops costs neatly fix a lot of the issues with the old type-based maintenance costs.
  • I plan to turn the contract search radius down to about 200 light-years to start. This keeps transport costs limited. That’s important: the default contract radius of 800 light-years covers pretty much the entire Inner Sphere. Contracts 20 or 30 jumps and a year or two away require very favorable transport terms to have any chance of being profitable. Contracts five or ten jumps away can still be feasible to take even with poor transport terms if the other terms are sufficiently favorable.
  • Retirement rolls will be ignored for the first five years. After that, retirement rolls will always have a -2 Target Number modifier.
    • In any given year, every full month of downtime on the mercenary’s home world will add a -1 modifier to the retirement roll Target Number.
  • Mechs associated with the founding members of the company are company property. If/when founding members retire or die, they don’t get to take mechs with them. Pilots hired later on who bring their own mechs must get the same mech or a comparable one on retirement. Further, they may not be reassigned from their personal mech to a worse one.
  • I reserve the right to ignore Big Battles and Special Events; the Against the Bot generator in MekHQ seems not to get them right on some occasions. If they’re reasonable, I’ll play them.
  • Reinforcements.
    • Any or all lances can be deployed on missions where I’m the attacker.
    • Any lance with Defend duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender.
    • Any lance with Training duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender on 4+ on a D6.
  • If I have a DropShip, I can add mech bays to it at the cost of cargo space. Adding a mech bay costs 120 tons of cargo space and 7.5 million C-bills.

Process and Participation

I, as the company commander, will play roughly a month of game time per week of real time (my time permitting). I’ll be using a customized build of MekHQ which contains some brand-new features; you can download the source from this branch on Github.

You, as the readers (either at my website or at the Bay12 forums) have a few participation options. You can pick a mechwarrior, aerospace pilot, or vehicle crewman to follow, and give me guidance on how that person ought to develop his or her skills (and possibly input on mech refitting, if that happens). Whether or not you do that, you can also vote on the contract to take.

Company Generation

Now we come to the fun part. Given that my blog is the primary venue for this Let’s Play, I’ve decided we will be known as the Opinionated Bastards. We still have a few things to figure out, though. First off, time period.

  • 3025: at the tail end of the Third Succession War, there is very little advanced technology to be found. Mechs are more likely to be held together with spitballs and baling wire, just barely kept running by industrious techs. Classic BattleTech.
  • 3050: the Clan invasion is in full swing. Advanced technology is back on the menu! We may also have to fight the Clans. Classic BattleTech for me—I cut my teeth on MechWarrior 2, back in the day. If you vote for this item, specify whether you want to start on the same side of the Inner Sphere as the Clans, or elsewhere.
  • 3075: the Word of Blake Jihad is the crisis of the day. Modern-ish BattleTech.

Furthermore, we have to pick a flavor of company.

  • Adventurous Merchant: company commander and officers will have worse piloting and gunnery skills, but better mechs. Start with an extra 5 million C-bills. Chance to start with a DropShip. Start with one Logistics administrator only.
  • Mercenary Veteran: company commander and officers will have better piloting skills, but receive no bonus to mech generation rolls. Start with an HR administrator plus administrator of choice. Receive a 10% signing bonus on contracts owing to reputation. Also owing to reputation, it is no longer forbidden to assign mech pilots who bring their own hardware to worse mechs. (They still get to take them back when they leave.)
  • No Special Background: -2 Target Number on all retirement rolls. Start with two administrators, my choice.

Action Items

  • Your votes needed! Give me some preferences for time period and mercenary company type.

The Battle of Shilovo: 1942

Welcome to Shilovo. It’s July 4th, 1942, and the Wehrmacht has embarked on yet another ambitious offensive: Fall Blau. This time, the plan focuses on the south, pushing from last year’s front (very roughly, a line from Kursk due south to Dnepropetrovsk, then southeast to Rostov, about 800 kilometers in total) to the Baku oilfields and the city of Stalingrad.

It’s only just begun, though, and we concern ourselves with the fighting around Voronezh, and more specifically, a work settlement a bit to the west called Shilovo. (It doesn’t exist anymore—it’s just part of Voronezh.) Shilovo sits on a hill overlooking the Don river, a strategically-important barrier keeping the Nazis out of Voronezh proper. Historically, the Germans took it on July 5th and 6th.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to hold them off a little better than that.

Notice a few features about this map: first, the UI I forgot how to hide. It’s covering the place name for ‘Trushkino’, the town at the bottom center controlled by the Germans. It faces Shilovo across a deep valley. Roads run northwest from Shilovo and northeast from Trushkino, then split to the north and northwest to meet one of the two crossroads objectives. Besides the valley between the two towns, and the hillside south of Shilovo, the map is more or less flat, which presents a problem: I know the Nazis have some armored vehicles, and I don’t have much in the way of anti-tank weaponry. The sum total of my force is as follows: two rifle companies, the battalion machine gun company (ten or so Maxim guns, all told), the battalion mortar company (same deal), and the battalion AT company (armed with anti-tank rifles, which may as well be rocks for all the good they do).

From the Russian side, this is almost entirely a defensive effort, and that’s reflected in my chosen deployment. (We won’t talk about my first mission in this campaign, a defense to the northwest. It didn’t go well.) One rifle company, under Homenko, is deployed at the northern crossroads, reinforced by most of Beda’s platoon. Drobotov’s platoon holds the central crossroads, while Churginov’s platoon serves as a reserve between the two. Bits and pieces of the machine gun company and the anti-tank company are detached to strengthen the two crossroads strongpoints.

The remainder of Beda’s platoon, along with the battalion mortars and the bulk of the machine guns, are deployed on the forward slope on the western approach to Shilovo, commanding the valley. With good, overlapping fields of fire, and tons of ammunition to boot, I suspect the machine guns will serve to hold the valley approach to Shilovo without issue. I’m more concerned about the central crossroads. If the Germans bring tanks down the west road, I’ll have a bad time of things. Hopefully, the northern crossroads strongpoint will be sufficiently distracting.

Anyway. Let’s get this show on the road. I had hoped to provide some extra screenshots here beyond the few I took during the battle, but alas, my VLC screenshot button isn’t working correctly, so you’ll just have to rely on your war correspondent, me.

The Germans begin their attack with a push, oddly enough, across the valley. The machine guns deliver a murderous hail of fire into the advancing Wehrmacht troops, and in large part, the advance stalls about halfway to my line. German forces will rally and push up the hill somewhat, but never in any organized manner, and never any closer than about one hundred meters to the guns.


Gunners on the northeastern outskirts of Shilovo engage German forces in the trees near the Trushkino road.

The northern crossroads, as I thought might be the case, turn out to be more interesting. It takes the Germans about ten minutes longer to make it down the road toward the strongpoint, but they arrive in greater force, and I have fewer heavy weapons to spare. It quickly becomes clear that the main German advance is coming from the west along the main road, so I shift some of the defenders facing north—a second machine gun team, and one of Beda’s squads—to meet the threat.

The fire on my position intensifies. The Germans clearly want this crossroads. Mortar fire begins to land in town, and the piddly 50mm mortars attached to each of my companies can’t even begin to fire in reply. They stick to shooting at the oncoming Germans, which is admittedly more scary than effective. (Your average 50mm mortar bomb has about 100 grams of explosive, which is less than some hand grenades of the time.)

The situation worsens about 20 minutes into the mission. A halftrack comes down the road, and while its mounted machine gun is keeping my anti-tank gunners’ heads firmly below trench level, a pair of Panzer IIs roll up the road. This is no good. Time to bring in the reserves.


A machine gun team shoots past Russian trenches (at frame left) toward advancing German infantry, while a Panzer approaches from the right.

One of the anti-tank gunners manages to get a shot off at the halftrack, which is enough to force its crew to bail out. By now, though, the Panzers have backed off, and are now working their way around to the north, where my defenses are lighter. One of them pushes into the town, about fifty yards behind the camera above, and begins shooting up my poor defenders. Fortunately, between the carnage west of Shilovo and the reserves arriving and bulking up the line south of the crossroads, the Germans realize they can’t hope to break through without further reinforcement. They call for a cease fire, and I gladly accept.

The casualty ratio favors me, as you might expect from a victory in a dug-in, defensive battle. I started with 400 men, of which about 250 were front-line combat troops, and lost 50, including a few machine guns lost and a few abandoned. (The abandoned ones will be recovered.) The Germans lost 150 out of 360, including one halftrack. I put some fire on both tanks, but neither appear to have been greatly inconvenienced by it, and undoubtedly, they’ll show up again.

Having survived this battle, I only had one more to play on the first turn, and it played out very similarly—the battle played out over Shilovo again, except shifted one grid square south. The same deployment, with machine guns covering open ground, served me well, and I’m into the second turn of the campaign now. I was able to bring some artillery up all along the line, along with anti-tank guns and air spotters. I expect the next few battles will feature much improved fireworks.

Flight Instructor Fishbreath: The Kamov Ka-50

My old college pal and sometimes wingman John (a.k.a parvusimperator from Vanguard, or from the Warthog aircraft review) has had DCS: A-10C since, I believe, well before I bought DCS: Black Shark 2. Once I had the Ka-50 in my hangar, we began a sort of cold war, each of us waiting for the other to flinch and buy the other platform so we could do same-aircraft multiplayer. Well, I’m pleased to announce that he cracked first, and has become the proud owner of a Ka-50 to go along with mine.

Rather than learn as I did, by finding the very few Youtube videos on advanced Ka-50 combat employment and reading the manual’s occasionally (read: frequently) confusing descriptions of complicated procedures, he decided to accept my generous offer of flight instruction (half-delivered in a Russian accent). These are my notes on my curriculum and his progress, which may or may not be entertaining or useful. The student may be in to offer his thoughts at some point.

Since John can’t count any helicopter experience among his flight sim or real flight time, I decided we would start with a cockpit tour, a cold start, and some free flight. The cockpit tour got off to very much the start I expected, as the Warthog-acclimated John asked all the usual questions: “What’s this 1970s TV screen doing in my cockpit? Why are there all these switches? Why are there gauges and indicator lights over my head? This is claustrophobic. How do you see out of this thing?” After he ran out of things to gripe about, we went around the cockpit, and I pointed out handy things like the targeting control panel, the Shkval targeting system (the 1970s TV) and the ABRIS moving map system, the navigation, autopilot, and datalink panels, and a few of the switches we’d need for an engine start.

Speaking of, that’s where we went next. The Ka-50 is not a complicated aircraft to start—hydraulics, batteries, the APU, engines, generators, and power switches on a few avionics panels. The inertial navigation unit, which on the A-10 constitutes five minutes of waiting during startup, needs only to be powered on in the Ka-50; since it’s updated by the satellite navigation system, it can be instantly updated when airborne, and isn’t necessary for the minute or two a good GLONASS fix takes.

With the rotors turning all proper-like, I took off, gave John some pointers on how to get off the ground safely (add a little forward cyclic, since the neutral stick position on the ground yields backwards flight in the air), and watched. Unfortunately, this first takeoff was not wholly successful. John got stuck in an overcorrect cycle, backwards and forwards, until he whacked the tail on the ground and ended up leaving it there. Fortunately, I had guessed something of the sort might happen, and John moved to the next helicopter lined up on the ramp, whose engines were already turning. This second attempt proved a little more successful: John took off, and we went over some helicopter basic flight maneuvers.

This is where I’ll have to digress to talk about the Ka-50’s autopilot. It starts with everything off: there are no computer inputs at all, neither for control dampening nor for actual flight control. This mode—or rather, lack of any mode—is interesting from a wow-this-is-not-a-stable-helicopter perspective, but it isn’t useful as a flight training tool. Instead, we started with flight director mode, which, when enabled along with the pitch, bank, and yaw autopilot channels, provides stability enhancement but doesn’t add attitude changes of its own. As such, it represents the way the helicopter handles when you’re flying it by hand, or when you’re in between attitudes when the autopilot is engaged.

John took to it fairly quickly, after we covered the basic fact that helicopters move in the direction you move the stick at low speeds, and fly not entirely unlike airplanes at high speeds. We also discussed vortex ring state, a helicopter hazard encountered when an inattentive pilot descends into his own rotor downwash (the helicopter may be climbing relative to the air, you see, but the air is moving down very quickly). We had a little jaunt around the airfield, and then returned for a landing, during which there was no crashing! John developed a bit of fondness for the Ka-50, particularly its agility and light control responses. Little did he know that the autopilot would prove his greatest foe yet.