Tuesday, 9 April 2013

There is always hope with a new dawn...

The flicker of light from the screen seemed harsh to the young fighter sat in front of it. The rest of the room was cool and dark and a small persistent voice in his head kept trying to persuade him to turn off the screen and go find a corner in which he could sleep off his exhaustion.

The figure on the screen scared him. Indistinct though the image was, the armour clad torso looked too square and inhuman. The bare head was pale, but the eyes were intense and piercing - even accounting for the poor signal, and the mouth was drawn in a grim un-smiling line. The figure passed a hand over the stubble on his head, the movement blurred.
            "The casualties were far greater than anticipated or needed, brother leader..." the voice said softly, a slight electronic distortion reminding the youth that this transmission was being bounced across hundreds of random relay points to avoid intercept and location detection.
            "Yes sir", he replied, a knot of shame and grief twisted his insides.
            "Most of the dead and wounded were left where they fell." The figure noted.
            "That is correct, sir... The rapidity of the action left me no choice. I had anticipated being able to hold them up well outside Jrinn and under our fire for far longer."
             "Indeed. We had also been of the same opinion."
The youth licked his lips, that were dry and swollen from the forced march and lack of water. Most of their kit had been abandoned at Jrinn. "I made several errors in the placement of the Shield, Sir. Also, I should have been there at the outset to oversee events. My arrival with Number 5 Guard was too late"
              "Your candid assessment is noted, brother leader. Tell me, do you believe your command's arrival with that of an additional Guard would have altered the outcome if you had been able to enter the battle space?" The figures face betrayed no clue or hint for the youth, the voice as soft and calm as if he were enquiring about crop rotation. Yet, the words tore into the youth.
             "Honestly Sir? No. We were less than half a Klick from the fight when I began to realise how bad it was. The sound of gunfire was almost continuous at this point - but little of what I heard was coming from Hunters. We would have arrived just to join the casualty list."
             "I see. So you gave permission for the last Guard who it seems had not fired a shot, to withdraw?"
              "I did, Sir"
              "And why did you do that?"
              "Because to attempt to hold them off any longer would have probably lost our whole force, Sir, fully half my Shield. Aside from the first opening shots, our weapons seemed to have made little impact. As far as I can tell the fire from the Shield was steady and as accurate as it could be under such circumstances, but the volume of fire in reply was terrible..."
              "Hmm..." A hand went up to the chin, held it momentarily and then moved away again.
              "I have failed the Claive, Sir..." the youth blurted out, and he felt the pain of those words and the warm welling of tears in his eyes. The figure on screen said nothing for a long time, regarding him while he sensed the warm tracks of moisture tickle down his dusty face.
              "On the country," the figure said eventually, tiredly. "In fact, it is we who have failed you. We have significantly underestimated the disparity of weapons, armour, training and experience of your Shield against a professional mercenary force. Your command fought bravely, brother leader, and you made the correct decision in the field." Another long pause whilst the youth absorbed what he was being told.
              "You did well, brother. You and your Shield."
              The youth almost gasped. He had expected... well, he wasn't actually sure what he expected. Banishment probably, for failure. For a while, the two regarded each other; one a newly blooded survivor of modern combat, the other a grizzled refugee from Inter-Stellar wars more terrible than the youth could possibly conceive.
              "What would you have me do now Sir?" the youth asked. The was a smile from the screen. Brief but with some warmth.
              "I fear I must ask you to take up the fight again brother leader."
              "Of course Sir! For Harl?"
              "For Harl, yes. But not at Harl yet. You are now at Halfway, yes?"
              "Yes Sir, I arrived about half an hour ago and the rest of the Shield are two clicks away."
              "Good. I think we should be able to engineer a little reception for the ROF at Halfway. And I fear we will have to commit our Hammer much sooner in this fight than we had hoped for."
               "The Hammer will smash them sir!" the youth exclaimed, and the exhaustion and grief for his lost friends was momentarily washed away by the thought. The figure on screen nodded sadly.
               "Perhaps it will at that. For a little while. But I fear that even the Hammer may yet crack ere we have accounted for all of them..."

Friday, 5 April 2013

Sharp Action at Jrinn

Although certainly a Claive holding, Jrinn was really nothing more than a run down trading post on the southern extremity of the Sarl Valley (Map ref. C10).

Knowing any incursion by the ROF was likely to come through Jrinn, the Commander of the Claive's Southern Shield had placed four Guards there, with an additional Guard and his own command team close by. The remaining elements of the Shield were to the North East at Signal (Map ref. J11), as this settlement straddled a cross roads that provided the only other viable route into the valley from Arden. Claive central command hoped that once the key line of advance was established, the Southern and Central Shields could combine to provide a stiff defensive line against the incursion.

ROF Objective. 

Having been granted the honour of leading the campaign, Lieutenant Flode commanding TCT Bravo was required to simply secure Jrinn, push out beyond it for about a Klick and so establish the first Forward Operating Base for the ROF in the Sarl. The two key elements for success would be absolutely NO civilian casualties and few, if any ROF casualties at this early stage and certainly no loss of AFV's.

Having reviewed the ground ahead at their start line positions, and seen with her own eyes the number of heat signatures and probable weapon profiles coming in from the teams sensor arrays, Flode decided against deploying the APC's. The ground over which they had to advance was narrow and the range short. The ROF knew the Claive was well equipped with old but reliable anti-armour. Flode hoped that the APC's would not need to be deployed but they remained waiting on the start line if required.

She decided on simplicity in the end, trusting to the better training, equipment and experience of her team. They would deploy abreast and assault Jrinn in a three phase operation. Swift action and heavily armed troopers would, she expected, win the day. They would be backed up by the support weapons of the STING mobile GPMG team.

Claive Objective. 

Jrinn was to be a short holding action only. The trading post was only symbolically important as the first part of Claive territory but was otherwise irrelevant. The Claive central command needed to see the ROF in action and if the Claive Guards could inflict a significant casualty count against the ROF at this early stage, it might give them pause for thought about the merits of the contract with Arden. Better still if an AFV or two could be destroyed...

So, the Southern Shield Guards should be prepared to open fire swiftly but retire from Jrinn before any serious casualties of their own were suffered. Whilst casualties were inevitable, the integrity and strength of the Shield needed to be preserved for the defence of Harl and if necessary, Farrow and beyond.

The battlefield laid out as viewed from ROF positions.

The initial deployment positions as viewed from Claive side.

The action.

The battle was to last four turns so as to make the ROF think about the need to get moving quickly. The rules were Tomorrow's War from Ambush Alley and Osprey and this was my "first go" at seeing how they played.

The ROF deployed the TCT Bravo of three sections of seven or eight troopers armed with Tech Level 2 Assault Rifles. Each section had a SAW, a team sniper and a SLAM (RPG). In addition, from round two, the TCT Bravo HQ team and the STING support team of three mobile GPMG's would be on hand to provide fire support and a small reserve of firepower. The ROF are equipped with Light Armour, and although no NET was available, each team member has good sensory availability as part of their helmet and comms array relayed through their APC's and the HQ Command team vehicle. Morale began as good and confidence was high.

The Claive deployed 4 Guard Teams in and around the trading post. An additional Guard plus the Southern Shield Command team are en route and are likely to arrive at Turn 2 or 3. The Claive are Tech Level 1 and have no additional armour being a lightly equipped militia force mainly used to fending off Kresh raids and gangs from the wastes. Each Guard unit is 9 or 10 strong with a Guard Leader and are equipped with Assault rifles and at least one SAW and RPG. Many of the teams have 2 of each. Morale also began as good and confidence similarly high.

Turn one saw the ROF's Two and Three Sections move forward to get into and beyond the cover of the small copse of trees whilst on the ROF left flank, One Section would try and keep Claive Heads down. The first few actions in this first turn might have presaged some startling events. Guard No. 1 who were in and around the building below the Trading Post proper beat Two Section on the first reaction test and in the subsequent fire fight killed Trooper Ik-Lak and seriously wounded Trooper Imray. An audible gasp could be heard on the TCT Bravo's comms links.

However, after that first blooding by the stalwart Claive Guards, it quickly deteriorated for them, and helped illustrate for me one of the key mechanisms of these rules: the tech levels. The ROF were rolling D8's, the Claive D6. The Claive lost dice because of it and clearly had less chance of rolling higher scores against the ROF dice. So, despite some early good dice rolls after that initial exchange, the superior firepower of the ROF quickly established ascendancy over the Claive Guard, and they were punished for their lack of armour.

The Claive plan for swift exchanges of fire and withdrawal started to go wrong almost immediately. No. 1 Guard, after it's first success took a hammering from both Section Two and One and got pinned. The attempt by No. 3 and 4 Guard to intervene and interfere with the ROF advance was beaten by better reaction test rolls and superior fire power of the ROF.

I think the final fatal mistake of the Claive commander at the end of Turn One was the inactivity of No. 2 Guard whose position meant that they had no LOS on any ROF troops during Turn One. Instead of re-deploying, they stayed put to be in a position to engage next Turn.

The start of Turn two saw one of the three civilians present on the battlefield decide enough was enough. The remaining two passed their morale tests and kept their nerve thus preventing some of the ROF units from firing on elements of the Shield - particularly No. 2 Guard. However, the third civilian making an unsurprising bolt for it, uncovered No. 3 Guard to the guns of both Two and Three Sections.

At this stage, the ROF were still concerned, particularly for Two Section who had been fired on repeatedly throughout Turn One by the guns and rockets of three Guard units. Given the weight of fire and the proximity of the enemy, they appeared lucky to have sustained only two casualties. However their number was reduced by one more trooper as the section medic (one of the attributes of TCT Bravo is that each section has a medic) dragged off Trooper Imray to the rear for urgent CASEVAC.

All teams moved forward and in the ensuring series of firefights No.'s 1, 3 and 4 Guards were effectively wiped out. Again, they were lucky with many of the casualty roles but so much fire was poured onto them, multiple hits turned light wounds into serious ones and they were unlucky with the loss of SAW's and RPG's. Although the ROF did not know it yet, by the end of Turn Two, the action was effectively over.

The Claive commander, himself about to join the fight with his team and the reinforcement of No. 5 Guard had to make a swift but brutal decision. He had lost radio contact with all but No. 2 Guard whose slightly hysterical leader was telling him all the other teams were dead, or down. If so, this was already a profound disaster for his Shield, and to compound that with the loss of further Guard could not be justified for the orders he had. But to leave the battlefield with so many Guard unaccounted for was almost as bad. With the leader of No.2 Guard emphatic about his inability to reach any wounded from the other Guard teams (he was right), the Shield commander reluctantly ordered the withdrawal of No. 2 Guard and he and No. 5 Guard covered their withdrawal (off table).

Turn Three then saw the ROF continue to advance. One Section assaulted the positions of No. 1 Guard to find all there dead or badly wounded. No fire came from above either. In the sudden silence across the Trading settlement, Trooper Hok from his position on the left flank with One Section was heard by the whole TCT via the comms to say: "That's it, they've broken. Looks like we've hit most of 'em any ways..."

Trooper Hok of One Section, TCT Bravo, Seven Valleys Battle Group, ROF, in action at Jrinn.

The campaign (finally) gets underway

The Guardian “Hauberk” locked brakes and came to a gentle halt thirty meters from the crest of the rise it had ground up for the last few minutes. Grey dust from the rough road plumed around it’s armoured wheels and drifted lazily westward on a gentle breeze. On the front flanks of the carrier, the two defensive machine guns gittered left and right seeking threats, whilst the roar of the engine descended into a low growl as the driver idled  his vehicle. 

On top of the APC the hatches hissed alive and opened upward and forward, clicking softly into lock, and from each hatch opening swarmed an armoured fighter who slid quickly and efficiently over the side of the Hauberk and onto their bellies, then rolled away from the vehicle into the short turf either side of the road in a move that looked synchronised, very well rehearsed and almost poetic. The speed and timing in which a combat squad exited it’s armoured personnel carrier and deployed was often literally, a matter of life and death. 

The eight members of the team, four left and four right were in a defensive cluster, their weapons pointed from nine through to three o’clock. All had visors down and weapons  sweeping their arc of the defence, and for each, as this was an experienced team, it was as involuntary as breathing.  Each team member had the gentle and reassuring murmur of the team communication chatter in one ear whilst the other was being fed the sounds of the rest of the world around them enhanced through their comm helmets and overseen by the comms control system in Hauberk which was also listening out for anything that might sound like the noise of a threat in close proximity to the team and the vehicle. 

The lead figure on the left flank moved - leaping up and bent double sprinting forward to just before the crest of the little hill, followed almost immediately by the lead figure of the right flank who threw themselves down in the dust close by the first fighter. For some moments neither said anything, but the side to side movement of their helmeted heads indicated their close scan of the land lying ahead of their position.

“Well Jarl,”, the first figure said finally, her quiet words picked up on her mike and communicated via her helmet comm. to her number 2. “The Sarl valley starts just over there.”
Jarl grunted, his visor scope was set to 3x magnification and he tapped on his wrist pad to increase this vision up to 10x. The road which was really no more than a dusty track snaked down the other side of the rise and pushed on through the low lying ground for half a click before rising steadily, gently up a larger hill. On top of the hill lay the trading post of Jrinn - typical builds in the Claive style and surrounded by low walls to keep the local scavenger beasts at bay - and probably helpful as cover when who ever pulled the triggers fired on the Arden security team that had been sent to formally serve notice to quit. A third building lay just below the hill, along with more walling. All looked quiet. Jarl flicked the rocker switch on his wrist pad and his visors view switched colour - transforming the landscape to shades of grey. Amongst the buildings on the hill were a number of clear blurs of white - human blobs of pale light against the grey. Apparently unarmed.
“We have a welcoming committee, any way, Sann.” Jarl observed. 
“To be expected. This is their home. I track three groups just inside the compounds - none look like they are carrying.”
“Roger that, boss.” 
“All. Bravo Two to Bravo Lead. Target in visual. Multiple confirmed locals. No heat. Do we go?” Sann had patched through to the team leader back in “the Boss” but had included everyone in the team because there was nothing of note to report which would be good news for all to hear.”
“Affirmative Bravo Two. Let’s take a stroll with our dogs.”
“Roger that Lead.”
Senn looked to her right at Jarl. His face from nose up was invisible behind the visor of his helmet but his mouth, surrounded by a day of stubble pulled a side ways scowl that he always used when he meant “lets get this done” when he would rather be in a canteen somewhere instead - the job having been done. 
Senn stood up, Jarl close behind. Both knew that their bodies now stood stark on the skyline for those watching in the hamlet ahead. If there was a sniper there who had not yet been picked by their sensors then the first they would know about it was if their body took a shot. The familiar feeling of naked vulnerability mixed with fear of death or maiming shivered through both mercenaries. Behind them they knew that the rest of their team had stood and would be walking steadily forward, weapons raised, scopes trained on five different potential locations where death might be lurking. The roar of Hauberk’s engines roared as her driver edged her forward. 
On the comm, Senn heard Lieutenant Flode confirm to battle group:
“Seven this is Bravo One. Target Juliette One ahead. We are taking a stroll with the dogs.”
“Roger that Bravo One.” came the dispassionate reply from signals operator further back down the road with the Battle Group HQ group. Corporal Senn and her Two section advanced slowly forward with their Guardian class Armoured Personnel Carrier following at the same pace a little behind them. To their rear on either side the other two fire teams would be doing the same - taking a stroll with their “dog”. Behind them would follow the other HQ led elements of Tactical Combat Team Bravo, and behind them the rest of the Seven Valleys Battle Group. 
The Rapid Offensive Force was on the march into the Sarl Valley. It would take some stopping. 

Degraded intercept signal partly retrieved unknown source

++++extract broadcast 113476971 linear GAPC “Heater” TCT Charlie SVBG ROF outpost Kilo Six++++++

......”I am sorry I am not with you for this first blooding against the ROF but we must conserve the strength of the Hammer’s swing for a decisive blow. Your task must...(lost data)....important to remember that a building even if it is your home is not...(lost data)...trate our force when the axis of advance is certain. Brothers and sisters of the South Shield I urge you to remain calm, hold your position as ordered but be ready to w...(lost data)...of you. The ROF are not our enemies. They are carrying out a role for which they have been paid. A ro...(lost data)...significant loss will...(lost data)...return to negotiation...(lost data)...Arden...(lost data)...prayer, courage, forti...(lost data)...hearts...(lost data)...our word and our belief will be translated into our guns and missiles for this sacred work. I shall be with you...(lost data)....

++++extract ends++++

ROF gets it's marching orders...

++To: Colonel Jeb Gull Olam, Commander, Combat Command “Black Anvil” 
From: ROF Central Command, Jelab, Gaop Ridge. 
Subject: Arden contract for Police Action in Sarl Valley. 


Your CC will deploy for PA in Sarl Valley with immediate effect. 
Be advised that the contract allows for clause 23c, part 4a should ROF deem this necessary on evidence provided by your progress. CC’s “Storm Force” and “Jagged Edge”  will be on stand by to this end, in which case HQ element “Iron Blade” will be deployed to co-ordinate with CC “Black Anvil” taking lead role. 

The PA is planned in four phases with considerable flexibility for local judgement on the ground. The summary of the phases is attached. 

Points of note:

ROF forces will be contractually bound by article ZT4709-B during the entirety of this PA. Your attention is drawn to appendix A which details the rules of engagement. In summary, there will be no net coverage, no air support save for medical case-vac, no substantial artillery support and very limited armour support, save for organic TCT and BG elements and even these have severe restrictions imposed on them. 

Civilian loss of life and infrastructure damage will be coded into the contract. 

Severe loss or damage to above could cause ROF to breach contract but will also be in contempt of world court. 

You will be personally liable also, as commander on the ground.

The attached intel report provides all current data on Claive forces and structure.

We expect a brittle enemy. They will be fierce and determined at all times. You can and should expect an insurgency response from the civilian population, almost all of whom at some point have been Shield members. 

However, with fast and fierce engagement and even faster maneuvering, once the shield is pierced, we believe it will crack. 

Conference protocols will be maintained daily. Key decision will remain the need to utilise 23c/4a should this become necessary. 

Supply will be by road only in Sarl, although river supply should be considered if viable. 

Any intel on “Hammer” will be provided as soon as it arrives. At present, you may be best placed to learn more of this element on the ground from local knowledge. 

Good luck, Colonel. 

Signal ends.++