Matthew

I write, you read.

How I Lost To South Africa (Steel Armor: Blaze of War AAR)


The saying usually goes that if you can bluff the enemy into thinking that you are more numerable then you are, then you can effectively win the day with a small contingent to their much larger force. Well, Sun Tzu, you haven’t tried holding back the South Africans as they slung a company of mechanized infantry, supported by their fully outfitted APCs in a fortified trench system, at you. In theory, this should have been an evenly outfitted match had my allies, the Angolan FAPLA (you can laugh now), supported my six Cuban T-62s by digging in on the right flank. Like most things of this nature, it is very hard to assess the enemy disposition and from where or if they will attack or at the very least, take the initiative of the battle and swing it towards their favor because it isn’t like the enemy knows how we are faring in terms of manpower nor do they know if their manpower is sufficient enough to take and hold the objective at the same time.

I decided to position my force of tanks on the immediate left flanks so I could assess what was going on and try and make a push into the enemy positions that would assuredly be in the direct east of our position. I put my 2nd Tank Platoon to the furthermost extent of our positions so they could assault and take the area that would be to their east. What I really wanted to do was have them fire and maneuvere so they could assist the mechanized infantry that I had set in front of the 1st Tank Platoon. I didn’t know the South African’s strength so I thought that it may just be some fortified infantry that were lying in wait in their trench system so some mechanized infantry would be the best way to take them out without wasting my precious tank resources. In Steel Armor, if I lose one of my armored vehicles to a technical error, as in an enemy AT weapon takes out the tracks, it carries over to the rest of the campaign and it takes man hours of repair that my force simply doesn’t have on the frontline and if I decided to put them outside the tank to repair it in the midst of battle, they will become another soft body target for the South African infantry and armor to pick out.

On the onset of the battle, my theory was that if my Angolan allies assaulted the South African positions, I would be able to effectively swing down a traditional “hammer and anvil” strike to wipe out their forces. What this meant in the old days was infantry would charge the enemy in one direction while the Calvary, in this case, tanks, would slam down on the enemy’s rear like a hammer. This would be perfect for this scenario as we had  the strategic advantage in that we had them at an L-shaped place in the map and we could act out this tactic but more so, it would be like a door then the classic “hammer and anvil” as my tanks hinged their way to close on the South  Africans. But this was not to be because at the start of the assault, the South Africans took a mechanized company and smashed right into my inexperienced and undermanned Angolan supporting infantry. They continually shelled the area with their superior artillery and then, on top of all that, had their APCs firing down on the Angolans while their Oliphants shelled our supporting APCs and lit the infantry up with MG fire.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t costly for the South Africans because they lost what equates to a platoon and a half of their mechanized infantry to our supporting T-62 fire and the Angolan RPGs, APCs, and recoilless rifle. While they may have lost a platoon and a half, they still had at least another platoon or two of combat effective mechanized infantry. They scurried out of their burning APCs, lit ablaze by the shell fire, and ran around in a futile attempt to relinquish the flames.  The beauty of this all is the way this interacts to the other units on the map. They can respond dynamically to this by either surrendering, if, for example, a tank or overwhelming infantry force decided to engulf their positions or they can just retreat off the battlefield but in other games, when an enemy retreats, you either lose the unit or something dire happens but in SABOW, the retreated infantry will be reformed into their own platoon sections again but the persistence stays with them.

While on my right flank, the Angolan mechanized infantry was getting decimated and taken over by the SAR infantry, the 2nd Tank Platoon on my furthest most left flank was in the fight of its life to maintain its wits and support the tank assault to take out the SAR in the area. What I didn’t know when I started the battle was that a company of Oliphants were directly in front of my position, almost parallel to my T-62s, closing down on us because their view was most likely that a good defense had the best offense which their tanks provided. On my mini-map, all I saw was one tank after another fading out into greyness as their hull’s were perforated by the Oliphant’s sabots and the crew inside was torn to pieces or they were simply hit in the wrong area by a tank round and were lit on fire.

This doesn’t mean that they didn’t put up a hell of fight though because, as seen by the picture above, the 2nd Tank Platoon took out no more than five of the enemy’s armored assets and immobilized a couple a more as they hit the tank treads. So one after another, the fiery rain just enveloped my left flank and the center tank platoon was left to suffer the fate of effectively being the last men standing and doing their best to hold the line.

The British-made Oliphant was a powerful piece of hardware that was superior to what I had fielded on this day. Soviet doctrine was designed for their armor and mechanized units to completely envelope the enemy with sheer numbers and the Western doctrine was, more or less, quality over quantity. So whenever I sent a sabot or AP shell down range to take out one of these monstrosities, it either ping off it and went skyward to take out Zeus or it penetrated but didn’t cause damage to the internal functions of the tank itself. Because of the ill-fated situation that the 1st Tank Platoon was in, they were sitting ducks that were just waiting to be picked off by the hunters. Lucky for them, however, the mechanized SAR infantry was too occupied on the right flank to assist in the armored push but they did send some APCs over as their infantry continually called in artillery strikes to clear out the right flank with a creeping barrage like in World War I. One person’s hell is another person’s fortune.

As noted before, the situation was bad and just getting worse by the minute. I commandeered one of the T-62s and positioned it on the firing line to try and save what was left of my tank force or inflict as much damage upon the South Africans as possible but as soon as I got into position, I turned to my left and saw that one of my tanks was disabled; they had perished inside their tanks as a shell had penetrated the hull and bounced around, ripping through them like hot butter. Upon looking to my immediate right flank, I saw my other T-62 on fire with two crewmen that burnt to death on the outside and the other two either dead or dying in the inside.

I opened the hatch and made an assessment of what was happening on the battlefield and what I saw was just plumes of smoke rising from the smoldering SAR wreckage but there was still more then a platoon of armor out there ready to take me out and overtake the 1st Tank Platoon’s position. So I got into the gunner’s seat and unloaded every last shell that my tank could muster into the oncoming armor but as some were advancing, others were pouring fire into us. Because of the target rich environment, my T-62 ran out of ammo and had to rely on its MG fire to keep the pressure on but that wouldn’t penetrate the hull of the APCs, let alone the Oliphants and if a tank is firing anti-personal rounds at an armored target then they are mostly likely on the bad end of the ammo count so it was a fruitless affair of desperate firing as my crew yelled slurs, literally, as rounds penetrated our hull and barely missed us.

It was all for naught as a South African tank flanked to our uncovered left and sent a round into us, killing a crewman inside the tank, then as the rest of the crew was getting out, two of them got out on the wrong side and tank shell split them both in half as the other crewman laid low on the side of the tank hoping to survive ordeal.

The battle did not go my way and we ended up losing our starting position and suffered close to 100% casualties but I have to say that I had fun while doing it. When a game can be fun when you win or lose then something great is going in within that game. Much like Dwarf Fortress or any rogue-like or grand strategy, a singular lose isn’t the end of the campaign or story, for that matter. I have the whole topographical map in the operational mode for the Battle of Cuito-Cuanavale in this game and while I may suffer in my dynamic campaign because of this tragic loss, the fun that was had can never be taken away and it goes to show that being a war-gamer is the best type of gaming there is.

Battle for the Khamara Heights (Steel Armor: Blaze of War AAR)


Getting to the point of defeating the enemy is a long, dull drudge through many scripted or dynamically linear corridors that lead to an overarching premise that tells the player that they have officially beat the game or, in most cases, defeat those tyrannical Russians that happens to use weapons that their grandfathers used in the Soviet Bloc who happen to  know nothing of strategic importance other than “Hey, if I run towards this enemy, maybe he will die, respawn , and kill me in a perpetual loop of the same thing over and over. While these games are fine and dandy, thank Zeus for realistic simulators like Steel Armor: Blaze of War that turn this farce on its head and show the world what it means to create a storyline without scripted anything at all.

The game utilizes a ridiculously good dynamic campaign that takes the topography of the very location that the battles took place and rips it out of reality and right to your computer screen so you can fantasize that you are the Rommel of Babylon. In the case of most other games of the RTS or war-games genre, they would pick some of the more well-known conflicts that the Western audience would be familiar with, like the storming of the bocages that lined the French countryside during the days that followed Operation Overlord (Combat Mission and Company of Heroes to name a few) or they would veer off into left field and pick something from the Ostfront (Achtung Panzer, which is made by the same guys that made Steel Armor: Blaze of War, Men of War, and now Company of Heroes 2). Not that these games aren’t good because they are doing something that is unique to their development teams but SABOW does something that the other teams wouldn’t dare do by taking it to the proxy wars of the 1970s and 1980s that relied heavily on tanks.

During this tumultuous period of time, the Soviet Union and United States, more ore less, waged a fifty year war without actually firing a shot directly at each other. What they did was supply multiple civil wars and conflicts that would help test their weapons systems against each other’s as to see what would happen if they actually met on the Fulda Gap. SABOW takes the Angolan Civil War between Cuban and Soviet supported Angolan governmental troops and the United States and South African supported rebels, Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, and the Iran-Iraq War. Seeing all these conflicts peaked my interest so I delved deep into the game and came to the Iran-Iraq War as the most prolific of them all so I dug into the dynamic campaign for this conflict.

Map of the current situation

I chose to play as the Iranians in this scenario (you can play as the invading Iranians or the defensive Iraqis) and multiple battles were fought over the Khamara Hills which has ended in stalemate as the Razavi, Kermani, and Ghulbuhar platoons made a trident-esque piercing action into the heights. The position was inundated with anti-tank emplacements, trenches for both the infantry and the APCs that supported them, and T-62s that were lying in wait for my onslaught of tanks. With Iranian airborne troops readily available to me, I parachuted them into the rear of the Iraqi positions on the multiple heights so I could perform a small encirclement on their forces which may or may not come to fruition in the coming turns. The beauty of it all was that it was all random, as in the AI fortified the hills on its own volition as it saw my superior tank force coming to bear down on it like a hammer on glass. The infantry had no way of defending their soft bodies against my company of mechanized terror so they dug in and waited it out.

Iraqi holding the heights after a long battle

The first battle for the heights was a cake walk, in terms of casualties, for Ravazi, Kermani, and Ghulbuhar, in which we only lost a tank or two to infantry RPG fire in one case and the other being immobilized due to its tracks being torn off by more infantry. The Ravazi was the most experienced and numerous of the three with five M60A1s to the other platoons’ three. Being at 2 A.M., the night sky was lit up like a Christmas tree as green tracers from the Soviet weaponry pinged harmlessly off the side of our M60A1s and our red tracers tore through the soft bodies of the Iraqi infantry. Incoming and outgoing rounds made a loud tremendous thunder as they shreiked overhead, signifying the death of an Iraqi or the dismemberment of one of man’s most technological wonders. At the first phase of the battle for the Khamara Heights, we sliced through their light armored vehicle, which formed a C-pattern, or horns, to envelope the advancing enemy. In a matter of seconds their three IFV vehicles were nothing more than smoldering scrap metal.

Smoldering scrap metal by a M60A1

They probably thought the Iranian Infantry were making push first but my tank companies had the go ahead to start the assault on Susangerd. I had propped one of my Commanders on the outside of tank’s hatchet to get good feel of what I was seeing on the battlefield because, in this game, you are limited to the viewports and sights of the tank. Besides the screenshots being lit up, (it does that for the after battle wrap-up), I obviously couldn’t see worth anything and the night vision technology of the 1980s wasn’t what it is today so it is only natural for the commander to take a look of what he has to do to make sure that his tank gets out of there in one piece and forward the momentum of the battle at the same time but this was a bad move for the commander; the unlucky Iranian took a stray bullet to the head as he tried to get an assessment of the battlefield.

The poor Iranian

After that, the battle took a sort of lull; my tank forces couldn’t uproot the infantry from the fortified heights but it changed hands a couple times over the hour before they finally reclaimed it before we had to pull away and assess the damages. When the battle was said and done, the Iraqis had the heights but at a tremendous cost:

47 Killed

Dead Iraqis <a href=

45 Badly Wounded (Combat Ineffective) or Wounded

A dead Iraqi and his tank in a small wooded area; the rest of his tankers most likely died inside the tank

5 Missing (Captured by the Iranians which, during this time, meant you stayed missing)

An Iraqi surrendering

 

Mark of The Beast


Life is often seen as the embodiment of love, freedom, and happiness but it takes an entirely different meaning when death seemingly waltz to your doorstep and slaps a barcode with Nero’s numbers on your hand. The Christians say that when the Beast comes out of the opaque abyss, he will bring with him the Beast of the Sea, Beast of the Earth, the Image, the Mark, and the Fate and all those that don’t submit to his will are going to be brought into an apocalypse so grave that Sisyphus, the man damned to the underworld to push a rock uphill for eternity, would rather lay the rock upon his chest and let the burden overwhelm him than face what humanity is facing. It all had to start with something and the Mark of the Beast bestowed its bloody virtue upon my hand for all to see.

My veins, running cold with pestilence, bellow and bulge within my subcutaneous tissue. Black sludge methodically drips from the mark, making a shallow puddle around my bedside table. The pain is indescribable because it is non-existent. Like the gods of old, the pain wasn’t there to greet me as I crafted together a thin tourniquet to tightly grip around my forearms as it pulsated beyond belief. It runs like a leaking faucet, hitting the wooden floorboards and causing the wood to slightly erode. I tried lifting my arm but it just hung at my side, a useless husk of meat, bone, and ever changing blood. It was worthless and without it, I am nothing more than a cripple but seeing what happened back at the park, something, anything, had to be done or I would become one of them because of this mark; the Mark of the Beast.

Being a reservist, it was only supposed to be a routine operation to the Knox County Park for a riot control exercise to simulate a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan. Like all exercises of this type, we were in the unknown as to what the situation detailed and what was supposedly going to happen in the situation. Anything from a child being hit by Stryker Armored Vehicle to a biological warfare attack was possible and ironically, on this day, it was the latter. It was a particularly gloomy day with the palette of colors turning from a radiant sun to a shallow, ashen grey that loomed over us like a cancerous cloud of abhorrence. The town, as we slowly rolled through the cordoned off area, seemed peaceful except, as I think back, a lone figure staggering with what seemed like dark, red stains on his shirt. It busted out one of the local pubs and made a low grunting noise. One of the new reservists  threw a bottle of water at him ,while yelling at him to sober up, which hit the man on the side of the head but it didn’t faze him as he slowly extended his arms like a father does to his child and staggered toward the column. His neck contorted and his eyes rolled to the back of his head as he seemed to move quickly upon the sight of a small silhouette that muttered the word “Daddy”. For a second I thought something was odd but I shrugged it off as we got to the park.

We unloaded all our materials, which were all blanks or fake weaponry since we didn’t want any blue on blue or civilian casualties, then started toward a big group of actors portraying a rambling crowd of Afghanis. Like all drills, we moved our vehicles into a defensive stance and tried to reason with the “Afghans” until a loud scream broke out in the crowd. The crowd started to look back and as they did, a narrow perforation started to form inside their ranks as they split apart to let a small child run through. The child was sloppily clothed with dark stains on his shirt but the most worrying feature was his face, which looked like his nose was suspended by a single tendon. Our medic ran towards him, assuming a special effects artist had done something and joked with us as he commented on how realistic it felt. I turned my back to grab a cigarette when I heard another blood curdling scream. When I looked back, a group of my comrades were yanking the child off of the medic as he grabbed inside his neck to grasp the aorta in an attempt to advert the bleeding out of the blood to the brain. He rolled on the ground in sheer terror until his eyes rolled to the back of his head and his skin had run grey, from what seemed like a melatonin deficit. The boy that had bitten him was thrown inside a Humvee as he banged his head against the polycarbonate glass which resulted in blood gushing through the backseat. I opened the door to try and calm the boy down but as soon as the door was unhinged, it flew back with such ferocity, that my Kevlar helmet ripped off my face, causing my nose to bleed and sent me to the ground. A sharp pain rain through my right hand as I glanced down to see the boy being ripped from my hand with few centimeters of my metacarpals; more and more screams broke loose as I faded in and out of consciousness. I knew that if I lost consciousness, the longer that I was not in reality the higher chance of brain damage so I strained to stay awake. One of my good friends, who I will not name due to the irrelevance that it has to this writing, tried dragging me away to behind the HMMWVs but a man grabbed him and sunk his swart nails into his checks, sending out a terrible scream that I would become accustomed to. When I looked back to the crowd, all I saw was pandemonium and terror with what seemed like a brawl; blood started to fill the streets like a drop of dye on clothes. It was terrible; it was beyond comprehension; it was the Beast coming to life.

I am no Christian by any means but the parallels between the Apocalypse of John and humanity’s predicament is unnerving. To make something clear, I have never been the one to record my life story and my trials and tribulations but I have to, as this is the only way to go about it. If you are reading this right now than I am most likely dead. The infection will have gone to my brain and I am one of them, as you read this, or you will find this among my possessions as I lay with a bullet in my head. At this very moment there is a military issue Single Action M1911 Colt next to my hand and I am thinking about ending it here and now so if this is the last blog post you hear from me then so be it. America is going to depths of Tartarus while the rest of the world watches in terror; your country is just letting us rot while the government secures the borders. For the reality is I have been bitten by one of those things, which is a miracle that I have survived the month that I have but that is another story for later as the seven story apartment I am is still in need of clearing. You are reading the words of a dead man.

The Many Ails of Writing


Writing is the greatest thing that humankind has ever came up with. It is the best and most coherent process of intellectual expression that allows a relatively unknown person to divulge their feelings more so then one could ever do through oral communcation. This, however, can be the hardest profession/hobby that a person can ever do.

Recently I have been wanting to enter into the Amazon Breakthrough Award Contest as I had just finished my first manuscript and wanted to get some exposure before I publish it through CreateSpace. I found out it about in early January and then went into overdrive to finish the manuscript. One thousand, two thousand, and even three thousand word days were common in my goal to be able to begin my dream as a renowned writer, all while still being in school. Elation filled me whenever I got pass the 50,000 word mark which was the limit to enter the contest. The only thing to do now was to go through every inch of the manuscript and find the grammatical mistakes; this is the most bland part of the process.

Then I decided to enter my manuscript in so that I could reserve my spot, only 5,000 can enter in each category, and when I got to the page I saw the dreaded message “General Fiction is closed”. My heart sank into limbo as my hard work has been in vein to meet my goal. First came shock ,depression, then a realization: being a writer is about the hard times. You have to persevere and not give up because of a lone setback. While I am sad that I am not going to get a big signing bonus onto Penguin Books and become a potential best seller overnight, I am glad I went through this. This is the hardest job in the world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.