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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

LeonTrotsky

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This AAR has earned me a Fellowship in the Tempus Society.
The Tempus Society exists to encourge and support the genre of Alternate History in AARland.​



Chapter I – The Seed Of Europe

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
-- Wilfred Owen


November 20th 1909, Sicily​

Archie Barry gazed out over the shimmering Mediterranean. The Autumn weather had been pleasant, the swooping birds silhouetted against a wide red sunset completing a picture of perfect peace. But thunder rumbled in the distance despite the few wispy clouds in the sky. This was no storm, but the sounds of war encasing the ravaged Sicilian landscape, the guns of the British and Italian Empires clashing over dusty and tired ground. Archie Barry picked up his rifle and walked slowly back to his billet.

The Pals battalions had been formed over the winter of 1908-9, with the war a year old and the tremendous German assault on France beaten into a stalemate. And so the clerks of Oxford swapped their suits for khaki, the dockers of Liverpool exchanged caps for tin helmets, and with their friends and neighbours set sail for King and Country behind the colours of the Empire. Archie was Liverpool born and bred, and although there were many in his Irish family with no love for the English, Archie had felt perhaps through the pressure of the patriotic ideas prevalent across the country that his duty lay in the army. Besides, a more cynical part of him had reasoned, the introduction of conscription was only a matter of time; it was surely better to march alongside those he knew well, and receive proper equipment and training.

At 19, Archie was already a veteran of the early battles of the war in north-eastern France. Now a corporal, he had seen many of his original company buried under or scattered across the mud of Champagne and Picardie. Four months in the scorching heat of the Mediterranean had been no better. There was more leave time, but the country was unfamiliar and disease more widespread. The Italians had not been the pushover many had expected, still maintaining the Strait of Messina and more than a third of Sicily itself. Like the French front, trench warfare now dominated with the line stretching from just south of Catania on the east coast to Cefalu on the north. Nowhere on the island escaped the rumble of the guns, no town had escaped their ravages.
 
Last edited:

unmerged(60841)

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Archies had a hard life for one so young. I like the intro and the attention to detail with the line from Cefalu to Catania. Good luck.
 

Sir Humphrey

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Great start!
 

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Interesting start, I look forward to the background story
 

Kurt_Steiner

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Is this Archie related to the bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry?
 

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Thanks for the interest so far everyone. This will be a narrative AAR which will probably jump around it time quite alot as the story progresses. The story is based on a Grand Campaign I finished a while ago, although the country I was playing as won't be so obvious early on... see if you can guess!

The next update will be later today or tomorrow.
 

unmerged(62170)

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Nice intro, if the rest of its this level of quality I'll be enjoying it.

Is your country Two Sicilies? And do I get a prize if I am right? :p
 

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Apologies for the delayed update, writer's block :(
But I'm getting on with it OK now so there might even be another one soon if we're lucky


* * *​

The company were in the ancient city of Syracuse, out of the line for another day. It was full of all the illicit industries that grow up around an army, with soldiers from all corners of the Empire. The Sicilians who remained there after the British advance fell broadly into two categories. There were the pragmatists, eking out a living by providing for British soldiers off duty. Then there were the hostile, for here the British were an occupying force, and had underestimated the enthusiasm with which ordinary people across the length of Italy would embrace the war. It was not uncommon for troops to fall victims to organised attacks while they were out of the trenches, sometimes from partisans loyal to the government, sometimes just anti-British forces with their own political agendas. Last time the company had been out of the line, two officers had been shot dead at close range while sitting outside a café in broad daylight; none of the locals claimed to have seen anything. Such attacks were a growing problem and one which the military authorities seemed unable to deal with.

As a result rest out of the line was hardly rest at all, most soldiers preferred to stay with their units. Those who ventured into towns in the evening more often than not did so in large numbers, which in turn bred further distrust amongst the population. Tonight Archie was one of a dozen or so men from his unit, determined to enjoy their last night out of the line in the café they had come to frequent so often before. He sat down at an outside table with two privates, Eddie O’Hare and Will Craddock, and they ordered drinks.

Being all working-class lads from northwest England, they had not drunk wine out of church before. Since arriving in the Mediterranean that had grudgingly got used to it; besides, the girls serving it made it worthwhile. It seemed that every lonely Sicilian girl was serving drinks in Syracuse; it was enough to make the young British men risk the dangers of the town.

The evening progressed from idle chat to raucous singing, unusual in that it passed off without an incident between soldiers and locals. Eddie and Will left to lurch their way back to base, while Archie stayed for one last drink with a sergeant from the West Midlands. They talked of their jobs and families back home in the uninhibited way that strangers do when the alcohol has been flowing all night, and they know that this conversation could be their last. And then they talked about war.

‘I don’t like it here at all,’ the sergeant confided. ‘Reminds me too much of ’99; you never knew where the buggers were going to come from there either. But at least then we knew we were going to win eventually. To tell you the truth, mate, I don’t think we can win this one.’
‘You think the Italians can?’ Archie asked incredulously. Despite their recent successful military campaigns the Italian army was still regarded very lowly by the more advanced European nations.
‘I didn’t say that did I? No, no-one can win. Look what happened in France… the Huns nearly reach Paris and get stopped in their tracks. Same in Denmark, and Poland. But we can’t push ‘em back. Too bloody weak too attack, but too strong to just defend. So what do we do? Attack. You know, that girl’s been looking at you all night.’
‘You reckon?’ Archie was surprised by the swift change in subject but regained his concentration without so much as a glance at the serving girl who the sergeant had indicated. ‘Anyway, it’s not as if the Italians will put up much of a fight is it, once the main attack gets launched? Not just for Sicily anyway. It’d be too much damn trouble for this country.’
‘Don’t bank on it. Our captain told me the south has some special significance for them, something to do with when the country was united.’
‘United?’
‘Yeah, in the 1850s or something. And the funny thing is, the Brits back then all supported them. Bet they’re kickin’ ‘emselves now, eh? Best make your move if I was you lad, she’s eyeing up that highlander now.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ Archie asked.
‘About what?’
‘Everything.’
‘You stay in the army long enough, you end up seeing things as they are. I’ve been in Africa, India, never lost a battle. But we can’t win this damn thing,’ he got up as if to leave, and looked again at the serving girl. ‘I’ll leave you to it lad.’

Archie sat confused for a while, unaware of the place emptying around him. He had always assumed they would meet victory at some point down the road. Even on the retreats in northern France no-one had talked about losing the war. The man had sounded so resolute and wise, but in the end even he had got up to go back to his unit, get back in the line the next day and follow orders for as long as it took. There wasn’t a man Archie knew who wasn’t prepared to die for his country. Perhaps it’s true, he thought, that soldiers need something to complain about to keep us going. But underneath it all, we’ll pull through.
‘More wine sir?’ Archie was caught off guard by a sweet female voice not far from his ear. So long was it since he had heard a woman speak in his native tongue that for a couple of seconds he was speechless. ‘Or perhaps as an Englishman you would prefer some beer? My uncle even has some English ales bottled, from before the war of course.’
‘You, er, you speak English well,’ Archie mumbled. Then he turned to look at her. She was, like many of the Sicilian women, dark haired and dark eyed. Her irises were nearly as black as the pupils themselves, her thick hair truly did cascade over her shoulders, which were bare and smooth. Below that, much was left to the active imagination of a nineteen-year-old. Her blouse was loose and her skirt was large.
She giggled to see him staring, although he couldn’t believe that she wasn’t used to it by now. ‘I’ll fetch you a bottle now if you’d like.’ Archie opened his mouth to protest as she turned away, but said nothing. He was lucky with who was on guard duty tonight; one or two bob to Adam at the gates should see him alright, as long as he was careful and back before morning. He looked around and saw that no-one else had been inclined to take the same risks, or else they had found other entertainment by now.

The girl reappeared at the door to the café’s interior. ‘Come on in, it’s getting cold out here isn’t it? I suppose that reminds you of home yes?’ She laughed. She appeared not to have any of the melancholy about her character that afflicted the rest of the occupied and downtrodden Sicilians. ‘I’m Carmela by the way, my uncle owns this place. We do well enough for ourselves thanks to you and your army, if there’s no fights.’
Archie followed her inside across the cold stone floor to where she sat at a circular table near the wall, having taken two bottles of beer from some hidden cellar. He took one readily when offered. Soon she was standing up again, picking up bottles, some of which were broken, from the floor and muttering curses in her own language.
‘Damn, your boys make such a mess, but my uncle says it is good for business. I think it is bad, no people from the town come here anymore. Often I have no-one to talk to. Soldiers can be boring.’ Carmela spoke frankly in short sentences, often changing the subject so that Archie was at a loss as to how to reply. He made an effort nonetheless, and looking up at a portrait of a man in military uniform which dominated the room asked, ‘Is that your uncle there?’

Carmela laughed at his ignorance, her long hair shaking and strands falling over her eyes. ‘You English are always so ignorant of the places you invade! That’s Garibaldi, my uncle worships him almost as much as her,’ at this she nodded to a portrait of the Virgin Mary hanging on another wall. Suddenly Carmela froze as a noise from upstairs broke Archie’s awkward silence. Footsteps on creaky old wooden floors grew louder.
Carmela grabbed Archie’s arm with both her hands and pushed him towards the café’s exit. ‘That’s my uncle,’ she whispered by way of an explanation. ‘You’d better get back to your post, soldier.’
With a wink she closed the door, and Archie was alone.
 

unmerged(60841)

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Thought Archie might get a little solace there, now what are the English doing in Sicily? I like the writing, solid dialogue and a nice sense of setting.
 

Kurt_Steiner

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A Byronic European tour, perhaps? :D
 

unmerged(59077)

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A Byronic tour indeed. Sight-seeing from the deck of a dreadnought.
 

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January 1st 1910, Sicily​
Twenty yards ahead of the frontline trench, Eddie O’Hare paused and looked round. After a few seconds he turned and gestured to the men behind him that it was safe to advance. Reconnaissance patrols had been stepped up in this part of the line in recent weeks, in preparation for what everyone assumed would be a large attack. Although it was still winter, the weather held. In fact for many it was more bearable than the scorching summer.

In this narrow dead wood between the trenches west of Castelbuono, six British soldiers edged their way cautiously towards the Italian line. They had approached the mission with a mixture of relief and dread. It was a break in the usual frontline boredom, a chance for excitement. But in wartime excitement is often hidden from rather than sought after.

According to the company commander, they had been ordered to discover whether on not the wood could provide a ‘viable route of advance’ towards enemy lines. Craddock, ever the pessimist had dismissed this because ‘They’ll just chuck everyone over the top anyway’ and ‘They just want to keep us busy’. It was a sentiment that others were inclined to agree with, although they didn’t voice their opinions so readily.

The ground here was uneven, partly naturally and partly littered with shell holes. In any case, it was easy enough to remain out of sight of the enemy while staying still, but every few inches forward was a tense and risky venture. Every branch that snapped or leaf that rustled underfoot could be the prelude to a thunderous hail of steel from the inaccurate but deadly Italian machine guns. The British here could count themselves lucky that no German built models had made it to the line yet, from the stories they heard of France.

Inside one of the shell holes, Sergeant Reeves pushed himself up to the edge and placed his binoculars in front of his eyes. Past the dead splintered trunks and branches and through an area of open ground was the Italian frontline trench, guarded by a layer of barbed wire. There was no movement to be seen, no inkling that hundreds of heavily armed men were grouped so close, ready to repel any assault that might be thrown at them. The trench was so well dug there was little point in trying to get closer, they would have to be practically on top of it before they could see any sign of enemy troops. Reeves sighed and swore at the futility of their mission, then felt a tug at his arm.

‘Saw movement over there, sarge. Italian patrol?’ whispered Will Craddock, staring to the right where the land dipped down into a depression. The British soldiers tensed, made themselves small, pointed their weapons towards where they guessed the enemy might be. Silence was their only answer.

‘There’s nothing there Craddock,’ sighed the sergeant, and inched himself over the top of his crater. One by one the men followed, hauling themselves over a dead landscape, a strange mix of the natural and the human. The ground was as much littered with the remains of dead plants, forgotten relics of an era of peace and stability, as it was with the shrapnel and bullets of previous engagements. The patrol grunted and sweated its way to the next shell hole, a sense of pointlessness embracing their collective mind.

The grey of the early evening gave way to the blackness of a winter’s night as the squad waited while their sergeant meticulously noted the detail of the ground and of the Italian defences. There was not in all honesty much they could say for the hours they had spent in no-man’s land, but a sense of duty, or perhaps a downbeat apathy led them to go through the motions. Eddie found himself almost wishing for a fight to break the eerie silence that hung over the soldiers, as each man turned to thoughts of their dugouts, and sleep.

Night fell over Sicily and sergeant Reeves’ squad offered up silent prayers of thanks that they had survived another day.
 

unmerged(60841)

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Nice update, your attention to detail is lovely, it creates effective imagery. Let's hope they survive many more days.
 

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Very good. Makes you really think vividly of the trench warfare.
 

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Thanks to everyone who's commented so far, the next update should be later today.

JimboIX: Thanks, I'm glad you enjoy the writing style. I've had trouble writing in the last few months so any praise is greatly appreciated!

Sir Humphrey: Thank you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the AAR as much.

Quirinus308: I'm not planning to mention the path the game took explicitly, but some things will become obvious as the story goes on. Suffice to say it was a Grand Campaign so anything could have happened by 1909 ;)

Kurt_Steiner: Perhaps Archie was an unfortunate choice of name now I come to think of it :D Well let's hope he outlives Byron anyway.

Dr Gonzo: Glad you enjoyed the introduction. Nope, not Two Sicilies, good try though.

RGB: The war in game was very similar to World War One in a lot of ways, I imagine the experiences of the troops would be rather similar too.

Thanks again and I hope you all stick around for the rest of the story.
 

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January 9th 1910, Sicily​
3a.m.
The low thunder of the bombardment had become background noise, as the men of the Liverpool Pals checked their weapons and ammunition. Several times throughout the night they had done it, and they would do it several times more before the dawn. In their dugout, Archie, Eddie and Will had long ago given up chasing sleep which often eluded them even at the best of times. Conversation was rare and sporadic, mostly about nothing in particular. Besides, Eddie was busy writing a letter home and without his involvement Archie and Will rarely talked.

Will had no experience of a major engagement, but could hardly draw on those of his comrades. The division had been out of France before the front had degenerated into stalemate. They had never done anything like this before. It was different; the first step out of the trench and you were exposed to the enemy, your fate left in their hands. This was war like no other. Will wasn’t naïve enough to say ‘The waiting is the worst part’, but it was hell of another kind. He lit another cigarette.

Folding his letter and sealing it in an envelope, Eddie took another drag of his own. Army issue with a red white and blue lion on the front of the box, leading grey soldiers across a battlefield. He picked up a mug of thick syrupy coffee from the table in the middle of the room, reasoning that if sleep wouldn’t come he may as well chase it away for good. He couldn’t think how much coffee he must have drunk or how many cigarettes he must have smoked in the last month. It was now instinct to reach for one whenever possible, it was almost part of the uniform.

Thoughts went round in circles inside Archie Barry’s mind. In the last few hours he had slowly evaluated his whole life experience. Everything he could remember about his family, his job, the war so far had been swirling in his head. And yet, every time he began to open his mouth to share a thought with his fellow soldiers, something stopped him, an invisible hand choking back his words. He thought of how little he really knew about the men who fought by his side, and how little he had known about the lives of the majority of people he had ever met at school, at work, and in the army. The words of the sergeant he had talked to in Syracuse came back to him. To tell you the truth, mate, I don’t think we can win this one.

Archie was jolted back to the present as the dugout shook around him, prompting Will to swear.
‘Two bloody days of solid bombardment and some of ‘em are still falling short. The artillery in this army’s a bloody joke.’
‘I’m going out for some air,’ muttered Archie, making his way towards the dugout exit. The night was cold and windy, the sky cloudless and starry. In three hours it would be blazing with light.
 

unmerged(60841)

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Sounds like a scene out of al quiet on the western front, glad the boys are hanging in. It'd be a shame if they died through friendly fire, hopefully when they make what looks like an upcoming assault it doesn't kill them all off.
 

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5.30a.m.

The trench was crowding with worried faces. Anxious perhaps that many had missed the opportunity to empty themselves of the feelings and burdens that plagued them in what could be their last hours. They had been whiling away the time in nervous banter and exercises, or even worse, in deathly silence, while the last shells of the barrage whistled and cracked overhead. There was no possibility that the enemy, after such a bombardment, would not be expected an attack when the guns stopped. They could only hope that the artillery had done its job.

The orders were simple enough. The Liverpool Pals and the Yorkshire Regiment would advance directly across no-man’s land, break through the enemy line immediately ahead of them and capture Castelbuono by the end of the day. There they would hold position until relieved by reinforcements from the second and third waves of attack. On maps of Sicily all over the line arrows of troops movements pointed towards strategic objectives. This would be the attack that caught the Italian army and knocked them back to the mainland. This would be the breakthrough.

Whistles blew summoning men out of their dugouts like worms surfacing to face the rain. The guns had stopped. Archie lined up with his unit; he could see Eddie a few yards to his right, Will was somewhere further down the trench. Sergeant Reeves stood just to his left, staring fixedly at the trench ladder in front of him. The order came to fix bayonets, and for miles around thousands of young men readied their weapons. The whistles blew, expelling all forms of peace from men’s minds as they placed their feet on the ladders and waited.

‘On the whistle, company will advance,’ screamed the Company Sergeant Major. Archie sensed movement as the man his right crossed himself and muttered a soldier’s prayer. He gripped the barrel of his rifle tighter and felt the strap of his helmet to make sure it was secure. Then the whistles blew.

The morning was still dark and Archie nearly lost his footing on the ladder, but hauled himself over the parapet. In an unthinking daze he stood up, pointed his rifle forwards at waist level and began to move, treading as carefully as he could, but quickly, over the broken ground. Sounds of weapons rattling, screeching and wailing like the demons of hell filled his ears, the air was cut with an intense storm of steel. He sensed the private next to him fall, clutching his stomach, onto harsh unfamiliar ground. The dark air was filling with smoke; dawn would not rise over Sicily today.

On and on went the ragged British line, their enemy’s bullets ripping up the earth sending dust and dirt into the air. Across ground with little cover they picked their way towards the foe, without attempting to dodge Italian fire. It would have been like trying to run from a tidal wave. Archie fell into a shell hole, for a second thinking he had been hit. But he had merely tripped in his headlong rush. For the first time since he left the trench he began to think.

Take the enemy trench. Break the enemy line. Had anyone really thought of the practicalities? Once they reached it, were they to just jump in and begin firing? How could a small success be held unless the whole line gave way? Shaking off the thoughts, Archie got up to clamber out of his hiding place. His right foot slipped on a soggy material; he did not dare look to see what it was. In the confusion and the darkness he had little idea how far he still had to go to reach the Italian trench, then in front of him he saw a line of barbed wire, unbroken and stretching as far as could be seen in both directions.
Bemused British soldiers scampered up and down parallel to it before falling victim to close range fire. Archie saw one man entangled as he tried to cross then ripped up by machine gun fire, his head knocked back at an impossible angle.

Something in Archie’s mind, perhaps common sense, made him falter and beat a retreat to the shell hole behind him. There were three bodies in there, dead by the looks of them, at least if they were lucky. A fellow corporal, Byrne, slid into the hole to join Archie and shouted over the sounds of battle.
‘The Yorkshire’s are retreating on the right. We’ve had no change of orders. I can’t find any officers. Hell, I can’t find most of my platoon. A couple got to the wire, poor sods.’
Archie wondered how long he had been out of the trench. Was it only five, perhaps ten minutes?
‘There’s gaps in the wire, not nearly enough to get us all through,’ Byrne continued. ‘And even then there’s support trenches. We knew this, we knew this before, my God…’

Was there nowhere, Archie thought, where they could get concentrated fire into the Italian trench? He dared not fire from his cover lest he hit an advancing comrade, most of whom were by now stepping over bodies of the dead and wounded. Ahead of him he saw the silhouette of a man who had somehow got close enough to throw a bomb into the enemy trench, the explosion was bright and loud and obscured the area with thick smoke. Archie grabbed Byrne’s shoulder and hauled him forwards, blindly into the fog of war to exploit this possible opportunity. All around were shouts and screams and yet still men ventured on, undeterred by death or else possibly wishing for it.

At the line of wire, Archie lay flat and cast his eyes round for a possible way through. To his left a private courageously put a pair of wire cutters to work before a bullet struck him through the neck creating a blossoming of red blood. Smoke was stinging Archie’s eyes now, as he shuffled to where the fresh corpse lay, conscious of the relentless tide of ammunition flying towards him. As he picked up the wire cutters and set to work a thought haunted him constantly. Why haven’t I died? Why haven’t I died? How will anything made of flesh and blood survive this?
 

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Tzar of all the Soviets
Jul 17, 2006
5.575
7
I really have little to say except I really like your AAR and the way it is written.
 

unmerged(60841)

General
Sep 13, 2006
1.762
0
A nice soldier's perspective on combat- I like the internal dialogue questioning its wisdom. Good update.