Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 203
Second Lieutenant Most wrote Claude a few permission slips so he could claim 28 Aubass Mark 3 muskets from the armory. Apart from his nine normal recruits and the eight slow ones, Claude, the four nobles and Myjack were all issued one kink-neck. Claude managed to convince Most that he required an extra five to be switched out during training.
With the muskets in hand, Claude personally trained the recruits. He got rid of volley fire training completely and mainly trained them to get into rank and salute properly. They also familiarised themselves with the guns and the basics of shooting. What came next would be reloading practice before they finally got to target practice.
When everything was on track, Claude got a flash of inspiration and dug trenches in the yard and stacked some rocks together to erect some short cover and had the recruits hide behind them or inside the trenches. They were instructed to be in awkward prone positions inside tight spaces. They had to get used to reloading and aiming in those positions.
Among those who received that training routine were the seventeen new recruits, the four nobles, and the 16-year-old Myjack. Claude himself also joined in, having to roll about on the ground and dirtying himself up magnificently all the time. Not only did they have to bathe daily, they also had to wash their uniforms often. The four nobles expressed their objections and said that they hadn't seen that kind of training before, but Claude only said one thing to shut them up. "This training will make sure you survive the battlefield."
Soon, it came to be proven that issuing Aubass Mark 3s to the units considered to be top in combat power was a mistake. The veterans were fixed in their thoughts and had long become accustomed to volley fire. The accuracy of slanted guns wasn't important.
While they did acknowledge that the kink-necks could indeed increase their accuracy, they couldn't get used to the flash pan, cock, and slow match being on the right side of the weapon. They appreciated the symmetry of a centre-line design far more. The bulges of the kink design was ugly and hard on their eyes.
Claude's recruits didn't have any preconceptions, however, having never handled firearms before. Their increased accuracy also became quite a point of pride for them as their skills improved. Even the four nobles fell afoul of pride. Given that they didn't have much status in their families, they hadn't been allowed to use firearms before either.
The only thing that got on their nerves was reloading. Either they did so in the trenches or prone on the ground, or they were hiding behind large rocks. Reloading in those positions was difficult and very cumbersome, but Claude spent ample time on it. He stood by their sides and counted as they went through the motions, whipping them if they were too slow.
The soldiers trained while standing up and everyone had seen them doing so before. But Claude said he wasn't willing to let his men become poles at which to be shot. They were his subordinates and he had to cherish their lives and well-being. He couldn't just march them into fire to be mowed down by bad luck. Being less than suicidal and being ineffective at killing were not the same thing, so they were not allowed to just run away.
Even the slowpokes caught on to what he meant as their shots kept getting more and more accurate. Standing in front of them was a death sentence, so why would they do it themselves? Reloading while laying down was hard, but not impossible, and the increased chance of survival was worth the trade-off.
When the rainy season came, Claude had his men tear down the yard's fences and erect two sheds a hundred metres apart. Claude had had to waste the better part of a day explaining to Captain Kantaya why he needed the sheds. It cost him dearly to get the materials as well.
They were for training. The larger one was for the troops to train their reloading and aiming, all done atop straw mats. The smaller shed was for setting up human-shaped targets, all covered in paper. Claude had personally financed the making of several thousand sheets in Gourneygada.
Training was all but halted for the entirety of the rainy months. The men mostly stayed in their tents and played cards or chess, trying to pass the time and kill their infinite boredom. In the infirmary's yard, however, Claude kept his troops training. Shots rang out within his sheds every now and again.
While reloading in a prone position was cumbersome, they didn't have to worry about accidental discharges since they snubbed their slow matches after every shot. They wouldn't in battle, which would make things more dangerous, but for now, they could make all the mistakes they wanted, and they needed to so they could learn from them.
Lieutenant Most came for a visit as the 4th month came to a close. Claude's subordinates' training had caught the attention of the tribe as their bullet and powder consumption was three to four times greater than their peers. Most couldn't stay away any longer.
"Your men fire fifty times a day?!" Most shouted, staring at the log for gunpowder consumption.
Even the most liberal training regime generally only allowed for 20 volleys a day, 20 rounds per soldier. Claude's unit may be small, but they consumed more than twice the ammunition of a normal unit every day. Such an expenditure was far from explainable, especially considering the men firing that ammunition were barely acceptable in the army.
"If you want to see what that's bought you, come with me," Claude said confidently.
Most followed his subordinate without a word. Claude had the men finish their round, then sent his subordinates out to fetch the sheets.
"Eleven nine rings, five ten rings, three eight rings, and one seven ring. What do you think, Sir?" Claude asked.
The men on the range were the nine normal soldiers, the eight slow ones, Aboyev, Moriad, and Dyavid. Aboyev was the worst shot of the lot, only getting an outside seven.
Most inspected the papers for a long moment, then turned to Claude.
"Why do they shoot laying down? Why are the stretcher boys on standby behind them? Why are they there if they're unarmed? And where in the world did you get this paper?"
Claude explained everything carefully. He explained why his men didn't train in volley fire. The stretchermen were on standby so they could get used to the sounds of battle so they wouldn't panic when it came time to do their job for real. He wanted to have them run around fetching bodies for real, but the rain kept them indoors. And finally he explained his requisition of the paper. The idea was novel, but Most could not see the purpose in them. Volley fire targets were clusters of painted wooden posts. They just had to count the number of holes in the coat of paint to know how many times they'd hit. This paper was an unnecessary expense and complication.
"I won't argue that they shoot well. They're more than up to scratch for keepers. You can stop the training now. You're just wasting resources at this point. Lieutenant Carlos has asked about this suspicious expenditure twice now. He's on the brink of launching an investigation," Most finally answered.
The officers had kept their distance from Claude since learning about his backing. No one wanted to offend him, accidentally or not. If not for his backing, they'd never have approved his request for permission to build the two sheds.
Claude's smile bittered. Why was it so hard to even just train his men properly? Not that he could do anything about it, however. The military minds of his time were stuck in their ways, and a young brat like him was not going to change them anytime soon. No one liked the idea of losing thousands of people needlessly in every battle, but they had come to accept it as an unavoidable part of war.
Claude was not one to give up easily, however. He couldn't change their minds with argument, but they would not have their positions if they could not accept what was being practically demonstrated right in front of their eyes, so he'd just show them a better way.
"I'm not aiming to make them just acceptable keepers. I want them to be an elite unit. If you want, Lieutenant, we can have a wargame come clear skies and I'll show you what they can do.
Most's curiosity piqued.
"You think they can outdo a tent of trained regulars?"
"No, sir. A band, at least. Even if it had a cannon."
"Are you insane? You only have twenty or so men, not even enough for two full tents!"
"Exactly. You don't have to believe me when I say they can do it. Just call the wargame and let me show you. All I ask is that you keep the gunpowder and rounds coming until the day of the game. I'll even pay for the extra expenses if you want," Claude promised.
Most stared at Claude, but only calm, confident, determination looked back at him.
"Alright--" He nodded slowly. "--I'll keep the rounds and gunpowder coming. We'll hold the wargame the moment we have clear skies. Don't disappoint me."
"I won't, Sir. I won't."