Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 323

The advanced strategy class officially began on the 8th of the 2nd month. Claude had always been curious about the large wooden building near the field. He now knew it was a simulation space for his class. A sandtable occupied the centre third of the hall.

The class had 26 high-ranking officers. The most junior, aside from Claude, were majors. They spread around the sandtable as General Miselk stepped onto the elevated platform at the furthest end of the room. He explained that the course would study the recent war and identify the strategies the two sides had employed.

"--The enemy relied heavily on their superior fortifications," the general's speech continued, "hoping we would break ourselves against their walls like waves on the rocks. They only came down from their parapets and onto the field a couple times, at moments they could make a decisive strike against us with as small a risk as possible.

"They hoped to fight with as few troops as possible, since they had not been completely prepared for our offensive, holding us back while they built up their forces. Once we were exhausted, they would charge out with a massive offensive using fresh troops and run us through. While we have come out of this war with some conquests, and have defeated several of the Alliance's members, the wounds inflicted on us in the form of the men we lost, nullify those achievements. In the end, there isn't a clear victor. On top of that, we had to sue for peace, which had been their goal from the beginning. So, while we won territory and destroyed several of our foes, they held their ground and forced us to sue for peace after suffering such severe losses. At least in the short to medium term, we are actually in a worse position than we were before the war."

A soft murmur rose among the students. The students were chosen for their minds, so they also had a certain sense of pride. A sense of pride that did not enjoy the general's words, true as they might be. Their egos demanded they argue, but as the general rattled of statistic after static -- some of dubious accuracy as is unavoidable in war -- the murmur quietened. More convincing than the sheets of losses, were the undeniable facts of their unachieved strategic objectives. It was a deep embarrassment that they had to be the ones to sue for peace, despite being ahead in the conquest game. More than that, they had failed to conquer, or even subdue, their archnemesis: Nasri. At this rate they were still multiple wars away from conquering all of eastern Freia.

They'd even lost an entire corps, Bluefeather, a humiliation they'd not been able to return to any of their enemies. The expertise and skill they'd lost with Bluefeather was an equal blow.

"These losses, these failures, are why you stand here now," Miselk continued, "We will not stand for this happening again in the next war. We must learn from this and do better next time. If we have to reform our entire doctrine, then so be it. The force that showed the most promise during the war was the Ranger tribe. They've been promoted to a full folk; and we will start there. For a start, they will be issued only the new precision muskets. They will also be entirely mounted on the war horses we got from Nasri in the peace agreement. It is our responsibility to develop their doctrine, a doctrine centred around mobility, and skirmish."

Miselk's lecture continued for most of the morning. Among the many things he discussed, was that the students were expected to ruminate on the war and what could be learned from it for the next 20 days before the rainy season arrived, then each had to write a paper on their thoughts and how their side's shortcomings could be addressed.

A two-hour break followed lunch, then class resumed.

Miselk started off by telling Claude to recount his part and experience in the battles of Wilf and Squirrel. Claude nearly fell off his chair at the request. He had just a couple days ago recounted the whole war to Viscount Kartoff.

He understood why the general had made the request, however, so he sighed and got up from his seat. The general didn't want the other officers to look down on him for being so severely their junior. This was clearly not an on-the-spot decision; maps of the two location were pinned on the wall behind the general. The sandtable was quickly rearranged and figures prepared for the battle in the village.

Claude tread his way through the crowd of students and took his place in front of the maps. He took a deep breath, organised his thoughts and started, pointing at the map and sandtable as he went. The table was changed once he finished recounting the battle in Squirrel, and he spoke at length about the battle for Wilf. Once he was finished, Miselk returned to the platform -- he'd settled into a provided seat at the start of Claude's portion -- and provided a couple comments and observations. He praised Claude's tactics during the battle in Squirrel, and labelled it a feat of unprecedented value, a miracle in every sense of the word. It was made even more miraculous by the fact that he'd not faced a foolish enemy. The enemy commanders had conducted themselves and commanded their men by the book. None had made stupid or obvious mistakes.

Claude won thanks to a combination of his wit, and the advantage the terrain offered. Squirrel lay in a valley with only a couple, very narrow paths into and out of it. Claude could easily predict where and how the enemy would come at him, and he made perfect use of the terrain to nullify the enemy's greater numbers.

The battle, while a brilliant event, could not yield too much in the way of doctrine, other than emphasising the careful choice of terrain for smaller forces when facing larger forces. Much of the victory was because of the terrain, which meant it could not easily be replicated. That said, he did not underplay the importance Claude's chosen tactic in the victory. He discussed briefly the ten different tactics he tried out on the table to beat the scenario -- he lost every time. His best achievement was lasting half a month before he was finally overwhelmed.

Luck had also played a role in the victory, though it did in all battles, win or lose. Had it rained that night, or the wind blown too much or not at all, the fire would not have taken as well as it had, and enough of the enemy would have escaped to come at Claude again and defeat him regardless.

The general was much more interested in the Battle of Wilf. The scenario was absolutely generic; at least a thousand battles exactly like it had been fought during the fire years of the war. This battle, however, changed the army's doctrine fundamentally, and could easily be the most important battle in the entire war. Until this point, the Aubass Mark 3 had been seen as an ugly experiment that would soon be abandoned. At best it was a trinket used by those who wished to amuse themselves with the latest toy from the capital. No serious soldier even thought of using it. The Battle of Wilf changed all of that. The musket's widespread adoption in the months following the battle changed the army fundamentally. Even with the old tactics, the army became a deadly force, units could decimate their enemies long before they could fire back, and could lay siege to fortification without fear of return fire from anything but their cannons.

The fort's defenders were just three thousand strong, yet they'd held it against several attacks before, and had repelled Prince Hansbach's previous attack that day without much trouble.

"If we'd continued the fight using the old methods, we'd have lost at least another six thousand on top of the five we'd already lost at that point before we could even hope to take it. And that's if the men didn't break before ten. They were just keepers, after all, not as well trained or determined as regular soldiers.

"Claude here, but a sergeant-major at the time, was part of that final attack -- in the vanguard, in fact -- and he brought us victory. You all know why the first prince formed the ranger tribe. They were intended to be a counter to the enemy's superior cavalry scouts. Nobody expected them to be worth anything against fortified positions. The only reason they were part of this final attack at all was because the prince had no other forces to commit. They were deadly, however. Their accurate shots cast aside the fortifications and plucked the enemy from their hidey-holes like owls mice from their burrows. The rest of the army immediately adopted the tactic, and as the new muskets filled out the ranks our losses dropped like a stone plunged into a stream."

Miselk turned to Claude.

"If not for your victory at Wilf, the king would have recalled the Mark 3 and scrapped the tribe. We'd have kept fighting the enemy using the old doctrine, and we'd have lost more men with every siege. It's not unreasonable to say this war might have gone a very different direction than it did.

"It's almost shameful that our enemy were faster to catch on to the benefits, and to adopt our techniques, than we were in figuring it out ourselves. Then again, being on the receiving end does make for a good argument. It took them just three months to reverse engineer and make their own versions from some captured Mark 3s. Theirs are inferior to ours, of course, but the difference is small enough that we still suffered heavily once theirs came into service.

"It didn't help that, while we'd fully adopted the new musket, we were still using the old tactics on the battlefield. Marching in blocks makes sense when you have to pour out masses of lead in order to hit anything, less so when you can accurately put every ounce of lead where you want it even at ranges where your enemy can't shoot back at all. It's a shame on our officers that it took us so long to change our thinking to account for the new reality our muskets created. The most stubborn ones have been punished, of course, especially those that insisted on using the outdated tactics after the general directive was issued to adopt the new tactics, but their damage is done and it will take us years to recover from it."

Miselk swept his gaze over the 26 officers, all of whom stood ramrod straight, then nodded softly.

"I have fished you for this course because you each have unique insights to give. You have each proven yourself resourceful and creative with the new muskets. I hope you will continue to prove this in the Ranger folk after this course.

"Consider the next year in this course a grindstone against which to polish your mind, your understanding of the musket and how it can be used most effectively, and your tactics and strategies. I trust you won't disappoint."

The officers saluted, bellowing out the cry 'We shall serve our kingdom with loyalty and honour!' in unison.

The cry rang cliched in Claude's mind, but he could see the honest fervour on their faces. Claude echoed the salute and cry, though with much less conviction. His mind was already in the cafeteria.

And so the first day of class came to an end. The final announcement before they were dismissed was that the materials they were going to use during the course all came from the classified archives and that everything they wrote on it would go there as well until the final revised doctrine was published. They were not to peep so much as a word of any of it to anyone not also in the course.

They would also not have class during the rainy season. It was instead allocated as 'thesis time' and they had to use it to write their paper.

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