Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 377
Battle Back and Forth
"Have Line 1301 make way for the enemy reinforcements. Let them pass, then seal their escape route. Set up trip ropes so they'll have no choice but to find another way out. I want the tribesmen to gather for a war council before the battle."
Claude decided to take on the reinforcements. He wanted to take care of the Canasian cavalry in one fell swoop.
It was a rare opportunity. The enemy had left Vebator's fortifications and gone deep into Balingana. While he wasn't certain why they had done so, it was not a chance to be allowed to pass by. He was confident he could wipe them off the map with Thundercrash. His only concern was what casualties he might sustain in the process.
The so-called discharged Canasian volunteers were actually members of standing corps. It was an open secret. Claude would happily admit they were a much tougher challenge than the Shiksan corps had been. Albator Plains was also the ideal terrain for light cavalry. Claude was not willing to suffer huge losses.
However, the enemy had come as reinforcements. Thundercrash could simply hold its camp and fight from there. It had the advantage in terrain, after all. They'd already wiped out four lines, no less than a folk of men. The enemy only had some 60 thousand. Take 24 thousand out and they were left with little more than 30 thousand. Their numbers weren't much more than the other four enhanced folks.
Thundercrash had won two victories by now. They had defeated four lines and conquered two camps. They had also only suffered a thousand casualties thus far. The troops' morale was at an all-time high. They also had superior arms. Put together, it made a substantial advantage.
The Canasian reinforcements arrived around nine that evening. When their vanguard discovered Thundercrash had occupied their camp, they stopped and withdrew some two kilometres. So they weren't greenhorns. They'd quickly figured there was a real risk of the camp being a trap.
The enemy formed lines on the horizon, thirty thousand men stretched along the border between earth and heaven like a picket fence. They were dead quiet, a resting beast straddling heaven and earth.
A clan advanced to just a kilometre, then held, observing the Aueran camp. They noticed the additional trenches separated by one-metre-tall walls. Fires dotted the space between them, burning cow dung which belched an odious acidic stench into the air.
The clan stayed put for some time, until their eyes watered and their ears burnt from the horrid smoke, then withdrew.
Claude shook his head in disappointment. He'd counted on his opponent not having a good, cautious head on his shoulders. But he had, and the wished night attack would not come.
"Let the men rest. They're not coming tonight," Claude ordered before heading back to his tent.
Claude hated traditional battles, traditional sieges even moreso. Muskets and scattershot were no longer enough of an advantage to ensure victory on their own, especially not against experienced Canasians. They'd learnt how to fight against superior Aueran arms, and had become quite adept at it, forcing melee after advantage-neutralising melee.
In a field battle Claude would have mitigated their charges by simply skirmishing and keeping clear of them. He was fighting a siege, however. He had to stand and fight, he couldn't just pack his bags and scarper off when the Canasians got too close. This was the worst position for him to be in. His range and accuracy advantage meant the least when the enemy could close and force him to fight blade-to-blade.
That said, Thundercrush was not your average unit. One of their specialties was siege warfare. They would kill far more enemies before they got close. Unfortunately, not enough to make the Cansians turn tail and run, and once they got in close, all their skill at arms meant next to nothing, it turned into nothing but numbers crunching.
Claude hated sieges. He could still win, but it would be a bitter one with all the men he'd have to sacrifice. He much preferred quick, decisive fights, preferably started at his leisure, when the enemy was off their guard.
He did not hold the initiative this time, however, and so he could only sit and wait to see what the enemy did. There were some seven thousand captives and lots of spoils in the base and he couldn't afford to give them up. He could only leave after slaughtering all the captives and torching the spoils, but it would be a huge waste. He also knew nobody would agree since the men's bonuses depended on the spoils. Running before a weak enemy was also damningly humiliating.
Everyone believed they would always be the final victors rather than the losers in battle. Claude had no choice but to go along with the flow and decided he would tough it out against the Canasians. He also knew that without going through a proper, tense battle, his men wouldn't be able to grow stronger on the battlefield. Even if it would cost him significant casualties, it would be worth it, as this battle could be the fire he needed to forge a spirited force!
Around eight in the morning the next day, the horn signals of an attack were blown in the Aueran and enemy camps. The Canasians' horn signal signalled mobilisation. One unit after another charged out of their encampment and formed neat, square formations around 1.5 kilometres away from the Aueran camp. Thundercrash's horn signal was blown to remind their soldiers to stay vigilant and prepare to defend against an attack.
Claude believed that the enemy had collected information about Thundercrash and believed they could estimate their strength. That was an obvious sign of a mistake on their part. They believed they actually stood a good chance because of their superior numbers. The enemy officer obviously believed that Thundercrash suffered huge casualties after taking two of their camps. Given his understanding of the four lines he commanded, he was almost certain that eliminating all of them would cost Thundercrash quite a lot as well.
When Thundercrash took the two Canasian camps, they had attacked from all four directions to make sure not a single enemy escaped. But the Canasian reinforcements chose to focus their attack on only one side, intending to crush the enemy's will to fight with their superior numbers. So, all their forces were neatly lined up in front of the camp.
That, however, only made it easier for the defending side. If the defences were really pierced from any side, the morale of the defenders would tank. Even if they could escape in the other three directions, they would have a hard time outrunning the enemy on the flat Albator Plains. The enemy corpsman was quite confident he could win this battle.
Each of the four cavalry lines spread out in a line formation. The centre of the line seemed much denser. Not long later, another horn signal was blown and each Canasian line sent out a clan of light cavalrymen from their flanks towards the campsite. This was a probing attack. They would use a smaller force to test the strength of enemy defences so that they could choose their approach for the latter part of the attack.
From a distance, there were a few trenches outside the camps Thundercrash occupied that stretched out as far as 200 metres. Last night, the enemy was worried the decreased visibility would make them fall prey for any potential traps the Auerans laid, so the corpsman refused his subordinates' suggestion to attack during the night and chose to attack the next day instead.
The enemy corpsman wanted to test how powerful Thundercrash's defences were with the four clans of men from each line, all the while testing out whether the trenches would pose to be an obstacle to his troops. From his vantage point, the trenches were crudely dug and any of the riders could easily let their mounts jump over the trenches.
But something that utterly shocked the corpsman occurred. In a few short minutes, the thousand cavalrymen on the probing attack reached the first trench, but they forcefully stopped their mounts the moment they were there. There were tens of men that didn't stop their war horses and let them make the jump. When they landed, they crashed into the ground before countless heads and guns poked out of the third trench. They fired their shots and the soldiers that stopped in the first trench were obliterated.
"Blow the horn! Have them retreat immediately!" the corpsman ordered with a stern look.
Of the near thousand men he had sent out, less than a clan returned. Those who managed to were the lucky ones. The officers soon came to understand why they stopped their horses. The enemy was far too sneaky. The first trench was only two metres wide and deep, making it quite easy for horses to jump over.
However, there was a trench only a foot deep directly ahead of the first trench which was only discovered once they were right on top of it. From far, it looked just like normal flat land. Any horse that landed there and tried to gallop would immediately stumble and fall.
The enemy troops who were lying in ambush in the third trench then popped out and shot at the troops that stopped before the first trench, causing them heavy losses. What agonised the corpsman even further was how he didn't manage to adequately test out the enemy's defences with his probing attack. It was all for nought.
What seemed at first to be simple trenches turned out to be carefully laid out, effective fortifications. According to the cavalrymen that managed to escape, it was specially created to counter them. The enemy wanted to render light cavalry useless.
"We can use grass-weave sacks filled with earth to fill the trenches up," a high-ranking officer suggested. It was a tactic mostly reserved for dealing with trench fortifications. As long as they could fill the parts of the trenches where their attack would be going through, they would be able to reach the enemy camps and engage them with their riding blades close up.
But the possibility for a high casualty count using that method was rather high. The enemy was no fool. They still hadn't revealed where they had hidden the cannons. In fact, they could use their cannons to deal with the parts of the trenches filled out by the bags. One could imagine the kind of sacrifice they would have to make to even reach the enemies at the camp.
The corpsman shook his head. "Let's return to camp first. We'll have a proper discussion on how we can deal with the enemy trenches."
This was inevitable. There was no way they could continue the battle that day. The soldiers that returned from the probe were rather crestfallen. The insidious trench arrangement in front of the camp had rendered cavalry useless. They couldn't continue charging blindly into the enemy to be target practice, could they?
But before they even began the discussion upon their return to camp, the lookouts reported that the enemy had their captives digging trenches once more at the rear of the camp The corpsman went to the frontlines with his subordinates and observed with his telescope. He found that the captives were indeed men on his side. The soldiers of Thundercrash were forcing them to maintain the moat. A rough estimation put the soldiers taken captive at around a thousand men. There was still an endless stream of captives coming out of the camp.
The soldiers of Thundercrash were really harsh. The slightest odd movement by the captives were grounds enough for the crack of the whip or a bump from the stock. The corpsman and his subordinates saw a number of their own men taken captive and being beaten to the ground, writhing about with blood all over them.
"General, we have to save them..." one officer angrily pleaded.
Save? That sounded easy. But how could it be done? The moment any large force was sent out, the enemy would've returned into the camp. Now, they weren't able to reach the enemy camp in the first place!
"I believe we can dig our own trenches and connect them to the enemy's. We can then have my men dismount and attack as infantry!" one of them suggested.
The corpsman's eyes shone. It was true that the enemy's defences were geared specifically against their cavalrymen. Light cavalry was only advantageous when evading enemy firing ranges and charging into enemy defence camps were necessary, which was an advantage they held over infantrymen. While infantry would suffer huge casualties given their limited mobility. they could use trenches to avoid enemy fire. It was indeed a rather good idea coming from the strategist.