Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 379

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"We failed..."

The corpsman looked incredibly pale as if he had aged two decades in a single night. He was a geezer in his late seventies now.

"We've been had from the beginning. The enemy commander is a magnificent schemer. His defences robbed our cavalry of their strength. Then he had the captives dig trenches and draw our attention. We were baited into digging our own trenches. We dismounted to fight and fell into the trap.

"I understand only now that they were willing to invest so much manpower, even take so many casualties, to dig the trenches to give us the false impression that we could take their camp if we pushed hard enough. It made us pour our forces into the trenches and neglect our defence, which created a chance for them to launch a surprise attack. Their setup was perfect. We didn't even see it coming at all and instead thought they had all their forces defending the camp.

"Even though we took their camp, isn't it laughable that we lost most of our forces with it? Our troops were brave and our command was decent. Yet, the enemy had anticipated all of it. They gave up on their camp, not before sweeping it clean and left nothing but the tents. Yet just as our troops were cheering our victory, they struck our main camp and took all our supplies.

"Let's surrender! Our supplies have run dry. The brave soldiers that are unwilling to be taken captive have already died in the trenches. Yet, they didn't manage to achieve their goal. The children that remain have starved for a day and a night after our supplies were taken and we've run out of ammunition for our muskets and cannons. Send someone to negotiate for our surrender. As long as we can survive, we'll still have hope of making it back home after years of labour. Surviving is better than any other fate. It was my incompetence that led us to this point... It was all my fault..."

The corpsman gave his dejected officers one last look before turning around and getting down the walls. The whole camp was immersed in an atmosphere of defeat and despair. The injured were bandaged up temporarily in the corner, but cries of hurt and pain could still be heard throughout the whole camp. They could do naught but pray for the war god's protection for they had no medicine with which to treat their wounds.

Some ten minutes later, a soft gunshot resounded across the camp. The corpsman's orderman dashed up to the walls in terror and told the officers there the bad news. After returning to his tent, the corpsman had stuck his favourite ivory short-barrelled musket in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

The officers breathed a sigh of relief. They already had an idea back then on what was going to happen, but nobody bothered to convince the corpsman to stop. His suicide made him the perfect scapegoat on which to blame the loss of the entire corps. That way, they could surrender with the reason being their commander's suicide instead of cowardly surrendering for fear of their lives.

On the 23rd of the 8th month of Year 589, the field marshal of the Aueran colonies, Major-General and Baron Claude Han Ferd led Thundercrash folk through three successive and victorious battles, wiping out all 62 thousand discharged Canasian soldiers under the employ of Shiks. The three thousand plus servants weren't included in the troop count.

This series of battles came to be chronicled thusly: Claude revealed his military genius in the Wild Bull Conflict and proved Lord Militant Miselk's decision to make him field marshal right.

During the initial stages of the conflict, Claude used forceful shock tactics and managed to conquer the two Canasian bull-hunting camp outposts while incurring few casualties with Thundercrash. The total enemy soldiers killed or captured was 24 thousand.

The Canasian reinforcements arrived right after and trapped Thundercrush in the eastern base with their spoils and seven thousand captives. The reinforcements had more men -- some 37 thousand against just 22 thousand.

General Claude then commanded his folk to set up a trench-defence network around the camp to counter the Canasian cavalry, forcing them to dismount and fight. He then sent even more captives to continue digging trenches and baited the Canasians into doing the same.

In the next two weeks, he continued to send a large number of men to fight in the trenches and intentionally took relatively heavy casualties by fighting desperately to make the enemy commander think that Thundercrash was on the brink of collapse. To win and exterminate Thundercrash entirely, the Canasian corps poured nearly all their forces into the fight at the trenches. They slowly gained ground towards the Aueran camp and believed their victory was close.

Yet, when the commander decided to commit all the Canasian troops into the battle, he let his guard down and neglected his own camp's defence. Claude had long prepared for that moment and ordered Line 1301, which had been hidden elsewhere, to join their elite force, Strike Tribe 131, on an attack on the enemy camp. He himself remained in the camp and continued to fight the defensive battle to buy time for the evacuation of the folk's injured, supplies and captives.

Two days later, he immediately retreated with the injured and the corpses of the sacrificed, leaving the campsite he defended for most of the month. As the Canasian troops who finally successfully got over the camp's walls cheered for their bloody victory, Thundercrash sent out a small tent of men disguised as Canasian scouts to infiltrate the enemy camp and easily took care of those who were left behind to guard it. They opened the camp gates and let in the rest of their own.

The remaining Canasian troops in the camp further away were unaware that one of their own camps had been taken. When Thundercrash attacked them, they were caught completely off guard and couldn't mount any effective resistance at all. Their main camp was easily taken. All their food, ammunition and war horses had fallen into Thundercrash's hands.

Losing the main camp instantly turned the Canasian victory into a huge joke. The camp they conquered had nothing but empty tents. There wasn't a single thing that could be useful for their situation. Thundercrash had made sure to clean the place up before leaving. Not even a broken bottle could be spotted.

When the Canasians prepared to retake their tent the next day, they didn't even get to eat a meal of horse meat and soup. All they could make for themselves was horse meat roasted over burning cow dung and a few mouthfuls of groundwater, only to collapse outside the camp.

The most eye-catching part of the battle was the time during Claude's retreat and the conquest of the enemy camp during three in the afternoon. To the attackers who fought for a good part of the day, the enemy had fled and let them conquer their camp. They had finally won and wanted to drop everything and celebrate on the spot, so they swarmed in the camp to make merry.

But after all that cheering, they were greatly worn out and the news of the enemy taking their main camp came as a heavy mental blow. Their morale tanked immediately. Even if the commanders had wanted to order a counterattack immediately, not many soldiers would be able to withstand it. What they needed was good rest to recover from fatigue.

However, the food and ammunition in Thundercrash's camp were all gone. While the well of the camp wasn't polluted and the wooden bucket they used was still there, there wasn't a single wok or bottle in the area. All they could do was drink some cold water before going to sleep.

Having avoided the enemy's immediate attack, Thundercrash was able to fortify the camp through the night. They sorted the base out and removed all hazards. Following the arrival of the rest of the folk, the defences of the camp were further strengthened. The scales tipped completely in Thundercrash's favour.

The next morning, the Canasian officers who hoped that they would be able to retake their camp with a small number of forces slaughtered more than a hundred of their war horses and gathered three thousand of their most elite soldiers and officers. They divided the horse meat among them before they heated them up for a bit and put them into their stomachs. That was all they did before marching back for their camp, but not a single man was able to attack the camp when they were near as all of them collapsed in front of it.

The horrible loss marked the end of the Wild Bull Conflict. The Canasians' complete elimination was now set in stone. Apart from lacking food, most of their ammunition had been kept in the camp they lost. Most soldiers' muskets could only fire a round or two at most. While they had water, they lacked food. All the bull they hunted had been sent away half a month ago. On the barren, muddy plains, not a single blade of grass could be seen.

The worst part of it all was they had to walk on foot as they lost all the horses they kept in the camp. Thundercrash, on the other hand, changed from their infantry loadout to the cavalry loadout. They could watch the Canasians from afar and wait until they starved to death.

Due to the suicide of the Canasian corpsman, the remaining officers and 26 thousand soldiers surrendered to Thundercrash. The battles saw 17 thousand casualties, six thousand among whom died in battle and more than ten thousand injured to varying degrees. Thundercrash suffered eight thousand casualties, with three thousand dead and the rest injured. Thundercrash lost one man for every two they took.

For Claude, Thundercrash had suffered a considerable blow. While they were the strongest enhanced folk with 32 thousand men at full force, the combat personnel only included the six tribes of 30 thousand men. The other two thousand plus were support units with no combat ability. Thundercrash lost nearly ten thousand men at the point they forced the enemy to surrender, which was a third of their forces.

However, they did gain quite a lot from this. Ammunition and food aside, the 50 thousand war horses alone was an enviable haul. They could sell for more than 200 thousand crowns immediately. It could also satisfy the demand for beasts of burden in the war theatre.

Throughout the battles, he also learned the inadequacies of his current unit. Thundercrash paled in comparison to Ranger. It was a given, since Ranger was formed from the most elite troops that partook in the five-year war.

While the current Thundercrash had Line 131 as its backbone, the troops that joined later were mostly discharged soldiers or colonial settlers of suitable age. They only got half a year of training and performed far worse than the troops of Ranger.

If he were to make a proper comparison, he'd consider Thundercrash folk in its current state to be only as strong as the four standing corps of Aueras, maybe even slightly weaker than the royal guard corps. That was the reason the casualties were so high and it felt like there was never enough men on the defence.

He was considering whether he should form another folk in the war theatre to make a second Thundercrash folk. When Miselk drafted the plans for the five enhanced folks, they only planned for the equipment and weapons from Ranger. There were only enough war horses for a folk, so that folk was assigned to Claude as a combat folk to become Thundercrash.

1st and 2nd Monolith folks were formed as insurance by Miselk to keep Shiks at bay. The 1st and 2nd Reserve folks played the role as their names suggested, but they were later called 3rd and 4th Monolith as 'reserve' didn't sound particularly good. The name change didn't change the fact that they were only mostly there for moral support.

Now, Claude obtained the 50 thousand Canasian war and workhorses. He could form a second Thundercrash to make up for what his limited number of men could do. However, he would have to first discuss this with the other four folksmen to see which folk would be the most suitable for that role.

At that moment, Myjack came in with an eagle message. "General, Major Anders has returned with five thousand mortar rounds. 3rd Monolith also came with him."

"3rd Monolith? General Eiblont? What's he here for?"

"The message stated that the general came here with his men for a long-distance training excursion."

"Excursion my ass. That fellow's here to see if there's any opportunities to take advantage of. He's probably too bored in the rear and wants some merit."

Myjack laughed. "General, it's great news that he came. We can hand the captives over to them before heading to Cromwell. The high-ranking Canasian officers did say Nasri's 'voluntary' corps just arrived in Wickhamsburg and are trying to set up a supply base there, didn't they?"

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