Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 381
Conquest of Wickhamsburg
"We were too late," Eiblont said as he put the telescope down, "If we had arrived a month earlier, the walls would still be unrepaired. We might've been able to exploit a weakness and taken the base. It'll be very difficult to deal with it now, even more so with them holding the high ground."
Claude didn't make a sound. He knew Eiblont was saving him face by understating the predicament. In truth, the endeavour was going to be a bloodbath. He had thought the Nasrians were merely fortifying Wickhamsburg according to the captives' testimonies. He didn't think they would actually be expanding the whole castle. They had even managed to complete their outermost wall.
Wickhamsburg used to be the capital city of the colony of Cromwell. It was built upon high ground. During the first conflict with Shiks, there was only one local garrison line defending the place. Yet, they managed to hold their ground against a standing Shiksan corps for half a year. They only lost the castle after the Shiksans got two heavy-siege cannons to demolish the walls.
The second time Wickhamsburg was conquered was due to Miselk's efforts. During the first colonial conflict, the Shiksans lost two of their standing corps at the frontlines and Miselk pushed on with Ranger. At the time, the walls demolished by the heavy-siege cannons hadn't been rebuilt and the incomplete local force the Shiksans stationed to defend the place had no choice but to surrender to Ranger.
When Shiks sent five more standing corps to Nubissia as reinforcements, Miselk decided to use the scorched-earth tactic in Cromwell and Balingana. All the inhabitants of Wickhamsburg were evacuated, leaving behind the empty castle and the nikancha that lived nearby.
Then, the second colonial conflict began. The Shiksan forces easily took control of Wickhamsburg and slaughtered the nikancha living in the city and began work on making it their supply base. However, Claude managed to retake the city with Line 131 through the secret passage Miselk ordered to be dug. The burning of the ammunition and supply warehouses made the remaining supply-drained Shiksan forces surrender, allowing the Auerans to once more emerge the victor in the colonial war.
However, Shiks wasn't going to end the war. They announced that they would form ten more standing corps and hired the discharged soldiers from Nasri and Canas as mercenaries to stabilise their perilous position in Nubissia.
During the former half of the year, Shiks sent two fully formed standing corps to their colony of Vebator, only for them to cause a food crisis. As they scrambled to ship emergency rations there, they also cultivated thousands of acres of land in the colony for planting food. According to the high-ranking captives, the first potato harvest had just passed and the food shortage was somewhat relieved. That was why they began their campaign in Balingana and Cromwell.
The Nasrians had set their sights on the abandoned Wickhamsburg due to the prime terrain it was built on and decided to make it their supply base. Had the Canasians not went bull hunting, they would've remained in Cromwell and the colony would come under de facto Shiksan rule, with two corps defending it.
That was the reason Claude made up his mind to wipe out the Canasian corps. As the field marshal, he couldn't afford to leave any nail sticking out in where he planned to operate, especially not the Canasian and Nasrian forces that had gained a reputation for being magnificent defenders during the five-year war. If he allowed Wickhamsburg to remain in enemy hands, Cromwell would quickly become a colony of the enemy.
But just as Eiblont had said, they came a little too late. The enemy had finished fortifying the outer walls and set their camp up deep inside the city. Given the numerical disadvantage, mounting a frontal attack was far from a good idea. Thundercrash could very well be ramming their head into an iron wall and end up breaking their skull. Even if they paid a huge price in casualties, they wouldn't be able to conquer Wickhamsburg. The enemy might even get a chance to launch a counterattack.
He had wanted to see whether he could reuse his old tactic. Perhaps the secret path they dug was still accessible. Alas, the enemy had filled the moat up during the expansion of Wickhamsburg. Now, the entry to the secret path was located within the outer walls post expansion, much to his disappointment.
Eiblont had suggested that they encircle the city. Given Thundercrash's mobility, they could trap the enemy in Wickhamsburg until they ran out of resources.
However, nobody knew how long it would take for that tactic to have any effect. Nobody knew how much supplies the Nasrian forces really had. If it was only for a short three months, it was still feasible. But if they had enough supplies for a whole year, then it would be better for them to go back since attacking would be pointless and encircling them there for a whole year would only impact their morale negatively.
Claude refused Eiblont's suggestion since what he needed was time. He had to wipe out the Nasrian 'volunteers' as quickly as he could instead of continuing to waste time with the enemy. The longer this dragged on, the worse the situation in the war theatre would develop. Even though Thundercrash had mobility, the consumption of their horses was quite high. They couldn't just let the horses graze on the plains and needed to feed them with proper, nutrient-rich food.
So, he settled with attacking them straight on. He refused to believe the Nasrians would be able to hold their walls if he used his mortars. Eiblont didn't know that he had that ace up his sleeve and had tried to talk him out of it. Claude merely laughed and ignored his words. Instead, he immediately got Eiblont to get his men to scatter to prevent the enemy from escaping. He would also show him why he was confident he would be able to breach the completed wall's defences.
However, it didn't play out as he had planned. Surprisingly, the Nasrian troops didn't turtle up in the city like cowards. The moment they realised the soldiers of Thundercrash actually posed quite a threat to the defenders on the walls thanks to their accurate sniping, they immediately sent infantrymen out of the city to counterattack. The first batch of Thundercrash troops suffered rather huge casualties and was forced to retreat.
Claude's face was dark. The enemy had noticed there wasn't that huge a disparity between their numbers, hence why they were confident enough to send men out on a counterattack. To lob the mortar rounds over the walls and into the city, they had to be within seventy metres. But currently, his men weren't even able to get 100 metres within range.
He had no choice but to learn from the Canasians he took out and begin digging trenches towards the city walls from 800 metres away to decrease the casualties he would suffer from the sentry cannons on the walls since the enemy had more than enough ammunition and the cannons would fire round shots at any spot where three or more people congregated. The closest they could begin digging was outside that range.
In eight days, they managed to dig three trenches and close in till there were only 200 metres left to the city walls. During that time, Wickhamsburg sent out quite a number of strike forces to fight the Auerans and caused them a few hundred casualties. Coupled with the casualties suffered during the digging of the trenches themselves, they had lost around 400 men.
Yet, that in itself incurred the rage of the soldiers of Thundercrash. Every one of them knew that they still had the mortar at their disposal, so they didn't give up hope. Instead, their fighting spirit burned even brighter and they begged to be sent on the field day in and out to continue digging the trenches. They want to reach the walls within one single night and lob those mortars at their hateful enemies.
By then, Claude was already aware of how troublesome the Nasrian corps was. He changed his plan and made up his mind to fight another tough battle in Wickhamsburg. He wasn't counting on using mortars alone to take the enemy out. He recalled a famous saying he read in his past life. Weapons weren't the crucial deciding factor of war; people were.
He could tell that the Nasrians' morale was soaring given how often they sent out men to fight. They had full confidence that they could keep the city defended. If he didn't keep the enemy encircled and chip away at their morale, even if he did manage to catch them off guard with the mortars, they would still fight Thundercrash to the death. The desperate resistance they put up might seal Thundercrash's defeat in stone. After all, mortars weren't weapons of mass destruction. They were merely a variant of grenades and didn't deal much raw damage.
When the tunnel was within 150 metres of the walls, Claude ordered them to dig sideways to make it a trench and prepare to repel the enemies that come out of the city. They would dig another trench at the 120-metre mark and slowly make their advance in that fashion.
Eiblont watched the battle play out curiously. He didn't know what Claude was planning. The two folks only set out with enough supplies for two months. At that rate, they would run out before they could reconquer Wickhamsburg.
Claude laughed and told him that he would show his hand a few days later. In the coming days, the troops finally dug one trench within a hundred metres of the walls. They could use their muskets to fight back against enemy cannons. The enemy would also no longer be able to leave the city to attack their camp during the night.
To prevent a surprise attack from Thundercrash at night, the Nasrians had no choice but to send large numbers of troops to defend the walls and throw torches off it from time to time and use their flames to see whether an enemy unit was approaching them.
However, Claude wasn't planning to have his men get that close in the first place. He only needed them to be within 70 metres of the walls to launch their mortars inside. Soon, nonstop explosions could be heard and chunks of enemy body parts could be seen flying all over the place.
Ten volleys, a thousand mortar rounds in total, were fired. The part of the walls that came under Thundercrash's attack had been obliterated. The enemies suffered extensive casualties. While they sent out a few reinforcement units, they didn't dare to go up the walls after seeing the first two batches blown away after their attempts. Even after the bombardment stopped for more than ten minutes, they remained frozen at a safe distance. They only sent a small number of soldiers to peek over the walls.
The ten-minute pause was there because Claude ordered his men to close in by fifteen metres before lobbing another five volleys into the city. The first volley of around a hundred mortars dealt a ridiculous number of casualties to the enemy's reinforcements waiting at the distance they thought was safe. The rounds landed in the midst of the crowds and went off. Those who were fortunate enough to end up uninjured ran without even caring about their injured or fallen comrades.
By then, the attackers from the rear crossed the moat of the city and began to climb up the walls with their siege ladders. While there were tens of Nasrian guards there, they were completely outnumbered and either ran immediately or died.
Soon, the side of the walls that came under attack was conquered. The troops then continued to fight along the walls as they opened the main gate to let the rest of the forces in. With the muskets covering their advance, the four walls were soon taken and the Nasrian forces ended up being trapped in the middle of the desolate city.
After taking all four walls, Claude stopped the attack and ordered them to wait until daylight. That would help prevent any accidental casualties. However, he realised that the Nasrians were still itching for a fight and stubbornly refused to go down. They had been setting up fortifications in the plot of land and gathering their cannons to bombard the walls from inside. They were trying to open a hole in them to make an escape route.
It was too bad the walls they made were too well built. The tens of cannons blasted nonstop and only managed to dirty the walls. Seeing that the enemy had yet to surrender, Claude ordered his men to turn the cannons on the walls around to fire towards the abandoned ground on which the Nasrians stood to draw their firepower. He also ordered Myjack and Strike Tribe 131 to take the enemy camp with Eiblont by aiding him with their mortars.
The clash inside the city dragged on for three days and two nights. Having lost most of their ground, the remaining 43 thousand Nasrian soldiers and officers dropped their weapons and surrendered.
The whole battle lasted 22 days in total. The Nasrians suffered around half their number as casualties, 17 thousand among them dead from battle. However, Claude and Eiblont's folks didn't fare much better. Being the main force to dig trenches and attack the walls, Thundercrash lost around four thousand men.
Most of 3rd Monolith's losses occurred during the final three days inside the city. As he was unfamiliar with the urban landscape, Eiblont lost around six thousand men during his attack on the central enemy camp. He almost lost a whole line of troops.