Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 426
The arms factory was located in the southern part of Vebator at a spot rather near to the defence line set up at the colony's border by the voluntary Canasian cavalry. That area was covered in short hills and even the tallest peak was beneath 200 metres sea level. Blackstone Hills, as the place was known, was rather famous in Vebator for being a producer of black firestone.
However, nobody there was interested in harvesting those black firestones as the colony was filled with shrubs and woods, so fuel plentiful all around. One only had to go out of town for a short walk to be able to return with a whole stack of dried firewood. As such, black firestone, that produced pungent black smoke and soot upon burning, was rather unpopular. Claude recalled seeing an infographic made by the mining association that had black firestone ranked as fourth in priority of mining due to its relatively low value.
That was where Liboyd had chosen to set up the arms factory. He noticed the value black firestones could provide and believed the hot-air engines and steam-powered engines he created would cause the firestones to rise in value. After the black firestones were processed, they could burn even longer and provide even more heat. Additionally, it was a kind of fuel that could be used to heat up kilns and make it easier for different metals to meld together for the kinds of steel and alloy he needed.
Bolonik, Skri and Birkin rushed to Blackstone Hills at the end of the 9th month after receiving Claude's eagle message. They boarded a light-class warship Birkin had hailed and travelled along the coast straight to Port Vebator, before travelling on land to Blackstone Hills from there. They never would've imagined Claude would actually start an arms factory within the colony without anyone noticing in preparation to produce a new type of rifle.
Claude and Eiblont were there to welcome the other three. First, they took them on a tour in the factory. Bolonik and Skri looked at the columns of steam and black smoke that came out of the loud piston machines. There was a series of machine crushing all sorts of ore into smaller pieces and refining them into proper ingots and different alloys through all sorts of different processes. It was truly a sight to behold.
Skri had joined tours in a few large factories belonging to the kingdom's military industrial complexes and didn't think the theatre would ever have a factory of their own. That meant that the theatre was completely free from the mainland's arms embargo. They would no longer have to beg the mainland to provide them with arms and equipment.
Bolonik was rather impressed with the curious steam-powered and hot-air engines. He said that factories on Freia had to rely on potent water sources to power their machines. It appeared that the future would be powered by these new advances in technology instead.
At the time, Bolonik, Skri and Birkin were completely oblivious to what Claude referred to as a new rifle. They were under the impression that it was an improved matchlock gun. So, after visiting the ore-refining factory, they joined Claude for lunch. Eiblont, who had come a few days ago, had had his fill with the rifle in the factory for the past few days and chuckled without revealing a single thing. He wanted to see the shocked expressions of the other three when they finally saw the rifle for themselves.
After having lunch, it was finally time to take them to the firing range. There was a long table set up with more than ten recently manufactured Sonia 591s. As they were made from the production line, they were far from as polished as the ones Angelina had personally fashioned with her array. The parts on the guns and stock still looked like they could use good sanding down.
However, those rifles were enough to completely turn the worlds of the three generals upside down. Birkin acutely noticed the brass cartridges on the table. "So these use premade cartridges like the revolver?"
Seeing Claude nod, Birkin picked one new rifle up and grabbed a few cartridges. "Tell me, how should I use this?"
Eiblont stepped in and picked one up himself. "Watch and learn."
He demonstrated how to load the magazine in a practised manner and stuffed it at the bottom of the gun. He then pulled the bolt open and put a round into the open chamber before he got to shooting. While the bolt had to be pulled to eject the jacket after every shot, being able to fire successively six times was already shocking enough for the three generals. Their eyeballs almost popped out from disbelief.
After that, Bolonik fired the new rifle more than fifty times himself. Skri tried ten or so times and stopped. He rubbed his shoulders as he complained, "The recoil is even stronger than matchlocks."
"They're also heavier," Bolonik commented as he inspected the rifle, "But the reloading is far more quick and convenient. I believe the compromise is worth it."
Claude immediately told them the specifications of the rifle. Birkin was rather excited. He turned to Bolonik and said, "General, this is a weapon we definitely need. If we're armed with these new rifles, I can use a single tribe's worth of men to fight a folk and even win! If we have good fortifications, we can even make sure a whole enemy corps stops in their tracks..."
Bolonik ignored him and merely caressed the rifle lovingly in his hand. He knew that Claude's new rifle had eclipsed every single matchlock Freia produced. The technological advancement wasn't one to be measured in years, but rather, a whole generation. It was just as much a leap as the revolver's. His only hope was for the price of this rifle to not be nearly as expensive as their smaller cousin's.
Skri wasn't as well informed on firearms as Bolonik or Birkin, but as a soldier, he understood the kind of impact introducing the new rifle to the battlefield would have. As the chief logistics officer of the entire theatre, however, he was more concerned about the price. "How much would it cost to arm the forces on a large scale with these?"
Claude was still considering how he should break the number to them. Eiblont stretched out an open palm.
"Five crowns?" Bolonik was quite surprised. He didn't think the new rifles weren't as expensive as he had imagined. Perhaps they really could arm all the troops of the theatre with these new rifles, including the garrison lines where the veterans of the two corps served.
"In your dreams." Eiblont flipped his palm around. Everyone knew what he meant. Each new rifle cost ten crowns. For some reason, Bolonik and Birkin thought it was a worthwhile cost. Only Skri thought he could negotiate it lower.
Claude waved them away and stopped Skri from even attempting to haggle. He smiled in resignation as he said, "Actually, you're focusing on the wrong thing. The issue with the new rifles isn't with the rifles themselves, but rather, the rounds."
He picked up a cartridge from the table. "What you don't yet know is the cost of producing one such bullet. Each costs three sunars. If we make more than ten million rounds, we can decrease the cost to two sunars each, but that's the limit."
Bolonik, Birkin and Eiblont didn't seem to mind the price. Birkin even said, "Two sunars for one cartridge is still rather cheap."
Claude shook his head with a pained smile.
However, Skri, who was more adept with numbers, immediately paled. "We can't afford to use these new rifles. You might not know this, but the paper cartridges the Aubass Mark 3 use cost four iron pennies at most. In other words, these cartridges are 50 times the price of that..."
"If we follow the ministry of the army's standard training routine, each soldier has to fire at least a thousand live rounds for training purposes. So, we can assume each one of them will cost five crowns to train. Additionally, a hundred rounds will be spent during live-fire drills in each month. That will make the training cost for each soldier per year six crowns. One corps of 65 thousand men will cost more than 400 thousand crowns alone to train annually," Claude added.
Bolonik wiped the sweat off his forehead. "We really can't afford to use these rifles..."
Birkin still didn't seem convinced. "General, with these rifles, one of our own can take on ten of the enemy. It is the most substantial method we can use to increase our forces' strength. If both of our corps are armed with them, I can guarantee that nobody will be able to match up to us."
"Perhaps we can decrease the cost of training to half," Eiblont said, "The ministry specifies that each new recruit has to fire a thousand rounds because reloading is rather troublesome for matchlock muskets. The soldiers must constantly drill and perfect their reloading till it becomes a habit so they won't panic when they're deployed on the battlefield. Only then will they be able to reload in an orderly fashion and ensure their own survival.
"If we're to use these new rifles, there will no longer be a need to use the training routine designed for matchlock muskets. Reloading these new guns is quick and easy. The soldiers can easily master it, so we don't need to waste as many bullets as we first thought. A new recruit will be given live-round training ten times a month. If we use 50 rounds per session, we can effectively halve the cost of the rounds required for training.
"Additionally, we can decrease the frequency of our live-round drills. Let's only hold one once every three months and give each soldier a hundred rounds each time. All we need is for them to revise and practice firing. These new rifles are no matchlocks that require constant memorisation and repetition to maintain their mastery of the weapon, after all. The troops will only have to focus on learning how to aim properly with the rifles.
"If we count it that way, each corps will only take 150 thousand crowns per year to train. While that's still not a small sum, the increase in strength that the new rifles provide is not to be understated. Like Birkin said, our corps will be able to take on ten times their number. I believe the cost is justified, and even necessary, considering how much it would save us from the losses and deaths we can avoid."
"You speak sense, Eiblont, but currently, our theatre is still plagued with many other matters. The two million immigrants from the mainland have just been settled down in Cromwell and Balginana. We still have to integrate Tyrrsim, Mormaly and Aduras under our rule. While we found 1.4 million crowns' worth of wealth there and also earned two million crowns from helping the nikancha nation with their migration and selling them arms, there are many other things that have drained us of our funds. Among them include driving and migrating the nikancha tribes away, recruiting new troops, reorganising the local garrison forces, expanding Lanu to a city, the formation of our overseas bank, the formation of our near-ocean fleet, as well as the infrastructure investments we made in Cromwell and Balingana.
"If I'm honest, we are still nearly a million crowns in the red since last year. We still have records for that. Now, we are counting on the paper notes the overseas bank issues to replace coins in the daily transactions of the common folk. Otherwise, our theatre would go bankrupt.
"The current financial state of the theatre is really bad. We have already tried our best to ensure that our two corps and 18 garrison lines are well supplied, since we still face an impending Shiksan attack and can't wait for reinforcements from the mainland since we've lost contact. We can only count on ourselves to survive this ordeal."
Bolonik sighed deeply. The burden had been rather stressful on him. His wrinkles grew deeper and his hair even whitened. As the acting field marshal of the theatre, he had to be responsible for all matters, military and civil, in the eight colonies. The responsibility was far too much.
"Claude, your new rifle is amazing, far beyond what matchlocks of the current generation have to offer. However, the theatre really can't afford to arm our men with them, at least not in the short term when it comes to the training costs. Do you have any thoughts and requests you'd like us to hear?"
Claude's grimace intensified. He knew what Bolonik said was all true, but he was the one who instructed Sonia to go forward with the rifle's development. If the theatre couldn't purchase them on a large scale, his arms factory would be useless too. He couldn't just shut it down.
"I hope the theatre can at least ensure we get a loan of a million crowns from the overseas bank to keep the arms factory running," Claude said, "I've invested 200 thousand crowns in the research of this rifle over the many years after much trial and error. Only with Madam Sonia's help was I able to succeed. Then, I used all the funds my family had at its disposal to start this arms factory for the production of these rifles.
"Now, the factory has only started operations so there aren't many side effects. At the current production rate, we can only make three thousand rifles and four million rounds at most per year. If possible, I'd like to use the loans to raise the production to ten thousand rifles and ten million rounds per year. We'll use these new weapons to pay off the loans. We'll replace the loadouts of our respective units slowly. That way, it wouldn't be a huge burden to the theatre, and we'll be able to increase our forces' might at the same time."
Bolonik gave it some thought. "Are you really that confident in the paper notes the overseas bank issues? If the notes don't work out in the colonies, we'll be in huge trouble."
The loans issued by the overseas bank came in the form of half cash and half notes.
Bolonik's worries were well placed. The people of this world have dealt in metal coins for millennia and many were still not confident enough in switching over to paper notes that represented value. If the notes ended up largely unpopular, the theatre might be able to survive the blow, but Claude's new arms factory that paid its workers in notes might have to close down immediately.
"General, I don't have any other choice," Claude said.