Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 497
Declaration of War
"You're saying this helmet can greatly decrease casualties?" Bolonik was quite dissatisfied with the recent changes in uniform Claude ushered in. To him, changing the bright-red uniforms to a khaki grey made the troops lose much of their heroic air. Being used to dressing in the gaudy, red ones, the change affected him rather personally.
Claude didn't really have any better ideas. There weren't many types of cloth for him to pick from. Usually, they wore fine linen in summer, fur in winter, and a mixed patchwork cloth in autumn and spring. As for dyes, Claude wanted to look for the familiar olive green, but it simply didn't exist. So, he picked khaki grey. Compared to the bright-red uniforms, the troops suddenly looked like they changed from proud palace guards to a bunch of mercenaries hired by poor locals.
Since the colours didn't look great, Claude made it up with dashing design. He modelled them after the uniforms of the German Schutzstaffel. They had the best-looking uniforms and it left a huge impression on him. It was also a design whose beauty was acknowledged by netizens worldwide. The other uniform that he fused into the design was that of his country in his previous life. Not signing up for the military and choosing instead to enter college as a freshman was one of the things he regretted the most. It was a shame he didn't grab that chance.
He didn't care about Bolonik's displeasure since the soldiers didn't need pretty uniforms, but ones that could help them survive. At the very least, muted colours weren't as obvious as bright ones on the battlefield and helped camouflaged them somewhat. It was too bad Claude couldn't make a proper camouflage pattern. However, he did manage to make ghillie suits using a few tricks.
Now that Claude was going to change their straight army caps to one that looked no different from an iron bowl, Bolonik found that it looked even worse. It almost seemed like they were marching into battle with a tortoise on their heads.
"The helmets are only worn in battle. The normal hats can be worn on normal occasions," Claude replied without much of a care, "As for whether it's effective, let's test it out."
All the high-ranking officers were gathered at the large testing field of the factory in Lanu. There were many trenches there, as well as an explosive-testing area. More than ten wooden figures were clad in uniforms and metal helmets before they were placed in the trenches with only the helmets visible.
First, they tested using the Aubass Mark 3 instead of Sonia 591. A band of men shot three volleys from a hundred metres away before bringing the wooden figures to the generals.
The truth was laid bare just like that. Apart from three figures who were shot squarely in the face, the rest were fine. Dents were left behind on the helmet at the points of impact, but not a single one shot through the steel helmets. It didn't so much as make a small hole. To the folks used to lead bullets, these steel helmets just seemed like an innovation that would completely render them useless.
Bolonik rubbed the dent with his finger where the bullet had deflected off, causing the khaki-grey paint to chip off. Suddenly inspired, he asked a soldier to put one figure back into the trenches while he shot at it with a Sonia 591.
He quickly emptied a clip with rather decent marksmanship -- he could basically hit a target a hundred metres away accurately. After six shots, the soldiers retrieved the figure and reported that of the six bullets, two of them flew past the helmet, one of them left a long scratch on it-- and the remaining three struck it squarely and left three indents, but no punctures.
"It looks like you're right. While this thing looks rather bad, it works well. It can indeed keep our troops alive on the battlefield," Bolonik said understandingly.
"That's not all. We haven't even tested the effects of mortars yet." Claude ordered his men to set the ten wooden figures back into the trenches with helmets on before launching three volleys in rapid succession.
There was a tent of operators split into four groups. They fired twelve rounds in total.
After a round of deafening explosions, the soldiers collected the broken wooden figures. About three to four of them lost some limbs and had their uniforms torn up by the shrapnel. The casualties were estimated to be fifty percent.
What shocked the officers, however, was how the heads of the figures were kept in proper condition. On the helmets were many scratches, with the most obvious one being a piece of thumb-sized shrapnel embedded in one, though not more than a centimetre deep. A soldier wearing one such helmet would only suffer light injuries if the body was in good cover and the head was mildly exposed.
Bolonik rubbed the helmet as he said, "It's not that heavy. Claude, have you thought about making steel breastplates? That way, our light-cavalry troops will have much better protection in charges."
"Ah?" Claude said with a start, "I... I really haven't considered it before..."
Eiblont chimed in, "It's a wonderful idea. While Thundercrash is mainly mounted infantry and focuses on mobility, firepower and defence, there are times when we employ intercepting charges as well. With armour like that, we'll be able to form a rather good defence against enemy guns."
There were instances of breastplates for cavalry used in the kingdom before, but they were made from thick iron plates. If they were too thin, they wouldn't be able to block bullets, but making them thick made them too heavy, causing the cavalrymen's mobility to suffer as a result. If they used mithril to make breastplates, however, it would cost too much. In the end, they were phased out for being impractical.
"I estimate it at four or five catties, so it wouldn't affect mobility on horseback. We can test this out. If it is suitable, we'll arm Monolith with breastplates too. That way, we'll be able to gain quite the advantage by charging into enemy formations and in melees."
Claude scratched his head at the thought that their troops would one day don full armour like knights of old, except they would be wielding their new rifles instead of lances. After some thought, he said, "Since Mister Weyblon is responsible for this, you can ask him whether it's possible. The core factor would be the rate of production of the steel plates. I'm going to order 200 thousand steel helmets for our troops."
As Bolonik waved for Weyblon to come over, he said, "It's fine. Let's make the helmets first while we test the breastplate out more to make sure the weight won't be a problem in actual battle."
In the middle of the 3rd month of Year 599, a piece of shocking news began to spread. Shiks represented the nations of Eastern Freia in declaring war against Aueras. In other words, Shiks, Nasri, Canas, and the newly reinstated Sidins and Rimodra formed a union to fight Aueras. The second Eastern-Freian war began just like that, but this time, nobody knew whether it would last five years or more.
The first Eastern-Freian war lasted five years, instigated first by Aueras against the Union formed by Nasri, Canas, Sidins, Rimodra and Askilin. Back then, Aueras was a strong nation with wealth gathered over the past two decades. It was filled with confidence and didn't fear fighting against five foes at once. Their victory in the war proved that point. While it was a pyrrhic victory, they were still the ultimate victor.
Now, five other nations were at war with Aueras again, with Shiks replacing Askilin. The Union was now the one that held the advantage, especially with Shiks' participation. Even though they were constantly beaten out on Nubissia and had been embarrassed so badly to the point they were often mocked, they were still a powerful nation on Freia with considerable military might.
Currently, Aueras could be said to be in the weakest point of its history. The five-year war had drained most of their accumulated wealth and the colonial wars stumped the possibility of any economic development. The civil war further destabilised the kingdom, fracturing it and forcing people to pick sides. Once the kingdom was ravaged by the war, Stellin XI emerged victorious and went on a spending spree. Only after Fredrey I took the throne did the kingdom begin to recover.
But right after that, there was the war for the debt as well as the famine that threatened to ravage through two-thirds of the kingdom's prefectures. The kingdom spared no effort and finally managed to get some food to relieve their plight. Good news was also coming from the frontlines that they were slowly beating back the Nasrian forces. Just as they were about to counter invade Nasri, however, the new Union of Eastern Freia declared war against it!
Nobody had high hopes for Aueras' situation. They were up against far too many foes. The neighbouring observer nations estimated Aueras would only be able to struggle for a few months to half a year at most before surrendering or clamouring for peace. If they were lucky, they would survive after ceding a few prefectures, but if they weren't, they could end up being exterminated entirely.
"It's a trap! The dogshit Union is going to entrap our king! That war of debt was the bait!" Bolonik roared as he slammed the table before he paced around the meeting room.
The tragic thing was even though a maritime route to the kingdom had been established, with many private vessels sailing between the two territories, word of the declaration actually came from the western coast. It was obvious that Griffon, stationed at Whitestag, had tried to hide it from the region.
"The war started once the royal guard sent two folks of reinforcements to the frontlines to fight alongside Reddragon at Wustia. They baited the enemy deep and managed to eliminate one Nasrian standing corps before launching a counterattack. Nasri's defences crumbled into a pathetic retreat and the royal guard managed to recapture the last border prefecture while sending a vanguard to continue pursuing Nasrian troops into their territory," Birkin said, having just rushed back from Loki Mountains with the report he got from the western coast. "The Union, led by Shiks, used our troop presence in Nasri as an excuse to declare war against us. This publication, 'Spearhead Forum', states that the other four nations of the Union long had plans to involve themselves in the war over the debt. So, they already had eight standing corps stationed at the border in preparation for the declaration."
Claude rapped his fingers on the desk as he said, "Even if the nations were already in on it together to use that as an excuse, what did the kingdom do? Why did they stop the news from getting to us?"
Birkin said, "Our kingdom has retreated all troops from Nasrian territory and set up defences at the borders of the four nations. They also sent ambassadors to those nations with the intent of stopping the war before it truly starts.
"However, the pundits don't seem to hold high hopes for that. The Union is intentionally targeting our kingdom and managed to find an excuse after so long. They definitely wouldn't give up on a chance like this. Majid III himself declared that he would exterminate the source of all wars in Eastern Freia, Aueras..."
Wham! Eiblont slammed the desk with his fist, much to the others' shock. He grit his teeth and roared, "What the hell, Majid III caused all the wars himself! Is he trying to turn his attention to the kingdom, now that they can't attack us anymore? If he has the balls, he should continue the war here!"
Claude chuckled audibly. This time around, even if Shiks sent 20 standing corps to them, he was still confident he could take them all out with only two. The development they've had over three years of peace saw not only their main forces being equipped with new rifles but their garrison forces as well. They only lacked an improved light-infantry cannon the main forces had.
"Don't look at me," Claude said, stifling his laughter, "It's not that Shiks doesn't want to send ten corps here. They simply can't. Even if they want to, they don't even have that many soldiers yet. Why don't we send an ambassador to Majid III and tell him we'll hand him Port Vebator so he can send another ten corps here to continue the colonial wars? Do you think he'll agree?"
The others broke into mad laughter. Majid III wasn't that stupid to the point he would send his own men to the region as free labourers.
Eiblont, however, still seemed rather dissatisfied. "It's too bad we can't go back to fight the war. Otherwise, with our might, we can easily swat away all the armies on Freia. As a soldier, it truly feels infuriating to see a war pass you by without being able to join in!"
"Hmph, you're not a soldier, you're a bully!" Birkin mocked without mercy. "If not for the new weapons that allow us to dominate, you wouldn't be so eager to jump in. Don't forget our greatest weakness: logistical support. Even if we can take on ten times our number, we'll need to be able to support such an undertaking. Without ammunition, our new rifles and cannons are useless!"
When they were still using normal muskets, they could mix up some gunpowder lying around and even use small stones as bullets. The gunpowder used for cannons was compatible with that of the muskets. However, the new rifles easily spent the specially made bullets in a couple of moments.
Not to mention, the rounds used by the new cannons were more than ten times the sizes of rifle cartridges. It could shoot far and explode with great force. Even shield carts and mortars wouldn't be able to stand up to those cannons. They would be wiped out without exception, hence Eiblont's inflated confidence. However, if they were unable to keep the ammunition supplied, it would be over for them. The new cannons couldn't use scattershot like the old ones, after all.
Bolonik said while gritting his teeth, "The kingdom really is too far away. We can't join the war even if we want to..."
It was then when someone knocked on the door and interrupted their meeting.
"Come in," Skri said.
A strategist on duty at headquarters came in with an eagle message. "Sirs, Port Cobius sent an urgent letter that ambassadors from the kingdom had come to us to ask for reinforcements..."