Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 505
Triumph of Ambruiz
"There are 45 gigantic launchers in total," Bolonik said as he put his telescope away. "They are some 800 metres away from our defences and will take about two more hours to reach their furthest firing range."
Ambruiz's terrain was largely split by small, rocky hills and streams. The Union wasn't able to mount a focused attack there. The one-time attack of the two Shiksan corps had reached its utmost limit. There was nothing more they could do. Monolith did indeed pick a good location to set up a defence line.
The 45 catapult-type launchers were about 13 metres in height. The thick and sturdy construction made them quite hefty and sturdy. Countless soldiers busied themselves to move them like ants trying to move a large piece of chicken wings. There were tens of bulls tied to each launcher that slowly and painfully advanced to pull them along.
There were three rows of shield carts in front of those launchers to defend them from cannon round shot. The soldiers that pushed them maintained a certain distance from the launchers and didn't go too far away.
"The Shiksans really did nothing but develop mortars!" Birkin exclaimed, "I finally understand how they lost the first defence line. Last time, General Lindonork told me that the Shiksan launchers can fire up to 600 metres away, about a hundred metres further than ours. I found it rather hard to believe back then, but their size finally convinced me."
Bolonik nodded. "The kingdom's troops have already done their best, even at the cost of their own lives, for them to be able to hold on for half a month under that kind of assault. However, the same trick won't work again on us. They don't know who they're taking on."
"With our new field cannons and white-phosphorus rounds, the launchers are nothing but gigantic torches," Birkin proudly said.
White phosphorus would be scattered all over upon impact to spread fire all over the place. It was incredibly hard to put out. It all stemmed from Moriad's request to Sonia. Normally, one had to heat a cannonball till red hot before firing to set enemy ship sails on fire.
However, the ironclad warships were now armed with new cannons armed with explosive shots that weren't as effective against sail ships as normal round shot. Those new cannons were more effective against personnel instead. It wasn't easy to aim at the right spot to make a hole in those ships, especially when they were sailing quickly. Moriad had no choice but to ask Sonia to research a round that could help with setting fires.
Monolith was also armed with quite a lot of white-phosphorus rounds that they intended to use against Seaking, but they didn't encounter any Shiksan naval threat at the southwestern waters. So, they decided to use them against the gigantic Shiksan catapults.
Two hours later, the two Shiksan corps finally got in place and lined up horizontally. There were countless square formations beside the catapults, each being a clan full of 200 men. The start of their attack put the defenders that were firing back at them in danger.
"Roughly 540 metres," a strategist of Monolith reported his estimates. It was just shy of the 500 metres, the range of the region's own mortars, which put them in a position from which they were unable to retaliate using them.
"Alright, you can start now. The enemy finally got themselves primed to be beaten by us," Bolonik said.
Birkin nodded. "Order the cannoneers to fire. Take out the catapults with white-phosphorus rounds first before rotating in threes to take out their infantry. Fire at will."
A sharp brass whistle could be heard right before the 20-odd cannons opened fire and let out thick, white smoke. A thick howl soared through 600 metres of the sky and landed amidst the dense locations of the two Shiksan corps. It fell like a rock into still water, resulting in multiple, chaotic waves.
Bolonik could clearly see the fires burn on the catapults from his telescope. The small embers spread into large fires. The little dots of people were blown into the air before they fell again. The neatly arranged shield carts were by now burned and battered. The cries of pain the wind carried over revealed the desperate effort the Shiksan officers gave to get their troops back into order, but that soon went to waste when even more rounds fell.
Nonstop cheers rang out from Monolith's ranks. There was no better pleasure than watching enemy troops get battered. The cannoneer at the front waved flag signals to notify that they had finished destroying their main targets and were ready for the next volley.
The bombardment got even heavier as all 568 cannons of Monolith fired in triple bursts. The key was to unload a dense 36 explosive shots for each cannon into enemy ranks in the shortest time possible. A total of 17 thousand rounds were unloaded onto the two Shiksan corps, covering even the rearmost Canasian light-cavalry folk in the attack.
The new infantry cannons could fire 1200 metres away at most, whereas the Shiksan defence line was only 500 metres away. All the square formations at the rear were involved in the bombardment. When the time Monolith's forces destroyed the launchers, the troops at the back were still staring blankly at the spectacle, confused about what was going on.
The 20 plus cannons of Monolith reduced the 45 launchers into nothing but giant, flaming pyres before turning to fire at the troops directly. They were firing from the maximum distance possible, hitting the rearmost ranks of the enemy troops first.
The officers of the Union were still blanking out when their launchers caught fire.
"What is that? Why can it fire so far away?" a Nasrian officer asked in confusion. Of the mortar launchers made on Freia, Shiksan ones had the furthest range. While they were also the heaviest, they could fire up to 600 metres, cementing Shiks as the strongest military power in the Union. If not for them, they would've suffered two corps and wasted even more time taking the first Aueran defence line.
"They... they fired them from cannons!" yelled a sharp-eyed officer at the sight of white smoke. His face paled immediately. "They... they actually made their round shots into explosive bombs..."
At almost the same time, the officers of the Union turned to the few Shiksan commanders. They were the ones who kept boasting about their ultimate siege weapon. Now, Aueras' invention of explosive weapons caused all the research funding and effort Shiks poured into their artillery to go to waste. It was plainly obvious that the firing range of the launchers was far too short compared to that of the cannons. They were also not nearly as mobile!
The command post was merely a few hundred metres from the battlefield, a full 1500 metres from Monolith's location, so as to prevent being shot at by enemy cannons. If they noticed such a huge gathering of high-ranking officials there, they might just start firing. Even if the shots didn't actually hit, they would be more than enough to terrorise them. So, the high-ranking officers' command post was situated beyond the firing range of a middle-class-infantry cannon.
Due to it being too far from the actual battlefield, the officers weren't able to respond in time to the sudden change. They merely watched as their 45 launchers burnt to a crisp before their ranks of troops were utterly demolished.
Howl after howl and explosion after explosion sent countless small dots among the square formations into the air and back to the ground. It was as if the troops were rice being fried in a wok, tossed into the air by the masterful flips of the spatula only to fall back onto the burning surface. The rearmost and frontmost troops had begun to run back like countless flies, scattering and gathering time and again, before crumbling from the explosions.
"Quick! Blow the horn for them to retreat!" The commander-in-chief of the Union's army, the rather aged Shiksan count, clasped his chest as if his heart disease was acting up. It only just occurred to him that his two corps would be completely done for if he didn't give the order to retreat.
The loud horns were blown repeatedly, causing the Shiksan troops to turn and run. They no longer cared about anything and even dropped their muskets, retreating like the tide into the ocean. The cannons only fired two more volleys before nobody alive could be seen running about on the battlefield. There were only severed limbs, corpses, cries of the injured begging for help and the flowing sound of blood.
"I have to admit. The Shiksan forces really gave me a fright there," Bolonik yelled to Birkin as he put his telescope away. His ears were still ringing from the nonstop explosions.
"What did you say?" Birkin yelled back.
Bolonik shook his head. He waited until his ears felt better and said, "Don't you think the Shiksans' discipline got much better since the colonial wars? Their troops took the hits for as long as the horn signal to retreat wasn't sounded instead of crumbling and running."
Birkin burst out laughing. "Didn't you notice that we fired at their rear? They could only run towards the centre of the battlefield where no rounds were being fired. Haha... However, we'll be taking their camp tonight. All we need to use is our cannons and rockets. They are sure to break down."
Though the attack of the Union failed once more so spectacularly with all the lost launchers, the actual number of casualties wasn't that high, being no more than some 30 thousand, only about the size of a folk. However, the Union's morale was still at a low point.
Once they returned from the camp, the high-ranking officers of the Union finished their plans to prevent a surprise attack from Monolith. They had built two rows of sentry outposts 500 metres away from their camp. There was a tent of soldiers always keeping watch during day and night in case the enemy attempted a sneak attack.
Usually, one would have to first take out those sentry outposts before attacking the enemy camp, especially one that stretched some five kilometres containing 100 thousand people. However, the outposts were built in a triangular formation ten metres from each other. There was also a bonfire burning between every three outposts, allowing a clear view around them.
The fires could easily expose enemy soldiers within a hundred metres. Apart from that, the outposts were usually built on high ground with trenches dug around them. They were built of stone and three storeys high, allowing them to withstand direct hits from round shots fired from infantry cannons. As such, units sent to take out the towers usually employed stealth and assassination to prevent the enemy from being alerted as the infiltration was happening.
Birkin, however, merely ordered his men to move their new cannons towards the towers and bombard them. Then, they turned their cannon barrels up high to launch rockets at the enemy camp. The highest firing range of the rockets was 1500 metres and they were filled with white phosphorus. Soon, the enemy encampment turned into a burning hellscape.
The watchers in the outposts were shocked awake during the first wave of bombardment and got into battle stations as their drills had taught them to. Countless soldiers were rushed into the trenches and behind their fortifications by their officers to aim their muskets at the empty ground in front of the camp, waiting for the enemy troops to show up to launch their counterattack.
That was how traditional camp-defence operations were carried out, but the Union's troops obviously didn't expect conventions to not be followed at all. Instead, Birkin used the dominating firing range of the cannons to flatten the enemy camp. Everything within it soon fell apart as startled horses and panicked persons flipped the camp from the inside out.
Birkin didn't gather all his forces to target one specific point of the enemy camp. Instead, he ordered his two folks to work as one combat unit to defend the tens of cannons as they launched an all-encompassing attack on the enemy camp. They brought along five thousand rockets with them as well.
Thankfully, the Union's officers were at last halfway capable. With the fortifications and trenches, they didn't suffer casualties that heavy. Just as the officers managed to calm down the panicked soldiers, sharp, whooshing sounds soared through the air. Rockets trailed after one another through the air above the camp and landed in the tent-filled areas with a burning flash, setting the tents alight.
With the wind at night being a little strong, the fire spread much quicker than expected. The nonstop rocket bombardment caused the troops of Sidins and Rimodra to crumble first. The troops climbed out of the trenches, abandoned their muskets, and beat up the officers that tried to stop them before yelling for the rest to run. They retreated to the middle and rear camp in a drunken frenzy.
When Monolith noticed the enemy was trying to escape, they used that chance to send all their troops in to pursue the enemy and further damage them from the rear.
The panic rippled through the enemy ranks as more and more deserters appeared. Nobody could continue to defend their stations while their comrades were busy escaping. Soon, Monolith's troops got a full view of the escaping enemy forces.
"Keep alert. We must always be careful while chasing the enemy down. Don't engage isolated enemy units and wait for our cannoneers to come first," Birkin reminded.
When day broke, word immediately spread that Monolith thwarted the Union's attacks three times in five days before attacking their camp and driving them all into a retreat. The Union's forces only stopped when they reached the second defence line, only to find that only four of the seven corps that entered Ambruiz managed to make it back. They also lost all of their military supplies and gear in their retreat.
The battle came to be known as the Triumph of Ambruiz, which rocketed Monolith to fame overnight.