"I have returned, Sir," Claude reported as he saluted.
Major Lederfanc stood up.
"What's the deal with 3rd Rangers? Why are their casualties so heavy? Did you learn anything?"
Claude removed his cap, hung it on the wall, and plopped his black leather bag on the desk.
"The tribesman claimed they suffered heavy casualties because the enemy fought to the last man, I'm convinced it's purely a morale thing. Yes, they've suffered heavy casualties, but their inefficacy is because they've lost their morale and can't fight properly, not because they're undermanned."
"So that's why they've been pestering command for weeks now to relieve them? I am worried. 1st Rangers isn't like the 3rd. They're mostly veterans transferred in from other units. We've got only greenhorns. They've finished the general training, but they're not ready to fight using our doctrine. They've not even completed your basic course. I am not ready to send them into battle."
Claude shook his head.
"Unfortunately HQ don't care. They're sending us to Billie. We're to relieve the 3rd by the 5th. We have to leave in a couple days if we're to make it in time. We've only got another week to train, at most. We'll be expected to take Blackmaple Castle, as well. They want us to break the door open to the pass through Pikleit Mountains. We'll really be up against it.
"3rd Rangers failed because they were too arrogant. They didn't think the enemy would hold out as long as they did, or fight as fiercely as they did, so they didn't take appropriate measures. They certainly didn't scout properly. They went in blind.
"Because they didn't scout properly, they chose the worst ground in the entire area from which to attack. The enemy cleared 200 metres of the forest around the castle, and diverted the nearby stream into a moat around it. There's no cover from which to employ our tactics properly.
"And speaking of tactics, I took a good look at their practice while I was there. They may be veterans, but they don't know the first thing about our ranger doctrine. They often don't bother to take cover while firing, and stand up to reload even when they do... Most of them can't make proper use of the Mark 3s accuracy, so they end up either wasting ammo while having no effect on the battle, or are forced to close in to effective retaliatory range in order to hit anything reliably. The enemy is also armed with knockoff Mark 3s, so getting any closer than the absolute limit of our own range is committing suicide. And don't even get me started on those damned uniforms!"
Lederfanc shook his head. Claude despised their colourful uniforms too much. Lederfanc agreed with the youth that it made them massive targets, but it was not in his power to do anything about it. It was army policy which only the likes of the king and his direct subordinates could change.
"Wait, you said the defenders have Mark 3 knockoffs?" Lederfanc asked.
"Yes. I saw one in 3rd Rangers' base. I heard it was produced in Askilin. It's called the Falchston Type-185. They're roughly three catties heavier than ours and can shoot accurately up to seventy metres, an improvement on the ones we last faced in Sidins. I wanted to bring one back with me, but they weren't willing to give me one."
"We are still finding ways to use the Aubass Mark 3. Experiments are still ongoing. I didn't think the enemy would come up with countermeasures so quickly."
Claude sighed sympathetically.
"'War is the best teacher', after all. Any half-decent commander would not shy away from learning from his enemy."
Lederfanc poured Claude a cup of tea.
"Let's not wallow in despair. There's only so much we can do. Let's think about how we can carry out the mission instead. You ought to check the four clans and see how their training is coming along. Not only are we tasked with holding 3rd's position, we've been ordered to take the castle.
"I used to be a logistics officer, so I'm not too familiar with combat operations. I can only entrust this to you. Your orders will be mine. You have full freedom over deciding how to approach this. You're the most experienced officer we have, not to mention the one that single-handedly developed our entire doctrine. Submit a proposal for my approval within the next couple days. I don't want to see any unnecessary corpses this time."
"Understood." Claude saluted.
Unlike Rosley, Lederfanc trusted Claude deeply. He'd made him his strategist the moment he suggested being given a position in the HQ. Lederfanc at least had the intelligence to notice his shortcomings, and the humility to entrust those better suited to such tasks with those duties.
They marched into Billie and relieved the 3rd Rangers on the 4th of the 10th month.
The tribe held a war council not long after. As the one who came up with the operation, Claude briefed the officers on the operation personally. Most of the officers supported his plan unconditionally. They knew that, while he often came up with complicated, befuddling tactics that often felt too complicated to be achievable, they always pulled through and achieved great results. Most importantly, they always resulted in far fewer losses than conventional wisdom would dictate for the relevant operation. The only downside is that his plans, given their complexity, took very long to prepare for. Luckily, they'd not been given a deadline to take the castle.
The 3rd had disgraced the name 'rangers'. They'd relied on traditional, standard, and as far as the rangers were concerned, outdated tactics rather than established ranger doctrine when they'd attacked the castle. Most attributed their failures to this stupidity. After arriving in Billie, they rested for a day before gathering the men to head for the castle. They sent an ambassador to request the castle's surrender, only to be refused, after which they began a traditional siege.
As they were armed with Aubass Mark 3s, the troops of the 3rd didn't line up and fire in volleys. First, they bombarded the castles with cannons and attacked the castle from three sides, one clan on each side, and another clan on standby. The commanding officers believed that they would be able to dominate their enemy with sniping once their soldiers got close.
However, there were creeks surrounding the castle roughly sixty metres wide. The water was rather shallow, being only up to knee height, but it proved to be quite a huge obstacle for the attacking soldiers. They weren't able to quickly arrive at the castle and the enemy was able to shoot them down from elevated cover. The soldiers in the creek were shot down one after another and their blood dyed the water red.
The sentry cannons fitted onto the castle also began firing at the three clans and their range superiority caused the Auerans massive casualties. Four of their light cannons and half their operators were wiped out.
That was the real reason behind 3rd's failure. Only some four hundred of the thousand men remained in fighting condition and around three hundred wounded were sent to the field hospitals. The battle was a horrible defeat that cost them more than half their number. Now, 1st Ranger Tribe was given the same assignment and the officers in the tribe were well aware that employing the same tactics as the 3rd would doom them for failure. Having no other choice, they were more than willing to try out Claude's attack plan.
There were three phases to the plan. First, they would encircle the castle and cut off transportation routes to the outside world. The tents of the tribe's 1st Clan would employ guerilla tactics and operate around 200 metres away from the castle to keep anyone from entering or leaving it.
The second phase involved drafting local folk from Billie to reroute the flow of water to the creek and drain it out so that it would no longer be an obstacle for the attackers. The task was given to 2nd Clan.
In the third phase, trenches would be dug a hundred metres away from the castle to take advantage of the distance the Aubass Mark 3 could shoot accurately. While the enemy could still shoot beyond that distance, they wouldn't be able to aim accurately and would have to rely on luck to score hits. The rather dangerous task of digging trenches under the noses of the enemy was given to 3rd Clan.
However, the trenches would be just slightly shy of the firing range of the sentry cannons' scatter shot, which prevented many unnecessary casualties. If the enemy wanted to use round shots, they were free to do so. Only, who knew how much gunpowder and how many cannonballs it would take to destroy the trenches? Not to mention, the trenches were easy to build and hard to destroy. All they had to do after one trench was bombarded was to dig new trenches, which could be easily achieved after driving away the cannoneers from their firing platforms. Claude suggested for a trench to be dug two hundred metres away from the castle first and slowly work their way in when it was safe. The enemy would find it hard-pressed to drive away the trench diggers that way.
"Lastly, the key to conquering Blackmaple is here." Claude tapped on the hills behind the castle with a wooden pointer. "Whether we can cut off the supply route behind the castle will decide whether we can achieve our objectives. According to our reconnaissance efforts, there are two routes around these hills that connect to the supply route behind the castle.
"These routes are usually used by foragers or hunters and can't be traveled by horse and carriage. We need 4th Clan to send out two bands to go up these routes and find a suitable spot at the rear supply route to set up a strong defense. Have one band excavate the path until it is no longer traversable and another band defend them in the meantime. Keep the route defended until we occupy Blackmaple or they surrender."