They were based in a tough, well-fortified base. The new field marshal had seen many strongholds in his time. Though the Rimodran strongholds couldn't compare, they still dealt huge casualties to the royal guard.
"A stronghold like this, when defended by a tribe, is enough to repel a whole line. How many men are you going to send in? What are the estimated casualties?" Aljess asked, turning to Claude, Bolonik, and Sevict.
Aljess had gathered many people for the inspection of 2nd Monolith, accompanied by Sevict. He also asked him to carry out some live drills to get an idea of 2nd Monolith's capabilities. He then personally inspected the defences to see if there were any weaknesses.
Quite a few soldiers were placing scarecrows near the trenches and mud walls. They also erected eight cannon-shaped stacks of wood. A tribe had around a thousand men, but they wouldn't actually have a thousand scarecrows. Each one, instead, represented a tent of twelve. They only needed a hundred scarecrows to represent a tribe.
"I'm going to use a clan," Sevict replied.
"Very well. You play it safe and use conventional tactics. That's a strength. Use a clan for a probing attack and figure out where most of the enemy's firepower is. You'll avoid those areas in the main attack and decrease your casualties."
Sevict looked at Bolonik as if he was about to argue. However, Bolonik shook his head and Sevict sighed, choosing instead to nod.
"General, I shall go take command. Please observe our drill from here and give us an evaluation. By the way, General, when are we attacking?"
"The best time would be at night. The darkness will allow you to approach their defences easier as the defenders can only focus on the small illuminated area directly in front of the defences. Sometimes, windy nights will cause the flames to crackle and distract the troops, which would make for an even better opportunity for a sudden attack.
"However, since General Sevict is going to launch a probing attack with a clan, night wouldn't be ideal. You wouldn't get a good look at where the enemy is concentrated. It's better to attack in the early afternoon. Let the fighting drag on until nightfall, and charge in once the sky is dark."
Sevict turned and left. Bolonik received a report from his aide and left the general. The other field officers gathered around the field marshal. One lieutenant-colonel laughed.
"General, 2nd Monolith's linesman seemed a little dissatisfied with your comments."
A colonel of the royal guard shook his head.
"Well, they are only irregulars in charge of defence. They don't understand how tough the battlefield is. I suspect their usual training doesn't even include attack drills. This drill might end up a farce. Perhaps they think only one charge will be enough to reach the enemy defences and conquer the fort."
Aljess didn't stop his men from making their insults.
"Alright, shut up and watch the drill," he finally said, "Even if you want to criticise them, make sure you have proof. Don't use empty rhetoric."
A lieutenant-colonel from 2nd Monolith came over and saluted the general.
"General, according to your orders, 2nd Monolith will attack the enemy's stronghold at two in the afternoon, consider it just a few minutes from now. I am Lieutenant-Colonel Pambeck, 2nd Monolith's chief of staff. Please allow me to commentate on this drill."
Aljess waved him away casually.
"There's no need for commentary. I can see a minor battle like this well from here. I don't need any explanations."
Since the general said he didn't need it, Pambeck saluted and left.
It was around ten in the morning. A sharp brass whistle sounded a few minutes after Pambeck departed. The attack had begun.
2nd Monolith appeared in groups of two. They were spread too thin. Quite a few royal guards were shaking their heads. Even if they managed to charge the enemy defences, they wouldn't have many beside them to back them up. It was giving the enemy a free kill. They were irregulars alright, irregulars through and through. Even their coordination was utter trash.
There were only around a hundred soldiers split into fifty groups. Each pair had a man in front and the other behind. They ran with an odd gait, their bodies leaned forwards and their heads kept low. A few officers nodded, surprise on their faces.
"Well, would you look at that, they're not complete idiots. They're at least making it hard to hit them. They're still just a hundred, however."
The men continued advancing until they were about 150 metres from the defences. They then dropped to their stomachs, vanishing into the grass, and crawled further. At a distance of a hundred metres, they took a small shovel from their backs and dug deep into the ground. The observers stared at the scene with complete perplexion.
They soon understood what they were up to, however. The soldiers quickly dug two-man holes. Once they finished, they got in and steadied their guns at the enemy. Once everyone was underground, the order was given and they started firing on the targets.
With their telescopes, the officers could see the marks left by the bullets. They finally realised what was really going on. The men Sevict had sent on the initial skirmish were all sharpshooters.
They'd never heard of someone sending sharpshooters out on skirmish duty. The royal guard usually sent normal infantry. The sharpshooters would only ever fire from the rear at opportune targets.
"I see. Those hundred or so sharpshooters have more or less suppressed all the defenders. Anyone who tries to peek over the walls would be shot," an officer exclaimed.
The sharpshooter tactic was unique to Aueras thanks to the Aubass Mark 3. It basically entailed firing at the enemy from a distance of more than 100 metres, which happened to be the limits of the Mark 3's effective range.
Yet another sharp brass whistle sounded. This time, the attacking troops were just sixty. They were grouped in twos just like the sharpshooters. Some sharp-eyed officer realised the ones running at the back were carrying a weird metal frame on their backs.
The second wave crawled when they were 150 metres away just like the first. They twisted and squirmed like earthworms to advance. However, they advanced beyond the sharpshooters' foxholes, only stopping when they were some 70 metres from the enemy defences. They took out their shovels and dug holes as well. They, differently from the sharpshooters, piled all the dirt in front of the holes, between them and the enemy.
The observers wondered what they were up to this time. Was 2nd Monolith a folk of miners? Or were they going to dig their way every 40 metres until they reached the walls? The officers didn't think holes from that distance would do them much good.
"If I were the defending commander, I would have the troops in the forward trenches prepare for a melee. In the meantime, I would have them hide and not poke out their heads. I would then order the cannons to retreat some 30 metres to increase the distance they have to travel, bringing our defence line back. That way, the sharpshooters would be out of range. Then, I would aim the cannons at the foxholes of the sharpshooters," said a bearded officer.
Another officer shook his head.
"It's useless. Don't you see the second wave of attackers piling the dirt up in front of their holes? Cannons aren't muskets. They can't aim that accurately. You might only hit the holes once or twice for every ten shots. How long do you think you need to clear them out? Weird... Why are they still digging?"
The officers could see from their telescopes that the soldiers were still tossing earth out of their holes at a distance of 70 metres from the defence line. Each was big enough for four people. What was the point of such a big hole?
A third whistle sounded. The next wave of troops were again less than the second wave, just 40 this time. They weren't carrying firearms at all. Instead, each carried a large pack. Just like the soldiers before, they crawled from 150 metres towards the larger holes.
When the soldiers carrying the packs entered the large holes, the others began setting up the odd metallic frames they had been carrying. One took out a black object from their packs and put it on a frame. Another stopped digging and began firing at the defence line with their muskets.
When the fourth whistle blew, black objects were flung out of the thirty plus holes at the defences. When they landed, they exploded into a chaos of bright lights, flames, and mud. The scarecrows and defences were flung high into the air and came crashing down in bits and pieces.
The royal guard observers, including General Aljess, stared with agape mouths at the rapidly crumbling defence line.
The fifth whistle sounded in short order. Forty-odd soldiers in groups of two, one carrying a metal frame and the other two packs, ran forward. They didn't even bother to crawl. They ran to 50 metres from the shattered defences and started setting up. One of the pair erected the frame, while the other loaded a payload onto it. The observers couldn't tell what from this distance.
When the 20 groups were finished, three men charged out of each of the large holes and closed in a further 20 metres before setting up their weapons again and unleashing another volley of fire.
The defence line was done for. Not a single defender could've survived. Aljess and his companions were completely flabbergasted. So this was why Sevict had said a clan was enough. He'd not even done a probing attack, he'd simply walked over the defences in one fell swoop.
Though they felt a little humiliated, they didn't care about their egos in a moment like this. They marched down to the drill field.
"You, come here!" Aljess shouted, beckoning two of the mortar operators.
"What weapons are those?" he asked, pointing at the weird metal frames.
The soldiers looked at the frames, smiled and answered.
"It's the payload delivery mechanism for the mortars."
A royal guard officer removed the soldier's pack which still had one round remaining.
"You mean this?"
With the guidance of the two soldiers, the officers personally tested it out and witnessed its destructive power.
"It can reach around 80 metres... No wonder the soldiers only began digging 30 metres ahead of the sharpshooters. They were already in range of the enemy and had to shield themselves." They finally understood why the soldiers dug such large holes.
Another officer quickly found out about the damage a mortar could deal.
"The string fuse ensures that they only explode five to six seconds after activation. The explosion kills everything within five or six metres. The round itself is chipped so it'll fragment and turn anyone in range and exposed into mince!"
"Actually, I've seen something similar before. During the five-year war in an attack on Rimodra, the rear made a shipment of spherical rounds like these mortars that were about double the size. They were really heavy and had a string poking out of them. Before flinging them away, the string had to be lit, unlike these mortar rounds that can be activated just by pulling the string out to trigger the fuse..."
"Ah, I've seen the ones you mentioned," another officer said, "That can't compare with these at all. Those were too heavy and large. They can only be delivered using catapults. While they can be fired some 300 metres away, the time it took to move a catapult to the front and take aim with it leaves too much time for the men to be killed. In the end, we didn't even manage to use even one of them and lost lots of men instead. Soon, the troops abandoned the weapons. It's not nearly as convenient as the small contraptions used here which can be carried on the back of one soldier."
Sevict and Bolonik arrived.
"General, this is?"
"There's no need to keep the drill going. I didn't think you'd have such an amazing weapon! With the mortars, I doubt the enemy would weather our attacks. By the way, General Sevict, where'd you get these mortars?"