"I will bring Thundercrash Tribe 131 and Line 1303 as well as the garrison line stationed in Castle Moknad to the frontlines immediately. Wait a few days. Have the Monolith line come after they finish arming and training. Remember to have Berklin's line take the mines made at Blackstone Arms Factory. We need to field test the effectiveness of those weapons," Claude instructed.
After that, he sent a letter to Birkin to get him to hold on for seven days through any method possible, saying that he would definitely rush to the frontlines within ten days. Eiblont, on the other hand, wasn't too keen on letting Claude take the garrison line to the frontlines and believe those veterans wouldn't be able to match up to Thundercrash's unit.
Claude hurriedly explained that the garrison line stationed in Castle Moknad comprised the veterans that transferred out from Monolith. Claude was going to take them to the frontlines to improve their defensive capabilities. Not to mention, they used to be Birkin's subordinates, so it would be akin to them returning to their old units. He believed they would play a monumental role in battle and be much more reliable than the new recruits.
Things proceeded smoothly and Claude took only nine days to return to the frontlines. He saw Birkin, now with his hands constantly up in his hair from the sheer frustration. He had good and bad news for him. The bad news was the Shiksans only took two days to take the first out of three defence lines. The good news was in the battle that lasted for the next four days, they were able to stabilise the situation at the second defence line. Both sides suffered rather substantial casualties.
"Monolith lost near a line of troops and near 20 thousand nikancha perished," Birkin said, frustrated, "We fell for it. The enemy commander, General Norbridon Bang Belondi, is a slimy fox. He focused the attack in the eastern mountains, not the northern mountainous coasts like we thought. He sent three corps after us and let them fight in rotation nonstop. We weren't able to hold up against the nonstop torrential attacks."
"They even sent the two corps that just arrived into battle?" If the two other corps that joined the attack were the two that just reached Nubissia, they probably didn't get a chance to catch a breather and couldn't possibly be in combat for long. Perhaps it would be a good chance to crush them.
"No," Birkin said, shaking his head, "These three corps are the first three that arrived in Cape Loducus. They've rested for three whole months. We thought that Shiks had stationed two of the three corps from the first batch near the fringes of the northern mountains and the last one at the eastern mountains.
"We didn't think that they'd secretly swap them out with the two new corps. The two rested corps were secretly moved to the eastern mountains without anyone noticing and caught us off guard.
"We thought the Shiksan units stationed at the eastern mountains would be keeping our defence troops busy, yet they ended up attacking us. The corps stationed at the eastern mountains barged straight through and the nikancha units stationed there fell on first contact.
"Back then, I thought only one Shiksan corps was there. Even if they reached our defence line, we would be able to hold on. I didn't think the officers who retreated would report that there were three whole corps attacking! That was when I noticed I fell for it!"
"Why did the nikancha tribes fall in one blow and not even put up anything resembling a defence?" That was another point Claude had doubts about. No matter how weak the nikancha troops were, the fortifications and defences they had were perfectly laid out. They conquered the key points which were easy to defend, yet they couldn't successfully repel even one Shiksan attack.
The three Shiksan corps only used a little more than two weeks to fight their way to the defence lines and took one over two days later. How did the enemy achieve that? Did the staff officers presiding over the nikancha fighters not order them to fire from cover in the trenches? It was supposed to be impossible.
Birkin grimaced and said, "Claude, this can only be your fault. The reason we lost the strongholds in the mountains is the mortars you invented. They even improved the firing mechanism and can propel the mortars some 140 metres away, which is longer than our precision-shooting range, so the troops couldn't do much to fight back. The nikancha weren't trained in anti-mortar combat and one explosion was enough to send them into a frenzy."
It was no wonder the Shiksans were nigh unstoppable -- the mortars were in play. Claude now regretted handing over rights to produce the mortars to the old nobility of the kingdom. The mortars they produced were used by Prince Wedrick to defeat Prince Hansbach to retake the royal capital. However, that also got the other nations of Freia to make their own mortars, Shiks included.
"Are the mortars they made the same as ours?" Claude asked.
"No, they're more or less like the ones we found in the Nasrian smuggling ships. They're shaped like pumpkins and use rope fuses, unlike our pull-type ignition fuses, so theirs can't be used in rainy weather unlike ours. However, the skies are rather bright in the past half month," Birkin said, "I'll show you one Shiksan mortar round. We got this two days ago."
Soon, four large soldiers carried over a firing mechanism with much difficulty. Claude understood what it was with a look. It was a simplified catapult, but they used spring steel to replace the wooden tension parts. Angelina and Sonia had experimented with those before and the mortars could be fired up to 200 metres away. However, they were too heavy and hard to manoeuvre around, so they made good cannon targets, which made Claude give up on adopting them.
Later, one soldier carried a Shiksan-made mortar round. However, the Shiksans don't call it that. They preferred 'iron pumpkin', as the engravings on the round object looked like the patterns on a pumpkin. It was three times heavier than the mortars the theatre produced, but it could store more shrapnel and gunpowder as a result, giving it a more devastating explosion. It seemed the Shiksans had no choice but to use those catapult-like contraptions, as the firing mechanisms Claude came up with which only needed two people to use couldn't fire the iron pumpkins.
"These catapult-like mortars should be easy to deal with, right?" Claude said. Even if they were outside of the accurate firing range of the Aubass Mark 3s, they need many men to operate one of these. Not much firepower was needed to deal with them; all one needed was a band of soldiers firing in their direction nonstop.
Putting aside the maximum firing range of the Aubass Mark 3, which was 380 metres, even the nikancha's Shiksan arms could reach up to 320 metres. There wasn't even a need to properly aim at the Shiksans, so long as they fired dense volleys in their general direction. The bullets couldn't sway that far anyway. So long as a few Shiksans fell, the rest would either be prone or panicked.
Perhaps a few of the cannoneers could aim properly and shoot at the Shiksans operating the mortars, since they'd no doubt be clumped together. The worst the light-infantry cannons could perform was score five to six shots out of ten. All they had to do was aim three cannons at one of these catapults and they would be out of commission.
Alternatively, they could have their better sharpshooters travel further out until they were within range to snuff out the enemy mortar operators. With the new rifles, accurate shots could be taken from 200 metres away and that was more than enough to pose a sufficient threat to suppress enemy mortar fire completely.
Birkin smiled in resignation. "Did you think I didn't try using those methods? Do you know how we lost the first defence line? All I can say is these Shiksans are madmen. They aren't afraid of death and are more than willing to give their lives. It is our misfortune for encountering an enemy like this. They hate us with a white-hot fervour and would rather die than be captured.
"Even now, we still haven't managed to capture a single enemy soldier who surrendered willingly, though we did get some that passed out from their injuries. Even after we healed them, they asked us to kill them instead of sending them to the labour camps.
"I don't know how in the world they were treated after they were taken by those of the new nobility, but they blame it all on us. We were the ones who captured them in the first place and handed them over to the new nobles.
"Before you started on your journey, you sent me a letter. I followed your advice and gave the nikancha that broke rank and retreated the punishment of decimation. We killed nearly two thousand of them all at once and finally managed to grab hold of the nikancha with fear and trained them with our troops.
"I told them that they couldn't escape death. Even if they managed to go back to their tribes, the Shiksan troops would soon come for them anyway. By then, their parents would be killed by the Shiksans, and their brothers and sisters, enslaved.
"One nikancha called Towu surprised me. While he also escaped and ran in all that chaos, he showed great courage and saved one staff officer who was heavily injured by the bombardment.
"He also formed a small strike team to take out a tent of Shiksan scouts. In a melee with a few Shiksan veterans, he took two stabs but took out a whole tent. There are shoulder marks from the Shiksans as proof. However, he was also one of the men who broke rank and escaped, so he was involved in the decimation as well.
"Towu drew the lot to be the one to be killed. The nikancha in his same unit cried badly, thinking that a brave warrior like him wasn't a deserter and shouldn't be punished. Once word of that spread among them, almost all of the nikancha came and begged to be killed in his place instead.
"I sent some people to investigate and found that this nikancha man is unlike his cowardly brethren and led a unit to exterminate a tent of Shiksan scouts. Since he was also injured during the conflict, I chose to spare him of the death sentence.
"I didn't think Towu would refuse this gesture and be willingly put to death. He felt it to be unfair for him to be spared while the others weren't. No matter how brave his performance on his battlefield, it couldn't change the fact that he was a deserter.
"His unit was originally stationed at the fringes of the mountains, not the defence lines, so even after the influential nikancha went to persuade him against it, he refused them all and wanted to die.
"I found that to be rather weird, so I went to see him and treated him to a drink. Towu begged me to kill him with the other nikancha that drew the lots. Only then would the rest of the nikancha soldiers be sufficiently shocked enough to realise that their race might not survive this ordeal.
"While I feel it's a shame to let him go, I went with his wishes. He was the first to be put to death that day, and I handed him a large bowl alcohol in his honour. Towu finished the alcohol and spoke to his fellow nikancha, telling them that the theatre is the one helping them repel the nikancha evasion this time around.
"But what would they do if the Fochsian pirate descendants came to raid them later? Who would protect them then? Only the nikancha could stand for themselves, so they had to learn some military knowhow from us to train their own men with. Only then would their nation be able to defend themselves.
"He hoped that he and the other two thousand deserters to be punished with death would remind all the nikancha that they ought to rather die on the battlefield than become a coward that fled it. While they might survive the battle, the ones to pay the price might be their families, or even their whole tribe.
"Since they now owned muskets, they should be proud nikancha warriors that protected their tribes and nation. They had to serve their duty, even at the cost of their lives. After saying all that, he walked to the execution platform and was the first one to be hanged to death."
Claude didn't think the decimation would result in something so dramatic. Towu had instantly become a martyr for the nikancha. The theatre had no choice but to resort to decimation, given how lazy and ill disciplined most of the nikancha were. If they didn't punish the deserters, the same thing might occur again. Towu was willing to die to remind his brethren of that very point.
"The deaths of Towu and the other two thousand came as a great shock to the rest of the nikancha. That's why two days later when the Shiksans showed up at the first defence line, almost all the nikancha soldiers fought with unprecedented fervour and passion.
"They didn't fear the attacking Shiksans at all and followed our officers' instructions properly to repel the attackers one time after another. They were able to drive the enemy away even as they attacked nonstop during the night with nothing but blades."
Birkin sighed. "However, I didn't think the Shiksan veterans would be that fierce and suicidal. As their mortars were suppressed by us during the day, they chose to attack during the night.
"They first had their infantrymen charge at the defences to draw fire. They came in so quick it soon devolved into a melee. Our defenders and the nikancha units emptied their muskets and drew their blades before jumping into the fray.
"However, we weren't aware that the Shiksans had been pushing their mortar catapults closer to our defence lines. They launched their iron pumpkins straight into our defences, bombing friend and foe alike.
"We were completely flabbergasted and didn't think they'd be crazy enough to go so far. One tribe from the Monolith line and two thousand nikancha men who were sent to fight the Shiksans back were blasted to smithereens. The iron pumpkins continued to fall nonstop and soon, the first defence line was occupied just like that."
Claude finally knew why they lost the first defence line.
"Two days ago, the Shiksans wanted to do the same thing, but they didn't expect us to station our mortar troops further to the front. We blew them back and sent our direct-unit tribe armed with new rifles onto the field to take out their mortarmen.
"As the iron pumpkins' rope fuses had to be lit first, it was a fatal flaw during a night attack. They were instantly spotted by our men and soon, more than half of the hundred mortarmen were killed by our shooters before they could launch many at us. The rest escaped."
Birkin pointed at the catapult-like firing mechanism a little gleefully. "This and the iron pumpkin were our spoils from two nights ago. We have 86 firing mechanisms and 376 iron pumpkins. I've set them up at our defence line. Now, they're ours to use against them."