Two main lines that were sent to infiltrate the theatre were horribly beaten back, much to the Shiksans' shock. Of a force of ten thousand plus, little more than a thousand survived and escaped. According to those soldiers and the Shiksan commanding officers, they believed the famous Thundercrash sent a whole folk to their rear and posed a great threat to their supply line.
Since the theatre had shown their hand, the Shiksans responded. First, instead of continuing to send scouts to patrol them only for them to be killed, they retreated their troops and gave up on non-crucial locations. Then, they increased defences along their supply line by making use of the strongholds the nikancha had fled, forming them into crucial supply points. They also increased the numbers of their escort units of the supply convoys.
Eventually, Claude realised that he would have to face a heavily defended supply line. If he really did have a folk, he could use his numerical superiority to overwhelm the logistics troops and cripple the Shiksans' supply line. He could also attack the important strongholds, but that wouldn't do more than a little damage. The Shiksans could easily recover from the loss of those strongholds.
The problem was he now only commanded Tribe 131. Dyavid's Line 1303 remained at Birkin's second defence line. Monolith's newly armed line hadn't returned to the frontlines, so they needed troops armed with them to fend off the iron pumpkin bombardment by the Shiksans.
Even if Dyavid's line could come, Claude wouldn't attack the strongholds on his own accord. It was a pointless act; he would suffer heavy losses to conquer it and end up being unable to defend it. In the end, he would have to give up on it. So, the Shiksans could continue to occupy those strongholds if they wished. It wasn't like they were going to attack him and send their troops to get themselves killed for no good reason.
The night attack and ambush had more or less expended the hundred bullets each soldier had brought along. Most troops only had three full magazines remaining and needed to resupply. Based on time estimations, Eiblont's reinforcements should arrive at the frontlines soon. Claude decided to make a trip back to discuss with the other two generals their upcoming plans and how they would respond to the war the Shiksans started.
"The Shiksans are using the strongholds the nikancha fled to form a defended supply line that stretches hundreds of kilometres through the mountains. Along the way are many elevated locations with their fortifications and outposts. Additionally, each of their supply convoys is defended by a line of troops. They are easily able to respond to any attack by taking cover behind the supply carriages.
"If we were on flatlands, given Thundercrash's mobility and rapid-strike capabilities, we would easily be able to take such supply convoys out. But the terrain is too unstable in the mountains. We aren't able to commit so many troops at once to deal with them. If we want to force an attack, we'll have to take out the strongholds along the supply lines first, which will in turn result in us unable to pour large numbers of forces into battle. There's only one small path through the mountains and sending a tribe of men into an attack is already the limit.
"Even if we take over these strongholds, we won't be able to defend them. The moment the Shiksan reinforcements arrive and surround the hills the strongholds are on, they wouldn't even need to attack. Our troops would have no choice but to wait for their doom. Currently, the situation is completely different from the time Bick stationed the nikancha tribes there. Back then, the mountains were our territory and the Shiksans had to take one stronghold after another to advance.
"But now, the whole area is under their control. Even if we take one stronghold, we'll have to give up on them and retreat, so they can easily retake them. If we want to go through the same route again, we'll have to fight to take the stronghold all over again. The Shiksans will be more than happy to oblige us in wasting our troops in a nonstop cycle.
"I suspect they committed a corps of forces to defend the supply line. Otherwise, their defence couldn't possibly be this tight and leave no openings for us. Bick, have the Shiksan attacks on our defence line lately intensified or weakened?" Claude asked, putting down the wooden pointer stick.
Birkin scratched the goatee on his chin in thought. "Hearing you say that gives me the feeling that the Shiksans really did decrease the intensity of their attacks on our defence line. They look more and more like probing attacks instead of the nonstop waves they sent us in the beginning.
"I've always thought it's because your presence in their rear caused them to tone it down. Now, it just looks like they bit off more than they could chew and no longer have a way to maintain such a reckless nonstop fight. It's no wonder even the nikancha troops are able to easily drive the Shiksans back nowadays."
"I think they are short on men," Claude said, which Birkin and Eiblont found rather doubtful.
"Impossible. They have three standing corps, 180 thousand men in all. They still have two corps resting at Cape Loducus and the fringes of the northern mountainous coasts. How could they lack troops?" Birkin argued.
Claude chuckled. "Let's ignore the two resting corps first and focus on the three that launched an attack on the eastern mountains. How many casualties do you think they suffered after they took our first defence line and in their current effort to take the second?"
Birkin suddenly seemed more excited. "When we lost the first defence line, our corps lost a line and the nikancha suffered around 20 thousand casualties. Our estimations of the Shiksan losses put it around three lines.
"After that, the Shiksans started their attack on our second defence line. Being long prepared to counter their iron pumpkins, they suffered even more losses. Our defenders have always maintained the advantage. The shoulder marks from the dead Shiksans we managed to collect number around six thousand, and there were even more corpses we weren't able to loot as they were too close to the enemy.
"I think the Shiksans have lost close to a folk. Five lines of 30 thousand men should be more accurate. In the coming ten days, they've launched only smaller skirmishes. I thought they were merely trying to test out which parts of our defence line was weak before going in for a stronger attack."
"No, they really are short on men," Claude said, shaking his head as he picked the wooden pointer up and motioned it to the Shiksan-occupied eastern mountains on the sandtable. "They only have three corps. Maintaining their supply line takes up one corps, and your estimation puts their losses at around five lines. The night attack and ambush I laid in that area also took out around ten thousand men, roughly two lines.
"A Shiksan corps only has around nine lines of combat personnel, around 50 thousand men. The other two to three thousand are logistics troops and staff officers. With one of their corps having lost up to 40 thousand men, you can say that their corps is already crippled and lost its ability to fight. Apart from the corps defending the logistics troops, I think there's only one Shiksan corps that can face us off at the defence lines."
"Wait, there's something I don't get," Eiblont said, "If what you said is true, then a single Shiksan corps wouldn't be enough to take our defence line. In fact, they have to switch to defence to prevent us from counterattacking. Why do they even bother to mount pointless attacks on our defence line then? Even though their casualties are low, surely it's still a blow on their morale with each failure?"
Claude burst out laughing. "This is all because of that cunning Shiksan commander. He wants to maintain the stability of the battlefield. Actually, I think he doesn't want to occupy our defence lines at all. He doesn't want to give up on the strongholds in the mountains he managed to capture either. He only wants to hold us here until their reinforcements arrive.
"Their small skirmishes that incur only tens of casualties are intended to look like probing attacks so we'll think they're trying to find a weakness in our defences and maintain high alert instead of sending troops to disrupt their rear. The way I see it, the three Shiksan corps are nothing but a dead snake. They are trapped between a rock and a hard place, unable to even wriggle away.
"One corps stationed at the first defence line at the eastern mountains has to prepare to defend themselves against our attack, one has to keep their supply line safe and the last has effectively been crippled by us and lost all ability to fight. That's why they have no choice but to launch small-scale probing attacks on our second defence line to give us the impression they still have the initiative on the battlefield so that we don't retaliate that easily.
"To the Shiksans, the key to getting out of their predicament is holding out until reinforcements arrive. Don't forget they have five more corps that aren't transported to Cape Loducus yet. They only have to wait another month before the third batch of troops arrives. By then, they'll just have to switch out the two corps stationed at the border of the northern mountainous coasts to have 100 thousand freshly rested troops at the eastern front to resume their attacks."
Birkin was struck with realisation.
"Then what are we waiting for? I'll gather our troops to launch a counterattack against the Shiksans immediately and send them back the way they came from."
"Hey, don't!" Eiblont yelled.
"No, we can't counterattack," Claude said at the same time.
Confused, Birkin asked, "W-why can't we?"
Claude turned to Einlont. "After you."
Eiblont immediately pointed at the sandtable. "Currently, the Shiksans got their own hands tied. Like Claude had said, they are a dead snake that is stuck between our second defence line and the fringe mountain areas.
"If you counterattack, you're essentially freeing them from this very predicament. The further away they retreat to, the more mobility and attack power they will recover. And the further we pursue, the longer our supply line will be and we'll clash with them in the mountain area. Both sides will lose significant numbers of troops that way.
"This is the outcome they don't even dare to dream of being able to get. Don't forget that we only have two corps with 130 thousand combat personnel, while the enemy still has five corps that haven't arrived in Cape Loducus yet. Even if they sacrifice their three corps to take out one of our corps, it's still a huge win for them."
"But if we don't counterattack, won't their plan work too? They only have to wait a month more before reinforcements arrive in Cape Loducus. They'll be able to continue attacking us by then. What do we do if we won't fight back?"
Eiblont scratched his head. "I still haven't figured that part out. I only have a hunch we shouldn't counterattack. The state the enemy is in will definitely allow us to find an opportunity to defeat them."
Claude could only shake his head in exasperation. That was the greatest difference between attack and defence-type commanders. The defensive Birkin's first reaction was to suggest a by-the-books counterattack to chase the enemy back to whence they came and reclaim the mountain areas lost to them, retaking the edge in the theatre's hands.
The offensive Eiblont, however, felt that there was great merit to leaving the state of affairs as it is. The enemy was unable to move and he could search for an opportunity to crush the enemy. The moment he found one, he might destroy the enemy altogether, which might be far more advantageous than counterattacking and driving the enemy away.
Claude cleared his throat to draw their attention. "We won't counterattack, but we can turn our offensive efforts here."
Birkin was taken aback. "Attacking the two Shiksan corps stationed at the border of the northern mountainous coasts?"
Contrary to Birkin's reaction, Eiblont's eyes glowed with insight. "That's right! Why didn't I think of that? The two Shiksan corps are resting there. They believe their three other corps have our forces held back and would never see us coming."
"And there's the element of surprise," Claude said as he nodded, "The Shiksans want to boil hot water here in the eastern mountains, so they opted to defend the pot of boiling water and not let us touch it. Since we can't reach the pot nor water, we can simply go remove the wood under their fire. Let's see how they continue boiling their water now. As far as we are concerned, the two resting corps in the northern borders are the firewood they're preparing to increase the flames.
"The three corps at the eastern front can no longer move if they want to maintain the current status quo, so the two resting corps are isolated and undefended. According to our informants in Cape Loducus, the two corps aren't complete, as they have a folk of men stationed near their main camp in Cape Loducus where their main supply base is located.
"This is the lesson I want to teach the Shiksans. Just because they have a whole corps watching their supply line doesn't mean their resources are safe from our surprise attacks. We won't take out their supply convoys. Instead, we can go straight for their supply base. Once we burn up all the food and supplies they tried so hard to stockpile, I'd like to see what their supply convoys can transport."
"You mean we should take out the two Shiksan corps resting at the fringes of the northern mountainous coasts and use that chance to destroy their supply base as well?" Eiblont finally understood why Miselk praised Claude for excelling at offences. When he was merely feeling the slightest hint of an opportunity to be taken advantage of, Claude already figured out the enemy's weakness.
"We won't touch the two corps first," Claude said, tapping on the sandtable with the pointer. "Bick will continue to have Monolith keep the three Shiksan corps busy at the second defence line. I'll have Lieutenant-Colonel Myjack lead Tribe 131 to infiltrate the eastern mountain area and ambush their supply lines with mines. We'll let them think we have no other way but to use small tricks like these to harass them.
"I will take one folk from Thundercrash, comprising Line 1301 to Line 1304, and infiltrate our way through the defence line of the two Shiksan corps at the north. I'll attack the main supply base close to Cape Loducus first. There's only a folk there and they won't stand a chance against our attack. They wouldn't even see it coming. Once we start setting fire to burn up their food and military supplies, the two corps stationed at the border of the northern mountainous coasts will definitely send some reinforcements.
"We'll wait in ambush to crush those reinforcements before attacking the rest of the troops that weren't deployed. I'll attack from the rear while you, Eilon, will attack them with a folk from the front. We'll take their main camp quickly with a pincer attack and regroup before moving on to the fringe areas of the eastern mountains and trap the three Shiksan corps in the mountains. I believe they'll soon surrender when they run out of supplies."