"I'm not in favour of taking this risk, Claude. We have the upper hand. Three of Shiks' standing corps have been eliminated, among them 1st Penitence and Royal Cavalry. The only force they have left worth mentioning is 2nd Penitence. The other three corps might just as well not exist at all for all the difference they'll make," Bolonik continued his pleas.
Skri looked at them quietly, his face a mask of worry. As for Eiblont, he demanded to take Claude's place.
At the end of the 1st month, Claude came up with a plan to strike Cape Loducus based on Birkin and the informants there's reports. He would have Thundercrash 1st Folk move by sea and strike from the sea. Bolonik jumped down his throat before he'd finished his first sentence, however.
It was too great a risk, especially if Claude was to lead the men himself as he intended to. If they were detected at sea, no matter how strong the 30 thousand men would be, there would be no victory, not even escape. Even if they were sailing in a shallow-bottomed transport a few hundred metres from the shore, the waves would dash them against the rocks or sweep them out to sea. Even if neither happened, the cold water would kill them in minutes.
Among the theatre's five heads, Bolonik and Claude had the highest rank as lieutenant-generals. Bolonik's position as acting field marshal put him in charge of administrative matters while Claude called the shots for most things field related. Of the other three major-generals, Skri was the chief logistician, and Eiblont and Birkin were Claude's aides.
Bolonik was firmly set against Claude risking himself because of this. They could not afford to let anything happen to him. When Bolonik defended Lanu, he lost nine thousand of his 13 thousand men and still couldn't completely stop them. Claude easily swept them away with his arrival, despite them being 100 thousand strong at the time.
There was simply no need for him to take such ludicrous risks. If they deployed Thundercrash in the northern mountainous coasts, even if they suffered slightly more casualties, they could easily take the camp and march on the two folks further inland. It would take longer, but they could wipe the enemy out all the same.
Claude smiled painedly.
"No. Ending the war as soon as possible is more beneficial. I can best ensure a quick end to this by leading from the front. We must do enough damage in this one strike to force Shiks to the table."
"We only need to defeat the four standing corps. Would Shiks really continue fighting after losing ten whole corps?" Eiblont asked.
"It's hard to say."
Claude walked to the wall and tapped on the markers on the map.
"Look here. The four corps are holed up. The enemy knows we have the stronger force now. They may have more men, but they aren't our match and they know it. They will not attack anytime soon.
"They must be waiting for yet more reinforcements. Shiks announced the formation of another ten corps, but I doubt that'll be all they'll raise. We've already exterminated six of the ten corps they had before this latest round of recruitment.
"After the three corps were wiped out, Seaking and the Alliance's navy patrolled our waters for a month or so. Seaking returned to Freia at the end of the year, but our informants say the Alliance's navy has docked in Cape Loducus. The sailors and marines spent new year's eve in the main supply base ashore.
"Why didn't they return to Shiks? Because the war has gotten out of their hands. They never expected things to go on for this long, but they can't back down now. They can't even protect themselves with four corps. They docked in Cape Loducus because they're afraid the four corps will surrender before their reinforcements arrive.
"Without the Alliance's ships there, we could slowly take our time and wipe out the four corps since they have nowhere to which to escape. We can even pressure the high-ranking officers to surrender like we did in Bobia. We only need to let them be ransomed back.
"With the Alliance's ships watching over the corps, however, that's not an option. The corps' officers are forced to mount a fierce resistance, as they have an escape route. No matter how many more soldiers they lose, the officers have a way to escape. That will cause our attackers unnecessary casualties.
"Whether we attack from the northern border or the eastern border, the enemy will fight and make a slow retreat until all that remained of their numbers can leave on the ships, or until more reinforcements come to continue the war. Neither of those scenarios will be good for us. So, ending this war quickly becomes our only choice."
Eiblont slapped his forehead and said, "That's right, Shiks announced the formation of those ten corps, but they didn't say they would end the war just because those corps are defeated! They can just come back with ten more as long as they have the funds!"
"It all sounds good theoretically. You want to travel by sea to strike them from the rear and remove all hope of them escaping by ship to force their surrender and decrease our losses. It's not a bad idea, but it's too risky. I suggest you don't execute this personally," Bolonik objected, though not as adamantly as before.
"Why don't I take Claude's place?" Eiblont volunteered.
Claude shook his head. "I'm not saying you're not capable, Eilon. I'm just worried those bastards won't take you seriously without me there. It would make things far worse. This attack can only be carried out by 1st Folk because they received all sorts of special-tactics training. Not to mention, 2nd Folk's losses were much higher in the last few battles. If I'm not there, Myjack, Berklin, Bloweyk and the rest will become hard to control."
While 1st Folk was easily the strongest unit in the theatre, it was also the proudest. Anyone that wasn't Claude would have trouble commanding it. While Eiblont was Thundercrash's chief strategist and was well acquainted with Myjack, Berklin, Moriad and the rest, having had more than a few drinks together, 1st Folk would only follow Claude's orders when push came to shove.
It wasn't that surprising, as the five greats of the theatre each had their respective units. Claude's was Thundercrash 1st Folk and Eiblont's was 2nd Folk. Bolonik commanded Monolith 1st Folk while Birkin commanded 2nd Folk. Skri didn't have his own unit initially, but since Sevict's assassination, his folk was split up. Skri then took two lines from that folk under his wing in logistics.
Bolonik commanded two lines to defend Lanu, one among which was Skri's keeper line from logistics. Their original purpose was to safeguard the various warehouses in the theatre, but they were mobilised to defend the frontlines in such a time of need. They were almost entirely wiped out; only 1500 or so of 5500 men were left. Skri felt incredibly pained for their loss.
This wasn't due to the five greats privatising their forces. Instead, it was a side effect left behind from the times when Miselk came to the theatre to form the five enhanced folks. Apart from Skri and his logistics units that weren't fit to serve, the five folks each reported to their respective linesman. Claude, while recommended to become a field marshal by Miselk, only had one Thundercrash folk under his command.
When the theatre formed corps, Eiblont joined Thundercrash with Monolith 3rd Folk and renamed it Thundercrash 2nd Folk. While he was chief strategist, Claude still required his permission to command 2nd Folk. They were his subordinates, after all, so he respected their command over their men.
Monolith corps, for instance, was formed from Bolonik's Monolith 1st Folk and Sevict's Monolith 2nd Folk. Back then, Birkin's Monolith 4th Folk could only be included as a reserve unit. But after Sevict was killed, Birkin became the folksman of 2nd Folk and two of the lines that used to answer to Sevict were taken over by Skri. The remainder were divided among the two corps.
They had little choice in wartime. They could only be certain their own subordinates would obey their orders without question. That was why Birkin wasn't willing to simply take over Sevict's men.
Thundercrash 1st Folk's strongest tribe, 131, was given to Claude's brother-in-law, Myjack, to command, whereas Wolfang was led by his own brother, Bloweyk. Lines 1301 to 1303 were also all assigned to Berklin, Moriad and Dyavid. Even the new linesman of 1304 was Claude's former adjutant, Anders. They were all his loyal subordinates.
As such, he had no choice but to go with 1st Folk personally on that excursion. He was worried his men wouldn't answer well to Eiblont. The worst thing he feared was they would scramble to gain merit and screw up the plans. Regretting by then would be far too late.
Bolonik was well aware of Thundercrash 1st Folk's situation. His Monolith 1st Folk was not much different, with most of his subcommanders being his personal aides. That didn't mean the five greats could become warlords of their respective units. Though, it didn't stop them from using them to give those close to them a little career boost.
For instance, Claude's brother, Bloweyk, had only served for five years and was promoted to captain. While a large reason for that was Bloweyk's own capabilities and merits he rendered on the battlefield, he wouldn't be promoted that quickly without Claude's intervention.
"This is the best chance for us to end this war," Claude said, tapping on the letters on the table which the informants sent, "In taking Cape Loducus by surprise, our true adversary would be the Alliance's navy. I'm sure you know that the fleet is rented to Shiks by Nasri and Canas. Wiping them out will intensify any suspicious involvement Shiks, Nasri and Canas have with each other.
"When the Alliance's fleet sails, there's no way we can deal with their warships. But now, they're all stopped at Cape Loducus. The marines and crew are ashore. It's the best chance for us to mount a surprise attack. If we're unlucky, we can burn their warships down. If we are, we stand to get most of their warships for ourselves. We'll be able to form our own fleet then.
"The enemy will definitely think we're going to attack from the mountains, so that's where their defences will be focused. They will never see us coming, as their fleets have control over the sea routes and we don't have our own fleet. They believe that the waters from Cape Loducus all the way to our theatre is theirs.
"As long as we can destroy the docked fleet, the four Shiksan corps can only surrender. Without the Alliance's fleet, how many more corps can Shiks send here with Seaking alone? They won't have enough manpower to send lots, but if they don't send enough, we're getting free kills. It's my firm belief that once this attack succeeds, the colonial conflict will end for good!"
"How certain are you about your chances?" Bolonik asked.
"I won't dare guarantee my success, but I see at least a seventy percent chance of this going well. Look, Shiks' logistics officers ordered large amounts of food, wheat ale, fresh meats, fruits and other luxury ingredients from the wild-bull company. They're willing to pay double the market price plus the transport costs. Our informants mocked them for going mad. Even though they lost, they still want good food.
"I think the Shiksans are just trying to increase morale as they wait for reinforcements. If this order is to be completed, they'll need more than a hundred near-shore transport ships. Our 1st Folk can hide in the cabins and head to Cape Loducus during that shipment. When we arrive, we'll attack immediately and take the Alliance's fleet before going for the main supply base!"