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Summary: Florian and Shirerithian troops advance upon Chuán Ké (Hull), taking Xhusovo under occupation after enduring modest casualties,
and hoping to establish a regime more in line with the interests of the Florian Republic.
Narrative: In Rugaall (weeyof) 1653, as tensions mounted between the Florian Republic and the Empire of Jingdao over the Corian Crisis, the Allied Chiefs of Staff became increasingly concerned about the so-called 'Xhusovo Gap' along the Florian-Jingdaoese frontier. Since the assassination of the King of Coria had first set this latest war-scare in motion the western border of the Florian Republic had been witness to scenes of frantic fortification and entrenchment, as the hastily mobilised and freshly recruited troops of the Florian Defence Forces, alongside a sizeable contingent of Shirerithian volunteers, formed up and were marshalled into some semblance of order at their mustering points.
The principle hope of defending the frontier against an all out Jingdaoese offensive rested in establishing a defence in depth that would wear out the Jingdaoese legions in a grinding war of attrition. For this to work, the defensive system would have to run along the length of the western frontier as well as along a good portion of the northern borders and the southern coast. However it was almost exactly at the point where the 5th and 6th armies converged that the thin sliver that was Xhusovo became a hollowed out and empty salient, waiting to be filled with Jingdaoese armoured columns at any moment – or so the strategic analysts at Apollonia Command feared.
If the Jingdaoese could occupy Xhusovo unopposed they would then be in a position to strike at the join between the 5th and 6th armies, forcing them apart would open up the interior of the country, breaking the unity of the allied 1st Army Group and giving the hated Jings the option of either making a dash for Northcliff or of bisecting the Florian Republic, cutting it in two and allowing the two armies to be isolated and destroyed in detail.
Would a Jingdaoese incursion into Xhusovo be opposed? There were reasons enough for the allied camp to harbour doubts on this point. Although the Jingdaoese had been instrumental in the USSO led bloody suppression of the Xhusor Liberation Army, terminating the brief Xhusor War in an atrocious bloodbath that had seen widespread devastation to urban areas and a massively one-sided slaughter, the Jing remained ethnic kin of the Xhusovar, whom many Florians had formerly flat out derided as Jingdaoese migrants and illegal settlers. Could the animosities that had led to separation, and the creation of Xhusovo, help the ruling clique, under the leadership of former XLA commander Zhu Cheng, overlook more recent injuries in pursuit of a vendetta of a greater vintage?
Even if Xhusovo was minded to resist the Jing, there were reasons to doubt its capacity. As many as 800,000 Xhusors had fled following the war. Many of those who fled found their way to Krasnarus, being one of the nearest countries to lack an active animus towards the Xhusovar Jing. For those who remained the situation was grim, with 40% of the housing stock damaged or destroyed and unemployment rampant. The country was landlocked, bordered by former adversaries. The local currency was worthless, with inflation reaching catastrophic proportions as legal trade stalled while local producers lacked the necessary black market connections to facilitate direct access into the USSO market, while at the same time infrastructure development had stalled due to a lack of inward investment and a complete lack of foreign currency reserves. Xhusovo was seen as a bad investment with poor long term prospects. The only discernible economic activity initiated by the government had been the commencement of a stadium building project. Considering the condition of the country in the immediate aftermath of a war and fraught independence, the decision to focus upon sporting infrastructure was quixotic in the extreme. It was even denounced by some as a gross misappropriation of funds on the part of so-called XLA veterans.
The XLA under the leadership of Zhu Cheng was practically the sole functioning entity in Xhusovo; almost all aspects of the state and society, at least in those areas not pertaining to sport, remained under the purview of the old XLA leadership. The autocratic leadership model inherited from the days of the guerrilla war and urban terrorist campaign against the Florian Republic meant that the cadres of the XLA were brutally intolerant of even limited levels of internal dissent. The ruling clique could neither forgive nor forget how narrow their margin of victory in the independence referendum had been. It was widely suspected, but never confirmed, that, in the absence of Florian troops – whose deployment had been bizarrely cancelled owing to a rogue commentary provided by a Kalgachi diplomat – the XLA had been able to engage in all manner of electoral fraud, including ballot stuffing, the intimidation of voters, identity fraud and the bribery of election officials. Indeed, some Florian commentators long contented that, without the menaces of the XLA, the narrow victory for the independence campaign would have been a resounding defeat.
For the allied commanders then, this was the opportunity to turn a weakness into an advantage. The Xhusovar population, already unenthusiastic for independence after the war, had already endured nearly a year of misrule by the XLA, whose ineptitude and mismanagement of the economy was surely beginning to alienate even its own core support. If the XLA could be overthrown and a democratic government installed in its place, the allies could establish a viable Jingdaoese democracy on the borders of Jingdao; marking a powerful challenge to the stultifying autocracy that dominated that multi-ethnic empire. Of course whilst that democracy was inaugurated the Republic of Xhusovo would need the support and protection of its fraternal allies, in the course of which a gap in the Florian Republic's own lines of defence would be plugged.
It was a tidy solution and, after discussions between the command staff of the Apollonia Command and the government of the Florian Republic, an intervention was authorised.
Late on 11 Rugaall (weeyof) 1653, two days before the deployment of troops to the border with Xhusovo was announced, the Apollonia Command, on behalf of the Florian Republic, sought to establish contact with Zhu Cheng to demand the right of free passage across Xhusovo to the border of Jingdao for allied troops, so that the latter could establish a more efficient line of defence.
Tribune Charles J. Faulkner, Chief of Staff for XIV Corps, was ordered to establish contact with the Xhusovo government, effectively the XLA, and to relay to Zhu Cheng the demands drafted by Edwin Farrar and the Shirerithian Magister-Generalissimus, Hasimir Mo'll Steffki.
The signal was received by Faulkner by 8pm on the night of the 11th. By the time it was decrypted - the method of translating Florian encryptions to the point where the original codes could be read with the Shirerithian cipher wheels was a laborious one - it was too late for me to travel from Westlake to the border.
Faulkner resolved therefore to postpone until the following morning the delivery of those demands to Da Yuan Shuai (Generalissimo) Zhu.
Early on the next day, the Chief of Staff established a tenuous voicechat connection with the local commandant of the nearest border crossing, a certain Yuan Shuai (marshal) by the name of Tian Yinqi. Faulkner asked to be granted permission to cross the frontier at the earliest opportunity, in order to convey an important message to the Generalissimo alone. Marshal Tian instructed Faulkner to get under way immediately.
A straggling column of one hundred and fifty technicals (pickup trucks equiped with improvised armour and armed with heavy machine guns) set off towards the morning even as the sun was rising. In their wake would follow more slowly the entire "Freedom Division" of XIV Corps, comprising of 12,498 Samerican volunteers (natives of Neo Patrova in Shirerithian service since the Hammish Civil War), a still larger number of purloined civilian transport vehicles, 24 105mm howitzers and trailing behind them a column of 10,000 Florian porters, 7,000 mules and 4,000 yaks, carrying the division's baggage. Although a rapidly developing country, the Florian Republic had been placed under severe strain by the mobilisation and there were not enough support vehicles to go around the entire 1st Army Group.
Faulkner, with his advance column, which carried 1,200 volunteers from John Dillinger's Brigade, arrived at the border by 9 the next morning. The crossing, a bridge over an insignificant river, was dominated by a dilapidated Aryashti fortress in which the marshal and his crew had taken up residence.
Faulkner was met at the border by two XLA guardsmen and led across the bridge on foot to a waiting truck which then delivered him the short distance to the old fort. The battlements were lined with guardsmen but in the interior of the fort, in its courtyard and the ramshackle collection of buildings huddled against its inner wall, silence reigned. Stepping down from the back of the truck Faulkner was escorted through a portcullis and into the mudbrick Keep which dominated the centre of the fort.
Once inside Faulkner was shown into the chambers of the Marshal who commanded the garrison.
"Well, what have you to say?" These were the first words from the Marshal as he put down a tattered book he had been reading, a nondescript Jingdaoese paperback, and advanced to meet the envoy."
"My message is for Zhu Cheng alone." Faulkner replied tersely.
"The Generalissimo has instructed me personally to receive you. You must convey the message to me and I will relay it to Command." Answered Tian Yinqi, as he drew himself up to his full height. He was an impressive figure in an olive green uniform, polished black jackboots and gold braided epaulettes. The Marshal's chest was bedecked with row upon row of medals; such a collection of tin as would have outshone even a Shirerithian Magister. It made it all the more absurd that this self-styled Marshal controlled barely a company of militia in a fortress constructed from mud-brick, aged timber, and dung.
There was no question of Faulkner yielding to such a petty warlord. The dignity of the Florian Republic as well as of its allies, was at stake.
"That is impossible. As I have said. I must deliver this message to General Zhu in person."
"The Generalissimo", Marshal Tian visibly bristled in indignation at the slight to his master's title, "will not grant an audience to an foreign officer of such inferior... rank."
"You may think that." Faulkner coolly replied. "But my orders remain. I believe Generalissimo Zhu Cheng will want to hear what I have to say. In any event you must stand aside and permit my escort and I to continue on the road to Hull."
"You ask me to allow you and your small army to simply drive on towards Chuán Ké?" The Marshal was incredulous. "Suppose I refuse?"
"That would be, I'm afraid to say, most unfortunate." Answered Faulkner in a measured tone. "The message will be heard in Hull, one way or another. Whether you cooperate or not."
"Perhaps", answered the Marshal gravely. "But it will not be your voice that is heard once you have lost your tongue." With that the marshal barked two sharp words of command in Jingdaoese and into the room burst a trio of villainous scarred and sallow-faced rogues, their daggers drawn.
Incredulous, Faulkner turned to face the intruders, his own pistol deftly unholstered and raised to the hip. As the first of the men, with a leering grin, stepped towards him, Faulkner did not hesitate to squeeze on the trigger.
– Click. The firing mechanism had jammed. Not for the first time Faulkner was left cursing shoddy Babkhan worksmanship.
With a cry of exultation the first assailant leapt forward, sweeping his wickedly curved dagger in a wide horizontal arc aimed at Faulkner's torso. Dexterously, Faulkner stepped back, barely escaping the tip of the eviscerating blade.
"He is to be taken alive!" The marshal cried out in admonishment to his underlings. Faulkner could not be sure how much attention they were paying as the second rogue barrelled in towards him, aiming his blade down low at the Tribune's groin. Side-stepping the lunge, Faulkner brought the pistol grip of his useless service issue weapon down in an overhand blow that struck his attacker on the temple and sent him reeling. With the jarring force of that impact, Faulkner swung his right arm back along its original arc, this time the barrel of the pistol connecting with the jaw of his first assailant who was trying to crowd in and make another jab with his blade. The blow sent him staggering off howling towards the corner of the room to spit out a dislodged tooth and blood.
The second and third assailant paused to take stock of their opponent. It had been a clumsy fight in a confined space. For a moment Faulkner was wondering whether the fight had gone out of them, but then he saw a flicker of movement in the third attacker's eye. He turned swiftly but not so swiftly that he had sufficient time to react to the sight of the marshal swinging a wooden stool round to connect with his skull.
Except for the startled yelp. That was certainly a reaction.
An intermission, complete with mandatory fade to black ensued.
Falkner awoke to windowless bare walls, a high ceiling, the roof lost in shadow, a solitary electric light mounted upon the far wall, closest to a rusty metal door. In the middle of the room was a platform, not unlike an operating table looted from a derelict hospital, and above the table, suspended from the obscured ceiling hung a collection of rusty chains.
It seemed somewhat ominous.
Taking stock of his position, manacled to a wall, Faulkner was able to regain some awareness of his present circumstances. Former Aryashti fort, former secret Antican detention facility. It made sense in the way that things frequently make sense after you've been struck rounded the head by a wooden stool.
Faintly, Faulkner could discern the rapid muffled tread of hurried footsteps, followed by the clattering and scraping of a rusty lock being wiggled, tried and turned. It was as though the lock were some how resisting and unfamiliar to fumbling hands. For a moment Faulkner dared to hold out hope that this might have been a rescue.
Into the room stepped the marshal and his three minions. All of them grim faced. Faulkner was able to take a small measure of pleasure from their evident disappointment.
“Let him down and bring him to the table.” The marshal scarcely bothered to conceal his irritation. Without pretence of tenderness the two lackeys assigned to the task, who both appeared to be afflicted with what might be described circumspectly as personal hygiene issues, withdrew the restraining pins from Faulkner's manacles and allowed him to fall barefooted to the coarse stone floor. Bare legs as well, Faulkner noted as it gradually dawned on him that he had been strung up naked.
So it was going to be one of those sorts of interrogations.
As Faulkner reflected upon that, he was shaken from his reverie and hauled up onto his feet and sharply marched over what felt like agonising shards of glass lacerating his feet (as in fact was the case). The two who had marched him across kept a firm grasp of his arm whilst the third grabbed at the legs by his bleeding feet and together they swung him up onto the dirty operating table and slammed him, face down, onto a once-white surface that could have been marble or porcelain for all that Faulkner knew.
All that he did know was that having his face smashed into it hurt. One of his captors pulled hard on Faulkner's auburn hair, forcing him to look upwards. The ugly little man grinned a gap-toothed smile at him and then spat a globule of congealing blood and spittle into his eyes. With his arms pinioned behind his back and the weight of the other two pressing down upon him, Faulkner was held fast and unable to move. All he could do was to try and blink the mess away, which only exacerbated the problem.
“Enough of this.” The marshal was getting impatient with the theatrics. “Where is the message? This message that was so important that you were instructed to convey it in person. We have checked your tunic, your trousers, your... how do you say... personal effects. It is nowhere to be found. Is it memorised? Is it secreted about your person somewhere?”
Faulkner knew that he was supposed to give the 'name, rank and serial number' spiel, but he couldn't resist.
“Oh you poor fools. Did you think I'd walk in here with a nicely labelled attaché case for you? I left it back with the vehicles, on the other side of the border, with the regiment you were so worried about as you might remember, and the division following them that you will soon be able to see, if you haven't already. You should have let us drive through, then the fault for saying no would have rested solely with your dear leader. Now, kidnapping an envoy, and a serving officer at that. Tut tut, professional discourtesy is the very least of it. The blame is going to fall squarely upon your shoulders dear marshal. I mean, honestly, the way you've behaved, this could have been scripted in Northcliff or Shirekeep.”
The marshal looked down upon Faulkner with disbelief.
“But they would not dare? It would be a flagrant provocation to the Heavenly Light. And we have you have a hostage as well. Surely they cannot be so foolish?”
For all the pain, discomfort, danger and humiliation inherent in his present circumstances, Faulkner could not help but be amused.
“Huh, well, I suppose I am your prisoner for the moment but, how shall I put this, I don't think you know my bosses well enough if you think holding a militia colonel is going to deter them from anything.”
“Perhaps I should keep your impudent tongue and send back your head.” The marshal seethed with anger.
“You could.” Mused Faulkner, enjoying this now really more than was wise. “But if you were to return me whole and intact I might be able to convince our commanders to permit you to surrender gracefully, providing you're quick. I should imagine the clock is already ticking.”
“Surrender?” The marshal was aghast at the very notion.
“Don't you think?” replied Faulkner a tad too smugly, before following it up with a wholly unnecessary “tick-tock”.
The marshal noticed that his accomplices were glancing at him dubiously. One of them, the one who wasn't presently pinioning their captive to a dirty table nodded towards the prisoner's head and made a slicing motion across his own neck with the index and forefinger of his right hand.
The marshal considered it for a moment before discounting the notion, no matter how satisfying it might have proved. Instead, in Jingdaoese, he murmured to his accomplices that they were to give the foreign devil back his uniform and send him back across the bridge immediately.
Later that evening Tribune Charles Faulkner was unceremoniously bundled out of the back of a lorry onto the bridge leading back to the Florian border checkpoint, which now bristled with heavy calibre machine guns pointed variously at the fort and at the rapidly retreating Xhusovan vehicle.
During the night the waiting troops on the border had been thoroughly entertained by an impromptu fireworks display as timed charges detonated throughout the fort, setting off an XLA munitions store in the inner bastion at the same time. Faulkner, bruised but quietly satisfied, watched the cataclysmic display, as cache after cache of mortars, grenades and tracer rounds illuminated the night's sky. He was joined by the Dux, or general, of the Freedom Division, Demetrio Rakes, as well as Legate Dillinger. It was Demetrio who casually suggested to Faulkner that, with all the spent munitions, shrapnel and masonry being flung about, a prudent man might consider donning his stahlhelm. Faulkner, a Patrovan, had never taken to the Shirerithian headgear but, for this occasion, conceded the wisdom of doing so. Dillinger meanwhile lent across the hub of the technical they were leaning against and poured a dash of spiced rum into Faulkner's coffee, with a comment to the effect that he'd probably earned it.
“Probably”, was Falkner's sole acknowledgement of the uncharacteristically friendly gesture.
The XLA had evacuated their positions during the night, having rigged the fort to blow, thereby covering their retreat.
As Faulkner rode in the convoy that crossed the bridge on the following morning, the 13th of Rugaall, he was gratified to note that situated in a patch of parched scrubland close by the bridge was a single wooden pole, on top of which was firmly affixed the head of the late marshal Tian Yinqi. A gesture of propitiation from his former captors he mused. Congealing blood had stained the pole with streaks of crimson, turning to rotten brown under the judging glare of the morning sun. Flies scurried and buzzed excitedly over the marshal's upturned sightless eyes, his matted black hair, his encrusted nostrils and his battered and bruised mouth which hung open to the world, inviting all manner of vile creatures to come and make it their nest.
Finally repulsed by this contemplation, Faulkner ordered the driver to pull his vehicle over to the kerb and set his guard detail to the task of taking down the pole and finding the chaplain or some other manner of priest to Marshal Tian some semblance of a funerary rite.
On the morning of 13.XIV.1653, as allied troops began to make the crossing into Xhusovo; an accredited Florian representative, travelling under a flag of truce, reached the Xhusovan capital and was able, after a lengthy denunciation of the brief incarceration of the tribune, to deliver a note to the Generalissimo himself. The key points are quoted below:
As was anticipated from the outset, the ultimatum, as it in effect was, was rejected outright and with great fury. The diplomat who had been ushered into Generalissimo Zhu's presence had been very fortunate to escape with his life.One
The Alliance has in view no act of hostility against Xhusovo. In the event of Xhusovo being prepared in the coming war to maintain an attitude of friendly neutrality towards the allied power, the allies bind them selves, at the conclusion of peace, to guarantee the possessions and independence of Xhusovo in full.
The Allies undertake, under the above-mentioned condition, to evacuate Xhusovan territory on the conclusion of peace.
If Xhusovo adopts a friendly attitude, the Allied Powers prepared, in cooperation with the Xhusovan authorities, to purchase all necessaries for her troops against a cash payment, and to pay an indemnity for any damage that may have been caused by allied troops.
Should Xhusovo oppose the Allied troops, and in particular should she throw difficulties in the way of their march by a resistance, or by destroying railways, roads, tunnels, or other similar works, the Allied Powers will, to their deep regret, be compelled to consider Xhusovo as an enemy.
In this event, the Allied Powers can undertake no obligations towards Xhusovo, but the eventual adjustment of the State of Xhusovo must be left to the decision of arms.
The Apollonia Command, however, entertain the distinct hope that this eventuality will not occur, and that the Xhusovan Government will know how to take the necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of incidents such as those mentioned. In this case the friendly ties which bind Xhusovo and the Florian Republic will grow stronger and more enduring.
In general terms, the strategy of the allies was for Freedom Division, detached from XIV Corps, to advance in the north from Westerfort and for the 1st Division of XIII Corps to move up from Brightmont in the south. The two divisions would then converge upon Chuán Ké in a pincer movement after which an interim government would be installed and Xhusovans enlisted into fortification of the frontier with Jingdao.
Of the two prongs, the southern most, that of the 1st Division, was the more formidable, being supported by twenty Horjin armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) and one hundred and twenty of the ubiquitous 80mm field guns. The northern prong was slightly more numerous, equating to roughly 13,000 armed volunteers, not counting the Freedom Division's exotic baggage train. These were also redoubtable fighters, veterans of the Hammish Civil War.
This close to the Jingdaoese air defence zone, the Florian Air Force was held back, depriving the advancing troops of any close air support. However, in view of the XLA lacking both artillery and an air arm of its own this was a hindrance rather than a danger.
The campaign itself lasted twelve days, and saw 25,698 allied troops deployed, of whom 1,304 sadly lost their lives and a further 7,834 suffered injuries that obliged them to be withdrawn from combat.
The material losses from the short campaign were 38 trucks, 44 technicals, 10 Horjins and 37 artillery pieces.
The key incidents of the campaign, as well as the losses endured by the Xhusovans will be recounted separately below.
All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
Summary: The Imperial Jingdaose Headquarters discusses their war tactics and the take-over in Xhusor. Naval and land preparations are taken to bleed the Florian dry.
The Imperial Jingdaose Headquarters had been taken by surprise. It wasn't that they hadn't expected it, but they simply hadn't expected such a fast action from a nation which at least tried to act as a 'democratic' - the thought alone made several officers shiver - nation with respect for others' autonomy. Everyone in the room knew better, of course.
The Mango Throne's oppression of Froyalans, while not condemned by anyone in the Jingdaoese administration, had made excellent headlines in the newspapers, for example.
And that the Florian politician Jeremy Spencer with his Independence Party had rallied his people around him and demanded the 'Floxit' from the USSO hadn't surprised anyone either. The Florians, after all, had never been the smartest bunch, with ancestors coming from the Green. But that those same politicians who were waving flags almost like it was their sacred duty had sold out their country to the Shirerithians with such an ease had led to several anger screams of frustration.
There was no doubt: the Florians had given Jingdao's arch nemesis total control over trade and the army. It hadn't taken long afterwards for the Armed Forces to muster an impressive force and concentrate it near the border.
And with the increased tensions between the Florians and Corians, the Headquarters were certain that the Shirerithians would love to replace both Corian and Krasnarian states with a 'more easier to manage' regime.
The Zygus Qamil, the old defence line of Kildare, in the meantime was still mostly intact and had proven a decent base for the three Field Armies that had been gathered there. Jiangjun Tzao Yao had personally inspected the trenches and held speeches to raise moral.
The Yao Plan, however, now had been foiled: long and secret negotiations with Xhusor to gain military access were now worthless. Promises of massive investments, direct access to the sea once the war was won (a strip of Florian land would be granted to Xhusor) and the instalment of a friendly regime in Northcliff had sounded like an unresistable offer to former XLA commander Zhu Cheng. Nonetheless he had dallied too long.
Yao watched patiently at the map in front of him, while Princess Yuling - who had entered the room with the speed of an armoured tank - knocked so hard on the table that the glasses with wine fell over.
"Patience is a virtue, Your Higness" began Yao while keeping his calm.
"Patience is a luxury that we don't have, Marshall." breezed the princess with an anger that made the three other officers in the room take a step back.
"It is true that we have missed an opportunity. But at the same time it opens up opportunities." He took out some pawns and put them on the map.
"One. The Shirerithian imperialists have attacked a neutral nation. Making them the aggressor. Not even the most pacifistic Kildarian will not feel their stinking breath coming closer. War now truly has become inevitable." He then tossed away the first pawn.
"Two. We still have more troops. They certainly will try to make this into a war of attrition. But even if they do, we have almost endless reserves at our disposal." He threw away another pawn.
"Three. The Florian masters, the Shirerithians, are fighting on another continent. They have little to gain, while - if we play this right - we can convince our people this is a fight for our survival. Even if they chose to wage war and receive huge losses, the sacrifices they make will never outweigh the gains. Even the Shirerithians understand that even a total war will never get them back Kildare." After these words the Marshall threw away his last pawn.
"So, what do you propose?" asked the princess, still frustrated by the lack of action.
"Very simple. Your Highness. Mobilisation of our reserves, and a naval blockade, combined with massive land attacks. Let the Florians dig their holes in the ground. Just like the filthy rats they are, we can always burn them out."
The naval officer wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't been here, but for a moment he could see the princess smile to the field marshall, as if she had gotten a beautiful christmas present.
Honoured Servant of the Heavenly Light of Jingdao