The chatter of the bridge officers aboard the HMS Resolute began to die down as the Prussian fleet sailed proudly into view. They... They can't have repaired so quickly... not even our engineers.... Commodore Warrington-Fennel turned from the forward observation window and locked eyes with his officers. A tightening of his jaw the only sign of dismay that got past his commanding facade. "Well, looks like our prey isn't as badly damaged as we thought. It seems we may actually have a proper battle deserving of Her Majesty's Navy! Latest intelligence from Britain has the Prussians suffering a major defeat up in iceland at the hands of the ruddy penguins! We can hardly do less than a bunch of jumped up scientists and their soulless automata. Look to your duty and trust to the valour and rightousness of our cause. A British Tar is a soaring soul and will never bow down to the tyranny of a Prussian boot."
As his mean let out a dutiful cheer, Warrington-Fennel gathered his first lieutenant with a pointed glance and strode towards his command deck. The bustle of a bridge preparing the vessel for immediate combat covered their conversation from the ears of any wavering officer.
"Well, Mr Rowland?"
"Our leading Swift squadron is reporting signs of weapon damage on one of the enemy battlecruisers, but there is no other visible damage we can see. The 13th Attacker Squadron is en route at maximum speed, but they will not be with us until we are already engaged."
"Damn. Even with them the Damned Prussians will outnumber us. Did you contact your brother in the flying corps?"
"Yes sir, last I heard he had secured permission from the RFC and was setting off with a wing of escort fighters to our estimated engagement area."
"Good, we will need his support. Send him the exact coordinates and ask him to make all speed and to come in firing."
Commodore Warrington-Fennel moved to his maps and stared at the recently marked location of the Prussian vessels and his own fleet positions.
"We need to break their back. Those larger vessels are powerful but slow, and very vulnerable without support. They won't dare move on towards our new holdings without it. Pass word to prioritise the destruction of the medium tonnage vessels. If we destroy those ships we will have achieved the objective of this strike and be able to withdraw before their numbers start to tell against us."
"Yes sir, but is it wise to engage so aggressively without our full force? We could slow slow our speed and maneuver to delay the battle..."
"No, Prussian vessels are too fast, they would close with us inside our torpedo range and pick us apart..." Commodore Warrington-Fennel glared at the disposition of the enemy fleet again. "They are shielding their fastest vessels, those frigates are dangerous. We need to ensure they are dealt with before they get within our lines. Order the Swifts to peel off to port, their mission is to interdict any enemy frigates trying to flank us and themselves to flank the prussian forces, they are to wait until the majority of their fleet is past the islands then strike at their rear"
Lieutenant Rowland saluted and walked briskly down to the communications officer. Warrington-Fennel paced his deck as the junior officers came to update his maps every few minutes.
"Sir! First casualties! Two of our swifts have been sunk!"
The Commodore stifled a curse and broke from his reverie. How had he become so self absorbed as to miss the opening shots of the battle?! How the Hell did those battlecruisers get so close? He thought, before remembering they were usually equipped with tesla generators... still, they must have been pushing them to maximum to get so close so quickly. "Order Orion squadron to fall back to Starboard, Tribal squadron to match the flagship up the centre."
He watched as his map was updated again, the Prussian frigates had begun to move to either flank just as he had expected. The rest of the fleet charged recklessly towards him, eager to smash his fleet apart. Warrington-Fennel turned away and gripped the iron rail of his command deck, his knuckles turning white with pressure. They would have to take the charge and hope to break it as they closed.
"Sir! Message from 13th Attackers, they send their complements and enquire as to their orders!"
At last! "Excellent news, thank them for joining us and tell them to move up and use the island as cover ready to ambush the Prussian forces. Update orders to the Swifts and tell them to cover the Attackers from the enemy frigates..."
His words were cut off as the ship lurched beneath them. "Damage report?" he asked calmly as his officers regained their positions.
"Nothing critical, some structural damage and the fore turret is reporting erratic traverse speed."
"Very well. Turn us to starboard and signal the Orions to keep in our shadow, safe from enemy fire. What fired on us?"
"Return fire, Mr Jones."
Actinic light sparked across the sea, flashing as incoming fire met stalwart shields. "Tribal squadron reporting damage sir, those Prussian heavies are getting into range and looks like the battlecruiser has repaired its weap - BRACE!"
The Commodore held tight to the iron rail as his ship rocked under enemy fire and the air crackled with blue shield-light
"Damage to port armour, looks like the shields absorbed most of i..."
A tremendous crash erupted to port, fragments of twisted metal and flames reaching high into the sky before smashing into the turbulent waves. As the Resolute rode out the waves caused by the explosion. Where before had been two Prussian battlecruisers, now there was one.
"Message from Tribal squadron. Its a bit garbled but I gather they are pleased with themselves sir."
Warrington-Fennel smiled to himself. That would be a heavy blow to the enemy. Unfortunately those heavy vessels were closing far too quickly, and he still had a Konnigsberg and three Reivers to deal with. And of course there was... "Hard Starboard! Keep those guns trained on the Rievers and launch torpedoes when they are in our arcs. Jones, keep an eye on the water past the island and sound Brace as soon as you see ships." It was nearly time, they just had to shield the Orions a little longer. Just as he predicted, as the immense vessel turned to shield the destroyers a squadron of Prussian frigates nosed around the island, coils flaring in the smoke of battle.
"Brace!" yelled Jones, but no lighting lanced out at the damaged battleship. They had been too slow to maneuver and the deadly bolts struck past them at the sheltering Orions. Blue crackling light erupted around the Orion as the guardian shield of the battleship fought to repel the deadly bolts of prussian lightning. Wild forks of electricity tore into the waves but, through luck or superior British construction, the Orions remained whole. Though suddenly free from the shadow of the Ruler, the Orions kept ranks and purpose. With discipline and careful maneuvering they brought their fearsome torpedo banks to aim through the crush of battle and straight at the Prussian carrier at the rear. The ships rocked as their tin fish tore away, passing through the scattered debris that once was a Prussian battlecruiser and striking home with the force of avenging angels. Chaos and disarray erupted on the Prussian carrier as smoke covered the massive landing strip and water began to pour into the ragged holes in its side.
The Commodore smiled, but his pleasure was soon ended as another report was shouted from the communications array. Despite the best actions of the Swifts launching a preemptive strike at the Prussian frigates, two had slipped through and engaged the 13th Attacker squadron from the flank, whilst the Rievers had cut across the centre of the battle and engaged the Tribals and Attackers both. The Squadron was in tatters, but was holding together.
Looking to port the Commodore tried to judge what to do next, despite successful tactics his force was beginning to be overwhelmed. But then... Yes, there in the clouds! Warrington-Fennel let out a bark of laughter, the vague shadow of a Halifax above the clouds was almost directly over where the Attackers had been hit. Swarms of enemy fighters were curving to meet it, but the valiant efforts of its combat air patrol was attempting to keep them at bay.
"Rowland, signal our support fighters to engage the enemy aircraft to port, it seems your brother is having a Prussian pest problem." But it was too late, even as the British fighters arrowed away from the main battle the brave fighters protecting the Halifax were finally shot out of the air by the tenacious Prussian pilots. The Halifax dove into a cloud bank after cloud bank, but the waspish little fighters kept gnawing at it. Warrington-Fennel turned away, the Halifax new its duty and he had done all he could to secure its passage. To his horror he saw a Tribal cruiser, battered and broken, disappear under the waves. The Prussian battleship was closer now, its guns roaring. The HMS Resolute shook again under the terrible fusillade.
"Sir!" coughed one of his officer, the bridge was beginning to fill with smoke as controls fizzed and sparked. Everything was a mess as people shouted and signalled frantically to various parts of the ship or fleet. "Sir!" coughed the man again, Hawkins was it? The Commodore couldn't tell. "All departments reporting severe damage, the superstructure is beginning to buckle and weapons report nearly a 50% loss in effectiveness." The Commodore kept his face still, despite the fact it would be hard for any of his officers to see his expression. The weapons on his battleship were marvels of British engineering, able to withstand massive damage with little loss in firepower. The ship must be in real danger... he looked at the latest damage report on his table. Structural damage was severe, but casualties had been fairly light. British Engineering, you really couldn't beat it.
"Take us around the island, we must use it as cover from the enemy battleship. Signal the Orions, that last battlecruiser has taken quite a pounding, it should be easy prey for their marines. Those damned Rievers are blocking their torpedo shots anyway."
The marine captain leading the boarding parties from the Orion squadron wiped blood from his face. Not his own, thankfully. This hadn't been a fight, it had been a massacre. Once the marines had got on board the ship, past its damaged ack-ack batteries, they had found only a handful of Prussians with any will left to fight. Despite appearances, it seemed the storms had taken a toll on the vessel's crew and marines squadron. Many were found in the med bay, wounded or dead. The captain was relieved, Prussians were very fine fighters, but this time his men had suffered only one casualty. "Derelict this hunk of metal then back to the Orions!" He shouted, holstering his pistol and glaring at the every closing mountain of metal that was the Prussian battleship. Today's fight was far from over. All he heard before the seas to the south erupted in fire was a descending whistle...
"Bombardier, their all yours!" Shouted Captain Rowland of the Royal Flying Corps. His Halifax bomber was smoking from one wing and around him Prussian fighters dueled with British. He ignored it, piloting the great bomber down from the clouds and letting the expert bombardiers take the best shots they could. His gunners caused flame and death to roar out of the forward cannons, their shells ripping into the Riever cruisers and the huge plane plummeted towards them, its bomb bay doors swinging open like the gates of hell. As he pulled on the stick, raiding the nose of the aircraft and pointing skywards once more, he heard the whining whistle of hundreds of deadly bombs pouring down and felt the weight of his aircraft lessen. The explosions were like welcome music to his ears. He glanced down, just to check, but really it was a mere formality. Nothing survived a Halifax's bombardment unscathed...
The Commodore aboard the listing, lurching Ruler looked on with a grin that slowly turned to a look of dismay. Two Rievers were now just scattered chunks of jagged, ruined metal... but one survived. Hideously damaged, but still floating. As he watched, four prussian frigates tore past his beleaguered battleship. The giant guns of the HMS Resolute spat and cracked, but they could not even hit the fast little frigates. He closed his eyes and looked away.
Lightning flared from both ends of the frigates, lancing into the crippled battleship and towards the flanked Tribal. The flicker-fire of shield light shone nearly as bright as the lightning it sort to deflect, casting the world into blue and white tinged chaos. Amazingly, the shields held. The Prussians soldiers were not so easily denied though. They soared from the Prussian frigates and swarmed over an Orion. The British marines fought valiantly, fought bravely, and fell. The ship sank below the waves, scuttled by Prussian charges, and panic caught hold of the remaining Orions. Communication broke down as captains tried to save their own vessels even at the cost of others.
Commodore Warrington-Fennel fairly leapt down to the communications station. He could see what was happening as the Orions took on erratic courses. Discipline had broken down to the point of anarchy. He picked up the radio receiver and roared into it with a voice that could have carried across the waves without the help of the radio. "YOU ARE OFFICERS OF THE KINGDOM OF BRITANNIA! REPRESENTATIVES OF HER BRITANNIC MAJESTY! DO YOU SO POORLY TREAT YOUR OATH OF SERVICE? DO YOU SO EASILY ABANDON YOUR DUTY?! BY GOD AND HER DIVINE RIGHT, YOU FIGHT FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY!" His vitriol poured out like a wave, scourging the rebellion from all who heard it. Across the sea, the Orion bridge crews sheepishly looked at each other, shame clear on their faces. Slowly, order reestablished itself. The broken spirit, reforged in the crucible of questioned loyalty, held forth once more. With renewed vigour, the Orions charged forward, they had to redeem themselves! Ahead of them the Swifts finally circled around the island, they weapons firing at the final Riever cruiser. To no avail. The Tribals, bunching together dangerously close, steamed forward. They saw what the Orions intended, and shared their aim. Orders forgotten, they charged the enemy Kaiser Karl. Boarding parties flew from the Tribal squadron, through the fierce clouds of ack-ack fire and landed on the decks of the Kaiser. None returned, but the Prussian marines had suffered huge losses too. Aware of its peril, the mighty vessel charged past the spent Tribals and fired point blank into the Orions. Two were nearly vaporised under the bombardment as the survivors closed hull to hull with the Karl. Boarding parties leapt, shame fueling them and... were cut down. That was it, there was nothing left to throw. The Tribal squadron was mere moments from falling before the boarding parties and weapons batteries of the Rhine closing in upon them, or the remaining Arminius closing on their rear. The HMS Resolute was barely holding together as it made a bid for freedom. But then...
But then, the last survivor of the 13th Attacker squadron swung around, its smoke stacks billowing black clouds as its battle-marked hull split the waves. Sweeping in a sharp turn to present its turrets and torpedo racks, the little vessel fired. The enemy Riever, tattered and beaten, finally sank down into the crashing waves.
Victory thought Commodore Warrington-Fennel. He could scarcely believe it. His fleet was broken, all that remained was a Halifax flying off and away at maximum speed to escape the clouds of enemy fighters, 3 Swifts veering vainly to avoid the Prussian carrier and heavy battleship that were almost on top of them, and a single heroic attacker racing to escape the fray. And the Resolute. The Resolute still lived beneath them. Its hull a ruin, shedding hull plates and goodnesss knows what else as it limped away. He had achieved his objective, the enemy would not risk pushing further north, but it had cost him the majority of his fleet. He looked for his first lietenant and saw his body sprawled on the deck below, blood pumping faintly from a gash on his head. Turning away, the Commodore returned to his map table, his officers knew how to handle battle damage. He would chart the best course he could away from this... this graveyard. And then, if the Prussians did not catch up with him, he would write the official dispatches. But first... He sifted through the paper for a blank sheet and took his pen from his pocket. If the Prussians decided to follow him, the Resolute would not be able to fight. He began to write.
My Darling Jane...