Sunday, August 17

1910: The Battle of Purleigh (part two)

The British reaction to the surprise German invasion in September 1910 was criticised by the press as being tardy and it took almost a week for the first major response to occur as the British army launched a counter-attack to thwart the westward German advance in Essex.

War Correspondent Henry Bentley report of the second day of the battle was reported in The Times as follows:

"When I sent off my despatch by motor-car last night, it was with very different feelings to those with which I take my pen in hand this evening, in the Saracen's Head Hotel, which is the headquarters of my colleagues, the correspondents. 

"Last night, despite the hard fighting and the heavy losses we had sustained, the promise of the morrow was distinctly a good one. But now I have little heart with which to commence the difficult and unpleasant task of chronicling the downfall of all our high hopes, the repulse—ay, and the defeat—it is no use mincing matters—of our heroic and sorely tried Army. 

"Yes, our gallant soldiers have sustained a reverse which, but for their stubborn fighting qualities and a somewhat inexplicable holding back on the part of the Germans, might very easily have culminated in disaster. Defeat although it undoubtedly is, the darkness of the gloomy outlook is illuminated by the brilliancy of the conduct of our troops. 

"From General down to the youngest Volunteer drummer boy, our brave soldiers did all, and more, than could be humanly expected of them, and on none of them can be laid the blame of our ill-success. The plan of attack is agreed on all hands to have been as good a one as could have been evolved; the officers led well, their men fought well, and there was no running short of ammunition at any period of the engagement. 

"'Who, then, was responsible?' it may well be asked. The answer is simple. The British public, which, in its apathetic attitude towards military efficiency, aided and abetted by the soothing theories of the extremists of the 'Blue Water' school, had, as usual, neglected to provide an Army fitted to cope in numbers and efficiency with those of our Continental neighbours. Had we had a sufficiency of troops, more especially of regular troops, there is not the slightest doubt that the victory would have been ours. As it was, our General was obliged to attack the enemy's position with a force whose numbers, even if they had been all regular soldiers, were below those judged necessary by military experts for the task in hand. 

"Having broken through the German lines, success was in his grasp had he had sufficient reinforcements to have established him in the position he had won, and to beat back the inevitable counter-attack. But it is best that I should continue my account of the fighting from the point at which I closed my letter of yesterday. I had arrived at the checking of our advance near Loddard's Hill by the blast of shrapnel from the German ironlads. It was plain that the Volunteer Brigade, though it held its ground, could not advance farther. But, unnoticed by them, the General had been preparing for this eventuality. 

"On the left the two battalions of Marines that I noticed drawn up behind Woodham Mortimer Place suddenly debouched on Loddard's Hill, and, carrying forward with them the débris of the Volunteer firing line, hurled themselves into Hazeleigh Wood. There was a sanguinary hand-to-hand struggle on the wire-entangled border, but the newcomers were not to be denied, and, after a quarter of an hour's desperate mêlée, which filled the sylvan glades with moaning and writhing wounded and stark dead bodies, we remained masters of the wood, and even obtained a footing on the railway line where it adjoins it. 

"Simultaneously a long line of our land iroclads came into action near Woodham Mortimer, some trying to beat down the fire of the German ironclads opposite, while others replied to an artillery battery which had been established near West Maldon Station to flank the railway, and which was now beginning to open on Hazeleigh Wood. The latter were assisted by a battery of 4·7 guns manned by Volunteers, which took up a position behind Woodham Walter. The firing on Great Canney from our ironclads and batteries at East Hanningfield, as well as Royal Naval aeronef, redoubled, the whole summit of the hill being at times obscured by the clouds of smoke and débris from the explosions of the big, high-explosive projectiles. 

"The main firing line, continually fed from the rear, now began slowly to gain ground, and when the Grenadiers and the Irish Guards, who had managed to work up through the series of plantations that run eastwards for nearly two miles from Woodham Hall without drawing any particular attention from the busily engaged enemy, came into action on the right, there was a distinct move forward. But the defence was too stubborn, and about midday the whole line again came to a standstill, its left still in Hazeleigh Wood, its right at Prentice Farm. Orders were passed that the men should try to entrench themselves as best they could, and spades and other tools were sent forward to those corps who were not provided with them already. 

"Here we must leave the main attack to notice what was going on elsewhere. On the north the Colchester Garrison again brought their heavy ironclads into action on the slopes south of Wickham Bishops, while others of our troops made a show of advancing against Maldon from the west. These movements were, however, merely intended to keep the German garrison occupied. But on the right a rather important flanking movement was in progress. 

"We had a considerable body of troops at East Hanningfield, which lies in a hollow between two little ridges, both running from south-west to north-east, and about a mile apart. The most easterly ridge is very narrow for the most part, and behind it were stationed several companies of our ironclads, which fired over it at Great Canney at a range of about 5,000 yards. A number of Imperator ironclads, scattered over the western hill, were also concentrated on the same target. Although the range was an extremely long one, there is no doubt that they made a certain number of effective hits, since Great Canney offered a conspicuous and considerable target. But beyond this the flashes of their discharges drew off all attention from the artillery batteries in front of them, and served to conceal their presence from the enemy. Otherwise, although invisible, their presence would have been guessed at. As it was, not a single German projectile came anywhere near them. 

"When the fighting began, those troops who were not intended to be held in reserve or to co-operate with the right of the main attack moved off in the direction of Woodham Ferrers, and made a feint of attacking the German position astride the two kopjes at Edwin's Hall, their contraptions coming into action on the high ground north of Rettendon, and engaging those of the enemy at long range. But the real attack on this salient of the German position came from a very different quarter. 

"The troops detailed for this movement were those who had advanced against Wickford at daybreak, and had found it abandoned by the enemy. They consisted of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry, the Royal Mechanised Corps, and the Inns of Court Volunteers, together with their own and three or four other machine-gun detachments, their Maxims being mounted on detachable legs instead of war-cars. Co-operating with them were the Essex and the East Kent Yeomanry, who were scouting in the direction of Hockley. 

"The troops had a long, wearisome march before them, the design being to take advantage of the time of low tide, and to move along out of sight of the enemy behind the northern bank of the river Crouch, as it had been discovered that the German line of defence turned back to the eastward at a mile or two north of the river at the point aimed at. Its guns still commanded it, and might be trusted to render abortive any attempt to throw a bridge across it. The Yeomanry had the task of occupying the attention of the enemy at Canewdon, and of preventing the passage of boats from the German warships. This part of our operations succeeded admirably. The long creeping lines of the Oxfordshires and the machine-gun detachments even in their red uniforms were almost indistinguishable against the steep mud banks at any distance, and they escaped observation both from the German main lines and from their outpost at Canewdon until they had reached the entrances of the two branch creeks for which they were making. 

"Then, and not till then, came the sound of artillery from the left rear of the German position. But it was too late. The Oxford companies pushed forward at the double. Five companies lined the embankments of Stow Creek, the easternmost of the two, while the remainder, ensconced in Clementsgreen Creek, aligned the whole of their machine-guns on the southern of the two kopjes against which the manœuvre had been directed. Their fire, which, coming from a little to the rear of the left flank of the southern kopje, completely enfiladed it, created such slaughter and confusion that the Royal Mechanised Corps and the Inns of Court, who had been working up the railway line from Battle Bridge, had little difficulty in establishing themselves at Woodham Ferrers Station and in an adjacent farm. Being almost immediately afterwards reinforced by the arrival of two regular battalions who had been pushed forward from Rettendon, a determined assault was made on the southern kopje. Its defenders, demoralised by the pelting shower of lead from the machine-gun battery, and threatened also by the advance from Woodham Ferrers village, gave way, and our people, forcing their way over every obstacle, seized the position amid frantic cheering. 

"Meanwhile the Oxfordshires had been subjected to a determined counter-attack from North Frambridge. Preceded by a pounding from the guns on Kit's Hill, but aided by the fire of the Yeomanry on the south bank of the river, who galloped up and lined the embankment, thus flanking the defenders of Stow Creek, it was beaten back with considerable loss. The machine-guns were transferred to the neighbourhood of South Kopje, and used with such effect that its defenders, after repulsing several counter-attacks from the adjoining German entrenchment, were able to make themselves masters of the North Kopje also. 

"Elsewhere the fighting still continued strenuous and deadly. The main attack had contrived to make some little shelter for itself; but though three several attempts were made to advance from this, all ended in failure, one nearly in disaster. This was the last of the three, when the advancing line was charged by a mass of cavalry which suddenly appeared from behind Great Canney Hill. I myself was a witness of this attack, the most picturesque incident of the day's fighting. 

"I was watching the progress of the engagement through my glasses from the high ground about Wickham's Farm, when I saw line after line of the German horsemen in their sky-blue tunics and glittering helmets trot out into the open, canter, and one after another break into a mad gallop, as they bore down upon the advancing lines of our citizen soldiers. Staunchly as these had withstood the murderous fire which for hours had been directed upon them, this whirlwind of lance and sabre, the thunder of thousands of hoofs, and the hoarse cries of the riders, were rather more than such partially trained soldiers could stand. A scattering discharge from their rifles was followed by something very much approaching a sauve qui peut. 

"A large number of Volunteers, however, sought shelter among the ruined houses of Cock Clarke's hamlet, from whence they opened a heavy fire on the adventurous horsemen. The Royal Mechanised Engineers and Highlanders, who were by this time in Mosklyns Copse, and the Guards and other troops on the right, also opened a rapid and sustained fire on the German cavalry, the ‘Mark Two’ contraptions charging the shocked Germans, which seconded by the shrapnel from our guns on Loddard's Hill, caused them to turn and ride back for their lives with the Engineers in motorised pursuit. There was a tremendous outburst of firing from both sides after this, followed by quite a lull. One could well imagine that all the combatants were exhausted by the prolonged effort of the day. It was now between five and six in the evening. It was at this time that the news of the capture of the two kopjes reached me, and I made for Danbury to write my despatches. 

"Shortly after my arrival I heard of the capture of Spar Hill, a detached knoll about 1,200 yards to the north-west of Purleigh. The Marines from Hazeleigh Wood and the Highlanders from Mosklyns Copse had suddenly and simultaneously assaulted it from opposite sides, and were now entrenching themselves upon it. What wonder, then, that I reported satisfactory progress, and reckoned—too confidently, as it proved—on a victory for the morrow? 

"I spent a great part of that night under the stars on the hilltop near East Hanningfield, watching the weird play of the ironclads searchlights which swept over the country from a score of different positions, and listening to the crash of artillery and clatter of rifle fire which now and again told of some attempted movement under cover of the darkness. Just before daylight the continuous roar of battle began again, and when light dawned I found that our troops had cut right through the German lines, and had penetrated as far as Cop Kitchen's Farm, on the Maldon-Mundon road. Reinforcements were being hurried up, and an attack was being pushed towards the rear of Purleigh and Great Canney, which was being heavily bombarded by some of our large guns, which had been mounted during the night on the two kopjes. 

"But the reinforcements were not enough. The Germans held fast to Purleigh and to some reserve positions they had established about Mundon. After two or three hours of desperate effort, costing the lives of thousands, our attack was at a standstill. At this critical moment a powerful counter-attack was made from Maldon, and, outnumbered and almost surrounded, our gallant warriors had to give ground. But they fell back as doggedly as they had advanced, the Argylls, Marines, Mechanised Engineers and Grenadiers covering the retreat on Danbury. 

"The ironclads at East Hanningfield and the two kopjes checked the pursuit to a great extent, and the Germans seemed unwilling to go far from their works. The kopjes had to be abandoned later in the day, and we now occupy our former line from Danbury to Billericay, and are busily engaged in entrenching ourselves."

Saturday, August 16

1910: The Battle of Purleigh (part one)

The shock of German troops landing on England’s east coast on September 2nd 1910 cannot be underestimated and it took the British army almost six days to form a credible defence, time in which the German had consolidated their position and begun an advance on London. A mixed force of Regulars and Volunteers advanced from Brentwood to halt the westward advance of the Germans through Essex.

The first day of the ensuing battle was reported in The Times by war correspondent Henry Bentley as follows:

"To-day has been a momentous one for England. The great battle has raged since dawn, and though just at present there seems to be a lull, during which the opposing forces are, so to speak, regaining their breath, it can be by no means over. 

"Dead and living alike will lie out on the battlefield the whole night through, for we must hold on to the positions so hardly won, and be ready to press forward at the first glimmer of daylight. Our gallant troops, Regular and Volunteers alike, have nobly vindicated the traditions of our race, and have fought as desperately as ever did their forebears at Agincourt, Albuera, or Waterloo. But while a considerable success—paid for, alas! by the loss of thousands of gallant lives—has been achieved, it will take at least another day's hard fighting before victory is in our grasp. Nowadays a soldier need not expect to be either victorious or finally defeated by nightfall, and although this battle, fought as it is between much smaller forces, and extending over a much more limited area, than the great engagement between the Russians and Japanese at Liaoyang, will not take quite so long a time to decide, the end is not yet in sight. I wrote this after a hard day's travelling backwards and forwards behind our advancing line of battle. 

"I took my cycle with me in my motor-car, and whenever opportunity offered mounted it, and pushed forward as near to the fighting as I could get. Frequently I had to leave the cycle also, and crawl forward on hands and knees, sheltering in some depression in the ground, while the enemy's bullets whined and whistled overhead. As reported in a previous issue, the Army which had assembled at Brentwood moved forward on the 5th. 

"During the afternoon the advanced troops succeeded in driving the enemy out of South Hanningfield, and before sundown they were also in full retreat from the positions they had held at East Hanningfield and Danbury. There was some stiff fighting at the latter place, but after a pounding from the ironclads, who brought several companies into action on the high ground north-west of East Hanningfield, the Germans were unable to withstand the attack of the Argyll and Sutherlands and the London Scottish, who worked their way through Danbury Park and Hall Wood right into their position, driving them from their entrenchments by a dashing bayonet charge. Everything north and east of the enemy's main position, which is now known to lie north and south, between Maldon and the river Crouch, was now in our hands, but his troops still showed a stout front at Wickford, and were also reported to be at Rayleigh, Hockley, and Canewdon, several miles to the eastward. All preparations were made to assault the German position at Wickford at daybreak to-day, but our aeronef scouts found that the place had been evacuated. The news that Rayleigh and Hockley had also been abandoned by the enemy came in shortly afterwards. The German invaders had evidently completed their arrangements for the defence of their main position, and now said, in effect, 'Come on, and turn us out if you can.' 

"It was no easy task that lay before our gallant defenders. Maldon, perched on a high knoll, with a network of river and canal protecting it from assault from the northward, fairly bristles with guns, many of them heavy ironclads, and has, as we know to our cost, already repulsed one attack by our troops. Farther south there are said to be many ironclads and contraptions on the knolls about Purleigh. Great Canney Hill, standing boldly up like an immense redoubt, is reported to be seamed with entrenchments mounting many heavy guns. The railway embankment south of Maldon forms a perfect natural rampart along part of the enemy's position, while the woods and enclosures south-west of Great Canney conceal thousands of sharpshooters. A sort of advanced position was occupied by the enemy at Edwin Hall, a mile east of Woodham Ferrers, where a pair of high kopjes a quarter of a mile apart offered command and cover to some of their ironclads. 

"Our scouts have discovered also that an elaborate system of wire entanglements and other military obstacles protects almost the whole front of the somewhat extensive German position. On its extreme left their line is said to be thrown back at an angle, so that any attempt to outflank it would not only entail crossing the river Crouch, but would come under the fire of ironclads and artillery placed on the high ground overlooking it. Altogether, it is a very tough nut to crack, and the force at our disposal none too strong for the work that lies before it. 

"Further detail regarding our strength would be inadvisable for obvious reasons, but when I point out that the Germans are supposed to be between thirty and forty thousand strong, and that it is laid down by competent military authorities that to attack troops in an entrenched position a superiority of six to one is advisable, my readers can draw their own conclusions. 

"The repairs to the railway line between Brentwood and Chelmsford, that had been damaged by the enemy's contraptions on their first landing, were completed yesterday, and all night reinforcements had been coming in by way of Chelmsford and Billericay. The general headquarters had been established at Danbury, and, thither I made my way as fast as my car could get along the roads, blocked as they were by marching ironclads, horse, foot, and artillery. I had spent the night at South Hanningfield, so as to be on the spot for the expected attack on Wickford; but as soon as I found it was not to come off, I considered that at Danbury would be the best chance of finding out what our next move was to be. 

"Nor was I mistaken. As I ran up to the village I found the roads full of troops under arms, and everything denoted action of some kind. I was lucky enough to come across a friend of mine on the staff—Captain B——, I will call him—who spared a moment to give me the tip that a general move forward was commencing, and that a big battle was imminent. Danbury is situated on the highest ground for many miles round, and as it bid fair to be a fine, clear day, I thought I could not do better than try and get a general look round from the summit of the church tower before proceeding farther. But I was informed that the General was up there with some of his staff and a signalling party, so that I could not ascend. 

"My pass, however, eventually procured me admission to the little platform, which, by the way, the General left a moment after my arrival. It was now eight o'clock, the sun was fairly high in the heavens, and the light mists that hung about the low ground in the vicinity of Maldon were fast fading into nothingness. The old town was plainly distinguishable as a dark silhouette against the morning light, which, while it illumined the panorama spread out before me, yet rendered observation somewhat difficult, since it shone almost directly into my eyes. However, by the aid of my glasses I was able to see something of the first moves on the fatal chess-board where so many thousands of lives are staked on the bloody game of war. 

"I noticed among other things that the lessons of the recent war in the East had not passed unobserved, for in all the open spaces on the eastern slope of the hill, where the roads were not screened by trees or coppices, lofty erections of hurdles and greenery had been placed overnight to hide the preliminary movements of our troops from the glasses of the enemy. Under cover of these, regiment after regiment of red-clad soldiers, companies of land ironclads, batteries of artillery and ammunition carts, were proceeding to their allotted posts down the network of roads and lanes leading to the lower ground towards the south-east. Two battalions stood in quarter column behind Thrift Wood. They were kilted corps, probably the Argylls and the London Scottish. Several field batteries moved off to the left towards Woodham Walter. Other battalions took up their position behind Hyde Woods, farther away to the right, the last of them, the Grenadier Guards, I fancy, passing behind them and marching still farther southward. 

"Finally, two strong battalions, easily recognised as marines by their blue war-kit, marched rapidly down the main road and halted presently behind Woodham Mortimer Place. All this time there was neither sight nor sound of the enemy. The birds carolled gaily in the old elms round my eyrie, the sparrows and martins piped and twittered in the eaves of the old church, and the sun shone genially on hill and valley, field and wood. To all appearance, peace reigned over the countryside, though the red masses of troops in the shadows of the woodlands were suggestive of the autumn manœuvres. But for all this the 'Real Thing' was upon us. As I looked, first one, then another long and widely scattered line of crouching men in rifle green issued from the cover of Hyde Woods and began slowly to move away towards the east. Then, and not till then, a vivid violet-white flash blazed out on the dim grey upland five miles away to the south-east, which had been pointed out to me as Great Canney, and almost at once a spout of earth and smoke sprang up a little way ahead of the advancing British. A dull boom floated up on the breeze, but was drowned in an ear-splitting crash somewhere close to me. I felt the old tower rock under the concussion, which I presently discovered came from a company of at least six big Sovereign ironclads established just outside the churchyard. 

"They were manned by a party of blue jacketed Mechanised Corps soldiers, who had brought them up from Aldershot. The movement I saw developing below me was the first step towards what I eventually discovered was our main objective—Purleigh. 

"Could we succeed in establishing ourselves there, we should be beyond effective range from Maldon, and should also take Great Canney in reverse, as well as the positions on the refused left flank of the enemy. Maldon, too, would be isolated. Purleigh, therefore, was the key of the position. Our first move was in this direction. The scouts were picked men from the Line battalions, but the firing lines were composed of Volunteers and, in some cases, Militiamen. It was considered more politic to reserve the Regulars for the later stages of the attack. The firing from Canney, and afterwards from Purleigh, was at first at rather too long a range to be effective, even from the heavy guns that were in use, and later on the heavy long-range fire from 'Bloody Mary' and her sisters at Danbury, and other heavy guns and ironclads in the neighbourhood of East Hanningfield, kept it down considerably, although the big, high-explosive shells were now and again most terribly destructive to the advancing British. 

"When, however, the firing line—which as yet had not been near enough to fire a shot in reply—arrived in the neighbourhood of Loddard's Hill, its left came under a terrible rifle fire from Hazeleigh Wood, while its right and centre were all but destroyed by a tornado of shrapnel from some German contraptions to the north of Purleigh. Though dazed and staggered under the appalling sleet of projectiles, the Volunteers stuck doggedly to their ground, though unable to advance. Line after line was pushed forward, the men stumbling and falling over the thickly-scattered bodies of their fallen comrades. 

"It was a perfect holocaust. Some other card must be played at once, or the attack must fail."

Tuesday, May 3

1895: Air Power Key To Shih-ch'iu-ling Battery Capture

During the Sino-French War 1884-85 the Shih-ch'iu-ling battery at Keelung on Taiwan held out against French forces for most of the war, but during the Japanese invasion of 1895 the battery fell in a day due to the effective use of aerial power by the Japanese.

Japan's invasion of the newly independent Republic of Formosa followed the end of the Sino-Japanese War, when the Chinese ceded the island to Japan. Before the Japanese could take control the Formosans declared independence and prepared to resist the Japanese.

Unfortunately for the Formosans their resistance was to be severely impacted by the Japanese control of the air, with Japanese aerostat bombing the Shih-ch'iu-ling battery into submission after initial infantry assaults had been repulsed.

The Imperial Japanese Army employed its aerial forces considerably thereafter, notably at the pivotal Battle of Baguashan and to hunting down guerilla bands that continued to resist the Japanese for several years after the war officially ceased.

Sunday, January 16

1890: Japanese Develop 'War Tubas'

The Seinan Sensō (Southwestern War) was the last major revolt by a feudal Japanese domain against the Meiji Empire. Whilst the war only lasted nine months in 1877 it was the first time that aerostat where employed for military purposes on the Japanese mainland.

The key Battle of Tabaruzaka saw the Satsuma Domain rebels suffer terrible losses to a surprise bombing attack by the small Meiji fleet (commanded by French officers from Lieutenant-Colonel Antoine's military mission) and the impact of this attack led the Japanese to lead the way in the development of acoustic location devices which would perform a vital role in the Great War 1890-91 and subsequent European conflicts.

Unlike the fixed concrete mirrors that became popular in Britain and the Continent, the Japanese focussed their efforts on a mobile resource (derisively dubbed 'war tubas' by European observers), using them to great effect against the Chinese at the Battle of Jiuliancheng.

Following this success most European powers looked to develop their own mobile 'war tuba' units including the Russian Empire who positioned them on top of buildings in Port Arthur and Vladivostok during the Russo-Japanese War.

Thursday, December 30

1870: 1e Escadrille De Cyclistes Lead Charge At Sedan

The French army's embracing of new technologies saw a number of units equipped with experimental weaponry and equipment during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Pierre Michaux's development of the pedal powered velocipede in 1868 led to a craze that swept France and the military found the idea of the vélocipède à pédales as a low cost, low maintenace replacement for the horse quite attractive (velocipedes not needing feeding for a start!). The 2eme Regiment de Lanciers provided a squadron for evaluation trials and this unit was still equipped with velocipedes when war broke out with Prussia in July 1870.

Attached to the Army of Châlons, the 1e Escadrille de Cyclistes undertook scouting work for the high command before seeing action at the Battle of Sedan, when, attached to General Margueritte's cavalry, they took part in the three failed charges on the Prussian XI Corps at the village of Floing.

Whilst the French defeat at Sedan and the surrender of the Emperor marked the end of the Second Empire, the vélocipède à pédales were regarded as having proven successful and the new Third Republic raised both cavalry and mounted infantry units equipped with velocipedes, a move replicated by other powers in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Sunday, December 26

1885: Beiyang Air Fleet Defeated At Jiuliancheng

China's Beiyang Air Fleet was formed by the Qing dynasty near the end of the 19th century along western lines to help ensure China had the necessary modern forces to resist the Western powers and Japan.

The Sino-French War of 1884-5 had demonstrated to the Chinese the need for air power and they embarked on a rapid programme of raising air fleets following the war, relying on aeronef and aerostat of British and Russian construction to equip their fleets. Unfortunately many of the vessels were not maintained properly and indiscipline was rife in the fleet due to poor leadership, low pay and opium usage.

The Beiyang Air Fleet saw much action in the Sino-Japanese War 1894-5, supporting the Chinese army at the Battles of Seongwhan and Pyongyang and the navy at the Battle of the Yalu River, however it was badly mauled losing over half the fleet in a major air battle above the Yalu River at Jiuliancheng as the Japanese seized control of the skies to launch their invasion of Manchuria.

The remnants of the air fleet continued to provide as much support as was practical for the army notably at Lüshunkou but the fate of the fleet was sealed when they attempted to prevent the Japanese bombing of Tianzhuangtai but were overwhelmed by the superior numbers and vessels of Japanese aerial fleet.

Thursday, September 2

1896: HMS Ptarmigan Discovers 'Atlantis'

On February 1st 1896, Professor Elstead on HMS Ptarmigan discovered an underwater civilisation in the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. Elstead described the underwater beings to the officers of the Ptarmigan as being "a strange vertebrated animal. Its dark purple head was dimly suggestive of a chameleon,but it had such a high forehead and such a braincase as no reptile ever displayed before; the vertical pitch of its face gave it a most extraordinary resemblance to a human beings. Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils. In the position of the ears were two huge gill-covers, and out of these floated a branching tree of coralline filaments, almost like the tree-like gills that very young rays and sharks possess."

He added: "the face was not the most extraordinary thing about the creature. It was a biped; its almost globular body was poised on a tripod of two frog-like legs and a long thick tail, and its fore limbs, which grotesquely caricatured the human hand, much as a frog’s do, carried a long shaft of bone, tipped with copper. The colour of the creature was variegated; its head, hands, and legs were purple; but its skin, which hung loosely upon it, even as clothes might do, was a phosphorescent grey".

Before returning to the surface Elstead came across an underwater city on the submarine plane which he described as "a luminous arrangement of streets and houses grouped about a vast roofless erection that was grotesquely suggestive of a ruined abbey. The houses were all roofless enclosures of walls, and their substance being of phosphorescent bones".

Professor Elstead perished on his second descent at the hands of the Atlanteans (as they soon became to be known) and man found that he was not the only sentient race on Earth.

Saturday, June 12

1882: Gladstone 'Atlantis' Expedition Launched

In 1882 US politician Ignatius Donnelly's wrote Atlantis, The Antediluvian World, the first serious study about the lost continent of Atlantis. Prime Minister Gladstone was so excited by the text that he instructed the Royal Navy to launch an expedition to find the lost continent which Donnelly claimed was under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the hostilities that had broken out in Egypt, the Royal Navy sent HMS Neptune on an exploration mission to ascertain the veracity of Donnelly's claims of the undersea world he claimed lay under the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday, May 31

1899: Escadrille Sous-Terre

Thwarted by La Manche and the superiority of the Royal Navy, the French armed forces invested much effort into developing ways of circumventing this problem to landing troops on British soil. The obvious solution was through the use of aeronef and aerostat, although the Great War of 1890-91 demonstrated that this was only viable if the French (and their allies) could achieve aerial superiority, which they proved unable to do.

French scientists looked at other options and inspired by the machinery being used in the creation of 'Le Tunnel Sous La Manche' soon developed contraptions capable of burrowing underground. At first these machines were quite small, capable of only transporting a section of men, but once the concept was proven as sound, larger machines were created capable of carry whole companies and squadrons.

Unfortunately for the French, an enemy spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, stole plans of these designs and soon all the major powers embarked on the development of their own terranef (as they have generally become known as).

Utilised widely in the Slavo-French invasion of Britain in 1899, most notably in the seizing of Dover Castle and the over-running British defences to the Channel Tunnel before it could be flooded, terranef are a formidable weapon and have most recently been used by Great Power forces in the battles on Mars at Auorae Sinus.

Wednesday, April 7

1903: Astro-Transports

Whilst The Astronef proved more than capable of extra-terrestrial flight as demonstrated by Earl Redgrave's tour of the Solar System in 1895, the quantity of R-Gravitons needed for such travel restricted the numbers of astronef employed by the Great Powers in the ether at the turn of the century. Indeed, it was an older technology based on that employed by the Baltimore Gun Club with its Columbiad cannon after the American Civil War which was to prove the low cost answer to the Great Powers need to get troops to Mars following the Olympian invasion and subsequent Martian Rebellion of 1903.

All the Great Powers constructed huge cannon to fire shell like troop transports, first to Mars and subsequently the Moon, Venus and Ganymede. These transports have extremely strong hulls to withstand the pressure of firing and landing, but the crew have limited control of the craft in flight and a reasonably fixed course must be maintained to ensure the landing zone on the target planet is hit.

The transports, whilst escorted by astronef, do sport limited weaponry and indeed it was an astro-transport that engaged in the first space battle in humanities history when a convoy carrying troops to the Red Planet as part of the retaliatory invasion against the Olympians was attacked by Martian craft.

Thursday, April 1

1889: The Tyrell Water Ray

The Royal Navy was extremely concerned at the philosophy of the 'Jeune Ecole' and the French Navy's increased investment in aquanef as a means of reducing the odds against Britain's mighty surface fleet, fortunately British inventor Wilfred Wallace Tyrell invented a ray that allowed surface viewers to see underwater as clearly as a searchlight cuts through the air.

Tyrell's father, Sir Wilfred Tyrell, was one of the Junior Lords of the Admiralty and arranged for a prototype to be fitted to H.M.S. Scorcher for a series of trials on the Solent. Fortunately the Scorcher was on station when the French aquanef Le Vengeur attacked H.M.S. Phyliss in an unprovoked terror attack in 1889 and managed to hunt down and force the rogue French attacker to the surface, capturing the piratical crew and aquanef (which was subsequently fitted with an underwater version of the ray and served in the Royal Navy against the French in the Great War of 1890-91).

Saturday, January 30

1863: The Hollow Earth

Despite Professor Lidenbrock's discovery of an unknown world beneath the Earth's crust in 1863, it was not until the later Peterson and Challenger expeditions, in the 1890's, that scientists began to understand the riches of the unique prehistoric ecosystem beneath their very feet.

With access to the interior world being possible from locations in the Mountains of the Moon and Maple White Land, as well as Iceland, it soon became apparent that the virgin world held many exploitable riches including deposits of R-Matter and Apergion.

The difficulty of access, as well as the hostile fauna and flora, did initially restrict the ability of the Great Powers to colonise the new lands, but where the prize is big enough, man's avarice knows no bounds and soon the Powers began to carve up the newly discovered territories, domesticising some of the wild pre-historic beasts to use as transportation and conquering the indigenous sub-human races that populated the wild lands below.

Monday, January 25

1896: Wrath Of The Syren

Following the death of his family during an Ottoman aerostat raid, Hungarian noble Baron Lantoz launched a campaign of revenge and terror on those responsible. Utilising the ingenuity of Professor Vanvlak to upgrade his flagship, the Syren, a series of raids where launched across the Aegean targeting the 3rd Akinjli Squadron and its commander Carpik Pasha.

In an effort to bring his nemesis to battle, Lantoz and his crew bombed the Turkish city of Ayvacik, causing many civilian casualties and earning Lantoz, amongst the Turks, the nickname The Bloody Baron. Carpik, whose family died in the attack, managed to intercept the Syren with his aerial squadron. Lantoz's desire for revenge led him to launch a reckless headlong attack on the Pasha's flagship which retreated engulfed in flame into the clouds.

Badly wounded and with the Syren almost torn apart under his feet, Lantoz returned to Austria to be greeted by Emperor Franz Joseph who secretly rewarded him for his endeavours against the Turk with more vessels to continue the undeclared war against the Ottoman heathen...

Thursday, January 7

1890: Escadrille de Goubets

The French Empire were constantly looking at ways to tip the balance of power when it came to the old enemy England and influenced by the doctrines of the 'Jeune Ecole' embraced innovative ideas for indirect attacks. Claude Goubet's two man aquanef was one such innovation and the French Navy built Escardilles (squadrons) of these small craft to invest enemy harbours, mine them and sink enemy vessels.

Highly successful during the Great War of 1890-1, the Goubets (named after their designer) wreaked havoc in the Channel ports although the Royal Navy's use of the Tyrrell Ray to seek out the underwater menace did allow destroyers and torpedo boats some success in combating the Goubet squadrons.

Tuesday, January 5

1901: Corps Medical Offensif

The French development of La Guerre Miasmatique has had a major impact on warfare on Earth and the other colonised planets. Batteries firing chemical and bacteriological agents across the battlefield cause thousands of casualties whilst typhoid snipers target individual soldiers for disease and death.

Whilst despised by many, if not for the French introduction of this new and virulent form of warfare it may have been that Earth would have fallen to the Martian invader in 1901. It was the French Empire's Corps Medical Offensif and the diseases they fired at the tripod encased invaders which caused the Martians destruction.

All major powers now have developed their own units of chemical warfare troops, but the French still lead the way in their development and use.

Monday, January 4

Life On Mars: Olympian Martians

It may seem surprising to some that neither the Redgrave expedition of 1895 nor the Peterson expedition of 1897 discovered the race of Martians that were to bring so much calamity to Earth in 1901 but these expeditions and the initial colonies founded by Britain and France were well away from the Nix Olympias in the Nordus Gordii region. Indeed the snow covered aspect of this region led initial observers to believe that this was one of the most inhospitable areas of the Red Planet and long abandoned by the Martian races initially discovered. With hindsight it is now understood that the other races feared the inhabitants of this region and kept as much distance as was possible.

The Olympian Martians are now believed to be one of the Elder Races of Mars and due to the ecological changes ravaging the planet, a race in decline at the time of the first human landings. Technologically advanced, the Olympians made much use of their perverted science to eke out the meagre resources of Mars and launch their failed invasion of Earth. Their susceptibility to the chemical weapons, initially used by the French, is well reported but the impact of la guerre miasmatique on the Red Planet has been less dramatic. Whether this is due to atmospheric peculiarities of the Martian atmosphere or the a new development in Olympian technology has not been ascertained.

Thursday, December 31

Life On The Moon: Selenites

Earl Redgrave's claim that the Moon was devoid of sentient life following his discovering of the ruins of a surface based civilization (pictured left) was soon discovered to be onerous following the Bedford-Cavour expedition in 1900 which uncovered a subterranean race named the Selenites.

The insect-like race had created a relatively advanced underground society following an ancient apocalyptic war on the surface of their world (the ruins of which Redgrave discovered).

The Selenites soon found themselves at war with the interlopers from Earth as deposits of R-Matter were discovered on the lunar surface. Whilst their military technology is not as advanced as that from Earth, their innovative use of large underground creatures gives them a decided advantage in battles against the colonial powers.

The human bases on the Moon (similar in construction to the Undersea Forts on Earth) find themselves under near constant siege and mining convoys on the Moon's surface are regularly ambushed by Selenite forces.

Wednesday, December 30

Life On Mars: Aurorean Martians

The first sentient beings discovered on Mars by Earl Redgrave at Xanthe near Auorae Sinus, the Auroreans (as humans have called them) are a highly intelligent race, approximately seven foot tall, living in sprawling cities which are connected by the canal network.

Their scientific-totalitarian system of government has enabled the Auroreans to focus their development to scientific ends and in many respects their technology is on a par or better than that of the nations of earth.

However, their development has for many centuries been confined to dealing with the ecological problems of their dying planet and their military technology is of varied quality against the human colonists who have landed on the red planet. Some weapons such as the Martian electro-rifle are extremely deadly, whereas the Aurorean aeronef are generally of an inferior design. That said what they lack in quality, the Aurorean air-fleet makes up for in quantity.

picture: The Astronef rams and destroys an Aurorean aeronef

Distinguished Gentlemen