The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 12

Coast, Southern Britain

The galleys cut across the water, slamming into the beach hard, driving up onto the sand. As soon as the boats stopped, men in heavy armor began piling over the sides in twos and fours, quickly crowding the entire beach with hundreds of men.

Another group of legionaries sat across from them, crouching and covering their heads, as centurions walked up and down the line, telling this group of men or that group they were dead.

A spectator watching the proceedings would have been very confused by the entire thing. Thankfully for them, and the training legions, there weren’t any spectators. The praetorians had cleared people out of the area for more than a mile in all directions, ensuring the training could continue without any spies getting a look at what the Britannians were practicing.

“Move up,” Velius yelled as he hit the beach, pushing men gathering in clumps by the boats towards positions forming halfway up the sand. “Boat teams; get them back out in the water. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

Velius fumed. Men moved, but not fast enough. They knew this wasn’t real and some were treating it more like a bit of fun than the training it was supposed to be. It was true that, before the Consul, this kind of training didn’t happen so the men weren’t used to it, but after seeing it used several times successfully, Velius saw the benefit of it. Getting five thousand men to see it too, however, was harder.

The men did finally start forming up, however, and the first galleys were starting to move back into the ocean, clearing the way for the next wave. They would have to pick up the pace if this was going to work for real, but otherwise, things were going according to plan. The legion playing the part of the Carthaginians started releasing small groups of soldiers to charge the Britannian line, but they weren’t enough to break through.

Bomilcar had been against this part of the war game, arguing that the Carthaginians would hold their men together until they could form up for a concentrated push. While Velius could see his point, since that was how phalanxes normally fought, when under this kind of barrage, some of the men would break. In his experience, some of the men would run away and some would prematurely attack. For once, the Consul had agreed with him and not the Carthaginian.

Some of the men whacked their attackers a little harder than they should have with their wooden swords and there would be a fair number of bumps and bruises the next day, but as long as the cannon barrage was accurate and could fire continuously, it seemed this plan would work.

The second wave landed and was half unloaded when things went south. Men were still trudging through ankle-deep water, trying to form up with the men already on the beach when two groups of legionnaires carrying long poles to represent the phalanx spears came out of the woods from either side of the lined-up invasion force.

They were a distance away and the cannons could have engaged them, but it would have meant slacking fire on the main body at the tree line, not that it mattered, since he didn’t have any way to signal the ships. They were watching through spy glasses, but it was decided to focus the first several waves on just front-line soldiers, and save support units like messengers and signalmen for the last wave. They also only had partial cohorts, and not all the leaders were on the boats in the first wave. One cohort had a senior centurion leading it and only two prefects and a tribune as it made ashore. Worse, he only had one messenger available to pass orders.

“Tell the leftmost cohort to turn and block their advance,” he said to the messenger he did have, pointing at the force coming from that direction.

As the man ran off, Velius ran to the cohort on the right, which was also the one with a senior centurion leading it. The man had done well, getting his soldiers lined up and prepared for battle, but he was in over his head and not trained to make decisions on his own, like turning his men to face the threat from the right.

The battle devolved from there, with the left flank collapsing under the pressure, causing the center to roll up before Velius could shift men to shore it up. Finally, he called a halt to the entire exercise. It took time to find the signal team, waiting with the ‘opposing forces’, so that he could signal the waiting galleys to go back to port. The men who had already landed would march back to their base camp a few miles north of where the exercises were taking place.

By the time he got all of the men situated, the Consul and Bomilcar had shown up riding in with the other legates who were training nearby.

“That was a disaster. I thought the goal was to make this as realistic as possible, but the opposing force broke into three parts for that insane attack. They wouldn’t break a force into three small units like that. They went from having a numerical advantage to three outnumbered units. I’ve never seen a phalanx do that in my entire life. What general would even do that?”

“I would,” Bomilcar said. “In fact, I did.”

“See, this is what I was talking about,” Velius said to Ky. “I thought the goal here was to give our men real battlefield training so they would know what to expect and how to react when the day came. Instead, they’re going to be confused, looking for attacks that won’t be there, and they’ll lose cohesion. The whole exercise was wasted on tactics the enemy would never use because they know it wouldn’t work.”

“Except, it did,” Ky pointed out.

“Only because we weren’t expecting it.”

“Which is exactly why I did it. Your men were in disarray. You only had a handful of battle standards on the field and it took much longer for them to form up than I’ve ever seen from a Roman, or Britannian, army. The obvious answer was you didn’t front-load officers, opting for fighting men instead. You’d already pushed off ships and started your second wave, so I knew what you were doing and I could see the galleys waiting to come in. It wouldn’t have been hard to figure out, even without knowing what I know, but I waited until the second wave landed because a general would want to make sure he knew he was right about the ships standing just offshore before committing. Knowing that, I knew I had a limited amount of time where I would have both numerical superiority and greater cohesion, which has always been the Roman strength. That meant I couldn’t wait for you to start your attack. You already had men lined up and the shelling would have made it difficult to hold men in line to cross the beach, so I pulled two-thirds of my army and sent half one way and half the other, reasoning that you couldn’t hit them all at the same time, considering there were only three ships in the harbor firing. It was the best solution at the moment, and one our enemies will try if our actual landings are anything like these.”

“Which is the point of these exercises,” Ky said, trying to cut some of the tension. “I think we can see we need to make some adjustments to our order of deployment.”

He didn’t point out that those changes were the same ones Bomilcar had been arguing for already, and Velius had been arguing against. At the time, Ky had sided with Velius since it made sense to get as many fighting men on the beach as possible in the first wave, and he himself downplayed the possibility of the Carthaginians taking advantage that early in the battle. The odds were they wouldn’t be deployed to meet the Britannians before the second wave even landed and no one on that side of the field would have ever experienced being bombarded by explosive shells. Ky still believed the most likely outcome was that either the Carthaginians would break under fire completely or would be locked in place, both of which would make the move that Bomilcar had performed unlikely.

Of course, the whole point of this exercise was to prepare for the unlikely. There might not have been actual explosions here, but the Carthaginians were on an island with nowhere to run, which would be a pretty good motivator.

“Don’t make the mistake of assuming your opponents are idiots,” Bomilcar said. “Yes, you’ve won amazing battles, including the one against me, but it was never guaranteed. The thing that led you to victory in those other battles was superior generalship. Yes, you had some new weapons, and I will grant you that the ones the Consul has brought out now are even more impressive, but even the most advanced weapons can be deployed poorly and lead to a defeat.”

“He is correct. There are numerous occasions where a technologically superior army was defeated by an inferior opponent with superior generalship. The British at Kandahar or the Battle of Isandlwana during the Zulu Wars are excellent examples,” Sophus said, flashing descriptions of the battles across Ky’s vision.

Ky hadn’t needed the object lesson, but it reinforced the lesson for him.

“He has a point,” Ky said to Velius. “Although it is unlikely, I believe we should take the lessons from this and adjust our plans to keep it from happening. If the most likely scenario occurs and the Carthaginians are fully suppressed by our cannon, then it won’t matter. If it doesn’t and Bomilcar is right, we will be glad we had the proper force disposition to deal with it.”

“I guess,” Velius said, sounding almost like a spoiled child, upset that he was proven wrong.

Ky frowned. He’d picked Velius for his role as the prime legate and head of the Britannian legions because of how flexible and reasonable he was. This level of inflexibility whenever Bomilcar was involved was out of character for the man. One of the things that had helped them succeed against the Carthaginians had been how short-sighted and poor the Carthaginian leadership had been, Bomilcar aside, especially in comparison to the Britannic leadership. The last thing they needed was for their top commander to start exhibiting some of the Carthaginian weaknesses.

“Can you gentlemen excuse us,” Ky said.

Bomilcar simply bowed his head slightly and rode off towards the men on the beach but several of the other legates and aides gave side glances to Velius. Ky normally didn’t believe in calling out men in front of others. He found it bad for morale and discipline, even asking to speak to a soldier alone when it was clear to everyone around what was about to happen. He, however, didn’t have a lot of time and needed to nip this feud in the bud, now, before it started making problems that could not be corrected.

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