Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part I)
Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Following on from the events of Here Be Dragons the 'Verse enters an new era as the 2nd War of Independence begins



Hotpoints Fan Fiction

The Battlecruiser Charybdis


Disclaimer – Everything either does belong to Joss or it should. I’m just borrowing his shiny ‘verse for a while.

The 21st Lancers belong to the British Army so I’m borrowing them too. I hope they don’t mind.

Thanks to my readers and special thanks to my proof-reader Landry

* * *

Serenity Valley Military Academy – Hera – 2532AD

The commandant was looking out of the window again. As always he was looking at the pile of rubble in the centre of the courtyard with rapt attention and a far off look in his eyes. The largest of the intact blocks had been hauled away from the rest and now stood by the entrance to the main hall. A passage of text was carved into it in Chinese characters. It was the opening lines from The Art of War written by Sun Tzu in around 500BC. Translated it said “War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life or death, the road to either survival or ruin. Hence it is imperative that it be studied thoroughly”. The Commandant had chosen the inscription himself.

After a few moments inner reflection, he returned to the here and now, turned back towards the class and sighed. ‘Cadet if you can’t answer this simple question,’ he said, ‘when we actually study something complex, like the dynamics of combined arms tactical scenarios, your brains are going to pour out of your ears.’

‘It’s that difficult, Sir?’ the Cadet in question asked nervously.

‘No DeFelice it’ll be because after you fail the course I’ll have you dragged onto a ship, taken to orbit and chucked out of an airlock,’ the Commandant replied deadpan.

The other cadets in the class laughed, partially because it was funny and partially because it’s bad policy not to laugh at the Commandants jokes. While the powers that be wouldn’t really let him space a cadet he did have the power to make you clean the mess-hall floor with your toothbrush as he had previously demonstrated. The old man was not someone to take lightly, actually when you thought about it there was the remote possibility he did have the connections to get away with introducing a cadet to the joys of explosive decompression.

The Commandant turned his gaze around the room. ‘Alright, Williams,’ he said addressing a female cadet, ‘you answer the question for him.’

‘The Zero-Six to Eleven war was a strategic failure for the Independents because they fought a war of attrition against an enemy far superior in logistics and population base, Sir,’ she replied.

‘Good start. Go on.’

‘With less troops and less material they could never hope to win a war of that type in those circumstances,’ the Cadet expanded her answer. ‘So they were stupid to try?’ the Commandant asked with a wry smile.

The cadet blushed. ‘No... I mean they were mistaken in both their choice of strategic goals and the methods they attempted to obtain them.’

‘Which were?’ ‘The Independent leadership believed that by mainly fighting a war of position from heavily fortified defences on their own territory they would inflict sufficient casualties and economic disruption on the Alliance to induce resentment against the war at home and bring the leadership on Shinon and Londinium to the negotiating table.’

‘Exactly,’ the commandant said nodding. ‘For an obvious example, the Browncoat leadership believed that fighting in a metropolitan area like that of the battle of Du Khang would degenerate into a Stalingrad like situation for the Alliance and cause such losses it would make the entire war too hard for the Core Planets to sustain.’

The Commandant looked around the room and pointed. ‘Hammed, why didn't this simple theory pan out in practice?’

‘The Independents underestimated the popularity of the idea of Unification among the ordinary people of the Alliance and the ability of the Core Worlds to raise replacement troops and equipment without overstretching their economies. Even if the Independent worlds devoted a far larger share of both GNP and population to the war effort they were still demographically and industrially outmatched,’ the cadet answered.

‘Indeed,’ the Commandant concurred. ‘The house to house fighting, incessant sniping and booby-traps during Du Khang fighting bled both sides white but the Independents had less to spill so eventually they retreated, losing one of their most populated and industrialised worlds. What should they have done?’

‘Fought a war of manoeuvre, Sir. They shouldn’t have allowed themselves to get caught in a toe-to-toe slugging match. Fight a fluid moving battle and keep the initiative,’ Hammed answered. ‘They should have also sought to disrupt enemy production and lines of supply and devoted a greater percentage of personnel towards special-forces teams. Small units fighting a guerrilla war behind the lines would have had a major effect on the numbers available at the front.’

‘That sounds very familiar, Hammed. While I do appreciate the royalties, assuming you bought it, please don’t quote one of my books at me. It makes me want to blush.’

‘Sorry, Sir.’

‘That’s alright, Cadet. Just don’t expect me to sign it.’

The Commandant put his hands behind his back. ‘Even at the start of the war before the Independents started to lose one world after another the Alliance had around twelve times their logistical potential so even whilst devoting less than half as much as a percentage of their economic output to the war they were still capable of bringing several times as many soldiers and equipment to the battlefield as the Browncoats could hope to muster.’ The Instructor paused. ‘Gibbons, what do amateurs and professionals talk about respectively?’

‘Tactics and Logistics, Sir.’

‘Indeed but what else is important?’ The commandant asked. ‘Anyone?’

‘Training?' one cadet offered. 'Equipment quality?’

‘The former, undoubtedly, yes,’ the Commandant replied. ‘A well led professional army of trained soldiers with a core of long-service NCO’s and properly educated Commissioned Officers is infinitely more capable than a badly trained rabble. As a point of note the best way to judge an Army is how it behaves on the retreat. The German Wehrmacht of the Second World War on Earth-That-Was is highly regarded by military historians not so much for pioneering practical deep warfare or blitzkrieg tactics, but rather for it’s incessant and unrelenting counter-attacks whenever it was forced to pull back. Trained soldiers keep order under the pressure of a forced withdrawal. Untrained badly led ones fall apart even if they still have plenty of equipment.

‘It took the Russians two years to push the Germans back out of territory they originally took themselves in a few months. The difference was the Wehrmacht never collapsed whereas during the early days of the initial invasion of the USSR the Red Army simply fell apart, thanks mainly not to a lack of courageous soldiers, or even a lack of material, but rather a lack of decent officers who hadn’t had their brains blown out after being purged by their own government.

‘As for equipment, how good your weaponry is is important,’ the Commandant conceded, ‘but to quote a bright, if somewhat misguided, political figure from the 20th Century named Vladimir Illyich Lenin, "Quantity has a quality all it's own.” You might have a superior design weapons platform that can knock out better than five to one but if they've got six you're still screwed. Good equipment is a force multiplier than can give you an edge in mobility, or firepower or maybe just comfort. Never underestimate the importance of a decent pair of boots and a warm uniform by the way, but it’s a grave mistake to ever think in terms of technical superiority as more of an end than a means. Too many armies have collapsed because they put their faith in technical wizardry and forgot the basics of good old fashioned soldiering.’

‘Napoleon thought luck was important,’ a voice from the back of the classroom spoke up.

‘The Commandant smiled. 'And it's nice to hear someone actually does do the reading I recommend. For those of you that didn't, Napoleon when asked to approve a promotion was given a resume of an officer’s brilliant career and record of valour. He then promptly ignored it and asked instead "How lucky is he?"’ The smile broadened ‘Who are we to dismiss the military genius of his day?’

The Commandant began pacing. ‘This actually leads me on to what I've been skirting around,’ he said. 'There is an interesting caveat to the adage Cadet Gibbons related, in that in full it should be "Amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics but genius goes back to talking tactics." Equipment can be a force multiplier but so can the sheer brilliance of the commander and in a way that is often far more devastating in that it may not only enhance your forces but also weaken theirs. If your troops start thinking their leader’s unbeatable, and so do those of the enemy, you might have won the battle before you start.

‘Again during the Second World War the British Army once faced a problem during its campaign in the western desert. Erwin Rommel, the commander of the German forces opposing them, had out-thought and out-fought them on so many occasions that they began to celebrate him themselves to a large extent, dubbing him with the nom de guerre of ‘The Desert Fox’ and starting to think he was unbeatable. This played hell with morale until a new British commander named Montgomery arrived and put his troops back into the right frame of mind.’

The commandant stopped and pointed at a painting on the wall. It was an old print showing the Battle of Waterloo. ‘Regarding the more tangible effects of military genius the Duke of Wellington there was a very able and skilled military commander himself but he recognized something else in his foe, something that no one can teach you at MilAcad,’ he said. ‘Wellington once said that he considered the presence of his nemesis Napoleon on a battlefield as being “equal to forty thousand men in the balance,” which is indicative of something truly special about the “Little Corporal”.’

The Commandant walked up to his desk and sat on it facing the class ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Here’s a little something for you to imagine. You’re a Macedonian Infantryman on the plains of Gaugamela in 331BC. It's just before the battle starts and you're looking across at your enemy. They outnumber you about five to one,’ he paused to let them think about it.

'As you observe the multitudes of your foe,’ he said continuing, ‘you know they’re probably more scared than you are. Why is that? There’s a quarter of a million of them baying for your blood and less than fifty thousand of you, so why the rutting hell are they the worried ones? Easy. It’s because they've got the numbers but you've got something a hell of a lot better. You’ve got Alexander the Great.’

Commandant Steven Hicks looked around the class and grinned. ‘Which would you want?’ he asked.

* * *

Battle of Persephone – 2nd War of Independence – 2524AD

Artillery was crashing down behind both lines as the gunners danced what they called the counter-battery shuffle. Both sides were using fast moving self-propelled guns, which followed the traditional tactic of shoot and scoot. Side A fired then moved before Side B’s counter-battery fire in their turn shelled them. Of course Side B were also firing then moving so in fact both sides were alternately shelling where the other one used to be and they were both wasting an awful lot of high-explosive in the process. Periodically one side would abandon counter-battery fire and shell something worthwhile but then so would the other one until the leadership on both sides started screaming for the gorram enemy guns to be dealt with and the counter-battery shuffle started up again.

It was things like this that meant other branches of the army often surmised that the artillery guys weren’t just generally deaf as a post they were also thick as a plank. Of course it was generally best not to say this in front of a Gunner, as you might meet the rare one with decent hearing and they all tended to be very muscular thanks to hauling shells around all day. Weirdly one original nickname for an artilleryman was actually a “plank” because if you ran out of wood to shore up the guns in deep mud it was often known that the corpses of dead gunners to be used instead. That was in the days of horse-drawn muzzle-loaders of course when counter-battery fire tended to hit a lot more often.

It was all pretty dramatic for an eighteen-year-old replacement who’d never seen a full-scale battle before. Several battalions of infantry were digging in on both sides and you could actually see tiny flashes in the sky high above as the navy guys fought for orbital superiority. Vapour trails from aerospace fighters headed off in all directions and occasionally someone fired off a shoulder-launcher surface-to-air missile at them. Presumably they were firing at enemy aircraft, though you could never be too sure about those infantry guys so the older troopers said.

‘There’s sure a hell of a lot of armour out there, Sir,’ the replacement said nervously handing back the Major’s binoculars, This was only his second action and the last had just been a skirmish. ‘I can see a whole heap of Rollers between us and the city over there.’

The Major took back the binoculars and took a final look himself. ‘Don’t worry Trooper Jackson, compared to the shit we went though six months back this is small potatoes. Just get back down in your chair and remember more Rollers just means more targets. I expect a lot more kill rings on that gun barrel by tonight.’

The rookie trooper nodded, dropped back down the hatch and strapped himself into his seat as the major dropped down to his own seat higher up in the turret. Zero hour was getting close so it was time to rally the troops and get them in the right frame of mind. The driver cranked her head around and gave the rookie a thumbs up, she’d been with the Regiment over a year and certainly looked like she was taking it all in her stride.

At least he was riding one of the new Excalibur 2’s just off the production lines on Wilkes Moon rather than the older models, which were gradually being replaced. The upgraded tank was a good fifteen tonnes heavier, and not only was half of that extra weight armour but the entirety of the armour was the new laminate the R&D boys had back engineered from some Alliance warship rather than just having it in a few sections like the Excalibur 1’s. Jackson had seen videos of the stuff under test and there was something mighty comforting at having seen shells from captured Ally Rollers bounce clean off at a range where a Browncoat railgun would have punched right through the enemy tank. God only really knows why they still used conventional cannon, although the rumour was the company that made Roller guns back in the Core was paying off a load of folks not to change to mass-drivers instead. What a bunch of assholes Jackson considered, looking through his gunsights.

The major flicked on his radio headset. ‘This is Battalion Commander to all units,’ he broadcast on the battalions own frequency. ‘Colonel Thomas is counting on us to lead the way so I don’t want any of those chûnrén from the 2nd or 3rd Battalions getting ahead of us. We’re the 1st of the 21st and we always smash more armour, take more ground and kill more purple-bellied sons-of-bitches than any other tank unit in the Army.’

The usual yells of agreement emerged from the headphones.

‘Remember this Lancers, the Regiment has been here a long time. We rode horses against Napoleon over seven hundred years ago, and we rode tanks against Hitler a century and a half after that. When Shan Yu rose, there were Lancers to help put him back down again. We’re the best Cavalry in the rutting ‘Verse and we’ve written our names in history over and over again with our enemies’ blood. So today let’s add some more purple ink to the history books.’

The shouting got louder.

‘Death or Glory is our flag, it’s our motto and it’s our gorram creed. When those bastards over there see our Colours they know what’s coming. They know our reputation. We’re the rutting Death or Glory Boys and they know we’re going to smash everything between here and wherever we decide we’re going.’

Dozens of Troopers, non-coms and officers began to howl out the Lancer motto over and over again.

‘Alright 1st Battalion, charge your railguns, start marking your targets and when you hear that bugle sound follow the colours and put a chunk of hypersonic iron in anything in front of you that ain’t got a skull painted on it.’

The Major grinned broadly. He loved making these speeches. He looked down at his gunner with a weird glint in his eye.

‘Look at it this way, Jackson,’ Major Hicks said. ‘Which would you rather have? All those Rollers or River Tam?’

Part II


Wednesday, February 9, 2005 1:32 PM


Another wonderful start to another wonderful series!

Thursday, February 10, 2005 5:40 AM


This could so easily have been dry and lack-luster, but never from your pen. Well done, Hotpoint.

Thursday, February 10, 2005 8:57 AM


Military sci-fi is shiny anyway, but here in the 'verse it's even more fun than usual.

Thanks, HP.

Thursday, February 10, 2005 10:55 AM


I think I'd rather have River Tam on my side! Great start, Hotpoint! I can't wait to see where you go with this one!

- Soul

Thursday, February 10, 2005 1:55 PM


I started wondering who would be- or rather, who you'd make- our 'Alexander'...Mal, Steve... then it hit me...D'uh! RIVER!!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009 5:47 PM


I just realized what the Excaliburs remind me of. They're the equivalent of the Panzer in WWII. Or rather the Excalibur Mk. I was, the Mk. IIs are more the T38 Russian tanks, the ones that could take on a Panzer!

Love your stuff, as Mal & Wash said last chapter, I'd rather have River in that shiny Heavy Battle Cruiser!

I wonder, have you read much of the David Webber Honor Harrington series? Any influence in your writing is hard to find, but his books are good, I think you'd like them. They started as a sort of Horatio Hornblower in space type story, but it grew to have a life of it's own.


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Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XX)
The Independents lift for a return to the Valley

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIX)
As they train for the Campaign to liberate Hera the soldiers of the Independent military continue to go about their daily lives.

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVIII)
Mal faces a worse fate than he ever imagined, Serenity has an image change and Cally adjusts to life back on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVII)
After the initial Independent blitzkreig the Second War of Independence continues with the Alliance still reeling and the Browncoats starting to consolidate their position

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XVI)
Scylla and Charybdis show the Alliance Navy what real warships are made of

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XV)
After the skirmishing the Battle of Toulouse begins

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIV)
Mal Reynolds takes his "Valley Wolves" into action as the fighting on Toulouse escalates

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XIII)
The Independent Navy takes the fight to the Core while Mal Reynolds takes his new troops into action on Toulouse

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XII)
Unification Day 2522 goes not as expected

Horse, Foot and Artillery (Part XI)
Reunions and opening gambits