My war-wagons have gone into battle for the first time, with mixed results; and I am not at all sure what to recommend for future engagements.
The loss of the Resolute showed us that as few as six well-handled war-wagons were capable of destroying a 72-gun frigate, and doing so long before the frigate came within range of anything larger. Consequently, the next Maréchalist sortie was met by four sloops-of-war, each carrying two of my wagons. Their war-wagons rose into the air of the Abyss; ours did the same; and what came next was a surprise to all of us.
The two swarms of wagons met in the air, our eight and their six, and began to fire upon each other with remarkably little effect. Our wagons, like theirs, are clad in hardened wood that is easily proof against small arms fire…and small arms are nearly all the wagons carry, that and incendiaries to be dropped on enemy ships. But the incendiaries are of no use against other wagons.
One of the Maréchalist wagons attempted to sneak through our line but was prevented when one of ours, WW Sally, physically interposed itself, ramming into the Maréchalist wagon and splitting its side. Meanwhile, two of ours sped off toward the Maréchalist sloops; at which point the Maréchalist wagons withdrew with all speed to protect their consorts.
Admiral Austen’s report on the skirmish had four main heads. First, we cannot duplicate the swarming tactics used against the Resolute in the face of a similar number of defending wagons; second, even a slight advantage in number of wagons is enough to drive off such a swarm, by threatening the swarm’s mother-ships; third, ramming is, at present, the only tactic one war-wagon may practicably use against another; and fourth, we had best find a more satisfactory approach before the Maréchalists do.
He is right, of course, and I have spent the last day wandering about Camp Moorhen, trying to find one.
We cannot take a war-wagon by boarding; they have no upper decks, or easily accessible entry ways.
We could outfit our wagons with rams; but this will require a redesign so that using the ram does not destroy the attacker, or fling her crew willy-nilly about the cabin. We have this in hand, but it will take time.
We can try to produce war-wagons in greater numbers, so that swarming our opponents becomes feasible; but there we are limited by the need to train our crews. Maneuvering a war-wagon as the Maréchalists do is harder than it may seem, as several of our crews have learned to their peril; clearly, the cochons had much time to practice before their return to Provençe. And even if we had them, a ship-of-war can only carry so many wagons.
Perhaps we could equip a war-wagon with a cannon, or perhaps a carronade? But I fear for the effect of firing it on the men inside, nor does a war-wagon have room in which to run a big gun in and out.
The one bit of hope is the damage done by the Sally‘s gallant attack. The hardened elements of their wagons are beginning to weaken, as my equations predict that they should; now if only we can prevent them from building more, time should do a great deal of our work for us.
I have passed that word to the Admiralty, and discussed it with Colonel Redvers; and that worthy told me cheerily, “We need men on the ground for that; and even if we had any, the boys in Yorke wouldn’t be likely to tell us.”