Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Final Blackout - Chapter VII - Boats Move, People Shoot Guns

Another chapter on boats.  Guess Hubbard liked his ships; it feels like half the stories this blog has covered have either starred sailors, been set on the seas, or featured boating segments.  Mission Earth starred a Fleet commando and featured that wonderful "Voyage of Vengeance," Buckskin Brigades had all that canoeing across the American frontier, Under the Black Ensign is pretty self-explanatory, "Space Can" was on a space boat, Spy Killer starred a sailor-turned-"spy," and there's probably some that I'm forgetting.  Even in the next novel I plan on sporking, Hubbard can't resist taking a break from the fantasy and metaphysical nonsense to show off what he knows about rigging.

Just before sunrise, Weasel the Scout and Bulger the Cook Who Does a Lot of Scouting Too pull themselves out of the water to report to our hero.  After joking that Bulger finally took a bath and couldn't resist stealing enemy supplies while infiltrating their camp, Lefty gets down to business - he's not impressed when given word that there's four thousand troops assembled on the bank, since they're not Hogarthy's proper army but conscripted peasants handed a rifle.  But our hero is surprised to learn that the six field pieces the bad guys brought along won't be running out of ammunition anytime soon.  Since there's no infrastructure to make proper artillery shells these days, the commies have converted their cannons from breach-loaders to muzzle-loaders that can fire any sufficiently heavy debris as cannonballs.

Let's put a little sticker next to this paragraph, one of the few clever developments showing how these characters are adapting to a post-apocalyptic setting.

Oh yeah, we finally learn what happened to at least one ship out of the enemy fleet that attacked last chapter - it grounded on the riverbank and was converted into a barricade by the forces camped on the beach.  Anyway, Lefty concedes that the cannon are a serious threat, but explains how to spike the guns to disable them, though he doesn't give his infiltrators the go-ahead just yet.  His men are a bit confused that their hero is "too proud to fight this rabble," and don't like the idea of waiting for Hogarth's soldiers, but Lefty cuts off their objections.

"Thank you, Bulger."

"Aw, I didn't mean nothin', sir.  You know your business and if you say fly to the moon, we'll fly to the moon, sir.  You know that."

An interesting thing is that Bulger is utterly flabbergasted at the thought of a muzzle-loading cannon, and it's Lefty who recognizes how military technology is devolving.  So I wonder if Bulger knows that it's possible to get to the moon, and that humans have stood on its surface, or has even that incredible achievement been forgotten after decades of ceaseless and senseless aconflict?

Wait, no, this was written decades before the moon landing.  Never mind.

"The greater the force," said the Lieutenant, "the greater the odds, the greater the victory." He smiled at them. "Now get back to your boats."

Okay, yes, winning a battle when badly outnumbered will earn you a Heroic Victory and a little icon on the world map showing when and where it happened, but you still have to win the battle.  And Lefty's plan is to barely fight at all.

He orders the fleet to move two miles upriver under cover of darkness and fog, so in the morning the communist force has to pack up and reposition itself in hopes of engaging the enemy.  But before they can fully mobilize, Fourth Brigade's artillery boats break off and bombard the communist gun batteries, since the Brigade can make a good guess of where their targets are but the boats are moving targets hidden by more convenient fog.  The Brigade also lands some scouts who, before the next day dawns, report that there's now eight thousand men camped by the river, with even more guns.  So Lefty orders his ships to make an un-stealthy withdrawal, and actually takes fire this time, which sinks a "mosquito boat" and kills a sailor when a boiler explodes and cuts him in half, yeouch.

The fleet sails past Woolwich and Greenwich, taking out some shore batteries before the enemy guns have range on them, which seems a bit far-fetched but I guess the commies just suck that much.  There's mention of ruined landmarks like Shooters Hill and the East India Docks, but nothing detailed.  Come to think of it, this whole chapter is just an after-action report, not a proper action sequence or anything.  So I'm summarizing what's already a summary.  Ugh, this book is dragging.

When Fourth Fleet finally approaches London proper, they do so stealthily, and at nine that evening make an attack!  Well, more like a raid.  Swinburne's company lands and engages the Tower of London's garrison for a bit, then falls back to a prepared barricade under covering fire of Carstone's machine guns before getting back on the boats.  Lefty spends the whole engagement sitting in his boat playing solitaire, tracking the progress of the raid by the quantity and quality of gunfire, but of course will get all the credit for any successes.

Weasel shows up to share reconnaissance about London town - most of the city is aboveground and within the confines of the Old Roman Wall, population about thirty or forty thousand, and there was an artillery battery set up "where Big Ben used to be" but he spiked them all.  Then a scout from downriver reports that a bunch of enemy troops are struggling to hoof it to London.  Finally Swinburne returns to say that they did some good damage and only lost three men in return.  The old veteran also mentions that they could've taken the Tower that evening - if Lefty had deployed the Second Regiment as well, one group could have drawn out the Tower's garrison while the other captured the enemy headquarters.  But Lefty tells Swinburne to carry on and, as soon as his officer has left, hits the hay.  Rest assured, though, our hero has a plan that...

Hmm.  I just re-read the next chapter, where Lefty actually takes the Tower of London, but can't find much to explain why he has to do so then and not now.

In short, our hero is continuing to consistently outmaneuver his enemies, making opportunistic and devastating strikes against key targets, and even his own men can't guess at what his overall strategy is.  It helps that the bad guys are trying to keep pace with a fast-moving naval force with a bunch of infantry and artillery, and their guns don't have enough range to win a shoot-out with Lefty's artillery.  And of course Fourth Brigade's troops are simply superior to anyone they might end up fighting, and can reliably kill dozens of enemies while only losing one or two men of their own.

So, uh... please feign interest and join us next time, for the "exciting" confrontation between Lefty and this bad guy we only heard about last chapter, and who has yet to make an actual appearance in this story.

Back to Chapter VI

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