The Military Histories of the AH Beasts of War
The Military Histories of the AH Beasts of War
This will be at least Four Part series, for now, telling tales of numerous AH beast of war. The idea came out of three threads I started during a recent night of drunkard debauchery. The four so far planned are:
The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzlies (http://www.alternatehistory.com/disc...ad.php?t=58733)
Those Magnificent Rooís (http://www.alternatehistory.com/disc...ad.php?t=58744)
The Last Charge of Zulu Rhino Cavalry (http://www.alternatehistory.com/disc...ad.php?t=58729)
The Unionís Screaming Eagles
Just as importantly, if anyone wants to write their own such military history, please feel free to do so. And thanks to everyone who has/does participate in the threads
Part I: The Royal Canadian
Of all the oddities of war, no other animal can truly claim the ultimate prize other than the North American Grizzly Bear. This great creature, usually left to its own devices in the wild, nevertheless can lay claim to having been a war winning beast albeit for a short period of time. And even though it enjoyed such a brief history of military success, The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzly Regiment did its duty for King and Country.
Yet it was not always so, as the history of the domesticated Grizzly Bear had more or less been forgotten. How such things came about, that being the first domesticated bears, is only truly known by the pioneers of Canada. In the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, and with the formation of the United States, Loyalist frontiersmen, who had rejected the American Republic, sought refuge and a future in the wilds of Canada. Needless to say, this was a hard life with few pleasures. For the most part, furthermore, these Canadian pioneers had to fend for themselves and only had their own bodies to use as labour. Horse and oxen were few.
It was, hence, out of necessity, more than anything, some adventurous characters decided that an opportunity for a beast of burden laid in the Grizzly Bear. Being numerous meant that a ready supply of labour was available. It goes without saying, though, that training such beasts was far from easy, yet eventually, through trail and error, sometimes to the detriment of the human involved, young offspring, stolen from their parents, raised by their human captor, proved promising. Alas, regardless of such careful upbringing, many of these Grizzly Bears still turned on their human masters once they reached adulthood. A handful, however, remained tamed.
Thus by 1810 some 500 Grizzly Bears had become domesticated. Unfortunately most proved to be next to useless. They were unhelpful labourers not to mention pointless house maids. At best they were good guard dogs. Some 150, though, did demonstrate that they could carry goods, not to mention being able to carry a human handler. Unlike dogs and horses, however, they had a virtuous appetite and ate far more than any other animal. Furthermore they demanded meat, more than any other food item, and proved to be far more expensive, in regards to their food requirement, than any other animal including their human hosts. Then there was their demand to hibernate during winter. It goes without saying that neither dogs, horses, donkeys, or oxen slept for an entire season of the year.
Consequentially the oddity of having a useful domesticated Grizzly Bear almost vanished into history, not long after it started, until the idea was saved by the War of 1812. The young nation of the United States, sensing a chance to rid itself of the British presence in Canada, decided to take advantage of Britainís involvement in the Napoleonic Wars being waged throughout Europe. Thus on 18 June 1812 the United States declared War on Britain and Canada. Thinking that they would soon have all of Canadian territory to themselves, they attacked.
At first, though, the War did not venture far from the border regions. This was to change, as time went by, but the local Canadians were able to resist various American attacks with the minimal of British assistance. This minimal British assistance was, however, to eventually change, but throughout 1812 the local Canadian militias were left to themselves in order to hold back the American tide. And they did so with much success. This, though, only incensed the Americans more as they realised that the conquest of Canada was more difficult than first imagined. As a result, as more Americans entered the fray, their plans for conquest became even greater.
By the beginning of 1813, as the war began to enter a second year, the local Canadians realised that they would be stretched to the limited. Even with British professional soldiers, being added to the Canadian Army, the Americans would have the numbers and were likely to launch a full on invasion at any moment. Thus the Canadians needed everything they had in order to repeal such a threat. And they did not have long to wait until the Americans launched their offensive.
It took, though, until late June 1813 until the Americans finally succeeded in gaining a breakthrough in the Canadian defences along the border. By then, though, numerical supremacy began to take its toll as the Canadians retreated back to York (modern day Toronto). Here a garrison of local militia had a unique unit attached to them - a so-called and hastily formed cavalry unit of tamed Grizzly Bears numbering about 100. Although at first appearance, they looked impressive, in truth, no one knew what to do with these volunteers from the frontier, but now necessity ensured that they were desperately needed by the defenders of York. It goes without saying that the oncoming Americans knew nothing about them.
On the second last day of July the Americans began their inevitable attack on York. The defenders did what they could to keep the Americans at bay, but it was soon obvious that a determined attack by the American force could overwhelm the Canadian defenders. And even though there was a battalion of British soldiers present, the battle experienced American soldiers outnumbered everyone by at least three to one. Furthermore they believed that they would be even a match for the British regulars. Thus, with such confidence, the American commander decided to attack the next day en masse.
The 31st July 1813 would go down in history, fore not only did the American invasion of Canada come to a screaming holt, but the attack of the Grizzlies would write their place into the history books. At dawn, as planned, the full American force attacked trying to gain the advantage from the start. Their attack soon pushed the Canadians back. Even the British regulars began to give way. It seemed that a general retreat was about to commence and that York would be captured by the Americans. Then, out of the fog of battle, growls and roars, until then unheard of upon any battlefield, was soon noticed above the noise of battle. Within a few minutes the Americans saw, in horror, what was making such sounds as the makeshift Grizzly cavalry regiment charged their line.
Some of the Americans tried to give off a disciplined volley, but this proved to be ineffective. Some others fixed bayonets and readied themselves to meet this unexpected charge as if trying to repel horse cavalry. Most, though, soon had lost their earlier confidence and thought about refuge to their rear. Whatever the Americans thought about, or wanted, it did not matter however as soon the Grizzlies, along with their human riders, were quickly upon them.
It was not, though, the volley of pistols, from the human handlers, which broke the American line in the end: it was the virtuous attack of the Grizzly Bears themselves. Some of the bears where serious hit, by a volley of American muskets, and fell by the wayside, but for most of the others it merely angered them forward. Within a minute or two, the bears were amongst the Americans mauling them as they went. Some human bodies were violently tossed around like play dolls, dying almost instantly by the power of the bearís mighty paws, whilst many other Americans were decapitated by claws or even had their head bitten off and eaten. Regardless, though, of the individual fate of the members of American front line, to this dreadful onslaught, the rest soon ran for their lives. The Battle of York was over. Canada was saved.
Although York might have been saved, and Canada along with it, the War of 1812 was far from over. The Americans still controlled the border and much Canadian territory. And the Americans still enjoyed the superiority of numbers. Still their defeat at York unnerved them, even though their senior commanders - even the US President James Madison - scoffed at the talk of Grizzly Bears as cavalry. This was not, however, the case north of the border. Upon hearing of the successful Grizzly Bear attack, Governor-General George Prevost immediately honoured the makeshift unit as The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzly Regiment and ordered them to spearhead the counterattack against the Americans.
It took, however, several months until such a counterattack was able to get under way. Even though the Americans had been repulsed at York, several other raids were being conducted elsewhere. And although the Mounted Grizzlies were ordered to get involved, in repulsing two such raids, through slowness of travel, amongst other things, they missed further battles until the Anglo-Canadian counterattack was able to finally get moving. This time, importantly, was not wasted by the Mounted Grizzlies who had, not only replaced the twelve bears lost at York, but had doubled their overall number by the time the counterattack had started.
Having said that, even with the Mounted Grizzlies present, the main Anglo-Canadian column fought hard in order to get to the main American position on the border: Buffalo. The American troops, regardless of the scepticism coming from Washington DC and their senior officers, refused to fight a major set-piece battle against the advancing Anglo-Canadian force fearing this would lead to an attack by the now feared regiment of Mounted Grizzlies. Although this still meant that the Canadians finally got to Buffalo, it nevertheless took them until early December 1813 to do so. By then the Grizzly Bears had already become lethargic and were more than happy to enter their hibernation for the next three or so months. Even the Americans believed that this could well be the case, and combined with urgent messages from Washington DC, decided to make a stand at Buffalo.
The Battle of Buffalo started as an infantry affair. The Americans, braced behind good defences, were more than able to keep the Anglo-Canadian troops at bay. In fact it appeared, by the end of the third day, that the Americans were going to easily repel the Anglo-Canadian army and thus force them to retreat before winter truly arrived. In this respect, then, believing that the Mounted Grizzlies were not going to be committed to the battle, the Americans decided to go onto the attack. It was a mistake as the British commander had decided, at the same time, to use the Mounted Grizzlies in one last desperate attack before having to withdraw before winter had well and truly set in.
Thus, on the morning of 19th December 1813, just as the Americans launched their attack against the Anglo-Canadian lines, they marched right into the charge of the Mounted Grizzlies who were supported by three battalions of Anglo-Canadian troops. Considering most of the Americans had not seen such an attacking force before, although all of them had heard of the carnage some six months earlier at York, few stood their ground. Most fled within minutes. Those that did stand were soon dispatched, either through a savage bear claw or sharp teeth, and several hundred others, fleeing for their lives, did not last much longer. Consequentially, American resistance in the Buffalo region ceased and The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzly Regiment enjoyed a very merry Christmas as a result.
Even though the War of 1812 would go on, fighting for the now famed Mounted Grizzlies had come to an end. The border frontier region, around Buffalo, was conceded by the Americans whilst they had more pressing matters to attend to: not only had the Royal Navy began various raids along the coastline, the most famous of which was the attack on the American capital itself, Washington DC, that climaxed with the burning of the White House, but actual invasion seemed on the cards in the south. Oddly enough, fears of invasion was settled once a peace treaty was finally signed, not to mention the defeat of a large British force at the Battle of New Orleans which, ironically, took place after the actual peace treaty had been signed and hostilities officially ceased.
Still, even though the War for the Mounted Grizzlies was over, they nevertheless remained part of the Canadian military, albeit under British control, until their demise during the Crimean War. Britain, thinking that The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzly Regiment could be used as shock troops against the Russians, in a manner akin to the North American experience, took the entire Regiment to the Crimea in early 1855. There they never fought an action. Nor did they fire a shot in anger. Instead, due to a dreadful diet, as well as numerous illnesses, all 250 of the Grizzly Bears (none of which had fought in the War of 1812), constituting the full Regiment, died as well as half of their human handlers. As a result of such a calamity, the Regiment was never reformed.
Postscript : In 1998 the Canadian government in Ottawa found itself in the custody of ten Grizzly Bears after a large Canadian circus troupe went bankrupt. After failing to find them a home at several Canadian zoos, including the famous one in Toronto, the Canadian Army finally took them in when no one else would. In doing so the Canadian Army reconstituted the 1st Squadron of The Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzly Regiment. Although they are only used for parades and such, they have become a huge tourist attraction during certain times of the Canadian calender. Various animal rights groups, however, protest this practice declaring that the bears are ill treated.
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Part II: The Unionís
The origins of the United States of Americaís historic Screaming Eagles squadrons laid in their experience and aftermath of the War of 1812. After having to face the daunting task of taking on the Royal Canadian Mounted Grizzlies, American planners in the immediate years after the war, tried to copy the Canadian Grizzly Regiment. However, unlike their northern cousins, the American attempt at creating such a regiment collapsed not long after it had begun. For numerous reasons, many already having been experienced by the Canadians, the Americans believed that the effort was not worth it. Yet, the Americans still had to deal with the Canadian Grizzly threat.
Then, in 1820, studies into airborne warfare began to be discussed at the high levels of American government. Stories of hot air balloons, used during the Napoleonic Wars, grabbed the attention of the War Department. Considering this was a great innovation at the time, it was soon realised that such interesting developments were nevertheless extremely limited in being able to bring the battle to the enemy. Sure, knowing the exact deployment and strengths on the enemy would be useful, but these hot air balloons could not conduct offensive actions on their own. Something else was, thus, required.
The sport of Falconry has been conducted by European nobles for many long years. For centuries, European aristocrats had owned these birds of prey for the of pleasure hunting. What the noble may have gained, from basically doing nothing seemed beyond the point, as the bird itself would take to the air in search for its food. Occasionally, ideas about using such magnificent flying creatures in battle, had been discussed over the centuries, but nothing had been seriously attended to on this subject. That was until the idea arose to train the American Bald Eagle to act as, not just a bird of prey, akin to Falconry, but as a war creature to attack the enemy from about. Although this would mean humans, in practical terms for the most part, it was argued that this could be a counter to the Canadian Grizzlies, which had, until now, been undefeated in battle and thus caused the Americans no end of troubles during the War of 1812.
Thus, out of necessity, without regard to the actual requirements of the time, the US Army went about the process of recruiting, or to put it better, conscripting the American Bald Eagle into the ranks of the defence forces. At first their attempts failed. In the end it required the employment of expert Falconers from Europe in order to, not only catch suitable birds when they were young chicks, but also to train them in the art of air warfare. Needless to say, none of this was easy. In fact both the trainers, and then their human army handlers, had to write the textbook from scratch. Furthermore there were many failures, but by 1835 a squadron of 20 Bald Eagles was technically operational in Washington DC.
Still, even with all the serious effort, the 1st Eagle Squadron of the Union army was seen as a novelty at best, a joke by others, and a highly expensive aristocratic club by many. Reticule and scorn, especially by the anti-aristocratic section of American society, was more than often the case. It appeared that these eagles were soon to be disbanded until US President Andrew Jackson, who happened to adore the Bald Eagle, finally ordered a second squadron to be formed just before he had to retire from office in 1837. Being a successful general, during the War of 1812, he made it clear when he said "Ö the future of war could well and truly be decided by controlling the heavens. The Bald Eagle squadrons give us such an advantage and I will not leave Office knowing that America could be left for the worst."
Yet even with such Presidential support, the two Eagle Squadrons still had their critics. Much of these concerns had some merit, especially in regards to the expense and effort required just to keep 40 eagles in military service. Furthermore, none of the original eagles ever saw action, even when the Mexican War was being waged. Instead they were kept in Washington DC where they put on several marvellous displays, at important times of the American calendar, to the great excitement of the public. Indeed, if it was not for such popularity, the Screaming Eagles, as they were christened by the American press in the late 1830s, probably have would been quietly disbanded not long after Jacksonís retirement.
As such, thanks to the popularity caused by the numerous press reports, and the public displays of the Screaming Eagles, they were, by the time the American Civil War began, the public face of Lincolnís campaign to restore the Union. But at first they were not used on a battlefield against the Confederates. Instead they were used in the propaganda war being waged back home to ensure high morale, not to mention to gain thousands of volunteers. In fact they were in so much demand that a further two squadrons of the Screaming Eagles were authorised and by late 1861 these had also been deployed.
Alas for the Union, the war did not go as planned. Consequentially, the Unionís armies, in the Eastern Theatre, were in serious trouble. This seemed even more so the case in the aftermath of Second Manassas, when Confederate General Lee easily defeated the Union army of General Pope. Things were in such a panic in Washington DC, which feared an attack at any moment, where all four squadrons of the recently renamed Screaming Eagles Aviation Brigade had been put on combat alert for the first time in their history. It seemed that the Bald Eagles, having been trained for war for some 30 years now as a formation, would finally get their chance.
Luckily for Washington DC, and for the Screaming Eagles, the Confederates never attacked the Union capital in the aftermath of Second Manassas. However it was just a reprieve as a new Union General, Burnside, took overall command. For all of Burnsideís faults, he was nevertheless an innovative man and decided to take the Screaming Eagles Aviation Brigade into the next battle. Although much planning had been done, in fact Burnside had actually gained the initial advantage over Lee, various factors soon worked against him in trying to defeat Leeís Army of Northern Virginia. Yet Burnside, knowing that he had lost his advantage, pressed on regardless.
The battle which was thus fought, the Battle of Fredericksburg, would go down in history as simply murder. The Union army, which had forced a beachhead over the Rappahannock River at the Southern town of Fredericksburg, attacked the main Confederate line on the afternoon of 13 December 1862 en masse. Thousands upon thousands of Union soldiers would march up the long steep sloops to the ridge, beyond the town, and be fired upon by everything which the Rebels had. Overhead, meanwhile, the 80 Bald Eagles swooped down, as they had been trained to do, in a vane effort to attack and distract the front ranks of the Confederate troops whilst trying to give their human Union comrades any advantage they could. But time and again, regardless of their flying and fighting skills, fewer Bald Eagles remained alive as the day wore on.
By late afternoon, the commanding officer of the Screaming Eagles had had more than enough. "I will not order one more Eagle to attack that defence line even if Jesus Christ Himself demanded it!" bellowed Brigadier Hampshire after discovering that his Eagles Brigade had suffered losses amounting to three-quarters of his force. Only 20 Bald Eagles remained. But the Battle of Fredericksburg was just not a disaster for the Screaming Eagles Aviation Brigade. It was also one for the entire Union Army of the Potomac as well. Thankfully, for the Screaming Eagles at least, they would miss the following Chancellorville folly, but nevertheless they would be back in action not long after another Union disaster.
The last attack of the Screaming Eagles would also mark their most magnificent moment in military history. Alas it also ensured their removal, for all intents and purposes, from the Unionís order of battle. The Battle of Gettysburg would, however, be won by the Union thanks to their sacrificial attack at the most important moment during Pickettís Charge. Already greatly depleted in numbers, due to their extreme casualties at the Battle of Fredericksburg, none of their losses had been replaced. In fact only 20 Bald Eagles remained and all had been consolidated into one squadron. And even though Brigadier Hampshire was still their commanding officer, and had survived a court martial over his refusal to launch any further attacks at Fredericksburg, even he realised the significance of the moment, during Pickettís Charge, and released the Screaming Eagles to glory.
Although no Confederate gave a momentís thought, to the Screaming Eagles when they commenced their attack on the afternoon of 3rd July 1863, nor it must be admitted did anyone in the Union army facing them other than Hampshire. Out the proud Confederates marched, even through long distance artillery fire, towards the Union lines based along Cemetery Ridge on this fateful afternoon. In fact many in the Union lines began to panic, seeing so many coloured in Grey marching towards them. Indeed the Union troops were, at this moment, outnumbered by at least two-to-one. It seemed Leeís plan to thin out the Union line had succeed. Yet the overall new Union commander, Meade, kept his cool and instantly ordered those units, not already committed to battle elsewhere, to rush to Cemetery Ridge and offer a defence.
Hampshire, like all other Union commanders, likewise got this order and immediately raced to a good vantage point to view the battle before him. He realised that the Screaming Eagles were needed, if for nothing else, but to disrupt the leading ranks of the oncoming Confederate hoard. Within minutes his Eagles were in the air flying as fast as possible for the front lines of the Confederate army and began, what amount to, their seemingly suicidal attacks.
The impact was immediate. The leading Confederate units had stopped in their tracks as they tried to fend off, as best they could, the swooping Eagles. Firing and stabbing wildly into the air, their attempts seemed futile at first. Furthermore, the supporting Confederate units now bunched up against the halted forwards units creating a dangerous mob of desperate men. Soon, as a result of this, within seconds actually, the Confederate casualty rates began to soar, not because of successful attacks by the Screaming Eagles, but because they were an excellent target for Union artillery and musketry.
Still, the members of the Screaming Eagles did not get off lightly. Not only were they possible targets to friendly fire, but soon the musket fire of hundreds of Confederate rifles began to find their mark, even if they in turn paid a dear price for it. And even though twelve of the Bald Eagles were to die, for their heroic action, the Confederate assault was soon to collapse in the face of overwhelming Union firepower. Fore although the action of the Screaming Eagles only lasted for a mere five minutes, it was more than enough to ensure that the danger to the Union position had ceased. Meade had rushed enough men and guns to the weak point in the Union line, so when the Confederates finally managed to actually get to it, well over 10 000 Union troops were waiting for the hand-to-hand brawl which only a mere one thousand or so Confederates managed to enter.
Pickettís Charge which seemed, at first, to have every chance of success, was dashed in five minutes thanks to the sacrifice of the Screaming Eagles. As said, twelve of the remaining Bald Eagles were killed in this action. Only eight remained to enter immediate retirement. Having said that, the Eagles sought vengeance upon the Confederates that day, after the surviving Confederates withdrew from the battlefield leaving several thousand of their comrades upon it. Soon afterwards the eight surviving Screaming Eagles could be seen landing upon the bodies of the dead and dying Rebels. Screams of terror could be heard in the Union lines as the Eagles dispatched wounded Rebel after Rebel. Even Confederate generals were far from immune from the Eagleís vengeance as the half eaten carcass of Confederate General Kemper, found the next day, proved. And no one within the Union army did anything to stop them. In fact many cheered the Screaming Eagles on by shouting "Fredericksburg!" over and over again.
Although the demise of the Screaming Eagles Brigade was far from a surprise for most soldiers, numerous lessons were taken nevertheless in by Union military planners. The idea of offensive air power, of some sought, also got the attention of various international military theorists as well. In fact, as mentioned earlier, air power had already got noticed as far back as the Napoleonic Wars, where hot air balloons had been utilised albeit in a passive manner. The Screaming Eagles Squadrons had, though, even for a brief time, changed the role of air power as passive into an offensive role.
Alas, like many of the lessons learnt in the American Civil War, it would take about half a century until these lessons were once more learnt and finally put into practice. By then, however, mankind had built machines of their own in order to fly and the Bald Eagles were no longer required for war service. Having said that, the Eagle Squadrons did not vanish completely into the history books. In their honour, the first four American fighter squadrons of the First World One were named in their memory and have kept their name alive every since. Furthermore, during the Second World War, the title of the Screaming Eagles was once more utilised, this time by the American 101st Airborne Division, which again has kept this historic name alive ever since.
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Part III: Those
The Kangaroo Infantry Battalions of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) remains one of the great innovations in modern warfare. But they did not originally fight for the British. Instead, for Imperial service, the Australian Army did for several reasons: when human troop numbers during the First World War dropped to alarming levels; local knowledge of their fighting prowess based upon the experience of the British colonial army's pervious defeat at the paws of the kangaroo; and finally the Australians accepted the kangaroo units into their newly fledged army once Federation took place in 1901.
Fighting Kangaroos, the forerunners to the modern day Kangaroo Infantry, had been used by the eastern inland Aboriginal tribes for some thousand of years. No one knows the exact date of their introduction, nor for that matter when Kangaroos were first domesticated, but they had been well and truly entrenched in these Aboriginal tribesí society before Captain Cook stood on the shores of Botany Bay, on the east coast of Australia (part of modern day Sydney), and declared ownership of the land for Britain in the name of King George III in 1770.
At this point in time, however, the inland Aboriginals had no idea of who Captain Cook, or King George for that matter, was and certainly paid no attention to the Captainís declaration. Instead they went on about their daily lives. It took, in fact, until 1815 before the British decided to introduce themselves to these inland tribes. Although, at first, things were cordial, contact was also kept to a minimum whilst the British concentrated on occupying the coastline. In doing so, though, those Aboriginals who lived in this coastal region were dislocated and forced off their land. Many of these refugees moved inland with tales of horror. This worried the inland tribes who decided to unite their various territories into what can be loosely translated into the United Aboriginal Nation (UAN).
It was thus, under such circumstances, that the British in 1821 decided that the region west of the Blue Mountains should come under their own jurisdiction. Part of it had to do with the ever increasing size of their colony based a Sydney, which not only needed more land for the people but also for local food production, but part of the reason also came out of fear - fear of stories of a new and large indigenous nation which was about to attack. Such stories were, of course, complete nonsense, yet that did not stop Governor Brisbane ordering most of the colonyís garrison, numbering three regular British army regiments, along with a similar number of local militia, into the Blue Mountains in order to invade the UAN territory to the west.
The leaders of the UAN were no fools. They knew, though the use of spies and scouts, that the British were moving against them. Consequentially, they readied themselves for battle. However, due to the dispersed nature of their civilisation, not to mention a similar dispersal of their limited military, it would be the British who soon gained the upper hand. As such locations such as Lithgow fell to the British invasion almost immediately, followed by Bathurst not long after (the British names for these places are used here for clarity).
With such initial success, however, the British invasion slowed down, mostly out of the lack of knowledge of the enemyís locations and partly because, as more and more UAN military units joined in the fight, the British had more engagements on their hands. The UAN military, though, refused to engage in a major battles, at this point in time, and deliberately conducted a fighting withdrawal. Their strategy was two fold: 1) to slow the invasion down until the UAN army had concentrated in one location, &; 2) to lure the British deep into UAN territory so that they would be surrounded in unfriendly territory.
The British helped, in this matter, although they did show good caution. In many respects they had planned to limit the danger to themselves as much as possible. What they did not count on, however, was the secret weapon of the UAN.
After almost a year, since hostilities had commenced, the UAN main army attacked without warning. In April, 1822, the British suffered a great defeat, even though they themselves were also on the offensive. Through the diligent use of scouts, the British had discovered the UAN capital located at Orange some 100kms to the west of Bathurst. As such, they gathered their force together and decided to march on the UAN capital in order to end the war. At about half way, whilst on their march, the British were not far from the summit of the Great Dividing Range. And unbeknownst to the British, the UAN army was waiting here for them.
Out of no where, thus without warning, the first wave of the UAN army attacked. To the British the attack seemed odd, insofar as the attacking enemy force appeared to be human in shape, but then again they did not. It was not, until the enemy was within firing range, in order words about 50 metres, did the British notice that the charging lines of the enemy were kangaroos. This caused confusion, within the British lines, yet the professional British regulars fired accordingly anyway.
The opening volley of the British infantry proved to be pointless. As the British let loose their volley, the entire line of attacking kangaroos simply jumped high into the air and away from the danger of bullets. Within a second the danger was over and not one kangaroo suffered injury. As the regular British infantry now reloaded, numerous members of the militia fired individually ignoring the orders of their officers. Although a few hits were registered, they were insignificant compared to the oncoming hoard of kangaroo soldiers.
The British regulars never got off a second volley: such was the speed in which the kangaroos managed to cover the distance in order to get at the British troops. Many kangaroos were, however, killed, through the use of the bayonet and sword, but even allowing for some 100 such casualties, their losses were nothing in comparison to those suffered by the British. By this stage of the battle, the militia had had enough and fled to the rear, leaving the regulars to face defeat and death.
Alas for many of the militia, if they thought that they were to survive almost intact, if not as individuals then as a unit, they were to be disappointed. Again, unknown to the British, the UAN had also unleashed their other secret weapon: the Emu Runners. The emus, unlike their kangaroo counterparts, had actually circled the British positions, out on the deep flanks, with orders to get into the rear of the British lines once the kangaroo attack had commenced. This they managed to do, with reasonable precision, although the fleeing British militia did catch them somewhat by surprise. Consequentially a nasty hand-to-hand melee took place where, even though many British militia died in the brawl, so too did many emus. More to the point, some half of the militia managed to escape the battle and survive to tell the tale.
It was, though, a different story for the British regulars who were more or less slaughtered to a man. It was only the eventual intervention of UAN human infantry, upon the battlezone, who interrupted the orgy of death wreaked upon the British by the kangaroos, which ensured that some 100 British regulars survived the battle.
As a result of the Battle of the Great Ridge, the British were left, more or less, defenceless in their colony of Sydney. All they had covering the western approaches to Sydney were about 500 regular British soldiers and some 1 000 militia. Much of the militia, though, were considered next to useless and few wanted to fight the UAN army of devil-beasts ever again. Even Governor Brisbane was rattled when told of stories of the battle. Not long afterwards, though, a diplomatic mission arrived from the UAN requesting a peace conference. Within a week, such a treaty had been signed and Governor Brisbane officially recognised the independence of the UAN. And such would be the situation until Federation took place in 1901.
When Australia became its own sovereign country, through Federation, the UAN also joined as an Original State. Although it was granted some autonomous measures, giving it a unique position amongst the other states of Australia, its military was nevertheless united with the other colonial militaries which each colony had developed since the 1820s. Amongst these units were also the Kangaroo Fighters and the Emu Runners. At first, admittedly, the Australian officers did not know what to do with them and so let them continue, under the command of their original Aboriginal officers, albeit they had a name change to the Kangaroo Infantry Battalions and the Emu Cavalry Regiments. And even though various displays and exercises were conducted, senior Australian defence department officials, not to mention their Imperial counterparts in London, believed that due to the experience of the Boer War, such units were destined for the history books regardless of the fact that such units had defeated the British army some 80 years before.
Thus, by the time the First World War came about, in 1914, the readiness of both the Kangaroo Infantry and Emu Cavalry units were deplorable. None of them were combat capable and, despite the pleas from their officers to rectify the situation, nothing was done. Yet the war beaconed and thousands upon thousands of humans volunteered to go. Within a year, though, the Gallipoli Campaign had commenced only to end in dreadful failure. Australians had been sacrificed for nothing in a campaign which was more savage than anything experienced before by Australians. Unfortunately it was just a side-show as the battlefields in France and Belgium were far worse than those of Gallipoli.
Soon, however, the Australian human units of the ANZACs found themselves employed in deplorable fighting conditions in France and Belgium. Reports and letters soon flooded home describing the butchery of this War. Gallipoli was a picnic compared to the fighting now taking place. And, far more importantly for the conduct of the War, the casualty rates for the human battalions was alarming high. The Australian Prime Minister, thus, was pushed into an inevitable and unenviable position: either introduce conscription, a very unpopular issue with the voters, or try his luck with the one Australian force so far unused - the Kangaroo and Emu units languishing in their barracks back home. In the end, Prime Minister Billy Hughes took a chance on the Kangaroos and Emus much to the amusement of Australiaís allies at the time.
When the Kangaroo and Emu units eventually arrived in France, at the beginning of 1918, the Allied high command had no idea what to do with them. Their loyal Aboriginal officers, though, knew exactly the abilities of their soldiers, ignored the reticule of the British and French, and immediately had an audience with the overall Australian commander Sir John Monash. Monash had been given command of the upcoming major offensive for summer 1918 and was optimistic of success - even more so thanks to these reinforcements from home. Having said that, many such offensives had failed in the past: in fact many commentators, regardless of background or wartime experience, were already pessimistic for this upcoming Allied offensive as Germany showed few signs that she was ready to surrender.
Eventually, though, the great day approached. On 8th August 1918 the Allied Offensive begun. Although it was not called the One Hundred Days Offensive at first, this was attributed to it later, the Allies attacked en masse, but in ways not tried before. Leading the way, the Kangaroo Infantry Battalions, acting in storm-trooper fashion, charged into the vortex of battle. Being able to leap and jump, they were able to avoid the various defences, such as barbed-wire not to mention innumerable craters, and got immediately at the German defenders. With shells exploding all around them, bullets whizzing past from rifles and machine guns, the Kangaroos crossed deadly no-manís land, with great success, and into the German trenches.
The Germans, never having seen such creatures before, let alone having to fight one, were terrified at the sight. Even veterans, who had fought the French or British many times, were at a loss as to what to do. Furthermore, as planned, the Emu Cavalry attacked in the second line in order to support the initial Kangaroo onslaught. In doing so, they added to the carnage being waged upon the hapless German defenders. And then finally came the human battalions. Whatever the Kangaroos and Emu had not slaughtered, the humans finished off for themselves.
Although the Offensive would continue for 100 days, in truth it was all over for the Germans after the first such attack. Huge holes had been ripped into the German lines and the Allies, using armoured cars and tanks, not to mention motorised infantry, pushed through these holes and into the rear areas of the German defenders, all the while Allied aircraft attacked the Germans constantly. Soon it became a rout as the Germans had no chance in plugging these gaps, fore as each time the Germans tried to establish a new line somewhere, because they had so many gaps to contend with, the new line was often outflanked and had to withdraw before a defence could be offered.
By 11 November 1918 the Great War was over when Germany finally surrendered.
Even though it is fair to say that the First World War was mostly a human affair, the introduction of the Kangaroo Infantry was the catalyst which ensured Allied victory. Many historians, all non-Australian of course, argue otherwise, and are not prepared to give due credit to the Kangaroo Battalions which spearheaded the One Hundred Days Offensive, even though some 5 500 became casualties on that fateful day - a casualty rate twice that of the entire Allied human rate on the first day of the offensive. But even more significant, albeit a sad one, was the Emu casualty rate. Of the 21 000 Emus involved with the fight that day, some 18 500 had fallen.
Not long afterwards, after the hostilities ceased on 11 November, the Australian Army decided that the Emu Cavalry had clearly surpassed its usefulness as a military force. The surviving Emu veterans would still remain in service, albeit in honorific regiments and utilized for future parades and the like, but as time passed their numbers would not be replaced. Thus by 1929 the Emu Cavalry Regiments, even if only in honorific fashion, henceforth ceased to exist.
The Kangaroo Infantry, on the other hand, would remain to fight in future wars, thanks to their legendary status forged on the battlefields of France in 1918. Even today, the 10th Kangaroo Light Infantry Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, even though it is the sole remaining Kangaroo Infantry Battalion, can nevertheless trace its origins directly back to their proud forefathers of the First World War.
Presidential Medal of Science Fiction Geekiness
with Crossed Colonial Rifles
and Cylon Basestar Clusters
Part IV: Last Charge
of the Zulu Rhinos
Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande glanced over the field of victory with much reflection. The bodies of around 600 British soldiers, along with a similar number of their horses, littered the ground around his vantage point. Even the dead body of the British commander, Lord Chelmsford, lay at his feet. But the Prince was not a happy man. Even with such a great victory, he was not a happy man. Fore not only had the main Zulu army achieved a far greater victory over the British a few days earlier, one which he missed, but he had lost 19 of his Rhinos and 28 of his Elephants in his recent engagements. Furthermore there was every chance that the British would return with an even larger army anytime soon.
It had been some 200 years since the Zulu Empire decided to utilise suitable beasts of nature in order to support its already impressive military prowess. In that time, even though the Rhino and Elephant Cavalry had been seldom used in battles, the Zulu still preferred infantry engagements. Only on the odd occasion, did they deploy their Rhino and Elephant Cavalry; yet when they had victory it was always that much more stunning. In fact such feats had become legendary, amongst the local African tribes, long before the arrival of the British to southern Africa. And so the Zulus were much feared.
The British, however, viewed such military units with a mix of amazement tempered with a large dose of scepticism. Having experienced centuries of warfare in Europe, where the power of the rifle and cannon now ruled more than ever, tales of Rhino and Elephant Cavalry seemed to jump out at them like stories of Alexandria The Great and those of Cathage and its most famous general Hannibal. The Zulus, though, had never heard of either. And furthermore they had had two centuries to perfect the craft of mixed engagements wherein the human infantry, rhinos, and elephants all had a particular part to play in their battle plans.
The causes of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 are somewhat complicated, but essentially it came down to the fact that two empires wanted control of southern Africa. The Zulus were slowly expanding from the north-eastern regions, based around the coastline of the Indian Ocean, whilst the British were following earlier Dutch settlers, known as the Boers, and wanted the same region for themselves. Consequentially it was merely a matter of time before a clash of arms took place in order to settle the issue of territorial ownership.
It goes without saying that the British were highly confident of military success should it come to that. Only once before, in their military history of the 19th century had they been defeated by an indigenous nation in the far off land of Australia. But that was a mere hick-up in the overall colonial empire built by Britain. And this defeat took place only because the Aboriginals had used Fighting Kangaroos and Running Emus to great effect. But the Zulus had nothing similar and, as far as the British knew, fought only infantry engagements for the most part, which was indeed somewhat true.
Thus, with these thoughts in mind, the British in southern Africa basically declared war on the Zulu Empire on 11 December 1878. Within a month, the main British army had crossed the border, whilst several smaller columns likewise crossed which acted as strong flank guards. Even though the British were confident of early success, they did plan accordingly remembering their earlier colonial defeat in Australia some 50 years previously. On this occasion, as far as the British were concerned, they were not to be surrounded in unfriendly territory.
But regardless of the plans of the British, the Zulus had ones of their own. For two weeks, Zulu scouts kept up a constant stream of reports, detailing the British force involved not to mention their travel routes and deployments. Most importantly, as far as the Zulu were concerned, was the fact that it appeared that the British army had decided to establish a major camp at the foothills of Islandlwana. It was at this moment that the Zulus decided to attack.
The Zulu plan for the Battle of Islandlwana was rather complicated, although simple enough. It did, though, have a dangerous manoeuvre requiring the iNdluyengwe, uThlwana, iNdlondlo, and uDloko Regiments, along with all of the Rhino and Elephant Cavalry under the overall command of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, to move around the western side of Islandlwana, where a large gap had developed between the main British force and its flank guards, whilst the rest of the Zulu main army formed up towards the north of the British camp. Once the detached Zulu force of mixed infantry and cavalry were in position, towards the rear of the British, the attack would commence.
Unfortunately the Zulu plan soon fell apart, after the British commander, Lord Chelmsford, split his force in two and rode off on a punitive mission further to the east. His departure was seen, by the forward Zulu regiments of the main army, and they soon attacked the British camp at Islandlwana in defiance of standing orders. In some respects the British were concerned about such a possibility and made a good defence. In doing so, many a Zulu warrior died in the importune attack, even though the British garrison of around 1 200 was eventually slaughtered almost to a man. Only a handful survived. Importantly, though, Prince Dabulamanzi was furious that he had missed the battle and, in seeking military glory, decided to write new orders for himself and thus marched to the border in order to take the battle to the British.
It was thus, on the morning of 22 January 1879, that a small British garrison at Rorkeís Drift came under attack by Zulu scouts of Prince Dabulamanziís mixed force. The British easily repulsed this small incursion, but, more importantly, were alerted as to the presence of the enemy. It was not, until later in that same morning, did they discover to their horror that the British camp at Islandlwana had been overrun, all but a handful of the troops there killed, and that Rorkeís Drift could expect the same fate. Indeed, by 4.30pm that afternoon, Prince Dabulamanziís first infantry regiment launched an attack with exactly this in mind.
The first attack of the Zulu infantry, however, was soon repelled with heavy losses. The British had created good defences and their rifles ensured that the Zulu infantry suffered for no gain. Immediately, especially with daylight running out, Prince Dabulamanzi decided to send in the Rhino and Elephant Cavalry and, although it took an hour before they could commence their attack, there was nothing which the British could do in order to prevent it.
The only warning which the British got, prior to the historic charge of the Rhino Cavalry, was the sounds of the most hideous beasts yet to make their presence felt on a battlefield. At around 6pm the British saw, to their horror, some 30 Rhinos charging their positions. At one hundred yards, nevertheless, the British opened fire with their rifles. The first volley, however, did little to deter the oncoming Rhinos. Furthermore, before the second volley was fired, some 60 elephants could also be seen behind the initial row of charging Rhinos.
What the British defenders did not further see were about 1 000 Zulu warrior infantry immediately behind the Elephants. Yet, even being in such ignorance, the British kept on firing, now in some desperation, at the horrific sight before them. If it was any other day, many would have marvelled at such a sight before them, but within a few minutes the fate of the British ensured that such things went with them into their graves. Fore even though ten of the Rhinos had become casualties, by the time they reached the British defence line, the remaining 20 ensured that they crashed through it wreaking the British attempts at repelling the attack.
And immediately behind the Rhinos the Elephants, acting in support, ensured that the gaps, now literally ripped physically through the British line, were kept open. Those British who had not been thus trampled, or garrotted on the horns of the Rhinos, were now menaced by the Elephants. Then, if the surviving British thought that was bad enough, they then had to fend off the 1 000 spears of the following Zulu warriors. By 6.30pm, just as dusk made its presence felt, the battle was over for now with the Zulus victorious.
In the overall scheme of things, however, the first day of the Battle for Rorkeís Drift was a small affair. Only about 120 British soldiers manned the location. It seemed, thus, completely unfair considering the large force with which the British had to contend with. What was more irritating for the victors, was that Prince Dabulamanzi knew this. Consequentially, he began to draw up plans for far more challenging adventures to come. Yet, having said that, even he had quickly become worried as to the overall wisdom of leading an invasion of British territory. Unlike previously at Islandlwana, this afternoon he had witnessed personally the firepower of the British soldier. If the small garrison could kill ten of his Rhinos, a similar number of Elephants, along with about 250 of his Zulu warriors, then maybe it would not be prudent to engage an even larger hostile force.
The next day, however, Prince Dabulamanzi soon had to put any further invasion plans on hold as Lord Chelmsfordís army column, the one that had detached itself from the British main camp at Islandlwana, finally got into action. Having returned to witness the destruction of their base at Islandlwana, Chelmsfordís force further withdrew towards Rorkeís Drift not aware that it had been overrun the afternoon before. Thus it came as quite a shock, to both sides actually, that the other was present at Rorkeís Drift: Prince Dabulamanzi assumed incorrectly that the main Zulu Army would protect his rear, but it had in fact wondered off in looking for Chelmsford, whilst Chelmsford believed that the Zulu Army had not divided itself and instead had ventured towards the east in response to his earlier attempts at raids.
It was under such circumstances, then, that a second day of battle occurred at Rorkeís Drift. It is, though, with some irony that this time the Zulu army of Prince Dabulamanzi based themselves on the now burnt out makeshift British fort, whilst Chelmsford advanced towards it akin to the reversal of the situation less that 24 hours before. Yet, even with the advantage of having mostly a horse cavalry force, Chelmsford decided to charge the Zulu positions which had the benefit of enjoying defensive ground. Plus he took his time in doing so. Still, Chelmsford had little choice as events seem to dictate his actions rather than the other way around.
The Zuluís, even though they were somewhat caught unawares, at first, with their Rhino and Elephant Cavalry not actually at Rorkeís Drift but down at the river where their human handlers were allowing them to drink and rest, soon got into action nevertheless. Prince Dabulamanzi immediately issued orders for them to reform and charge the British cavalry as soon as was possible. Consequentially, instead of the British cavalry charge getting in amongst the lightly armed Zulu infantry, the Rhino and Elephant Cavalry were able to charge into the flank of the British horsemen at the most inconvenient moment.
The resulting clash resounded with a sickening thud of flesh and bone. Horses and their British riders could be heard screaming in pain. The horns of the Rhinos easily destroyed horse after horse. Likewise the Elephants enjoyed much success. Some of the British, however, were able to shoot and kill the occasional Zulu beast of war, but in the end it was to no avail, as at the crucial moment, the Zulu infantry charged into the maelstrom of the cavalry battle and finished off the British as a result. None of the British were to survive.
The Anglo-Zulu War was, however, far from over. Other British army columns were still operating in Zulu territory and had to be dealt with accordingly. This was far from an easy task, as only secondary Zulu militia units were left to attack these other British columns. On two such Zulu attempts, the British were able to convincingly defeat these Zulu militias. In fact it was only after news eventually reached these British columns, of the events at Islandlwana and Rorkeís Drift, did they withdraw from Zulu territory to take up defensive locations along the border.
During this period, where a strange kind of truce descended upon the waring parties, both sides did what they could to build up their respective forces. The British were able to achieve this at a faster rate, although their supply situation was poor to say the least, but regardless the British were determined to regain Rorkeís Drift, from Zulu occupation, if they achieved nothing else for the rest of the year. Thus, by early June, the British main army was once more on the move with Rorkeís Drift as their objective. In many ways, they did not have overly much distance to travel, but due the large force which had been gathered, along with a large artillery park, unsurprisingly it took about a month before the British were in a position to attack.
The Zuluís, meanwhile, did not do themselves any favours by not challenging British movements and garrisons on British territory. Instead they basically sat where they were, albeit they gathered their strength. Part of this situation, though, rested on the concerns of Prince Dabulamanzi. Because of the result of the hard fought battles, which his Rhino and Elephant cavalry had endured, he was down to a mere 11 Rhinos and 32 Elephants. The losses were hence alarming, to say the least, and he questioned the wisdom of further major battles against the British. He was now certainly against any invasion. Yet, on 4th July 1879, his concerns no longer mattered as the British attacked the Zulu positions around Rorkeís Drift.
The subsequent Second Battle of Rorkeís Drift was a hard won battle for the British. But it did not necessarily had to be that way. The British, however, wrongly believed that they had to shell Rorkeís Drift into complete rubble, before they sent in their infantry. Considering only a few hundred Zuluís were actually positioned there, meant to say that the British wasted their time and efforts. But fundamentally, the British showed the Zuluís the location of their valuable artillery and the Zuluís immediately pounced.
Out of nowhere, or so it seemed, the vaunted Rhino and Elephant Cavalry charged towards the British guns. Helping them, in this desperate endeavour, were some 5 000 Zulu infantry in support. The British who had a similar numbered force, albeit it was their overall number, were actually outnumbered as the Zulus had a further 10 000 warriors in reserve. Needless to say, however, this unexpected Zulu attack, against the British guns, caught the British by surprise. Consequentially, the Rhino and Elephant Cavalry got half way to the British guns before anyone could do anything about it. In sheer desperation, hence, a regiment of British Lancers tried to intercept the charge of the Rhinos, but they were swept aside in a manner akin to Chelmsfordís cavalry charge six months before. And what the Rhinos did not repulse, their ever trustworthy partners, the Elephants, handled with little effort.
Alas the sacrifice of the British Lancer regiment gained time for the British guns to take aim of their new targets and let loose a devastating volley of grape-shot. Added to this lethal volley of cannon, some 1 000 British rifles, now that the British infantry had been redeployed, fired upon the Last Charge of the Rhinos. Still, even gravely wounded, the war beasts of the Zulus struggled on towards the British guns. Unfortunately for the Rhinos and Elephants, none of them would make it to their objective.
Having said that, even with the sad loss of these marvellous beasts, the supporting Zulu infantry were able to make it to the reformed British lines with only a few hundred casualties. It appeared to all and sundry, now that some 4 500 Zulu warriors clearly outnumbered their British counterparts, that the Zulus would win the day. Furthermore most of the British artillery crews suffered horrendous casualties as the infantry battle was waged around their positions. But the British, like the Zulus, had kept several battalions in reserve. Although they were not expected to use them, in this particular engagement, they were sent nevertheless into the desperate battle currently being fought. Consequentially the Zulu infantry attack was eventually repulsed.
As a result of the dayís fighting, both sides were completely exhausted. The British had lost most of their gun crews, plus some further 1 200 infantrymen, not to mention the loss of about 400 cavalrymen overall. Meanwhile the Zuluís were in no better condition. They had lost all of their Rhinos and Elephants, and it goes without saying their human handlers as well, not to mention about 4 000 warriors as a result of the infantry battle. Yet even though the Zulus had not technically lost this dayís fight, they nevertheless thought it prudent enough to withdraw from Rorkeís Drift and take up defensive positions in ground far more favourable than was currently the case. The British then marched cautiously into Rorkeís Drift the next day, but showed no intention of pursuing the Zulu Army.
Thus the Anglo-Zulu War pretty much ended, although a few months of border skirmishes took place before a formal cease-fire treaty was finally arranged. Both sides, afterwards, claimed victory, even though the Zulus rightfully claimed that the British invasion of Zulu territory was defeated, whilst the British likewise claimed that Zulu expansion into British territory had been stopped. In truth it was a fragile stalemate: the Zuluís casualties, especially the annihilation of their famed Rhino and Elephant Cavalry, ensured that any further military action was severely limited, whilst British morale had reached the lowest levels thought possible thanks to their defeats at the hands of the Zulu army.
In the end, though, the low esteem of the British army did not overly matter as, within a year of the conclusion to the Anglo-Zulu War, the Zulu Empire erupted into civil war. And two years later, the British were invited in to restore order by a usurper king. The independence of the Zulus ended not long afterwards through British annexation of their lands.
Presidential Medal of Science Fiction Geekiness
with Crossed Colonial Rifles
and Cylon Basestar Clusters