Look to the West Volume VIII: The Bear and the Basilisk

Plus that means they did have a Third World War with nukes used thought not to MAD levels

If the Pandoric War is a WWI analog and the conflict of the Black Twenties is as global as its making out to be, their Third AND Fourth World Wars saw nukes used. An 85 year old in this timeline's 2019 could have fought in the Sunrise War just to see the carytic weaponry flying all over again a few decades later.

"You have no idea the mental toll, that four World Wars have on an Association of Sovereign Nations!" - LTTW people, probably
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Plus that means they did have a Third World War with nukes used thought not to MAD levels
Quite possibly more than just the one. The four great wars would seem to be:
The Pandoric War (1890's)
The Black Twenties (1920's)
The Sunrise War (1960's)
The Last War of Supremacy (1990's)
It's pretty much certain that the Last War of Supremacy involved nukes and there's a sizable chance that the Sunrise War did too.
The Pandoric War, Sunrise War and Last War of Supremacy (I'm getting strong end-of-history vibes from this name) are all referred to as single wars. The Black Twenties aren't. Could it mean that LTTW has five world wars?
Seems more like the Black Twenties were more... a collection of smaller wars? From the implications, it sounds like the Russians and their allies vs France and their allies (inc. the ENA, though the ENA was allied with France purely tangentially) and the Societists take advantage and move in near the end to take a bunch of territory, in a move technically unrelated to the conflict in Europe and northwestern America.
Seems more like the Black Twenties were more... a collection of smaller wars? From the implications, it sounds like the Russians and their allies vs France and their allies (inc. the ENA, though the ENA was allied with France purely tangentially) and the Societists take advantage and move in near the end to take a bunch of territory, in a move technically unrelated to the conflict in Europe and northwestern America.

IIRC that was the Pandoric War situation, in which there were no real alliances, and LTTW historiography treats it as a single war. Either the naming is inconsistent (which would not be terribly surprising), or there are at least two distinct periods of war.
IIRC that was the Pandoric War situation, in which there were no real alliances, and LTTW historiography treats it as a single war. Either the naming is inconsistent (which would not be terribly surprising), or there are at least two distinct periods of war.
Well, yes and no. In the pandoric war, there were newspapers at the time during the war calling eachother brave allies, and it was all one related war - ENA declares war on UPSA, Russia declares war on UPSA with the pretend causus belli of caring about UPSA, and Germany declares war on Russia with the pretend causus belli of caring about the ENA

The implication I've been getting is the Societists aren't going to pretend to be on Russia's side when they swoop in and eat up a bunch of territory


Well, yes and no. In the pandoric war, there were newspapers at the time during the war calling eachother brave allies, and it was all one related war - ENA declares war on UPSA, Russia declares war on UPSA with the pretend causus belli of caring about UPSA, and Germany declares war on Russia with the pretend causus belli of caring about the ENA

The implication I've been getting is the Societists aren't going to pretend to be on Russia's side when they swoop in and eat up a bunch of territory
That territory is in Africa and India and Spain so they wouldn’t advertise any ties
The Pandoric War, Sunrise War and Last War of Supremacy (I'm getting strong end-of-history vibes from this name) are all referred to as single wars. The Black Twenties aren't. Could it mean that LTTW has five world wars?

It means they could not settle on a proper name.
Notably, unlike the three other major wars of the twentieth (and end of the nineteenth) centuries we have mentioned, the Black Twenties is not described merely as a ‘war’ in historiography. Military conflict was a major part of the years 1922-1927 which unleashed so much horror upon the world, but it was far from the only one—as we shall see. Partly because of this, no widespread name for the purely military portion of the crisis period has ever been settled upon; we might even suggest this is part of the reason for why, historically, it has been neglected in school education. At the time, it was frequently given hyper-nationalistic and proto-Diversitarian names such as ‘the War of Russian Aggression’ in France, ‘the Patriotic War’ in Russia and simply ‘the Return Engagement’ in the ENA. Other names included ‘the Tartar War’ or ‘the Khivan War’, referring to the “casus belli”. These names were frequently parroted in newspapers of the period, yet today are often not even recognised by students out of context. They feel far too petty and of insufficient scope to describe what the global crisis of the 1920s became.
- #275

Naming the crisis period after the the main political outcome, the expansion of Societism + the Second Black Scare was generally accepted, tough.
Possible helped by the fact that the world at the same time had to deal with the worst global pandemic since the Black Death.


(Sgt Mumby’s note) This is one volume of what appears to be a periodically released series of anthologies of military fiction, originally published in the ENA. Though I have only obtained this volume, the advertisements in the back suggest that the series’ authors chose settings ranging from classical history to the present day. They are all fictionalised versions of real battles, sometimes with author-created viewpoint characters and ships added, but often the authors depicting the real commanders—probably not in the most nuanced or well-researched way, I would guess. One day I’d like to put in some of the stories about events like the Spanish Armada or the Battle of Leptano, battles that are the same as those that happened in our timeline as they predate the point of divergence of TimeLine L, but are presented quite differently due to being written with different historiographic hindsight. But for now, here’s a more directly relevant one…

From: “Great Tales of Naval History Volume III”, anthology edited by Richard Steadman (1972)—

Admiral Francis ‘Frank’ Hotham glared at the horizon as though his vision alone could spot the enemy before any of the reports from the spotter dromes or steerables of the Royal Aero Corps.

His gaze was interrupted by an unexpected splash of colour as a brief flutter of wind toyed with the war ensign at the stern of the Town-class dentist HMS Orpington, one of several escorts for his flagship HMS Drake. Hotham still found it difficult to get used to the ‘new’ ensign, as he thought of it, though he scarcely regretted the political change that had produced it. But when a man had served in the Royal Navy all his life, had had the role of running up the old Mauve Ensign as a young midshipmen, it was hard to get used to a version where the cross was now red and there was no Asterisk of Liberty defacing the Union Jack in the canton.

The Union Jack. That was still everywhere, even though the Act of Union was undone. Hotham knew his history, for his family had long fought under that flag, whether it had stood for the Kingdom of England, Cromwell’s Commonwealth or the Kingdom of Great Britain.[3] One more change back to England shouldn’t matter, though he knew many of his men—with less of a sense of history—were more uneasy about it. They had been raised on rose-tinted tales of the glories of Britain. But Hotham knew that, while that Britain had indeed been glorious in the days of his ancestor William and his battles in the Third War of Supremacy, the name had long been tainted by insipid rule at home and supine subordination to America abroad. Let England rise again.

He narrowed his eyes as he considered his fleet again. It was an impressive force, a legacy of his mentor Admiral Hughes’ time in power, rebuilding naval strength. He had six powerful English-built lineships under his command, four older lionhearts and the new super-lionhearts Drake and Holmes. The latter had been aptly named after Robert Holmes from the wars against the Dutch in the seventeenth century; by the time the RN’s committee had chosen the name, it was clear who would be the principal foe of England in the next war. Hotham was concerned, however, that so many of the names of commanders and victories used for vessels were so old. Partly that was a political decision, a tendency to evoke names safely dead and buried rather than ones who had taken sides on more recent political disputes, but it also betrayed the fact that England had not had so many naval victories in recent years.

Hughes had done something to change that (though old Taffy would probably die rather than have his name attached to the word ‘English’, Hotham reflected with a brief smile), but his service in the war had been attached to the unequal ‘partnership’ with America. It was time for England to stand alone, time to blaze a new trail of victories for young men to learn about in school.

He sighed and looked over to portside, at the seventh lineship in his force, the Conquérant-class lineship Rouvroy with its strange trimaran hull. Standing alone, that is, as part of a French-led alliance now. Once again, Hotham knew his history; though France had been Britain’s personal enemy throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century, he was aware that in the old Anglo-Dutch wars, French and English sailors had often cooperated as part of an alliance. He had been careful to point this out in his missives sent around the fleet. Perhaps the end of Britain could symbolically be the end of enmity with the old foe as well, a return to days of England when foes had been found elsewhere.

Though many of those foes were here and on his side, as well. The French force included ships from Spain. The Royal Scots Navy, never large and also cash-starved by the Black regime’s dire economic straits, was represented as a handful of dentists. The Irish had more men and money, but it had taken a lot of bullying by Paris to jar Dublin out of its traditional neutrality to contribute ships—and most of the ones Dublin had sent were support craft. Welcome, but sending a certain statement. Hotham didn’t think much of that exile dilettante Charles Grey in Downing House, but he’d reluctantly give him credit for holding the French to a tight bargain this time, and was darkly amused by how the Scots and Irish had been forced to fly minor variations on the English war ensign ‘to avoid confusion in the heat of battle’.

That was more than Hotham’s wife Theodosia would give him. She had a particular enmity for Grey’s Chinee wife. While Hotham would admit to some misgivings, especially what with the Chinese just having stabbed the French in the back, on his most recent leave he’d had to have a word with her about some of her comments about a certain yellow slant-eyed whore. He had a sense of history, and that kind of attitude was an inevitable path to Jacobinism and the spirit of the men who had raped Kent a century before.

Now he fought alongside the French and was aided by steerables and dromes flying from RAC bases in the Weald, not so far from the battlefields of that bitter invasion. History was a funny thing.

When he’d last seen Theodosia, he’d also spotted some flyers pasted on luftlights by Quedlingers, maybe even Societists, which painted the war as being English slaves of France being forced to fight Belgian slaves of Russia. But there was a flaw in that propaganda, Hotham knew. Whereas the Belgians were truly under the Tsar’s bootheel, the French had reluctantly—whether due to pressure from Grey or otherwise—put their smaller number of ships here under Hotham’s command rather than vice versa. Contre-Amiral Myard on the Rouvroy would follow his orders.

He hoped.

Hotham realised he’d been muttering his thoughts half-under his breath when a fellow officer leaned in to agree. “Myard won’t like it, but he’ll do it,” whispered Lieutenant Commander George Latimer. “Think what it’d be like if we were under his command; that’s what it’s like for the enemy.”

The admiral nodded. Latimer was in his forties, though he looked younger; despite his far more junior rank, he was not too deferential to Hotham except when in earshot of the other officers. Latimer was an analyst from Office 13, or just O-13 as the documents had it, a particularly secretive branch of the already secretive Naval Intelligence Bureau. He walked around the Drake always carrying a discreetly slim despatch case, and one had to look quite carefully to see that it was permanently chained to his wrist. Inside were documents that only Latimer, Hotham, and the Drake’s captain, Meredith Davies, had seen—and Davies only briefly, so that someone could use them if Hotham and Latimer were killed in battle.

Right now, that risk was feeling a lot less theoretical than it had even a few days before.

A buzzing sound intruded into Hotham’s consciousness; along with Latimer, he stepped to the bridge observation deck, careless of its lighter armour, in order to observe. Yes, he was already starting to recognise the distinctive sound of a SheffTC VP.30 spirit engine that was the powerplant for the RAC’s newfangled Astra Salmon two-decker seadromes.[4] Moments later, the drome itself became visible, the fat pontoons beneath its double wings gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. The drome’s tail bore a red diamond symbol with a circle filled with the Union Jack, designed to imitate the similar diamond and fleur-de-lys symbol that the French had adopted. Hotham wasn’t too happy about that; they said it was necessary to avoid friendly fire given the high speeds at which air combat would take place, but didn’t the Belgians use diamonds too?

The Salmon drome was flying low, buzzing alarmingly close to the Scottish dentist HSMS Wallace. Though Hotham had little time for the Scots, he frowned at that likely intentional bit of hazing by the pilot. These young drome flyers were all too reckless and egoistic for his tastes.

Latimer was by his side. “There,” he murmured. “See the Optel flaps going?”

They were just about visible to Hotham; he did not try to interpret them, knowing there would be a midshipman with a spyglass doing so with far more expertise. He didn’t know much about aerodrome design, but thought it must have been a challenge to incorporate semaphore flaps into the design without disrupting the air currents around it and sending it off course. But the Salmon held steadily as the flaps worked, shifting from black to white, from white to red.

“I wish they could just send Photel messages to us,” he grumbled, not for the first time.

“Not until some bright spark finds a way to amplify the signal so we can make it portable,” Latimer reminded him. The superstructure of the Drake, like the other command lineships, was covered with complex metal tracery acting as a transmitter and receiver apparatus, like some modern equivalent of the rigging in the days of Admiral Parker’s wooden fleet.[5]

Mere moments later, that midshipman pushed a hastily-scribbled note into Hotham’s hand. He scanned it and passed it to Latimer, who nodded. “It’s time. The ironsharks are out.”

As seen, not by the reckless flyboys in the Salmon, but by the more sober crew of an older spotter steerable that was watching the ironshark pens at Terneuzen, who had sent the message on via the drome. Hotham touched his forehead in subconscious salute to those brave men; the iron-grey sea was a bad enough foe from the vantage point of the Drake’s death, but he did not fancy their chances if their slow, fragile steerable was shot down in the coming minutes and hours.

As now seemed all but certain.

“Let me see that document again,” he murmured to Latimer. Latimer glanced around him, then spun the locks on his despatch case in a disconcertingly practiced manner. He passed a folder to Hotham, who swiftly found what he was looking for. All neatly typographed, by a secretary who must have passed a dozen background checks. At the top were painstakingly-copied Cyrillic letters, disturbingly half-familiar and half-alien, with an English transliteration below: OPERATSIYA SYURIKEN. Hotham knew what a syuriken was from reading bloodies and sequents in a misspent youth—those razor-sharp, star-shaped metal blades that nindzhya from Yapon hurled as a deadly distraction in a fight. While the enemy was taken aback, confused, perhaps bleeding from a cut across his cheek, the shadow warrior would be moving in for the killing blow.[6]

“Stupid name,” Latimer commented, watching the horizon. “Gives away what the whole trick is. They should pick them at random.”

“But that wouldn’t be any fun,” Hotham grunted without much conscious thought. His mind was focused on modelling the upcoming battle—for so it now was. As the documents O-13 had intercepted showed, Admiral Gavrilov and his superiors had drawn up a battle plan based on a number of assumptions. China, and now Germany, had showed that France’s allies proactively honouring their commitments was not a given, which meant that the Three Kingdoms[7]coming to blows with the Belgians was not inevitable. However, if the Russo-Belgian fleet was trapped in the Scheldt by even a passive English blockade and minefield, then it would badly stack the naval war against the Russian side elsewhere.

That meant that at some point soon Gavrilov had to break out, even if it ran the risk of tipping the Kingdoms over the edge. Therefore, the Russians and Belgians had to hit first, and the first blow had to be powerful enough to break the back of Hotham’s fleet. That would be the only thing that would allow a break-out before reinforcements could be sent by the French and Italians from the Med.

Gavrilov’s plan therefore focused on using what the documents translated as a ‘skirmish line’ of ironsharks as underwater syuriken, using accurate clocks and pre-timed orders to target the English lineships simultaneously. In the ensuing chaos, the main body of his fleet would break out of the Scheldt, either joining the attack or fleeing and sacrificing the ironsharks, depending on how things went.

Given the circumstances, it wasn’t a terrible plan, but there were two things wrong with it, as he’d previously discussed with Latimer. Both were related to the fact that the Russians’ presence in Belgium were not exactly with the full consent of its people. Firstly, Russian ironsharks and other craft had an unaccountable tendency to end up sabotaged or lacking key parts when operating from Belgian bases, leading to Gavrilov’s force taking over the Terneuzen base wholesale and building concrete pens there a year earlier. That meant that all the ironsharks, save one or two out on patrol, were in one place and their status could be checked on by the RAC’s spotters; though Belgian and Russian dromes tried to ward them off in turn, just as England’s dromes did the same to the enemy spotters over English bases, there was only so much that could be done before open war had broken out.

The second, and more fundamental, problem for Gavrilov was that his plan’s details had been leaked to O-13. It turned out that, while there were relatively few Belgians who would willingly pass military secrets on to the hated French, who might use them to set Flanders alight, a friendly Englishman with deep pockets was quite another matter. While the Russians had tried to keep the plan internal to their own forces, inevitably there had been a need to coordinate with the Belgians under Gavrilov’s command, and it had fallen into the hands of someone who had passed it on to Latimer’s superiors.

Hotham didn’t need to know who, or when. He wished he could be as confident as Latimer that this information was genuine, and not an elaborate deception. But it did make sense given the constraints Gavrilov was operating under.

Now to counter the plan before it could be enacted…

[3] This is not strictly correct, as his ancestor John Hotham and his son fought for Parliament, but they were accused of treason and executed while the war was still ongoing, before Cromwell took power.

[4] This is the author flexing his background research. ‘SheffTC’ is a commonplace armed forces’ abbreviation of ‘Sheffield Tramways Company’, which (as happened with Bristol in OTL) has gone into manufacturing aircraft as well as tram engines. The abbreviation is SheffTC rather than STC out of rhyming imitation of FTC, America’s better-known and higher-profile Fredericksburg Transit Corporation which has also gone into wider engine manufacturing. Two-decker is the TTL term for biplane (as was also sometimes used in OTL) and spirit in this context means petrol/gasoline.

[5] A rather clumsily written reminder to the reader that this technology doesn’t exist yet (it requires the invention of what in OTL is called the thermionic valve in the UK or the vacuum tube in the US).

[6] Hotham (or the author) actually has a better idea of the historic role of shuriken than how fiction often portrays them in OTL; they were rarely intended to be a deadly weapon in and of themselves.

[7] I.e. England, Scotland and Ireland.

(This is a two-part segment and will be continued next week. Thanks for the comments everyone, I will read and respond to them when I get a chance)
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What happens to Belgium’s colony if it switches sides?




I will post the next update in a few minutes, but first:

Cool! An ENA legal system! I've forgotten whether Michigan is the name of a confederation or a province of the ENA, but assuming that plotting a death-luft attack is an Imperial rather than Confederal or Provincial crime the Michigan Assizes would be the rough equivalent of a Federal district court in the USA. However, assuming that the ENA has the same laws regarding jurisdiction, or even a similar court structure, as the OTL USA isn't all that safe after almost 200 years of alternate legal development. Since the Assizes found the Rawlings brothers guilty it's likely a trial court for serious offenses, with juries rendering verdicts, like the assizes of England (that I just learned about right now). If it really mirrors the English original then the judge in this trial might have come from far away, but that practice seems unlikely to have survived into the 21st Century to me.

I wonder whether the Privy-Council is Provincial/Confederal or Imperial. Overall it's always exciting to see glimpses of the present day in LLTW. Also very happy that the Institute team is following proper quarantine protocols. For people whose 20th Century effectively included double the devastating global wars as ours, a pandemic from another dimension would just be too much.
Interesting stuff with legal developments. Considering the Assizes got absorbed into the Crown Court in OTL England, well, it's not hard to guess their jurisdiction. I suppose distance would serve to increase their power

Though what's with the appeals to the Privy Council? Surely, on the (then-)British model, the House of Lords (and in practice the Law Lords) would be the court of final appeal? Especially with all the vibes I got that the ENA initially just copied the constitutional framework of 1688.

On a tangentially related question, does the ENA have Inns of Court? Not in the sense of OTL's "American Inns of Court" that serve as unofficial organizations, I mean something like what England and Ireland have.
Thanks for the comments - as said above, legal matters are not my area of expertise so I would appreciate more speculation I can steal ideas on this. @Indicus ' comment on the Inns of Court is particularly intriguing, I'll have to think about that.

The 'appeal to the Privy Council' evokes the fact that in OTL, British colonies and dominions overseas appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (in London) as their final court of appeal; for example, in this famous long-running dispute over the legal and electoral rights of women in Canada: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Famous_Five_(Canada) Now obviously the ENA hasn't sent cases to London for a long time, but the idea is this sort of model has materialised natively there as a final court of appeal because the House of Lords has reduced in importance over time, and people are not comfortable with it doubling as a judicial body through Law Lords. As implied by the tone of the coverage here, it is used rather rarely and usually only for grand constitutional questions, so the two terror suspects and their lawyers are more finding loopholes to drag out their case for the sake of publicity of their cause than any other reason.

Footnote [3] is missing, BTW.
Thanks, this has now been edited in.


The sun had almost sunk beneath the horizon, the spotters rendered all but useless, before it began. “He’s running,” Latimer concluded loftily, as though Hotham hadn’t worked that out hours before. “These aren’t the actions of a man who thinks he can join a fight with us and win.”

Hotham humoured him. “No, indeed. Cover of darkness; he’s run the arithmetic and knows he can’t beat us and expect to preserve his fleet. Probably going to try to combine with the force up at Den Helder before the Scandis get there.”

“That, and the aero-power disparity, maybe,” Latimer offered. “Current sources reckon they’ve only got a fraction of our steeltooth bomber force in action yet. Night makes them all but useless.”

Hotham grumbled under his breath; he still wasn’t used to seriously taking aero-power into account as a means of actively attacking enemy ships, rather than merely as spotters. But Latimer was right, and a commander couldn’t afford to fight battles according to the rules that his youth led him to feel were more aesthetically pleasing. Too many wooden ships were on the sea floor, put there in battles fought when Hotham had been a boy, the consequence of admirals who had felt these newfangled steam armourclads were far too gauche and ungentlemanly.[8] “Quite,” was all he said in response, then quickly changed the subject. “Lieutenant, status of the Follies?”

Lieutenant Henderson glanced up from the large strategy table that sat in the conference room at the aft of the extended bridge; it was hung on chains from pivot points so it should remain level despite the motion of the deck. Theory and practice were two different things, Hotham knew. “The last Photel signal was at eight fifty-eight post, sir,” he reported. Twenty minutes ago, though it still took Hotham a moment to adjust to the newfangled time system rather than using bells. “Follies Yan, Tan and Tethera all reported their positions as following…”

Henderson reeled off the numbers, but also pointed at the map on the table, which was of more immediate use. It was an accurate, if worn, map of the immediate Channel vicinity with sounded depths indicated through shades of blue; by contrast, the land area of southern England, northern France and western Belgium was mostly blank and white, of little interest except through its ports and coastal batteries. The map was covered with a thin layer of transparent lacquer, and Hotham knew that beneath it was an array of small magnets. These, along with the chain suspension system, helped keep the small model ships atop the map affixed in one place. As Hotham watched, one of Henderson’s subordinates pushed a model of a French dentist into a newly reported position, using a repurposed shuffleboard stick.

Whereas the allied fleet’s positions should be accurate—if no-one had made any mistakes, which was always a dangerous assumption—the box of ship models coloured red for enemy still sat atop the outline of the Scheldt. In the darkling dusk, it was unlikely that any of the spotters would be able to find the Russians and Belgians sailing. But perhaps Gavrilov’s very strategy might give a clue…

Hotham briefly went out onto the deck. He looked up and back, squinting in the twiligh to make out the shapes of three lookouts, awkwardly positioned in and around the metallic rigging of the Photel apparatus. Lunatics handing out pamphlets in the street still claimed the invisible pulses given off by the invention caused the phthsis, or some nonsense like that. The only negative thing exposure Photel caused, in Hotham’s experience, was to turn its operators into dreadful bores who would attempt to talk about the complex mathematics of pulse-traces at the dinner table.

As his vision adjusted, he could see the lookouts. One of the young men had a pair of binoculars as normal, but the other two seemed to have adopted strange and nonsensical methods. One crewman wore dark smoked glasses over his eyes as he peered through his binoculars, even as Hotham struggled to see at all. The sight, and the crewman’s slightly swarthy skin tone, reminded him of nothing more than one of the strange blind Maroon musicians that were all the craze of smoky clubs in London; all the fellow needed was a trumpet in place of his binoculars. Still, at least Hotham preferred Maroon improvisation to the dreadful syncopation of Rattlebang that his nephew seemed so enamoured of.

The third lookout had more discreetly, but seemingly no less nonsensically, screwed a dark filter over the lens of his spyglass. Both of those two could surely see nothing in this near-darkness. And yet, Hotham knew, that was the point…

Latimer’s spies might have acquired the basics of Gavrilov’s plan, but Hotham knew that the specifics would have been decided nearer to the date. He was still looking up at the lookouts when it happened, and thus his own eyes were saved.

There was a distant series of small explosions, then a second, so similar it might have been an echo, but it was not. Then more, and more. The explosions blurred into one, resonating across the allied fleet and the dark, slightly phosphorescent waters of the Channel. Hotham resisted the urge to look, knowing his untrained eyes would be of no help in locating any small traces of visible fire as enemy steelteeth slammed into the hulls of English capital ships. He was impressed by how close together the Russian attacks had been; the ironsharks must be working to clockwork timers and managed to get into position to stalk their targets in good time. On the face of it, it was a very well-executed attack. Tear the heart out of the allied fleet by sinking or badly damaging multiple lineships, leaving the Russo-Belgian fleet free to escape in the confusion.


Hotham was glad he had held his nerve. Mere seconds after the first explosions, he heard the distant shriek of rockets firing. Not at the enemy, but up into the sky. Moments later, the rocket exploded into a magnium flare, painting the scene in harsh white light.[9] Even though Hotham was looking away, he was still struck by how the chemical light threw the shape of his ship’s superstructure into stark relief, like the asimconic flash of a camera taken to the next level. The jagged black and white lines of the dazzle camouflage, breaking up the lines of the Drake’s hull, made it all the more bizarre and unearthly. It almost made him think of those peculiar bletnoir sequents from France.[10]

But he had no time for such trivial thoughts. “Got them!” he cried, and raced back to the bridge even as the two lookouts with their dark filters, having preserved their vision, began calling out numbers into their speaking tubes. By the time Hotham reached Latimer and the strategy table, Henderson’s men were already placing model Russian ships on it, triangulating from the numbers they were hearing.

Latimer looked simultaneously excited and frustrated, pacing back and forth. “The Photel gear on the Speaker has failed again,” he complained. “They’re having to do it by Bicker code to one of the light lineships and then—”

“What do we have?” Hotham interrupted.

Henderson threw off a harried salute. “The Russians hit the Follies, sir, all except one which took on the Rouvroy, but she reports damage only to one of her outrigger hulls. Dentists have spotted at least three of the periscopes so far and are engaging with dive bombs.”

“They probably expended most of their steelteeth already,” Hotham observed, “judging by how many explosions I heard. Tell the dentists not to forget to pick up the Folly lifeboats!”

“Of course not, sir,” Henderson said.

Hotham couldn’t quite believe the plan had worked so well. The Follies had been designed and built at the naval base in Lowestoft, the brainchild of a mad marine engineer named Leonard Grubworth. They were built on old freighter hulls with upgraded engines, with hollow outer hulls and wooden fake superstructure designed to resemble a modern lineship. Though the dazzle camouflage helped make ships less recognisable, they wouldn’t fool anyone at close quarters, and had been built as an aniseed rag to fool passing spotter dromes. The idea of using them to fool ironsharks instead had been a hasty one. The Follies had been equipped with magnium rockets to illuminate a dark sea battlefield, then brought down from Lowestoft to join the fleet—with a stopover at Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk to weigh them down with gravel so that they better resembled their heavy prototypes.

It probably wouldn’t have worked if the ironsharks hadn’t been operating in low visibility conditions; Gavrilov’s plan had sunk himself. Literally, in the case of those Russian ironsharks now being sent to Davy Jones’ locker by the dive bombs of English and Scottish dentists.

Yet all of that was secondary in Hotham’s eyes. He keenly watched as the data from the Speaker finally came in and was fed into the giant solution engines on either side of the strategy table. The machines’ discreet clicking felt insufficient to his ears, being more used to the rattling and clacking sounds of the ypologists of a generation earlier, but the boys with the pencils assured him that these new models were far more capable and faster.

Indeed, more of Henderson’s crew slapped model ships on the strategy table even now as they glanced at the engines’ printed tape readouts. Hotham stared at the table with such intensity that he might have made the lacquer burst into flames. There. There. A lineship—possibly? It was hard for models to represent ambiguity, so he had to use his brain to try to create a sense of uncertainty. That might be a dentist close by or a lionheart far away—no, now it was triangulated as the French finally sent in their numbers, hopefully using the right damn measuring system this time, the trials had not been a great success. Definitely a lionheart, maybe even Gavrilov’s flagship Pyotr Veliky?

Like how the patterns of one of those damnfool kinoscope tricks could suddenly click into place and become a recognisable image, Hotham made a logical leap. If those ships represented one corner of Gavrilov’s formation, then…

“All hands at attention, word to be passed!” he suddenly bellowed. “Red Squadron, to the van—set course north by north-east and accelerate to full combat speed! Cut off their escape! Blue Squadron, flank to engage, set course east by east-north-east and accelerate to half speed ahead. White Squadron, to the rear…” The orders went on, including ones for the auxiliary squadron with the Irish support ships and more politely couched ones for Myard’s French force. As he issued the orders and they were fed on to the appropriate flagships of the squadrons, Henderson’s men quickly split up the force of green ships on the map by the colour of the pins that had been added to the top of the models. Hotham’s plan began to take shape on the map, with the parts of the fleet moving to surround where he had estimated Gavrilov’s fleet to be.

Latimer was close to him again. “You’re sure he’s hugging the coast?” he murmured. “It’s potentially risky with low visibility.”

“You stick to your field and I’ll stick to mind,” Hotham said, trying not to be too rude about it; he knew moods were running high everywhere. “Gavrilov’s thrown everything on one roll of the dice. And he’s lost…”

Even as he spoke, the lead light lineships and dentists in Blue Squadron, the Holmes’ force under his subordinate Vice-Admiral Beresford, began to open fire on Gavrilov’s outer frigate force…

[8] This is a bit of an exaggeration—the author is probably thinking of the Siamese defeat at the hands of the French at the Battle of Penang in 1880, but that was simply because the Siamese had not yet had the opportunity to upgrade their wooden fleet, rather than having a prejudice against doing so.

[9] Magnesium is known as magnium in TTL (the first suggestion of a name by Humphry Davy in OTL when he isolated it). Both names come from its historical association with a Greek region called Magnesia (as in ‘Milk of Magnesia’).

[10] Bletnoir (a contraction of blanc-et-noir) is a style of drawing sequents (comics) and other arc popular in the Paris art scene of the 1920s, though it actually began with Meridian Refugiado artists there. Focusing on the harsh and angular contrast between black and white, with large areas of black rather than just outlining, it is somewhat comparable (though not exactly the same) as some of the styles used in OTL Japanese manga. Bringing this and the music styles up is this author slightly clumsily trying to definitively set this sequence in the 1920s, though in reality bletnoir was probably not well known enough in 1922 for a man like Hotham to know about it; it became more prominent in hindsight due to its association with the Morne art movement of the later 1920s.


I'm not sure if that's ironic or appropriate to post an update like that near 11 am on Remembrance Sunday.

We shall not grow old, as they that are left shall grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

I had two great-grandfathers who fought at the Somme, and I drew upon family stories of them both to write these war segments in LTTW, and also the lead story in this short story collection below, co-authored with Bruno Lombardi (aka Doctor What) which was shortlisted for the 2018 Sidewise Award - for anyone who's not aware.

You know, one point to note here is that if the English win this, I think it'll be the first really major English naval victory in a while? They lost the thingummy that let the French invade during the Jacobin wars, the Pandoric War was a complete fiasco for them, uh, I forget how the Popular Wars went for them but the Great American War wasn't good for them. So, being newly independent and then defeating the Russians is gonna be quite the coup for them?