1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 14

He saw Klees’ quizzical look. “Yes, I understand the point of the steam tugs, Lieutenant. It was not enough that the Spanish war galleons sped ahead of their main body and then could not maneuver back to engage you without turning into the wind and the current.” He smiled. “You had begun the engagement motionless. That way, it wasn’t just the war galleons that kept coming on, but the cargo ships of La Flota as well. In order to get Anvil — the largest part of your fleet — to the north of their main body, the tugs had to move the largest ships at the same rate as the smaller, swifter ones. And because of that, they now are just where you need them: opposite your Hammer and with the Spanish merchantmen between.”

He smiled back at the slow appreciative smiles arising around him. “Come now, gentlemen, even a child would understand that if the northern squadron is called Anvil, then we can predict the role of this small but incredibly powerful Hammer.” He gestured to Resolve and her escorts. “Now, with the Spanish warships almost all accounted for, you are just south of La Flota’s main body, and ready to strike. Dominica blocks them to the west, and the currents and the wind from the east keep them from making way in that direction. Their only choice is to flee north: toward the Anvil as the Hammer pressed hard after them.” His smile faded slightly. “But, I must ask: can you actually hope to destroy so many ships?”

“Maybe, thanks to our admiral’s inherent stinginess,” Simonszoon grinned. “By making their warships come to us, we also conserved a great deal of fuel and ammunition. Most of which we’re going to need in this last phase.”

“I am not stingy; I am thrifty,” Tromp amended while maintaining a straight face. “But to answer your question, Lord Sehested, we do not intend to destroy all those ships. We mean to capture them. Or at least as many as we can.”

Sehested stared. “How can you hope to achieve that? You haven’t enough boarding parties. And even if you did, there are so many galleons and naos before us that you would be fighting for days.”

Simonszoon pointed astern, first at the flaming fragments that had once been the mightiest war galleon in La Flota, and then at the one that they had more recently set aflame from stem to stern. “All the wallowing cargo haulers have seen how that happened, and know it could happen to them, too. With just a few rounds. No broadsides required.”

“And do you have so many of the explosive rounds that you can fire one at every ship which decides to challenge you, despite those fears?”

“Not for our rifles, no,” Tromp suppressing a grin, “but the Spanish don’t know that. Once we finish crippling these last two war galleons, we shall steam straight into the midst of the main body. They have seen that we are too fast for them to elude, and that also, from beyond the maximum range of their guns, we can inflict crippling damage with but a few shells. Just as we did to their war galleons. Given their slow and uncertain signalling, they will not be able to coordinate movements and so will almost certainly scatter in all directions. Some are already discovering that in order to maneuver — either to escape south through us or north through our Anvil — they are having to gather in their mainsails and make what way they can.

“At that point, the other ships of our flotilla are simply there to prevent them from escaping; like sheepdogs working with frightened ewes. One by one our warships shall approach the Spanish merchantmen. If any galleon or nao so much as fires a warning shot, we put a shell into it from one of our naval rifles. A few such demonstrations and I predict that most of them will strike colors as soon as one of our other ships comes alongside.”

Simonszoon shrugged. “Me? I suspect most of them will still need to have the personal experience of at least one non-explosive round before they’ll comply. But since we will be sailing and moving at our leisure, beyond the range of their guns, and putting crushing damage upon them while rarely missing, I am hopeful that a good number of the others will realize the futility of fighting us at all.”

Sehested nodded, understanding. “That is why you have cargo ships back with the Tower; to offload the Spanish goods.”

Trompe scratched his ear. “Well, in part…but mostly, those ships with Tower are carrying prize crews. We don’t mean to just take the Spanish goods; we mean to take their ships.”

Sehested shook his head. “Admiral, to attempt all by depending upon the performance of this one ship goes beyond mere audacity. It is — is breath-taking.”

“Yes.” Simonszoon’s grin would have looked atypically fierce on a wolf. “Isn’t it, though?”

“But…but was it really necessary?” Sehested persisted. “After all, Commodore Cantrell’s Intrepid was present, as well. He could certainly have loitered nearby, entered the battle at any time. And two hulls instead of one would certainly have made gathering this unruly flock of Spanish merchantmen much easier.”

“Yes, it would have,” Tromp agreed. “But that was exactly why we did not do so.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Tromp turned to face him directly. “Lord Sehested, this war we are fighting beyond the Tordesillas Line — for let us not delude ourselves; we are at war with Spain, here — is unique in two ways. Firstly, neither one of us knows the full disposition of the other’s forces. Such uncertainty applies to all military campaigns to some degree, but it is several orders of magnitude greater, here. Secondly, one of the combatants — us — possesses a variety of capabilities that are not merely unavailable to, but are incompletely comprehended by, our opponent. Now consider how both of these factors influence our decision to carry out this entire operation with — apparently — only Resolve.

“Firstly, the Spanish — and now the Bermudans — will know and report that only one of our cruisers was here. Consider what they will be told by witnesses: that all the losses inflicted upon them were orchestrated and enabled by a single steam warship. There can be no greater display of how powerful they are individually.

“But secondly, knowing that we have two such ships, it also tells them that our threat to them is actually twice that of what we demonstrated today. Or, to put it in terms of a defender’s worst nightmare, it means that we can exercise this power at two different locations in the Caribbean at the same time. This will at least double the apprehension of the Spanish, as well as the amount of assets they will deem necessary for defense.” Tromp shrugged. “Besides, two ships would have been overkill.”

“Would have been what?” Sehested asked.

Tromp managed to suppress a pleased smile. Some up-time terms seemed intrinsically rich with echoes of lethality and dark panache. “Over-kill,” Tromp repeated. “More force than is needed to complete a task.” He glanced north. “Besides, Intrepid was needed elsewhere.”

Sehested nodded. “Guadeloupe?”

Of course he would have heard. Tromp nodded back. “It is essential that we secure certain arrangements and come to certain agreements with the Kalinago of that island.”

“Well,” drawled Simonszoon, as the gun crews started readying for action against the seventh galleon, “Intrepid is quite a show of force. Quite enough to shock the natives into meek complacency, I suspect.”

“I hope so,” Tromp answered. His eyes were not on the enemy ship; they were still fixed on the northern horizon. “I truly hope so.”