Friday, 19 September 2014

Ahoy, and such like!

     Though bounded to the north by the Baltic Sea, it would not be inaccurate to describe the states of Mittelheim traditionally as continental powers. Taking for granted the trading incomes derived from the sales of slaves, wine, leeches and nasal hair, the states of Mittelheim have rarely been encouraged to see the sea as a medium for conflict. True, there were some isolated coastal slave raids in the 17th century by the North African based but London clothed privateers known as the Burberry pirates. Moreover, during the War of Otto's Kneecap in the 1720s, Nabstria had used two impressed merchantmen to deliver an amphibious assault upon the coastal villages of Bachscuttel. In fact, as it transpired, neither of the merchantmen were really that impressed: the troops that were landed being about as well disciplined as a ship-full of Siamese cats (and rather less house-trained), they rampaged across the beach fronts for twenty minutes or so, frightening children and setting fire to some Protestants before being dealt with brutally by a local band of wandering taxidermists. But the possibilities inherent in maritime power, its poise, mobility, access, versatility, flexibility, indeed its strategic leverage as a whole, had not in general been appreciated by those responsible for the formulation of state strategy in Mittelheim .

     But this has now begun to change in a decisive way. As the states of Mittelheim continue to contest upon land the question of the succession to the throne of Gelderland, in the capital of Bachscuttel Prince Rupprecht's advisers have begun to devise a new stratagem to enhance the Palatinate's capabilities: sea power! Under the auspices of Rupprecht's new Grand Chamberlain, Leopold Von Fecklenburg, Bachscuttel has begun the first steps towards a new grand strategy designed to control the sea-lanes between Mittelheim, New Mittelheim, and the Leech Coast. Two lines of development are now reportedly underway! Unable entirely to rid Prince Rupprecht of the malign, bone-headed influence of Baron Albrecht Von Steinhagen, pig-fancier and royal advisor, the first involves investigation into whether pigs can be made to float, and, if so, what kind of ordnance they can be equipped with for the purposes of maritime combat. Thus far, the answer to the first question seems to be 'not through any morally acceptable method', and to the second 'some form of modified cutlery'. The second line of development is the decision to procure in the boatyard of Bestwestung the building of a dedicated vessel of war, designed in secret by the British naval architect Sir Hubert Lyme-Pickle.

     The building of the warship commences to the sound of such sawing of wood and banging of nails that it might be mistaken for surgery on Prince Rupprecht's head. Needless to say, the news of the ship's construction cannot be kept secret: Bachscuttel security leaks like Landgrave Choldwig's loincloth after a heavy night of frolics. Even as the land campaign continues, the news that Bachscuttel is now striving to become the dominant sea power in Mittelheim creates consternation in its neighbours and mild amusement amongst foreign ambassadors. For some states in Mittelheim, the news is worrying, but there is little directly that they can do to respond. For example, the Fenwickian capacity to generate maritime power is inhibited a tad by their lack of a coastline and also by their inability to say the words 'poop deck' without a catatonic attack of 'Fnars!' But others, notably both Nabstria and Rotenburg, do have the geography to contest Bachscuttel's ambitious bid for power.

     In Falkensteinburg, Burgrave Falco calls an emergency meeting of his Inner Council. With possession of a warship, Bachscuttel will be able to utilise all the benefits of contingent maritime operations: this cannot be allowed to pass! The meeting is conducted in a gloomy ante-chamber in Falkensteinburg castle. Chief among those pressing for the Burgrave to procure vessels of war is the Second Chancellor, Heinrich, Graf Deckscluder who moots the possibility of a new round of tax increases to fund some nautical enterprises. Afraid for the welfare of Nabstria's citizenry, Bishop Munschrugge chastises the Graf citing the Good Lord's warnings against sin:
'My Lord, think of your people: is this desire for a ship a reflection of wise statecraft or is it merely envy'
'Envy, Munschrugge?'
'Indeed my Lord: a great sin - for did not the Good Lord admonish us against coveting our neighbour's oxes?'
'But I don't want their oxes - I want a ship.'
'I think, my Lord, that the oxes are probably metaphorical.'
'I don't care where they come from: I don't want them.'
And so the debate continues. Munschrugge leads those opposed to the expense of a navy; the Graf continues to advocate the instrumental advantages of seapower. Who will win out?

     In Rotenburg, the situation is more complex. Since the Landgravate is allied to Bachscuttel, there is surely no immediate reason why cash-strapped Choldwig should need to procure his own maritime capabilities. But the Landgrave's honour is piqued: had not Alexander been master both on land and sea? Levying new taxes, Choldwig commands  Ludovico Angelmiccolo, an Italian maestro at the working of wood, to build him a ship! The conversation in Choldwig's palace is not an easy one for the Italian:
'Behold, Herr Ludovico, ' cries Choldwig, 'You have built many things of wood for me; now build me a ship!
'Ah, mainly furniture, my Lord: it's mainly furniture that I build for you. I made you a lovely wardrobe'
'And now I need a ship!' Not an ugly ship ruined by gun ports and covered with fiddly sails but a sleek, dare I say, Alexandrian, warship: a wooden shark to prowl the Baltic!
'It'll be quite a small shark, my Lord: that wardrobe was six feet'.
'Think bigger! The ship should remind all onlookers of me: it should be powerful, majestic and have an enormous ram at the front.'
'I'm thinking, my Lord, of that lovely chaise-longue that I designed for you: wouldn't you just rather I made you one of those?'
'Make me a ship, Ludovico, or I'll have so many holes drilled into your thingie that you'll be able to play it like a flute. Improvise!
Ludovico gulps, and bows: 'Your will be done, my Lord. A ship it will be. I suppose I could put some nice handles on it.'

Six feet of potent maritime power projection
And so, in Mittelheim, the Wars of the Gelderland Succession roll up their metaphorical britches and dip their toes in the complexities of maritime combat. In a place where even having a bath can be a complex and traumatic experience, the militaries of the respective belligerents are likely to take to this new medium of warfare like a duck to trampolining.