The Sons of Raghnall: Ships of War at Sea

Although the Indian Ocean Standoff was so named because the antagonists’ fleets mainly just glared at each other, it was not completely without incident in the early stages. We had some skirmishes like this one:

Suarez Battle

in which the entire Scottish fleet would surprise Malayan scouting detachments. (I guess? Maybe they were antipirate patrols.) There was also the invasion of Malta, where Malaya had stationed about 20 ships, whom I forced out of port by taking the fort, defeated soundly – and then watched helplessly as the “retreat-to-friendly-port” function kicked in and they sailed around all of bloody Africa in a state of complete immunity to attack, right past the 500 ships of the Royal Navy. Not Paradox’s finest moment, perhaps; how about a max-province-retreat parameter?

At any rate. Although I didn’t take a screenshot, there was one battle in which my entire fleet, 450 bigships, fought exactly one Malayan frigate. Allowing for the usual factor 10 in EU3’s army and fleet sizes, this comes to roughly 50 ships against one. So you have to wonder, what on Earth are the guys aboard the one ship thinking?

Aboard the KD Dendam
Off Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean
Noon

“Sir.” Ahmad saluted and waited for his captain’s nod, then continued. “All our sick list is on board.”

“Very good.” Najib kept his sigh of relief internal; when he’d said he wouldn’t leave any man behind for the round-eye butchers, he hadn’t expected that getting them aboard would take all the morning. If those idiot New Guineans hadn’t got in a tangle over whose cousins should go first, with blows struck and the launch out of commission for an hour while the hole was repaired… well, done was done and flogged was flogged. “We’ll be off, then.” He felt the wind for a moment; it was out of the west, and freshening. No need to laboriously tow the ship out to sea. “Haul in the launch, set sail – we’ll go straight before the wind at first.” They could rejoin the rest of the fleet in Ceylon, if necessary; the priority now was to get away.

“Aye, sir.” His exec saluted again and turned to give the necessary orders, leaving his captain to contemplate strategy again. Najib looked south. The white sails with tiny splashes of red at the top were still far distant. Men of war did not travel fast in this wind, especially when they were far from home and their bottoms were foul. And the more so when they’re crewed by filthy Europeans, he thought with some contempt; the Scots were especially notorious for the dreadful conditions aboard their ships, not to mention the backward way they built them. Some of their hulls were said to be fifty years old! Najib didn’t really believe that, but he felt a flash of contrasting pride nonetheless as he looked at his own trim ship, three years out of the vast Palembang shipyards; seventy guns in two decks, clinker-built in ironwood, three masts – he could run rings around any clumsy European ship that he couldn’t blast out of the water. And it was crewed by Malay sailors at that, men who’d been in and out of small craft since birth and had learned fighting at sea in tribal fighting; none of your pressed fishermen whose most martial exploit was to gut netted fish.

The feel of the ship under him changed as the anchor was heaved aboard and the sails went up; Najib smiled at the way it responded even to this light breeze. Even with the unexpected delays they’d be well away before the Europeans could come up, and none of his men left for the savages to torture.

———————–

Aboard the KD Dendam
Ten miles east of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean
Dog watch, four bells

“Sails ho!”

“Where away?”

“Two points off the starboard bow!”

Najib squinted in the direction indicated, but couldn’t make out any sails on the horizon; that was, of course, exactly why they had a lookup at the top of a mast, to see further.

“What colours?” he shouted.

“Red and gold!”

That was the Lion Rampant, the banner of the Scottish kingdom. Najib frowned; he was reluctant to lose the speed of sailing straight before the wind. The Scots were plainly out in force; who knew what squadrons they might have just north, ready to entangle him after a fancy maneuver? No, simplicity was best, and trusting the speed of the Dendam. Besides, in a passing engagement he might easily come off the better, and the enemy were far from their bases; any losses he inflicted would be magnified, while he was headed for home and repairs. And after all, they were only Scots; he’d never turned his back on a foreign devil before, and had no mind to start now.

“We’ll go straight through them,” he decided, “and give them something to remember us by.”

———————–

Aboard the KD Dendam
Fifteen miles east of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean
Dog watch, seven bells

The Dendam‘s broadside thundered again, and Najib grinned nastily at the sound of breaking wood and screaming that drifted across the water. “My compliments to Encik Musa; tell him, good shooting, and he should give his crews an extra ration of grog once we’re clear.” The midshipman doing runner duty sped off for the gundecks, and Najib returned his attention to the Scots ship lying half a mile to the Dendam‘s starboard, wreathed in powder smoke. Muzzle flashes glinted; the Scots were still fighting – but their stubby old-fashioned guns, deadly enough at close range, were doing well to get one hit in ten at this distance. The other ships of the enemy squadron were maneuvering, trying to angle themselves so that the Dendam would be unable to avoid getting close, where numbers would count; but Najib could see they were too late, he was about to show them what the clean heels of a real sailing ship looked like. “Lubberly beasts,” he sneered, then turned to order his helmsman to turn a point to port; that would allow him to avoid the wallowing European caravels while still exchanging another two or three broadsides.

In the vast noise of a battle at sea, the crack sound was almost lost; it wasn’t until later, thinking back over the battle, that Najib realised he’d actually heard the disaster happening. He felt the shudder under his feet as the handling of the ship changed, and looked about for the cause; it was as though the wind had, literally, been taken from his sails and the mast was no longer pushing the ship – but the wind was as fresh as ever, and there was no ship behind him to shadow his. Not until the top half of the mainmast was fifteen degrees out of true and well on its way to the deck, spilling screaming topsmen, did he realise what had happened. A lucky shot at the weak spot, the join where two tree trunks were spliced into a single tall mast; the iron bands cracked open under the force, and the sails pulling the upper half of the mast forward, unconnected to the rest of the ship except by rigging. Disaster.

There was nothing to be done about it, would have been nothing even if he’d actually seen the shot strike. The ship could sail, could even fight, without the mainmast; it would take him an additional week to limp into a Ceylon harbour, and a few days to raise a new mast, that was all. That was why the Tentera Laut DiRaja aimed low, to kill men and dismount guns, not high to foul sails. But first he had to fight his way clear of the Scots squadron, without half his sails and with the rest hopelessly tangled in the fallen rigging. It can’t be done, he thought, knowing that he looked at his own death and the death of all the fevered sailors in the hold, that he’d tried to save.

“Encik Hisyam!” he shouted. The Dendam was doomed, but that was no reason to stop doing what they could. “Get a party with axes, chop free the mast, heave it overboard. Ahmad! Break out the boarding pikes, we’ll have visitors before long. You!” This last to a midshipman too new to have earned the honour of being addressed as ‘Encik’, much less being called by only his name. “Tell Encik Musa to keep firing, but prepare chain and grapeshot. Our friends think they like to fight at close range. We’ll change their minds for them.”

———————–

Aboard the KD Dendam
Sixteen miles east of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean
First watch, four bells

Four hours of musketry and screams had left Najib nearly deaf, but the crackle of breaking planks as the European ship majestically collided with the Dendam still had the power to make him wince. Fresh waves of bullets slammed into the deck from the other ship’s masts, and a screaming mob of enormous ogres poured down onto his empty aftcastle; they were stripped to the waist, exposing their vast hairiness, and even through the choking powdersmoke Najib fancied he could smell their stench. He gritted his teeth as they chopped at the ropes holding his War Ensign, and it fluttered down. Nobody would take it for surrender, there was no danger of anyone accusing him of striking falsely, but it galled him to see the flag that had been presented to him personally when his ship was commissioned taken down.

He had a remedy for that, though. He shouted, and his sailors fired their muskets in a single volley; their two murdering pieces, mounted for the occasion on what was left of the mainmast, spewed iron nails from their two-inch mouths, and his officers added pistol bullets to give a touch of class to the carnage. “Kill them!” he shouted, leaping forward with his sword at the ready; his men followed – he devoutly hoped – with boarding pikes. The confused mass of Europeans on the aftcastle, all cohesion gone in the deadly musket volley, fled before them, back onto their own ship – which was pulling away with its bow shattered by the ironwood of Dendam‘s timbers. Najib grinned fiercely as the last European jumped and barely caught himself on a piece of rigging hanging from the enemy ship’s bowsprit. That for their boarding party!

His triumph faded slightly as he gave orders to jury-rig the War Ensign to the mainmast. He was still master of his ship – dismasted and battered though it was – but two more Europeans were coming up, one on either side, and the stubborn bastard at his bow was still firing, though his guns must have been red-hot. He bared his teeth. At least he’d taught them better than to try boarding; they would have to batter him to pieces.

———————–

Aboard the KD Dendam
Sixteen miles east of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean
First watch, six bells

Najib gritted his teeth against the agony in his elbow and torso, and forced himself to stand straight. “Fight on,” he said. “If they were Japanese, or even Koreans, yes; if we could expect to be treated in a civilised way. But these dogs of Europeans? No. No surrender. We’ll blow the ship, and die clean in the ocean, not begging for mercy in torture chambers.”

His officers looked at each other, gray-faced in the dark. Their unspoken consent elected Ahmad spokesman; he swallowed, but it was clearly his task, and he faced it manfully. “Sir. I believe you are distraught. The Scots have offered their word for our good treatment.”

“The word of a foreign devil?” he intended to sneer, but it came out as a gasp; the grayness in his vision wasn’t all because the sun had set, he realised – then he was falling. “Fight on,” he said, or thought he did, but he knew it was futile; Ahmad would take command now, and Ahmad had a wife and children. Ahmad would not give the order to blow the gunpowder. The darkness came up to claim him.

———————–

The KD Dendam was taken prize, but was not taken into the Kongelige Leidang, being too badly battered for economical repair. The KL St Olaf and KL Lejonen, both damaged by the Dendam‘s heavy broadsides, collided in the storm that blew up after the action, and sank with both hands. True to their word, the Scots treated their prisoners according to the laws of war, though many of them still died of the fever that had ravaged Admiral Yang’s squadron. The captain of the Dendam, Najib bin Tun Abdul, died of his wounds two days after the surrender. His first officer, Ahmad bin Haji Razak, survived until the end of the war, and returned home to be given the honorary title ‘Tun’ for his part in the action off Mauritius; several other officers were also honoured, and Najib was posthumously given the title ‘Dato’. The stubborn effectiveness of the Dendam‘s last fight was instrumental in persuading the Scots admiral, Johann MacRanvale, not to seek a decisive battle with the joint Malayan-Korean-Japanese fleet.

Revenge

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