In which the Long War finally enters its active phase; and not all the shots fired are made of lead.
October 7th, 1921
Nile Delta, outside Cairo
The barrage line was close enough that the ever-present rumble of artillery broke apart into distinct, separate blasts, assaulting the ear and the spirit; the men of the Lancieri di Milano were veterans, and knew well enough what those waves of pressure meant. But close or not, it was definitely receding. It had passed over the tiny hill on which the squadron should have stopped and regrouped twenty minutes ago, and though the earth showed black, gaping craters the hill still sparkled and blazed with rifle fire. Worse, the two machine guns were still pouring a deadly rain of bullets from the bunker at its top, as though their ammunition were unlimited and they could happily expend it on merely making a stalled company keep its heads down; the men of the 80th Regiment Roma weren’t even making much effort to shoot back anymore. A bunker on a hill was the lancers’ rightful prey, and if the idiot cavalrymen couldn’t manage to keep their iron horse charging, the supporting infantry weren’t going to risk their lives doing other people’s jobs for them.
Ensuring that jobs got done was the task of officers; which was why Marco was currently being shouted at by a sprig of the oligarchic patricianate that the Repubblica Democratica di Venezia definitely did not have, a man whose rank owed at least two bars to a surname beginning in ‘A’, and nothing to his understanding of engines.
“I don’t know why it is not running, sir,” he said, allowing some of his exasperation to creep into his voice. “If I knew, I would have fixed it. Sir.” The battle gave him cover for at least a small amount of insolence that an officer would not normally allow, in two ways: The noise made tones hard to pin down accurately, and the words had been respectful enough; and an officer who insisted on enforcing petty regulations in the field could have all kinds of unlucky accidents with enemy fire.
To his credit, the captain calmed down; in fairness, the man had just run two hundred meters through heavy fire, which could make anyone too excited to ask sensible questions. “Very well,” he said. “We’ll need to keep this attack moving, nonetheless. Your guns are still working, I hope; open fire on that bunker.”
That was a more sensible course of action, though Marco opined that the captain was going to have a hard time getting the infantry moving with the support of the tank’s three-pounder gun, when the six-inch shells of the barrage hadn’t done it. But that was his problem; Marco suppressed the urge to salute – not in sight of the enemy – and instead straightened and rapped out “Yes sir”. Before he could get back in the tank, however – the commander of a Fiat Carro Armata Mark III doubled as gunner – Enrico popped his head out of the rear hatch. “I found the problem, Sergeant!” he reported.
“Can you fix it?” Marco demanded.
“Kind of. Sand in the damn filter again. So, replace it and shake out the atomizer. But we’re down to one spare, and…” Enrico shrugged expressively; Marco nodded, familiar with the problem.
“Where is it coming from? There’s no sand for a hundred fucking miles!” He gestured in frustration at the fertile Nile Delta that surrounded them, good black earth, perhaps the best agricultural land in the world. He hadn’t been surprised when they lost the first filter, a week ago when they’d just come out of the Sinai; to pick up sand when passing through the most gods-forsakenly barren part of Venice’s dominions was in the nature of things. But each time they’d broken down since then, the explanation had grown more threadbare; two full tanks of gas and a complete dismantle-and-clean of the engine later, this latest breakdown was entering the realm of the impossible. He looked aside at Enrico, wondering; he had never had any cause to doubt the engineer’s loyalty, but the way sand magically appeared in the filters every time the tank was about to do anything important and risky…
His half-formed thought was interrupted by the captain. “I, ah, have something that may help,” he said, uncharacteristically diffident. Marco whirled to face him again, managing to choke down a demand and phrase his words as military courtesy demanded: “That would be very useful, sir.”
The captain looked embarrassed, but reached into his inner pocket and brought out a small glass vial. “Fuel additive,” he said. “Not official issue – something experimental my grand-uncle cooked up. Could be worth a try, though.”
“Yes, sir,” Marco said, snatching the vial. What was the captain’s problem? If it worked they could get a move on before the Egyptian artillery finally got its thumb out and blew them to tiny sandy bits; and if it didn’t they were no worse off. He waited impatiently for Enrico to finish replacing the filter, then poured the whole content of the vial into the gas tank; there couldn’t be more than a few grams, not enough to noticeably dilute three hundred liters of gasoline.
Enrico turned the crank, grunting with effort, and the engine finally started again; the three men shared grins of relief. To Marco’s ear it even seemed to run a little more smoothly than before, though it might have been his imagination. Before returning to his commander’s seat behind the gun, he turned to the captain in curiosity. “Sounds like that did the trick, sir; what’s in it, do you know?”
To his surprise the captain flushed in what looked like embarrassment rather than triumph, but he answered anyway. “Oh, well, my grand-uncle – but sometimes his ideas work. Extract of moly, he told me. Dissolved in salt water.”
The hatch closed on the captain’s words, and the tank roared towards the Egyptian position.
This session I was less plagued by rebels, and I noticed that, although Kuipy had closed the technological window, his army was still half the size of mine, if not two-fifths. Moreover, it was spread all over Africa fighting
rebels loyal patriots who had not yet fully grasped the intricacies of the Five-Hundred-Year Plan, who in their misguided zeal had taken up arms against what they saw as wrongheaded officials; “if only Pharaoh knew what his servants do in his name”, would be their slogan, if Egypt had a Pharaoh. Which of course it doesn’t, in this enlightened twentieth century. In any case, I took this opportunity to restore Venice’s colonial empire in Africa, and gain some defensive depth for the Suez canal that is the jugular vein of my empire. I had, of course, underestimated the PLOTS THAT SPAN CENTURIES:
Greece, three days after my DOW on Egypt.
Italy, some time later. Notice the German occupation of Dalmatia.
In addition to the rebels, which are a nuisance but not actively dangerous, AI Germany and player Fox – the big green power in North America – both declared war on me. PLOTS, indeed. However, I was able to mobilise England against AI Germany, largely on the grounds that everyone knew the player wouldn’t start any such war – Jacob, had he been there, would have offered me expeditionary forces, if Vicky had that mechanic – so it was just a question of making the AI see sense as fast as possible. As for Fox, I was able to buy him off with the two provinces he had cores on, which was cheap. So the war with Egypt came down to actual fighting after all, and as always, Pharaoh’s armies were unimpressive once actually forced to give battle:
Fighting in the Nile Delta. Notice Venetian tanks against Egyptian infantry almost without artillery; further notice the gas bonus. This is attacking a dug-in equal-tech stack with a max-level fortress, in the late game; I was rather surprised at my low casualties. Also a bit disgruntled that I perhaps didn’t need those expensive tanks after all, though they certainly did the job.
Egypt, diplomatically isolated and with its armies crumbling – to the point of mutiny – in the field, surrendered after a few more one-sided battles; I thus recovered Zimbabwe and Sofala (swapped for bits of Persia at the start of Victoria), the accursed city of Damietta, and some nicely fortified defensive depth for the Canal. The resulting surge of
nationalist fervour patriotism made a sea change in Venetian politics, with the radical branch of the Aiello again taking power:
Election results, 1923.
However, they have learned from their mistake: Although still believers in economic planning (I have a rational economic policy again – that is, I have one!) and the primacy of force, they have not imposed a dictatorship. Fascist Venice still holds elections (although not every six months, as has inexplicably been the custom since the Venetian Spring) and allows public meetings; strikes and riots are a great way of finding out who the malcontents are before they grab their guns. In game terms the Fascists are probably my best party, with State Capitalism and Jingoism; I was pleasantly surprised to get them into power – I was trying for the Conservatives, whose Interventionism would at least let me subsidise factories. With the recovery of my economy I am once again poised to become a Great Power.
World map, 1925. Note the restored Venetian colonies in Africa and the continuing partition of Russia.