One Week Later.
SeeD had lost a number of fine soldiers on the night they came under attack. To the tally, Chalmers and Timerston had been added, mostly through their own disobedience of a direct order. After the ultimatum was issued, the first day, most of the ships to be involved in the attack moved southwards. In addition, SeeD withdrew some of the Airborne and Special Forces from Vologo Graznier.
Despite this, Amanver's government had steadfastly ignored every demand by Esthar, Balamb and SeeD to hand over the accused South Timber agents. Even pressure from Dollet had little effect, the former colonial ruler of Amanver and still their main supplier of arms and reluctant political supporter being ignored just as the two nations and one organisation moving forces southwards had been ignored. Instead, the island of Viluven off the northern shore of the country, the place the Southern agents had fled to had been bolstered by Amanverian troops deployed alongside the Southern force of mercenaries and some soldiers from the FRCMA paramilitary irregulars that had apparently been building up on the island for the last year. Esthar had ensured that twenty-four hour satellite coverage had watched for the entire week, watching troop build-ups and for anyone leaving the island. It had been confirmed that not one of the twenty-three suspects had left the area they were in, the oil fields in the centre of the island.
It was a strange kind of brinksmanship the former Dollet colony was playing: In the event of the threatened military assault to capture the southern agents, their troops would be on the line, and in a position to vigorously protest the attack on their forces and their land by foreign aggressors. However, by forcing the Southerners onto the island, easily reached and relatively open to a determined assault. Of course, there would be inevitable casualties for any attackers. If the island's defenders managed to repel the attackers, then Amanver had won a victory against aggressors. If the island fell, Amanver lost little, as the southern agents were no longer passing them useful Galbadian-made technology via South Timber any more.
The island itself had been inhabited only to produce oil from the fields below the desert sands in the centre of the island, but due to close proximity with Tansin, the frequent wars between the two nations saw the first battles often occur at the island. As a result, the island also had a heavy military presence, in addition to rows of fortifications in the two main settlements of the island, Orgavner in the north, and Izrani in the south. The settlements had been home to the oil workers and their families, and those who had provided services to the workers. The oil from the desert fuelled the power plant at Orgavner, and the island even had its own refinery on the east coast of the island.
But the strain of being in the firing line with Tansin took its toll. The army barracks was joined by a permanent naval presence in the docks at Izrani and the refinery, oil tankers leaving the island with naval escort. Then when Tansin threw its elite paratrooper forces onto the island and captured the oil wells around the same time Galbadian troops were fighting in Timber, the government had an airfield built to ensure a permanent presence of interceptors. But as the oil fields were drained, it grew more expensive to recover the oil, and so too did it grow in cost to defend the island. The final straw was the seventh battle to take place there in less than sixty years. Though that battle twelve years ago had seen Amanver's naval superiority as the fifth largest navy in the world against the then seventh largest confirmed by a crushing defeat of Tansin's navy, it had shown that the island was too vulnerable to brute force assault to make the risk of stationing civilians and troops there worthwhile. A year later, the island had been evacuated. The two cities, populated with sixty thousand people in each at the height of the oil drilling in the desert, were ghost towns. Armed forces facilities had been cleared of all useful removable items and shifted to the mainland. Only a skeleton crew of the Navy remained, tending the destroyer and two frigates that had been based here still.
However, the navy of Amanver was largely composed of retrofitted ships that had been afloat in some cases for fifty years, and more than one had actually been sunk, salvaged, and put back into service by the isolated nation. They still operated a battleship, the ARNS Riggs one of only four nations still operating them, the others being Tansin, Dollet, and Dusania. That forty-year old warship was backed up by two of the nation's four cruisers, four of twelve destroyers, one of two helicopter carriers, their most modern ships, eight of their twenty four frigates, and sixteen of their forty-eight corvettes. The battle group had been under observation by Estharian satellites for the entire week, floating off the opposite side of the country. However, the main threat to the allied navy was the twelve attack submarines Amanver had.
The ships confirmed in the area of the island were not largely a threat to the allied force. Amanver's doctrine of two-four-eight, referring to a destroyer task force of two such warships, four frigates and eight corvettes, would have been hard pressed to engage an Estharian super carrier alone.
And the allied navy had one. The EFS Admiral Masorin, and her compliment of seventy fighter-bomber aircraft along with two missile cruisers, Krasgorvia and Admiral Potstovny. Balamb had sent one of her two light aircraft carriers, BNS Eden plus the marine assault ship Gregory Jackson and two Type 91 class destroyers. SeeD had sent Balamb Garden Mobile and the Helicopter Carrier Leviathan.
But the submarine threat could protect against anything in the allied fleet, except the vanguard. Three of Esthar's nuclear-powered attack submarines swept the seas in front of the fleet and in one case around the island. That one had in fact been tracking an Amanverian submarine for two days. When the time was right, it was ordered to sink that submarine immediately.
Assuming the Amanverian navy would pose little surface threat and that the risk of submarine attack could be overcome or neutralised, allied troops would face a large, well-trained military force on the island. Three Amanverian Air Force DF-2 fighters and six DI-1 interceptors sat in the airbase on the island, the runway and hangars having been quickly repaired to remove damage done by the weather over the eleven years the base had sat abandoned. In addition, a fully operational airbase was less than sixty miles away on the mainland, well within the range of the aircraft there.
Four thousand soldiers were on the island. Among them approximately five hundred mercenaries, mostly from Dishagoum and Krastovia who were unaffiliated to any large organisation such as SeeD, hired ironically by former members of a South Timber intelligence agency dedicated to counteracting mercenaries from SeeD. Another estimated five hundred paramilitaries from the FRCMA Direct Action groups were also present. Finally, Amanver had sent three battalions of men to the island.
In terms of equipment, the defenders had a total of twenty four tanks. A tank company of sixteen LeCraic battle tanks, and eight Galbadian-made Light Battle Tank 80s brought along by the South Timber paramilitaries. Only the latter eight tanks had decent fire control systems however, and they were light tanks, meaning that up against the sixteen Challenger tanks the allies had brought, they were outclassed in terms of armour and armament. An anti-aircraft company of nine mobile SAM systems was on the island, three systems forming a battery. Additionally, a few of the fixed SAM and anti-aircraft gun sites on the island had been restored, though these were few in number. Finally, the defenders had a mixture of Dollet General Purpose Truck Threes and Galbadian General Purpose Four Wheel Drive Vehicles totalling fifty-five DGPT3s and twenty GPFWDVs.
The allies had their sixteen tanks, plus a hundred and two DGPT4s. Thirty six landing craft, twenty two helicopters and eighteen transport planes would land over three thousand soldiers onto the island, among them SeeD, Estharian, and Balamb Defence Force paratroopers, the latter force consisting of the elite Ranger Wing. Additionally, SeeD's famous Ragnarok airship/dropship would land half the SeeD Special Forces to be involved in the battle. The rest would deploy by helicopter, along with a large part of the SeeD Airborne regiment. SeeD and Balamb marines would also deploy by helicopter. Six attack helicopters and fifteen VTOL fighters would also come in from the sea. Esthar was also sending twelve bomber aircraft directly from Esthar, nine ABuMi-2 fighter-bombers, and three ABuMi-4 long range heavy bombers. Aerial refuelling had meant these planes had the range to fly the nine hours and thousands of miles to attack the island, and some parts of the Amanverian mainland. Their key targets: the airbase, the anti-aircraft weapons on the island, and then fortifications at the main landing sites.
Zell and his platoon were aboard Balamb Garden along with most of the SeeD forces ready to attack the island. They were a day away from their objective, and it would be five-hundred hours at the earliest before they would attack. However, at the moment, Colonel Matrix was about to begin briefing the commanders of the various platoons of soldiers aboard the former Centra shelter turned mobile base inside the main conference hall. Many of the soldiers aboard had been targets of the attacks a week ago, and the Airborne and Special Forces had all been targeted by enemy action that had resulted in the battle of Vologo Graznier.
'If I miss anything out, don't hesitate to ask, ladies and gentlemen,' Matrix said as he set the projector up.
Over a hundred officers sat amongst the rows of seats, facing down towards the Colonel and the large projector screen. The computer-generated presentation program first showed an image of the island, a satellite image that also covered a small portion of the Amanverian mainland. The various targets were designated with red circles.
'Our strategy begins by sea and air. First up, Esthar's bomber commitment will target the Airfield, anti-aircraft sites, and some defences overnight, and the missile cruisers will lob a few cruise missiles off towards the mainland as well. As soon as the Captain of the Masorin gives word to Seaknife, she is to immediately sink the hostile submarine she is tracking, which we believe to be the Dupérré. She's a vintage diesel-powered boat, been active in the Amanverian navy for over thirty years. But her sonar is way behind Esthar, and Seaknife is unlikely to be detected until she fires on her target. An additional submarine is suspected to be in the area.'
A hand was raised in the crowd.
'Yes, Captain Almasy?'
'Sir, what are the plans to deal with the second hostile sub?'
'At the moment, we're forced to wait until we know where it is before we can really do anything,' Matrix replied. 'Unfortunately, Esthar has the best anti-submarine capability, so the plan with regards to them is all in their hands. As we are moving closer to the island, the paratroopers are scheduled to land at oh-eight-hundred approx, but they will be capable of circling for roughly three hours, and aircraft will be carrying out secondary runs on targets on the island. Their task is clearing a path for landing teams and supporting the paratroopers. Hopefully, the first bombing run will have hit their anti-air capabilities and grounded a few interceptors, but the chances are our VTOLs and the planes off Masorin will be mopping up while we hit further targets. As soon as we have that clear path and our paratroopers are on the ground, we're landing helicopter and beach teams. '
Matrix then brought up a map of the island on the large screen he stood in front of, and pointed a laser pen at the southernmost city.
'This is our beachhead. We will land at the cliffs just south of the main docks. We've tracked at least twelve of the enemy tanks in the city. Meanwhile, the BDF will land at the Oil Refinery. Airborne forces will hit the Army base, Air base, and northern city. Special Forces from Balamb and our own troops are tasked with the Airbase, alongside the Marines. Our Paras will hit the army barracks, and Estharian Paras have the northern city along with our overspill. Our aim is to ensure the oil fields will soon be surrounded, and that there is no way off the island for the troops there. Any questions?'
An hour before dawn, the Estharian bombers neared their targets. Three of the nine fighter-bombers were tasked to escort the larger bomber aircraft, and the remaining six formed into three groups of two to hit their targets.
Meanwhile, the allied navy readied its long range abilities. Aboard the Estharian missile cruisers, the powerful K34 Cruise missiles and shorter-ranged Ks56 missiles were being aimed at targets across the island and mainland. The cruisers carried forty of the larger missiles, and eighty of the smaller weapons ready to fire at any one time as well as sixteen R43 unguided rocket pods, able to shower a large area with a spread of dozens of rockets. The weapons could fire in three second intervals, except the rockets which required ten seconds for their payload to safely clear the airspace of the cruiser to prevent weapon fratricide, the collision between missiles in mid-air above the ship, which could have disastrous consequences. Even if the warheads were unharmed, the ships would suffer damage in such an event. In the opening volley, the two cruisers would each fire off their larger missiles at selected targets on the island and mainland, before using the shorter ranged weapons to shower the island with missiles and rockets as they neared.
Garden was armed also, with the C1 Cruise Missile, a SeeD weapon that had been used only five times before in live operations and it had achieved a hit rate of 80%. On this occasion, Garden would fire off sixteen of the fifty missiles aboard at her targets.
Balamb's navy also used the C1, though their ships only carried six each and would only use them on any targets deemed vital.
'Cobra's one to twelve are online and registering their targets. We're ready to fire, sir,' a crewman announced to Colonel Matrix.
'Excellent. We just need to wait on the signal from the Estharians for the go.'
'Control, this is Be-1, approaching target. Estimated time of arrival in five minutes,' the pilot of the Estharian bomber that would be first to near its target announced. Two of the AbuMon-4 bombers were ordered to bombard the cities with indiscriminate, unguided bombs. The third had been ordered to use AK-21 air-to-ground cruise missiles on the naval base on the island. The naval base across the bay in a mainland city was targeted by some of the naval cruise missiles.
'Roger that, be advised that Navy will be sending birds into your airspace below five thousand feet, you are advised to remain above them.'
'Be-2 approaching target, five minutes to drop zone,' the second bomber announced.
'Roger Be-2. Intel has confirmed that the city has been abandoned of collateral targets and you are free to proceed with carpet bombing.'
'Be-3, ten minutes from target, request confirmation of strike orders,' a third bomber chimed in.
'Be-3, you are to proceed with attack pattern four-alpha. We have confirmation you are to launch a secondary strike when all Alpha Kilo missiles are away. You and escort are to assist attack on Barracks with all available ordinance. Tbe-1 Alpha and Bravo are running late,' the controller said, referring to a fighter-bomber wing.'
The fighter-bombers were ordered to strike at key targets such as SAM sites, the barracks, and the airfield. Though it would be a missile attack from the sea that was intended to put the runways out of commission, the Estharian strike planes were expected to destroy hangars, and hopefully, planes still on the ground.
Aboard Seaknife, her captain was somewhat impatient. His crew had been ready to fire two torpedoes at the enemy submarine for over three hours. But he needed to hear that the rest of the navy was preparing to fire. She had been floating with her signals receiver aerial jutting out above the ocean waves for two of those hours.
Suddenly, the radio crackled.
' Seaknife, this is the Masorin. Surface missiles are prepared. Repeat, surface missiles are prepared. We are to launch in two minutes, as are you. Good hunting, Seaknife,' came the simple message.
The captain relayed the information across the ship's announcement system.
'Now hear this. We have the green light to fire upon targeted vessel in t-minus one minute and fifty seconds. All hands to battle stations and prepare for combat.'
He stared at his watch, torn between willing the seconds to spin by faster or wishing them to go slower. He had been in the navy ten years and this was his first real engagement. He was anxious to succeed, but not as such impatient to commence. True, he did look forward to firing his first war shots, but he was still aware of the stark reality of both the facts his comrades on the seas above relied on him and his ship to stop this enemy submarine from threatening them. He was also just as aware that to do so, at least a hundred sailors just doing their jobs in service to their country would be killed if his mission succeeded. The thought that failure meant those sailors may kill the hundred and thirty aboard his ship, plus more on the surface, helped a little to suppress any pre-emptive feelings of guilt at such a fact.
Zell observed his team boarding the landing craft, noting how different the new landing craft were compared to the type he had last landed on a beach in. Ten years ago, an assault boat able to land a few squads onto a beach, the SLC-1A, had ferried him ashore at Dollet during his exam. Now he was a Major, and looking at a hovercraft landing craft that would take his platoon and three DGPT-4s onto the island. SeeD were sending eighteen of the craft ashore from Garden, two of them carrying tanks. Balamb's marine assault ship Gregory Jackson would be sending the same compliment ashore at the cliffs by the ghost town of Izrani and the oil refinery.
The ship was a two-deck transport about fifty meters by twenty, the lower consisting of an enclosed hold, the three trucks towards the rear. Beyond that, the troop cargo bay, where there were simple bench seats that would retract down into the deck as they neared the target. The upper deck was merely the bridge, nothing more than the control computer and fire control terminals for the remote weapons systems including two turrets that mounted twin heavy machine guns and an eighty millimetre auto-loading mortar launcher, allowing the landing troops to advance under cover of heavy weapons.
On the upper decks of the Garden, however, Seifer's Special Forces team were boarding a very different type of vehicle. The Ragnarok-pattern airship (Though termed a dropship by SeeD due to its ability to reach orbit and land from it) had been repainted in the same infrared suppressing grey paint of other SeeD aircraft since it had became an official SeeD ship nine years ago, and had been modified to carry more than a mere ten extra crew. Now, it could take up to forty eight persons, but in this case, was carrying twenty-four plus six DGPT-4s.
The VTOL compliment of the Garden was also ready to take off, prepared to launch as soon as the missile bombardment had stopped launching. The same was true of the VTOLs aboard the Balambian aircraft carrier, and the various fighter wings on the Estharian supercarrier.
Flying in about an hour behind the airborne bombers, were a fleet of Estharian, SeeD and BDF troop transport planes, carrying almost half the infantry to land on the ground. Esthar's compliment included an unusual set of vehicles, BMD Mobile Personnel Carrier Tank 2s. These Estharian infantry fighting vehicles could actually be dropped by parachute, driver and aboard, and fight the second they landed. Each transport carried four of these plus eighty paratroopers. Each was armed with a seventy millimetre cannon and co-axial machinegun, as well as a rack of three wire-guided anti-tank missiles, firing ports for passenger small arms, and a hull-mounted machine gun. It could carry up to ten paratroopers in a rather cramped rear hold, though it was likely to be landing some distance from the paratroopers.
On the bridge of the Admiral Masorin, Captain Rurik Gennadi watched the dark sea, and the red-lit deck below him. The planes aboard the ship had begun taking off a minute ago, and were heading for their targets.
'Thirty seconds,' someone announced. Gennadi looked down at the watch on his wrist, watching the seconds tick down. Fifteen. Ten. Nine...
Half a mile either side of the carrier, the glows of missile afterburners streaked into the sky. Within ten seconds, eight weapons had been fired by the three missile-armed ships. The firing kept up for thirty more, until twenty four targets had missiles heading towards them.
The firing ceased after a minute, all the first wave of missiles on the way and set to impact their targets in times ranging from three to seven minutes. The missiles that had first fired had disappeared, camouflaged amongst the stars in the pre-dawn sky.
Fighters had been scrambled the moment the enemy aircraft had appeared on radar. The first three were preparing to lift off in a few moments. Air raid sirens had sounded across the island and in the mainland, and orders had begun being shouted into telephones and communications systems to call for reinforcements. They would mostly be denied, the government confident it could handle the enemy assault with the force it had deployed.
'We have confirmed missile launches, Captain,' the chief radar operator announced as the first cruise missiles began appearing on the radar. He was in the airbase, in a bunker fifteen meters below ground and protected by that thickness of concrete and steel, but the main and secondary radar arrays were located throughout the island, left from before the airbase was built and vulnerable even to partial hits. Only half of them had been restored to operational status, and maintenance workers had been attempting to fix the rest around the clock.
'Do we have confirmation of inbound aircraft also?'
'Yes sir, at least three bombers and nine smaller aircraft, probably fighter bomber aircraft.'
'Two of the lighter planes are heading this way. Bombers are targeting the towns and refinery. I assume some of the missiles are headed for the mainland.'
'Keep your eyes on those missiles,' the captain said, before moving to his office.
A maintenance worker turned to ask a question of the chief radar operator.
'Shouldn't we be evacuating this place? I mean, won't they want to destroy the radar?'
The radar man laughed.
'We're under three hundred tons of steel and concrete. They've not got any conventional weapon that can penetrate it,' he said, and noticed for a brief second, a tiny dot appear on the screen then vanish. It had been coming from the direction of Galbadia, not the enemy fleet nor enemy bases, so he presumed it was another glitch caused by the repairs.
On the Seaknife, the torpedoes had been launched. The captain was listening to the sonar operators coverage of events.
'Got engine noises. They're on to us. Sounds pretty erratic though.'
'They don't know which way to turn.'
'Seems so, sir. Wait... Some light pops. Decoys I assume. They've really put the engine to the limits, sir, they're making more noise than a music concert.'
He heard the explosions of the torpedoes, and flinched at the loud noise erupting in his ear. As the effects of the blast faded, he heard what he had been waiting for.
'Sir, target is breaking up, I repeat, target is breaking up. It's been sunk, sir.'
'Good work gentlemen. But remember, there's at least one more out there. Either we get it or we help someone else get it, but we have to stop it.'
And as the first missiles and bombs began striking across the island, the battle had begun at sea without the enemy navy even realising a ship had been lost.