My first Aeronef battle featuring the Savage Worlds character of ‘Ace’ Woodley….
Flight Lieutenant James ‘Ace” Woodley entered the bridge just as the phone-talker repeated the look-out’s call.
“Four Aerostats. Bearing 000 relative. Range maybe 15,000 meters. Constant bearing, decreasing range!”
Ace spoke up, “Could be that German aerostat flotilla that was poking around last week. Four Heildelberg-class if I remember correctly.”
[Heildelberg/Class 5(DM)/Hull 3/Gun 1/Bomb 3/Speed 12/Turn 3]
The First Lieutenant, Mr. Card, spoke in a dismissive tone, “The Germans use the Heildelbergs as reconnaissance ‘stats. They are gunboats like us but with smaller hulls and only half the weight of fire. We are faster by a factor of half. Even though they outnumber us four to three we outgun them three to two. Should be no problem.”
[Achilles/Class 5(M)/Hull 4/Gun 2/Bomb 0/Speed 18/Turn 4]
“Ever the statistician, Mr. Card,” said the Captain. “Mr. Woodley, it seems your gunners will get some practice today,” the last comment was direct to Ace.
“That would be a first,” came the taunt from Lieutenant Card. Ace looked the First Lieutenant with a slightly bemused expression. He really wanted to strangle the pompous fool but knew that would be bad manners in front of the Captain. Instead he replied to the Captain, “My gunners will do their duty, sir.” Ace turned to leave the bridge.
“Speaking of duty,” Card said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Your white scarf may have been acceptable in the Aeroplane Corps but I remind you that you are now a ‘Nef officer. In the future, I am sure you will dress for duty in an appropriate manner, yes Flight Lieutenant Woodley?”
Ace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Card. Noticing the Captain looking his direction, he threw a sharp salute to the Old Man and dismissed himself with a “By your leave, sir!” As he exited the bridge, Ace was sure Card was smiling at his ability to needle the younger officer.
As the Assistant Gunnery Officer, Ace’s battlestation was in the gunnery plotting room. As he entered, another Lieutenant, Wilson, looked up from the plotting table. “This constant bearing is playing havoc with the plot! Getting a range is really hard!”
“I expect the Captain to turn soon. He has to in order to bring the guns to bear,” Ace spoke. No sooner had he spoken than Ace felt the ship bank into a port turn. To Ace, a former aeroplane pilot, banking into a turn felt natural. To many an Aeronef officer who had come from the wet navy and expected a ship to heel over, the maneuver felt foreign.
Wilson was listening intently to the soundphones over his ears. “Looks like Odysseus is staying astern of us as we swing north, but Theseus is still going due east. Captain isn’t too happy.”
Ace grunted. The Old Man was the Senior Captain of this small squadron, not enough to rank being called Commodore but still, he was in charge….
The call from the bridge came over the ship-wide speakers, “Starboard gunners, stand by!” Ace quickly plugged his soundphones into the speakerbox. The starboard guns were his. The phones were silent except for the occasional order from the Leading Petty Officer in each casement.
“Hey boys,” Ace called out, “we ready for some fun?” The cheers he got back brought a smile to his face and a grimace to Wilson’s. Being a former pilot meant Ace was a lot friendlier with the enlisted men. He may be popular with his men, but many of his fellow ‘nef officers frowned upon his actions. None so more than First Lieutenant Card.
“Range 8,000 meters!” Wilson announced.
“Open fire!” The order came from the bridge. Quickly Achilles started spitting out fire from its light, quick-fire guns. By order of the Captain, Ace relayed to his gunners to concentrate on the lead ship. As the two squadrons approached one another, the Germans had shifted to a line abreast formation. The lead ship was actually the second ship from the right.
Ace could hear the cheers from the gunners as solid hits were scored. With all three ships concentrating their fire, it was a short few minutes before the first enemy aerostat plunged to the sea a burning wreck.
The first 10 minutes of the battle and the downing of the enemy aerostat was certainly joyous, but the next 15 minutes were full of frustration for Ace and his gunners. The remaining three aerostats split into two groups, two swinging to the north and one going to the south. Achilles and Odysseus swung behind then alongside the lone southern aerostat and raked its hull several times but it refused to go down. Meanwhile, Theseus took on the two other aerostats by herself. Not long after, Theseus was visibly trailing smoke and slowing down.
“Mr. Woodley!” Ace had not noticed the arrival of the First Lieutenant in his spaces. “The Captain is most disappointed in your gun crews. Because they seem unable to finish this lone aerostat, you are to cease fire while we move to protect Theseus. If it were up to me, I would throw you and the lot at the enemy because even that has a better chance of hitting them than your guns apparently do!”
Ace passed the orders to his gunners and wiped the sweat from his brow. He didn’t even look at Lieutenant Card who glared at Ace for a short time then left for the bridge. It took only a few minutes for Achilles and Odysseus to near Theseus, given how damaged that ship was already. Seeing the British squadron together once again, the German aerostats turned to the east and retreated. At least two of the three were trailing a good deal of smoke.
The loundpeaker boomed, “Mr. Woodley to the bridge!” Wilson looked at Ace and shook his head.
As Ace moved to the bridge he realized that Achilles had not been unhurt in the battle. The damage was noticeable as he entered the bridge. The Captain sat in his chair with his head wrapped in a bandage. Lieutenant Card was pacing the bridge like a tempest.
“Mr. Woodley,” the Lieutenant practically spat out the name, “your extremely poor performance today is a disgrace to the service! I should have you cashiered out for such a poor showing!”
The adrenalin was still coursing through Ace’s veins and this was one fight he was not ready to back away from. “My gunners did as well as could be expected under the circumstances! We need good stable optics to take ranges and a faster way of making calculations so the gun crews can do the real dirty work!”
Card shot back. “So we all need one of those new Babbage machines, yes? To hear that from you of all people; yourself that abhores technology. Well, I don’t need a difference engine to tell me this; the German ‘stats got five good sets of hits on the squadron. One against Achilles, and two against Odysseus and Theseus each. The look-outs tell me that at best we got eight hits on the Germans. Three took down the leader but we only got one hit in the second and maybe two hits each on the other two. That is unacceptable, Mr. Woodley! We outgunned them three to two! We should have at least downed a second aerostat! Your incompetent gunnery crews will force us to land this ‘nef for repairs. Time wasted, Mr. Woodley, time wasted!”
The two men glared at each other. Card glanced down at Ace’s belt and smiled. “Fingering your dead uncles Radium Gun, eh? Admiralty regulations on mutiny are quite clear. Just what are you thinking, Flight Lieutenant Woodley?”
Ace took a deep breathe and slowly moved his hand away from his holster. Someday, Card would pay. Someday, but not today.