Caribbean (TimeLine B) For the first time since arriving at New Orleans, the George Washington was sailing forth, accompanied by four superdreadnaughts and an entire fleet of escorts. Sitting on the bridge, Captain Morrigan knew that Admiral Sir Joseph Porter had been reluctant to risk the Washington, even though the French had nothing that could touch it – or so they thought. The French might have anti-ship missiles from their super-ship, after all.
He smiled as the carrier picked up speed, heading towards Cuba. In theory – and pretty much in practice – they could have struck at Cuba from Florida, but Admiral Jackson had insisted upon the Washington putting to sea – it had been too long since they’d done any proper flying. Captain Morrigan smiled; it had indeed been too long.
“We’re not supposed to worry about politics,” he muttered, as the ships checked in. Admiral Jackson, sitting in the CIC, had been placed in command of the fleet, replacing Sir Joseph himself. The British Admiral hadn’t been worried; the British were used to trading commanding officers in Empire waters. He shook his head; a system that placed one officer in command of a land station, but not of a war fleet was strange, to say the least.
But we’re strange too to them, he thought, watching as the screen adjusted, tracking French and American – United Empire – movements all across the Caribbean. The swarm attack on Panama – an attempt to redo Pearl Harbour – had been launched, under the command of Admiral Anderson. Other attacks, on the ground and the air, had been launched, although the offensive was slowing down in Mexico.
“The radio reports that the fleet is ready,” Gavin Brown said. The radio officer was newly promoted; the original officer had been too important to risk losing. He now ran a machine shop in Springfield, building radios and other electronic equipment. “The transports are ready for servicing their targets.”
“Excellent,” Admiral Jackson’s voice said, over the intercom. “Captain; you may launch your strikes at once.”
Morrigan scowled. He’d been…reluctant to waste a handful of precision weapons, even though the Spanish defences were tougher than the hardly-guided bombers could handle, but Admiral Jackson had overruled him. They had to make some kind of commitment to the cause – particularly if they actually wanted Cuba for themselves.
“Yes, sir,” he said. There was no time for reopening the debate; even if Jackson would have allowed it…it was time to go to war. He glanced over at the CAG. “Commence launching the flight,” he ordered.
Captain Rupert Potter relaxed as the F-18 launched itself into the sky, its electronics automatically picking up and sorting contacts from the orbiting AWACS, before setting his course towards Cuba. The skies were blue – and he was happy.
“Eagle-one, en route,” he said. His radar was already reporting the rising Spanish fighters from the single airbase, older designs rather than the modern ones doing battle over the Southern Front. Cuba, he realised, was almost undefendable against a determined assault – if the British forces were prepared to soak up the casualties. If the Spanish Army failed to evict the landing forces – and with proper support for the British the defenders would never manage to even get into firing range. If that was true, then whoever was in charge of the other side knew better than to waste aircraft defending it.
Bastard slaveholders, he thought. Most of New Spain was fairly well governed, they’d been told, but Cuba was a disgrace. The handful of remains of the natives, heavily interbred, supported by Negro slaves, criminals and people the French Court simply wanted to be rid of, forced together and forced to work for their lives.
“Eagle-one, be warned that there will be anti-aircraft fire,” the AWCAS said. “Radar traces – their radar has improved since the last contact near the Falklands.”
Potter nodded grimly. The radar on the Falklands had been barely able to track the F-18s, only picking up hints of their presence. If the French had managed to improve their radar – so, what did it matter? Even if they could see the F-18s, did they have anything that could shoot them down?
“Understood,” he said. New contacts appeared on his display, tagged as friendly; the Lancaster bombers from Cuba. “Are we going in first?”
“It looks that way,” the AWACS said. “Good hunting…”
“All units, pick your targets and dance,” Potter said, pushing the aircraft forward. Sonic booms followed in their wake as they charged forwards, automatic targeting systems locking onto the Spanish aircraft, hacking them out of the sky before they knew what had hit them. They weren’t a threat to the fighters, but they might have hurt the bombers – and that would have been bad.
“All enemy fighters down,” the AWACS said. “Cleared to engage the main targets.”
Cuba lay below them, still large even at their height, sparkling with black smoke – attempts by the anti-aircraft gunners to interfere with their mission. Potter ignored them, checking the location beacons…and released the bunker-buster weapon he carried. It fell towards the ground, picking up speed…and drove itself into one of the largest castle-like buildings. The shattering explosion could be seen from their height; some weapons must have been detonated.
“That’ll show the slave-fuckers,” one of his pilots shouted, as the explosions billowed up. “Orders?”
“We confirm targets destroyed,” the AWACS said. “You are cleared to return to the Washington.”
“Understood,” Potter said. He took one last look at Cuba, so different than Castro’s world in his own timeline, and set course back to the carrier. The slaves down below would be lucky if they lived in Castro’s Cuba, rather than the unending sink of misery below.
The idea, like many good ideas, was simple and brilliant. The aircraft, in this case a line of Lancaster bombers, would fly along a directed radio beam, using it to navigate all the way to Cuba. When the signal crossed a second signal, it would serve as a signal to drop the bombs. As long as the calculations were correct, it was a certain way of hitting the target.
The Lancaster bombers droned through the day, heading for Cuba. There had been twenty-four castles on the island; now there were only twenty. Each of them had a flight of bombers assigned to cover it…and to hit it with all the bombs the Lancaster could carry. Time passed endlessly as Cuba grew closer…
“The anti-aircraft fire is picking up,” the co-pilot observed. “I think they know we’re here.”
“Radar, our noise, their own aircraft,” Pilot Dowling said dryly. “I think that they’ve always been aware of our coming, Fred.”
Fred smiled at him. He’d been wanting to fly one of the new fighters, but he was too tall for the cockpits, having been streamed into the bomber crews instead. “The alternate aircraft took care of their targets,” he said. “They handled the tough ones…”
“Lucky bastards,” Dowling scowled. He’d wanted to fly one of those aircraft, but apparently there were no training programs for their aircraft. “And what about the signal?”
He glared at a dedicated radio receiver, which was beeping merrily and driving him mad. It had been designed to help keep him awake, but he found it maddening. The beeps continued, without changing, indicating that they were still on the right flight path – but nothing else.
“Are you bastards’ fine down there?” He shouted. No intercom for a military aircraft, even if the original design had been based on a civilian aircraft. “Are you ready to drop the unpleasant packages?”
He didn’t know why the alternatives were almost…ashamed of their own weapons, to say nothing of the weapons they’d given to the pilots and the United Empire. The bombs the plane carried had been designed to really mess up a castle, dropping a bomb weight larger than any artillery used on the Southern Front.
“Yes, boss, we’re ready,” the bombardier shouted back. “Are we nearly there yet?”
Dowling chuckled. “We’ll be there in moments,” he said, as the first anti-aircraft shells exploded near the aircraft. He cursed and swung the Lancaster from side to side, trying to present a difficult target to the Spanish below. The tone of the direction-finder altered as they moved in and out of the signal, trying to warn him about the dangers of losing the signal altogether.
“I think we’re nearly there,” the co-pilot said. Dowling scowled, but swung the Lancaster back onto its original course, trying to avoid the shells. Ahead of them, he could see a castle…except it wasn’t quite a castle, more of a fortress.
The tone changed in a moment. “Bombs away,” he shouted. Seconds later, the Lancaster lightened as the bombs fell away, falling down towards the castle. The rest of the flight followed suit, hammering away at the castle and the surrounding buildings. Explosions billowed up from the castle below, but he couldn’t see how much effect they’d had.
“Time to leave,” Fred commented.
“No argument,” Dowling snapped. He checked the compass and then pulled the Lancaster away, heading back over the sea and then back towards Florida. “How well do you think we did?”
“I have no idea,” Fred said. “Still, we dropped nearly two thousand bombs on the place – we must have hit something vital.”
“Quite a disappointing result, really,” Jackson observed, as the smoke cleared. The castles targeted by the F-18s had been destroyed, and four more had been wrecked by the Lancaster bombers, but the others had hardly been damaged. It was…unsatisfactory.
“I think that we can still land,” Sergeant Jack Hawksmore observed. “We’ve damaged almost all of the castles in the east of Cuba; we land there and scratch the landing in the west.”
“I know,” Jackson said, wishing for the thousandth time that the Marine Expeditionary Unit had come through with them. “Send the orders, now.”
“Yes, sir,” Hawksmore said. Like the rest of them, he was working at several levels above his pay grade. “I’ll see to it at once.”
Fernando, sixth son of the famed Viceroy Cortez, knew that his life was nearly at an end. His single – and traditional – attempt to seize the power of his father had resulted in him being dispatched to take over Cuba, generally considered the worst of the plantations in New Spain. Its proximity to Florida meant that escapees had somewhere to flee too…and the Governor of Florida refused to send back escaped slaves.
He pulled himself off the whore, a woman with Indian, Negro and Spanish blood inside her, and sent her packing with a kick. His castle, the centre of his defences, was in ruins; if he’d been inside, he realised dimly, he would have been killed. Most of the castle staff would have been killed as well, he realised, which meant…
Cursing, he grabbed for his trousers, thanking God that he always carried his weapons with him, and pulled them on. His jacket followed, including the priceless radio he always carried. Cuba was a big island and there were times that he left his castle, just to go walking. He’d broken the slaves, they posed no threat, but the same didn’t apply to the British Royal marines, who might be storming ashore now.
“Sire,” his butler called. His trusted assistant, Don Cervantes could always be relied on. “I feared that you were dead.”
Fernando nodded once, and then checked the damage to the castle. It wasn’t as bad as he had assumed – the whorehouses had been damaged too – and perhaps there would be enough survivors to mount a defence. He summoned up all the Cortez blood within his body, hoping that it wasn’t that diluted, and started to bark orders. The important thing, now, was to take control and ensure that he never lost it…
And then perhaps Father will forgive me, he thought.
“Gather all of the soldiers and pay-servants together,” he snapped, and started to pace around, trying to assess the damage. The walls were unbroken, keeping them safe from any slave revolts, but any force with modern weapons would punch through with ease. “Now, move it!”
Perhaps some urgency lunged through his voice. “Don” – using the butler’s first name as an expression of favour – “what’s happening at Havana?”
“It’s been hit, but not badly,” Cervantes said. Fernando nodded; Havana, the only real city on Cuba and his prize possession, was worth too much intact. “The ships in the harbour have been battered; some of them have been damaged beyond easy repair.”
Fernando used a word his father would have beaten him for using. “Find out what the enemy is doing,” he said, and then corrected himself. The quickest way to being ignored – if not killed – was to start issuing impossible orders. “Can you get the landlines – not the radios – to get reports from all of the castles – those that survive? Tell the boss men that I want all the slaves in lockdown, now!”
Cervantes bowed and headed back towards the castle. One advantage of Cuba’s network was that it could be tapped from outside a formal castle if necessary. He watched as the remaining soldiers, only two hundred of them, gathered in front of him.
“Who’s in charge?” He asked. A young man held up his hand; the Colonel who was supposed to be commanding them was nowhere to be seen. The young…lieutenant looked nervous; Fernando knew how that felt. He wanted to chew the young man out, but he forced a calm tone onto his voice. “What’s your name, son?”
“Miguel, sire,” the lieutenant said. Like Fernando, he had clearly been exiled to Cuba. “I’m the sole surviving senior officer in the castle.”
Fernando – briefly – considered surrender, before dismissing it. “Very good,” he said. “Captain Miguel; you have just been declared my second. Assemble all of the men and stand ready to march to the sound of the guns.”
“Yes, sir,” Miguel said, pulling himself up into an impression of determination. “It will be done at once.”
“Good,” Fernando said, and turned to face Cervantes. “Well?”
“They’re going to land near Guanine,” Cervantes said. Fernando scowled; the tiny town served as the centre for the region, but if the castle had been taken out. “There are two battlecruisers bombarding the town right now.”
“Then we move to Havana, at once,” Fernando said, dismissing any thought of riding to the rescue of the forces in the east. By the time they got there, it would all be over. “We’ll dig into the town.”
“Yes, sire,” Miguel said, when he explained his plan. They could reach Havana with ease, he was sure; he said so in great detail. “We’ll move at once.”
Fernando shook his head. “Have all the wounded tended by the whores,” he said. “Then we can go.” He paused. “Oh, and inform Commodore…whatever his name is that I want the active ships out there, harassing their landing operations. The inactive ones are to add their shells to ours.”
Cuba, in the eyes of Colonel Crenshaw, stank; the island stank of thousands of people who were not free and could never hope to be free. From time to time, the Royal North American Navy plucked drowning escapees out of the water, people who had risked everything to flee the slave camps. As the landing craft closed in on the shore, he watched as the battlecruisers poured fire into the defences; there was hardly any counter-battery fire.
“Forward,” he snapped, as the boat touched down in the sandy beach. The beach was tiny; he leapt out of the boat and charged forwards, followed by his men. The landing craft had swept the beach clear of Spaniards, but there were more coming, even now. They were brave men, he realised, but totally unprepared for modern warfare.
“Mow them down,” he shouted, and threw himself to the ground. His rifle snapped off shots, striking soldiers and slavers alike; all who were attacking had to be stopped. “Hit them!”
“Here comes the secret weapon,” a man shouted. It wasn’t secret, not enough that the men of the Royal Marines didn’t know about it, but the Spanish wouldn’t know about it. Lurching off the first landing craft came the first ever amphibious tank – one designed for work in shallow waters. It splashed through the waters, riding up on the beach, and headed over the small ridge.
“Take that, you bastards,” someone shouted, as the tank rumbled over the ridge. The Spanish fired at it desperately and failed utterly; bullets sparked off its hull, but they couldn’t penetrate.
It won’t take them long to dig up something that can, he thought, as soon as the tank opened fire. Six machine guns swept across the Spanish position, utterly demoralising the survivors, who tried to surrender. Colonel Crenshaw knew his orders; anyone who tried to surrender was to be accepted, provisional to any war crimes trials.
“Take them alive,” he shouted, and the tank stopped firing, allowing his men to take the Spanish prisoner. Colonel Crenshaw watched as the tiny series of trenches, dug very quickly indeed, was emptied, the occasional holdout being quickly dispatched. “Now, move on to the town.”
His forces regrouped as the beachhead was expanded. The Spanish, much to his surprise, didn’t try to counterattack – which is what he would have done. As soon as he had assembled his forces, and enough soldiers and Marines landed to secure the beachhead indefinitely, he led his men towards the nearest town.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” one of his men whispered, as they came across their first body since the battle for the beachhead had ended. The Spaniard had been brutally killed – his penis had been cut off, his eyes had been poked out…and then he’d been left to die in the sun. “Who the hell did that?”
Colonel Crenshaw cast his eyes over the tiny huts and massive fields, too large for any private farmer, and knew the answer. “The slaves are revolting,” he said, and shuddered. If they were that mad at their ‘owners,’ and he could hardly blame them, then all hell had just broken out.
“All of us are to stay together,” he ordered. “I’m going to report this to the Admiral.”