Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2013, Karl Leffler
War Stories: Wings of Gold
25 Thirdmonth 331JR/4 July 2216CE
Terra, Sol, Terran Empire
It was the Battle of Terra.
The Third, technically. The First had been the day of Escape, 11 April
2009CE, 1 Firstmonth 1JR. Nora Gaines, JRS Independence, Enterprise, the Founders' Fleet, had shot their way out of the prison their
mother-world had become.
The Second couldn't rightly be called a “battle”, but a strategic raid: 324JR, 2212CE, all then-five of the then-new Valiant
strike cruisers, each with a Class-18 Marsten Gun in their spines, Transitioning near the Ceres shipyards, exiting hyper at .27c in realspace, ripping through the Belt at a quarter lightspeed and doing what Nagumo should have at Pearl Harbor, wrecking docks, shops, fuel depots – then Transitioning again for a Close Transit Attack on Terra, again at relativistic speed and shedding KEWs all the way, while reports from outsystem were still being made, smashing eleven Imperial capital ships and at least twenty lesser and failing to kill Emperor Kresek II in Ajaccio only because, by chance, he wasn't there – but his palace wasn't there anymore either. Valiant, Charleston, Normandy, Augusta, Arlington, never slowing, escaped without a scratch.
Valiant and Normandy were back now, with many new sisters, and to stay. It was three Terran years later, seven Republic, the sixth and twelfth year of the Republic-Empire War.
New Israel had been liberated, and many of the haganah and latter-day ronin who had suffered three brutal Republic years of Imperial occupation now filled the troop transports and landers of First Fleet, wearing the Star, Snake and Rifles of the Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps.
Nouveau Corsica, the Imperial capitol world, had been taken, the Emperor committing suicide after transmitting his surrender – which his
son and successor, Kresek III, denied, dragging worlds into flames
Eyan was free and some few of the six-limbed aliens were along as well; some of the Imperial humans who had murdered them and worse had
escaped, and would be identified, later, in courtrooms or morgues.
The outer system, the moons, the Belt, Mars, had fallen. First Fleet had arrived in full: All three of the completed Republic class dreadnoughts, BV03 Scotland in the lead with shipwrights still aboard; CV01 Constitution, 02 Thomas Jefferson and 05 William Wallace, with their full complements of Corsair fighters and Banshee bombers; nearly every battleship left in the Republic Navy, with enough firepower to burn through moons; cruisers, destroyers, over a hundred Tommy Atkins class transports, their modular design making them adaptable as tankers, freighters, troopers; seven full Legions of Marines in the first wave alone, including Legio XXI,
the Free Scots, at long last coming home.
The Third, the Last, Battle of Terra had begun.
Lieutenant Colonel William Thomas Whipple, JRMC, callsign “Shooter”, was Acting Commander Air Group – CAG – for CV02 JRS Thomas Jefferson, second of the Constitution class carriers. His predecessor, Veronica “Vee” Lu, Commander JRN, had chosen him as her exec just before Nouveau Corsica, because she knew, as a Navy pilot, she didn't have the training or viewpoint necessary for the ground-attack and close-support missions to come.
She had vanished in a flash of light during yesterday's mission to mop up Luna, leaving Shooter as CAG. But her torpedoes had struck their targets, and pieces of Fort Luna had achieved Lunar escape velocity. Now, the Imperial Terran Navy – all of it which remained – had massed for their last stand. The Jeffersonian Republic Navy, all four Fleets, had likewise gathered to destroy them. In terms of numbers of ships and personnel, it just might be the largest naval battle in recorded history.
Whipple was leading Carrier Air Wing Two, all of them, in a maximum-effort strike. He was also flying lead for VMFA47, his own strike squadron in the second wave, and by the gods they had all eighteen birds up at last and he had already put Senior Chief Avaron in for a gods-damned medal. There were three other strike squadrons in Thomas Jefferson's group; VA2 and 19, experienced Navy ship-killers, were in the first wave, while Marine 47 and 35 would follow. The third wave consisted of VMB50 and 51, the Banshee bombers whose payload alone outmassed a fully-loaded Corsair. Once the path was clear, they would methodically destroy every non-Jeffersonian object in Terran orbit. VF2 and 17 were providing pure-fighter escort, with EW birds interspersed. Over a hundred fighting craft, weapons at every hardpoint, vomiting from their launch bays the moment their crews had stopped vomiting from the Close Transition.
An entire Carrier Air Wing... but just one of six full Wings in this attack, from three true carriers and the three new dreadnought hybrids, plus additional squadrons from the battleships folded into the Wings. Eight hundred nineteen fighters and bombers, over a thousand crew, and behind them the biggest guns ever put in space, already spearing enemy ships with beams of faster-than-light particles.
Their targets were the Imperial capital ships, finally mounting their own Marsten Guns, though behind the Republic's in range, power, and reliability. Those guns, those ships, had to be neutralized if the invasion force was to land safely. Whipple, a Marine officer, was by necessity a student of history, and knew that was why Hitler never invaded Britain: he had failed to achieve air superiority.
We will not fail, he thought, as he watched the first wave start knocking holes in the enemy CAP and knocking out the last ships the Imperial Terran Navy would ever build.
Watching his tactical display, he saw, he sensed the moment. “Second Wave,” he transmitted: “attack.”
He was alone in a mostly-standard Corsair IX; he had no back-seater, the computers in his craft and his suit performed that role. The aerospace fighter had been designed shortly before the War began. Production had begun at Steeltown Aerospace's Orbital Yard Two, which soon fell to Imperial occupation – or would have, if some Jeffersonian whose name would never be known hadn't triggered a 60kt nuke during the takeover ceremony, vaporizing six hundred Imperial troops, nine hundred of his or her fellow New Israelis to be employed as slave labor, three Imperial generals and two admirals, and the entire Corsair production line, denying its use to the enemy. The blast also wrecked three enemy destroyers and a cruiser.
But complete plans had been transmitted as soon as they were available. Constitution Shipyards at Wilson's Colony, concentrating on larger ships, had only one production line for Corsairs, but at New Texas three companies each ran their own, while at Monticello, Marsten Inc. had two and Monticello Motors had four. More than nine thousand had been built so far.
Whipple reflected that after today, orders would start to be canceled.
Thrust hauled him “down” into his couch, which was gimballed to the optimum angle for freefall maneuvering as a spacecraft, as opposed to atmospheric flight. His helmet's visor showed the whole second wave all around him, exactly as planned, and there was their target, a Dictator-class battleship, B11 ITS Thurmond Richards, named for the last Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America and reviled in the same breath as Benedict Arnold and Barack Hussein Obama. “Marine Four-Seven,” he called, “target identified. Let 'em have it!”
The Dictators were huge ships, about a hundred kilotons, comparable in size to the Republic's own Kentucky class, but somehow the secret of the Marsten Gun had eluded Terran scientists, even after they'd discovered the Drive, until shortly before the War. The Dictators carried eighteen Class-15 Marstens – naturally they called them something else – in six rings, somewhat evenly spaced along the length of the hull. Only two of the three on each ring could bear on a target at the same time. The Kentuckys carried a broadside of only six guns, but theirs were Class-20s, two each on three rings, and all could be brought to bear at once. In addition, these ships carried a monstrous Class-32 in their spines, with the range and power to destroy capital ships from more than four light-seconds – if the target could be tracked accurately enough, which remained a problem. At New Israel and Eyan, they'd been much more useful against surface targets or those in stable, non-maneuvering orbits.
The Dictators were older, pre-War designs, among the first Terran ships to mount Marsten Guns of any kind. Quickly surpassed by the Schumer and Conquistador classes, the Dictators had been relegated to training or reserve duties – but now they were all the Empire had left. And they won't have those much longer, Whipple thought as he loosed his pair of torpedoes.
One area in which the Terrans had surpassed the Jeffersonians was in fission warhead design. They had developed a way to shape a fission explosion. The yield was only .093 kiloton, it couldn't be made more powerful and still work as a shaped charge, but it had been a bloody horror when first employed against Republic panzers during the Liberation of New Israel. But a few live examples were captured intact. Jeffersonian scientists cracked it in a day, improved it the next, and had a production line running by the end of the week.
Along with the real torpedoes, Whipple released four miniature decoys with identical flight envelopes and electronic signatures. His suit's computer knew which were which and tracked the real ones as he and his squadron vectored away. The torpedoes' motors were crude fusion rockets; they didn't have to be sophisticated because they would only be used once. Without the need for durability or even safety, they gave over four hundred meters of acceleration and could sustain that rate for 53 seconds. Kinetic effects alone would cause considerable damage, but the shaped fission bombs would pierce deep into an enemy ship or station, atomic fire devouring all before them.
On his displays, Whipple followed the torpedoes' paths. The enemy battleship frantically spewed countermeasures and defensive fire. A decoy was destroyed; another; by sheer volume of fire one of Whipple's true torpedoes was hit. He watched the other as it drew closer, closer-
He spun his craft to see with his own eyes, as all his squadronmates did the same. Their visors dampened the pinpoints of nuclear brilliance. Examination of flight recorders would later determine that eleven torpedoes had struck, and ITS Thurmond Richards became an expanding cloud.
And then, in the oldest tactic in the history of combat, the enemy dove out of the sun.
On his radio, Whipple heard the alarm: “Bandits, bandits, sweet mother of God, hunnerds of 'em!”
“I didn't know there were that many-”
Then a new voice bellowed with authority: “CUT THE CHATTER YOU CLOWNS!” Whipple knew the voice: Commander Lisa “Lips” Taylor, leading VF17 and Whipple's own choice for exec. She went on: “Watch your fuel and ammunition, we've a day of work ahead of us. Aim and squeeze, no spraying! Nobody slack on the job or we'll be out here all day mopping up the strays! Blue group, left flank high, drive 'em. Green group, right flank low, catch 'em. Red and gold on me, right up the middle, break 'em. Chaaaarge!”
Just as Marine pilots were best at attack missions, the Navy was best at dogfighting. “Marine Four-Seven,” Whipple called, “form on Navy One-Seven. Lips, this is Shooter, we're right behind you, lead the way!”
It was the largest aerial engagement since two socialist empires met over Kursk, and the largest aerospace dogfight of all time. Over eight hundred Jeffersonian fighters and bombers faced every fighter the Empire could crew and launch, nearly two thousand. Flight recorders would be examined for years to untangle the result. Whipple led his squadron into the merge, his computers reading IFFs and picking out the enemy. He fired his first Adder missile, then his second, his wingman locked in behind his starboard wing and doing the same. More targets appeared and his mass-drivers chattered, threatening to shake his craft apart with recoil though he knew they wouldn't. Imperial Falcon fighters, small, simple, mass-produced, their quality resting in their quantity, burst apart before him, for his callsign was a statement.
A tremendous impact threw his Corsair into a tumble.
“CAG, you're breaking up,” his wingman called. “Eject eject eject!”
“This is Shooter, punching out!”
The Corsair IX aerospace fighter was a very rugged ship, but even it could be shot down. The cockpit was an armored shell, made of the same layered cermet as panzer hulls and the same armorglas as cruiser viewports – the designers paid the weight penalty gladly, and slept better for it. Though scarred and scorched, the pilot's module cleanly separated from the disintegrating spacecraft, almost 2,000 kilometers above the atmosphere.
The module was designed to support its occupant for up to 100 hours, and Shooter's suit could support him for at least fifty more. The battle would be over – won – by then, and if he didn't get smacked by a wildly-maneuvering ship or random piece of debris or ordnance, he had an excellent chance of being picked up.
Unfortunately, at the time of ejection, Shooter's fighter was on a vector to intercept the surface of Terra at a relative velocity of nearly three kilometers per second. His suit's computer informed him he would impact the surface in about thirteen minutes, the atmosphere a little sooner.
The module had a few attitude jets and a very limited amount of reaction mass. Shooter set to work with his suit 'puter, plotting his ballistic course. He couldn't choose which part of the planet he would land on, but he had some luck: he was going to miss the three-quarters-water and hit within hiking distance – for a Monticellan-conditioned Marine – of Ulan Bator, where he'd been briefed there was a Resistance organization.
If he lived that long.
With the computer's help, Shooter oriented his module for entry. The designers had planned for it, Shooter had trained for it... in simulators. No living person had ever done it.
The minutes rolled by and atmosphere licked at, then slammed into the module's armor. Flames bathed what was left of his fighter. G built steadily, but Shooter was a Marine aviator – he could take it. Heat built too, and that began to worry him, especially when great flaming chunks of something could be seen outside his canopy.
Then the canopy shattered and disappeared and Shooter was surrounded, mere centimeters away, by raging hypersonic plasma.
His flight suit had a few things in common with the new Mobile Infantry's experimental power armor. Made of the most advanced materials, it could withstand tremendous heat and impact, could turn even a full magazine from a Dardell 8mm rifle; but unlike the heavy armor of the MI, the person inside the flight suit would be beaten to jelly by the impact, and now Shooter could feel himself cooking as the coolant system screamed in his helmet at maximum. Before his visor was blackened he saw his insignia patches streaking away, aflame. He could feel his hands beginning to burn even through the most fire-resistant gloves any aviator had ever worn.
Just when he was about to start screaming, the buffeting eased, the heat diminished, and his visor's internal display told him he was falling at about Mach 2 from about 50 kilometers, and decelerating steadily.
He let that go on for a while, glad simply to still be alive. The suit 'puter showed him a countdown to the deployment of the first drogue chute – he let it run on automatic.
Now falling just under Mach at 40km, Shooter reexamined his options. Probably the main chutes were fouled or burned as well. He had his personal parachute in his flight suit, and that was semi-rigid with armor, and had been beneath him, between him and his acceleration couch when the canopy shattered – there were no straps to have burned away, it was attached to his backplate with alloy clamps.
He couldn't see through his charred visor and felt blindly – as he had trained and simulated – for the straps which held him into his couch. He only found one, and felt it crumble at his touch. He had come that close to being ejected from the escape module to be incinerated.
Wiping at his visor with a gloved hand, he could finally see, a little. It was day over Mongolia. He made his decision and kicked free of the module.
The slipstream grabbed and tumbled him, flinging him well clear of the wreck. Fortunately the air was thin at this altitude, and did not tear him to mist. As trained, he extended arms and legs to halt his tumble and orient himself face-down. He checked his 'puter for altitude; Joe Kittinger, he thought, eat your heart out. He knew there was a much higher official record over Alexandria, from before the War, but if he lived he figured he'd get an Honorable Mention.
If he lived....
Terra's gravity was lighter than what he had grown up and trained in. He made a perfect landing, quickly hauled in his chute, looked about, paused, and opened his charred visor. He had landed in the northern edge of the Gobi Desert, about a hundred kilometers south of Ulan Bator.
He took a long, slow breath.
The air of Mother Earth was sweet.
Speaking clearly for his suit's recorder, he stated: “Lieutenant Colonel William Thomas Whipple, VMFA47, Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps. As of this time and date, I officially claim this world in the name of the Jeffersonian Republic.”
He took a sip of water from his suit, and began hiking north.
Centuries later, Marine and Naval aviators would still make pilgrimage to the statue of LCOL Whipple in the Gobi Desert – the first uniformed Jeffersonian to land during the Last Battle of Terra.