The Covenant’s 5th Fleet – The Night Watch

With my Covenant fleet painted over a 15 day period and finished (for now) here’s the full background for them, as promised, and complete with shiny pictures.

Commissioned in 1860, the 5th Fleet was charged with patrolling the dark waters surrounding the Covenant’s domain. Initially little more than a task force made up of cruisers and frigates, coordinated by the battleship CSS Stalwart, the fleet was forced to spend prolonged periods of time isolated from one another as they plied the vast stretches of waters surrounding the ice floes for raiders or other threats to the Covenant’s sovereignty.

Before the renowned Commodore Aldus Stone took command, the 5th saw little action beyond clashes with the Kingdom of Britannia’s Falklands units that strayed too close to the Covenant’s borders, but these were little more than pot shots. Stone changed all that. A dour man hailing from the home counties of England he made a living as a game keeper in the employ of the Earl of Wessex. A tracker of superlative skill, a master of the silent kill and lethal with an elephant gun. Working for the Earl man and boy it was believed he was destined for great things. However fate had other ideas when the Earl’s eldest son drunk and in a rage with his father accidentally shot and killed Stone’s wife, the Earl’s housekeeper. Were this great tragedy not enough but the Earl utilising his significant influence had the entire matter swept under the carpet. Stone, realising his true place in Britannian society, was a broken man. Tired with toiling for a man whose sole interest was growing fat on the blood and sweat of the people, Stone made the long and dangerous journey South to the Covenant of Antarctica looking for a life with purpose.

Stone was not idle for long, being drafted into the Covenant armed forces in 1862. To his surprise, Stone was assigned to the navy and the 5th fleet rather than the army. His self-sufficiency and innate ability for the silent kill made him perfect for the dangers of patrolling the Covenant’s waters. Initially assigned to the frigate Too Quiet Stone impressed his superiors with his hit and run defence of the Western ice floes against a FSA raiding party. Although his ship was crippled, and eventually sunk, he delayed the FSA long enough that the rest of the 5th fleet was able to surround the FSA and destroy them utterly.

It didn’t take long for Stone to ascend the ranks and find himself at the head of the 5th fleet off the back of a string of daring actions keeping the Covenant’s borders safe. He achieved the rank of Commodore after he led the 5th fleet into the heart of Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands, on an unauthorised but successful rescue of Covenant POWs without a shot being fired in 1867. His first order was to have the fleet painted raven black to reflect the Night Watch moniker the fleet had earned in their many night sorties and defensive actions.

Although a lonely man with a solitary and single-minded command style that sat ill with the Covenant hierarchy, there was no denying that the 5th was clearly wasted as a patrol force and was pressed into front line service as the Covenant’s warmachine took the fight to the rest of the world in 1869. Under Stone’s command the 5th fleet won a score of victories against the great powers of the world,with more and more assets being assigned to the fleet to extent that Stone’s flag now resides aboard the dreadnought CSS History’s Judgement.

Despite the 5th Fleet’s many victories, Stone’s naturally cold nature combined with his unflinching belief in the Covenant’s cause, has seen several instances of excessive force by the vessels under Stone’s command. There have even been reports of executions of enemy sailors stranded at sea. However the fleet seem to reserve their worst brand of violence for the vessels of the Britannic navy. No one knows why this is, not even the crew of the Night Watch itself, but all sailors of the Kingdom of Britannia know that if they spy a black ship on the horizon they should beware. The condemnation of his superiors is never far behind the 5th Fleet but if Commodore Stone cares he gives no sign.

However, Stone’s popularity at home and infamy abroad has made it difficult for any meaningful sanction to be levelled against him or the captains beneath his command. Indeed there are many within the fleet that believe themselves untouchable, and even above the rest of the fleet. To many Stone is a hero. Others see Stone and the 5th as a rogue element that sooner or later will either turn on their own or be brought to task. Which ever the answer be, none can deny that Stone and his fleet of raven black ships are a powerful force both at home and abroad.

The battleships of the 5th fleet share a rivalry that borders on the reckless. The Sword of Truth has a long and illustrious history formerly at the hands of Commodore Stone and now with the firm hand of Captain Jacob Harris. The Shield of Reason however had only just been commissioned 2 years previously. Captain Oscar Ashwind, a native to the Polar South, is determined to see his vessel recorded in the annals of history no matter the cost.

The Sword of Truth was once known as the Stalwart, the flagship of the 5th Fleet prior to the commissioning of the CSS History’s Judgement. A proud ship with an illustrious and bloody history. It was the Stalwart, under Stone’s command, had sailed into Port Stanley during the daring raid to rescue Covenant POWs. When command passed to Captain Jacob Harris there was much pomp and ceremony as few ships in the Covenant navy had seen as much combat as the Stalwart. Captain Harris was one of Stone’s prodigies and was almost as angry and bitter with the world having come up through the ranks listening to Stone’s rhetoric.

Although Harris had every right to be bitter. Hailing from Boston in the FSA and raised Irish Catholic he had a successful fishing business, a well-regarded family and was betrothed to a lady of good standing and better breeding. And all at the age of twenty-two. Harris was a keen boxer and had a weakness for cards although a sixth sense kept him from losing either that often. But his real weakness was the comfort he found in his fiancée. Both were raised as devout Catholics and knew the risks of indulging in carnal desires but neither cared. Until his betrothed fell pregnant.

Buckling under the weight of responsibility, despite the mutual familial support, he fled to the ocean on-board one of his fishing steamers. It didn’t take long for him to realise his cowardice and brought the boat about. However fate intervened and a storm crippled the vessel before it could make port. Set adrift it took a month for Harris to coax the boat home. In his absence his assets had been seized by his fiancée’s family to support her as she was now all but outcast. Ostracised and destitute Harris stole one his former vessels and headed South.

Assigned to the 5th Fleet as a rating his seamanship skills were quickly noticed and quickly ascended the ranks. He saw Stone has a kindred spirit and proof, if any were needed, that a broken man need not stay broken and his could visit his vengeance on those wronged him. Harris was far better at concealing his anger at the world and his promotion to Captain was quickly affirmed. He wasted no time renaming the Stalwart as much to symbolise the passing of a torch as to represent the righteous history the ship had. Her hull black as night, she was a true predator of the oceans and had the kill count to suit.

To list its successes under Stone would take time but arguably longer under Harris’ command. Volunteering the Sword of Truth for any and all covert or surgical strike missions to test the mettle of his ship and crew. The Sword made headlines world-wide for infiltrating and laying waste to the naval yards at both Boston and New York city before slipping off into the night. The attack was condemned by the FSA and her allies for the loss of civilian life and although the Covenant didn’t agree with Harris’ methods, like much of the 5th Fleet, they couldn’t argue with the results.

The Sword of Truth would continue its reign of terror in the Atlantic Ocean both as part of wider fleet actions and on its own attacking supply ships and patrols with impunity, each attack more ruthless than the last as Harris and his crew became every more proficient at their craft until fate once again intervened. The FSA, frustrated with the constant loss of their supply ships laid a trap, arming the supply ships with turrets and concealing torpedo bombers where possible. As the Sword of Truth sailed silently amongst the supply ships all but submerged, it took its first ranging shot. However instead of scattering vessels, the ocean lit up with explosions as turrets responded all around the noble battleship.

In the same moment bombers took to the skies, the air filling with whizzing tracers and the howl of prop engines. Harris, furious at the FSA’s deception ordered all weapons to fire as the battleship fought free of the supply ships that were slowing encircling it. As explosions blossomed in the night sky the bombers dropped their payloads, torpedoes surging towards the Sword, ripping gaping wounds in the ship’s hull. Fires broke out across the Sword as she fought with all her worth to break out. Harris realised he stood at the edge of his undoing and was ready to give the evacuation order when explosions tore through a vessel on the Sword’s port side. A moment later another supply ship blew apart, its hull snapping in two and dropping beneath the waves. In the half-light of burning fuel Harris and his crew could make out the forms of jet black Covenant frigates as they dipped beneath the waves to unleash deadly torpedo salvos.

Seeing his opportunity Harris ordered the Sword to surface and make a break for it however a heavy transport blocked her path, a 36inch cannon mounted on her prow slowly rotating for a killing shot. Harris did not hesitate, ordering the use of the particle cannon. The force of the shot destroyed the transport utterly but the strain on the Sword was almost too much, blowing out systems and relays and all but crippled the ship.

It took 2 months for the frigates to tow the dying ship back to friendly waters, once again giving Harris plenty of time to consider his actions. That was twice his compulsive nature had almost gotten him killed and resolved to do better. Stone saw the change in him and knew he had become the officer that the Covenant needed him to be. It took a further 6 weeks for the Sword of Truth to be fully repaired. Once again a part of the 5th Fleet she has been restored to a position of fear in the hearts of her enemies and pride in those of her allies.

The Shield of Reason although visually identical to the Sword of Truth is the superior ship. All but brand new the Shield has the most sophisticated technology available to it including the type 2 range finders for faster target resolutions as well as the latest IFF device that allows the Covenant to identify its ships in the tumult of battle.

Captain Oscar Ashwind is as new a senior officer as his ship has rolled off the production line. Brought to Antarctica as a child by his South African parents amongst the first wave of travellers seeking a new life, Ashwind is as close to first generation Antarctican as can be. Growing up with his three brothers they were schooled in the discoveries that were being made on almost daily basis. All three excelled at their studies and all were destined for a life at the forefront of Covenant science. That was until the Covenant mobilised for war. Of the three, Oscar was the only one who felt an obligation to serve his adopted people in the coming dark days. Ever the idealist he joined the navy and bade his brothers farewell for what would prove to be the last time.

During his basic training Oscar received word that his two brothers had been killed aboard a science ship that was heading for a small chain of islands South East of the isle of South Georgia by whalers who mistook them for a military vessel. Distraught Ashwind threw himself into his career determined to make his brothers proud despite their misgivings about the armed forces. Oscar Ashwind was bright and eager and his scientific knowledge saw him spend much of his early career in engine rooms or in the R&D division. Ashwind’s potential, however, came to the fore when serving about the Stargazer, a Plato Class cruiser of the 9th fleet, as chief engineer.

Whilst on routine patrol the Stargazer was ambushed by a French flotilla. The initial volley struck just below the bridge, killing the senior staff and sowing disarray through the ship. Realising he was the most senior office on board, Ashwind took command of the vessel. He ordered a general distress call to be sent and then sent the Stargazer all ahead into battle. Through a series of daring scissor actions and hit and run attacks the Stargazer crippled two of its attackers and sunk a third all the while leading the French on a merry chase around the South Atlantic. Ashwind understood the odds all too well but was determined to reap a heavy toll for the craven acts of the French. Ashwind never got his chance as just as the French surrounded the battered Cruiser ready to deliver the killing blow the remainder of the 9th arrived and tore the French to pieces.

Upon his return home he was hailed as a hero and promoted. His actions against the French caught the eye of Commodore Stone and offered him the bridge of the Shield of Reason. The decision rankled his other officers, none more so than Harris of the Sword of Truth. But Stone cared little for their opinions and enjoyed sparking healthy competition as they strove to earn his notice. Stone had chosen Ashwind for his guile and determination under pressure. Not to mention it made an undeniable amount of sense for the most advanced vessel in his fleet to be commanded by a former chief engineer.

Between Harris and Ashwind relations are cordial. Harris loathes the young upstart for his meteoric rise through the ranks and the fame its brought him, not to mention a string of successful naval engagements that will only help his chances of further advancement. Ashwind looks up to Harris and takes his ship into the heart of the fight in the hope of winning his fellow battleship commander’s approval, unknowing that every victory and act of valour drives a great wedge between them.

In contrast the Olympia is one of the oldest ships in the Covenant armada. Of course in reality the Olympia has had just about every component and deck plank replaced for one reason or another by the ships soul remains pure. Before the war broke out the Olympia and all carriers were designed to be exploration vessels, the drones to be used to map vast areas of land, rather than instruments of war. Needless to say the fate of the Olympia took a different path.  The Olympia has been attached to, at one time or another, four different fleets. Prior becoming the only carrier of the 5th fleet it belonged to the 1st fleet. Revered by every serving member of the Covenant military and civilians alike the 1st fleet were at the spear tip of the Covenant warmachine and the Olympia was a grand a proud part of that.

Covenant carriers are tough by the standards of most battleships and the Olympia was no exception. Often found where the fighting was thickest, its drones flinging themselves into the hulls of enemy ships, she had as fearsome reputation as any warship in the warring world. However, one fateful day, during a prolonged and bloody engagement with the Prussians in the mid Atlantic the Olympia was surrounded and set upon by a unit of frigates. With little crew to defend itself the Olympia quickly fell with little crew to defender her.

Beset on all sides the 1st fleet were in danger of being destroyed. Only the timely intervention of a relief force consisting of elements from the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th fleets, including the 5th fleet frigate squadron The Coppertails prevented a complete disaster. Lieutenant Sampson Earl of the frigate Clever Girl spotted the Olympia running Prussian colours. Moving the rest of his squadron in position using the rough seas to cover their advance the crews attacked en masse. The Prussians lacked the numbers to make a concerted defence and within minutes the Olympia was once again in Covenant hands.

With the Prussians driven off the 1st fleet was escorted back to Antarctica for refit and repair. The Olympia’s fate however now rested with the 5th as it was Lieutenant Earl that rescued the carrier and was his to command. Being granted a promotion to full Commander, Earl is the most junior officer in Covenant history to command a carrier, but does so with great skill, putting the carriers fearsome weaponry to as great a use as its drones.

The Olympia is not the only ship to have been absorbed into the 5th fleet. Indeed the Titan, Deimos and Phobos were survivors of the Midway disaster in which elements of the 2nd, 7th and 10th fleets were ambushed by the FSA. Surrounded on all sides the Covenant fought valiantly against a vastly superior force.

The squadron of armoured cruisers moved as one, their co-ordination going far beyond the IFF that the Covenant have blessed their ships of war with. Hunting as a pack they punched holes in the FSA formations allowing their comrades to break out. Ultimately it was for nought and few made it beyond the range of the FSA’s guns. Only the Titan, Deimos and Phobos made it home.

Although officially still attached to the 7th, Stone recognised in their captains and crew the same thirst for revenge that burned in his heart and he gave them that chance. Leaving the Antarctic, Stone took the 5th fleet along the pacific coast of the Americas and, under the cover of darkness destroyed the FSA flotilla at anchor in Pearl Harbour. The destruction wrought by the armoured cruisers’ particle cannons was the stuff of nightmares. Such was the destruction the base was crippled for a full year and even now cannot hold a full battle group within its waters. Branded an act of cowardice by the FSA they placed a bounty on the heads of the captains of the Titan, Deimos and Phobos much to the amusement of them and their newly adopted fleet, earning them the nickname The Wanted.

So fearsome are the ships and crew of the squadron they are rarely found far from History’s Judgement when deployed, lending their strength to hers and leaving nothing but destruction on their wake.

The cruisers of the 5th fleet are its solid, immovable, core. Of all the changes experienced by the fleet, the cruisers of Orion Fornax squadrons have endured them all. Before Stone’s ascension to command the cruisers were the mainstay of the 5th fleet. Indeed when it was first commissioned the fleet was commanded by the cruiser  Galileo of Orion squadron. Superlative sailors to a man, the crews plied the icy waves with the ease of men and women born to it.

It was these mighty cruisers that rescued Stone and his crippled frigate from the clutches of the FSA, the cruisers utterly surrounding the American forces to catch them in a deadly cross fire of turret fire and broadsides. Ever since then the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia  have been at the heart of every action the 5th fleet has been apart of, both officially and unofficially.

The captains of these fine warships were at first resentful of Stone’s rise to command. Most of Captain Hendrik Boettcher, the junior of the 6. When Stone was given overall command, prior to the commissioning of the Relentless (Sword of Truth), he was given command of the Constellation, forcing him to take overall command of the frigates. In truth it was the best thing Captain Boettcher could have done. So use to fighting on his own against small raiding parties or single ships it reminded him of the importance and benefits of coordinated attacks at a time when the 5th fleet was beginning fleet sized actions.

After the Relentless had joined the fleet and Stone had moved his flag aboard, Boettcher once again took command of the Constellation, bringing with him a wealth of ideas of how the mainstay of the 5th fleet should operate and although Captain Theodore Bern has overall command, Boettcher’s insight into squadron tactics are invaluable.

Bern is a tough man to impress. Formerly of the Britannic navy and an instructor at the Portsmouth naval academy, Bern resigned his commission in protest over a suicide mission into Russian waters to steal the Whit Navy’s experimental glacia generator technology. His firm hand natural teaching ability has made him the ideal candidate to temper the wilder impulses of commanding officers that have graduated from the Coppertails. Those that don’t heed his lessons either find themselves demoted or killed.

Despite his British noble and naval background Stone respects and trusts Bern completely having proved himself time and time again both defending the Antarctic coast and in the open waters in the thick of the fighting. Indeed since taking command of the 5th, Stone has relied n Bern’s council and has become one of his most valuable and trusted advisors and has been granted the honorary title of master of the armoury. An outmoded idea but a sign of respect between the two men, both of whom were native to England. Bern is a master tactician. Indeed having a defector in your midst can certainly provide advantageous tactics and fleet deployments.

Although not as powerful as the larger capitol ships in the fleet they make up for it in adaptability and possessing shield generators makes them a very tough nut to crack, something that the captains take full advantage of. Indeed it is not uncommon for the vessels of Orion Fornax squadrons to sail into the heart of enemy formations, shields flaring, to unleash the full potential of their broadsides and turrets.

Both squads have served Stone with distinction since he took command taking part in the raid on the Falklands Islands, the Olympia rescue, Auckland schism and battle of the West Sturgeon Straights. They wear their black livery with pride acknowledging the achievements of Stone and the 5th fleet as a whole. Going from coastal patrols to full pitched battles in the open ocean was a gear shift that some of the crew struggled to make.

Up until recently the cohesion within the cruiser squadrons has been second to none. However, after Ashwind’s promotion and assignment to command the Shield of Reason tensions have grown between the senior staff as each captain fancies themselves in with a chance at commanding that mighty battleship. All the Cruiser captains covet the Shield and Sword equally and have begun to keep tallies of their kills and their after action reports submitted to Stone have become increasingly florid.

Fortunately for Stone, when in combat the crews of the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia conduct themselves with the utmost discipline. They save the bragging for after.

However few are more blohard than the Coppertails. 

Officially designated 109 squadron, the ‘Coppertails’ represent the light element of the 5th fleet under Commodore Aldous Stone. Made up of 12 Diogenes Class frigates it is rare for a Covenant fleet to favour a particular class of support vessel over others so overwhelmingly. However, the composition of a fleet has as much to do with the commanding officer as it does the Covenants ministry of war and Stone’s history with the vessel makes it a staple choice.

Painted black like all other vessels of the 5th Fleet, the Coppertails earned their moniker because of the copper plating encasing the rear or the ships. This was as much an aesthetic choice on the part of Commodore Stone as to improve the signal broadcast by the Covenant’s rudimentary IFF transmitter. The technology still in its early stages, the 5th fleet rely heavily on it due to their preference for night operations as it allows them to co-ordinate their attacks with unerring accuracy.

The crews of the Coppertails squadron are renowned in the Covenant armed services for their cavalier and bragging behaviour, prone to outrageous boasts and wagers amongst themselves and other personnel. This devil-may-care attitude has been carefully encouraged by Commodore Stone recognising the benefit of war hungry crews on board such small ships. Their bravado is born of those that have a considerably shorter life expectancy than almost any other element of the 5th fleet.

In the water the commanding officers of the Coppertails band together in three flights of 4, operating as a pack and isolating much larger vessels and harrying them to destruction with withering torpedo attacks. And boasting rights to the captain delivering the killing blow. Their boisterous and arrogant nature isolates them from their fellow officers, especially those in the 5th fleet who look upon them with mild shame as all officers in the 5th fleet start their lives as officers in the Coppertails and all were as insufferable as their junior fellow officers.

Commodore Stone started his career aboard a frigate and won much fame stood on its bridge. As well as some hard lessons. He sees to it that every newly commissioned officer assigned to his fleet serves with the renowned Coppertails. Some see it as a punishment, others as a test. In reality it’s both and about learning some valuable lessons. The crews of the Coppertails are exceptional having survived life aboard a frigate and in the hands of unproven and arrogant officers. The good officers will listen and learn, the bad ones will get themselves killed one way or another.

Despite this Stone does all he can to stir up competition between the officers of the squadron, offering rewards and plum assignments for valour and confirmed kills. But this too is a lesson; to help them understand the difference between arrogance and confidence and command and leadership. Those that fail to learn these lessons either end up dead, along with the men under their command, or spend their careers as boorish sea dogs taking ever greater risks to win glory and their Commodore’s praise although neither are forthcoming. Stone will never put these poor souls out of their misery as he recognises that a driven and reckless officer has its uses.

These disparate personalities can sometimes mean that the squadron lacks cohesion and will often follow their own objectives but this too has its benefits, quickly highlighting to Stone which are able to bring their flight or the squadron under control for the greater good.

This would normally sow confusion amongst the rest of the fleet but Stone’s will is absolute and his officers know to trust his command. And Stone is quite happy for his Coppertails to engage the enemy on their own terms as this only further benefits his plans. If anything their apparently haphazard approach to war can be a boon, their aggression and speed saved the lives of the Sword of Truth following a FSA trap.

The newest element of the 5th fleet is escort groups Skyshield and Sentinel. How they came to be attached to the 5th fleet is most unconventional and speaks of Stone’s strength of will and influence within the Covenant and the wider world.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbour and the bounties placed on the heads of The Wanted Aldus Stone began to receive death threats that indicated an assassin was within the Covenant. The admiralty immediately assigned bodyguards to keep Stone safe however the man was a cult of personality and as such refused to be seen so weak.

The six men charged with his protection were some of the finest marines ever produced by the Covenant but even they struggled to keep track of Stone. They even found themselves left behind after Stone had managed to slip aboard the Judgement and mobilise the fleet without telling a soul.

In a heated exchange with the admiralty he continually refused to acknowledge the need for protection but his superiors would not be dissuaded. In a fit of frustration he was recorded to have bellowed ‘If you want them to watch my arse, give them some escorts and put them to some real use.’ So they did. Each marine was prompted to Commander and charged with the protection of Commodore Stone. Although now a part of his fleet Stone still doesn’t make it easy on his protectors, choosing to assign them to his battleships rather than be chased around the waves by guard dogs.

This isn’t to say the escorts aren’t put to good use. Indeed the crews have flourished under the command of such hardened soldiers, drilling them to peak efficiency. Working seamlessly as squadrons these plucky escorts go after any threat without a second thought, filling the air with walls of lead or harrying ships much bigger than their own with weapons fire. How they have survived every without loss or serious damage after all this time is miraculous.

The final element of the 5th fleet is the 82nd bomber squadron the Night Furies. In truth Stone dislikes the use of aerial elements but can’t deny their effectiveness in battle. Especially with their extraordinary manoeuvrability allows them to strike and then withdraw with almost supernatural speed.

The 5th fleet’s penchant for night operations combined with their black colour scheme not only gives the Night Furies a tremendous advantage not only when making their attack runs but also their survivability quite at odds with the average life expectancy of similar squadrons in both the covenant and the wider world.

Despite this fact Stone generally prefers to leave the Night Furies in reserve seeing them as a liability due to their relatively limited range. One he commits to the hunt he is relentless and having to hold on station and await refuel for his bombers rankled him and has left them behind on more than one occasion.

For all their kills and valour in combat they remain an all but unused element of the 5th fleet but even Stone admits this must change with his foes relying on air elements more and more and has even requested a Daedalus class to be permanently attached to the fleet to bolster his air arm for when he inevitably needs it.

The Shell Case Short 4 – Winner 2

The second winner is David Bartley (@mephistonag ) for his outstanding piece on the history of the Falkland Island Squadron of the Britannian Navy from Dystopian Wars. Just to be clear David is not 2nd but an equal and worthy winner alongside Chris. David will be receiving his signed copy of Salamander by Nick Kyme very soon.

An extract from:-  A review of the Kingdom of Britannia Naval Armada, 1870 by Charles Aubrey.

The Falkland Island Squadron

HISTORY

Little did Her Majesty’s government realise how important the decision to colonise the remote and windswept Falkland Islands was to become in later years. The ever-growing need for resources highlighted the need for a deep water port in the South Atlantic, and the Falkland Islands were the perfect choice. Captain James Onslow and the cruiser Clio were ordered to restate the Britannia claim to the islands, and evict any illegal colonies they found. They soon displaced a settlement founded by the United Provinces of the River Plate and set about surveying the islands for both military and civilian use.

Onslow rapidly determined that the best military real estate would be the coasts either side of Falkland Sound. With the deep water of the sound allowing for even the largest of vessels a safe protected anchorage.  Turning San Carlos bay into a fully functional naval base would be a trivial taks for her majesties engineers. As more ships and workers began to arrive Onslow was ordered to oversee both the establishment of a base ashore, and to survey the islands in as much detail as he was able. By the middle of the year the first buildings had been erected and a functional port created at San Carlos.

Civilian prospectors were sent to survey the islands and they reported little of real importance on the islands itself, however as a hub of both fishing and seal hunting the islands would be of use. To this end they were directed to plan for the establishment of a colony on the islands and selected the Berkley Sound area as the most suitable. In 1831 they began initial work on the settlement of Port Stanley on the eastern most coast of the islands. By 1835 the town and port were established and the first Governor was able to take seat in Government House.

The military had not been idle during these years. Port San Carlos was now a fully developed permanent naval base, with a port capable of servicing ships as large as battleships. The permanent garrison was made up of a small contingent of the Land Armada, name Naval Party 8901, drawn from the contingents of ships docked for repair at the time. With most of Britannia’s military resources engaged in operations in other theatres, the threat to the islands was judged to be too low to require further resources.

When the then Federated States expanded its sphere of influence by annexing Mexico the Britannia government began to realise the true strategic nature of its colony in the South Atlantic. Bills were quickly passed in parliament and the admiralty ordered to raise a standing force in the Falkland Islands, formally named the Falkland Island Squadron (FIS). This force was to include a permanent company of soldiers from the 34th Sheffield (Sea) Regiment to form Naval Party 8901, a squadron of attack and fighter aircraft from the Air Armada, and a small force of frigates and cruisers from the Navy. This was in place by late 1839, under the command of Commodore Wynstanley, whose permanent headquarters were established at Port San Carlos.

Wynstanley saw that the current dispositions of forces on the island would never be sufficient should the US ever push further south and begin to harass British holdings to the south of the continent. Lacking both the resources, military and financial backing after the establishment of the permanent base, he set about the task of preparing the ground work for expansion of both San Carlos and potential bases on West Falkland. Using the cover of manoeuvres and exercises by both land and air armada large areas around Port Howard and Fox bay were bombed and assaulted repeatedly, leaving them suitably disrupted that the engineers had little trouble moving in and clearing the land ready for future exploitation.  By the time Wynstanley was recalled from his command in shame, he had done much to prepare the Islands for their future crucial role. However the admiralty considered his wanton use of valuable ordinance needed elsewhere on manoeuvres in a passive province to be both wasteful and underhand. He was never placed in a position of command again and retired a year later from the service.

When Lord Sturgeon arrived at Port Stanley in late 1844, to take on final provisions before embarking on his historic expedition, little was thought of the endeavour that would forever change our world. Backed by all nations no military escort of the ships was allowed and they passed beyond patrol boarders of the Falkland Island Squadrons into the frozen wastes of Antarctica. The few that had ventured onto that vast continent spoke of ice and rock as far as they could see, with little cover to the constant shifting weather. In truth no one on the Islands ever expected to see any of the explorers again when they left Port Stanley. How wrong they were.

The next 12 years were a prosperous time for the Falkland Islands. As the exploration and expansion of the frontier settlements took hold on Antarctica, more and more ships and people passed through the island. Port Stanley grew in size and stature as the money these travellers brought was invested in the Island. Despite its rugged and harsh environment, familiar at once to any inhabitant of Exmoor or the Scottish Highlands, the island was a green and fertile land compared to the harsh conditions of those early years of the expedition. Many workers came to the island to rest and recuperate, spending even more as they did. The FIS during this time did not enjoy such a similar rise to prominence. The posting as Officer commanding was never seen as a career enhancing one, and a string of competent, yet uninspiring, commanders followed in the wake of Wynstanley. Many times the ships and crews sent south were both on the verge of retirement, and many saw their tour as one that had to be endured, spending as much time as possible enduring it in the pleasures that Port Stanley had grown to provide.

The shockwave of Lord Sturgeon’s announcement of the formation of the Covenant of Antarctica was felt as keenly in Port Stanley as it was in the corridors of power back in London. Many feared that a war would be declared and they would become the focus of any reprisals by the newly created nation. The inhabitants of the Falklands knew full well that the innovations that had been released to the world were only the tip of the iceberg as to what could be lurking in the depths of the mythical Vault. While many of the rumours and tales that had escaped the frozen outpost sounded too fanciful even for the amazing modern world we live in some had more than a grain of truth in them. The Britannia government, after much bluster and rhetoric from the back benches, eventually came to realise that a military response was not an option, and dispatched an Ambassador to the Covenant, thereby formally recognising its legitimacy as an independent nation. To not do so was consider too large a risk, without the technological marvels that the scientist had let out into the world over the previous decase the Kingdom would run the risk of other nations gaining an unacceptable advantage.

While her majesty’s government was forced to accept this turn of events, the admiralty turned its thoughts to what would be required if war was ever declared on this new world power.  It was quickly realised that the prominence and capabilities of the FIS and its bases on the islands had to be reviewed and increased with all alacrity. To this end Admiral Shaftsbury was dispatched to assume command of the FIS, the first officer of flag rank ever to hold the post, and indicating to all in the service that the FIS was no longer to be viewed as a second-rate arm of the Naval Armada. Shaftsbury at first appeared as an odd choice to a public demanding the turncoat Sturgeon be taken to task. His commands at sea had been uninspiring. He had not been involved in any major actions, his career one of steady promotion without the headline catching prominence of more hawkish colleagues.

While Shaftsbury may not have been the ideal candidate to launch an invasion of the Antarctic, he was the perfect man to plan and organise the build up of forces in the FIS, and the infrastructure needed to support them. When his flag was raised at his HQ in San Carlos in 1858 he quickly came to realise what a god send the ground work that Wynstanley had covertly laid was. With two areas all ready cleared, effectively ready for the construction,  plans for 2 permanent bases could be put into action immediately. With a new commander came a new flagship, and for the first time ever a battleship was permanently part of the FIS. Its arrival was to highlight that even the naval base at San Carlos would require a massive overhaul to bring it up to the standard to maintain and support the modern fleet that the FIS would have to become.

Admiral Shaftsbury spent an unprecedented period of 10 years as the commander of the FIS. During this time the area either side of Falkland sound was changed beyond recognition. He oversaw the construction of permanent bases for the Air Armada and Land forces assigned to the FIS, with additional staging areas built and provisioned should either need to be enlarged for operations in the South Atlantic. The port facilities were also been massively upgraded in both size and capability. Capable of handling even the brutish Majesty class dreadnoughts and Avenger fleet carriers separate and secret facilities were constructed to support the Vanguard submarines coming into service with the fleet.

As the facilities grew so did the compliment of ships and personnel assigned to the FIS.  No longer were obsolete ships assigned with each new class of ship finding its way south early in their lives with the Navy. Shaftsbury’s insistence on this was founded that the conditions found in the seas around Antarctica were unlike any other, and ships designed and tested to operate in the North Atlantic may prove unserviceable in the endless southern ocean.  It is a great credit to the ingenuity and skill of the ship building engineers of Britannia that no class of ship has ever proven to be unsuited to deployment in the southern ocean.

During the 10 years of growth no major engagements between ships occurred despite the FIS beginning to actively patrol Britannia’s territorial waters around the Falklands, and further afield into international waters. It was not until 1865 that ships bearing the flag of the Covenant were encountered in international waters, and began making visits to Port Stanley. Tensions continued to rise as ships of both fleets encountered each other more frequently out in open waters.

It was not until November 1868 that ships from the FIS and Covenant exchanged fire. The cruiser Lion was on patrol with the frigates Undaunted and Endymoin in international waters off the coast of Antarctica. A ship roughly the size of a cruiser, but of an unknown design, was observed approaching rapidly. The ship hailed the FIS squadron and claimed they were sailing in Covenant waters and demand they depart North at full speed. Captain Bellows replied that he was sailing legally in international waters and the ship should change course or he would have no choice but to declare it as hostile, and take action as his orders dictated. The Covenant vessel refused to change course, and for reasons that are to this day hotly debated, Bellows gave the order to launch a full spread of torpedoes from his foreword tubes while he began to manoeuvre his ships into position to finish the task. The battle was brief and somewhat one-sided with the Covenant ship sunk after inflicting minor damage to Lion and Undaunted. Diplomatic exchanges following this incident were long and heated. After some months, where war seemed a distinct possibility a treaty was agreed and territorial waters surrounding both the Falkland Islands and Covenant of Antarctica were agreed. No warships of either side would enter the others waters without prior agreement and escort. Trade between the Covenant and Falkland Islands were resumed, much to the relief of the civilians on the island who had began to feel the financial pinch of the isolation.

The political fallout of this engagement was felt far and wide within both the government and admiralty. It became obvious that Captain Bellows felt he was operating under clear orders that he was able to defend his ship against any threat with deadly force. However no such standing orders could be found to cover the FIS. Indeed the existence of the Covenant was not acknowledged in the standing orders. While Shaftsbury was the perfect commander to oversee the building of the fleet, it quickly became apparent that his focus had remained on planning and logistics, and that the FIS was operating under the rules of engagement that had existed over a decade ago. It was time that a greater military mind was in command lest such encounters between ships become common and escalated out of control of either government.

The appointment of the current Commanding officer, Admiral Moorhouse, in March 1869 was to cause much muttering and disquiet within the admiralty. On paper he does indeed look to be an odd choice to command such a vital part of the naval armada. Many point to his limited experience in command of capital class vessels. Indeed, Moorhouse has only one command of such a ship, the battleship Resolution of the Mediterranean fleet. Moorhouse has spent most of his career working in the silent service, the submarine arm of the naval armada. His previous appointment was a commander of submarines for the Mediterranean fleet and many expected him to assume this post within the home fleet. He is widely acknowledged as the foremost expert in submersible operations. At the end of his first full year in command all those that have visited the Falklands and seen the men and ships of the FIS operate have reported favourable on them. Admiral Moorhouse has replaced the old rules of engagement with ones suitable to the conditions that now prevail in the South Atlantic. Not only is the growth of military prowess of the Covenant a concern, but the purchase of land in Argentina by the Empire of the blazing sun, and the resultant military build up have once again proved the worth of this small outpost of the empire to all in the home island.

THE FLEET

The modern FIS is, in truth, as powerful and capable as any of the other fleets in the Naval Armada. Many in the admiralty have lobbied to change the name to reflect the military power of the command, yet this has been resisted largely on political grounds. Many feel that to formally acknowledge the military build up in the Falkland Islands could cause protests from the Covenant’s government and whatever the military reality the ability to pass the formation off as a mere squadron is politically expedient.

Admiral Moorhouse’s flagship is currently the Majesty class dreadnought Howe. Though he spends more time ashore Moorhouse’s ship is rarely in port. It is often out in the ocean undergoing exercises at both ship and squadron level as command of Alpha squadron. The ruler class battleship Conqueror is the lead ship for Bravo squadron. While the two squadrons are permanent structures ships within the fleet are assigned as required, with ships moving between the two often. Such a flexible arrangement is a foreign concept to most commanders, but Admiral Moorhouse quickly came to realise that both the remote location, and harshness of conditions found in the South Atlantic required such measures. Ships require far more maintenance in these unforgiving conditions and as such spend more time in port, on average, than any others in the Britannia navy.

The surface compliment is made up of 6 Tribal class cruisers, 6 Orion class destroyers, 12 Attack class frigates and 12 Bastion class escorts. The avenger class fleet carrier Hermes is nominally attached to the fleet. However it rarely operates with the fleet in the waters between the islands and Antarctica. The sea conditions commonly found there have made flight operations off its deck impossible much of the time and it is normally found patrolling the area to the north, escorting ships being sold to the Socialist Union of South America into their ports.

The one real anomaly with the FIS is that a larger than expected number of Vanguard class submarines operate as part of the fleet. While the exact number was not revealed to the author it can be assumed that there are more than 10 available to Admiral Moorhouse at any given time. While at first it may seem ridiculous to have so many of these valuable ships assigned to one fleet further consideration makes their deployment a master stroke of planning on Moorhouse’s part. These ships can operate for long periods without the need to surface, and are therefore not subjected to the harsh sea conditions that the surface ships have to endure. There rugged hulls designed to smash opponents hulls in too are equally suitable for dealing with the ice flows found around the border waters between Britannia and Covenant territory.  One must also consider the potential for a submarine to go places undiscovered and undertake operations that other ships just could not. In these uncertain times we live in the author takes comfort that such ships are out in the South Atlantic, learning all they can of the abilities of the Covenant forces. Without their brave crews and commander the world would indeed be a much more dangerous place.

In summary the Falkland Island Squadron has grown rapidly in both power and prominence since its inception in 1839. It is impossible to believe that it will ever again be left to drift as it did in its early years. What threat to the sovereignty of Britannia the Covenant of Antarctica may ultimately prove will become known over the coming years. That there will be conflict between the fleets in the South Atlantic seems increasingly likely, and the appearance of Empire of the blazing suns fleet assets of the coast of Argentina will only further inflame the situation. This author is encouraged by what he saw of the FIS, and has total confidence that Admiral Moorhouse is the man to lead it.