Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Road to Empire, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of the War Journal of Gardner Sean, in which a vanquished foe returns with a vengeance, great plots never seem to go as planned, and the enemy fields some of the greatest generals in feudal China. Find Part 1 here

196 AD
Yuan Shao dies, and while this comes as a shock, even more surprising is his successor: Gongsun Zan, who immediately brings the warfare against Lu Bu nearly to a halt.  I can feel his attention turning to me, and I watch Ande port closely as its garrison grows.

Under Lu Bu, Dong Zhuo's legacy has been reduced to 3 of the wealthiest cities in China—Xu Chang, Wan and Luoyang—and they are all on my doorstep.  These cities and the potential of adding Lu Bu to my coterie of military geniuses make me greedy, so I push to reorganize my military and attack before Gongsun Zan throws my plans out the window.   

Everything is proceeding apace, as I advance north from Ru Nan.  First Xu Chang falls, then I am besieging Wan and without warning Lu Bu has surrendered…

…to Gongsun Zan!

The Charge Against Lu Bu

My blood boils as I continue to attack Wan and it falls to me.  Lu Bu would not have been able to hold out against me, and he surely yielded to my biggest rival at the promise of better resources to fight me.  Yuan Shao had been the most powerful man in China when he died.  I am not prepared to wage war with his successor, and so starts the standoff.  Armies of unprecedented size soon grace the border between our lands.  And I slowly put a massive plan into place.

197 AD
When Yuan Shao had been waging war with Liu Biao he captured Guanling port just south of Xia Pi.  His advance was halted when I, his trusted ally, sacked and occupied Xia Pi.  Since that time Guanling had maintained a garrison with 25K troops in it and a pair of lazy, ineffectual generals.

But with Yuan gone and a belligerent foe on his throne, I now found myself with an enemy fortification in my own lands.  Granted, it was a small force, but it could not be ignored and while I developed a plan with my generals it was a nagging concern that could not be avoided.  I wanted to launch a two pronged assault against Gongsun Zan's holdings.  One half would be an obvious, full scale frontal assault from Chen Liu against Pu Yang, led by myself and Gan Ning.  The second would be landing a smaller, more mobile force with my most cunning officers—Breaux Kevin, Daj Kirender, Sun Jian and Zhou Yu—at Gongsun’s rear that would harry the seemingly safe (and thus poorly defended) cities in his heartland.  I would also leave a massive army at Beihei under Vang Qaishi and her father Vang Lu.

The attack on Pu Yang would mean that he could not spare any of the large number of soldiers there to defend his rear.  The same would hold true for his garrison at Ande Port—it would be held in place by my army at Beihei as surety that it would not advance north to Gongsun’s capital, Ping Yuan.  Breaux, Sun and the rest would be able to run wild, sacking cities and disrupting the enemy’s supply lines.  If he did pull soldiers from Ande or Pu Yang, my armies would rout him.  Gongsun Zan also had substantial armies in his easternmost provinces, but they were occupied in a holding action against a foreign tribe raiding from the north, and thus were neutralized.  In the far north, Gongsun Zan is engaged in small scale border skirmishes with Ma Teng.  I periodically send Ma Teng gold to keep this going.

I amass my army at Chen Liu, and do so in obvious fashion, knowing that it would appear as a threat to both Pu Yang and the Hulao Gate to the south of Luoyang.  Less obviously I create a force at Xia Pi to deal with the garrison at Guanling Port, commanded by a set of reliable, if unspectacular, officers.  This is a smaller, but necessary, third prong.  Though I plan on launching the back-door surprise from Beihei’s peninsula, I do not increase the size of the Beihei army because Gongsun always increases the Ande port garrison in response.  I don’t want my Beihei intimidation force to be outnumbered when I start my offensive.  So Sun Jian gathers his resources at Mo Ling, and prepares to sail.

A map of the Unused Grand Plan--Donglai Port is mislabeled

I am putting the final touches on my preparations.  The first half of Sun Jian’s force has set sail, and the second half is about to get underway.  They will regroup at Donglai Port, to the east of Beihei, raise the morale of the soldiers and then my three pronged attack will get underway.

And that’s when all my plans go out the window.

A messenger comes to me at Chen Liu.  I am being asked to join a coalition to overthrow Gongsun Zan.  A month later and I would have been ecstatic.  I don’t quite have everything in place, but I cannot refuse this invitation.  For my plans against Gongsun Zan to go forward, I must not be on negative terms with my western neighbors.  There is no way I could conduct two wars effectively.  I clench my jaw and agree to join, and they ask me to head the coalition.  I agree to this as well, leading the alliance in front of Liu Biao, Taishi Ci, Ma Teng, and Huang Quan. 

The Emperor visits me.  He’s been meeting with me regularly since I took Beihei almost two years ago, conferring upon me greater and greater status.  This time he appoints me Chancellor and blesses the actions I am about to take.

No sooner had the ink dried on the scroll acknowledging the coalition than Gongsun Zan crossed the Yellow River with his troops, leaving Ande Port and occupying Linzi Port on the Beihei side of the river.  He is now just a two day march away from Beihei.  When Sun Jian arrives on the peninsula, I do not send him on to his original mission, but to reinforce Beihei.

I launch the attack from Xia Pi on Guanling port, but I also divert what had been the remainder of Sun Jian’s men, still at sea and very close to Guanling, to attack from the sea and rid myself of this threat faster. 

Elsewhere, I change my overall strategy on the fly.  If I can push Gongsun Zan to the other side of the Yellow River I can establish a strong natural border and reformulate my plans.  This means capturing Luoyang and Pu Yang in the north and destroying a handful of fortified outposts in the process, then maintaining control of the ports on my side of the river.  It also means driving a large army out of Linzi and back to Ande Port.

My greatest generals attack Linzi, home to 120K troops.  To my horror, I find that Linzi is defended by Zhang Fei and Lu Bu.  My losses are terrible.  My men resolutely slog forward.

I also decide to be the hammer against Ma Teng’s anvil.  From Chen Liu, I attack Pu Yang.  I detach Gan Ning to Wan and he heads against Luoyang, where he runs smack into an infantry unit commanded by Guan Yu.  I abandon the action against Pu Yang to reinforce Gan Ning against one of the greatest generals of the age.

My victorious troops at Guanling reinforce Beihei.  As the defences of Linzi Port fail, Zhang Fei and Lu Bu retreat back to Ande.  I pull my men back to Beihei rather than defend Linzi, wrecked and difficult to occupy.  Of the 250K men in Beihei, I have lost two fifths of them in repelling Lu Bu and Zhang Fei.  Their casualties are half of mine.  This is a victory in that I accomplished what I wanted to do, but I sacrifice so many men that it feels like losing.

The Yellow River Corridor Between Ande and Linzi Ports

Gan Ning duels Guan Yu and loses, but before Guan can leave the field an up and coming officer of mine, Huo Qubing, takes Gan Ning’s position and defeats the great warrior.  The tide turns and Luoyang falls despite soldiers reinforcing the city from Pu Yang and Hulao Gate.  We turn back to Pu Yang and find that Gongsun Zan has pulled many of the remaining soldiers there and sent them to Ande.  We pause to regroup and motivate the men at Hulao Gate, now empty of the enemy, and batter Pu Yang into submission.  I am holding Guan Yu and 16 other officers as prisoners of war.

The enemy has reinforced his installations on the opposite side of the Yellow River from Pu Yang.  My side of the river…is a mess.  I try to make everything defensible, and to reinforce Beihei.  I lucked out against Guan Yu, but if I’m going to have a chance to make real headway, I have to deal with Lu Bu and Zhang Fei. 

I knew I would not be able to hold Guan Yu indefinitely, but I could not afford to allow this great man to return to my enemy’s service.  I attempted to recruit him, but he was too steadfast.  His sworn brothers, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, were conquered vassals of Gongsun Zan, and he would not waver.  With a heavy heart I ordered the execution of Guan Yu and the other captives. 

Back when I defeated Gongsun Zan in his first incarnation, many of his generals joined me even though he did not.  One of them was an inconsequential administrator name Li Yie.  This man had been left in charge of Shou Chun while my most able men were at the front of battle.  As it turned out, this man remained loyal to Gongsun Zan because in December of 197 he wrested control of the city and announced his defection.

A month later I send an expedition to Shou Chun to take my city back.  The headsman dealt with Li Yie.

198 AD
In the west, at Yong An, I have maintained a light governance of the city, leaving a single officer, the steadfast Bu Zhi, to run things and manage improvements.  I have also left him 90K men on what amounts to a tiny outpost in a sea of greedy, if friendly, rulers as a deterrent.  Bu Zhi finishes improving the defenses but he lacks subordinates to which he can delegate.  He requests more men to administrate, but I do not heed his request because I need people on the border with Gongsun Zan. 

Yong An is strategically unimportant, but I am reluctant to simply abandon the city and so I leave Bu Zhi to manage as best he can.

Through the spring Zhang Fei and Lu Bu play a game of cat and mouse with me, occupying Linzi only to have me repel them.  I keep retreating back to Beihei because the port’s defenses are stripped bare.  I let them come back just so I can make them retreat when it nears collapsing again.  This tactic works for me far better than the all out assault I originally carried out.

The coalition against Gongsun Zan ends after a year without ultimate success, but the previous 12 months of warfare have actually strengthened my position, because Gongsun has now been effectively evicted from my side of the Yellow River.  I ply my former allies with gifts, and most accept them.  Out west, Huang Quan rejects the gift I send him and my relations with him suffer. 

I garrison the ports around Pu Yang and send more men and most of my generals to Beihei.  I plan on making a push against Ande Port that will result in a deciding breakthrough.

But yet again, someone else looses an arrow before I can pull back the bowstring.

To be continued....

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