Steampunk Novel Excerpt

The Zeppelin LZ WürttembergI have been writing a Steampunk novel on and off for over a year now. More often than not, life, family, the day job interfered with my progress goals but recently, I was able to make some progress. The novel is still far from finished and at the current rate, I guess it will take at least another year.

I just though I share this description of an air-battle with you. I struggled with the description for a while and then decided to do it like this:

Excerpt from a recorded lecture on mobility in aerial combat, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen:

“On the 23rd of May we got our first chance to test the effectivity of our new guns in real combat. We were cruising over the Pacific Ocean between the Gulf of Siam and Palau when we received a distress call from a convoy en route to Australia. They had come under attack by a combined force of seaborne and airborne pirates.
They reported five airships of various sizes and six ocean vessels, mostly smaller craft. We were also contacted by Captain Dwyer of AFA Providence who was rushing to the scene as well.
We spotted a column of smoke on the horizon just before the stern observation post reported three airships. At that point we were flying at a very appreciable 60 knots but slowed down so as not to give away our true capabilities. The turrets were powered up but still hidden within the gondola and the main hull.
Coming closer we confirmed five airships although one, a rather improvised machine, had already been downed by anti-aircraft fire from the ships. The burning vessel causing the column of smoke was at that point being boarded by pirates.
Now, as you can see on this display, we were heading straight into what could be considered a threatening swarm of four pirate airships. All but one smaller than LZ Württemberg.

Unfortunately, the largest airship was also the one furthest away and did not seem interested in engaging us at all. Instead, it kept shelling the other ships of the convoy. Thus, we faced three immediate threats.
Since Württemberg had only limited offensive capabilities, it was our plan to use speed and surprise to disable one, maybe two of our enemies with our initial attack and then play for time until Providence would arrive.”

(Zoom on display, the pieces move)

“Now, two of the remaining three airships significantly picked up speed to intercept us while the third fell back. We could not tell wether it was genuinely slower, damaged or just stayed back as a precaution.
So the number of enemies had already halved before the first shot had been fired.”

The pieces move some more.

“The attackers split, one engaging us starboard below while the other one went on a collision course, possibly in an attempt to board us.
From the bridge, we could see the airship coming from below actually had no upper armament, it could only be a diversion.
Kapitän Von Kober decided to test the climbing capabilities of our craft and engage the airship coming straight at us. We all strapped ourselves in and Württemberg went on an almost 45° climb. Simultaneously, the hull turrets extended and opened fire. We could not immediately see what happened but the sudden light from below told us all we needed to know. The pirate vessel had used hydrogen for lift.” (laughter from the assembled cadets).

“Please, cadets. Warfare is no laughing matter.

The other airship had of course witnessed its comrades demise and made a run for it. Our aft gun fired several rounds and actually scored a hit but did not do enough damage to cripple it.
We now faced the remaining small airship which had fallen back earlier and the large vessel. As you can imagine, it was no longer concerning itself with the freighters but was about to engage us.
I was myself at the observation telescope and could see quite clearly it was equipped with a rather impressive number of guns, heavier and longer range than our 150 mm Krupp cannons and the new weapons from Zeiss. What was worse, our Tesla batteries had been almost drained by the first volley and we could at best expect one burst for one gun remaining.
Yes?”
(muffled question from the audience)
“Excellent questions. You have read the account of this battle before, right?”
(laughter)
“Your fellow cadet here has just asked if the bow armament of this airship was of comparable caliber to the broadside.
And as I have guessed correctly, the lady has read about the battle before.”
(muffled answer)
“Oh, you did? What is your name?”
(answer and more laughter)
“My word, he could have told me…”
(laughter)
“But let us continue.
So, the bow, and aft for that matter, were the weak points of the vessel. From my position I could make out a quadruple automated cannon of what I suspected was an older design. If we could manage to outmanoeuvre the airship and keep its bow pointing at us, we would remain out of harms way and wait until Providence would arrive.
So we circled the large vessel at a distance. Our superior speed proved invaluable at this point. The pirate vessel, although it only had to turn on the spot, was unable to bring its broadside to bear while we danced around it.
It also gave our hull turrets the opportunity to shell the regular pirate ships on the ocean. The second salvo managed to set one of the vessels ablaze. The others closed in to the one convoy ship already under attack, correctly assuming we would not risk attacking when a friendly ship was that close. But in closing in, they gave us the opportunity to fire at them while they were on a very predictable course. We thus managed to actually sink one.”
(applause)
We could have continued circling for a while longer but the aft observation post reported the remaining two smaller airships were coming back.
Any suggestions what we might have done? Yes, second row from the top. Yes, you.”
(muffled answer)
“Your fellow cadet suggested we could have used the sun to blind the main vessel, close in, cripple the bow gun and hopefully set it ablaze. It would also have an appreciable effect on the morale of the other vessels.
Excellent suggestion, but a bit risky. We did not know wether the main airship also used hydrogen for lift. But the sun played a role in our actual move.”

(The display pieces move further)

“We performed another almost half-circle around the main vessel until we had the sun almost in our back again, then turned and headed directly into the sun at maximum speed. The aft gun loosed a number of rounds at our pursuers and got lucky. One round struck the starboard rotor of one airship and almost separated and in any case disabled it.
Below, we could now see the other ships of the convoy were trying to escape, abandoning the captured vessel and depriving us of possible supporting fire from below.
Also, the smallest airship kept closing and the aft emplacement reported several rounds having struck the gondola. The pirate was armed with a single-barrel long-range automatic cannon and obviously desired to make us pay for interfering.”

(Zoom again on the display. The pieces move again.)

“We increased speed to maximum and soon were out of range, now we used gravity to our advantage. Due to our superior climb-rate we were a good deal higher than the pirate pursuing us.
What’s the general rule of thumb for calculating the trajectory of a shell under the conditions the Württemberg was in?
Yes, over there.”
(answer)
“Excellent, exactly. Now, our rear gunner was aware of this rule, too, and very skilled. He scored two successive hits on the pirate’s gas cells. This one did not use Hydrogen for lift but there was enough Helium leaking now for him to break off pursuit. The airship was not equipped with self-sealing cells, this was something we expected.
The final small airship turned tail and ran as well, morale was obviously low. This left us to face the lead ship again.
I forgot to mention… Cadet, since you have a first hand account of the battle, please enlighten your comrades as to the reason why we did not choose to engage the main vessel from above, like we did with the smaller craft.”
(Explanation)
“Exactly. The main pirate airship was equipped with a missile launcher on top and also had a reinforced outer gas cell hull. There was little we could do right now but trying to annoy it.
The airship also tried several times to quickly reverse turning so we would fly right into its broadside but again, our mobility was superior. Whenever this happened, we also turned and increased the distance again or charged into the sun. In turn, we fired several rounds aimed at the bow emplacement and I am not but I think one hit may have disabled the quadruple gun but before we did not choose to risk a frontal attack and minutes later…”

(a new piece appears on the display)

… AFA Providence arrived. The pirate was still so singularly occupied with trying to get a shot at us, he payed no attention to the rest of the sky. I still remember Providence’s shadow falling on the pirate airship, followed by several rounds punching through the armoured hull. It also used hydrogen for lift, if we had only taken the risk, we would have been heroes…”
(laughter)
“Now it was time to engage the pirates down on the ocean.”

 

And by the way: I, Marcus Rauchfuss,asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without my prior permission.

But I would love to get some feedback, criticism etc. Be frank, I do not mind. This is still a work in progress.