The Fox of France

Chapter 182: Turning the Tide (4)

The battle did not end with the collapse of the walls. The British knew they had stirred the hornet's nest among the Irish, so they fought with exceptional ferocity. In the end, the First Division emerged victorious, but not without suffering hundreds of casualties.

The high casualty count left Joseph frustrated. If every stronghold required such a toll to capture, his First Division wouldn't last long in the field. What added to his anger was the British's scorched earth tactic. They set fire to the warehouses, destroying precious supplies.

This counter-sweep, no matter how successful in battle, would undoubtedly cause severe damage to their bases. In these circumstances, the captured supplies became all the more vital. Failing to secure more resources left Joseph increasingly disheartened.

Had he known of the Second Division's success, he would have been even more disheartened. Within a single day, they had taken four strongholds in the direction of Waterford with minimal casualties. General O'Hara, the Second Division's commander, divided his nine hundred troops into four teams, simultaneously assaulting the strongholds and securing them. The Second Division's spoils were far more significant.

In a fit of rage, Joseph not only killed all the British soldiers but also hanged the officers ranked higher than corporal, who had aided in the defense. With everything burnt, they had no use for them.

What Joseph hadn't anticipated was the impact of capturing the British-held strongholds in a night assault.

When news of the successful British stronghold captures spread, it shattered the confidence of the British troops who were guarding the other strongholds. However, bound by orders, they couldn't abandon their posts. In contrast, the local "Black Dogs," who had joined the defense, had different plans. The British soldiers had nowhere to run if they chose to flee, but the "Black Dogs" had no such inhibitions.

Previously, the "Black Dogs" believed that they could fight alongside the British against the guerrillas and, if things got too tough, they could surrender, expecting not to be harmed by the guerrillas. Hence, they initially sided with the British since there was food to eat, and they had an escape route if the British faltered. But now, it appeared that fighting alongside the British to defend strongholds might not provide an escape route in case of defeat.

Moreover, the results of their defensive battles were evident; they couldn't hold out. So, when Joseph led an assault on the third stronghold in the night, he found that the defense was surprisingly thin. Many areas were left unguarded, and Joseph quickly overran them.

Afterward, he learned that this stronghold had initially been manned by over fifty British troops and over three hundred "Black Dogs." But as soon as the "Black Dogs" heard that Joseph's forces were approaching, they scattered, and the rest is history.

As a result, the Duke of Norfolk had to issue an urgent order to abandon less important outposts and concentrate forces on the most crucial ones. He also ordered the return of troops from the front lines. This retreat almost implied the admission of the failure of their sweep. Some of the Duke's staff, still not ready to concede defeat, proposed recalling only a portion of the troops, arguing that they could secure the supply lines with fewer troops. However, the Duke firmly rejected this proposal.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the most common mistake in the world is to continue investing in a failing endeavor simply because we're unwilling to accept failure. Let's be generous and confident enough to admit that this insurrection in Ireland has exceeded our expectations. Moreover, they've nearly severed our supply lines," the Duke stated. "If we recall a portion of our troops, what will be the result? Such a move requires extreme caution and meticulous organization. New orders must reach every unit involved. Even then, chaos is inevitable. It will inevitably lead to a drop in our operational efficiency in non-pacified areas. At the same time, the logistical requirements for a force of thousands operating in hostile territory are quite high. Even if the troops we recall now manage to restore the supply routes, can our front-line forces endure until then?"

He continued, "Yes, there are potatoes in the rebel's land, but they haven't ripened yet. And, do you expect our troops to be dispersed like gophers, digging for potatoes all day long?"

"Let's face reality, ladies and gentlemen. Every second we delay will cost us another second..."

Typically, in military operations, the most challenging aspect isn't the attack but the retreat, especially when the objectives remain unachieved. The British could manage such tactical retreats relatively well, but the untrained and demoralized "Security Force" struggled.

The county battalions and area companies, following the principle of "picking the ripe fruit," mainly targeted the "Security Force," neglecting to engage the British troops. The result was chaos, with over forty thousand "Security Force" troops becoming disorganized. While British officers were ordered to bring them back, they felt tempted to abandon them, as the situation grew increasingly chaotic. However, discarding the "Security Force" would have been akin to arming the rebels.

Guerilla fighters took advantage of the situation, setting up ambushes and planting landmines. Though each strike inflicted limited casualties, the cumulative damage added up. Had it not been for the Duke's strict orders to evacuate as many "Security Force" personnel as possible, many British officers would have eagerly shed their "Security Force" burden to return home.

The slow and cumbersome retreat, burdened by the "Security Force," was far from smooth. As all the forces or "suspected forces" regrouped and losses were tallied, the British had suffered over a thousand casualties, mostly due to landmines.

On the other hand, the "Security Force" had fewer accounted casualties, as both the dead and injured were simply abandoned. Yet, their "missing in action" numbers were quite alarming. Out of over forty thousand "Security Force" troops, less than thirty-four thousand returned, leaving six to seven thousand unaccounted for.

In addition to the missing personnel, their lost weapons were even more substantial. Over half their firearms were lost, and these weapons had undoubtedly found their way into the hands of the Irish people's liberation movement. However, since the Irish guerrillas were not conventional, they hadn't even bothered to issue receipts.

As a result, the British's second major sweep ended anticlimactically. Both sides returned to their respective territories to assess their gains and losses and draw conclusions.

Of course, such failures required accountability. The Duke of Norfolk faced inquiries in London. During the questioning, when members of the Whig Party asked who should bear responsibility for the failure, the Duke candidly admitted his role in it. He attributed his misjudgment to the increased French support for the Irish rebels, stating, "If we cannot sever the French influence over Ireland, this issue will not be resolved in the short term."

While the Whig Party members were dissatisfied with the Duke's statements, no one pressed him further. This was because the British political game was one of "if you think he's incapable, you go and prove your capability." Through the Duke's inquiry, even Whigs came to understand that Ireland was a quagmire, and nobody wanted to jump in. So, it was better to let the Tories continue to handle the situation.

The immediate concern now was to prevent the Irish from receiving further external support.

To this end, the British first renewed contact with the French and proposed new peace conditions.

Compared to previous offers, the British's new terms were remarkably sincere. They nearly acknowledged all of France's territorial gains on the European mainland, except Hanover, which they were willing to discuss for a potential exchange.

In the past, such terms would have likely been accepted by the French. Even now, many found them acceptable. However, Joseph strongly opposed it. He asked Napoleon during his visit to France, "What if peace is achieved? Where will you go to earn your laurels?"

Napoleon replied, "And what about you, Joseph? Where will your armaments consortium get its money?"

Consequently, the French proposed a counteroffer for peace. They suggested that, for the sake of peace, the British should grant the Irish a high degree of autonomy, allowing them to establish a truly representative autonomous government based on the Irish People's Association.

Thus, the peace talks naturally fell apart.

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