GLORIOUS AND GREAT WAR FLANDERS-HAINAUT THE ANNEXATION Lille, Province of Flanders-Hainaut, Empire of Great Engellex, 22 January 2012 On the afternoon of 22 January, the day of the Grand Duke’s formal entry and proclamation in the city of Lille, the frosty sun sparkled on the city’s burnt out and frozen rooftops. Three ribbons of fully equipped troops (not ceremonial) bordered the six mile line of march, holding back the crowds. Every balcony and window above the street was jammed with people, not all of them happy, some waved the flag of the defeated Kingdom of Montelimar but had their shouting heavily drowned out. At one o’clock, the first battalions of the 1st Royal Dragoons cavalry rode into the streets, forming the van of the procession. Those watching from above could see flash of the afternoon sun on their golden helmets with the red plumes and cuirasses. The Golds and Royals, the cavalry guard of the Grand Duchy, came next, wearing tunics of black with gold braid beneath their cuirasses, their sabres held out as they marched. Behind the Golds and Royals rode the nobility of Flanders-Hainaut in gold braid and red sashes with jewelled medals sparkling on their chests. Then, on foot, came the Band of the Tenth Great Engellexic Army, playing the Grand Ducal March. The appearance of the nobles of Flanders-Hainaut signalled the coming of the Grand Duke. He rode alone, on a black horse. Unlike the lavishly costumed ministers, nobles, and aids who wore medals, the Grand Duke dressed in his ceremonial army uniform with a crimson sash and the medals of orders, rather than military. His face was plump and pale with excitement and he reined his horse with his left hand only. His right hand was raised to his visor in a fixed salute. Behind the Grand Duke rode more cavalry, other dignitaries of Flanders-Hainaut and Wantage. Then came the sound of the roaring motors of an armoured column of fifteen tanks and an overhead flypast but a squadron of F-16s. Suddenly a rumour quickly circulated that a bomb was to go off during and near the procession. People began to run. The lines of troops forming the barriers to keep order were pushed into the chaotic mass before orders were given to fire into the air. Men tripped and stumbled into the gutters. Women and children, knocked down in the mass of rushing, pushing bodies, felt feet on their backs and heads. Their noses and mouths were smashed into the paved ground. Over the mutilated, suffocating bodies, thousands of feet relentlessly trampled. By the time the soldiers and police restored calm, the streets resembled a battlefield. Hundreds were dead and thousands wounded. By the late afternoon, the city’s hospitals were jammed with wounded. The Grand Duke was stunned. His first impulse was for the show to go on. He declared that he will still attend the ball being given that night by nobles of Flanders-Hainaut, and the proclamation will be made, his ministers agreed with the course of action suggesting that cancelling events would magnify the disaster. I expected the engagements to be called off, a general remarked back to the Chief of Imperial Staff. Instead it took place as if nothing had occurred and the ball was opened by his Highness dancing a quadrille. The Grand Duke’s first action though was to order a lockdown on reporting the disaster, I am expecting you to control the gossip of Lille, he informed the governor. No foreign journalist can be allowed to enter the city. I also what you to oversee a censor of everything in the press here, the newspapers will only be allowed to print what is decided as the official situation. The governor nodded and carried out the orders. At the end of procession, the Grand Duke walked toward the city hall. He climbed the grand steps of the traditional Montelimarien baroque civil building with his wife, turned and with a bellowing voice of typical Wantage accent made the Proclamation of Flanders-Hainaut Annexation that lasted thirty minutes. From the assembled military band roared a mighty anthem of Wantage. From the muzzles of artillery, thunder rolled across the city. Above everything, making it impossible for a man to call out an objection, charged the engines of another flypast. Later that evening, among the three thousand guests who dined at the banquet and ball, among the Grand Duke and nobles, ministers and other officials, were many commoners – industrialists, professors, police chiefs and so on, all from Flanders-Hainaut. They were being honoured as new subjects of the Grand Duke, and the Queen-Empress. At the proclamation ball that night, the town palace in Lille shimmered with lights and music. The gowns wore by the women were considered shocking given the circumstance. There were tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings, some with large brilliant stones. The Grand Duchess, the aunt of the Queen-Empress, was covered in rubies. The Grand Duke himself sponsored a large display of diamonds. That night the entire city of Lille enjoyed an unusual effort by the Engellexic military administration. Through the use of the Engellexic Red Cross a ‘bounty’ had been arranged by the Grand Duke – cakes, fruits, sweets – were handed out along with typical rations, a trifle but a significant gesture. After the proclamation, the Grand Duke was expected to oversee a ministerial meeting Lille the next day. A Junior Foreign Minister for Danmark had arrived to meet their Engellexic counterpart in Lille to discuss preliminaries between the two countries. The Grand Duke was waiting for the Danish on the steps of city hall with Sir Maurice Crawley, the Engellexic Junior Minister for the Northern Department. Despite the great difference in national and political character, the needs of diplomacy may make economic allies of the liberal Danish and more conservative Engellexic. For Crawley’s part, he hoped to secure commitments on trade, something that was mutual, and his counterpart was in need of assurances with respect to Fontaine-Harcourt. The meeting lasted three hours, in two sessions separated by lunching with the Grand Duke and Duchess before they left for their return to Biden, and achieved preliminary agreements with much mutual inclination. Danmark gained influence where previously it had none, and Great Engellex secured support for its trade initiatives amongst other very important matters for post-war; the Queen-Empress hoped to ensure a legacy of peace to succeed the war in Preuti-Borussia. As the remaining divisions of the XIV Corps and XXXIV Corps, of the Tenth Army, moved to reinforce the south against the final push, they found an unbelievable scene of destruction along the motorways that led toward the city of Valmy, Bacle-Duc, and St. Etienne. The Second Air Wing of the Royal Engellexic Air Force had been pounding the three cities all with much destruction since before Christmas. By the time the 15th and 16th Infantry Divisions reached Valmy, the capital city was strewn with the burnt out hulks of thousands of tanks, armoured carriers and civilian vehicles, not to mention the vast number of obliterated buildings in the north and central districts, it was one of the ghastliest scenes of the war. At 13:00 on 22 January the 16th ID, the 28th AD, and the 16th Royal Artillery Regiment started the advance for St. Etienne. Armoured brigades were the first to make manoeuvres south. Two armoured brigades skirted the north-east of St. Etienne, blocking an eastward retreat or, more importantly, a reinforcement, the two other ABs with one infantry regiment conducted a direct assault south into the city and the outer districts, the three other regiments of the 16th ID completed its race to the north-west to screen left flank and ensure the city surrounded. Just inside the orbital road of the city, the direct armoured assault ran into a medium tank force. MLRS units of the 16th RAR were the first units to initiate the artillery barrage that preceded the helicopter support that swept in to aid on the ground. The forward advance pushed seven miles into the districts of the northern edge of St. Etienne. The north-western advance of the infantry regiments pursued slowly on the city. They had to be careful as the area was littered with unexploded munitions and mines. The regiments tried to move in and secure the city’s west, but unexploded cluster bombs and Montelimarien mines held them up. The north-east advance paused, with the need to take stock of the situation. They decided to wait until after dark to continue the assault, as it brought them too close to the Lorrainese border. By mid-night the three fronts connected to form a line surrounding the city that was pushing forward. In Valmy, the 14th and 44th IDs had nearly completed their objectives for the capital. There were still a few holdouts in the north-east. The cost of subduing the resistance was a bloody one, mutually so. Casualties were in the tens of thousands, not including civilians, and the replenishment of munitions and tanks forced an urgency to conserve elsewhere, notably in the east where Engellexic lines struggled while additional forces were being deployed from Wantage. However, the XIV Corps now faced a very different situation of greater difficulty – restoring order in the city. Elsewhere the most difficult objective still lay ahead. The Tenth Army had already destroyed vast portions of the Montelimarien defensive line in the east. Engaged and not nearly enough defeated the Montelimariens defending the east attempted to demolish and advance through the Engellexic line west of Nancy. The XXXIV Corps’ sledgehammer was now coming down on the Eastern Line. The soldiers of two freshly deployed infantry divisions and one armoured division, along with two artillery regiments, were about to engage the enemy in the largest concerted advance of the Montelimarien campaign. General Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon, the 4th Duke of Montcresson, had manoeuvred his divisions to close in on the enemy positions in unison. The intent was to smash into the centre of their position with such force as to splinter the entire line. As the 17th Infantry Division and the 13th Armoured Division methodically closed in on the enemy positions in the afternoon, the XXXIV Corps’ artillery pounded the Montelimariens. They attacked the enemy with massive artillery and MLRS barrages followed by close air support from the Second Air Wing’s F-16s and Apache attacks. Swarms of F-16s ranged forward of the advancing ground force. The 13th Armoured Division was moving directly toward the centre of the defences, just north-west of Nancy. Farther to their north, the 17th Infantry Division would hit the northern edge of the Montelimarien line, north of Nancy, and envelop them into the armoured advance. Meanwhile, the 42nd Infantry Division raced south-eastern of Nancy to bound forward and push the southern edge of the line toward Fontaine-Harcourt, thus cutting the Montelimarien line in two. By the early evening, the entire 22nd Royal Artillery Regiment was refuelling and making preparations to turn south and reinforce the 42nd’s line north of Fontaine-Harcourt.