Siege of Belziroa

Siege of Belziroa
Part of the Baira Debacle
Siege of Belziroa.jpg
The Guns of Belziroa, by Orot Jai Remarsna (1891)
Date3 April - 8 August 1873
Location
Belziroa, Txekrikar
Result Txekri victory
Belligerents
 Txekrikar Andamonian First Republic Andamonia
Commanders and leaders
Txekrikar Andamonian First Republic
Andamonian First Republic Albert von Oberlander
Strength
1,200 3,000-6,000
Casualties and losses
46 killed,
122 wounded
195 killed,
564 wounded

The Siege of Belziroa (3 April - 8 August 1873) was fought during the Baira Debacle, an 1870s conflict which saw the Andamonian First Republic attempt to seize lands in eastern Txekrikar. The Txekri fortress of Belziroa entirely prevented Andamonian ship movements through the Halsa Strait, thereby crippling Andamonia's efforts to capture the city of Reu. It was therefore concluded that the fortress had to fall for Andamonia to win the war.

Background

The Baira Debacle broke out in July 1872, after Andamonian president Muriaz Raihanri repeatedly provoked Txekri prince Nihran ha'Roita into declaring war. Raihanri had promised war with Txekrikar during his election campaign, and demanded that Txekrikar concede its eastern territories which were home to a substantial Andamonian minority. Despite Andamonia's rapid gains on the west bank of the Baira, Reu — Raihanri's main objective — staunchly resisted conquest, receiving constant supplies and support from harbours in Txekri Arrain. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, under a treaty dating to the late eighteenth century, Andamonia had maintained a minimal naval presence at Getús; Txekrikar similarly kept only a token force at Resiark, across the channel. Andamonia's success at Reu therefore depended on moving ships south through the Halsa Strait, a narrow bottleneck guarded by the formidable Txekri fortress of Belziroa.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Belziroa was the site of a castle owned by the local Kainak family. The castle sat on a low cliff at the narrowest point of the Halsa Strait, where Andamonia and Txekrikar were barely 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) distant. Acquired by the Txekri crown in 1610, the castle fell into disrepair until 1742, when it was rebuilt and garrisoned to prevent its use by pirates. Following the naval treaty with Andamonia in 1784, Txekrikar identified control over the Halsa Strait as pivotal for any future war with its eastern neighbour. Treacherous shoals on the eastern side of the strait forced traffic onto the western side, within range of the castle's guns. Belziroa was developed into the most modern and secure fortification in the principality, with walls 5 metres (16 ft) thick. Its casemates and ramparts boasted "one hundred and sixty-four cannon, each pointed at the emperor's minions," in 1825. Two major upgrades to the fortress occurred in 1820 and 1863, to bring it up to date with advancements in artillery.

Prelude

The investment of Reu was accomplished by 40,000 Andamonian troops under Tixuhel Darandae in September 1872, although the city's large port proved impossible to blockade without naval support. Darandae conducted expeditions against nearby Txekri forces, winning several major battles north of Zitiar as the principality's commanders attempted to drive him out. He was unable to penetrate as far as Belziroa, however, and suffered an embarrassing defeat when he tried to cross into Arrain, losing 4,000 men to a much smaller Txekri force under Pemen Silusiak. Silusiak later received command of the entirety of Arrain, winning all but two of his engagements in the prefecture.

Between September and March, Belziroa turned back or sank twenty-six Andamonian warships, subjecting them to withering fire. One Andamonian commander, who attempted to pass the fortress on three occasions, remarked that "the castle's guns are manned by magicians ... their eyes are as hawks'. ... Belziroa is queen of the strait. Her walls are too firm to crack, her vantage too perfect to assail, her watch too vigilant to elude." On March 12, in an attempt to overwhelm Belziroa by sheer numbers, fifteen cruisers and three ironclads were sent against the fortress from Tautahei. Seven ships were sunk and eight forced to withdraw; one ran aground under the fortress' walls; only two successfully negotiated the strait, and these were driven away by the Txekri cruiser stationed at Reu.

It became apparent that Belziroa would not fall to assault by sea or by land. The Andamonian commanders therefore decided to bombard Belziroa into submission from across the strait.

Andamonia's successes in the war to date had been won by numerical superiority: it was widely recognised that its military lagged behind Txekrikar technologically. The republic simply did not possess artillery with enough range to menace Belziroa. What it did have, however, was a Rombergian mercenary regiment under Albert von Oberlander. von Oberlander had with him two howitzers with a range he estimated at 5 kilometres (3.1 mi); with lighter ammunition, he could achieve an effective range of 5.8 kilometres, just enough to fire across the strait. Duplicates of these two cannons were quickly cast; over the next two months, twenty-six more were made and delivered to the siege lines on the eastern shore of the strait.

The siege

The siege of Belziroa was a very tenuous offensive. The distance between the siege lines and the fortress brought the modified howitzers to the very limits of their range. It was reported that on particularly windy days, with the wind blowing from the north or northwest, bombardment would have to be postponed until conditions were calmer. In the early weeks of the siege, the artillery was set up at low tide on the the beaches facing Belziroa, to bring them that much closer to the walls. As the siege wore on, barges were brought in and wooden piers were erected to allow the bombardment to continue at high tide.