Before times - Sea Wars, part 1

By Master Robert Beddingfield

And so it came to pass that the Kingdom of Atlantia and the Kingdom of Trimaris decided to have a war. In searching for the proper place to hold this fete of arms, both kingdoms decided on an excellent venue, with historic structures, a great hotel, and more or less equidistant between both kingdoms. A perfect site, located in the Kingdom of Meridies.

Even tho it is remembered as “Sea Wars”, the event was called Sea Raids, and was held on January 16, 1993 in Savanna, Georgia. In addition to planning a war on a third-party’s land, the two warring kingdoms also decreed that there would be a war point for rapier, the first ever at an inter-kingdom war.

This was before the creation of the Acadmie d’Espee award. Before gold scarves. Blue scarves were being worn by authorized fighters, but there was no recognized group leading rapier, except the marshalate. The separation of Academie and marshalate – between “church” and “state” – wouldn’t occur for another 6-9 months. It fell to us marshals to lead Kingdom rapier, and we went about it with a vengeance.

In the months leading up to Sea Raids, we pushed melee drills at practices across the Kingdom. Atlantia had only recently allowed epees to be used, in addition to the foils that everyone fought with, and we spread the word to: a). get an epee; b). learn to fight with an epee; c). get a second epee and learn to fight case; and d). learn to fight in a triad.

The presence in the Kingdom of Triplette Arms (owned by future WS Rufus Pigboy) made it possible to get epees delivered quickly; this was before Amazon; orders by mail sometimes took weeks to arrive. Ordering from Triplette was always fun. I recall ordering my first rapier from them by phone. “I want a foil blade, a saber bell, and an epee pommel.” I said. The lady’s reply was “You’re in the SCA, aren’t you”. Not everyone could afford 2 epees, but were encouraged to get a 2nd sword (then, as now, foils and epees could be matched). Case of sword in hand(s), we drilled at practices and events in the intricacies of fighting with 2 swords as part of a team.

The trip down to Sea Raids and the non-fighting activities are worthy of their own story, which I’ll tell at another time. Bottom line: don’t put 6 WS in a van for a 12 hour trip. And probably not put them in the same hotel, either. The trip did, however, allow a great deal of tactical analysis and planning to occur. Fortunately, we had 3 former military among us to give us the benefit of their training and education.

Unfortunately, we had 3 former military among us, who used their experience and training in deploying trained, experienced troops to craft a battle plan for the nascent semi-trained Atlantian Army. I hadn’t thought that you could actually do a sand table inside a moving vehicle. And I was right. [NOTE: We actually had 4 former military with us, but Gerlach was Air Force and therefore had no acquaintance with tactics.]

Savanna was a short hop from Florida, the sole Trimaran state (albeit, a long state, so a long hop). Atlantians had to travel thru 4 states to get to Georgia. The number of fighters that would show up for either side was unknown (nobody pre-registered for events back then), and of some concern, as this made tactics complicated. “What if they outnumber us?” “We’ll use terrain against them.” “What if terrain isn’t viable?” “We’ll employ interlocking fields of fire and an enfilade pincer movement.” “The fuck?”

Tactics devolved into everyone assuring ourselves we would just outfight them, and we went back to drinking and playing card games, with occasional queries such as, “What if they use terrain against us?” to which someone would reply, “We’ll outnumber them”.

The battles were held in 2 places; the armored fighters got to fight in Fort Jackson, a civil war era fort. Imagine, bridge battles on a real bridge, storming a real portal gate. The rapier fighting was held in a old railroad roundhouse, which had a flat dirt floor. Tactics quickly evolved: “It’s a round building; they can’t corner us in there.”

The rapier war point was a melee. I recall the count to be something like 43 to 38 or so, Trimarans to Atlantians. So, they outnumbered us, and there was no terrain. Our stalwart military-types went to ground, literally, and began building new sand tables, this time, non-moving ones with actual sand. What evolved was what our Glorious Leaders described as, “an envelopment operation, like WW2’s Operation Uranus, wherein the Soviets encircled the German 6th Army.”

Our reaction to this was similar to Operation WTF, wherein stunned blank looks confounded the Persians at the 2nd Thermopylae. Sensing our confusion, it was decided to go back to basics: “Okay, this is a rapier.”, to which someone (okay, me) replied, “Slow down, coach, you’re going too fast.”

What eventually resulted was a plan that divided the army into 2 halves. Each half had sub-commanders and we went into our practiced triads to form a line, the line being the pinnacle of melee formations at the time (given it was the only melee formation). One or two triads were held back to respond to holes or problems, up to and including a complete rout.

The consequence of the strong suggestion to get into case (or Florentine, as it was called then) was obvious as the armies lined up against each other. Almost the entire Atlantian army was in 2 sword, at least one an epee, while the Trimaran force was predominantly in single foil. Both sides finally got into place and “Lay on” was called.

My observation of the battle was of course limited to my area, the right flank. I had been placed in a triad with Geoffrey Gamble and Gerlach, probably to break up the alliteration of their names. We were held in reserve and directed to go where we saw the need. We never actually saw a need, but didn’t want to not get any fighting in, so when a gap appeared, we ran in to fill it.

The gap was caused by our far right units forcing the Trimarans on that flank to lose ground to our press. As the tip of their line started to fall back, it created a bend. Ultimately, their line folded back on itself and they were fighting back to back. Geoffrey actually thrust at a moving fighter in front of him, and instead hit the back of the head of another fighter (I don’t even want to get into how such an engagement would have been handled at Pennsic). Our flank rolled up our end and killed everyone. We started to form up to “tee” the other half when we saw there were only 2 or so Trimarans left.

The entire battle lasted about 6 and a half minutes; it would have lasted less, except the last Trimaran asked for single combat, and it was given to him (from which we learned and coined the saying, “Fuck single combat, this is a melee”.) In debriefing, our leaders would opine that, rather than an envelopment, we had pinned them with half our line, with the rest of our line raking them, ala the Battle of Trafalgar. See why the guy in M.A.S.H.says, “goddam army”? All we knew is that we had successfully handed their Uranus to them.

I will leave the analysis of the battle and tactics to others. Suffice to say, Trimarans learned a lot from that fight, perhaps more than we did, and are definitely not a pushover on the melee field today. As for us, the Crowns were pleased enough with our performance to create a Kingdom award for rapier, the Academie d’ Espee, and, less than 3 months later, inducted and awarded gold scarves to the first 4 provosts. Atlantians continue to impress on the melee field, and in my not-so-humble opinion, have taught/inspired/forced the rest of Society rapier to learn to fight on the battlefield. They should thank us; they won’t, but they should.

And that’s the way it was.