The thunderous tumult of the cannonade shook the air as three ships of the line hurled volley after volley of 50 pound exploding shells at the stout hearted Burmese regiments defending the port of Rangoon. Blockhouse after blockhouse, formidable but ill equipped to stand up to such a furious barrage, fell. The second line ships and the sloops were already off loading scores of transports full of fiery Royal Marines.
Aboard the corvette Hermes, a young lieutenant was bent over the side of a barrel, his innards convulsing nearly as terribly as the naval bombardment that seemed to convulse the entirety of the Earth itself. He had tried to maintain his official dignity in front of his platoon, who were no better off except for a young corporal who’s was a fisherman’s son, but the ear splitting explosions of the shells and the shaking of the Hermes had forced his stomach to let him down.
“Lieutenant Marshall! Wipe that shit off your lip and get your platoon ready, the regiment is going in on the next wave of transports.”
The lieutenant looked bemusedly at Captain Cox, his company commander. “We’re going in with the second wave; won’t the horse transports make us easy pickings for the coastal guns?”
“We’re going in as rifle in support of the marines. I know it sounds a bit barmy son, but orders are orders.” said Captain Cox.
The lieutenant saluted“. Yes sir, I guess all those years of boar hunting with my father will finally come to good use.’ The captain saluted and marched off to afflict the lieutenant of the 3rd platoon with is gravelly voiced shouting.
“Second Platoon, on your feet and grab you kit, we’re moving out!”
This was to be the young lieutenant’s first true engagement since leaving Cambridge for the Royal Military Academy and being assigned to the 7th Her Majesty’s Hussars. He had started riding in his early youth and won the Oxford Cambridge steeple chase for Cambridge in 49’. His riding had impressed the instructors at the academy and was recommended to Colonel Lambert of the 7th by the Commandant of Cadets himself. Now he was picking up a Brown Bess and a cartridge box and climbing into a boat, the opposite of a fish out of water.
Shells from the gunners on the shore exploded around him as his men rowed anxiously ashore. The small boat was tossed about as the normally calm waters of the port rollicked in a frenzy. As they neared shore a shell from a Burmese brass Napoleon field gun shattered the transport carrying 3rd platoon sending men and limbs flying into the briny bay.
“Lock you muskets and fix bayonets men and don’t stop until we’ve cleared the docks!”
The lieutenant shook like a pudding, less out of fear than out of the allegro shaking of the small craft as he scampered up over the sea wall. He rose to his feet, and gave a sidelong glance to each side to see that his men were ashore with him, let out a yell and charged the nearest battery. The high pitched sound of musket balls filled his ears; he could feel the close ones break the air as they whizzed by. He heard the screams of men as they fell all around him. When he got within 100 yards of the closest gun he aimed and fired, hitting one of the three man gun crew, his men following suit. Several squads of enemy rifleman rushed to save the gun. The lieutenant strapped his musket to his shoulder and produced his saber. “Ready, 2nd Platoon! Charge!”
The lieutenant led the way, the fury of battle having taken hold and usurped the green school boy. There was a crash of wood and steel as the 2nd platoon engaged the city’s defenders. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as the lieutenant led his men hacking, slashing and stabbing their way through what now seemed to be a company. First platoon had joined the fight and fourth platoon had come up along with the survivors of 3rd platoon, who were led by a sergeant. Outnumbered, the Hussars superior training allowed them to fight their opponents to a standstill, slowly making headway as reinforcements steadily arrived. Finally, there was a stream of hoarse shouting incomprehensible to lieutenant Marshall, and the enemy withdrew in a rapid but orderly manner.
“2nd Platoon, give quarter only to those who throw down their arms! Charge!”
Second platoon, followed by more than a full company of the 7th charge the enemy, rolling over their front line. The remnants of the defenders made a mad dash through the smoking, ruined market, heading for the front streets of their oriental city. They ran straight into the Royal Marines, who were in firing lines and were poised to unleash a hail of death. They threw up their hands and there came a cacophony of hoarse shouts, incomprehensible to Lieutenant Marshall, but which he assumed meant ‘quarter’ or ‘we surrender’.
A burly captain of the marines approached the hussars as his men secured their captives. “Not bad hand to hand for a regiment of horsemen.”
Lieutenant Marshall came to attention and saluted. “Captain, I’m Lieutenant Marshall of the 2nd platoon, 3rd regiment of the 7th Hussars sir. May we assist in securing the prisoners and the position sir?” Lieutenant Brooks of 1st platoon, bleeding from a nasty wound to his shoulder, Lieutenant Brewer of the 4th and Sergeant Owens, De facto leader of 3rd platoon joined him.
“At ease. Where is your company commander?” asked the captain.
Marshall was struck dumb; he hadn’t seen Captain Cox since he saw him in the transport with 1st platoon as they rowed ashore. He hadn’t even thought about the captain since they began their climb over the sea wall. All he had thought about was his men and the objective, and killing men before they could kill him. He looked at his saber, crimson with the blood of brave men.
Brooks spoke up. “Captain Cox took a ball to the leg, but I believe he’s okay, a couple of men were tending to him as we joined the fight.”
Marshall was relieved, the captain was alive and he had come through his first test under fire unscathed. He heard the commander of the marines barking orders to his men to form a perimeter. The fog of battle began to clear.
“Gentlemen, have some of your best men round up these prisoners and take them back to the landings; I’ll need your help securing the market.”
The several platoon commanders formed up their men, barking orders to squadron after squadron. Form a firing line over here under cover. Form another over by the burnt out fishmongers. Fill up that gap and another. Make sure the lashings on the prisoners’ wrists are secure.
“Sergeant Haney. Have 2nd squad lead these prisoners back to the boats, and treat them gently, they fought like men.” Marshall wiped his saber off on a post.