The Angel of the Revolution, by George Griffith

Chapter 25.

The Heralds of Disaster.

Another column in the same issue contained an account of the “Mysterious Disappearance of Lord Alanmere” and the doings of the Ithuriel in the Atlantic. The account concluded as follows:—

“As the enemy’s squadron came up in chase it was annihilated without warning and with appalling suddenness by the air-ship, which must have crossed the Atlantic in something like sixteen hours. After this fearful achievement it descended to the Aurania, took off a saloon passenger named Michael Roburoff, evidently, from his reception, a Terrorist himself, and then vanished through the clouds. For the present, and until we have fuller information, we attempt no detailed analysis of these astounding events. We merely content ourselves with saying in the most solemn words that we can use, that, awful and disastrous as is the war that is now raging throughout the greatest part of the old world, it is our firm belief that, behind the smoke-clouds of battle, and beneath the surface of visible events, there is working a secret power, possibly greater than any which has yet been called into action, and which at an unexpected moment may suddenly put forth its strength, upheave the foundations of Society, and bury existing institutions in the ruins of Civilisation.

“One fact is quite manifest, and that is, that although the League possesses a weapon of fearful efficiency for destruction in their fleet of aerostats, the Terrorists, controlled by no law save their own, and hampered by no traditions or limitations of civilised warfare, are in command of another fleet of unknown strength, the air-ships of which are apparently as superior to the aerostats of the League as a modern battleship would be to a three-decker of the time of Nelson.

“The power represented by such a fleet as this is absolutely inconceivable. The aerostats are large, clumsy, and comparatively slow. They do not carry guns, and can only drop their projectiles vertically downwards. Moreover, their sphere of operations has so far been entirely confined to the land.

“Very different, however, would seem to be the powers of the Terrorist air-ships. They have proved conclusively that they are swift almost beyond imagination. They have crossed oceans and continents in a few hours; they can ascend to enormous heights, and they carry artillery of unknown design and tremendous range, whose projectiles excel in destructiveness the very lightnings of heaven itself.

“In the presence of such an awful and mysterious power as this even the quarrels of nations seem to shrink into unimportance, and almost to pettiness. Where and when it may strike, no man knows save those who wield it, and therefore there is nothing for the peoples of the earth, however mighty they may be, to do but to await the blow in humiliating impotence, but still with a humble trust in that Higher Power which alone can save it from accomplishing the destruction of Society and the enslavement of the human race.”

It may well be imagined with what interest, and it may fairly be added with what intense anxiety, these words were read by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the British Islands. Even the news from the Seat of War began to pall in interest before such tidings as these, invested as they were with the irresistible if terrible charm of the unknown and the mysterious.

By noon it was almost impossible to get any one in London or any of the large towns to talk of anything but the disappearance of Lord Alanmere, the Terrorists, and their marvellous aërial fleet. But it goes without saying that nowhere did the news produce greater distress or more utter bewilderment than it did among the occupants of Alanmere Castle, and especially in the breast of her who had been so quickly and so strangely installed as its new owner and mistress.

Everywhere the wildest rumours passed from lip to lip, growing in sensation and absurdity as they went. A report, telegraphed by an anonymous idiot from Liverpool, to the effect that six air-ships had appeared over the Mersey, and demanded a ransom of £10,000,000 from the town, was eagerly seized on by the cheaper evening papers, which rushed out edition after edition on the strength of it, until the St. James’s Gazette put an end to the excitement by publishing a telegram from the Mayor of Liverpool denouncing the report as an insane and criminal hoax.

The next edition of the St. James’s, however, contained a telegram from Hiorring, in Denmark, viâ Newcastle, which was of almost, if not quite, as startling and disquieting a nature, and which, moreover, contained a very considerable measure of truth. The telegram ran as follows:—

NAVAL DISASTER IN THE BALTIC.

The Sound forced by a Russian Squadron, assisted by a Terrorist Air–Ship.

(From our own Correspondent.)

Hiorring, June 28th, 8 A.M.

With the deepest regret I have to record the first naval disaster to the British arms during the present war. As soon as it became dark last night heavy firing was heard from Copenhagen to the southward, and before long the sound deepened into an almost continuous roar of light and heavy guns.

Our naval force in the Baltic was so strong that it was deemed incredible that the Russian fleet, which we have held imprisoned here since the commencement of hostilities, should dream even of making an attempt to escape. The cannonade, however, was the beginning of such an attempt, and it is useless disguising the fact that it has been completely successful. That this would have been the case, or, indeed, that the attempt would ever have been made by the Russian fleet alone, cannot be for a moment credited. But, incredible as it seems, it is nevertheless true that it was assisted, and that in a practically irresistible fashion, by one of those air-ships which have hitherto been believed to belong exclusively to the Terrorists, that is to say, to the deadliest enemies that Russia possesses.

As nearly as is known the Russian fleet consisted of twelve battleships, twenty-five armoured and unarmoured cruisers, and about forty torpedo-boats. These came charging ahead at full speed into the entrance to the Sound in spite of the overwhelming force of the Allied fleets, supported by the fortresses of Copenhagen and Elsinore. The attack was so sudden and so completely unexpected, that it must be confessed the defenders were to a certain extent taken unawares. The Russians came on in the form of an elongated wedge, their most powerful vessels being at the apex and external sides.

“On the water the results of the air-ship’s attack were destructive almost beyond description.”
“On the water the results of the air-ship’s attack were destructive almost beyond description.”

The firing was furious and sustained from beginning to end of the rush, but the damage inflicted by the cannonade of the Russian fleet and the torpedo-boats, which every now and then darted out from between the warships as opportunity offered to employ their silent and deadly weapons, was as nothing in comparison with the frightful havoc achieved by the air-ship.

This extraordinary craft hovered over the attacking force, darting hither and thither with bewildering rapidity, and raining down shells charged with an unknown explosive of fearful power among the crowded ships of the great force which was blocking the Sound. Half a dozen of these shells were fired upon the seaward fortifications of Copenhagen in passing, and produced a perfectly paralysing effect.

On the water the results of the air-ship’s attack were destructive almost beyond description, particularly when she stationed herself over the Allied fleet and began firing her four guns right and left, ahead and astern. Every time a shell struck either a battleship or a cruiser, the terrific explosion which resulted either sank the ship in a few minutes, or so far disabled it that it fell an easy prey to the guns and rams of the Russians. As for the torpedo-boats which were struck, they were simply scattered over the water in indistinguishable fragments.

Under these conditions maintenance of formation and effective fighting were practically impossible, and the huge iron wedge of the Russian squadron was driven almost without a check through the demoralised ranks of the Allied fleet. The Gut of Elsinore was reached in a little more than three hours after the first sounds of the cannonade were heard. Shortly before this the air-ship had stationed itself about a thousand feet above the water, and a mile from the fortifications.

From this position it commenced a brief, rapid cannonade from its smokeless and flameless guns, the effects of which on the fortress are said to have been indescribably awful. Great blocks of steel-sheathed masonry were dislodged from the ramparts and hurled bodily into the sea, carrying with them guns and men to irretrievable destruction. In less than half an hour the once impregnable fortress of Elsinore was little better than a heap of ruins. The last shell blew up the central magazine; the tremendous explosion was heard for miles along the coast, and proved to be the closing act of the briefest but most deadly great naval action in the history of war.

The Russian fleet steamed triumphantly past the silenced Cerberus of the Sound with flashing searchlights, blazing rockets, and jubilant salvos of blank cartridge in honour of their really brilliant victory.

The losses of the Allied fleet, so far as they are at present known, are distressingly heavy. We have lost the battleships Neptune, Hotspur, Anson, Superb, Black Prince, and Rodney, the armoured cruisers Narcissus, Beatrice, and Mersey, the unarmoured cruisers Arethusa, Barossa, Clyde, Lais, Seagull, Grasshopper, and Nautilus, and not less than nineteen torpedo-boats of the first and second classes.

The Germans and Danes have lost the battleships Kaiser Wilhelm, Friedrich der Grosse, Dantzig, Viborg, and Funen, five German and three Danish cruisers, and about a dozen torpedo-boats.

Under whatever circumstances the Russians have obtained the assistance of the air-ship, which rendered them services that have proved so disastrous to the Allies, there can be no doubt but that her arrival on the scene puts a completely different aspect on the face of affairs at sea.

I have written this telegram on board first-class torpedo-boat, No. 87, which followed the Russian fleet from the Sound round the Skawe. They passed through the Kattegat in two columns of line ahead, with the air-ship apparently resting after her flight on board one of the largest steamers. We could see her quite distinctly by the glare of the rockets and the electric light. She is a small three-masted vessel almost exactly resembling the one which partially destroyed Kronstadt in the middle of March.

After rounding the Skawe, the Russian fleet steamed away westward into the German Ocean, and we put in here to send off our despatches. This telegram has, of course, been officially revised, and my information, as far as it goes, can therefore be relied upon.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37