Monday, 15 March 2010

The 'Aeroclad' in 'Land Ironclads'

One of my (many and varied) interests is Victorian Science Fiction and wargaming within that genre. Land Ironclads is a set of rules available from Wessex Games and Brigade Models covering warfare in an alternate Victorian history where great machines of war cross the landscape and huge flying machines clash in battle across the sky alongside historical late 19th and early 20th century armies. As ever, my interest in this genre revolves around the Ottoman Turks and how the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ responded to the challenge of industry and technology from its own position of being in the lower league of global powers. I have tailored the Ottoman progress in this alternate world to mirror, after a fashion, its actual history over the late nineteenth and early twentieth century so there is a lot of ‘kit’ that is either second rate or poorly serviced; usually both, although with a couple of notable exceptions. The following then, is a brief overview of an idea I have been toying with in respect of the vehicles in use with the forces of the Sublime Porte within this alternate history.

Within the world of Land Ironclads the vehicles that are portrayed are inevitably steam powered and move on a variety of wheels, tracks or even legs. This is fine and probably in accord with most gamers perceptions of what this mode of war machine would have looked like. Allowing for the War of the Words type Martians in their walking devices (powered by who knows what) the variety of locomotive mediums available for the propulsion of vehicles is fairly comprehensive. It occurred to me though, that one type was missing and so I would like to introduce into Victorian Science Fiction Warfare the ‘Aeroclad’.

The Aeroclad is primarily a vehicle that hovers a few feet above the ground in the same manner as a modern day hovercraft. They are built on the same principle as an Aeronef but utilise much less raw anti-gravity raw material in order to be able to ‘float’ just above the ground. This enables the Aeroclad to operate over terrain that a land ironclad is unable to – even, to a certain extent, water, although this does slow them down considerably. They ‘fly’ in much the same way as Aeronef but are configured more as land ironclads so as a result whilst being highly manoeuvrable they are quite slow although faster than the ground equivalents. The weaponry and armour also tends to be lighter than the ground based equivalent – simply because of the reduced load carrying ability.

They are cheaper to produce than conventional land ironclads and require less crew to operate and so are greatly valued by those second rate powers that have access to limited quantities of anti-gravity raw material or have limited industrial capacity for manufacturing anything more advanced. Those nations that use these vehicles tend to use them en masse in the manner of horsed cavalry for reconnaissance and raiding rather than in a formal line of battle whilst the great powers tend to use these vehicles primarily on colonial service where the advantages of ease of maintenance, low manpower requirement and speed are assets that are highly prized.

Of those nationalities that are the largest users of these vehicles the Ottoman Turks are by far the greatest exponents. Harking back to the days of the Akinji raiders on horseback; or even the tradition of the armoured Sipahis; the Ottoman Turks employ these vehicles in large numbers and unusually, often use them in a formal line of battle. This has not been without problems as often these vehicles sustain very high casualties when used against determined opposition. This has led the Turks to develop heavier versions, better armed and armoured to operate on the battlefield although this has been at the price of reduced speed. Ottoman tactical doctrine however, accepts the trade off of reduced armour and firepower compared to the purely land based equivalents as the Aeroclad is able to operate in areas that a conventional Land Ironclad is unable to traverse. The lifting ability of the Ottoman Aeroclads is unique in that it is derived from the use of Cavourite shutters on the underside of the hull rather than the more usual use of R matter. This accounts for their relatively light build as cutting great chunks or metal out of a hull has the effect not only of lightening it but also reducing its ability to carry much in the way of armour plate. In fact, the heaviest Turkish Aeroclad is comparable in fighting value to most other nation’s older heavy vehicles.

This is the idea I am contemplating – model wise I envisage using vehicles of a similar size to the existing ranges available from Brigade Models – and certainly the historical ‘background’ needs fleshing out as do the ideas for models. I am sorely tempted to scratch build the Aeroclads using a combination of scrap plastic bits and pieces and cast metal turrets etc from Brigade Models. I have a number preliminary ideas for this but will need to consider the whole idea in more detail.


SteelonSand said...

That's a really fascinating idea, Ogre, sounds like a lot of fun in having an intermediate vehicle - I just wonder if a hover vehicle mini might look a bit too modern; perhaps a scratch build would look good with some tethered gas bags overhead to provide lift, and a suitably VSF style?
Looking forward to seeing how this develops.

Ogrefencer said...

Hi SoS,

The ideas I have in mind for models are quite 'Heath Robinsonish'so should address the 'modern' look. As most of the powerplant/steering mechanism is on the hull/chassis rather than in it this will help - great funnels and rudders etc. I will try and pen some sketches and see how they come out.

All the best,


Robin said...

An excellent idea, very clever. The only I can really see is that they might not have enough floaty stuff for even this project, given that their Aeronef fleat is mostly zeppelins.

Though I suppose you could argue that's because they really like their Aeroclads are willing to "make do" with gasbag air fleets for that purpose. Thoughts?

Ogrefencer said...

Hi Robin,

A couple of years ago I penned an article for the SFSFW entitled 'The Aerodig'. This described the construction and use of an Aeronef/Dirigible hybrid design. The idea assumed that the Turks had access to some some very small quantities of 'floaty stuff' that was both difficult to extract and therefore very expensive. German chemists found a way to break the raw material down and make it into a 'paste'that was then diluted to eke out the supply and that could then be 'painted' onto vehicles to give them a limited lifting capability. The disadvantage was that the lifting ability was greatly reduced as a result. This presented the Turks with a problem in that too much material was then needed for an Aeronef in the conventional sense so the Hybrid version incorporating dirigible elements was conceiveed to make the most of this handicap. Whilst the resultant vessels were quite successful in service they were always few in number and were a maintenance nightmare. The Turks wisely abandoned the construction of any further such vehicles on the grounds of cost. The Aeroclad however came about as a development from the heavy load lifters in use around the Dirigible construction sites. Whilst the Turkish'floaty stuff' was comparatively weak compared to the more usual material in use it had the advantage of being cheap to produce and was far easier to work with. As the 'paste' worked in a similar way to Cavourite the Turks used a similar method of adjustable shutters to control the anti gravity effect.

I will try and find the Aerodig article and will post it on the blog - as well as penning this reponse into a better 'history'.

All the best,