The Dim Wastes
The Black Fleet
The Black Fleet is the unofficial name of the First Imperial Expeditionary Fleet, currently commanded by Imperial Admiral Jonathan Lamarck. Unexpectedly to some, the fleet is not composed of black-hulls ships, black-sailed ships, or anything else of the kind. It is composed of normal ships-of-the-line, transport freighters, and accompanying support vessels, all bearing Empire war colors. The fleet’s moniker comes from its purpose, and reflects the death it very often brings with it. The 1st Expeditionary Fleet specializes in shore bombardment and troop landing in hostile waters. It is the force called upon to secure a safe beach when the Empire exerts its power abroad.
Although precise numbers for each expedition are kept highly confidential, a typical force might include up to a dozen 24-gun-plus ships-of-the-line built for fleet defense at sea, running light for shallow draft operations close to shore. Another 40 smaller, armed support vessels would accompany this wedge force, designed to clear the way for the bombardment and landing forces. Depending on the landing intended, the bombardment flotilla might include 12-20 very heavily armed and armored slow galleons, built to withstand counter-battery fire from the shore as they batter the landing zone.
The final flotilla consists of a number of freighters. These are normally relatively unarmed, save for guns needed to repel boarders. Every ounce of weight possible is dedicated to mixed footman units of Imperial Regiment troops who have been specially trained for small boat deployment in heavy and hostile surf conditions. Each freighter can carry from 200-400 soldiers, depending on their accompanying equipment. When unloaded, the freighters are surprisingly fast- a design feature enabling them to reach a supply point and pick up reinforcements rapidly. The number of freighters with the fleet is a highly guarded secret, with freighters initially deploying from several ports to join the fleet when it sails. An accurate count of freighters could easily give a potential enemy very valuable information on how many troops to expect to land.
The most frightening aspect of the Black Fleet is the training and demeanor of its sailors and soldiers. While most Imperial ships and commands experience about 25% turnover per year, the Black Fleet and its attendant ships normally exhibit less than 5%. They are highly trained and very loyal to their brotherhood. Infiltration, while not unheard of, is exceedingly rare. The fleet trains continuously, and sails often in Imperial waters. This has the added benefit of confusing casual observers about when the fleet is actually sailing for war. On shore, its elite regimental troops are merciless and thorough. Once ashore, they have no interest in taking prisoners or keeping property intact (though the fleet will sometimes keep prisoners found at sea). Their mission is simply stated as “Clear the Way,” and they do exactly that, to the last person, in their designated landing zone.