Katherine Foy’s 2020 Freedom’s Rampart: The Russian Invasion of New Zealand is a stand-alone alternate history novel about, you guessed it, the Russian invasion of New Zealand.
An altercation north of India leaves Francis Younghusbanddead and exacerbates tensions between the British Empire and the Russian Empire. Still, matters remain well short of war. Or rather, they do until Captain Oskar Victorovich Stark of the Far Eastern Squadron becomes involved.
Stark commands the frigate Vladimir Monomakh and the cruiser Admiral Nakhimov. Although his ships are low on coal, Stark decides to cock a snook at the British Empire by cruising past British emplacements on the shores of New Zealand. Annoying British soldiers is reasonable payback for past British harassment of legitimate Russian interests.
Although the British forces in New Zealand have no desire for a protracted engagement with the Russian ships, they of course fire a warning shot across the Admiral Nakhimov’s bow. It is at this point matters go very, very wrong.
A sailor loading munitions on board the Admiral Nakhimov drops a shell. Detonation follows. Although the hole in the side of the Russian vessel is on the side away from the shore, the Russians assume the British somehow managed to hit the Russian cruiser at extreme range1. A heated exchange of shots with the shore battery follows.
The Admiral Nakhimov is now listing badly and may not survive a Pacific crossing. Rather than return home having lost a ship, Stark embarks on a far bolder course of action. Steam into Dunedin harbour, conquer that city with the two Russian vessels’ superior firepower, use local resources to repair the Admiral Nakhimov, and then sail home to the accolades that no doubt await.
The operation does not quite go to plan. Russian charts of the area being out of date, and the cruiser riding lower in the water than usual, the Admiral Nakhimov becomes stuck on a concealed mudbank. Nevertheless, since neither the British Empire nor New Zealand’s colonial government had ever considered the possibility of rogue Imperial Russian elements launching a maritime attack on Dunedin, the Russians soon manage to overwhelm local defenses.
Stark has possession of Dunedin, to the extent his sailors (who are in limited supply) can occupy it. He’s in control of Dunedin’s resources, which, as it happens, are not sufficient to repair the Admiral Nakhimov. The people of New Zealand, on the other hand, have possession of every bit of New Zealand that is not Dunedin. Therefore, let the Russians have Dunedin for now, for all the good it will do them. New Zealand has time and space to prepare a proper welcome for its uninvited visitors.
This is my first encounter with Sea Lion Press. They appear to specialize in alternate history novels.
I wonder if the author had in the back of her mind the British River Plate invasions? But I suppose history is not short of 19thcentury officers whose ambition was unhindered by a prudent grasp of their actual resources2. It must have been nice to be an officer in the 19thcentury when the worse that could happen to an adventurer was ignominious defeat, rather than World War III.
Freedom’s Rampart provides the cast of thousands and multiple viewpoints so beloved by AH fans. The Far Eastern Squadron-New Zealand conflict is examined from multiple perspectives: senior Russian officers, NZ militia, Chinese shopgirls, local politicians, British and Russian functionaries astounded to learn what is being done in their name.
I note that being a viewpoint character almost always confers plot armour. Aside from the unfortunate Russians adjacent to the dropped shell and Younghusband, most of the viewpoint characters survive their thrilling adventures. This cannot be said for those standing near them.
Otherwise, the author embraces what may to be some readers a lamentable realism, in that Stark being wildly outgunned by the whole of New Zealand, his possession of Dunedin can be at best a short-term affair. The geopolitical situation being what it is, New Zealand is not going to become a Russian possession. It’s quite possible the whole affair will end up as one of those mostly forgotten curious historical anecdotes, like Lundy’s Lane, remembered only by locals and not the Great Powers.
This book was a little overlong for its plot, but the sequence of poor decisions and excessively calamitous outcomes was amusing.
Freedom’s Rampart: The Russian Invasion of New Zealand is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find it at Book Depository.
1: The dropping of the shell and the erroneous assumption that this was an attack were possibly inspired by the sinking of the American warship Mainein Havana harbour in 1898. It’s now believed that Spanish forces on Cuba were in no way responsible, but American warmongers wanted war and the Spanish-American War followed. Which is how the US ended up with a bunch of former Spanish colonies, including the Philippines. Remember the Maine!
2: My editor chimes in here with a reminder that the Hawaiian Islands were briefly conquered by Lord George Paulet in 1843. The British government disavowed his actions and Hawai‘i remained an independent monarchy. For another few decades at least.