October 16th, 5556
Newyork was at war with Elenoy (at that time, a loose confederation). They were winning the war, at least from their perspective, when the government obtained second-hand reports of warships in the Jersey system.
For over two decades, Carolina had been conducting a humanitarian aid mission on Jersey, one of Newyork’s former colonies. There were rumors afoot that Carolina and Elenoy had made some sort of treaty. The Newyork government became concerned that Carolina had permitted fleet elements from Elenoy to operate and base at Jersey.
To address this, Newyork High Command sent Task Force Seven, consisting of the cruiser Wall Street, three frigates and two destroyers under the command of Commodore William Bunch.
Bunch’s orders were as follows:
Take Task Force Seven to the Jersey system. Observe any naval or base construction activity taking place there. If enemy forces from Elenoy are encountered, engage them with reasonable caution. If forces from Carolina are encountered, do not reveal the purpose of this mission. Do not engage forces from Carolina under any circumstances.
The last sentence, which wound up causing all the trouble, was added at the insistence of the President of Newyork. He did not want to give Carolina a casus belli and end up with a two-front war. What he did not know, and could not have known, was that Carolina had already made a decision to go to war against Newyork that very day.
When Task Force Seven arrived in the Jersey system on October 23rd, they found a squadron of four destroyers in orbit around the gas giant. This was Carolina’s Desron Four under the command of Commodore Jacob Lawson. Bunch analyzed the situation. He couldn’t get to the gas giant without running past the Carolina destroyers. He had clear orders not to engage them, and they would likely consider this a provocation. So he hailed Lawson and asked for permission to refuel.
Lawson knew that he was at war with Newyork, and he also knew that he was severely outgunned. Yet from Bunch’s actions, he surmised that Bunch did not know they were at war. He could allow Bunch to refuel and leave and everyone would be all right and none the wiser. But Lawson was a shrewd commander and instead told Bunch no.
Because of this, Bunch was in a bad situation. His ships only made jump 3 and they had used all their jump fuel traveling from Newyork to Jersey. They couldn’t refuel without calling at the gas giant. The system had no water present and no other source of fuel. Furthermore, the task force had been assembled by a committee and had no courier craft along that he could send back to inform Newyork High Command of his problem. The obvious solution would be to wipe out the Carolina destroyers and just refuel at the gas giant, but he had been told Do not engage forces from Carolina under any circumstances.
Bunch attempted to negotiate with Lawson, but Lawson stonewalled him. Meanwhile, he took the time to send one of his destroyers back to Carolina to inform them of the situation.
And so began the longest and quietest engagement of the Third Regional War.
After a week, Newyork High Command noted that TF7 had not returned or reported back. They determined that a force from Elenoy had likely destroyed or disabled them. They prepared to send a larger force but due to the war they did not have the ships to send.
Meanwhile, Carolina Naval Command got Lawson’s message. They quickly put together and dispatched Task Force 3 consisting of the battleship Charleston, two cruisers and nine destroyers under the command of Admiral Lawrence Shand.
Shand arrived November 8th to find the situation unchanged. Bunch’s task force was in the inner system, waiting while Lawson’s remained in orbit around the gas giant. Shand did some calculations and figured the Newyorkers had about one or two more weeks of fuel for their power plants. He could engage and defeat Bunch now and take losses, or he could accept his bloodless surrender when he ran out of fuel. He fell into orbit around the gas giant and waited.
Due to shrewd power conservation, TF7’s power plants lasted three more weeks during which no help arrived. Finally, on December 1st with only hours of life support left, Bunch admitted defeat and surrendered his force. Shand boarded and took all the ships intact without firing a shot.
On December 8th, the Newyork Third Fleet jumped into the Jersey system and found only a single courier. It was another four weeks before they found out they were at war with Carolina and they didn’t learn what had happened to TF 7 until the end of the war.
It should be noted that William Bunch was no idiot, he was just painted into a corner. He was repatriated after the war and, oddly, decorated for following the very orders that had defeated him.