The Lost Fleet

Summary: In an alternative history, a very different Joseon Korean armada battles a Spanish treasure fleet.

When Admiral Yi Sun-Shin survived the Imjin War, he utterly changed the trajectory of Joseon Korean foreign policy. Hearing of the Dutch and Portuguese fleets that now traveled across the world, he knew it would only be a matter of time before they arrived on Korean shores. Therefore, he resolved, it would be better to meet them on terms of their choosing. His successors held the same views, seemingly validated by their defeat of Manchu invasions and later support of Koxinga against the Dutch and Qing.s

When a Spanish treasure fleet crossed the ocean for their homeland, they did so with the best defenses their money could buy. Their galleons were as castles upon the waves, able to give as well as take from any other European power on the seas. None could stand up to their broadsides and artillery, at least of ships in the known world. When strange craft were seen on the horizon, they prepared for combat.

The craft was longer than the Spanish flagship, but it had no sails on its masts. Instead, it had strange mirrors arranged along its body like metallic flowers, reflecting sunlight deeper within them. Along the side were strange wheels like those of a watermill, only transposed onto the hull of a ship. Along the edge of the deck were crew members manning swivel cannons and repeating crossbows. Must curious of all were the ramp-like structures on the deck.

On the mothership's deck were six ramps, each angled approximately forth-five degrees from the bow of the ship. On each was a strange wooden contraption with silk wings, crewed by a man with a light frame. Two rockets were ignited along the base of each, causing the bigeo gliders to launch into the sky. Along the deck of the ship, the mirrors were used to signal the other ships in their fleet.

Smaller craft, built in the style of the mothership, swarmed up to protect it. They were covered in spiked iron plating, as if to repel any would-be borders. They used a pair of paddle-wheels to move independent of the wind, and the Spaniards recognized gunports in some of them. On other turtle ships, the armor had been stripped back and replaced by strange batteries of rockets, hwacha. The unfortunate Spaniards tried to draw first blood with a mortar salvo.

The Korean bigeo gliders instead struck first, covering the deck of the flagship with firebombs. Sharpshooters in the crow's nest tried to blast the nimble craft, but only succeeded in hitting air. The silk and bamboo gliders were light, but strangely nimble things, that whistled across the ocean surface like angry ghosts. Several Spanish sailors dove for cover which each bombing run, igniting the sails and deck of the fleet's mightiest ship.

The Spanish line did not break, but circled towards the Joseon task force. They unleashed broadsides of their mightiest cannon, annihilating the smaller turtle ships that interposed themselves between the carrier. The Korean fleet then turned directly into the wind, and away from the Spanish battle line. The Spaniards thought themselves victorious, until a wave of rockets from the Korean support ships struck them. Before they could recover, another wave of bigeo rocket-gliders took to the air.

It was not for months, after the near-total loss of the treasure fleet, that the Spanish realized what happened. The Dutch, in exchange for favorable surrender terms between Koxinga and their trade colony, requested Joseon aid in securing their independence. Striking at the Spanish crown's seemingly limitless wealth proved to be their most successful strategy.

Just as the Koreans were caught unprepared by the Japanese invasion with modern arquebuses and battle tactics, so to were the Spaniards unprepared for Korean inventions. The bigeo gliders and hwacha rocket artillery operated based on earlier models from the Imjin War. The paddle-wheel designs were borrowed from a centuries-old Chinese design, adapted for the open ocean. Even their power source, a solar powered steam engine heated by concentrated light, was adapted from a mirror-based heating system used in Korean greenhouses. And thus, the carrier battlegroup was invented, and technology traveled along a different line for the centuries that followed.