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1635: The Eastern Front: Chapter Seven
Last updated: Monday, June 14, 2010 22:03 EDT
“Please have a seat, Michael.” Lennart Torstensson waved at a side table against the far wall. “There is wine, but if you prefer I can have some coffee made for you.”
The Swedish general who commanded the army of the USE had a sly smile on his face. Americans had a reputation for being teetotalers among down-timers — a reputation which any number of proper hillbillies had found quite disconcerting when they learned about it.
There was some truth underneath the stories. The Americans came from a land where clean water was taken for granted. Alcohol was generally considered something a person drank in the evening, not something you consumed the whole day long. But for people in the seventeenth century, as had been true for most of human history, alcoholic beverages were a lot safer than water, unless it had been recently boiled.
So, here it was, still before noon — and Torstensson was having himself a little fun. Poking the stiff and proper up-timer, to see how high he would jump.
Mike returned the smile with a frown, as he studied the bottles on the side table.
“No whiskey?” he asked mournfully.
Torstensson chuckled. “I should know better, by now.” He gestured toward the other two men in the room, who were already seated. “You have met Dodo, I believe. The more substantial fellow over there is the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg — and now also the Prince of Calenberg.”
The very plump nobleman gave Mike a cheerful smile. “Please! Call me George. Staff meetings are dreary enough without everyone stumbling over titles.” He half-rose from his seat and extended his hand, which Mike shook.
The other officer in the room did not follow suit, but Mike knew that wasn’t due to rudeness. It was just the nature of the man. Dodo Freiherr zu Innhausen und Knyphausen was a professional soldier from East Frisia and had been one all his life. He’d started his career as a teenager fighting for the Dutch, and risen to the rank of captain by the time he was twenty years old. He’d been fighting for the Swedes since 1630.
Despite the fancy titles, Knyphausen was not really what Americans thought of as a nobleman. Mike didn’t know him very well, but his best friend Frank Jackson thought highly of him. “He ain’t what you’d call the life of the party, but he’s solid as a rock,” had been his summary judgment.
After Mike took his seat, he looked around. He had to struggle a bit to keep from grinning. Talk about chateau generals! This staff meeting of the commander of the USE army and the major generals in charge of the army’s three divisions was being held in an actual castle.
Well what the Germans called a “schloss,” at any rate. The word was usually translated in up-time dictionaries as “castle,” but they didn’t resemble the medieval stone fortresses that Americans thought of when they used that term. Most of them, including this one, had been built during or since the Renaissance and they reminded Mike of pocket palaces more than anything else.
The derisive term “chateau generals” came from World War I, and it really wasn’t fair applied to these men. They might be meeting in a castle and enjoying for the moment its little luxuries. The chairs in this particular salon were very nicely upholstered, and the walls seemed to be plastered with portraits. But all of these men would soon enough be on a battlefield and placing themselves in harm’s way.
That included Mike, he reminded himself, lest his amusement get out of hand.
The four chairs in the room were not positioned evenly. The chair that Torstensson sat in faced the three chairs of his subordinates, which were arranged in a shallow arc. Torstensson’s chair seemed slightly more luxurious, too. A large, low table was positioned in the center. Americans would have called it a coffee table.
After he took his seat, Torstensson was silent for a moment. He was giving Mike a look that he couldn’t interpret. Slightly embarrassed, perhaps, although that would be quite out of character for the man.
Brunswick-Lüneburg smiled again, even more cheerfully than before. “Poor Lennart! A rustic Swede, he does not really have the aptitude for Machiavellian maneuvers.”
The duke transferred the smile onto Mike. “He wants to use you as bait for a trap. I’d urge you to refuse, except it really is quite a delightful scheme.”
Torstensson gave him an exasperated look. “Stop clowning, would you? Michael, if we eliminate the buffoonery, what George says is true enough.”
Mike spread his hands a little, inviting the Swedish general to continue. But before he could say anything, Knyphausen spoke up.
“The thing is, General Stearns, you are a neophyte and the Saxon commander Von Arnim is certainly feeling desperate by now.”
The professional soldier had a lean and very long-nosed face that naturally lent itself to lugubrious expressions. He had such an expression now. “Poor bastard, with John George for an employer.”
He seemed genuinely aggrieved at the plight faced by the Saxon general. Mike had to fight down another grin. Professional soldiers in the Thirty Years War tended to have a thoroughly guild-like mindset, when it came to their attitudes toward other officers. There were some exceptions like Heinrich Holk, who were generally despised. But for the most part generals on opposite sides of the battlefield were more likely to feel a closer kinship to their opponent than either one of them felt for their employers.
Knyphausen leaned back, apparently satisfied that his cryptic references to Mike’s inexperience and Von Arnim’s difficulties had made everything clear.
Mike looked back at Torstensson. “Could you perhaps be a bit more precise?”
Torstensson now tugged at his ear. “Well The thing is, Michael, I would like you to behave recklessly in the coming battle. Pretend to behave recklessly, rather.”
Brunswick-Lüneburg’s smile seemed fixed in smile. “What he’d really prefer would be for you to act the poltroon at the coming battle. Flee at the first sign of a Saxon attack.”
“Much as the Saxons did themselves at Breitenfeld,” chimed in Knyphausen.
Torstensson gave them both an exasperated glance. “Actually, no. As a theoretical exercise, that would be indeed ideal. But battlefields don’t lend themselves well to abstractions. A rout, once started — whether in fakery or not — is extraordinarily hard to stop. And I don’t actually want your division to leave the field.”
Mike settled back in his seat and once again had to suppress an expression. A sigh, this time, not a grin.
“Let me guess. The reason you want to undertake such a gambit — which is bound to be risky, especially with a divisional commander as inexperienced as I am — is because you figure we’ll be outnumbered in the coming battle.”
“You do have an experienced and capable staff,” pointed out George. “Just leave it to them.”
That was not quite blithering nonsense, but close. Mike’s firsthand knowledge of military affairs was limited to a three-year stint as an enlisted man in the up-time American army twenty years back. He’d also done a lot of reading since he’d realized he was most likely going to end up as a general — what Civil War era Americans would have called a “political general” — after he left office as the USE’s prime minister. But he knew enough to know that a good staff could only substitute so far for the character of a unit’s commander.
Torstensson knew it himself, of course. A bit hastily, he added: “Mostly, it will just require steady nerves on your part. And the emperor himself told me he thought you had nerves of steel.”
That last came with a friendly expression. But Mike wasn’t about to let himself get sidetracked by a compliment. It was not really a compliment anyway, since he was pretty sure Gustav Adolf had said that to Lennart in a fit of aggravation due to Mike’s admittedly hard-nosed approach to political negotiations.
“The more interesting issue,” he mused, “is why you expect us to be outnumbered in the coming battle. By all accounts I’ve heard, John George can’t field an army any larger than thirty-five thousand men. That’s an official count, mind you. In the real world, you have to allow for desertion and illness. There’ll be plenty of men just too drunk, too. I’ve been told by — your words, gentlemen, I remind you — my experienced and capable staff, that we won’t actually face more than about twenty-five thousand men on the field of battle.”
Torstensson was looking embarrassed again. Given the nature of the man, that was not something that Mike found at all comforting. The truth was, he did have an excellent staff.
“Our own army — the USE army proper, I mean — officially numbers twenty-seven thousand men. Three divisions, each with a complement of nine thousand officers and enlisted soldiers. Of course, we suffer from desertion, illness and drunkenness too. But certainly not to the same extent as the Saxons. Many of our soldiers are volunteers enlisted by the CoCs, motivated by ideology rather than money. So I’ve been told by — your words, gentlemen, not mine — that same experienced and excellent staff, that we’ll be able to bring at least twenty thousand men onto that battlefield. Probably more like twenty-two or even twenty-three thousand.”
Knyphausen and the duke looked away. Torstensson cleared his throat. Mike pressed on relentlessly.
“Then, of course, we need to add the forces which Gustav Adolf will bring onto the field. Even allowing for the troops he’ll leave stationed against Bernhard and the French in the Rhineland provinces and in the Oberpfalz against Bavaria, as well as large garrisons left in militarily-administered areas like Pomerania, he should still be able to muster a Swedish army numbering around twenty thousand men. And that doesn’t include the sizeable forces that some of the provincial rulers might bring. I was told by my experienced and capable staff — such a charming phrase, too bad I didn’t coin it myself — that Wilhelm V of Hesse-Kassel will bring at least seven thousand additional men.”
“Closer to eight, actually,” said Torstensson. Again, he cleared his throat. “Michael ”
“The way I figure it, we’ll have around fifty thousand men facing an army not much more than half that size. And that’s not allowing for the difference in command. Myself excluded — and allowing for my experienced and capable staff — the quality of our commanding officers greatly exceeds that of the Saxons.”
“Von Arnim’s pretty good,” said Knyphausen stoutly.
The plump duke sniffed. “He’s not the Lion of the North. Nor is he Lennart, for that matter.”
Torstensson had been holding his breath for the past few seconds. Now, he let it out in a rush. “Michael, enough! As you have obviously already deduced, the emperor will not be with us on the field. He and Wilhelm are marching instead into Brandenburg. The USE army will face the Saxons alone.”
By now, Mike had figured out the truth. But he was tired of people dancing around it — starting with Gustav Adolf himself. He was damn well going to get someone to admit it out loud.
“In short, he proposes to divide his forces in order to fight two enemies simultaneously. A military error so basic and egregious — even a neophyte like me knows that much — that it is inconceivable that a general as demonstrably superb as Gustav Adolf would commit it –”
Brunswick-Lüneburg started to say something but Mike drove over it. “– unless he had what a suspicious soul would call ‘ulterior motives.’”
This time Torstensson tried to interrupt but Mike drove over him too. “And the only such motive a suspicious soul like me can discern is that Gustav Adolf is bound and determined to defeat Saxony and Brandenburg quickly enough to leave most of the campaigning season available for some other purpose. Such purpose, of course, being an invasion of Poland.”
He paused, finally.
After a moment, Torstensson said: “Well. Yes. That is his plan.” A bit hastily he added: “We have it on good authority that the Poles will be sending a contingent to join the Saxons. So you might say they will begin the hostilities themselves.”
Mike chuckled, quite humorlessly. “Exactly how big a contingent are we talking about, Lennart?”
The duke’s chuckle, on the other hand, had some real humor in it. “To be precise, one small unit of hussars. But the commander is an Opalinski.”
“In other words, a pretext.” Mike gave Torstensson a level gaze. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in expressing my conviction that launching a major war against Poland is folly.”
Torstensson shook his head. “No, Michael, there is not. You’ve made your opinion on this subject clear enough in the past. On several occasions, to the emperor himself. Very bluntly, too.”
The two men stared at each other for a few seconds. Then Torstensson said: “You may resign your commission, of course.”
Mike shook his head. “In for a penny, in for a pound. Gustav Adolf is the head of state of the United States of Europe. Yes, he’s also the king of Sweden and so on and so forth, but that doesn’t matter here. He’s the commander in chief, according to our constitution — and I signed that constitution myself. So whatever I think of the wisdom of his decisions, I’m duty bound to obey them.”
“That constitution does not oblige you to serve personally, Michael,” George pointed out. “I’ve studied your up-time history, you know. So, yes, your President Truman fired your general McDonald’s — no, was it McCarthy? — but no one including him felt that McWhateverhisname was obliged to continue serving in the army.”
“Technically speaking, you’re right. But there are political issues involved here. Given the history of the USE — which is less than two years old, remember — and my position in that history, it would be dangerous for me to resign my commission over an issue like this one.”
“A battlefield is likely to be far more risky,” said Knyphausen, “especially one where you’re directed to behave recklessly.”
“I wasn’t referring to the personal danger to me. I was referring to the danger to the nation.”
There was silence, for a moment. Then the Frisian professional soldier nodded his head. “Well spoken, Michael,” he said softly.
“Say better, well done,” chimed in George. He gave Mike another of those cheerful smiles that seemed to come readily to the man. “Maybe there’s something to this ‘Prince of Germany’ business after all.”
Torstensson made a derisive sound. Close to a snort, but not quite. “Don’t say that in front of the emperor,” he muttered. The Swedish general pointed to one of the several side tables against the walls of the room, this one covered with maps instead of bottles of wine. “If you would, Dodo.”
Knyphausen rose and went over, then came back with one of the maps and spread it across the low table in the center. As soon as he’d done so, Torstensson leaned over and pointed to a place on the map. After a few seconds to orient himself, Mike realized that the Swedish general was pointing at Leipzig. Near it, rather.
“In this area, gentlemen,” said Torstensson. “I think the battle will happen here. It’s good, flat terrain that will favor the Saxon cavalry.”
“Favor our APCs too,” grunted Knyphausen.
Mike cocked an inquisitive eye at Torstensson. “We’re going to use the APCs against the Saxons? For God’s sake, why?”
Before Torstensson could answer, Mike waved his hand. “Never mind. Same reason.”
Torstensson nodded. Mike leaned back in his chair, and couldn’t help issuing a sigh. “Well, I say it’s stupid — and I don’t care if Gustav Adolf is a certified military genius and I’m just a grunt. It’s still stupid. Saxony is not one of the great military powers of Europe, and those so-called ‘APCs’ are just armored coal trucks — which we can’t replace. Not for years, at any rate. So why use them in this war? I leave aside the fact that the things are fuel hogs, and USE oil production still hasn’t recovered from Turenne’s raid on the Wietze oil fields during the Baltic War.”
Torstensson had a pained expression on his face. “Michael ”
“Never mind,” said Mike, waving his head. “I know it’s pointless to pursue the matter. I just want my opinion on the record.”
The decision to use the APCs was just another indication of how determined Gustav Adolf was to start a war with the Poles as soon as possible. He was willing to use the APCs now rather than hold them back, even though Poland was a much stronger military power than Saxony — or Saxony and Brandenburg combined, for that matter.
But Mike’s objection would just be overruled, and Mike would be stuck in the same bind he was stuck in now. The USE was simply too new and too unstable for him to risk precipitating a political crisis. Especially since he had mixed feelings on the subject, anyway. On the one hand, he thought the Polish situation did not lend itself well to military solutions. On the other hand
Who could say for sure? The old saying “you can’t export a revolution with bayonets” certainly had some truth. But a lot of it was just wishful thinking, too. Mike had read a great deal of history since the Ring of Fire, and one of the things he couldn’t help notice was how often history was shaped by the outcome of wars. Napoleon was often denounced as a tyrant, but the fact remained that many of the revolutionary changes he made were not overturned after his defeat — not even by those he’d defeated and forced to accept those changes.
So There was no way of knowing the outcome of a war between the USE and Poland. If was possible, in the event of a clear cut USE victory, that serfdom in eastern Europe would be destroyed. Not by Gustav Adolf and his armies, maybe. But one thing you could be sure of was that Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence would be coming into Poland on the heels of those armies. And they hated serfdom with a passion.
In fact, they were already there. Mike knew from his correspondence with Morris Roth in Prague that Red Sybolt and his radical cohorts were active in Poland. Possibly even in the Ukraine by now.
On balance, he thought a military approach to eradicating serfdom in eastern Europe had far more risks than benefits. Still, it was tempting. Military solutions had the great advantage of being clear and definite.
Appearing to be, at any rate. Often, though, that was just a mirage. Mike’s close friend Frank Jackson was a Vietnam veteran, and could expound for hours on the stupidity of politicians who thought a map was the territory.
He looked back down at the map in front of him and wondered if he was looking at another such mirage.
“Near Lützen, then,” said George. “Hopefully, this time there will be a better outcome.”
In the universe Mike had come from, the Swedes had won the battle of Lützen in 1632 — but Gustav Adolf had also been killed there. So, a tactical victory had become a strategic defeat.
“I will not be leading a reckless cavalry charge,” said Torstensson firmly.
But that didn’t really matter, thought Mike. There were a thousand ways that tactical victories could turn into strategic defeats.
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