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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Nine
Last updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2016 21:31 EDT
The Scots cavalryman came racing toward Jeff Higgins at a speed which he considered utterly reckless given that the horseman was galloping across an open field rather than a well-groomed racetrack. He’d ascribe the man’s deranged behavior to his Celtic genes; these were the same people, after all, who saw no problem in walking through wild vegetation in kilts and thought bagpipes were an instrument of musical entertainment. But Jeff had seen plenty of German, Spanish and French cavalrymen do the same thing — and Polish hussars would do it wearing heavy armor, which made them certifiably insane.
The Scotsman arrived at Jeff’s side, pulled up his horse, pointed in the direction from which he’d come and said something which Jeff interpreted — more or less — as: “the bastards are over there! Bavarian cavalry! A mile away!” Linguists would probably insist that the man was speaking a dialect of English, whereas Jeff considered it the equivalent of a foreign tongue altogether. By now, though, he’d had enough experience with Mackay’s troops to be able to make some sense out of it.
“Which way are they headed?” he asked.
The Highlander understood real English much better than Jeff understood his language — his “dialect,” rather. He rattled off something in reply which Jeff interpreted as the cowardly bastards are running away from us.
Translating that derisive remark into coherent military tactics meant that the enemy scouts were probably doing what they were supposed to do once they made contact with the enemy, which was to report back to their commanders. Just as this Highlander had done himself, no doubt ordered to do so by Alex Mackay.
Jeff turned toward one of the two men riding just behind him who served as his couriers. The man was close enough to have heard the Scotsman’s words himself, but Jeff wasn’t sure how well he’d have understood them. “Report to General Stearns that Colonel Mackay has encountered Bavarian cavalry. They’re apparently engaged in reconnaissance since they retreated as soon as contact was made.”
The man raced off — galloping his horse just about as recklessly as the Scotsman had done. And yet he seemed to all appearances to be a sober and level-headed Westphalian. Jeff sometimes wondered if there was an unknown characteristic of horses — a parasite, perhaps, or maybe a virus — that infected people who spent too much time in close proximity and caused them to lose their minds. He determined — again — to spend as little time on horseback as he could manage.
In a civilized historical period, he’d have been able to send a report to his commanding general using a radio while seated in a natural form of transport like a Humvee — hell, he’d settle for a World War II era Jeep, for that matter. In this day and age, though, officers were expected to ride horses. And while the army did have radios at its disposal, there still weren’t enough yet — or enough qualified radio operators, which was often more of a problem — to make them a widespread form of communication. Every infantry Jeff’s Hangman regiment did have its own radio operators, as did every regiment and artillery battery. Unfortunately, the operator Jeff regularly used, Jimmy Andersen, was somewhere a few hundred yards back — where he’d been ordered to stay so as not to risk the regiment’s one and only headquarters radio. Jeff would have had to send a courier to the radio operator in order to relay the message, and if the courier had any trouble finding Jimmy — which he almost certainly would since an army of more than ten thousand men on a march through a seventeenth century countryside on seventeenth century so-called “roads” was anything but neat and orderly — it would take the message longer to get to General Stearns than just having the courier do the whole thing himself.
Such were the realities of “combined technology” as the basis for military operations. Sometimes it worked. More often than not, it was a muddle. Sometimes, a sorry joke.
As he did whenever he found himself sliding into what he called early modern angst, Jeff pulled himself out with a memory of Gretchen. In this instance — o happy remembrance — with an image of the way she’d looked the morning after they re-encountered each other when the Third Division relieved the siege of Dresden. She was smiling up at him while lying in their bed wearing absolutely nothing, which — o happy coincidence — was exactly the costume he’d been wearing himself at the time.
They’d been a little reckless the night before. Gretchen was normally as disciplined as a Prussian martinet when it came to maintaining the rhythm method of so-called birth control. But It wasn’t every day, after all, that husband and wife were reunited right after escaping death and destruction, which they’d both faced the day before.
Another memory came to him now, of the way Gretchen had looked just a few weeks ago on the morning he’d left with the Third Division to march to Regensburg. Looking at him — fully clothed, this time — with a smile on her face that was a perhaps a tad rueful but mostly just what Jeff thought of as Gretchen Richter taking life as it comes.
“I think I’m pregnant again,” she’d said. “Won’t be sure for a while, but I think so.”
By now, she’d probably know one way or the other. But how she’d get the word to him while he was on campaign was uncertain.
Jeff could remember a time — though it was a bit vaguely, now, because it was back up-time — when the possibility that a wife might have another child would be a source of either great joy and anticipation or anxiety and doubt. Leaving aside the pack of children whom Gretchen had adopted, she and Jeff already had two kids of their own. Jeff wasn’t the natural father of the older boy, Wilhelm. But he’d been an infant, less than a year old, when Jeff and Gretchen had gotten married so the issue was irrelevant. Jeff was the only father Willi had ever known.
But in this as in so many ways, the attitude of people born and raised in the seventeenth century was rather different. In an era of haphazard birth control methods and high infant mortality, people had a much more pragmatic attitude toward bearing and raising children. It could sometimes seem downright cold-blooded to up-timers.
Down-timers were less reliant on the nuclear family than up-timers were accustomed to. It was taken for granted that children would spend much of their time growing up with other relatives and even, for well-to-do people, with nursemaids, governesses and tutors. In some of the more extreme cases, parents might see very little of a child of theirs from the time it was weaned until it finished his or her education.
Jeff and Gretchen had done the same thing — which Jeff, at least, often felt guilty about. Gretchen not so much, possibly because her bona fides as a surrogate mother were so well established.
For the whole year they’d been out of the country before and during the Baltic War, their children had been taken care of by Gretchen’s grandmother Veronica. Then, after they got back and Veronica made it crystal clear that she was done with babysitting, they still had plenty of caregivers in the big apartment complex they moved into in Magdeburg.
The children were left entirely in the hands of caregivers after Jeff went off to war and Gretchen moved to Dresden. It hadn’t been until the crisis was over — not more than two months ago — that she’d gone back to Magdeburg to fetch their two boys and bring them back to stay with her. The adopted children had remained behind, since they were much older and all of them by now had settled into work or education situations they didn’t want to change. The only one of the original group who would have been young enough to come with her, little Johann, had been joyously reclaimed by his natural family a couple of years earlier.
From here on in, hopefully, things would settle down. Jeff and Gretchen had discussed the matter — along with a number of CoC leaders — and everyone had agreed that Gretchen would stay in Dresden rather than moving back to Magdeburg. Willi and Joe would now be raised mostly by their mother, with their father helping out whenever he wasn’t on active duty.
And now, it seemed, another child might be added to the mix. Gretchen’s reaction to the news hadn’t been quite a relaxed shrug, but pretty close. Jeff was doing his best to take his cue from her. And… having only middling success. There was a part of his brain — he thought of it as the part labeled “raised on too many up-time anxieties and touchie-feelie TV talk shows” — that kept shrilling at him: Bad parent! Bad parent! Your children will grow up to be drug addicts, derelicts, serial murderers and hedge fund managers!
To Jeff’s surprise, the same courier he’d sent out now came racing back. More time must have passed than he’d realized, while he was musing on things gone by and things still to come. Looking around, he saw that the regiment had indeed made a fair amount of forward progress. It was easy to lose track of exactly how far you’d gotten when you were in the middle of an army on the march.
“The general says we will continue toward Ingolstadt,” said the courier.
That was the answer Jeff had expected. There’d been a meeting of the Third Division staff and regimental commanders before the march began, where Stearns had explained that he intended to threaten to close on Ingolstadt from the east along the south bank of the Danube, while General Heinrich Schmidt and the SoTF’s National Guard closed in from the north. Hopefully, the maneuver would force the Bavarians to abandon the city rather than run the risk of being encircled and trapped in a siege. Both Stearns and Schmidt thought there was a good chance of success, since Duke Maximilian had to be mostly concerned now with holding Munich.
The courier reached into his coat and pulled out a letter. It was just a small sheet of paper folded twice and sealed with a blob of wax. General Stearns must have received the letter and given to the courier to bring to Jeff.
Even before he opened it, Jeff was sure it had to be from Gretchen. No military communication would be sent in this manner.
Sure enough. The message was short and to the point.
Yes. If it’s a girl, we name her Veronica. You pick a boy’s name.
“Head for the nearest hedgehog pit, Stefano,” Tom Simpson ordered, pointing down and a bit to the left. The sky was mostly overcast but there was plenty of light. Those didn’t look like rain clouds; they certainly didn’t indicate a storm front.
Having made two runs over Ingolstadt already, in both of which they’d been fired upon with no serious damage resulting, Stefano was a lot more relaxed than he had been before. He still wasn’t what anyone would call nerveless and steely-eyed, but he managed to keep his twitching to a minimum and he didn’t fudge on the steering — he headed straight for the nearest hedgehog pit.
Which didn’t fire on them at all. It wasn’t until they passed almost straight overhead that the reason became apparent: the guns were gone. The rails on which the gun carriages would have rested remained in place, and something #8212; furniture? logs? — was covered with canvas. But as an active and functioning anti-airship emplacement, the hedgehog had been gutted.
“It worked,” Tom said, his voice full of satisfaction. “They’re pulling out. Stefano, head for the bridge across the Danube.”
As the airship veered to the south, Tom examined the city below them through his binoculars. In particular, he was looking to see what had happened to the four ten-inch naval rifles that he, Eddie Cantrell and Heinrich Schmidt had spent a truly miserable three months hauling across Germany a year and a half earlier. The guns had been removed from the wreck of the ironclad Monitor with the purpose of using them against Maximilian of Bavaria in case a siege of Munich developed. In the event, the Bavarian issue had taken a back seat to more pressing conflicts and the guns had wound up being left in Ingolstadt for later use. They’d been there when Ingolstadt was retaken by Bavaria thanks to the treachery of the 1st Battalion. Tom had been forced to leave them behind when he led the surviving loyal troops out of the city on their four-day march to Regensburg. They hadn’t even had time to salvage the artillery unit’s 12-pounders, much less the enormous naval guns.
But now, it seemed, they were going to get them back — or two of them, at any rate. Tom could see the two rifles that had been positioned on the north wall to face Schmidt’s SoTF forces. But when he looked for the two rifles that the Bavarians had positioned to cover the Danube
“Gone,” he muttered. “I was afraid of that.”
Captain von Eichelberg was standing right next to him, close enough to hear. “They can’t possibly get those guns down to Munich,” he said, frowning.
Tom lowered the binoculars and shook his head. “No, they wouldn’t have even tried. I’m sure they spiked them and then pitched them — well, rolled them, more likely — into the river. We should be able to salvage them, but it’ll take some time.”
He turned to the radio operator, who was standing a few feet away. “Make contact with General Schmidt. And then I’ll want to speak to General Stearns.”
Then, to Stefano: “Cut the engines for a bit.” The noise made by the four lawnmower engines made talking on the radio impossible, and Tom didn’t want to fall back on laborious Morse code communication. One of the nice things about airships was that the wallowing beasts could just float for a while.
Tom’s reports were brief and to the point, and would produce very rapid results. Now that he knew the city was undefended and the two naval rifles were no longer a factor, Schmidt would march his National Guard directly into Ingolstadt. They should have the city under control within a day or two.
Meanwhile, since his maneuver had succeeded in its purpose, Mike Stearns would redirect the Third Division to the south. There was no chance he could reach Ingolstadt in time to intercept the retreating Bavarians, so he would move to invest Munich as soon as possible.
As for Tom himself, Stearns ordered him to remain behind in Ingolstadt and get the naval rifles salvaged as soon as possible.
“They’ll have spiked all four guns, General,” he told Stearns. “And if they did a competent job, we’ll need to machine them out.”
“Yes, I know. I’ll have some machinists detached to you. There would have been plenty in Ingolstadt, but not any longer.”
The Bavarians would have either murdered them or — more likely, unless the commander was totally incompetent — taken them in captivity down to Munich. Skilled metal workers were valuable, especially in time of war.
“I should be able to get two of the guns in operational condition fairly soon,” Tom said. “But the two in the river will probably take quite a bit of time.”
“I understand. Stearns out.”
Before they even got to the bridge, Tom could see the Bavarian forces passing across to the south bank of the river. Their formations seemed pretty ragged — so ragged, in some places, that they couldn’t really be called “formations” of any kind. This didn’t look like an orderly retreat so much as a semi-rout. At a guess, the Bavarian commanders had tried to organize a disciplined withdrawal but had gotten overwhelmed — at least partly — by panicking soldiers.
He was guessing again, but he was fairly sure the mercenaries in the 1st Battalion had been the ones driving that panic.
“Do we bomb the bridge, sir?” asked Captain von Eichelberg.
Tom shook his head. “No, Bruno. It’s tempting ”
Which it certainly was. The bridge was packed with enemy soldiers, who were barely moving because the bridge itself formed a bottleneck. As targets went, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
“But what if we succeeded too well and brought down the bridge? Or damaged it enough to make it impassable. We want the Bavarians out of Ingolstadt, we don’t want to pen them into it.”
“I understand that, sir.” von Eichelberg’s voice had a trace of exasperation in it. “But there’s little chance these bombs we’re carrying would be powerful enough to do that.”
He had a point. They weren’t carrying incendiaries because of the risk of starting fires in Ingolstadt. The USE and SoTF forces wanted to capture the city as intact as possible. So they were armed simply with anti-personnel ordnance — what amounted to giant grenades.
“You’re probably right, but I still don’t want to risk it. Besides, the troops strung out on the road are almost as good a target.”
He pointed further to the south, to the narrow road along which most of the Bavarian soldiers were moving. “Head there, Stefano. We’ll see if there are any artillery units we can target.”
As Stefano complied, Tom turned to von Eichelberg and said: “I suppose we ought to come up with some more military-sounding order than ‘head there.’ You’re the old pro. Do you have a suggestion?”
The captain squared his shoulders and looked very martial. “In the finest old professional soldier tradition, I hereby — what’s that American expression — pass the back?”
Tom chuckled. “Pass the buck.”
“Yes, that one. This being one of those — what do you call it? — upward technology weapons — ”
“Close enough. I feel it is incumbent upon the up-time officer to develop the proper phraseology. Sir. I would just make a hopeless muddle out of the project.”
“That’s some pretty impressive buck-passing, Captain.”
“I do my best, Colonel.”
Once it became clear that the oncoming airship was targeting his unit, Captain von Haslang ordered his men to abandon the guns and move off the road into the neighboring fields. There was no point losing soldiers as well as equipment. The airship would pass over them too high for musket fire to be effective. His own guns, designed for the purpose of shooting at them — he’d learned that the up-time term was “anti-aircraft fire” or “ack-ack” — would have been able to reach them. Quite easily, in fact. But the guns were clumsy to deploy and effectively impossible to aim. There was no chance he could get them ready in time to fire on the airship. It would arrive overhead within a minute or two.
So, none of his men were killed. One was injured, not by enemy fire but by tripping over something and spraining his wrist in the fall.
As for the guns
Happily, they came through mostly unharmed. The bombs dropped by the airship were rather large but had been designed as anti-personnel munitions. Shrapnel that would kill or mutilate a man did mostly cosmetic damage to cannons. Even a small two-inch gun weighed more than a quarter of a ton.
Several of them were dismounted, of course. Two of the carriages were ruined and would need to be replaced; half a dozen more would need to be repaired. But that was simple carpentry work, and there’d be plenty of carpenters in Munich.
Von Haslang finished his inspection and looked up at the sky. By now, the enemy airship was more than a mile away, headed toward Regensburg.
“Bastards,” he heard one of his artillerymen say.
“We’ll have our chance at them soon enough,” the captain said in response. “They’ll come to Munich, don’t think they won’t.”
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