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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Monday, October 24, 2016 19:44 EDT



Bavaria, just north of Zolling on the Amper River

    General Ottavio Piccolomini lowered his spyglass. “You are certain of this, Captain? If I anchor my plans on your claim and you are mistaken, it could be a disaster. Almost certainly will be a disaster because I will have divided my forces.”

    He spoke in Italian, not German. Most of the officers in the Bavarian army, like Piccolomini himself, were mercenaries and Italian had been something in the way of a lingua franca for such soldiers since the late Middle Ages. The transition of military practice from feudal levies to mercenaries employed by a centralized state had begun in Europe with the condottieri of the thirteenth and fourteenth century Italian city-states like Florence, Genoa and Venice. Many of those Italian traditions were carried on by those who practiced war as a profession, including the language, even after the rise to prominence of Swiss pikemen and German landsknechts in later centuries.

    As was true of most mercenary captains, Piccolomini spoke German and Spanish as well as his native Italian — German fluently, albeit with a heavy Florentine accent, and Spanish passably. The reason he was using Italian as the common tongue of the Bavarian forces was not so much due to his own preferences as it was to the heavy Italian element in his army. His immediate staff and most of his commanders were German, but since they all spoke Italian reasonably well he had decided it would be wiser to use that language than run the risk that orders transmitted farther down the line in the course of a battle might be mistranslated.

    The officer to whom he’d addressed his question was Johann Heinrich von Haslang, newly promoted from captain to colonel. Shortly after Piccolomini took control of Bavaria’s army he had begun a reorganization of the officer corps. Many of General von Lintelo’s favorites had been eased out, replaced by officers in whom Piccolomini had more confidence.

    His judgment had generally been very good, thought von Haslang — even allowing for the obvious bias he had, being himself one of the beneficiaries of the new regime. Piccolomini was a humorless man, whose thick body and heavy face were a good reflection of his temperament. But he was competent and experienced and didn’t seem to suffer from the tendency of all too many mercenary commanders to play favorites with his subordinates.

    “I can only give you a conditional assurance, General,” said von Haslang. He nodded toward the receding airship in the sky, still quite visible despite now being several miles away. “I have kept extensive and careful records of these vessels. The one we are watching now is the one they call the Pelican and it is the one which the USE has maintained in service here in Bavaria since the beginning of the conflict. But they have two others at their disposal should they choose to use them, the Albatross and the Petrel.

    He took off his hat and wiped his forehead with a sleeve. It was an unseasonably hot day this early in May. “Normally, they employ the Albatross as something of a general-purpose transport vehicle. It can be almost anywhere in central Europe on any given day. At the moment — but please keep in mind that these reports always lag days behind the reality because –”

    He broke off. Because our pig-headed duke insists on keeping Bavaria’s few radios in Munich where they do no one any good at all instead of letting me give at least one of them to our spies… would be impolitic, even though Piccolomini himself probably would have agreed.

    “– because they do,” he finished a bit lamely. “But for whatever it’s worth, the last reports I received placed the Albatross at Luebeck.”

    Piccolomini grunted. “How fast could they get it back down here?”

    Von Haslang shrugged. “That depends on how much urgency they felt, General. These airships operate with hot air and have a very limited range because of the fuel that needs to be expended to keep the air in the envelope heated. Eighty miles or so — a hundred miles, at the most. Luebeck is about four hundred miles to the north.”

    Piccolomini frowned. “Much farther than that, I would think.”

    “By road, yes. But I am speaking of the straight line distance which is more or less how these airships travel.”

    “Ah. Yes.” Piccolomini pursed his lips, doing the calculations himself. “So, at least four legs to the trips; probably five or six.”

    “Six, in this case, General. I know the specific stops they’d make. Each leg would take two to three hours, depending on the winds. If they had fuel ready to go at each stage and made a priority of refueling, they could be back in the air in an hour or so.”

    “Can they fly at night?”

    “Yes, but they try to avoid it whenever possible.”

    “So, about two days, you’re saying.”

    “Approximately. And unfortunately…”

    “That’s quite a bit quicker than our spies can alert us” — Piccolomini’s heavy lips quirked into what might have been a smile of sorts — “since Duke Maximilian is unwilling to risk the few radios he has out in the field.”

    He copied von Haslang’s hat-removal and use of a sleeve to wipe the sweat off his brow. Added to the heat of the day was the weight of the buff coat the general was wearing — as was von Haslang himself. Most cavalrymen favored buff coats, no matter the temperature. Risking a gaping wound in the side or even on an arm was not worth the comfort of light clothing.

    “And what about the third airship? The Petrel, was it?”

    “There, we are on firmer footing. They have been using it in their salvage operations in Ingolstadt, trying to raise those two ten-inch guns we tossed into the river before we evacuated.”

    “It’s still very close — closer than the Albatross, most likely.”

    Von Haslang smiled. “Yes, it is — but they’ve altered it rather drastically in order to lighten it as much possible so they can get the most lift from the envelope. Instead of four engines, it now only has two — and our spies tell me that they keep as little fuel on board as possible for the salvage operation.”

    He pointed to the still-visible but now very distant airship. “I can’t promise you anything, General. But the odds are quite good that the Pelican is the only airship we will need to worry about for the next few days.”

    Piccolomini grunted again. “Better odds, you’re suggesting, that what we face against Stearns’ forces if we don’t take the risk.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    After wiping his brow, Piccolomini had kept his hat still in his fist. Now he placed it back on his head. “We’ll do it, then.” He turned his horse toward von Haslang’s immediate superior, General Caspar von Schnetter — who had been a mere colonel a week earlier. He was another of the Bavarian officers who’d enjoyed a promotion.

    “You will lead the attack on the enemy’s flank, von Schnetter,” said Piccolomini. “Remember — speed is critical. We won’t launch the attack unless the diversion succeeds in drawing off the enemy’s flying artillery — but they don’t call them ‘flying’ for no reason. If you dawdle, Stearns will be able to get them back on his right flank soon enough to face you. And those batteries have a fearsome reputation against cavalry, which is all you’ll have at first.”

    “I understand, sir,” said von Schnetter.

    “Make sure you do, General.” Piccolomini’s tone was forceful. “I have heard all too many officers since I arrived in Bavaria spout the opinion that Stearns is simply lucky rather than capable. Maybe so — but only a fool would operate on that assumption. He’s won every battle he’s fought so far, which in my experience indicates that something more than mere luck is involved.”

    Piccolomini looked up at the sky, scowling. It was not a clear day; a good third of the sky was covered with clouds. But those clouds foresaged nothing more than an occasional sprinkling.

    “I wondered why Koniecpolski chose to attack Gustavus Adolphus in the middle of a storm,” he said. “Now I understand the reason. Damn and blast those airships — and the airplanes may be even worse. Your enemy can see everything you’re doing.”

    Thankfully, Gustavus Adolphus seemed to be keeping his few airplanes in the Polish theater. Proving once again — as if the passing millennia had not already given proof enough — that rulers were prone to being pigheaded. If they’d had to face airplanes as well down here in Bavaria…



Rudelzhausen, Bavaria
About ten miles north of Zolling

    Ulbrecht Duerr’s finger touched a place on the map spread out across the table in the center of the small tavern’s main room. “Here, upstream of where the Amper makes that big bend southwest of Moosburg, a bit east of Zolling. That’s the place where Captain Finck says a crossing of the Amper would be easiest.”

    “Anywhere else?” Mike Stearns asked. “And how recent is the information?”

    “The information concerning the spot near Zolling is now a day old. There hasn’t been any rainfall worth talking about lately and the weather seems to be staying good, so nothing will have changed as far as the condition of the river is concerned.” Duerr shrugged. “Of course, there is no way to know if Bavarian forces have moved into the area since Finck was there.”

    He now tapped a spot on the map that was just north of Moosburg. “This does us little good, of course, but Finck reports there’s a place here on the Isar where the river could be easily forded. Cavalry and flying artillery could cross directly, he says, with no preparation at all. For infantry — certainly heavier artillery — you’d want to lay down a corduroy road. But no bridge would have to be thrown up.”



    “That spot’s east of the confluence between the Amper and the Isar. We’d wind up on the wrong bank of the Isar and have to find a place to cross back over again.”

    Duerr nodded. “True.” He glanced up at the ceiling of the room they were in, as if he could see through it to the sky beyond. “The Pelican can be back by nightfall and can lay over until tomorrow. We’ve made a landing place for it. When we move out in the morning we’ll have excellent reconnaissance until they have to return.”

    Mike shook his head. “I don’t want to wait, Ulbrecht. I want to keep pushing on, since we still have most of the day left.” His own finger tapped a place on the map. “By sundown — well, allowing for enough time to bivouac — I want to be here. This village called Attenkirchen.”

    Christopher Long tugged at the point of his beard, which was another of the Van Dykes so popular at the time. Mike, who favored a full beard cut short, had never been able to see the logic of the things. Maintaining a proper Van Dyke required almost as much work as being clean-shaven. Why bother?

    “I recommend against that, sir. Attenkirchen is a good six — maybe seven — miles south of here. We can certainly make it there by nightfall, in this weather. But we’ll be too far away to maintain the security of the Pelican‘s landing site — and it will be much too late in the day to set up a new one.”

    Duerr chimed right in. “Which means the Pelican will have to continue operating out of Regensburg, and we’re getting close to the limit of its operating range unless we provide it with a new secure base.”

    Mike tried not to let his impatience make him irritable. The more time that passed, the more convinced he became that Bavaria was a distraction, a side show. Yes, Duke Maximilian of Bavaria had a lot to answer for. But the cold, hard fact remained that by now Bavaria had been stripped of most of its former power. In any event, that power had always been heavily dependent on Bavaria’s alliance with Austria — which Maximilian had shredded with his maniacal response to the flight of the Austrian archduchess who had been supposed to marry him.

    And, meanwhile, the Turkish armies were marching through the Balkans toward Vienna. That, in Mike’s opinion, was where their attention ought to be focused. Instead, practically all of the military power of the nation was tied up fighting either the Poles or the Bavarians, neither of whom posed an existential threat to the United States of Europe. Whereas the Ottomans might, if they could take Vienna.

    And the problem there — again! you’d think people would have learned by now — was the damned American history books. Suleiman the Magnificent had failed to take Vienna in 1529, and the up-time history books said the Ottomans would fail again when they tried — would try; might try; could have would have tried; the grammar got insane — again in 1683.

    Half a century from now, in another universe — as if that provided any guidance for what should be done today, in this universe, under these conditions.

    As bad an influence as the American history books could be, Mike sometimes thought that the influence of American technology was even worse. As witness the reliance his officers were placing more and more on the reconnaissance provided to them by the Pelican.

    Yes, the airship made a superb observation platform. Much better than airplanes, really. A plane had to spot something while speeding through the air with only one or two pairs of eyes; an airship could effectively hover in place, allowing several observers to take their time examining the landscape below through binoculars and telescopes.

    But the damn things had such limits! They burned so much fuel just keeping the envelopes filled with hot air that they could only stay in position for a short time, unless an advance base was created for them. And the problem there was that the craft were so huge and unwieldy that it took time to build a base for them — and then you had to detach a sizeable force to guard the base. Not to mention that they were all but useless in bad weather.

    All of Mike’s experience as a fighter — first as a prizefighter, and now as a commander of armies — was that if there was any one secret to winning a fight it was to be relentless. Hit ’em and hit &##8217;em and hit ’em and hit ’em. Don’t stop, don’t rest. Push on, push on.

    The boxer he’d tried to model himself on when he was in the ring was Rocky Marciano. And while Mike had never thought he had Marciano’s talent, he did have the man’s temperament as a fighter. Never let up. Once you start, keep on. Hit ’em and hit ’em and hit ’em. If you can’t knock them out, wear them down for a while — and then knock them out.

    Never let up.

    Of course, you had to be strong and in very good shape and be able to take a punch, for that strategy to work. But Mike had all of those qualities and he thought his Third Division did as well. Most of all, he was profoundly distrustful of allowing time to go by in a fight. Yes, yes, it would be nice to have excellent reconnaissance at every waking hour. Why not wish for orbital satellites while you’re at it?

    “No,” he said firmly. “Piccolomini just took over command of the Bavarian army less than a month ago — and he’s only had a few days — well, a week or so — to integrate the forces retreating from Ingolstadt. Granted, he’s got a lot of experience and a good reputation, but he’s not a magician. His C2 is bound to be a little ragged.”

    “C2″ — he’d pronounced it Cee Two — was an Americanism that had by now spread throughout the USE’s military. It stood for “command and control.”

    Duerr and Long were both giving him looks that might fairly be described as fishy.

    “So is ours, General Stearns, as many new recruits as we’ve got,” said Long.

    He had a point. This campaign against Bavaria was coming on top of the Third Division’s campaign in Saxony and Poland, followed by a march to and back from Bohemia to fight Báner outside Dresden, followed by a march from Saxony to Regensburg. They’d fought their first big battle at Zwenkau in August — less than nine months ago. That had been followed by the savage fighting at Zielona Gora in October and the big battle of Ostra in February. And here they were, just four months later, readying to fight yet another major battle.

    They’d lost a lot of men in the process, some of them killed, more of them injured, and a fair number just leaving for quieter pastures. Some of them did so by the rules, but most of them just deserted. There was no great social opprobrium attached to desertion in this day and age.

    Because of its reputation for paying regularly, keeping the soldiers well-equipped and well-fed, and winning victories, the Third Division had no trouble finding new volunteers to replace the men they lost. In fact, the division was technically over-strength, at almost thirteen thousand men, because of its success at recruitment.

    But that came at a cost. To a degree, the Third Division was constantly recreating itself as it went.

    “I’m more concerned about our weakness when it comes to cavalry,” said Long. “I understand your frustration with the Pelican‘s limitations, sir. But even reinforced with Mackay’s men, our cavalry is terribly understrength. That allows the Bavarians to use their superior numbers in cavalry to overwhelm our own, which –”

    “Enables them to move their troops without us being able to spot them,” Mike finished for him. “Yes, I know that, Christopher.” He ran fingers through his hair, resisting the temptation to tug at them with frustration. “The ideal solution would be to have another airship permanently attached to us that could rotate with the Pelican. But we’re stretched too much. If only –”

    He shook his head, shaking off the pointless wish that Gustav Adolf would come to his senses and end the war with Poland. Being fair to the emperor, even if Gustav Adolf was willing to make peace it was doubtful at this point that King Wladyslaw would be. Part of the reason for the never-ending rancor between the USE and Poland was that the two nations were ruled by two branches of the same Vasa royal family — both branches of which were firmly convinced the other was a pack of scheming bastards who couldn’t be trusted. Not for the first time since he’d arrived in the seventeenth century, Mike was reminded of his native state’s own reputation for stupid feuding.

    Hatfields and McCoys, meet Vasas and Vasas.

    “One of these days,” he said, “the new hydrogen dirigibles will come into service. That’ll help, because they’ll be able to stay up a lot longer.”

    He looked back down at the map and placed his finger on the spot marked Attenkirchen. “Here, gentlemen,” he said firmly. “By sundown. The Pelican will be fueled up and ready to go by sunup, so they’ll be here early in the morning.”

    And then they’ll have to leave again in half an hour or so. But he didn’t see any point in adding that. Life was what it was. You fought a war with the army you had, not the one you wished for.

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