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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Friday, October 28, 2016 05:49 EDT



Bavaria, on the Amper river
Two miles east of Zolling

    The ducks were what saved Jeff Higgins’ life. What bothered him afterward was that he never knew what kind of ducks they were, so he couldn’t properly thank the breed with something suitable like erecting a small temple or naming his next child after them.

    He and the small scouting party he was leading had just reached the spot on the Amper which Captain Finck had recommended as a good place for a crossing to be made. Jeff had started to come out of the saddle to lower himself to the ground when the flock of ducks — did ducks come in “flocks”? he didn’t know — suddenly started squawking — or whatever you called the racket that ducks made when they got agitated — and what seemed like thousands of them lifted themselves out of the river and went flying off.

    Startled, his weight resting mostly on one stirrup, he looked to the west and had a glimpse of the oncoming Bavarian cavalry.

    He assumed they were Bavarian, anyway — and he wasn’t about to stick around to find out. He’d go on that assumption and let the devil worry about the details.

    “Out of here!” he shouted, sliding back into the saddle and spurring his horse onto the trail they’d followed down to the river bank. “Get the fuck out of here!”



    The ducks were mallards and General von Schnetter felt like cursing the things. The waterfowl had alerted the enemy patrol just in time for them to make their escape.

    Von Schnetter wasn’t concerned about the failure to capture the patrol, in and of itself. What worried him was that the big fellow who’d seemed to be leading them was dressed like an officer — at least, if von Schnetter was interpreting the design and insignia of USE uniforms properly.

    The army of the United States of Europe was an outlier in that respect, being the only large military force of the time that insisted on clothing its soldiers in standard uniforms. That actually made it harder to distinguish between officers and enlisted men because the gray uniforms were much the same color and the insignia were hard to differentiate between at a distance. In a properly costumed army, the extra money officers usually spent on their clothing made them stand out more. He himself, for instance, was at that very moment wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a pair of splendid ostrich plumes which nicely set off his bright red shoulder sash.

    If that big fellow who’d made his escape was just a scout, it would probably take him and his mates a bit of time to find their commander and pass on the warning, and if the commander was a sluggish sort…

    But if he was the commander himself, which he might well have been — von Schnetter was in the habit of leading his own reconnaissance, as he was this very moment — and if he was capable…

    “Fucking mallards!” he snarled.



    “Form up! Form up!” Jeff shouted, as he reached the sentries he’d posted to guard the flanks of the regiment.

    For once, he was thankful for the sword he had to haul around. The damn thing was all but useless for actual fighting but it made for the most dramatic pointer you could ask for. He had the sword in his hand and was waving it in the direction from which he and his three scouts were racing.

    He wasn’t too happy about that, either, since Jeff disliked being on a horse under any conditions and especially galloping over terrain he wasn’t familiar with. Push come to shove, though, he’d prefer falling off a horse even at high speed to getting shot or — worse still — getting stuck like a pig by a damn sword. Unlike himself, there were men in the world who knew how to use the idiotic devices.

    “Form up! The Bavarians are here!”



    He didn’t have time to get the whole regiment into proper formation. Not even close to enough time. But he was able to get three companies in a line with their muskets ready to fire.

    No breastworks; no pikemen — against cavalry. This was going to be hairy as all hell. He could only hope that Engler and the flying artillery would come up soon.



Bavaria, near Moosburg
Five miles east of Zolling

    At that precise moment, Colonel Thorsten Engler was cursing ducks himself — and wasn’t bothering to make fine distinctions between breeds. Being a former farmer, Thorsten knew perfectly well the ducks were mallards. But at the moment, so far as he was concerned, they just belonged to the cursed category of “noisy birds.” Between the ones still on the river just a few dozen yards away and the ones who’d taken to the air, they were making such a racket that he couldn’t hear anything else.

    What he was straining to hear was the sound of horses moving. Or, more likely, the sound of cavalrymen’s gear clattering. If there were horses in the area they were moving slowly. Even over the clamor being made by the ducks, Thorsten could have heard the sound of a large group of galloping or cantering horses.

    You couldn’t see anything, between the heavy growth and the walls of Moosburg. The town wasn’t fortified, but like almost all towns and villages in central Europe the buildings were erected right next to each other. Looking at Moosburg from a distance of a hundred and fifty yards or so, he couldn’t see anything beyond the walls and roofs of the outlying edifices. For all he knew, there was an entire cavalry regiment gathered in the town square, ready to charge out at any minute.

    Or there could be nothing there at all, beyond some frightened civilians trying to hide in root cellars and basements.

    The Pelican had arrived shortly after dawn, but it had only been able to stay in the area for a short time. The airship was operating at the very edge of its range, this far from its base in Regensburg. By tomorrow or the day after, the SoTF National Guard should have an airship base in operation in Ingolstadt, which would cut perhaps twenty miles from the distance. Better yet, if the Third Division could cross the Amper and secure a beachhead, they could establish an airship base almost right next to their field of operations.

    Just before the Pelican left — actually, after it was already on its way back to Regensburg and several miles away — it reported what seemed to be significant cavalry movement near Moosburg. General Stearns had immediately ordered the flying artillery squadron to deploy west of the town. He was sending the Dietrich and White Horse regiments from the 3rd Brigade to support them, with Brigadier Derfflinger in command, while keeping the brigade’s third regiment in reserve. That was the Yellow Marten Regiment, commanded by Colonel Jan Svoboda.

    All well and good — once they got here. But Derfflinger’s infantry was still a good three-quarters of a mile away, and the artillery units attached to his brigade would be lagging still farther behind. And in the meantime, Thorsten and his flying artillery were on their own.

    If they’d been operating in open country, Thorsten would have been less concerned. By now, he had a great deal of confidence in his men, especially the veterans of Ahrensbök. Given enough open space to fire several volleys, he was sure he could drive off any but the largest cavalry force.

    Unfortunately, the terrain west of Moosburg was wooded. Not a forest, exactly, but there was enough in the way of scattered groves and treelines to allow an enemy cavalry force to move up unseen until the last few hundred yards — not more than two hundred, in some directions.

    If only the Pelican were still here…



Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters
Village of Haag an der Amper

    The first indication Mike Stearns had that his campaign plans were flying south for the winter was the eruption of gunfire to the west. From the sound of it, a real battle was getting underway.

    By the time his units had entered Haag an der Amper early that morning, the little village located a short distance north of the river had already been deserted by its inhabitants. From the looks of things, they’d left several days earlier. Bavaria had been relatively unravaged by the Thirty Years War, especially this close to Munich, but by now people living anywhere in the Germanies — anywhere in central Europe — were hyper-alert to military threats. Every city and town and most villages had their own militias, but except for those of walled cities the volunteer units were only suited for fending off bandits and small groups of plundering soldiers and deserters. As soon as they realized that major armies were coming into the area, the inhabitants would flee elsewhere. To a nearby walled city, if they had privileges there. To anywhere away from the fighting, if they didn’t.



    In the larger villages, Mike’s command unit would seize the best and biggest tavern in which to set up a field headquarters. In smaller villages like Haag an der Amper, there would be no tavern as such. Typically, one of the more prosperous villagers would use one of the rooms on the ground floor of his house as a substitute.

    By the time the army was done with such a temporary field headquarters and moved on, the place was fairly well trashed. The structure would usually remain intact, but the interior would be a ruin. Partly that was from carelessness and occasionally it was from deliberate vandalism — although not often if the troops were part of the Third Division. Ever since the atrocities committed by some of his units in the Polish town of Swiebodzin, Mike had maintained a harsh discipline when it came to the way civilians were treated.

    Mostly, though, the destruction was simply the inevitable side-effect of having far too many men wearing boots and carrying weapons tromping in and out of a building that had never been designed for the purpose. Mike had been bothered by the wreckage in his first weeks as a general, but by now he’d gotten accustomed to it. War was what it was.

    When the gunfire erupted, Mike’s first instinct was to rush to the door in order to look for himself. But he suppressed that almost instantly and turned instead to the radio operator positioned at a small table in a corner.

    “Any reports?” he demanded.

    The radio operator shook his head. “Not yet, General.”

    That was a bad sign. Probably a very bad sign. Mike had stationed Jeff Higgins and his Hangman regiment on the division’s right flank — and he’d done that partly because that was the flank that was more-or-less hanging out there and blowing in the wind. Jeff was his only up-time regimental commander and he had the only up-time radio operator, his old friend Jimmy Andersen. Mike was confident that, between them, they’d use the radio to warn him of any trouble almost instantly. He still had down-time commanders, no matter how many times he snarled at them, whose immediate instinct was to send a courier instead of using their regimental radio.

    And now…

    “Damnation,” Mike muttered. He looked at one of his junior adjutants, who’d also serve him as a courier. “Get over there, Lieutenant Fertig, and see what’s happening.”



Bavaria, on the Amper River
Two miles east of Zolling

    Jeff Higgins wasn’t worried about the radio because he assumed Jimmy Andersen would have already sent the warning. His attention was entirely concentrated on trying to keep his formations from disintegrating under the impact of the Bavarian cavalry charge.

    They probably would have, despite all his efforts, except that the same partially wooded terrain that was causing Thorsten Engler so much anxiety a few miles to the east was working in favor of the Hangman Regiment here. There were just enough small groves, just enough fallen logs, and just enough brush to give his men a bit of cover and impede the Bavarian horsemen.

    It was clear very soon, however, that there was no way the Hangman was going to be able to hold this position. Against cavalry… maybe. But Jeff was quite sure this charge wasn’t the product of an accidental encounter with a passing cavalry unit. There were too many of them and they’d come on too quickly and in too good a formation. This had been planned.

    The Bavarians had outmaneuvered them, it was as simple as that. Jeff was sure of it — and that meant there were infantry units coming up right behind. Probably some light artillery, too. They’d sweep right over them. He needed to fall back, anchor his regiment on the river and just hope that the commander of the 1st Brigade, von Taupadel, was moving his regiments up in support.



    Von Taupadel was doing just that, and at that very moment. But moving several thousand men in unfamiliar terrain in response to gunfire coming from a still-unseen enemy is the sort of thing that only happens neatly and instantly in war games.

    Unfortunately, von Taupadel did not think of using his brigade radio until several minutes had gone by — perhaps as much as a quarter of an hour. In fairness to him, that was partly because he also knew that both the commander and the radio operator of the Hangman Regiment were up-timers, and he assumed they’d already sent a radio message to General Stearns.



Bavaria, near Moosburg
Five miles east of Zolling

    Thorsten Engler could hear the gunfire to the west. Each individual gunshot was faint, because of the distance, but that much gunfire can be heard for many miles, especially when it is continuous and never lets up.

    Half an hour had gone by since the flying artillery squadron had come into position outside Moosburg — thirty-three minutes, to be exact; Thorsten had a good pocket watch and used it regularly — and there had been no sign of movement in the town. Nothing. Not a dog had stirred.

    By now, Engler was almost certain that the cavalry movement the Pelican had reported had been a ruse. A feint, to draw the Third Division’s attention to its left flank while the real assault came on the right.

    He was tempted to send a patrol into the town to find out what was there, but he wasn’t quite ready yet. If he was wrong, they’d get slaughtered.

    He’d wait five more minutes. In the meantime…

    Thorsten turned to his radio operator, who was in place right behind him. Whether because he was betrothed to an up-timer or simply because — this would have been his own explanation, had anyone asked — he wasn’t a dumb fuck mired in military traditions which he didn’t have anyway because he was a sensible farmer — Engler never forgot to use the radio in an appropriate and timely manner.

    “Send a message to General Stearns,” he commanded. “Tell him I think the report of cavalry movement in Moosburg was a feint.”



Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters
Village of Haag an der Amper

    Mike read the message through once, quickly. He didn’t need to read it again because he’d already come to the same conclusion himself.

    He’d have cursed himself for a blithering overconfident reckless fool except he didn’t have the time. He still didn’t have a report from the Hangman Regiment. It was too soon for a report to be brought by a courier and the fact that no radio report had come in meant that Higgins had either been overrun too quickly or something had happened to the radio.

    Either way, that meant Higgins — at best — had been driven away from the spot on the Amper which Captain Finck had recommended for a river crossing. Which meant…

    The Amper could be crossed there from either direction. Which meant…

    Piccolomini had feinted on the right — his right; Mike’s left — to draw his attention that way. He’d then taken advantage of the Pelican‘s departure to launch a surprise attack on the Hangman.

    Mike tried to visualize the terrain. The area along both sides of the river was wooded. If the Bavarian commander had moved the troops up either the night before or very early that morning — probably the night before, while the Third Division had been setting up camp — then they could have been in position and hidden when the Pelican arrived. The airship had only been able to stay in position for half an hour before it had to return to Regensburg.

    As soon as it left, Piccolomini had launched the flank attack. But he couldn’t have gotten enough men onto the north bank to have any hope of rolling up the whole Third Division. No, he’d use the same ford that Finck had found to move most of his army across, now that his cavalry had driven back the regiment guarding Mike’s right flank.

    Which meant…

    Ulbrecht Duerr summarized the situation. “They’ll try to get enough men north of the Amper to roll us up. We need to fall back and anchor ourselves on Moosburg. Which means we need to take Moosburg now.”

    Long shook his head. “That’s asking the flying artillery to take a terrible risk. The volley guns are all but useless in close quarter street fighting. All Piccolomini has to have done is left a few companies in the town to bleed them white.”

    Mike had already reached that conclusion himself. And, for the first time since the gunfire erupted, found his footing again.

    “I think we’ve got a bit of time, gentlemen,” he said. “We’re going to rope-a-dope. That’s if the Hangman’s still on its feet. Damn it, why haven’t they gotten in touch?”

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