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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Twenty
Last updated: Thursday, November 10, 2016 06:08 EST
Six miles east of Zolling
“It’s clear, Colonel Engler,” said Alex Mackay, getting down from his horse in front of Moosburg’s Rathaus. The city hall, as was the case in almost all German towns, was located on a square. Quite a small square, in the case of Moosburg. As if to make up for it, the Rathaus was a rather imposing edifice, three stories tall with a square tower rising up another fifteen feet or so in the middle.
“The whole town is clear.” Mackay pointed to the east with a gauntleted hand. “I’m not certain, but I think the Bavarian cavalry the Pelican spotted came from across the river and have now returned to the south bank of the Isar. It’s wetlands below the confluence with the Amper, but from the looks of it, I think if you went a mile or so above the confluence, maybe even half a mile, you’d find a decent place to ford the Isar.”
“You’re right,” said Thorsten. “We just got word over the radio. That special Marine unit that scouted the area said there’s a ford right above the confluence where cavalry and flying artillery can cross without any aid. They think infantry and artillery would be better if we laid down a corduroy road, though.”
Alex had removed his hat in order to wipe his brow with a sleeve. Thorsten’s last words arrested the motion, however.
“We?’ he said, sounding a bit alarmed.
Thorsten grinned at him. “I hate to be the one who has to pass this on, Colonel Mackay, but our instructions come directly from General Stearns. Major General Stearns, you may recall.”
Mackay jammed the hat back on his head without ever wiping his forehead. That minor discomfort had clearly been quite forgotten, in light of this new and profoundly horrid forecast.
“Don’t tell me. We have to secure the ford — and then we have to build that wretched corduroy road.”
Engler’s grin felt as if it was locked in place. “And it’s gets better — for us, not you. General Stearns’ orders were for the flying artillery squadron to set up in position to repel any possible cavalry attack while –”
“The puir downtrodden cavalrymen have to get off their horses and engage in manual labor.” Mackay’s Scot brogue, normally just a trace after so long on the continent, was easing back into his voice along with his disgruntled mood.
“Indeed so.” Thorsten spread his hands, in a placating gesture that would have placated absolutely no one, forget a professional cavalry officer.
“Fuck you and the horse you get to keep riding on, Thorsten,” said Mackay. “A profound injustice is being committed here.”
Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters
Village of Haag an der Amper
The radio operator looked up from his notes. “Colonel Engler reports that the ford has been seized and that his squadron is setting up a defensive perimeter while the cavalry prepares the crossing for infantry and artillery.”
“And in such good cheer they’ll be doing it, too,” said Christopher Long. The smile on his face fell short of outright evil, but by a hair so thin that only a theologian could have split it.
Duerr chuckled. “Cavalry hate being impressed as combat engineers.”
“Speaking of which ” He turned toward Mike Stearns, who was pointing out something on the map to Brigadier Ludwig Schuster, who commanded the division’s 2nd Brigade.
“General Stearns, pardon me for interrupting, but where do you want our combat engineers to be and doing what?”
Stearns glanced up and then pointed at Schuster. “I want them — all of them; Mackay’s cavalry can lay down a simple corduroy road and screw ’em if they can’t take a joke — to go with Ludwig. He and his whole brigade should get to the ford above Moosburg and be able to cross it by nightfall.”
Duerr hesitated — but challenging his commander was his job, when he thought a mistake was being made. Thankfully, Stearns didn’t react as badly as some generals did to being questioned. Not badly at all, being honest about it.
“Is that wise, sir? If von Taupadel and the Hangman — which is already pretty bloodied — can’t hold back Piccolomini, you’ll have no reserve at all.”
He nodded toward the entrance of the tavern. The door had been propped open — more precisely, had been smashed open and was now hanging by one hinge — partly to let in some air and partly so the staff officers inside the headquarters could monitor the fighting that was starting to rage further up the Amper as more and more of Piccolomini’s troops crossed the river.
“I have to say I agree with him, General Stearns,” said Schuster. “Let me leave the Lynx Regiment behind.”
Stearns’ brow was creased with thought. Duerr had no difficulty understanding the issues he was weighing in his mind. On the one hand, the Lynx was a solid regiment and its commander, Colonel Erasmo Attendolo, was a very experienced professional soldier. If Derfflinger did wind up needing reinforcement, they’d be good for the purpose.
On the other hand, the Lynx also had something of a reputation for being fast and agile — at least as infantry regiments went. They weren’t what anyone would call “foot cavalry,” but they could move faster than any other regiment in the division except Carsten Amsel’s Dietrich Regiment.
Which, by no coincidence, Mike had already ordered to be the first infantry regiment to cross the Isar above Moosburg, as soon as Mackay’s cavalry had the corduroy road in place.
Ulbrecht Duerr had now served under General Stearns for almost a year — and it had been a year in which Duerr had seen more combat than in any of the previous years of his long career as a professional soldier. That was partly because his new commanding general was without a doubt the most aggressive commander he’d ever served under.
That aggressiveness could be a problem, sometimes. Stearns would always tend — to use an American idiom — to “push the envelope.” He’d take risks that skirted outright recklessness, as he had at the Battle of Ostra, when he ordered the Third Division to attack the army commanded by the much more experienced General Báner in the middle of a snowstorm.
He’d won the Battle of Ostra — and decisively. That same aggressiveness had now got him into trouble, though, when he’d advanced on Piccolomini without having adequate reconnaissance. But he proposed to turn the tables on the Bavarians by continuing to be aggressive, not by pulling back. He’d hold them in place with one of his brigades and the wounded but still fighting Hangman regiment, while he crossed the rest of his army to the south bank of the Isar — and would then march them downstream a few miles and cross back onto the north bank somewhere above Freising.
If it worked, the Bavarians would find themselves in a very difficult place. Stearns would now have most of his army between Piccolomini and Munich. He could go on the defensive and force Piccolomini to take the risks involved with offensive operations. And Piccolomini would have very little time to make his decision because he had more than enough cavalry units to know that Heinrich Schmidt’s National Guard of the State of Thuringia-Franconia had crossed the Danube from Ingolstadt and was coming south as well.
Under a different commander, Ulbrecht Duerr would probably have been reduced to a gibbering fit by now. But one thing he’d learned as the months went by was that Stearns’ aggressiveness worked in large part because he’d forged his army in that same mold. Simply put, the Third Division of the army of the United States of Europe had the best morale of any army Duerr had ever served in. It was a fighting morale, too, not just the good cheer of a unit whose officers did well by them in garrison duty.
What it all came down to were two things:
Could Derfflinger and Schuster, with the flying artillery to shield them against cavalry, make it across the Isar and back across a few miles downstream before the Bavarians clearly understood what was happening?
Duerr thought the answer was . Probably, yes.
The Third Division was a marching army. They’d been able to outmarch every enemy force they’d faced. They couldn’t outpace cavalry, of course, but they didn’t fear cavalry. Not with the flying artillery to shield them — and, by now, after Ahrensbök and Ostra, the soldiers of the Third Division considered Colonel Engler something of a modern day reincarnation of the medieval heroes in the Dietrich von Bern legends. Dragon? Coming up, roasted on a platter. Enemy cavalry? You want that parboiled or fried?
Second question: Could von Taupadel and the Hangman hold Piccolomini’s army on the north bank of the Amper? For long enough — which Duerr estimated would take the rest of today, all of tomorrow and at least part of Friday. Call it two days. That was a long time for a battle to continue. On the positive side, they could slowly withdraw to Moosburg — in fact, that was no doubt what von Taupadel was already doing. It was hard for an army to break off contact with an enemy that seemed to be in retreat. Of course, on the negative side, it was also hard for an army trying to pull back not to disintegrate and begin a full-scale rout.
Which was no doubt the reason — Duerr was guessing, but he was sure he was right — that von Taupadel would move his three regiments forward and let the Hangman fall back into a reserve position. They needed the rest — and very few soldiers in the Third Division would be willing to risk annoying the Hangman by trying to scamper away from the fighting. That was likely to be lot riskier than dealing with sorry Bavarians.
The answer to that question wasn’t even probably. Ulbrecht was quite sure that part of Stearns’ plan would work. Especially with Higgins as the anchor. In a very different sort of way than Thorsten Engler, the Hangman’s commander had developed a potent reputation as well, among the soldiers of the Third Division.
Thorsten Engler’s reputation was flashy and dramatic. The man himself would have been astonished to learn that he had that reputation, but indeed he did. And why not? He’d wooed and won one of the fabled Americanesses, captured not one but two top enemy commanders at Ahrensbök, been made an imperial count by the emperor himself — and had personally decapitated the Swedish troll Báner at Ostra. (Using the term “personally” with some poetic license. The head-removal had actually been done by some of his volley guns — but he had given the order to fire.)
There was nothing flashy and dramatic about Higgins. He was a big man, true — quite a bit bigger than Thorsten Engler — but he was the sort of large fellow who was always running to fat, especially when he wasn’t on campaign. His belly tended to hang over his belt, his heels tended to wear out the cuffs of his trousers, and without his spectacles he was half-blind. He was in fact as well as in his appearance a studious man; more likely when he was relaxing to have his nose in a book than in a stein of beer.
But he had that one critical quality, in a commander. The worse the fighting became, the more desperate the battle, the calmer he grew. He was a steady man at all times; steadier, the less steady everything around him became. A rock in rapids; a calm place in a storm.
His men rather adored him, actually. “The DM,” they called him behind his back, referring to an obscure Americanism that Duerr had never been able to make any sense of. But it didn’t matter, because he understood the humor — and more importantly, the superb morale — when they said that “when the DM smiles, it’s already too late.” That was always good for a round of chuckles; sometimes, outright laughter.
And there was this, too. Higgins had one other critical quality, for the commander of a regiment that considered itself the elite regiment in the whole of the Third Division — which, by now, considered itself the elite division of the whole USE army.
He was Gretchen Richter’s husband. The Hangman had an even higher percentage of CoC recruits than the Third Division as a whole — which had a third again as many CoC recruits than the army’s average. Prestige, indeed.
New CoC recruits to the Hangman, after their first encounter with the regiment’s commander, were prone to say: What does Gretchen see in him, anyway? To which the response was invariably: Stick around and you’ll find out.
With Higgins anchoring the Hangman and the Hangman anchoring the 1st Brigade and the 1st Brigade anchoring the entire plan
Ulbrecht Duerr was in a very good mood, he realized. Amazingly good, given that the morning had begun with a near-disaster brought on by an overly-confident and too-aggressive commander who now proposed to correct his error by being even more confident and aggressive.
Ulbrecht Duerr had been born in Münster, the son of a baker. As a boy he’d been somewhat awed by the nobility’s august status. As an old professional soldier who’d encountered dozens of noblemen professionally, he didn’t have much use for dukes either. There were some exceptions — Duerr was quite partial to Duke George of Brunswick — but Maximilian of Bavaria was not one of them.
Bavaria, the Isar river
About two miles northeast of Moosburg
For the last stretch of the work, Thorsten Engler had relented and used some of his own flying artillerymen to finish the corduroy road, allowing Mackay’s cavalry to get some rest. He hadn’t done that from the goodness of his heart, though. He wanted cavalry — rested, alert cavalry — to be scouting ahead for him when he and his squadron moved toward their next fording place.
The term “flying artillery” that was generally used to refer to his squadron was another piece of poetic license. It was true that because the volley guns were so light, they didn’t need many horses to haul them around. Two was enough, four was plenty, and the six that were normally used were simply so that replacements would be available if — no, when; it was inevitable on a campaign — some of the horses were killed or lamed.
All of the soldiers were mounted as well. Some would ride on the carriage horses, others would accompany the wagons carrying the ammunition and equipment, and still others including all the officers would ride their own individual mounts. In short, the squadron was much more mobile than an infantry unit.
But they were still hauling gun carriages and wagons around — and even a light gun carriage drawn by only two horses is an awkward way to conduct forward reconnaissance. Not to mention that if they ran into an enemy cavalry unit without some warning they’d still be trying to set up their guns when the enemy started sabering them down.
So Thorsten wanted cavalrymen — defined as: one man on one horse with at least one weapon he could bring immediately to hand — to be scouting ahead of him. Well ahead of him. Half a mile, a mile — better yet, two miles.
And then, as it turned out, they could have dispensed with the cavalry screen altogether. By sundown they’d found the second ford they needed right where Captain Finck had said it would be, about seven miles upstream on the Isar. Roughly halfway between Moosburg and Freising.
They hadn’t encountered a single Bavarian soldier along the way. Not one. Not a sign of one. It was by then obvious that General Stearns’ counter-move was something the Bavarian commander Piccolomini had simply never considered. As so many commanders before him had done in the long history of war, Piccolomini had assumed that his opponent would do the same thing he would do.
Engler hadn’t discussed the general’s plans with him, but by now he’d come to know Mike Stearns fairly well. One of the things he recalled was Stearns telling him that mercenaries usually had predictable faults.
“They’re too conservative by nature,” he’d said. “Or let’s say they’re too conservative because of their economic position. War is a trade for them, not something they do because of ideals — or because of hatreds and bigotries, for that matter. I don’t think they’re even conscious of it, most of the time, but they’re always guided one way or another by a consideration of profit or loss. What do we gain or lose — not for our cause, but for us? And if the answer is, not enough for the potential loss we might suffer, they simply won’t do it. And what’s even more important, I think, is that they’ll assume — also without even thinking about it — that their enemy won’t do it either.”
The ineffable grin had come, then. “Whereas I damn well might.”
Thorsten didn’t have enough experience yet himself to decide if Stearns was right or wrong in general. But today, at least, he’d been right.
As an added bonus, soon after they began setting up their positions, Captain Finck himself and his Marine unit appeared. Materialized, as it were, out of nowhere.
“We saw you coming,” Finck explained to Engler and Mackay. He pointed to a small wood perhaps four hundred yards away. “We weren’t sure who you were at first, so we hid out there.”
Mackay and Engler looked at the grove, then looked at Finck, then looked at the western horizon where the sun had just disappeared, then at each other.
“We’ve been here setting up our camp for at least two hours,” mused Mackay. “Two hours of hard, unrelenting labor.”
“While you, expert scouts — ‘special forces’ they call you, if I am not mistaken,” Thorsten pondered, “couldn’t manage to determine who we were and cross a few hundred yards — that’s what? a quarter of a mile? don’t you have to prove you can run to the moon and back in fifteen minutes to qualify for your unit? — until the sun was setting and we have to retire for the night.”
Finck smiled at them. “We just got orders on the radio from General Stearns. At the crack of dawn — no, even before then — we have to be heading upriver again. He wants us to scout Freising to see how quickly and easily Piccolomini might be able to fortify it. So we’ll have to retire early — now, in fact. Good luck, gentlemen.”
He nodded toward the northwest, where the sound of occasional gunfire could still be heard.
“For what it’s worth,” Finck said, “the fighting mostly died away by mid-afternoon. We couldn’t actually see anything, since at this point the Amper’s at least two miles north of where we are. But all the indications are that Piccolomi and von Taupadel are squared off against each other, with von Taupadel anchored in Moosburg. This is just a guess, of course, but I’d say that right about now the Bavarian commander is a grumpy man.”
Bavaria, village of Haag an der Amper
Captain Finck was wrong. Ottavio Piccolomini wasn’t grumpy, he was worried. Everything today had gone the way he’d planned, for the most part. The resistance of the enemy had been more ferocious that he’d hoped for, but he wasn’t thrown off his stride by it. He’d already known from the reports he’d read and interviews he’d done of men who’d fought the Third Division that whatever else Michael Stearns might be as a military commander, he was certainly tenacious.
Bavarian casualties had been higher than he’d wanted — quite a bit, actually — but not ruinous. The enemy’s had certainly been worse. The ground that Piccolomini and his soldiers had crossed as they drove the invaders back into Moosburg had been littered with corpses, mostly enemy corpses. There’d been so many of them in some places that he’d ordered his soldiers to pile them up in stacks. They’d have to bury them in mass graves once the fighting was over.
Yes, everything had gone well this day. Not as well as he’d hoped, certainly; not even as well as he’d planned. But Piccolomini was too experienced a soldier to be surprised by that. War was what it was: at bottom, chaos and ruin. You could hardly expect it to fall into neat lines and rows.
Seated at the same table in the same tavern that he was all but certain his counterpart had occupied earlier that day, Piccolomini looked around. He finally realized what was worrying him.
The place was too neat. There was almost no litter. The door to the tavern had been smashed aside at one point, probably by an impatient officer who’d gotten jammed in the doorway when the door closed on him unexpectedly. But someone had taken the time to repair it before they evacuated the place.
Not much of a repair; just a piece of leather nailed in place. But why bother at all?
“Do you have any further orders, General?” asked one of his adjutants.
Piccolomini gazed at the repaired door for another second or two. “No,” he said. “Just be ready to move out tomorrow morning. Early. I want to launch our first assault on Moosburg as soon as the sun’s up.”
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