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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Thirty

       Last updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 20:01 EST




July, 1636

They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died

Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

    Judy Wendell summed up the sentiments of the four young women standing on the wall of the city looking to the east. “Well, that sucks.”

    “What would you be referring to, exactly?” asked Hayley Fortney. The youngest of the four pointed an accusing finger at the columns of smoke rising from Race Track City, four miles away. “The fact that they’re burning down everything we built over there, or the fact that there are about a million of them.”

    “That’s a ridiculous exaggeration,” said Cecilia Renata. Her tone seemed a lot less confident than the words themselves, though. “My brother — Ferdinand, not Leopold — he’s the emperor — told me just yesterday that our spies mostly agree that Murad didn’t bring more than one hundred thousand men.

    “Fewer,” she added stoutly, “than Suleiman brought the last time the Turkish pigs tried this.” Cecilia Renata shared none of her younger brother Leopold’s fine sense of the ethnic complexities of the Ottoman Empire. Like most Austrians, she figured Turks were Turks and that was all there was to it.

    “It’s not the number of soldiers that matters,” said Minnie Hugelmair, “it’s what they might have with them.” Her own finger pointed to something further away than Race Track City. Further away — and further up. “Tell me I’m wrong because I’ve only got one eye even though that eye works quite well. That looks like a dirigible to me.”

    “Three of them, actually,” said Judy. “My eyesight’s twenty-twenty.”

    Hayley and Cecilia Renata were both squinting at the same objects. “They don’t look as big as ours, though,” said Hayley. “The Pelican, I mean. The Swordfish class. We’ve got three of them too, you know.”

    Judy was never one given to false optimism. “Let’s be precise, here. Miro Estuban has three of them, only one of which is currently leased to the USE army — and it’s stationed in Munich. The Albatross and the Petrel are… wherever. Not here. We don’t have any airships. No planes, either. Not even a Belle, much less a Gustav or a Dauntless. They’re all up in Poland, doing absolutely no good flying around Poznan.”

    Minnie, from her work for Don Francisco, had a much better grasp of military realities than Judy did. “Doesn’t really matter, though. None of the planes are able to shoot down airships, and they’re too small to carry much in the way of bombs, either. They’re mostly valuable for reconnaissance to find where the enemy is and” — she used her chin to point to the huge army moving up on Vienna — “that’s hardly at issue now. They’re right over there.”

    She turned to Hayley. “You really ought to get out of Vienna, like you said you were going to.”

    Hayley was glaring at the distant Ottoman army. Perhaps more than anyone in the world, she’d been the driving force behind creating Race Track City. Now, from the looks of it, the whole place was being destroyed by the Turks. Even the race track — the stands, anyway — looked to be burning.

    “You’d think they want to keep it intact,” she growled. “Stupid bastards.”

    “Why?” said Judy. “You’ve spent the last two weeks stripping everything out of there and moving it into Vienna.”

    “Well, yeah, sure. The emperor made it crystal clear a while ago he wasn’t going to defend Race Track City and I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave anything useful or valuable to the fucking Turks.”

    “So, they’re now burning the scraps you left. What do you care?” Judy could be awfully unsentimental some times. Most times.

    A man’s voice came from below them. “Hayley, we should go now!”

    Turning and looking down from the wide ledge they were standing on, they saw Hayley’s betrothed, Amadeus von Eisenberg. He was standing in the middle of the bastion, next to a pile of cannonballs. The expression on his face combined exasperation with anxiety. “The barge is already loaded! Almost, anyway. Everyone is waiting for you!”

    “Off you go, girl,” said Judy.

    Hayley looked uncertain. “I should maybe stay with you guys, what do you think?”

    “That’s stupid,” said Judy. “Cecilia Renata’s staying here out of duty and I’m staying because she asked me to stay with her and I’ve got nothing else to do. Besides, it’s a good idea for one of us Barbies to hold down the fort, so to speak. But one is all we need for that” — here, she grinned — “and I don’t have a boyfriend fussing at me.”

    Hayley still looked dubious. “What about you?” she asked Minnie.

    Judy provided the answer for that, too. “She’s scheming. And since Cecilia Renata’s aiding and abetting her schemes, she figures it’d be stupid to leave. Screw the Turks.”

    Minnie nodded. “It’s not every day a girl like me — especially with just one eye left — gets to hang out with royalty.”

    Hayley’s dubious look got a little cross. “That’s pretty gross, if you ask me.” She gave the young Austrian archduchess a look from beneath lowered brows. “And why are you a party to this? Your own brother!”

    Cecilia Renata sniffed. “My little brother. A sweet enough boy, but he needs to be seasoned. Far better he should get seasoned by Minnie than by one of the airheads” — the Austrian archduchess was quite taken with American slang — “who loiter about my brother’s court. Minnie will be good for him.”

    Hayley stared at her for a moment. Then, shook her head. “There are times I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to the seventeenth century. Especially seventeenth century royalty.”

    Cecilia Renata gave her a pitying look in return. “I’ve known since I was five or six years old that I’d eventually get married to someone purely for reasons of state. The same is true for my brother Leopold, most likely. There is not much room in there for the sort of sappy soap opera mush you Americans love to wallow in.”

    Hayley’s sniff was almost as good as the archduchess’ had been. “‘Sappy’ and ‘soap opera’ and ‘mush’, is it? You’re never seen any of the three of them. Well, the first two anyway. There might be some Austrian version of mush, but you wouldn’t make it with cornmeal.”

    “I have great powers of imagination, as befits a many-times-great-grand-daughter of the Swiss count Radbot of Klettgau, who imagined his line becoming a great dynasty named Habsburg.” She smiled cheerily and spread her arms. “And look, here we are.’

    “Besieged by the Turks,” said Hayley.

    “That was unkind.”

    “Hayley!” shouted Amadeus. “We have to go! Now!”

    “All right, all right!” she shouted down. She gave each of the three other women on the rampart a quick hug and hurried down the stairs — or started to hurry, rather. The staircase was so steep that it was more like descending a ladder. After she’d taken two steps, Hayley stopped, turned around, and went the rest of the way facing backward.

    Thirty seconds later, she was out of sight.

    “So it’s just us now,” said Minnie. “What should be call ourselves? We need a name. Neither Cecilia Renata nor I could possibly be a ‘Barbie.’ The whole idea’s ridiculous.”

    “The Sopranos,” Judy immediately proposed.

    “What’s a soprano?” Cecilia Renata asked.



Hoorn, province of Holland
The Netherlands

    “That is just so cool,” said Bonnie Weaver admiringly. “It’s an ingenious idea, too.”

    Staring at the huge object moored just offshore — pair of objects, rather — Rita had to agree with her. It was both cool and ingenious.

    One of the big problems with airships was where to keep the enormous things when they were on the ground. You could tether them with ropes in a large enough open area, but that only worked if there wasn’t much wind. What you really needed was a hangar, and the problem that posed was twofold. First, in order for even a small airship to fit inside, the building had to be gigantic — and it couldn’t have any internal support structure or the whole purpose of the edifice would be negated because the airship wouldn’t fit inside.

    At a bare minimum, the interior dimensions of the hangar had to be five hundred feet long, sixty feet wide and sixty feet high — and it would be much safer to have the width and height be around eighty feet to a hundred feet instead. That meant, given the resources available in Europe in the 1630s, erecting a seven or eight story wooden building with no internal supports and only such bracing as could be kept out of the way of the airship.

    Hard, though certainly not impossible. But you still faced the problem that getting the airship in and out of the hangar could only be done if the wind was very weak. Any sort of wind — even a gentle breeze — would make the project difficult and dangerous.

    The Dutch consortium that was building the airship they’d come to the Netherlands to buy or lease had found a solution to the problem. Their hangar floated on the water… The base of the hangar rested on what amounted to big barges, with access to the airship when it was inside the hangar being provided by gangplanks.

    The hangar was moored by anchors set down by the barges. But whenever it was time to bring an airship in or out of the hangar, the anchors could be lifted and the hangar’s orientation changed so that the long axis was directly aligned with the wind.

    “Is there any place we could build a floating hangar like that in the USE?” Bonnie wondered.

    “Certainly. The Bodensee,” said Heinz. “It’s formed by the Rhine, in Swabia.”

    Bonnie frowned. “I never heard of it.”

    “Yeah, you have,” said Rita. “It’s usually called Lake Constance in English. It’s on the border between Switzerland and the USE.” Her voice began to rise a little with excitement. “Heinz is right, too. It’d be perfect! It’s not that far from Munich, either. Maybe… I don’t know…”



    “About one hundred and fifty miles. Not even that.”

    Bonnie pursed her lips. “That’d be well out of range for a hot air dirigible but not for a hydrogen one. Are there are other lakes, Heinz?”

    He nodded. “There are a number of other lakes in the USE that would be big enough for an airship hangar — a number of hangars, in fact. The closest one to Munich in our territory that I can think of is the Hopfensee near Füssen. Not much farther away, there is also a lake near Immenstadt. But those are not big towns, so I don’t think they’d have the skills and resources we’d need. There are some other lakes that I think are even closer to Munich but they are in Bavaria and currently under Duke Maximilian’s control. Outside of Bavaria, other than the Bodensee…”

    Heinz fell silent for a moment while he searched his memory. “There’s the Steinhuder Meer in Brunswick. It’s very shallow, though — I think it averages no more than three or four feet deep. That might be a problem. And in any case it’s farther away from Munich than the Bodensee. The same’s true for the Lake District in Mecklenburg and Mummelsee and the Schluchsee in the Black Forest. None of them are closer than the Bodensee and most of them are much farther away.”

    “The Bodensee it is, then,” said Rita. “Are there any big towns right on it, where a hangar could be assembled?”

    “I think the best site would probably be Bregenz. It’s in our territory, now that Tyrol joined us. It’s on the side of the lake closest to Munich and I think it’s a big town. But I’ve never visited the area so I’m not sure.”

    “Why we’ve got a radio. If the deal goes through, we’ll have our people back home start to work on it.” Rita started walking toward the nearby buildings near the shore where the headquarters of the consortium were located. “Speaking of which, it’s time to negotiate. Hear me roar. Okay, I’ll probably be sweet-talking most of the time. Figure of speech.”



    Bonnie and Heinz actually did most of the talking, since they knew a lot more about airship construction than Rita did.

    “…engine we finally bought is a Chrysler 3.8 which can produce a little over 200 horsepower.” The Dutch engineer rattled off the specs as if he were native born to the late twentieth century. “Of course, we have to use a 2.5 to 1 gear reduction…”

    Rita ignored the rest of it. She’d never been much interested in automobile engines even up-time, and most of the discussion between her two companions and the Dutch airship builders might just as well have been in Greek. She was pretty sure the term “3.8” referred to the size of the engine in… liters? Something like that. And she knew that when car engines were used for aeronautical purposes the RPM usually had to be reduced using one or another type of gearing system. Beyond that, she was lost.

    But the details weren’t her job. Her job was to keep her mouth shut so she didn’t goof up anywhere, look solemn and parsimonious, and — most of all; essential! — look like she was the sister of one Michael Stearns, former prime minister of the USE and now one of its leading generals and often known by the informal title of the Prince of Germany.

    That was the hardest part, actually. Memories kept coming to her of her brother As Only A Sister Knew Him. Mike at… what had he been? Fifteen years old, if she remembered right. Coming home from school with a black eye and a split lip and badly skinned knuckles.

    Their mother had given Mike a proper chewing out, with their father glowering at him. Then, after she left, Jack Stearns had leaned over and whispered to his son — but she’d heard! — “Next time, Mike, don’t swing for the bastard’s head with your fist. You’ll just cut yourself up. The way to do it –”

    He’d spotted six-year-old Rita listening with interest and had shooed her off.

    Then there was the time Mike came home —


    Belatedly, she realized Bonnie had now called her name twice. “Ah… Yeah. Yes. What… Ah, yes?”

    “We need a decision here. Do we want a crew of between twelve and fifteen people — that would be optimum — or do we want to cut back on the crew in order to expand the fuel tanks? We could go as low as a crew of six if we really needed to, although they think going below eight starts being problematic.”

    Rita would have been delighted to fob off on this question too, but it fell within the parameters of “operational issues.” Technically, that was her bailiwick.

    She spent some time pondering the matter. Partly that was to enhance the image of Big Shot’s Sister, thinking deep thoughts. Mostly, though, it was because she actually had to think about it.

    “What’s the range the way it is?” she asked. “Let’s assume a full crew of fifteen.”

    The Dutch engineer who’d been doing most of the talking — Maarten Kortenaer was his name — waggled his head. “It can vary quite a bit, you understand, depending on the wind and other factors. You would also need to specify the speed and the fuel load. But figure that your range will be somewhere between six hundred and nine hundred miles.”

    She went back to pondering. She was tempted to go for the full crew option, because a range of six hundred miles between refueling was already far better than the hot air dirigibles could manage. A round trip distance of three hundred miles — no, make it two hundred and fifty to allow sufficient loiter time over the target…

    She tried to visualize a map of central Europe. Assuming for the moment that the home base of the dirigible was on the Bodensee, they could possibly even reach Vienna. Come close, for sure — and cover all of Bavaria. Then, once Mike squashed Maximilian, they could shift the base to one of the lakes in Bavaria and they’d easily be in range to cover Vienna itself and its surroundings.


    The problem wasn’t the fuel itself so much as the hydrogen. By now the USE had a lot of facilities that were able to handle gasoline and kerosene. Producing large quantities of hydrogen, though, was a new challenge.

    “How much hydrogen leaks out?” she asked. “Let’s say, over a one-week period.”

    The answer was long-winded and convoluted, with lots of qualifications and variables, but the gist of it seemed to be we don’t really know yet.

    “All right,” she said, finally. “Let’s split the difference. We’ll figure on a crew of ten which can be expanded if need be. I’m assuming most of the weight of the fuel is the actual fuel weight, not the weight of the fuel containers.”

    “Oh, yes,” said Kortenaer. “The weight of the containers is about fifteen percent of the weight of the fuel itself.”

    Rita nodded. “And they don’t take up a lot of space — certainly measured against what’s available.”

    That was one of the big differences between hydrogen and hot air dirigibles. Hydrogen was comparatively stable and you didn’t have to keep heating it up. That meant that you could locate the vessel’s cargo space, engine compartments, crew quarters, fuel tanks, radio station —#8212; almost everything — on the keel, inside the envelope, instead of having to place it on an external gondola. You still wanted a control car hanging down from the envelope, but that was just for the sake of greater visibility. All you needed there was room for one or two pilots, a navigator, and some navigation equipment.

    Rita had been astonished when she got inside the airship being built in Hoorn and was given a tour of the interior. The area available for people, equipment and cargo was huge. It was more like being on a cruise ship than an aircraft.

    Of course, space was one thing; lifting capacity, another. Still, the rigid airship being built in Hoorn was far superior to anything the USE military currently had in service.

    “How soon will the ship be ready?” she asked.

    They’d already negotiated the terms of the lease — and lease it would be, not a sale. The Dutch weren’t admitting anything openly, but it was by now obvious to Rita and her two companions that the real power behind the consortium was the King in the Netherlands, Fernando. He wanted the airship to stay in his possession in case he needed against…

    Whichever enemy might show up. The most likely one would be his older brother, King Philip IV of Spain. The airship would make a splendid bombing platform that could throttle the English Channel if another Spanish Armada should happen to show up.

    Fernando was willing to lease it to the USE for the time being, though. First, because there really didn’t seem to be any immediate threat to the Netherlands coming from any quarter. Both the Spanish and the French had other and more pressing problems on their hands and the USE was on reasonably friendly terms — which stood to get even friendlier because of the airship arrangement.

    And, second, because leasing the airship to the USE would give the vessel and its crew what amounted to a baptism by fire. They could learn what the ship could and couldn’t do in a real war without having to actually declare war on anybody.

    “We could have the ship operational in…” The Dutch engineers spent a couple of minutes in quiet consultation. Then Maarten Kortenaer looked up and said: “Two months. At the beginning of September.”

    Rita nodded. “That should do.”



Amsterdam, the Netherlands

    There was a radio message from Mike Stearns waiting for them when they got back to their hotel rooms.

Ottoman army has reached Vienna. They have airships. At least three. We need that Dutch ship ASAP.

    “Big brothers are such a pain in the ass,” said Rita.

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