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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Thirty One

       Last updated: Wednesday, January 4, 2017 18:30 EST



Outside Munich, capital of Bavaria

    “How did Admiral Simpson tear down the walls of Hamburg in a few hours,” Mike Stearns wondered, “when the same guns don’t seem to be making much of a dent in the walls of Munich?”

    The captain in charge of the battery got the long-suffering look common to artillery officers when called upon to explain that cannon are not, in fact, magic wands.

    “First of all, sir,” he replied, “the walls of Hamburg that Simpson fired upon weren’t torn down because he wasn’t trying to breach the walls. He was sailing through Hamburg on his way to the North Sea. He just damaged them in the process of doing what he was really after, which was silencing the batteries Hamburg had on the river.”

    He took a deep breath. “Second, the walls he faced on the river weren’t the full-scale star fort walls that he would have been firing on if he’d been investing Hamburg from landside” — here a forefinger waved about — “like we are. Third –”

    “Never mind,” Mike grumbled. “I’ll take your word that there’s a logic to it. Even if it does seem weird.”

    Christopher Long chimed in. “General, there’s a reason every big city in Europe spends a fortune — not a small one, either — surrounding themselves with star forts. The fact is that this style of fortifications works well against the kind of big guns generally available to us.” He nodded toward the nearest of the two ten-inch naval rifles, positioned in a berm about fifty yards away. “These are much better than most and eventually the explosive shells they fire will produce a big enough breach for us to launch an assault. But we only have two of the guns available so far because of the problems Major Simpson has been having salvaging the other two.”

    Mike had the grace to tighten his lips and keep his mouth shut. He didn’t blush, though, which by rights he should have. Tom, following Mike’s orders, had managed to get the two remaining naval rifles out of the Danube. His men had drilled out the spikes and cleaned them up, and then shipped the guns down the Danube to the confluence with the Isar.

    Where, alas — the details remained unclear, but war is well known to be hell — the barge had capsized and spilled both guns back into the river.

    Mike had had the good sense, however, not to cite Clausewitz in the brief message reporting on the mishap to Gustav Adolf. Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult…

    Would not have been well received.

    There was no point in Mike grumbling at his artillery officers, anyway. He was just restless. He didn’t really want a big breach opened up in the walls of Munich. He just wanted to keep the pressure on Duke Maximilian while he hoped Rebecca — someone, anyone — could finally persuade Gustav Adolf to accept a political settlement with Bavaria.

    “Keep up the good work, captain,” he said, and left to make a nuisance of himself somewhere else.

    Sieges were frustrating, aggravating, and most of all — boring.



Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

    “Wow,” said Judy Wendell, raising the lamp in order to get a better view. “I’ve heard of safe rooms, but this is…” She smiled wryly. “A royal palace version of it, I guess.”

    Cecilia Renata rose from the crouch she’d assumed to inspect one of the casks. “That wine is still good, I think. What is a ‘safe room’?”

    After Judy explained, both Cecilia Renata and Minnie Hugelmair shook their heads.

    “No, not really,” said the archduchess. “The way you describe a safe room, its purpose is to prevent anyone from breaking into it until help can arrive.” She made a little circular motion with her finger, indicating their surroundings. “This is not safe at all, not that way. If an enemy can break into Vienna, they can certainly break into these cellars. This is just a hiding place, that’s all. You would only be safe so long as no one knew you were here.”

    “Speaking of which,” said Minnie. “Who does know about these cellars? Besides you and us and Leopold.”

    Cecilia Renata pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Everyone in the royal family, of course. A few officials — but all of them left with the emperor. I don’t think there’s anyone in Vienna except the three of us and Leopold who knows they exist.”

    “That can’t be true,” said Judy, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Royalty, I swear! It seemed almost impossible for people raised the way they’d been to remember that servants were real live actual all-the-way-around people just like they were. And so were workmen.

    “You didn’t build these cellars yourselves,” she continued. “It must have taken dozens of men to do it. Hundreds, probably. I mean — look at it.” She raised the lantern again and swung it back and forth, shedding light into various corners.

    It wasn’t possible to see all of the area, or even most of it. These were cellars — cellars, plural, not one cellar — and there were at least four separate rooms. Quite possibly more, since there were dark areas Judy hadn’t explored yet.

    “Oh, them.” Renata Cecilia shook her head. “They all made solemn oaths to remain silent. But it doesn’t matter because none of them could still be alive, Judy. This wing of the palace was originally built in the middle of the last century as a home for Maximilian II before he became the Holy Roman Emperor. These cellars would have been put in at the same time. And he died…”

    She frowned. “In the year 1576, I think. That was sixty years ago — and he was fifty years old when he died. Or forty-nine, I don’t remember.”

    “Doesn’t matter, either way,” said Judy. ̶#8220;Everyone who worked on the cellars has to be long gone by now.”

    Which didn’t mean they hadn’t told friends or members of their families about the cellars, solemn oaths or not. But they probably wouldn’t have told very many people, and those people would have been sworn to silence also. Those vows no doubt got broken, too. But by the time a century went by, the well-known telephone game effect would have distorted the passed-on memories beyond recognition, and there’d be several different versions of them.

    Mentally, she shrugged. The world wasn’t a perfectly safe place; never had been, never would be. But as hidey-holes went in a city under siege by a mighty and malevolent enemy, this was pretty damn good.

    There were some drawbacks, of course. The lighting sucked. More precisely, there was no lighting at all except that provided by four very narrow slots in the tower near the entrance — and that light didn’t penetrate into the cellars because the disguised door that provided the entrance to the cellars two floors below those slots was kept tightly shut. Not only shut but bolted and wedged from the inside. Even if someone suspected there might be an entrance and poked and pried, they wouldn’t be able to budge that door. In fact, they wouldn’t even be able to determine that it was a door in the first place.



    On the positive side, that meant that any light being generated inside the cellars by lamps or candles wouldn’t leak out, either. On the negative side, that also meant that the ventilation was wretched. Air passages had been built into the design, but no provision had been made for circulating the air. On the really negative side, that meant —

    Minnie emerged out of the gloom. “I pried open the lid and looked into it. That oubliette in the corner of the next room hasn’t been used in maybe a hundred years. So it’s not stinky. On the other hand, if we ever do have to use it…”

    She made a face. “This would get really foul down here.”

    Judy looked around, again holding her lamp up. “Are these barrels all full of wine?”

    “Yes,” said Cecilia Renata. “They get changed every decade or so.”

    Judy pounced. “By who? They’ll know about the cellars.”

    “By one of the officials who left with the emperor for Linz.”

    The archduchess seemed to believe it, too. Amazing. Did anyone really think a court official hauled heavy casks of wine in and out of a hidden cellar all by his lonesome?

    Royalty. They’d just have to hope whoever did the actual work would keep their mouths shut — if they ever wound up having to use these cellars at all, which everyone kept assuring Judy they wouldn’t.

    She found that kind of amazing too. You’d think people who’d been born and raised in a century where all cities had huge fortifications surrounding them wouldn’t be so blasted optimistic about everything.

    She forced her mind back to the issue at hand. “We couldn’t possibly drink all this wine. Not even if we were holding nonstop parties down here. So if the time ever comes, we can just pour one of the casks down into the shit pit. That ought to cut down the smell and help sterilize the crap.”

    Cecilia Renata shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. And we don’t need to find out because” — she pointed to a small stack of casks off to one side — “those have lime in them. That’s what you use to keep the smell down.”

    That would probably also reduce the danger of infection, Judy reflected.

    “Bah!” she suddenly exclaimed. “We’re getting carried away here, ladies! If it ever looks like the Turks are going to break into Vienna, I vote we just evacuate the city like anybody else with half a brain.”

    Cecilia Renata nodded. “I agree. There is already a provision for that, too. Leopold told me — in fact, he’s in charge of it. Him and a Captain Adolf Brevermann. If the Turks breach the walls we will evacuate everyone on barges in the Donaukanal.”

    Judy was skeptical how well that would work. It was true that the Ottomans had so far made no attempt to cross over to the north bank of the Danube or even onto the strip of land between the river and the canal that formed the northern limit of Vienna. That might be on account of the steam barges the Austrians had, which had originally been built to ferry people to and from Race Track City. The Austrians had armed two of them with small cannons. But Judy had her doubts. She was no soldier, but she suspected that if Sultan Murad IV could get one hundred thousand men from Belgrade to Vienna, he could sure as hell get across a river, steam barges or no steam barges.

    Most of the city’s civilians had already been evacuated, except for eight thousand volunteers — almost all of them men — who had stayed behind to support the garrison, which was now a little over fifteen thousand strong. The defenders were heavily outnumbered, but they had the great advantage of fighting behind some of Europe’s strongest fortifications.

    What everyone was hoping, of course, was that the USE and perhaps Bohemia would send troops to relieve the siege. But no one yet knew if that might happen, although rumors were flying everywhere.

    “Your brother is in charge of that?” asked Minnie. Her expression was a little pinched. “With a captain. Let me guess. The captain will lead the evacuation while Leopold will lead the delaying action.”

    “That’s what he told me,” said Cecilia Renata.

    “That’s stupid!” Minnie protested. “He’s playing at being a general! He has no military experience. He’s supposed to be a bishop, for Christ’s sake.” Minnie, from her long and close association with Denise, had picked up American habits when it came to blasphemy.

    “Which is exactly what I told him,” agreed the young archduchess. “But you know what he’s like, Minnie. Well, maybe you don’t yet. Whenever he thinks his honor is involved, he becomes as stubborn as a mule and his — what do you call it? That thing that measures how smart you are?”

    “IQ,” Judy provided. “Stands for ‘intelligence quotient.'”

    “Yes, that thing. Leopold’s IQ drops below that of a mule, at such times. Sometimes, below that of a beetle. He says if it comes to an evacuation under fire that military skill won’t be as important as simply keeping morale steady. Which he claims he can do better than anyone — certainly a mere captain — because he’s a member of the royal family. All he has to do is not panic, he says.”

    Minnie’s face got really pinched, then. After a short silence, she said: “He’s probably right, you know. The fucking idiot.”

    “He’s an idiot for being right?” Judy tried to follow the logic.

    “No. He’s an idiot for listening to himself being right.”



Race Track City
Four miles east of Vienna

    The corpses were beginning to smell, which was all to the good so far as Murad was concerned. The Ottoman sultan had ordered the three officers in command of the janissaries who’d seized Race Track City and set fire to it to be hanged for disobeying his direct order that no captured persons or buildings were to be harmed except by his command.

    He’d given that order, in part, because he wanted the buildings for his own use. He’d planned to use Race Track City to quarter a large number of his soldiers. Now, they’d all have to make do with tents, since the only edifice which had survived — a factory of some sort, making what looked like buttons — had been turned into his military headquarters.

    In part, he’d also ordered strict discipline to be maintained because he had hopes of winning over a portion of the conquered population. There probably wouldn’t be many, of course. These Austrians were Catholic Christians, not Orthodox ones like the many subjects of the Ottoman Empire who provided the sultan with most of the troops handling the new weapons. But if Murad could gain the allegiance of even a few, that would be helpful. The chances of doing so would be greatly diminished if they or their families had been abused.



    Mostly, though, Murad had ordered the executions because he was determined to use this campaign to break the resistance of the janissaries and bend them to his will. The janissaries were still a formidable military force, but in the long years since they’d been created by Murad I two and a half centuries earlier the elite corps had grown increasingly fractious and independent. They and the sipahis, the traditional Ottoman cavalry corps, had become too independent of the sultan’s control.

    But if Murad’s plans worked, Vienna was going to fall like no great city had fallen in centuries. Not at the end of a protracted siege, but in a few short days — possibly just one day. Murad was an enormously powerful man, physically, and in battle his favored weapon was a mace so large and heavy that few other men could have wielded it. He would break Vienna’s resistance by using his army like that same mace — with one great blow.

    The new weapons and the new military units would be the key to that victory. None of them were janissaries, and none were sipahis. Many of them were Christians and Jews, who owed their new status entirely to the sultan.

    A slight cough drew Murad’s attention. Turning, he saw that Halil Pasha had arrived in response to his summons.

    “Begin the sapping operations,” he ordered. Then, watched carefully to see if the former governor of Egypt seemed hesitant to obey. The man was extraordinarily capable but given to pointless tenderness.

    That trait had made him very popular in Egypt. Indeed, after Murad summoned Halil Pasha back to Istanbul three years earlier, the shopkeepers in Cairo had been impertinent enough to close their businesses for a week in mourning. Murad had responded by stripping Halil Pasha of his possessions and exiling him on Cyprus.

    Only briefly, though, and just to make a point. The man was too capable not to use him.

    But there seemed to be no reluctance on Halil Pasha’s part to do as Murad bade him. He simply bowed and left to carry out the command. Halil was one of the few men who were privy to Murad’s plans in their entirety. He knew, therefore, that sending out sappers was sending men into great danger from which many would not return — and for no purpose other than subterfuge. Murad was going to overwhelm Vienna’s resistance by sheer force and violence, not undermine its walls by the slow underground warfare of sappers against counter-sappers.

    But the Austrians would be expecting sappers. Indeed, they would already have begun their own counter-sapping operations. If they encountered no Ottoman troops they would become suspicious.

    Their suspicions might not lead to anything. Probably wouldn’t, in fact. With a few exceptions, Austrian commanders were not imaginative. But there was no reason to take the risk, simply to save the lives of a few dozen sappers.

    Kasim Bey was waiting for him also. Murad motioned him to come forward.

    “How soon?” he asked.

    Kasim Bey shook his head. “It is hard to be sure, My Sultan. The big problem is the armored wagons. If we could dispense with those…”

    “No.” Murad’s answer was quick and firm. “I do not expect them to be very useful if they actually have to fight. No more than you do, Kasim Bey. But they will strike terror in the hearts of the Austrians. For that alone, I want them here.”

    “That may cost us as much as an extra week, My Sultan.”

    “I understand. We have to wait another week anyway, for the katyushas and the main airship fleet to arrive. An additional week will not matter. We will still only be in August. You are dismissed.”

    With another hand gesture, Murad summoned the Seyh-ül-Islâm’s acolyte. He’d forgotten the man’s name.

    “The ruling?”

    “My Sultan, my master is even now writing the fatwa. Given that the infidels have already been seen to use fire weapons in war, the flamethrowers and incendiary bombs may be used, provided that they are employed in a lawful manner.”

    Murad was irritated that Zekeriyyâ-zâde Yahyâ Efendi had chosen to remain in his tent and send an assistant rather than present the ruling himself. The Seyh-ül-Islâm was the empire’s greatest scholar and normally remained in Istanbul. But Murad had required him to accompany the expedition to Baghdad as well as this one. Partly that was to improve morale; partly to keep an eye on the man.

    But the matter was not important enough to force the scholar to appear before him. Both Murad and the Seyh-ül-Islâm had known what the ruling would be for the last several months. The purpose of this little exercise was simply to have it stated in public, in front of the officers and officials assembled in Murad’s headquarters. For that purpose, the acolyte would do as well as the Seyh-ül-Islâm himself.

    “And how may they be employed lawfully?”

    Some of Murad’s irritation must have been evident in his tone, for the assistant seemed to twitch for a moment. That was hardly surprising, given that Murad had executed the current Seyh-ül-Islâm’s predecessor. The man had been notoriously conservative and Murad needed a ruling that would allow him to use the new weapons his artisans had developed from their study of the American texts.

    “First, the flames may only be used against fortifications,” said the acolyte hurriedly, “for Allah alone may use flames against people. But if the flames endanger infidels who fail to flee, then their deaths are on their own heads.”

    That was the critical part of the ruling. For all practical purposes, it made the use of the new fire weapons legal under any circumstances likely to arise. The incendiary bombs were less useful than explosives on a battlefield and the flamethrowers were too unreliable. Their principal function was against fortifications.

    But there was another matter of importance, which Murad wanted to have stated in public also.

    “And what else?” he asked.

    “The Seyh-ül-Islâm also recommends that the weapons be wielded by zimmis so that Muslims are not tempted into error by the innovations in the heat of battle.”

    Murad nodded solemnly — as if he had not already put that provision into place. The zimmis — Jewish and Christian citizens of the empire — who manned his armored wagons and airships and provided much of the katyusha force were completely dependent on his goodwill. Unlike the janissaries and the sipahis, they had no other anchor in the empire.

    And now he had the imprimatur of Seyh-ül-Islâm Zekeriyyâ-zâde Yahyâ Efendi on his decision to have the new weapons operated by zimmis. The janissary and sipahi officers in the headquarters had all heard the acolyte say so — and explain that the ruling was to protect the souls of his Muslim soldiers. A good and just sultan could have no higher responsibility.

    “You are dismissed,” he said to the acolyte.

    After he was gone, Murad climbed the stairs to the second floor of the factory. There was a large window that provided a good view of Vienna.

    He spent a few minutes looking at the city. Not planning anything, just gazing and pondering a question whose answer had not yet come to him.

    What would he rename Vienna, after he’d taken it?

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