1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 16


1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 16:



            After Jesse left—and Frank had clarified the nature of a colonoscopy—Mike decided to cut right to the chase. He had a faint hope that Simpson wouldn’t argue the matter for more than an hour, if Mike made clear from the outset that he’d made up his mind.


            “Gentlemen. After long and careful consideration, I’ve decided that the army’s claim to the volley guns has to take first priority.”


            “Blast it, Mike!” exploded Simpson, jettisoning his beloved protocol. “We need those Requa guns for the timberclads, if we’re to have any hope at all of suppressing cavalry raids on our river shipping.”


            A faint hope got fainter.


            “And who cares about that if we can’t win the battles?” demanded Jackson. “The best way to suppress cavalry raids is to smash up enemy cavalry before they can go out on raids in the first place.”


            “Yes, I agree completely,” said Torstensson. “With all due respect, Admiral—”


             Fainter and fainter.




            It took closer to two hours, but in the end Simpson gave up the fight. Looked at from one angle, it was absurd for him to persist so stubbornly in the matter. With both his Prime Minister and the top commander of the USE’s army arrayed against him, he was bound to lose the dispute and was perfectly smart enough to have been aware of that five minutes from the outset.


            Mike knew full well, of course, that what Simpson was really doing was storing up negotiating points. He’d eventually conceded the Requa volley guns—and within two days, at the outside, would be using that to twist Mike’s arm for something else he wanted.


            So it went. Mike was no stranger to negotiating tactics himself. He’d probably agree to whatever Simpson wanted, if it was within reason. But, push came to shove, he’d never been a stranger to the magic word “no.”


            After Simpson left, Mike gave Frank Jackson a sly little smile. “I take it from the vehemence of your arguments that you lost the debate you’d been having with Lennart here.”


            Jackson gave Torstensson a look that was unkind enough to be right on the edge of insubordination.


             “Well. Yeah. I did.”


            Torstensson sniffed. “As if we down-timers are so stupid that it never occurs to us that skirmishing tactics are a lot safer than standing up in plain sight, all of us in a row. Ha! Until a good cavalry charge—even good pikemen, with good officers—shows us the folly involved.”


            The jibe made and properly scored, Torstensson relented. “Frank, when your mechanics can start providing us with a sufficient quantity of reliable breechloaders, we will re-discuss the matter. But, for now, even with the new SRGs, we simply do not have a good enough rate of fire to be able to risk dispersing our troops too much.”


            Jackson didn’t say anything. He just stared out of the window gloomily.


            “C’mon, Frank, fill me in,” Mike said. “What happened in the exercises.”


            Frank took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Pretty much what this cold-blooded damn Swede said would happen. The skirmishers did just fine—until the Opfors cavalry commanders decided they’d accept the casualties to get in close. After that, it was all over. Even the best riflemen we’ve got need twenty seconds to reload those SRGs. They’re still muzzle-loaders, Minie ball or no Minie ball. Cavalry can come a long ways in twenty seconds.”


            He gave Torstensson another unkind look. “As he so cheerfully rubbed salt into my wounds, so can a good line of pikemen, if their officers are decisive enough. Which his were.”


            Jackson sighed again. “After that, it’s just no contest. The skirmishers are scattered, not in a solid line with their mates to brace them and their officers right there to hold them steady. And a cavalry charge is scary as all hell. Most of them just took off running. The ones who did try to stand their ground got chopped up piecemeal. Bruised up, anyway.” Another unkind look was bestowed on the Swedish general. “They weren’t any too gentle with those poles and clubs they were using instead of lances and sabers, let me tell you.”


            “Spare the rod and spoil the recruit,” Torstensson said cheerfully.


            Mike nodded. He wasn’t really surprised, though. One of the things he’d come to learn since the Ring of Fire, all the way down to the marrow of his bones, was that if the ancestors of twentieth century human beings didn’t do something that seemed logical, it was probably because it wasn’t actually logical at all, once you understood everything involved. So it turned out that such notorious military numbskulls as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Phil Sheridan, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and all the rest of them hadn’t actually been idiots after all. It was easy for twentieth century professors to proclaim loftily that Civil War generals had insisted on continuing with line formations despite the advent of the Minie ball-armed rifled musket because the dimwits simply hadn’t noticed that the guns were accurate for several hundred yards. When—cluck; cluck—they should obviously have adopted the skirmishing tactics of twentieth century infantry.


            But it turned out, when put to a ruthless seventeenth century Swedish general’s test in his very rigorous notion of field exercises, that those professors of a later era had apparently never tried to stand their ground when cavalry came at them. After they fired their shot, and needed one-third of a minute—if they were adept at the business, and didn’t get rattled—to have a second shot ready. In that bloody world where real soldiers lived and died, skirmishing tactics without breechloading rifles were just a way to commit suicide.


            “So be it,” he muttered. That meant high casualty rates, of course. But it was also the reason he’d come down on the army’s side over the issue of the new Requa-pattern volley guns. True enough, the Navy could put them to good use. But for the army, they could be a Godsend. If enough volley guns could be provided for the army in time for the spring campaign, Torstensson could put together heavy-weapons squads for all of his regiments and incorporate their capabilities into his plans. That still wouldn’t allow for real skirmishing tactics, but it would go a fair distance in that direction. At least the infantry could spread out a little, instead of having to stand shoulder to shoulder and make the world’s easiest target.


            “How’d the two volley gun squads do against the cavalry?” he asked.


            Finally, both of the generals smiled in unison.


            “Oh, splendidly,” said Torstensson. “It was almost as humiliating an experience for my arrogant cavalry captains as a colonoscopy would have been. By the way, are there enough of those devices in Grantville that I could get one for the army? I’m thinking it would do wonders for discipline.”


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4 Responses to 1634: THE BALTIC WAR — snippet 16

  1. Dan says:

    I have missed this humor in the recent books. Now I will be drooling until May rolls around.

  2. Mike Snyder says:

    I’m surprised at the choice of Requa battery guns to arm “heavy weapons” companies in infantry battalions armed with flintlock rifles firing Minie bullets. The battery guns were a distinct failure, as were the Ager and initial Gatling mechanical machine guns, in the field in the American Civil War because of the lack of self-contained poweder cartridges with integral priming. I would have thought a better choice would have been a 12pdr bronze Dahlgren “boat” gun on its cast iron field carriage. The “Swedish” 4pdr cast iron light field guns that supported the infantry in the late 17th and 18th century mutated into the light 3pdr and 4pdr “battalion” guns that accompanied battalions and regiments into the field. The Dahlgren, however, firing case (Shrapnel), shell and canister, would have had five times the firepower of such guns for half the weight. The 12lb prepared saboted ammo, the friction primers and the short tube would have supported a ROF of three rounds a minute and the effective range of the shell and case would have closely matched the maximum effective range of rifles in volley or individual fire. Assigning a couple of thses guns with light caisons designed for pulling and with the artillerymen using briquets, the guns could easily keep up with formed infantry over most terrain. But even this option might not have as much effect as thought. Rate of fire on a black powder battlefield was something less than theory would suggest. Without a brisk wind, the first view rounds from a battalion, some battery guns or Dalhgrens would produce a smoke screen that would not only dover the firing units position, but mask its targets.
    On cavalry and skirmishers, one reason skirmishers and light troops became elite troops equivalent to grenadiers was the level of training required to effectively execute skirmishing tactics. But skirmishers could operate in the face of cavalry even in open terrain as long as they had formed infantry and artillery in support. No light infantry commander committed more than 50% of his force to the skirmish line. The rest were maintained in close formation under his hand, allowing him to control the reinforcement of replacement of the skirmish line and to have a “rally point” on which the skirmishers could fall back on when faced with cavalry or infantry in overwhelming numbers. On top of that, his supported battalion would be within a 100-150 yds of his reserve, maintaining a “mass”, close column or squatre to fall back on, though well trained infantry often repelled cavalry from line formation (Minden 1758 and Alexandria 1801 come to mind)
    Finally, there two even more important reason American Civil War brigade, regimental and battalion commanders kept their troops in closed formations. First, as indicated above, only the best trained troops with good leadership and high morale, like the British 95th Rifles or the French Zoauves could properly execute skirmish tactics. While Union and Confederate infantry would eventually become “seasoned”, most never underwent the type of individual and collective training such elite units conducted. Second, there were no squad radios or company nets. Commo at this level on the battlefield was by visual signal, voice command or field music, such as drums and bugles. The more dispersed a formation, the more likely a commander would lose control of his unit, especially in the noise and smoke of the battlefield.

  3. Mike Snyder says:

    In fact, thinking over the problem some more, I wouldn’t be heading down this path. The best way to support the infantry would be to modernize and reorganize the artillery arm. I would organize horse artillery batteries with smoothbore bronze 9pdrs similar to those cast by the Columbus Arsenal for the CSA or 3″ Ordnance (M1861) rifles (in preference to 3″ Parrots, but if we can’t hammer weld wrought iron around a mandrel, I’ll take the Parrots), the field artillery batteries with 12pdr M1857 light gun-howitzers (ie. Napoleons) and 3.8″ Ordnance or Parrot rifles, and heavy artillery batteries with 18pdr or 24pdr light guns similar to Napoleons and 4.5″ rifles. Raise and integrate the artillery trains into the artillery units themselves. Seek to reach around a 3 to 4 per thousand gun to rifle/saber ratio. Assign a battalion of two batteries to each infantry or cavalry division, a brigade of two battalions to each Corps and assemble an Artillery Reserve of at least two brigades for each army committed to field operations. That would do more to sustain and augment infantry firepower than “Battery guns”.

  4. Mike Snyder says:

    Another comment. I think there may be too high an expectation on the performance of flintlock rifles firing Minie balls. I refer you to Chapter 30, Part VII of Nosworthy’s “The Bloody Crucible of Courage” as to the effective range and casualty inflicting power of flintlock and percussion muskets and rifled muskets. I would also refer you to a number of books which analyze the reasons for success of French infantry in battle between 1793 and 1815. The rifled flintlock musket will still have up to a 10% misfire rate even in the best of conditions used by a well trained Soldier. Your volunteer brigades will be anything but well trained for some time. Thus the numbers of misfires will climb. Another problem similar to your alternate history was the lack of serious and practical marksmanship training amongst Civil War infantry regiments. Such regiments, either in volley or individual firing invariably fired over their targets. Nosworthy estimates a .9 to 2% casualty rate, which means over the long haul during a battle, percusion rifled-muskets would inflict around 9 to 20 casualties for every thousand rounds fired. Better training would increase this ratio, but you still have the problem of a flintlock mechanisms inherent faults. As long as your enemy has only matchlocks, this may not matter, but rifling, flintlock mechanisms and the ability to produce thousands of small arms was quite common across Europe of 1634. The USE’s enemies will quickly adopt and adapt the technology, which gives the USe a small window of opportunity to leverage their technicalogical superiority. Towards that day, a better plan is to dispose of Civil war infantry tactics and Hardee and concentrate on Scott instead as the ultimate distiller of Napoleonic infantry drill and tactics. Take the time to dicipline those volunteer brigades and then train them properly. The early French victories were often overmatched by their defeats by their better trained and manuevered enemies, who often had beetr light infantry that skirmished versus the use of open order by the French volunteers. Only their massive superiority in numbers and their artillery arm allowed them to win sufficient tactical and operational victories to allow them to survive and develop true Napoleonic tactics. And the USE won’t have superiority in numbers, especially as the “Uptimers” are trying to get Gustav to “downsize” his Army to a size better tailored to the logistics capability of the period, substituting the immediate combat power of great numbers for the sustained combat power of effective numbers. The introduction of personal hygiene and military medical knowledge would reduce the wastage that created the need for such large numbers anyway, but more effective, also means better trained and disciplined, not “unruly” volunteer brigades with all the brittle morale of those French battalions in 1793-95.

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