1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 47:
Five minutes later, after he finished his study of the first project Baldur had led him to, Ulrik straightened up. His spirits, even more than his back.
“A ‘spar-torpedo,’ you call it? Nothing more than a big simple bomb, really, stuck out on the end of a pole. Taken into battle by a sturdy boat, such as we’ve known how to make for centuries.”
“Your Highness has penetrated to the heart of the matter splendidly,” agreed Baldur, his customary cheer back in place. “Better still, a device that’s been tested recently and shown to work quite well, even using down-time equipment almost throughout. This was how the up-timers in Amsterdam sank a Spanish ship, you know. The difference is—”
Here he pointed to the one and only exotic part of the whole project. “The up-timers in Amsterdam had to row the whole way. Whereas we lowly Danes will have one of their engines to take us the final distance. What they call an ‘outboard motor.’ I obtained it through… well, let’s just say informal methods, and leave it at that. Luckily for us, that Americans are definitely people and not devils is proven by the fact that they share all of the usual human vices. Greed and carelessness being prominent among them.’”
A bit skeptically, Ulrik eyed the gadget. “Are you sure…”
“Oh, yes, Your Highness. I’ve tested this myself, many times, on boats I’ve taken out onto the Castle Lake. So long as you have the fuel for it—and that’s not really so hard to buy on the black market in the Germanies, certainly not the little we’d need—this thing is just about as reliable as oars. That’s because it’s what the Americans—have I told you how much I enjoy their little saws and turns of phrase?—call ‘store-bought.’ This isn’t something they cobbled together here themselves, from whatever bits and pieces of their old world they brought with them. This is something that was made—in great huge lots of thousands, they say, like a shop making nails—in one of those giant factories they had up-time.”
The dizzy feeling returned, for a moment. Ulrik tried to imagine a world whose cities housed millions and whose landscape—he’d seen many of the pictures himself, when he’d visited Grantville—were dotted by giant manufactories as if they were dairy farms.
He shook it off. Thankfully, the kingdom of Denmark in the coming year would not have to fend off such an incredibly powerful world. Simply a fragment of it. Insofar as the term “simply” could be applied to a task that even such a fellow as the Norwegian with him viewed grimly.
Ulrik was quite fond of up-time expressions, himself, as it happened. He’d picked up quite a few while he’d visited the Germanies where the Americans had spread their influence.
“Hard-boiled,” the Americans would have labeled Baldur Norddahl. Very hard-boiled, indeed.
“And the other project?”
“That’s even better—or would be,” he said, half-sighing, “had I been able to interest His Majesty in it. That’s over there.”
Five minutes later, Prince Ulrik was struggling not to curse his own father.
“This would have been sensible!”
Norddahl shook his head, his expression unnaturally lugubrious. “It certainly would have. Almost no risk involved at all. And the up-time texts say that it’s the most effective anti-ship device ever designed by the hand of man. Beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it? It’s not even very different from things we down-timers have done before, although never on such a scale.”
Ulrik looked first at the device itself—Baldur called it the “prototype,” using yet another American term—and then spent some seconds admiring the clever way the Norwegian had shown how it would work in practice. He called that the “scale model.”
As simple as you could ask for. Just litter the narrow confines of the Danish straits with mines. Straight-forward bombs, whose design posed no insurmountable problem, each big enough to sink even an ironclad. Devices that could be set in place by boats such as the Danes already had in profusion, rather than one or two intricate and exotic ships to be designed and built in a hurry—with who could say what result in practice?
With enough of them, they could possibly do more than close the Straits. If they closed the Kattegat, they could keep the ironclads from even getting near to Copenhagen. Granted, that would take an enormous number of mines and was probably impractical.
“We could still…”
But Norddahl was shaking his head, his expression more lugubrious still. “I’m afraid not, Your Highness. There simply isn’t enough time left. I did my best to persuade the king—right from the beginning—that we should abandon everything else in favor of this alone. But…”
He spread his hands. “Your father, you understand.”
Ulrik had to suppress a sudden spike of near-hysterical laughter.
“Yes, I understand. My father.”
The up-time texts and records didn’t really have very much concerning the history of Denmark, taken as a whole. It had been a small and unimportant country in their time, and not close to their own. But there was a fair amount in the libraries in Grantville—the woman with the huge and eccentric personal library had had even more, which she’d been kind enough to let Ulrik examine—concerning King Christian IV himself. A very flamboyant and long-lived monarch he’d been, it seemed, who’d been quite popular with his people despite his seemingly-endless excesses. Ulrik’s father had made such an impression on his land that he would be one of the few monarchs of the era still vividly remembered centuries in the future.
Remembered for many things. One of them being the fact that he’d produced over two dozen children, a goodly number of them illegitimate.
Such was Ulrik’s father, for good or ill. You could hardly expect such a man to satisfy himself with one or two special projects for his navy—when he could conceive a dozen.
“Yes, Your Highness. I did the calculations. If we’d started earlier, things would be different. Starting now…”
Norddahl’s eyes went to the prototype. “Even now, if you could persuade your father to drop everything else, I think I could get enough made and put in place to close the Oresund. That would protect Copenhagen, at least. But there’s no chance any longer that we could make and place enough to close off even the Little Belt, much less the Great Belt.”
“Either of which would allow Admiral Simpson access to the Baltic—and our fleet blockading Luebeck.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Let’s assume—for the moment—that I could keep the king pried off your back enough to allow you to devote… oh, let’s say one-half of your efforts to the mines.”
Norddahl’s eyes narrowed and grew a bit unfocussed, while he did his calculations.
“I couldn’t close off the Oresund. But I could certainly make and put in place enough mines to make it dangerous for the enemy’s ships.”
“And you’re certain that one of these mines would be enough to sink an American ironclad? I’ve seen them, Baldur. At something of a distance, of course. They were friendly enough, when I passed through Magdeburg, very respectful of my diplomatic status, but they obviously weren’t going to let me into the shipyards. But even under construction, seen from afar, they are formidable looking things.”
Norddahl chuckled again. “Oh, yes, Your Highness. I’ve never been able to get my hands on a copy of the actual plans, but there’s really no great mystery about the ironclads. Give me the wherewithal and enough time—”
He waved at one of the projects looming darkly in a corner. “—and I could build one myself. Though even the king agrees that would take far too long, so I’ve never done much but fiddle with it. But one thing is known for sure. However much armor the ironclads may carry above the water, the hulls themselves are just wooden hulls. These mines are powerful enough they’d probably even hole an iron hull. They’ll certainly shatter a wooden one.”
Ulrik nodded, and then looked back toward the area where the spar torpedo project was underway.
“And how many of those could you have ready by May? Assuming—for the moment—that I could give you enough breathing space to devote… oh, half the time that’s left, after the mines. I’m afraid there’s no way around the fact that you’ll have to keep at least a quarter of your effort devoted to these other ridiculous schemes. I can keep my father at a distance, to a point. But I’d have as much chance of fending off a great bear with my hands as I would keeping my illustrious sire from meddling at all.”
He was a bit startled to realize how far he’d allowed himself to discard circumlocutions in the presence of a man who was, technically, nothing but a servant. His instincts had led him there, though, and Ulrik trusted his instincts about people. He’d come to have a great deal of confidence in Baldur Norddahl, and needed to make sure the reverse was true as well. This was going to be a desperate enough business, under the best of circumstances. If anything was to work at all, it would require a close bond between a prince of Denmark and a Norwegian adventurer, rascally as he might be.
Baldur had been pondering the question. “It’s not quite as simple as that, Your Highness. I could have six or seven boats built and ready with spar torpedoes, by May. But all except one of them would probably be useless. Well, except as decoys—which isn’t much different from saying ‘sacrifices,’ under the circumstances.”
“It’s the motor that sets the limit, Your Highness, unless we can steal or buy another one. That’s possible but not likely, from what—… never mind who—has told me. The Americans in Grantville have tightened their security a great deal since the war began. And trying anything in Magdeburg is as likely to succeed as a rabbit stealing bones from wolves.”
Ulrik frowned. “That still leaves oars. You just told me yourself that’s how the up-timers did it in Amsterdam.”
“Not the same thing at all, Your Highness. In Amsterdam, the Americans had the advantage of complete surprise. In the Oresund, we won’t. You can be as sure as anything in the world that the American admiral knows all about the danger of mines and… they’d call them ‘torpedo boats,’ I think. They’ll be alert at all times, even in a storm, and they have more than enough weaponry on board those ships, even leaving aside the main guns, to destroy any rowboat before it got close enough to pose a danger. The only chance we’ll have at all is because that outboard motor will enable us to close the last distance fairly quickly. Even then…”
He grimaced. “I’ll be willing to lead the thing, when the time comes. But only because it’s not completely suicidal—there’s not a chance I’d agree without the motor—and I have a taste for adventure.”
“More than a taste!” exclaimed Ulrik, half-laughing. “But I see your point. All right, then. There’s no point in throwing away the lives of our sailors to no purpose, Spend enough time to make sure you have that one spar torpedo boat ready. The rest, devote as much as you possibly can to the mines.”
“And you’ll keep your father as far off as you can.”
“Yes. And when the time comes, you and I will both see what that torpedo boat can do.”
Norddahl’s eyes widened. “Ah… you’re a prince, Your Highness. I’m not sure your father…”
“Damn my father. As many children as he sires, what difference does it make? I have two older brothers anyway, not even counting the morganatic line.”
He gave the Norwegian the best royal stare he had. He knew it was quite good, too. He’d learned it from watching Gustav Adolf, the King of Sweden, in the time he’d spent with him as a youngster. A man he liked and generally admired—and was now his enemy. But such was the life of a prince.
Finally, Ulrik got what he needed. There was nothing but respect in Baldur Norddahl’s gaze, any longer. No trace of the rogue or the rascal. Just that of the grim old ancient that the prince of Denmark would need at his side come a desperate moment in the spring, when they both went a-viking.