1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 78:
One of Torstensson’s colonels spoke up. Bryan Thorpe, that was, one of the many mercenaries from the British Isles who served under Swedish colors. A bit unusually, an Englishman instead of a Scotsman.
“Frank, that will not be enough,” he said, “if they run into real opposition.” He spread in hands in a vaguely apologetic gesture. “Unfortunately, we do not have time to put the matter to a test in field exercises. But I can assure you that if they run into a regiment of good cavalry they are likely to get ripped to pieces unless they have some units who can defend them.”
Jackson was starting to get exasperated. Enough so that he lapsed into the sort of casual blasphemy that Americans took for granted but rubbed seventeenth century people the wrong way. “For God’s sake, Bryan! We’re only talking about an expedition from here to Hamburg—almost all of it in our own territory. Where the hell is a whole regiment of enemy cavalry going to come from in the first place?”
Perhaps because the blasphemy annoyed him—he was something of a Puritan—Thorpe’s rejoinder was even sharper in its tone. “Where would they come from? I have no idea, Colonel Jackson. The enemy is not in the habit of confiding his plans to me. That’s why he’s called the enemy, you understand?”
Torstensson intervened, to keep the issue from escalating into an outright quarrel. “I have to say I agree with Bryan, Frank,” he said mildly. “USE ‘territory’ is a bland phrase, you know. Very mushy, like oatmeal. Let us be more precise. We are not talking about the vastnesses of the Russian forests or the great steppes. We are talking about a stretch of land between here and Hamburg that is not more than two hundred and fifty miles following the river. None of which beyond the bend of the Elbe is patrolled by anything other than local militias, except in the vicinity of Lauenburg and Dömitz. And those are garrison troops, not likely to react swiftly and sally out to deal with a passing cavalry raid.”
He raised his voice a little, over-riding Jackson’s beginning of a protest. “More to the point, as the ironclads and their accompanying land escort approach Hamburg, they are not more than fifty miles from the French and Danish lines around Luebeck—and the emperor’s forces are hemmed in the city, on the other side of those lines. They certainly won’t be available to come to the admiral’s rescue, will they?”
Fortunately, Jackson had enough sense to yield the point, seeing that the army’s top commander had come down on the other side. Simpson was sure that Frank’s opposition hadn’t been all that deeply-rooted, anyway. He had no specific objections, he was simply reacting automatically. Guarding his pieces against the plundering damn squids.
Still, when he wanted to be, the man could be more mulish than a mule. “Fine. But I don’t see how you expect pikemen to keep up with dragoons. They’re certainly not going to be able to handle those eighteen-foot spears on horseback. Assuming they could ride a horse in the first place, which a good half of them can’t.”
Torstensson took a deep breath, settling his temper. “Frank, please do not be more pig-headed than necessary, would you? We have hardly any pike units left in the USE’s army, in any event. Obviously I do not propose to send pikemen. We will simply use”—he turned his head and cocked an eye at Thorpe. “Bryan?”
Thorpe was the adjutant Torstensson generally used for such matters. What, in the U.S. army back up-time would have been called the G-1, assistant chief of staff, personnel. The English colonel mused for a moment, then said:
“Mavrinac’s company, I think. Erik has them trained to serve as dragoons, if need be. They won’t ride as well as the Thuringians and Krak’s people, but well enough to keep up with the ironclads. We’ve already agreed that the volley guns can’t make better than thirty miles a day. Mavrinac and his men can certainly manage that. We’ll have to provide them with the horses, though. They won’t have enough of their own, not for a company of two hundred men.”
Torstensson nodded and looked around at the other officers in the conference room. “Gentlemen? Any further objections or considerations you wish to raise?”
Frank was still looking skeptical, but didn’t say anything. For his part, Simpson went over the matter in his head, to see if he agreed with Thorpe’s assessment.
He didn’t know the unit in question, and to the best of his recollection had never met the commanding officer. But Thorpe wouldn’t have picked a green unit, and by now most of the volunteer regiments had gone through enough training that just about any of their companies could handle the relatively straight-forward task of forming a line or square to defend against a cavalry charge. Two hundred well-disciplined men armed with rifled muskets and bayonets would provide enough of a shield for the volley guns and the sharpshooters to defeat any cavalry force no bigger than a regiment. The likelihood of encountering anything larger than that was remote.
John was more concerned about the ability of Mavrinac’s company to keep up on the march, actually, than he was with their fighting capabilities. The problem was their horsemanship, not their marksmanship. Strip away Thorpe’s politesse and the gist of what he’d said was that Mavrinac’s men were half-assed dragoons. Men who could ride a horse, but most of them not particularly well.
He looked out of the window onto the training ground below. From the second story vantage point, he could see one of the volley gun batteries going through some exercises. Quite nicely, so much was obvious even at a distance. But most of the men in those batteries had been selected, in part, because they were experienced riders.
John brought his gaze back into the conference room, still gauging. He’d only reluctantly agreed to the thirty-mile-a-day estimate in the first place. Unless they had mechanical trouble, he thought his ironclads would manage quite a bit better than that, at least forty and perhaps fifty miles in a day. He hadn’t pressed the point too far, however, because he’d also been confident that the volley guns could match whatever his ironclads would do. Certainly the Thuringians and Krak’s men could. They were officially dragoons, but all of them were excellent horsemen. As good if not better than most cavalry units.
After a moment, he decided Mavrinac’s people could probably manage well enough. The Elbe was flanked by roads all the way down to Hamburg, so it wasn’t a matter of riding cross-country. And the whole force simply wasn’t big enough to pose the usual problem of a march, which was simply that no one road could possibly handle a sizeable army. More often than not, the real problem wasn’t the ability of the grunts to stay on their feet or in the saddle. It was the ability of their officers to co-ordinate a march that required using multiple roads.
That simply wouldn’t be an issue here. John did the arithmetic quickly. Two hundred dragoons added to a dozen Thuringians and Krak’s three dozen sharpshooters, then figure two heavy weapons batteries with a total of…
He searched his memory, and found the figures easily. That briefing had been recent. There were six volley guns in a battery, and each gun was served by a three-man crew. The crews themselves handled the six horses who drew the limber. They’d ride the three near horses unless one or more of the horses fell by the wayside, at which point some of them would either walk or ride the limber. Add an ammunition wagon for each battery, each with two men, and a battery wagon carrying the repair equipment and gear needed for the whole force. Another two men. Add a sergeant in command of each battery and a captain and a lieutenant in command of the whole unit…
Twenty-eight men. Added to the others, a total force of less than three hundred. Even with all of them on horseback, the roads along the river were sufficient to handle the traffic without having to break up into separate columns, which was where the grief usually came in.
Unless they ran into a lot of mud. And things would get muddy, the farther they got into April. Leaving at the beginning of the month, the way they were, they were catching the spring flood just as it started really rolling. Within a week… on the other hand, the roads were mostly at least fifty yards from the river itself, usually farther…