1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 65:
It was a good thing, Mike Stearns reflected, that John Chandler Simpson was in excellent health for a man in his mid-fifties. Or else Mike would be worrying that the USE’s premier admiral would soon be suffering a stroke or a heart attack—or just dropping dead from apoplexy. Simpson was a naturally pale-skinned man. At the moment, though, his complexion could best be described as “blotchy,” with the color red prominently featured among the blotches.
Despite his sympathy, Mike had to restrain himself from smiling at the tableau in front of him. Not that Simpson was likely to notice, anyway, given that the admiral’s attention was entirely riveted on the figure of the junior officer standing at attention before his desk.
The admiral’s very vehement attention. One might even say, displeased and irate attention.
For his part, Lt. Eddie Cantrell was doing a far better imitation of a respectful junior officer than was his normal habit. Mike thought he might actually start vibrating in place, so rigidly was he standing at attention.
“I didn’t ask you to tell me what was impossible, Lieutenant Cantrell,” said Simpson, all but snarling the words.
Fortunately for Eddie, the admiral’s son Tom intervened. The army captain was standing not far from Eddie. Because of his special personal connection to the situation, he’d been invited to the meeting along with Colonel Frank Jackson. But, modestly, he hadn’t taken one of the chairs available.
“Dad, c’mon. Stop glaring at Eddie as if he was a minion of the devil. Or a Bavarian agent. He’s just telling you the plain and simple truth—and you know it yourself. You can’t get those huge ironclads up the Danube. Even in our day and age, it wasn’t really that navigable a river. That’s assuming you could get them through the North Sea, part of the Atlantic, almost the whole of the Mediterranean and a portion of the Black Sea in the first place. Not to mention the small problem of starting a war with the Ottoman Empire on the way and having to blow your way through Vienna and the whole Austrian army. And even if you did, so what? You’d still not be within cannon range of Munich, which isn’t on the Danube to begin with. It’s”—he cocked at eye at Eddie—“how far?”
To Eddie’s credit, he gave the answer without even gulping first. “The Bavarian capital is about sixty miles south of the river, at its nearest approach.” He did gulp, here. “And I’m afraid, ah, sir, that the river that does pass through Munich—that’s—”
“I know it’s the Isar river, Lieutenant Cantrell,” growled the admiral, “and I know that it’s even less navigable than the Danube.”
He glanced at his son, and the glare faded some. There might have been a time when John Chandler Simpson would have inflicted Tom Simpson with the same completely unreasonable ire he was heaping on poor Eddie’s head. But not today, so soon after the father and the son had been reconciled after a long and bitter personal feud.
Tom was quite smart enough to know that himself, and Mike was sure he’d intervened just to lower his father’s temper. As understandable as it might be, Simpson’s fury at the situation faced by his wife Mary was not helping the situation.
Finally, thankfully, the mood broke. Simpson’s shoulders slumped and he slowly sat down in the chair behind his desk. Then, wiped his face with a large hand.
“My apologies, Lieutenant,” he said. “I realize that it’s completely out of the question to use the ironclads against Bavaria.” Bitterly: “Any part of the Navy, for that matter. For all practical purposes, the damn country is land-locked.”
Mike was about to say something—nothing practical, just something that would hopefully further lower the admiral’s blood pressure. But, seeing the glance exchanged between Eddie and Tom Simpson, he kept his mouth shut. Say what you would about Eddie Cantrell’s often rambunctious and sometimes downright reckless habits, the youngster had a very good brain. So did Tom, even if his thick skull, absence of a neck worth talking about, and football lineman physique often gave people the impression he was a dimwit.
“Well, not exactly, sir,” said Eddie. “The thing is—me and Tom talked it over, with Prince Ulrik and his tech whiz Baldur Norddahl—the thing is, ah, well—”
Tom picked it up, seeing that Eddie was faltering. “The ironclads can’t be used. But that’s not the same thing as using the guns themselves.”
Simpson’s head came up. “Explain.”
Tom lowered his own head a bit, like a football lineman expecting the ball to be snapped. “Well… you aren’t going to like this, Dad. But the fact is, you’re about the only person left who thinks the Monitor can really be salvaged and made fit for duty again. The damage that—ah—”
It was his turn to falter. But his father just smiled. There was even a bit of humor in the smile.
“The damage that your new friends and cronies Prince Ulrik and Baldur Norddahl did to my fine ship, I believe you mean to say. Less than two months ago.”
“Ah… well, yeah. And even if you’re right and everybody else is wrong, not even you think the Monitor can be rebuilt in less than a year.”
“More like eighteen months,” growled the admiral. “And you needn’t remind me that everyone thinks I’m nuts.”
But there was no heat in the growl, and Simpson sat up erect. “I see your point, though. If we’re willing to inflict still more damage on the hull, we could extract the guns.”
“We just need the ten-inch guns for now,” said Eddie. “Ah, sir. There’s no point in removing the carronades for this.”
Simpson nodded, his eyes now a little unfocussed as he pondered the suggestion. “No, no, you’re right. The carronades are simply anti-ship weapons. Not designed to reduce fortifications the way the ten-inch…”
He planted his hands on the armrests of his chair and swiveled to face Mike, who was sitting on a divan nearby. “Are you willing to authorize this, Mik—Prime Minister?”
“Sure—and I don’t doubt Gustav Adolf will too. Maximilian of Bavaria might not be right at the bottom of the emperor’s shit list, but he’s awfully damn close. But is it really a practical idea?” Mike raised his hands. “I’m not arguing the point. I simply don’t know. I presume what you have in mind is taking the ten-inch guns out of the Monitor and somehow—”
“We already figured that out, Mike,” said Eddie eagerly.
“Lt. Cantrell,” growled Simpson—there was heat in this growl—“you will desist from interrupting the Prime Minister.”
Mike had to fight to keep from smiling again. But Eddie was suitably abashed.
“As I was saying,” he went on, “somehow you’ll try to get the guns down to Bavaria. It’ll have to be done overland, of course. Which means—I don’t doubt Eddie and Tom have figured out how to do it; I don’t even doubt that whatever they’ve figured out, as cockamamie as it may seem, would even work. But how long would it take?”
Eddie and Tom exchanged glances again.
“Several weeks, Prime Minister,” replied Tom. “Not less than a month, maybe six weeks.”
His father snorted. “Junior officers and their eternal optimism—and they have the nerve to tell me I’ve got my head in the clouds.” To Mike, he said: “Here’s the basic rule, Prime Minister. If a junior officer tells you he can have something done in X number of days, or weeks, or months, add one or two more Xes to the equation.”
He turned his gaze back to his son and Eddie. “So. Two months. Maybe ten weeks. Which is what my own estimate would be, now that I’ve started thinking about it. I think you two youngsters—so quick to point out my own over-optimism when it comes to salvaging the Monitor—are drastically underestimating how hard it will be to haul several enormous cannons from Denmark all the way down to southern Germany, given the conditions of seventeenth-century roads and rivers.”
Eddie and Tom looked suitably respectful. “Well, you certainly have more military experience than we do, Admiral,” said Eddie.
Simpson chuckled. “Will wonders never cease? A public admission from Lt. Cantrell that an old fart admiral might know more than he does. But it’s not actually my military experience at work here, Lt. Cantrell. Mostly, it’s my industrial experience. Moving really heavy pieces of machinery—even in a factory or refinery, with good surfaces to work on and plenty of modern equipment—is hard as all hell. Trust me. Still…”
He looked back at Mike. “How does eight to ten weeks look to you, Prime Minister?”
Mike shrugged. “I’m hoping to have a diplomatic resolution of the problem long before then, Admiral. But it certainly won’t hurt my negotiating position to let that arrogant Bavarian duke know that the same guns that turned good parts of Hamburg and Copenhagen into rubble are headed his way.”
All four of the officers in the room grinned at that.
Mike was thinking it through, still. “In fact…”
He looked back and forth between the Simpson, père et fils. “How about we put Tom in charge of the expedition? I think that might drive the message through Maximilian’s thick hide even better. Ten-inch guns sent by Mary’s husband, to be delivered—the shells from them, rather—by her son.”
Both men looked pleased by the idea. After a moment, though, Admiral Simpson frowned. “Tom’s only a captain, Prime Minister. An expedition like this amounts to a heavy artillery battery, operating as an independent command under special conditions. We really should have a major in charge, at least. A colonel would be better.”
“No sweat,” said Frank Jackson. The army colonel, who served as General Torstensson’s special aide for anything involving up-time military tech, had been silent thus far in the meeting. “I’ll have Lennart promote the fine lad.”
But before he finished, Tom was shaking his head. “I’d just as soon avoid that, sir, if you don’t mind. It’ll look like special favors being applied, especially if you jump me up to colonel. Major would probably be okay—but my father’s right. An independent command like this really should have a colonel in charge. What I’d suggest is that you give Heinrich Schmidt a promotion to colonel. He’s way overdue, if you ask me. If he hadn’t had to basically sit out the war guarding Becky in Amsterdam, he’d have gotten it by now.”
“True enough,” said Frank.
“He’s a top-notch field officer,” Tom continued. “He and I have worked together before and we get along really well. And the truth is, Heinrich has a lot more experience than I do commanding the size force this would take. So that’s my recommendation, Colonel Jackson. Promote Major Schmidt to colonel, put him in charge of the expedition, and then you could promote me to the major who serves as his staff officer. Nobody would squawk at that.”
Tom gave Eddie another glance. “And—ah, if this wouldn’t interfere with the Lieutenant’s marital plans—”
“Hell with that,” said the admiral. “Lt. Cantrell is still on active duty. He’s engaged to King Christian’s daughter, that’s all, with no wedding date having been set yet—and I can tell you the king is in no hurry to set it, either, as young as she is. So, yes, I agree it’s a good idea. The Navy can send Lt. Commander Cantrell along as the special advisor for the big guns.”
He grinned, for the first time Mike could remember since news came of Mary’s captivity in Bavaria. “Sure, why not? May as well hand out promotions all around, while we’re at it. Shove that up Maximilian’s ass, too. Which”—the grin widened and grew positively evil—“if he doesn’t come to his senses, will soon measure ten inches in diameter.”
Naturally, Eddie being Eddie, he couldn’t resist the temptation. “Well… the diameter of the shells isn’t actually quite that—”
“Shut up, Eddie,” hissed Tom. His own eyes grew a little unfocussed. “I can tell you to do that, I think.”
“Actually, you can’t,” grunted his father. “The army rank of major is roughly equivalent to the naval rank of lieutenant commander, so your relationship is that of peers, not commander and subordinate.” He gave Eddie a very fish-eyed look. “On the other hand, I can demote the impertinent fellow as quickly as I can promote him. So that problem could be remedied.”
At least, this time, Eddie had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
After Eddie and Tom left, to start working on a detailed plan of action, Frank Jackson turned to Mike. “I hope I can make good my boast. But I’m pretty sure I’m right, that General Torstensson will approve the plan. It’s his call, of course.”
As it turned out, Torstensson was delighted with the idea—but for reasons that hadn’t even occurred to anyone else.
“Oh, splendid. On the way there, you can make a short detour and bring those guns before the walls of Ingolstadt. That ought to solve that problem, for sure.”
Admiral Simpson did not look pleased at the idea. “General, that ‘short detour’ will take at least three weeks.”
Torstensson waved his hand airily. “Nonsense. It won’t take so much as a minute.” He had a very evil sort of grin himself, when he wanted to put it on. “You don’t know General Johan Banér like I do, John. The moment I let him know that we’re sending the world’s best siege guns down to help him reduce Ingolstadt, he’ll move heaven and earth to make sure he seizes the city before the guns can even get there. Lest he have to share any of the credit with miserable fucking up-time artillery shitheads.”
Mike chuckled. “Heinrich Schmidt’s a down-timer, actually.”
“Not the way Banér looks at these things, Michael,” said Torstensson, shaking his head. “That man is to bigotry what the ocean is to wet. Practically its definition. Schmidt has supped with the devil, so he’s a devil himself. And he’ll be irate to begin with, once I let him know I’m sending some of my regiments down to lend him a hand.”
Again, he made that airy hand-waving gesture. “So have no fear, Admiral. Your expedition won’t have to deviate from its route so much as an inch. Banér will figure out a way to take Ingolstadt, be sure of it. He’s an asshole, sure enough, but he’s also quite a good general.” He chuckled himself. “And a good thing that is for him, too. Or I think our blessed king and emperor might take Johan’s own advice and remove yet another Swedish nobleman’s head. His. Gustav Adolf finds him every bit as annoying as I do. But Johan’s good at his trade, he surely is.”