1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 37

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 37

Chapter 18

The single thing that Mike Stearns would always remember most clearly about his first battle was the noise, the sheer volume of sound. And the second thing he would always remember clearly was the smell; the way the huge clouds of gunsmoke would roll over everything like an acrid fog.

Not the sights of the battle, so much, although he remembered those too. In fact, his whole memory of the battle was actually pretty good. At no point did he feel that his mind had gotten overwhelmed. That was because he expected the sights he saw. Mike had a good imagination and he’d been able to prepare himself for those shocks. Insofar, at least, as anyone can be prepared for such things in the abstract.

But what he hadn’t considered — just hadn’t thought about, ahead of time — was the incredible effect that firing tens of thousands of gunpowder weapons within a relatively small space would have on the other human senses. Especially the cannon fire. It didn’t help, of course, that everyone was still using black powder.

He soon gained an appreciation of the way that same black powder almost immediately shaped control of the battle; what he thought of as its command structure. Within less than five minutes he was fervently wishing a strong wind would spring up — which was not likely, on such a clear and sunny day. He couldn’t see anything, most of the time. The huge clouds of gunsmoke impeded vision, except when odd and unpredictable eddies would suddenly — and usually all too briefly — clear them away.

Until that moment, Mike had always assumed that Gustav Adolf’s recklessness in charging forward into the fog at the battle of Lützen — that’s what had gotten the king of Sweden killed in that other universe, in 1632 — was because of the man’s personal impetuousness. A childish inability to control his emotions, essentially.

No doubt some of that was involved. But Mike could also now understand how much the driving power of pure frustration must have compelled Gustav Adolf. A commanding general was supposed to be in charge of this mayhem, damnation — and he couldn’t see anything. On at least four occasions, Mike had to restrain himself from riding into the smoke clouds, just so he could find out what the hell was actually happening. On two of those occasions, he might not have managed if Leebrick, Long and Ulbrecht Duerr hadn’t been right there to urge him to stay put. Quite forcefully. Indeed, you might almost say impolitely and in a manner that bordered on disrespect and insubordination.

****

Leebrick and Long would apologize after the battle. Duerr, true to his nature, would not. His only comment would be, “It’s always nice to see that a new commander isn’t a coward, even if he sometimes acts like the fucking village idiot.” Thereby clearing away again, if such was needed, any uncertainty as to the man’s failure to get promoted.

****

Thorsten Engler had expected the noise and the smoke, so he simply ignored them. In fact, he barely noticed them at all. He was far too pre-occupied with the need to get his flying artillery company up to the front in time to blunt the coming cavalry charge.

They’d done that before at Ahrensbök, very successfully, and most of his men were veterans of that battle. So it all went fairly smoothly, in the way that men experienced with a task and confident they could carry it out manage such things.

They had no trouble seeing, either. Hardly surprising, since they were the ones who produced most of the initial gunsmoke — and were happily racing to the rear by the time the resultant clouds obscured the battlefield. It was up to the infantry then, and those oafs were so naturally dull-witted it hardly mattered if they could see anything or not.

They’d learned one lesson from Ahrensbök, though — the infantry had to move up quickly. At Ahrensbök, the volley gun crews had survived because their fire alone had been enough to stop to French cavalry charge. But you couldn’t assume that would always be true, and volley gunners were almost helpless against cavalry that got in among them. All they had were partisans and some muskets. Against experienced cavalrymen armed with sabers and lances and wheel-lock pistols, they’d have no chance at all.

That too went smoothly. Not as smoothly, but smoothly enough. Most of the infantrymen had been at Ahrensbök also.

The flying artillery companies fired three volleys. They might have managed four, but their commanding officer didn’t want to take the risk. Colonel Straley had seen how close a thing it had been at Ahrensbök.

The crews could get off those three volleys in less than a minute, and they had four companies on the field instead of the three they’d had at Ahrensbök. That sent over ten thousand balls into the ranks of the oncoming Saxon cavalry. Those weren’t musket balls, either. The volley guns fired canister rounds weighing three ounces, twice the weight of the balls fired by the infantry. Any hit on an enemy cavalryman except a glancing one would usually kill or maim.

The Saxons hadn’t started their final charge yet, either, when the volley guns started firing. You simply couldn’t start galloping a horse carrying a heavily armed and armored man until you were close to the enemy. A hundred yards or so. Even then, most heavy cavalry wouldn’t move at a full gallop. There was just too much risk of tiring out the horses too soon, and having your units fall out of formation.

The one exception were Polish hussars. They would gallop into a battle, although the great wings they sometime wore — as they were today — slowed their horses down. Hussars prided themselves on their horsemanship, and with good reason. The same be-damned-to-the-world szlachta insouciance and arrogance that made Polish political disputes so similar to children fighting in a playground also made them brave to the point of sheer recklessness. Nobody who’d ever faced Polish hussars in a battle forgot the experience.

Thorsten never had, himself, but he knew their reputation. So, far more cold-bloodedly than the farm boy he’d once been had slaughtered pigs, he had his volley gun company concentrate their fire on the Poles rather than the Saxons. The hussars were impossible to miss, even at a distance of several hundred yards. The reason they were called “winged” hussars was their bizarre habit of carrying huge feather-covered wooden wings attached to their saddles into battle. The feathers used were usually eagle feathers, or sometimes ostrich feathers.

Why? No one Thorsten had asked really knew — and those of them who’d met Polish hussars in peacetime said that even the hussars themselves had no clear answer. Some claimed they wore the wings to foil the lassos of Tatars seeking to capture slaves. Others claimed the distinctive sound made by the wings frightened the enemy. Still others claimed the sound deafened their own horses so they wouldn’t be frightened by the wooden noise-makers used by Tatars and some Ottoman units.

Thorsten’s own tentative opinion was that the reason was entirely psychological. From what he knew of Polish hussars they were the sort of flamboyant people — up-time terms like “narcissist” and “arrested development” would seem to apply here also — who just couldn’t resist making a spectacle of themselves.

“I want those silly feathered bastards dead!” he shrieked, in the high-pitched tone of voice he’d learned to use on a battlefield.

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17 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 37

  1. dave o says:

    Well, von Arnim achieved one of his goals. He got the Poles slaughtered. Of course he lost his own cavalry at the same time. Looks like Johan George isn’t long for the world.

  2. Mike says:

    The question now is did von Arnim do enough in the resulting battle to impress Thortensen and Stearns? Meaning, did he act and command more like the French general who fled Ahrensbok or the one who remained and fought out the battle? If like the later of the two French generals, there is the chance he could be re-employed in the future. Wallenstein, USE, Poland, Austro-Hungary all will be dragged into wars in Eastern Europe soon enough. Russia might as well. That doesn’t even count any wars in the Balkans launched by or against the Ottomans. Bottom line, if von Arnim doesn’t lose the battle by anything other than inferior weaponary, he’s got a chance for future employment.

  3. Jac says:

    @2 I think you are right there were a couple of complimentry comments by the swedish generals in earlier snippets. I think the USE will pick von arnim up myself. Though Holk if he has 2 brain cells to rub togeather should be fleeing to Poland about now.

  4. dave o says:

    Don’t forget the Saxon Rebellion. And maybe the Turks attacking Austria. It’s way beyond my prophetic powers to guess what the future will hold. At the least, Bohemia wants to attack Poland, Turkey wants to attack Austria, Austria wants to attack Bohemia and GAII, GAII wants to attack Poland, but maybe Mike can convince him not to, especially since the COC will be objecting (revolting?) against the Wettin government. Maybe GAII can buy off the with East Prussia, since Brandenburg won’t be needing it any more.Not to mention the Cossacks, the Persians, and the Russians. Poland probably wants to attack GAII, but how much can it cost to buy a veto in the diet?

  5. Jason says:

    I could see Von Arnheim leaving Saxon service he’s fighting a war he counciled against which he thinks he’ll ultimately loose. I think whats going to happen is the killing of the Hussars will push Poland to general War. The will force Torstensen to leave a token force to watch over Saxony while the main USE army moves on to Brandenburg there bye allowing the revolutionary pot to percolate for the next book.

  6. ET1swaw says:

    @4 Don’t forget G2A already currently owns almost all (with major exceptions of Konigsberg/Kaliningrad and Danzig/Gdansk) ports between Danzig/Gdansk and Memel/Klaipeda (basically all Baltic ports of what would become East Prussia). He got them in the 1629 TRUCE of Almark (between PLC (Poland) and Sweden to expire Sept 1635) along with a 3.5% tariff on all other PLC Baltic ports (Konigsberg and Courland ports included as Ducal Prussia (main portion of East Prussia) and the Duchy of Courland-Semgallia were held in fief by their Dukes (Elector of Brandenburg and Friedrich Kettler) to PLC crown). OTL they were returned to PLC and tariiff ended by 1635 Treaty of Stuhmsdorf (NTL not happening).
    And Russia, with technology near-par with USE (Scouting dirigible, breechloading cannons and rifles, farm machinery, etc.), might want what they gained temporarily 1656-1661 and permanently after 1721 (Swedish and Polish Livonia, Swedish Estonia, Swedish Ingria, Swedish Karelias parts of PLC,and parts of what became Finland). Not to mention they’ve had a coup, are expecting a poor harvest, and sold weapons and equipment to the Ottoman’s.
    The Ottoman’s want Europe, they just have to go through NTL Austro-Hungary to get it. OTL they were too busy with the Persians ATT to attack HRE.
    Austro-Hungary just wants all of its HRE territories (Bohemia and its additions (Wallenstein), Tyrol (now USE), Swiss Confederacy (independent), Hungary and what is now Romania (Ottoman’s), and Further Austria (parts of USE and Burgundy (Duke Bernhard’s))) back.
    Wallenstein wants the Anaconda (parts of PLC (lesser Poland). Austro-Hungary (what is now Slovakia), and possibly Russia and the Ottoman’s).
    France is busy in a near civil war.
    Spain just conquered Rome and the Italian Papal States and are stuck supporting an Anti-Pope (current Pope still lives) who not only is a Spanish Inquisition Fanatic but had over 20 Cardinals assassinated (he only missed the Pope’s nephew and 1 or 2 others he hadn’t bought). See sequel to ‘Gallileo Affair’ and ‘Cannon Law’.
    The next 2 books are ‘Saxon Uprising’ (maybe CoCs against Crown Royalists) and ‘Wars on the Rhine’ (maybe Duke Bernhard, Essen, KLC, and Swabia).
    We have Julie and crew (including Cromwell) in England/Scotland ,and Bishop Laud and Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford in exile in KLC (most likely Amsterdam) where Charles I’s niece and nephew Elizabeth and Rupert (OTL ‘Rupert of the Rhine’) are.
    And we still have our intrepid Huguenot assassins in Stockholm along with Christina, Ulrich, and Baldur.
    ******** Interesting times ahead*****************

  7. lethargo says:

    Maybe von Arnim will go work for Wallenstein? Weren’t they on good terms in real life (RTL)?

  8. Beata says:

    @4 Veto in practice. Marshal of the Sejm sometimes can’t hear veto… and another deputies “convices” their fellow (use gold or steel) to agreement.

  9. robert says:

    @6 So who is the gal in the cupola with the automatic long gun on the cover of “1636: The Saxon Uprising”? Is it Julie, finally back from Scotland, or Gretchen? And who is the other gal in the picture?

  10. jk says:

    Poland…

    So… Mike Stearns manages another changeover in affairs, it becomes the United Counties of Europe (UCE), and sets off to turn the Baltic into the United Kingdoms of Europe (UKE) (Sweden gains complete control of the areas north of St. Petersburgh… all of Finland, Lappland, Karelia, Kola) to match USE and the United Provinces…

  11. Phillip Chesson says:

    Do not lose sight of the fact that Stearns and his “fellow travelers” have fundamentally a POLITICAL agenda. Territorial agrandisment is not the goal, and is useful only in so far as it advances this agenda. Mike’s thoughts about supporting GAII in his dispute with Poland is to that point.

    Furthermore, Poland or any nation going to war because it suffered some battlefield deaths is ludicrous.

  12. @11

    …ludicrous.

    Hey, it worked fine for World War 1, not to mention the War of Jenkins Ear, not to mention the 1941 part of WW2. And the first two didn’t even need a big battle.

  13. Phillip Chesson says:

    Where did the few battlefield deaths occur that caused WWI?

    For the War of Jenkins Ear, this was only a pretex.

    How’s this for an argument to the Sejim:

    “In a battle against the USE, some of our soldiers were killed. Lets declare war on the USE because they killed our men in battle.”

    You are supposed to kill the other side in war.

    For WWII the United States was attacked “as a nation” by the Japanese. Pearl Harbor was not a bar brawl.

  14. 4th Dimension says:

    But, a lot of lordling sons were killed in that battle. Those lords will want revenge for those deaths. Pluss, most of the Lords probaby don’t care much about the odds, figuring “One good charge will be quite enough, by God!”.

  15. Mike says:

    @11, 13 – you seem to be forgetting that it isn’t just a matter of “some battlefield deaths” – but also who numbers among them – a member of the Opalinski family. As the snippets have set up so far in the narrative, he’s not just any random nobleman, but a scion of a particular family that might make enough of a difference to the Sejm for them to do something.

    Besides, if you doubt the death of a single or handful of individuals can make a difference, you’re not reading the same series that I am. 1633, Battle of Wismar, deaths of Hans Richter and a few others seemed to make a big difference on the residents of Magdeburg and their enlistment in the military among and the change from CPE to USE. While not battlefield deaths, in 1635:Dreeson Incident, the deaths of Henry Dreeson and Enoch Wiley resulted in the CoC paramilitary forces assaulting and eliminating antisemites and witchburners throughout the USE including a civil war in Mecklenburg. While not outright “wars” I’d definitely classify both as highly significant results of the deaths of “a few people”. Even if you can’t draw parallels to your liking in actual history, the series has ample precedent at hand for the Sejm of Poland to declare war over this battle.

  16. ET1swaw says:

    Truce of Atmark due to expire in September. As written, Sweden retains all the territories ceded by the truce and regains those returned to PLC (currently held by PLC and Brandenburg (for compensation of Ducal Prussia territories lost by Altmark)) in Royal Prussia and in Warmia (held by a Catholic Vasa). They also retain the tariff on PLC Baltic ports including Danzig (the major shipping port for Polish schlacta). Sweden is supposed to return PLC Navy vessels that were captured and taken into Swedish Navy in 1629. Sweden also retains Swedish Livonia including Riga and Tartu (retained it under Treaty of Stuhmsdorf as well).
    G2A’s father deposed his nephew Sigismund from the Swedish throne in 1599 and assumed it for himself (as Charles IX) in 1604. Wladyslaw IV Vasa (Catholic eldest son of Catholic Sigismund III Vasa) assumed the PLC throne at his father’s death in 1632 (interestingly about a month after OTL death of G2A). By law, Swedish monarchs (1604) and nobles/state officials (1634) MUST BE Lutheran (female Vasas lost possibility for throne if married a non-Lutheran). Never the less, Sigismund and his sons considered the Swedish crown theirs and want it back.
    OTL Wladyslaw IV Vasa prepared for end of the Truce of Altmark by raising a 21,000 man force, buying and coverting 10 ships to warships, and sending Jerzy Osolinski into the prussias (Royal, Ducal, and Warmia) to stir up resistance to Sweden. OTL they were unused due to Treaty of Stuhmsdorf.
    NTL the Smolensk War (between PLC and Russia) didn’t happen, the Wet Firecracker War (PLC Schlacta forces/Russia) and the 1634 PLC-Ottoman War (PLC/Ottoman territorial forces) did.
    Swedish forces in question (with his nephew) were sent by Koniecpolski (who defeated the Ottoman’s in 1634 and G2A in 1629).
    ******* It might not be as hard to get PLC involved as in OTL. *************

  17. robert says:

    But what if Lukasz Opalinski is not killed, but captured? What will Mike do with him? Give him a pat on the butt and send him home? With a message, of course.

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