1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 38

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 38

From their shouts of surprise and anger, Lukasz Opalinski knew the Saxon cavalrymen hadn’t expected to be fired on by volley guns right at the beginning of the battle. They must have poor intelligence. He’d been expected the phenomenon, himself, and had warned his hussars to be ready for it. His friend Jozef Wojtowicz had given him a full and detailed report on the battle of Ahrensbok before he left for Saxony.

Still, he was a bit shaken by the effectiveness of those volleys. Wojtowicz had warned him, but Lukasz had not taken him seriously enough. Perhaps the problem was that Jozef had shown him images of the USE army’s volley guns. Woodcuts, mostly, although one of them had been what Jozef called a “photograph.” Looking at the images, Lukasz had immediately categorized the weapons as organ guns, which were sometimes used in sieges. Clumsy things, although you didn’t want to be caught in from of one when it was firing.

But these volley guns were quite different. First of all, the barrels were rifled, not smoothbore. Lukasz had known that, but dismissed it as unimportant. You couldn’t really aim such a weapon on a battlefield anyway, beyond pointing it in the general direction of the enemy, so what difference did it make if it was rifled?

What he hadn’t considered was the added range the rifling would give the rounds — especially since they were these new conical so-called “Minie balls” rather than the round balls he was accustomed to. Lukasz had even seen one, since some of the Saxon infantrymen — far too few, unfortunately — had been equipped with the new rifles that John George had purchased. But he hadn’t seen them fired, so he hadn’t paid much attention to the stories of their range.

Today, he was learning the hard way that the accounts had not been exaggerations. The USE flying artillery fired their first volley when the Saxon cavalry and Polish hussars were about two hundred and fifty yards away. At that range, a musket volley would have been completely ineffective. Few of the rounds would have hit anything, and many of the ones that did would have lost too much velocity to do much damage.

But these rounds were quite effective. Three of his hussars were struck off their saddles and two more were reeling from wounds. Four other hussars were spilled when their horses were struck. Worse than the casualties was the effect of the damage on the charge itself. Inevitably, the downed and disoriented horses impeded the rest. Instead of picking up speed as it should have at that range, the charge was actually slowing down. By the time they were within two hundred yards of the foe, a cavalry horse should be moving at the pace of a fast canter — say, fifteen miles per hour, for heavily-laden warhorses. At that speed, they could cross the intervening distance in less than half a minute. Which in turn meant that they’d have to face only one volley before getting in among the enemy with their lances and sabers.

Here… They were probably only moving ten miles per hour, and the enemy’s rate of fire was astonishing. A second volley came before they’d travelled more than fifty yards. The third volley came when they were still almost one hundred and fifty yards away — and the combined effect of the deadly fire was to keep horses falling and stumbling and impeding the charge.

They still weren’t moving any faster than twelve miles per hour. At that distance, they should have been approaching a full gallop — which, for horses like these, was around thirty miles per hour. They’d cross the last hundred yards in six or seven seconds — a speed that often panicked enemy infantry or artillery; and, even if they didn’t panic, allowed them no time to fire more than one volley, at most.

Instead, they’d been hit by three powerful volleys. At least forty — no, probably fifty — of his hussars were now out of action, dead or wounded or spilled by falling horses. And they were still so far away and moving so slowly that…

Sure enough. Lukasz could see the volley guns being hitched up while infantry units moved up to cover their retreat. The infantrymen fired a volley as soon as the artillerymen were clear.

That volley was just as brutal as the preceding ones. The musket balls were lighter than those fired by the flying artillery, but they were also more accurate. As Josef had warned him, most of the USE army’s infantry units had been armed with rifled muskets. Quite obviously, these were.

Out of the corners of his eyes, Opalinski could see that the Saxon cavalry was peeling away. They were reeling from the carnage.

His own men had been hammered just as badly. At a quick glance, he didn’t think he had more than half of his unit still in action.

But that still left him a hundred men, and these were Polish hussars, not be-damned Saxon shirkers — and the enemy was finally within reach. He could see the nearest USE infantry officer not more than thirty yards away. A big fellow who’d made the mistake of leading his men a bit too far in the fore.

Lukasz lowered his lance and set his aim on the bastard.

****

“Well, fuck me,” Jeff muttered. He’d been so intent on getting his battalion in position to cover the artillery that he hadn’t noticed how far ahead of them he’d gotten. The nearest squad of his infantry was a good ten yards behind.

And, at a rough estimate, the Polish hussar bearing down on him was ten feet tall and riding a horse the size of an elephant — and, to make things perfect, was carrying the same lance that St. George must have used to kill the dragon. Had to be. How many other lances in the world were fifty feet long and had a razor-sharp blade the size of a sword?

Those no-longer-silly-looking wings were making one hell of a scary sound, too.

****

“Watch out, Jeff!” yelled Eric Krenz. The lieutenant frantically hollered at the nearest squads, waving his sword at the oncoming hussar. “Shoot that Polish fuck!”

But there was too much noise, too much smoke, too much confusion. The infantrymen and their sergeants had shut out everything else in order to do what they’d been trained to do: level their muskets at the enemy in front of them; fire; reload as fast as possible. They weren’t even thinking of aiming at specific targets.

Only one of them heard Eric’s shouts. That was a nineteen-year-old corporal in charge of a squad who, being a veteran, gave Krenz no more than a dismissive glance. Stupid officers. Getting in the way, like they usually did in a battle.

****

Eric gave up the attempt and charged forward himself. He might get there just in time to cut the hussar’s leg with his sword. No chance of cutting anything higher up. The hussar was at least twenty feet tall, on top of that horse. Still, even a leg wound might distract him enough to save the captain’s life.

****

Jeff dropped the sword he’d been using to encourage his men. Against a charging hussar’s lance, that was about as useful as a butter knife. He clawed at the wheel-lock pistol he kept in a holster, bitterly regretting the fact that he’d run out of ammunition for his automatic pistol.

He managed to get it out and cock it just in time to fire a shot at the hussar. Not in time to save his life, though. The lance blade — it was actually fifteen feet long, amazingly enough — was within five yards and was about to split him open.

****

Opalinski never even thought of ducking. You simply didn’t, in the final moments of a charge. If you were struck by a bullet, so be it. The honor of a hussar was concentrated entirely on killing the enemy.

Hussar or not, honorable or not, none of it mattered if a bullet hit your helmet. Lukasz’s head was slapped back. The round glanced off his helmet and didn’t even scratch his skin. Still, the impact was enough to daze him for a moment.

****

The lance swung wide of the target. Jeff ducked the blade — but got bowled off his feet by the horse’s shoulder.

Eric Krenz squawked and frantically swung his sword. It hit the lance’s blade and deflected it just enough to hit him instead of missing him entirely.

The hussar passed by. He was shouting something. Another volley of gunfire drowned out the sound of everything else. Eric stared at Jeff, who was just starting to roll up onto his knees. Then, stared down at the lance lying on the ground some ten feet away. The blade was covered in blood.

Then, stared at his side. The uniform was soaked with blood and there seemed to be more coming. Nothing seemed to be spurting, though, so maybe he’d gotten lucky and no artery had been cut.

“Lucky,” of course, only by certain values of luck. Jeff was getting to his feet now, shaking his head as if he was a little confused. He’d lost his helmet in the fall.

“This really sucks,” said Eric. He collapsed to the ground.

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24 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 38

  1. Robert H. Woodman says:

    That was stupid of Jeff. I realize he’s inexperienced, but it is still stupid. And he got Eric hurt quite unnecessarily. I wonder if this will end with Lukasz Opalinski getting captured or killed?

  2. Peter S says:

    Even a glacing cut from the lancehead ought to have been enough to fling Eric to the ground. The different in mass and speed between him on foot and the lancer is just too big. If he got cut at all, he should have gotten thrown too.

  3. Scrib says:

    I bet on captured; more interesting that way.

  4. Robert Krawitz says:

    By Thorsten, possibly?

  5. robert says:

    @4 So what comes after a Count. Duke? Duke of Narnia?

  6. Mark L says:

    @5

    AFAIK the order of precedent in nobility (from lowest to highest):

    squire
    knight
    baronette
    baron
    count (or earl)
    marquis
    duke
    royal duke
    prince
    king
    emperor/czar/kaiser

    I may be wrong about duke/royal duke (they may be co-equal), and for those wondering a “grand duke” is a duke whose duchy is an independent state vs. one that is part of a larger polity (The Grand Duchy of Fenwick vs. The Duchy of Lancaster).

  7. dave o says:

    I’m surprised that Jeff is carrying a wheel lock. Aren’t revolvers being made by now? I just read of a down-time copy of a Colt revolver. Even if he had to buy it himself, he should have been able to afford one.

  8. Doug Lampert says:

    There are oddities in the system. An English earl is considered comparable to a count (a female holder is a Countess, the titles are officially equivalent), but in practice at any particular time an English earl is likely to be richer and more powerful than most continental dukes.

    Similarly, in England the squire and knight aren’t technically noble (they’re members of the gentry, but not noble), and I believe the same is true of the Germanies. The English also have a Lord of the Manor hereditable title, which does not count as a noble title.

    AFAIK Royal-duke is simply the title granted to near relatives of the monarch who holds a duchy. Note that Prince as the title for the child of a king is not universal. Prince nominally means ruler of a principality, it’s given to children of the monarch either because they’ve been granted the title (Wales for example) or as a courtesy title.

    In the 1630s Gaston is every bit as much a child of King Henry IV as anyone, but he’s called the Duke of Orleans rather than “Prince Gaston” because Duke of Orleans has actual power while a courtesy title as prince is meaningless. Similarly in England today Prince Andrew is normally refered to as “His Royal Highness The Duke of York” because an ACTUAL title as a duke outranks a courtesy title as a prince.

  9. Blackmoore says:

    I’m not real clear on how soon the gunsmiths would be able to duplicate the casings for the existing uptime weapons. With all of the gunfights I would have to assume that ammunition for any revolver would have become prohibitively expensive. Even if grantville had managed to set-up production of percussion caps AND had the right brass being manufactured the tools to make new rounds should be in short supply by this battle.

  10. dave o says:

    #9 I agree that making brass casings will take a while. That is irrelevant. The first generation of revolvers used percussion caps, but did not use fixed cartridges. If you doubt me, see Cabela’s catalog for about a dozen reproduction black powder revolvers. Percussion caps production is mentioned in Grantville Gazette stories.

  11. Virgil says:

    1) revolver means cartridge which are much easier to load then wheellocks and flintlocks, – the French solved the primer problem I know.
    2). This is not quiet right as you have English
    AFAIK the order of precedent in nobility (from lowest to highest):

    squire is a position, military, not a Title, even an Earl may be a squire

    knight Same as above The address is Sir so and so, Earl, etc of anywhere

    baronette is baronet and was created by King James to generate revenue by selling to Rich Merchants, address Sir so and so and Lady

    baron The original rank of noble in Engloand, basic all all member of noblity were Barons,

    You missed the Viscount this rank was added to the English Noblity I believe 1550, Viscounts Hereford (1550) is the earliest I can find. If this is a 2nd title held the eldest son usually carries this title as an honorary one as the son of an Earl.

    count (or earl) Later the old Saxon ranks of Jarl were Europhied to Count and became Earls and Earldoms in England strange the women were always refered to as Countess

    marquis as I mentioned above, this Rank was added to the English Noblity after Duke were added. The Marquess of Pembroke 1532 was the first to hold this rank. This title or rank is ususally carried by a son of a Duke who really holds the title.

    Duke — Edward was made Duke of Cornwall in 1337, the first in England Prior to this the only person in England who was a Duke was the King who was Duke of Normandy through William the Conquorer

    royal duke These duke were simply dukedom held by the royal family. These Dukedoms can not be inherited, The Duke is Usually the brother of the King, or Queen or the Prince of Wales. The Duke of Cornwall is the Premier Royal Dukedom and is held by the heir apparante to the Throne of England
    If the reigning monarch has a child that child then becomes the Heir and not the borhter or sister of the Monarch and takes the title

    prince as a Tille of Rank this enter English rank after Wales became firmly part of the British Empire, The heir to the Throne of England is the Prince or Princess of Wales who also carries the Title Duke of Cornwall

    Grand Duke not an English Title but in most cases Out ranks a Prince or Princess

    Archduke not a English Title.

    king or Queen

    emperor/czar/kaiser

  12. robert says:

    OK. Stop! I was kidding. Clearly the rankings are different for English nobility than for Continental, and even those differ depending on where you are.

    If Lukasz is captured, and that is not clear as he is being aimed at by an infantryman, he is too important to be merely ransomed. He has been to Grantville and is known by uptimers. EF has more up his word processor than something that simple.

  13. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @5 To whatever position Thorston Engler is elevated, I hope that no decides to give him the honorific “The Lion of Narnia.” :-)

  14. dave o says:

    # 11 I just looked up how to load a black powder revolver on the internet. These do not use cartridges. Powder, wad, ball and percussion cap are loaded separately. From the description, loading one takes some time and concentration: not the sort of thing to do during a hot battle. But five or six shots is a lot better than one. I suppose that if one needed more, a second pistol could be carried.

  15. Beata says:

    @2 Sorry Eric… “The point was supported with additional metal reinforcing straps running down the shaft, which also helped protect the wood below the point from a sabre cut.” More about lance http://www.kismeta.com/diGrasse/lance.htm

  16. John H says:

    #14. US Civil War cavalrymen on both sides tended to look like they had just robbed a gunstore. It was quite common for them to carry up to six revolvers at a time: one in the issue belt holster, two shoved into the boot tops, a couple more in saddle holsters slung over the pommel, and then one to three spares shoved holster-less behind the belt or stuck in coat pockets. And for good measure, of course, one could also carry spare cylinders, especially for solid-frame revolvers. You just pulled out the cylinder axle-pin, dropped in a new cylinder already loaded and capped, and carried on shooting. Probably the inspiration for modern revolver speedloaders actually.

    It is possible to load a BP revolver with ‘cartridges’, same as a muzzleloading musket or rifle, to speed up reloading. These are not brass cartridges like modern ones, but cartridges of nitrate-soaked paper. The wad, ball and pre-measured powder would be rolled in the paper like a cigarette. Instead of putting each element into the weapon when reloading, you just drop the whole unit in and ram it home. One step. Then put the cap on and fire. Since the paper is treated with nitrates, it just burns up in a flash as the powder ignites, leaving the weapon clear for the next cartridge.

  17. Andreas says:

    #14

    Not exactly correct. Paper cartridges consist of a load of gunpowder, wad and ball and can be loaded faster than pouring powder in all 6 chambers, positioning the wad (6 times) and positioning the ball (6 times).

    Of course, placing the percussion cap is the second step and uses some time – especially in battle conditions and while using gloves.

    However, this is why the lord gave us blackpowder enthusiasts the percussion cap positioning tool (sorry, english is not my first, i meant the german “Zündhütchensetzer”, which is nothing but a brass magazine which allows to safely and speedily mount the cap.

    Paper cartriges of interest are the last 5 pictures of this link: http://www.sammlermunition.de/fruehe_patente.htm

    primer capping device: http://www.stifters-gunflints.de/shop/index.htm?d_CPM_3_Revolver_Capper__Neusilber1350.htm and http://www.stifters-gunflints.de/shop/index.htm?d_SLC_2_Stab_Zundhutchensetzer__Messing1352.htm

    thus you can load any given colt / remington / roger&spencer or whatever type of percussion revolver was re-invented in reasonable time. Of course, you will need far more time than reloading your brass cartridge revolver using half or full moon clips or any speedloader of coice, but using paper cartriges and a cap seater will certainly beat fumbling around with a flask, some loose balls and a poach of caps.

  18. Andreas says:

    ooops…

    i forgot: No way any uptimer would use a single shot wheel loading pistol if there is any way of getting hands on a perfectly working percussion cap revolver. If i remember correctly some other books stories (including those about Suhl), percussion revolvers are en vogue and caps are produced in numbers as well – it is just that until “now” both are a bit of luxury items, if i understand it correctly. Any uptimer who is used to having more than 1 shot in his gun will fall back to this option whenever possible – especially if one takes into consideration that it takes years of training to make a good swordfighter. Not that this art would be usefull if you are standing between your rifles line of battle an an aproaching porcupine :D

  19. Blackmoore says:

    Also it seems odd that Jeff didn’t reach for his shotgun.

  20. Doug Lampert says:

    He’s an officer in command of a battalion which is actively in combat. The last thing anyone with any sense wants is for him to be carrying a serious weapon that he actually thinks it’s his job to use.

    He’s NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOOT PEOPLE HIMSELF, he’s got something like 800 other guys with that job! He’s supposed to be telling those other 800 guys what to do, they’re far more dangerous than any weapon he can carry himself and they’re what he’s supposed to be worrying about, not what kind of firearm he personally can do the most damage with.

    Any weapon Jeff has is an emergency backup that’s unlikely to be used, and it’s one that’s NOT being carried and used by a real soldier because Jeff has it.

    A cap and ball revolver without closed cartirges would be fine, it’s small and light, it takes forever to reload (not really militarily useful) and you need to be crazy rich since you’ll need to change the charge every few days if you don’t want to risk a misfire. A fine officer’s backup weapon since it’s almost ideal for the situations where he’s likely to need one, and it’s almost worthless for serious fighting.

    But if he has a spare shotgun (and more importantly decent shotgun ammunition) he should have given it to an enlisted man as a squad support weapon or something, not carried that much extra weight himself when he shouldn’t be using it at all under any reasonable circumstance.

  21. Blackmoore says:

    Doug; your absolutely right, I only bring it up because i would think that Jeff would have thought about- 1632 wasn’t that long ago. As it is he’s already put himself into danger by out-pacing the infantry at his command.

  22. Blackmoore says:

    There is one other curious note, “photograph”. Considering that we are now 2 years from the ring of fire, I am wondering if someone is now starting to produce the chemicals needed to process photographs. Certainly they wont be able to generate new rolls of film, but that isn’t the only media that you could imprint on.

    It would indicate that the chemicals industry has come into being – and much wider than just inside the CFE.

  23. dave o says:

    # 22 The chemicals are easy enough. Silver Iodide and Sodium Thiosulfate (developer) are easy enough to produce. It seems to me that making the lenses would be more of a problem. Glass plates were used for quite a while in the 19th century.

  24. John_Ford says:

    I Have to disagree relative Jeff’s Weapon. It is his signature weapon. Same as the Glock is for Gretchen or even the Highway Patrolman for Mike. It has used it to great effect in 1632 and 1634. I understand if the story requires Jeff to be in Peril but whoever wrote this section didn’t research Jeff enough and didn’t build it into the story line. Further Jeff is a uptimer but a West Virginian. Two common traits these folks have is a Winchester/Marlin carbine for Deer Season and a Shotgun for Small game/Bird season. I could go for Jeff bearing a Sabre and/or a Fighting Knife. But a Wheel lock? He’s 20/21 YO, used to a shotgun and carbine for hunting purposes. Ring of Fire happened before he would have been legally able to own/carry a pistol/revolver. But Dad, Grand Dad sure as hell owned a .38 Revolver of some color so he is not averse to using a handgun, just not in his backgournd. Last of all, the shotgun is part of his persona, His identity thorugh all of the story lines. And it is wiped away with a sentence. Sorry, I have to throw the flag on this one and advise you put this into a explanation better then he ran out of bullets.

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