1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 39
By the time Lukasz got his senses back, his horse — being no hussar himself, and thus no damn fool — had turned around and was galloping toward the rear. A full-bore gallop, too. A dumb beast he might be, but he wasn’t dumb enough to stay in this area any longer than he had to.
If all likelihood, if Opalinski hadn’t had the by-now almost instinctive horsemanship of a hussar, he’d have been spilled on the ground. As it was, he needed to use both hands to stay in the saddle. That was easy enough, though, since he’d lost his lance somewhere along the way.
He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened. Had he killed that big infantry officer? Or perhaps the little big-eared one who’d come racing up waving his sword?
He simply couldn’t remember. He hoped he’d killed at least one of them. Not because he had any personal animus against either of those officers but simply because it was already obvious that this battle was turning into a disaster and he liked to think he’d accomplished something in the process.
He looked around, but he simply couldn’t tell how many of his hussars had survived. They were too mingled with the Saxon cavalrymen and all of them were racing off. This was not a retreat, this was a pure and simple rout.
Lukasz felt bitterly shamed. This was the first time in his life either he or any hussars he’d fought alongside had been routed in a battle. The worst of it was that he couldn’t understand how it had happened.
Opalinski couldn’t understand it because he hadn’t seen it. He’d been so pre-occupied with his personal duel with the two USE officers that he hadn’t noticed the effect of the volleys fired by the infantry. Coming on top of the damage already inflicted by the volley guns, that had been enough to bring the charge to a complete halt.
At which point the APCs had arrived. Five of the monstrous machines, charging in from the side and raking the confused cavalrymen with rifle fire from the gunports along the sides of the vehicles. All the while, making the most hideous piercing shrieks from some sort of horns.
The horses had panicked then, and it had all been over.
“That’s it,” said Torstensson. “Send in Dodo and George’s divisions. Nothing fancy. Just straight ahead, firing volleys as they go.”
Two of his aides raced off. Colonel Schonbeck and three others remained at his side. After a moment, Schonbeck said: “You were right, General. Stearns did quite well.”
Torstensson glanced at the Third Division. They were starting to move forward again. He could see that Stearns — or his staff, more likely — had already organized measures to take care of the wounded.
Stearns had done well. To all intents and purposes, in fact, his division had won the battle on its own. Allowing, of course, for the critical assistance of the flying artillery and the APCs. Still, he’d keep his men solid, confident, and fully in the fight from beginning to end — and now had them back in action.
“This could get interesting,” he said softly.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Never mind, Colonel Schonbeck.” Torstensson saw no point in explaining to a capable but stolid military aide that he really hoped the new prime minister of the USE wouldn’t allow himself to be rushed into doing anything rash. Or things could get… interesting.
Besides, there were other matters to attend to. He glanced back to make sure the observation balloon was still in place. As an observation balloon, the device had been only minimally useful in this battle. But as a radio platform, it would now prove most useful indeed.
“Colonel Schonbeck –” Torstensson broke off and turned to a different aide. “Major Ziegler, rather. See to it that our cavalry units get word immediately that the Saxon army has been defeated. John George will try to escape now, and I want him intercepted before he can reach the Polish border.”
Ziegler was a young man, attuned to the new technological possibilities. He’d use the radios immediately where Schonbeck would probably waste time sending out couriers first.
“Sound the retreat,” von Arnim said grimly. “We’ll withdraw into Leipzig.”
Colonel Carl Bose looked skeptical. “We may not be able to make it, General. They’ll be pushing the pursuit hard, from the looks of things.”
Von Arnim shook his head. “No, they won’t, once they’re sure we’re retiring from the field. I am quite certain that Torstensson has orders to take Dresden as fast as possible. He won’t waste time with us” — now that he’s beaten us out of his way, but von Arnim left that unspoken — “when he has a chance to catch the Elector.”
Von Arnim tightened his lips. His military career might be over, as of today. There was no chance he could move his troops into Poland, which was a pity since he was sure King Wladyslaw would hire him. But Torstensson would immediately pursue if the Saxon army — what was left of it — made any move in that direction. If need be, he’d postpone taking Dresden.
The French wouldn’t hire him, not given his reputation as a staunch Lutheran. Richelieu wouldn’t care himself, but with the political situation as tense as it was in France he couldn’t afford to give Monsieur Gaston any more political ammunition. The Bavarians wouldn’t even consider the possibility. Not with Duke Maximilian’s Catholic fanaticism at the fever pitch it was today.
That left the Austrians. Which… might actually be possible. Von Arnim felt his spirits lifting a bit. Even under Ferdinand II, the Austrians had been willing to employ Protestant soldiers. Now with his son on the throne — Ferdinand III had a reputation for being far more tolerant — and with the tensions with Bohemia…
A detail intruded.
“Oh, yes.” He had promised the man, after all. “Colonel Bose, see to it that a courier gets off to Dresden immediately. Warn the Elector that we’ve lost the battle and Torstensson will be moving on Dresden. And…”
He studied the distant enemy observation balloon. He wasn’t sure of this, but…
“Also warn the Elector that Torstensson has probably got cavalry units watching the Polish border. I’d advise the Elector to seek exile in Bavaria instead.”
He went back to contemplating more important things. There did, of course, remain the awkwardness that he’d once resigned from Austrian service in something of a high dudgeon and not so long ago at that. Still…