1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 58

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 58

Chapter 27

Zielona Gora

At least he was off the damn horse. Which was just as well, since another part of the house wall Jeff was crouched behind came down right then, knocked loose by a shot from one of the Poles’ culverins. He was barely able to scramble aside and keep from getting half-buried in the rubble. The Polish guns fired balls that weighed at least twenty pounds. They were old-fashioned round shot, not explosive shells, but they could do plenty of damage to anything they hit directly.

Or anyone they hit directly. Jeff had seen one of Engler’s artillerymen cut right in half. The sight had been as bizarre as it was ghastly. The soldier’s body from the waist down had stayed in the saddle, his legs still gripping the horse and his feet still in the stirrups. It had still been there the last Jeff saw the horse, which — the beasts weren’t always as dumb as they looked — had turned right around and gone galloping back around a bend in the road.

Meanwhile, spewing blood and intestines, the top half of the soldier had gone pinwheeling into the nearby stream the maps called Zlota Lacza, however the hell that was pronounced. The half-corpse was still there, too. The Polish counterattack had been so ferocious that Jeff hadn’t yet had the time or the spare men to send out burial parties. If a man was wounded, they’d do their best to rescue him. If he was dead, he’d just have to wait.

Jason Linn came running in a crouch and threw himself down alongside Jeff. The two of them along with three infantrymen were taking shelter behind what was left of the house. During battles, the mechanical repairman who kept the flying artillery’s equipment operational served Captain Engler as a gofer. In this case, as a message runner.

The newly formed Hangman Regiment had had six radios in its possession. One of them was not working for reasons yet unclear. Another had been broken when its operator took cover too enthusiastically. A third one had just gone missing. Jeff was pretty sure the operator had sold it on the black market in a drunken stupor. They’d probably never know, however, since the operator in question had gotten himself killed in the first two minutes of the battle.

Of the three remaining radios, only one was still functional. The other two had taken direct hits from musket balls — just the radios; the operators had been completely untouched. Jeff was still outraged at the statistical absurdities involved. Murphy’s Law by itself was one thing. Any sane person learned to take it into account by the he or she was fourteen years old. But in time of war, that mythical son-of-a-bitch went on steroids. It was no longer the fairly reasonable and straightforward principle if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Oh, hell, no. Now the clause got added: it’ll go wrong even if it can’t, too.

Jeff had had no choice but to keep the sole remaining radio in reserve, for use whenever he needed to reach divisional headquarters. For the purposes of communicating with his own units, he’d had to fall back on the old-fashioned method. Send somebody and hope they don’t get killed and use bugles and hope they could be heard over the unholy racket.

Another little chunk of the wall went flying. That had been caused by a grazing hit. Most of the ball’s energy went into turning the rubble that had once been a house thirty yards back into slightly less organized rubble.

The second law of thermodynamics also went into overdrive during wartime, Jeff had learned. Entropy in the fast lane.

“Captain Engler is ready, Colonel!” Even positioned two feet away, Linn had to half-shout. The din wasn’t quite as bad as it had been at Zwenkau, for the simple reason that there weren’t as many guns involved. But the soldiers manning those various weapons were firing them as enthusiastically as you could ask for, on both sides. And now, here and there, the distinctive claps made by hand grenades were being added to the bedlam.

They’d be hearing more of those, Jeff figured, the farther the regiment pushed into the town.

On the plus side, it wasn’t that big a town. On the minus side, every square foot seemed to have a damn Pole in it.

None of them were civilians, either, so far as Jeff could tell. Those had apparently skedaddled before the Third Division got within five miles of the place. At least Jeff wouldn’t have to worry about atrocities committed against innocent bystanders.

Swell. Now he could concentrate on the problem of atrocities committed against him and his. The Poles were no sweethearts, and God help you if you fell into the hands of Cossacks. Whatever romantic notions about them Jeff could vaguely remember having back up-time had vanished the first time he came across the mutilated corpse of one of his soldiers who’d been taken prisoner four days earlier. The Cossacks had obviously spent some time on the project.

About the only virtues possessed by Cossacks other than their strictly martial abilities, so far as Jeff could tell, was the dubious one of being equal opportunity savages. From the evidence he’d seen, they were just as dangerous to Polish civilians as they were to anyone they were fighting.

Jeff had made clear to his men that he wouldn’t tolerate atrocities, no matter who they were committed against. But his definition of “atrocity” was reasonably practical. He wasn’t going to look into the fact that nobody seemed to be taking Cossack prisoners, as long as there was no evidence they’d been tortured.

Of course, they hadn’t taken many prisoners of any kind so far. The only way you’d get a hussar to surrender was if he’d been knocked off his horse, and even then he pretty much had to be knocked senseless. Polish infantrymen weren’t as cussed crazy belligerent, but they were still plenty feisty.

Jeff had been surprised by that, more than he’d been surprised by anything else. He’d known the set-up in Poland, in broad outlines. A small class of great landowners — they called them magnates — lording it over a population that was mostly dirt-poor peasants, many of them outright serfs. But what he was now learning was that broad outlines don’t really tell you very much about a given people’s fighting capabilities.

After all, in broad outline, the antebellum American South had been a land dominated by a small class of great plantation masters who lorded it over the poor whites as well as their black slaves. That hadn’t stopped the poor whites — talk about dumb! — from fighting for the slaveowners, had it?

What Jeff was now learning firsthand was just how savagely a class of people will fight to defend whatever small privileges they might have, even if they’re purely social privileges, so long as those privileges loom large in their minds. That was especially true if the official casus belli was clear and straight-forward. We’ve been invaded!

Southern whites may have been poor, but at least they weren’t black. Likewise, most of the szlachta weren’t really much if any wealthier than the peasants they lived among. But at least they weren’t peasants. They had status.

Poland and Lithuania were peculiar in that way, compared to most European countries. Their aristocracy was huge — probably a full ten percent of the population, where England’s aristocracy wasn’t more than three percent and even the sprawling German one wasn’t more than five percent.

Only a few of those szlachta were really what Jeff would consider “large landowners.” Those were the magnates, like Koniecpolski himself. Plenty of the szlachta didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in. But that only made them cherish even more their social position. In theory, at least, any member of the szlachta could marry the daughter of the richest magnate in the land and rise to any position in society.

So, the Polish infantry and artillery weren’t the half-baked forces Jeff had expected. He’d known the hussars would make ferocious opponents, but he’d figured the rest of the Polish army would be like the Persian foot soldiers who’d faced Alexander the Great and his Macedonian phalanxes. When the crunch came down, they hadn’t been worth much.

From what he’d been able to determine so far, however, szlachta made up a big chunk of the infantry and artillery they’d face since they closed in on Zielona Gora and the fighting started in earnest. These were some genuinely tough bastards, much more so than the Saxons had been. The soldiers working for John George — and that was exactly the relationship; a purely commercial one — had been professionals who, once a reasonable fight had been put up, were quite willing to surrender. In fact, any number of them were quite willing to go to work for the same people who’d just defeated them.

This was a whole different kettle of fish, now that they were moving into territory that was clearly and definitively Polish. That wasn’t always clear, in border areas. Many of the towns near Brandenburg had been technically Polish in political terms, but the populations were often heavily German and Protestant. That was true of Zielona Gora itself, for that matter. Most of the town’s population were Lutherans and they called it by the German name, Grunberg.

But the city’s population had fled and the surrounding countryside was Polish, not German. As far as the szlachta were concerned, Gustav Adolf had renewed his longstanding aggression against the Polish lands. And if Poland’s aristocracy was notorious for its political fecklessness, nobody in their right mind had ever thought they couldn’t fight — assuming they could unite behind a leader.

There were times in Polish history where such a leader had been absent, and the resultant political disunity had left Poland’s armies weakened or even largely on the sidelines. But unfortunately for Mrs. Higgins’ son Jeffrey, this was not one of them. With his new-found money, Jeff had been able to buy down-time copies of three books on Polish history that had been in Grantville. It turned out — oh, joy — that the Ring of Fire had planted Mrs. Higgins’ son Jeffrey right smack in the period of Polish history that had produced some of its most capable military leaders. Grand Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski was one of them. He’d been mentioned in all three books.


Jeff suddenly realized that Linn had now shouted that question three times.

“Tell Engler to wait until I give the signal.” That would have to be a bugle signal, now, thanks to Murphy. “Then come in from the north — but whatever he does, don’t let himself get trapped in any side streets or alleys.”

Because of its specific peculiar purpose, the Hangman Regiment was the only one in the division that didn’t have regular artillery attached to it. Jeff was bitterly regretting that absence, now. Volley guns were splendid on an open field, but they weren’t much use against the improvised fortifications you ran into in street fighting. Jeff would gladly swap Engler’s entire unit right now for just one culverin and half a dozen mortars.

He’d even more gladly swap them for the support of another regiment or three. Where was the rest of the division? Since the fighting started this morning, Jeff hadn’t seen any USE units except his own.

Linn nodded and raced off, still in a crouch. He’d have a horse nearby, tethered where it couldn’t get hit except by a freak shot. Once he was on the horse, he should be able to reach Engler within fifteen minutes or so. The flying artillery company had been moving around the northern outskirts of Zielona Gora. If Jeff’s map was accurate — always a chancy proposition — there should be a fairly wide avenue that led directly into the city’s central square. Insofar as there was any city terrain that favored volley guns, that would be it.

Jeff didn’t really expect Engler could do much except create a diversion. But he hoped that might be enough to enable him to get his infantry battalions moving again. They’d been completely stalled within ten minutes of the battle’s start.
Street fighting sucked.

War sucked.

Murphy really sucked.

Where the hell was Mike Stearns?

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25 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 58

  1. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, woolgathering in the midst of combat is a good way to get killed! You should tell Eric to quit writing scenes where your mind wanders when you’re in the midst of battle! It’s not good for your health.


    Interesting battle scene. Too much peripheral information.

  2. dave o says:

    Melisa to Mike: TOP SECRET It looks like Koniepolski is trying the same strategy as the last time: no battles, try to cut off detachments. Suggest announce serfs freed. Dues abolished. Give the szlachta something to worry about besides obeying orders. If wiped out, no loss. Many historians suggest if tried by Napoleon, might have won in Russia.
    Mike to Melissa: TOP SECRET Gustav might go for it. Do the serfs have enough weapons?
    Melissa to Mike: TOP SECRET Ask Gretchen.
    Mike to Melissa: TOP SECRET OK. Now I have to try to sell it to G2A.

  3. dave o says:

    Melissa to Mike: TOP SECRET Forgot to mention, might help with Cossacks to. They don’t like being turned into serfs very much.

  4. Doug Lampert says:

    Yeah, that will give the Szlachta something to worry about besides obeying orders. It will mean they’ll have to figure out what to do with that huge mass of additional volunteers flooding their army!

    Poland’s population at this time is a minimum of 2,000,000 or so, 10% or so Szlachta, a minimum of 20% or so of those males of military age. Figure each “aristocrat” can bring one more or less loyal retainer on average. Congradulations, you’ve just quadruppled the opposing army! Now you’re outnumbered. And many of those new recruits are also contributing money with which you can hire additional professionals.

  5. Kelar says:

    @2: Oh, great! In order to liberate the subjugated masses, the genocide of one tenth of total population is a fair price. What a splendid liberal thinking!

  6. Doug Lampert says:

    Oh, freeing the serfs is a fine thing.

    It’s just that trying to do it PRIOR to winning the field battles is very counter-productive. There’s a reason issuing the emancipation proclamation waited till AFTER a major victory. And that was in a war where slavery really was the major issue already.

    Prior to a victory in a war where serfdom isn’t even on the table yet it just makes you look desperate and makes absolutely sure that the foe will fight even harder.

    Are serfs going to rise en mass just because someone who’s barely fought their way onto Polish teritory says they’re free? Heck no.

    Are the Szlachta going to fight FAR harder once you TELL THEM that they are doomed as a class to fall into the peasantry at best if they lose? Heck yes!

    I’m not seeing the gain here.

  7. Richard says:

    The e-book is now out on the Baen web site. I just downloaded it. I know what I am doing this weekend.


  8. dave o says:

    # 4 Haven’t you been reading ROF? Or have you forgotten the numerous comments about peasant rebellions? If the serfs start killing szlachta, where are all those new soldiers going to come from. Won’t they stay home and try to stay alive. For the extra money, see this snippet. Most of them don’t have any.

    #6 G2A wants a battle. Koniecpolski wants to raid and skirmish.

  9. Beata says:

    After the first partition of Poland (1772) Austria gained so called Galicja – southern territory of Poland. Joseph II, the Emperor of Holy Roman Empire, extended full legal freedom to serfs in 1781–82. Also in Galicja. Soon after that he had to order his army to patrol a new Polish-Autsrian border and to get caught peasents from Galicja, because they were escaping to Poland in a mass scale.
    Those peasents explained that: ‘Now if my house burns, if my cattle die, I will be ruined and I will die of starvation, while in Poland, my lord will rebuild my house and he will give me another cow and swine. He [a lord in Poland] is interested in my existence, while lords [in Galicja] don’t care about me. They will permit me to die of starvation, because I don’t work for them.’

  10. Tim says:

    Why haven’t bicycles started appearing? Early forms are consistent with this level of technology. The bicycle remains the most efficient form of transportation ever invented.

  11. Beata says:

    Pesant uprising in PLC (without Ukraine):

    1) 1651 – only 10 days
    2) 1846 – in Galicja

    Many pesants voluntary fought against Swedes in 1656…

  12. Greg Eatroff says:

    The rural population in this area would have a large German element (it had been German, not Polish, for several centuries by this point) and pretty much entirely Lutheran since as subjects of Brandenburg they’d been required to be under “cuius regio, eius religio” for nearly a century. The Poles have only been back for, what? A few months? A year? Not much time to convert the locals theologically and politically and to set up an entrenched Polish aristocracy in the region.

  13. ET1swaw says:

    @ 12 Brandenburg was Calvinist. And I’m pretty sure the area was part of Silesia/Bohemia not Brandenburg. It is definately within the borders of modern Poland, but AFAIK was in the borderlands OTL between the HRE owning Silesia and Bohemia), the PLC, Saxony, and Brandenburg. NTL it may even be stepping on Wallenstein’s toes a little.

  14. ET1swaw says:

    correction to @13: Brandenburg was currently Caalvinist, but had been Lutheran from the Reformation to the prior generation.

  15. Doug Lampert says:

    @8: GA may want a battle, but he ISN’T in Poland proper yet. PERIOD. Calling for a serf uprising won’t get a single serf to rise at this point. It WILL get tens of thousands of additional Poles seriously pissed off at you.

    Making any such anouncement at this time would be suicide for GA’s armies. They AREN’T in control on the ground ANYWHERE where there are substantial numbers of Polish serfs, which means that “freeing the serfs” is pure empty rhetoric as far as any of the serfs inclined to rise are concerned, and it’s a threat as far as the rest of the society is concerned. The only rising it would cause is the Poles rising up to throw out the invader.

  16. robert says:

    @10 Lousy roads (read dirt, mud, rocks and bumps) make bike riding really hard. And dirt bikes require the ability to manufacture lightweight composite materials. That was easy.

  17. zeb says:


    Not all that true, consider the Swiss Army Bike, all steel frame, no shocks, one gear, used on mountainsides, in the forest trails, etc, while carrying an infantryman in full gear and pack

  18. zeb says:


    Oh, there’s that Bamboo Bike they’re promoting for Africa, using mostly bamboo for everything, that is built locally for local dirt roads that are full of holes

  19. ET1swaw says:

    @8: If G2A wants to free the serfs he should start with those in his own backyard. He did lift some restrictions on serfs in Swedish Estonia OTL, but did not abolish serfdom. I assume he extended those easements to the other Swedish Dominions (Livonia, Ingria, the Karelias, and Swedish Prussia (PLC Baltic port cities officially Swedish owned as denoted by Truce of Altmark)). There may have been little or no serfdom in Sweden Proper (parts of Sweden not Denmark-Norway owned, Finland, and Vyborg Karelia), but it was alive and well (and supported by OTL Swedish Government) in the OTL Swedish Dominions and I assume in the NTL as well. I know about assumptions, but the info seems solid.
    @15: I agree wholeheartedly!

  20. robert says:

    @17 And that is why the Swiss Army was never defeated in war since the bike was introduced…in 1905.

    @18 That’d work except for the part about growing bamboo in northern Europe. Greenhouses, maybe.

  21. dave o says:

    #5 Have you read the Dreeson Incident? G2A was perfectly willing to see the entire Mecklenburg Adel killed off. It wasn’t because he was a liberal, it was because they were a collective pain. Getting rid of them made his job easier. It’s called realpolitik.
    #13 The ruling Hohenzollerns were Calvinists. Most of the population of Brandenburg were Lutheran.
    #4,#6,#15 There is no suggestion in my original post that the serfs be liberated immediately. I don’t know where you got the idea. I don’t mind criticism, but I would like to be criticised for what I wrote, not what you think I wrote. Regardless of what G2A wants, abolition of serfdom is a core policy for Mike,Melissa, Gretchen and the COC. If G2A decides that it will help him win the war, he’ll go for it. If not, not. But the up-timers will push it regardless.

  22. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Please. If infantrymen could run X number of miles carrying a full kit, they certainly could bicycle those same number of miles, even without modern bicycle technology. Obviously a soldier isn’t going to be able to get on a bicycle his first day and do as good of a job as he could running, but that’s what training is for. Said soldier certainly did not do nearly as well his first day running with a full kit.

    Also, there’s a solution to the “dirt, mud, rocks, and bumps” problem. Namely, mountain bicycles, which are designed for that sort of terrain. While they probably won’t have air-filled rubber tires, that’s actually an advantage in some respects because it means they won’t have to worry about said tires deflating if they run over something sharp or thorny. The wheels, and indeed, the whole bicycle, will need to be very durable (none of the crap of having wooden struts to connect the rim to the axle, you want something that’s not going to break easily), but those are all technical problems and can easily be overcome.

    However, there is one big problem with putting a soldier on a bicycle. You can’t exactly fire a two-handed rifle if you need to keep one hand on the handlebar, and you certainly can’t reload it without stopping. So a bicycle is no kind of replacement for cavalry. But as far as getting soldiers to a battlefield faster than they could walk with their own two feet, it should work reasonably well. Just gotta deal with the logistics (there is no point in getting the soldiers there quickly if the supplies are 50 miles behind them because they’re in horse-drawn wagons).

  23. John Bogan says:

    As a gamer, I’m sure Jeff laughed at Murphy often enouph via Murphy’s Rules (http://archive.gamespy.com/comics/kovalic/Murphys/Murphys.html)

    Payback can be hell.

  24. dave o says:

    #22 The same technology needed to produce a bicycle could be applied to wagons. Wire wheels and tubular frames would probably be a lot lighter than anything made in the 17th century. Lighter wagon=more freight. But what do you make the tires from? Bicycles might be most useful for carrying messages between units. It wouldn’t help much in Jeff’s present battle, but why not signal flags to carry messages? Unlike radios, they’re not fragile, don’t need batteries and would work just fine in the open field. No 17th century army fought battles that covered too much space for line-of-sight messaging. Flags were extensively used by all armies during the Civil War. Probably also in European wars of the same period.

  25. Alex S says:

    I just finished reading the ARC. Things go wrong very quickly and in almost unbelievable ways.

    It’s a hell of a cliffhanger though…

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