Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 09

Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 09

Chapter 5

          Tom never remembered much afterward about the assault that drove off the Bavarians besieging the artillery barracks. The light thrown by a three-quarter moon only seems bright when everything is calm and peaceful. In the chaos of a battle, there were shadows everywhere and all colors were leached out. You could detect motion clearly, and that was about it.

          That might have been a blessing. Tom still had vivid memories of his first real battle, when he and Heinrich Schmidt had driven off an assault on Suhl by Wallenstein’s mercenaries almost four years earlier. The horror hadn’t stemmed from the fighting itself. There hadn’t been much of that, since they’d been firing at an enemy in the open from behind good fieldworks. The end result had been a lot closer to a massacre than what you could really call a battle. Afterward, the field had been carpeted with bodies. And blood; and intestines; and brains; and some things whose identity Tom had never been sure about and didn’t want to be.

          There wasn’t so much of that tonight. Not because it wasn’t there but because you couldn’t see it very well. Fighting in the darkness, by the light of a moon and the flashes of gunfire and grenades, all a man had time for was motion. Once an enemy went down, you ignored him. The blood spreading out from his body blended into the cobblestones. Everything was a shade of gray and blood was no different.

          There were drawbacks to that, of course. Twice he slipped and fell, when his foot skidded on something wet — and, in one case, horridly squishy. But who could say? In that sort of melee, the falls might even have saved his life, when bullets passed through space he no longer occupied.

          His one clear memory was that of an enemy soldier rising from the street, as he neared the last corner before the barracks. The man had probably slipped and fallen himself. He must have fired his gun and hadn’t had time to reload — or he simply panicked. He came up screeching, thrusting his arquebus forward as if it were a spear and catching Tom in the stomach. If the weapon had been a spear, the blade would have sunk into him at least six inches. As it was, the gun barrel just knocked some of the wind out of him and left a nasty bruise.

          Not all of his wind, though; not even most of it. Tom’s torso was massive, and most of the mass was hard muscle. He didn’t feel any pain and didn’t even realized he’d been bruised until afterward. He just grunted — a very pronounced sort of “oof!” — and struck back in reflex.

          That instinctive reaction was not the best response, all things considered, since he held his pistol in his hand and the blow was mostly delivered by his knuckles. Against a lobsterstail helmet, too, not a mere skull.

          That did hurt. But as strong as Tom was, the blow knocked his opponent back down onto the street. He was dazed, and his weapon slid out of his hands.

          Before Tom could decide what to do, a pikehead came from behind him, thrusting forward just past his elbow. He was almost deafened by the screech of the soldier wielding it, who was now standing right next to him as he skewered the man lying on the cobblestones.

          Night battles aren’t much suited for taking prisoners. Tom would probably have decided to kill the man himself, in another second or two.

          He took a moment to look around, the first time he’d had a chance to do so since he ordered the charge. And was relieved to see that the much-vaunted virtues of surprise had real substance. Everywhere he looked, the enemy was running away.

          At least, he assumed they were the enemy. Some of them were wearing the same USE uniform that his own men were wearing. Traitors from the 1st Battalion, he figured. The rest, the ones in more nondescript clothing, would be the Bavarian mercenaries.

          He fought down the temptation to order a pursuit. If there were any chance of winning a real victory here, he would have given the order. But even before he launched the charge, he’d come to realize that Ingolstadt was lost.

          Tom wasn’t the only commander who’d used the factor of surprise tonight. Duke Maximilian of Bavaria had done so also, and done so to much greater effect. Tom had taken a barracks; the duke had taken a city. There was simply no way Tom would be able to drive the Bavarians back out of Ingolstadt with the forces that remained to him. All he could do now was try to lead an organized retreat out of the city and salvage as much of the regiment as he could.

          Captain Geipel came up to him, pointing over his shoulder with a thumb. “One of my sergeants says he’s established contact with the artillerymen in the barracks. But they’re distrustful since they don’t know him and — just as you guessed — a number of the regiment’s units have turned traitor.”

          “I’ll talk to them.” Tom started toward the corner Geipel had been pointing out, with the captain walking alongside him. “You and Fischer get your companies back into order. We’re heading out as soon as we can get the artillerymen moving.”

          “Where to, sir?” Geipel’s question sounded a bit apprehensive.

          “Don’t worry, Captain. I don’t propose to attack the Bavarians with what little we’ve got. We’re leaving the city altogether.”

          Geipel nodded, his expression obviously relieved. He’d never served under Major Simpson before, so he’d had no idea whether the American officer was reckless or not.

          Once he got to the corner, Tom gingerly stuck his head out far enough to see the barracks. “This is Major Simpson!” he shouted.

          After a moment, a voice shouted back: “What’s your mother’s maiden name?”

          Tom frowned. That wasn’t a question a down-timer would normally think of; not, at least, as a security question. Seventeenth century German women did not adopt their husband’s last name when they got married. In the here and now, that custom was mostly restricted to England.

          But Tom himself was the only up-timer in the Danube Regiment. There were three Americans in the TacRail unit that had been stationed in Ingolstadt, but they’d left the city a couple of months earlier in order to work on a rail line leading north from Regensburg. So who…

          The answer came to him almost at once. In the months he’d been in Ingolstadt, Bobby Lloyd McDougal had made friends with one of the artillery units. He’d probably been gossiping.

          The sergeant in command of that unit was David Steinbach. “My mother’s maiden name was Forbes, Sergeant Steinbach! Now quit playing games or I’ll use you to demonstrate American football! You’ll be the playing field!”

          He heard a distant laugh. “All right, Major, come on!”

****

          From there, things went quickly. The artillerymen were every bit as eager to get out of Ingolstadt as all the other soldiers in what was left of the regiment. The only hang-up was that the heavy artillery units wanted to salvage their twelve-pounders.

          That idea was impractical to the point of lunacy. Artillerymen were not entirely sane on the subject of their guns. The twelve-pounders had been taken off their carriages in preparation for placing them as defensive guns on the walls. It would take at least an hour of hard labor just to get them remounted. And then how would they haul the carriages? Guns that size needed to be drawn by large teams of horses. There weren’t enough horses in the stables adjoining the barracks for the purpose. In fact, there were barely enough to salvage the six-pounders, which would be a lot more useful in the field anyway.

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10 Responses to Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 09

  1. William McLamb says:

    Where are the ten inch naval guns?

  2. akira.taylor says:

    Hmm. I hope they think to spike the 12-pounders (which, since it was fairly standard in the period (I think), is pretty likely). Wouldn’t want the Bavarians to get them.
    Well, we’ll find out Wednesday, I guess.

  3. Mike S says:

    If done right. With bronze guns, you had to put the loading ladle (or similar iron device) down the barrel and then hammer in the spike, so it would bend, otherwise, you could just pull the spike back out. This way, you had to drill out the spike and repair the vent.

  4. Doug Lampert says:

    If you’ve got time you can overcharge a gun and blow it, that’s even better than spiking (albeit it’s also dangerous even with a really long powder trail or fuse, and it takes lots of time because you pretty much have to blow the guns one at a time so you can be sure one explosion won’t cut or blow out the fuse for another explosion).

    Alternately, thermite grenades aren’t all that hard to manufacture if you can come up with an ignition system. An artillery unit should carry some way to disable its own guns, that’s a forseeable contingency after all. (Needing to abandon heavy guns is hardly unheard of.)

    There’s lots of ways to disable a gun, and they’ve got some time, I’m sure they’ll do a reaspectable job.

    With bronze guns you’re still abandoning a small fortune in bronze for each gun. But that can’t be helped.

  5. Randy says:

    Really heavy ordinance versus infantry Guess who wins The Bavarians can’t have much in the way of artillery. After all its hard to do a sneak attack lugging cannon around. Just how did they sneak up on ingoldstadt in winter

  6. Doug Lampert says:

    @5, the Infantry. Every time. Unsupported artillery is considered a bad thing by everyone except the people attacking it. The only reasons the artillery could plausibly hold out as long as it has is that it’s a confused night attack, the artillery is in a prepared position, and the enemy has other priorities.

    Divide the guns by the number of lines of approach, then consider that grape from a 12 pounder would be lucky to kill a dozen men (even against close packed targets, there are only 48 balls in the grape, and many will miss high or low, and many will double or triple hit the same guy). In this case with the town for cover the enemy could start a charge so close that the cannon get only one shot. Basically, unless the guns are mounted behind works that hold the infantry unable to advance the attackers can overrun the battery without difficulty.

    Two companies of infantry makes the position MUCH stronger, simply because it means you have a way to keep the enemy from climbing the walls and a way to deal with snipers other than trying to use a heavy cannon on a single guy.

    But it’s likely there are heavy guns mounted on the town wall (that’s where the 12 pounders were going, but there should already have been some guns there), so by about noon it won’t be unsupported infantry, it will be infantry with heavy guns of their own against artillery with minimal support.

    The artillery has to run and run quickly.

    As for how the Bavarians got in? With a full battalion of the garison defecting they may well have been guided in by the very scouts that were supposed to be watching for them. Seriously, if it took them 2 days to get a regiment across the river, who cares, HALF the garrison has defected! Cross in that half’s patrol area, even if some civilian tries to report it, who will he report it to? Probably the officer in charge of looking for the enemy in that area.

  7. Ed T. says:

    As to the 10 inch naval guns, I would think that Admiral Simpson would have demanded their return when Baner took Ingolstadt in Bavarian Crisis.

  8. Geoff N says:

    from chapter 70 of the Bavarian Crisis “A miraculous intervention by the emperor himself, in the form of a radio message that came the next morning.
    Pointless to bring them back to Luebeck. Even the admiral has now given up salvaging the Monitor for more than parts and the steel. Take the guns to Ingolstadt. I might want to use them against Maximilian, before too long. Or against Austria, perhaps. There are many possibilities down there. So best to keep them in place.”
    So where are the ten inch naval guns now?

  9. laclongquan says:

    And no way for them to disable the big guns. Surprise attack, remember?

    Best they can do is bringing the smallers out

  10. akira.taylor says:

    @9 laclongquan – No way to disable the 10″ guns, but I wonder if they will blow the magazine? It would be a rather large explosion, I’d think (especially if there is much ammo for the 10″ guns). Destroying the ammo for the 10″ guns would be worth quite a lot, since it would be a pain for the Bavarians to produce new ammo for the guns, unless some one in Ingolstadt is already doing so for the USE (not impossible, but a pain, especially quickly, thus denying the use of them to Bavaria – still have the risk that Bavaria will destroy them before the USE gets them back, but that’s no worse than the USE destroying them here).

    Actually, if the uptimers have a few thermite grenades/charges, they can destroy the 10″ guns. Hmm, as an exercise for the reader – which would be a better use (long-term and short-term) of thermite gun destroying: the 12-pounders, or the 10″ guns?

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