Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 15
Tom and his soldiers got out of the city without any problem. He even had time to order the gate destroyed, after making sure no civilians would be caught in the blast. That was a pointless gesture, perhaps. By the time the USE army or the SoTF’s National Guard could get back to Ingolstadt, the Bavarians would have had plenty of time to repair the damage. But blowing up the gate made Tom feel better anyway.
It made his troops feel better, too. They gave an impromptu cheer when the explosives went off.
“We’ll be back, you bastards!” shouted one soldier.
And that was the key to it. Destroying the gate wasn’t a pointless act of vandalism, it was a statement. A symbol, you might say. The Bavarians had taken Ingolstadt, yes. But they wouldn’t keep it.
Now, though, Tom had to make a difficult decision. Where should he take his rump regiment?
There were only two viable options: retreat north to Amberg, the capital of the province, or march down the Danube to Regensburg.
Amberg was the safest destination. The city was garrisoned by a full regiment. The regiment was a mercenary unit, but Tom didn’t think there was much likelihood it had been suborned also. Most of the soldiers in Amberg’s garrison had been recruited in the Upper Palatinate, many of them from nearby towns. They’d been stationed in the capital long enough to develop ties with the local population, too. The chances that they’d agree to betray Amberg on behalf of the Bavarians were slight to the point of being non-existent. Duke Maximilian had a reputation for savagery.
Amberg was well-fortified, too. With Tom’s men added to the existing garrison, they’d be able to withstand any Bavarian siege long enough for Heinrich Schmidt to come down from the State of Thuringia-Franconia with most of the National Guard.
Regensburg was a riskier proposition. On the positive side, there was no chance at all that the garrison at Regensburg had turned traitor. That was the Iron Regiment, a unit of the regular USE army made up entirely of volunteers, most of them also recruited in this province. It was one of the few such regiments that hadn’t been sent into Poland or Bohemia.
Regensburg was also well-fortified, but the defenses had a weakness because the city was right on the Danube. Most of Regensburg was on the south bank of the river, with just a small and not-well-protected enclave on the north. The enclave wasn’t even legally part of Regensburg, but was a separate town. Tom couldn’t remember the name of it. That town couldn’t be held against a large and determined enemy, but losing it wouldn’t by itself threaten Regensburg. The Danube was wide enough at that point to require a great stone bridge to get across, and the bridge could be easily defended.
Except in winter. The river froze over, enabling enemy troops to cross without using the bridge or needing the use of boats. Doing so had dangers of its own — no soldier likes to cross an iced-over river against enemy fire — and there were occasional thaws that might weaken the ice. But it made Regensburg’s bridge less of a defensive barrier than it was most of the year.
Tom decided he had enough time to try reaching Bamberg on the radio. This was really a decision that should be made by the president of the SoTF and his top officers. They’d known for months that if hostilities broke out with Bavaria again, the brunt of the fighting would have to be borne by the province’s National Guard. Between the war with Poland and the domestic turmoil in the USE itself, the only units of the nation’s army that would be available were the troops Tom had pulled out of Ingolstadt and the Iron Regiment in Regensburg.
Nothing. No reception at all. Small radios like this one were chancy at any distance, except during the evening and morning windows. Tom could only hope that his original message had been received.
He’d have to make the choice himself. The road they were on, coming out of the east gate, was the road to Regensburg. If he decided to march for Amberg, he had to cross over now to the northern route. He couldn’t delay the decision. The next road they’d encounter which would enable them to head for Amberg didn’t intersect this road for another ten miles down the river. By then, they’d have covered about a fourth of the distance to Regensburg anyway. They’d do better to just keep going than try to backtrack.
There were several small roads before then, but they wouldn’t be of any use. Five hundred men with their gear — even infantry, much less artillery — could not march down narrow country lanes without slowing down almost to a crawl. Tom couldn’t afford to dawdle. The Bavarians had cavalry; he didn’t. The enemy commander had probably lost control of his troops tonight, but he’d have them back under control by the end of the day tomorrow.
He decided to go for Regensburg. That was a riskier decision for his own forces, but Tom was pretty sure that the Bavarians would try to seize Regensburg before they tried to penetrate further into the Oberpfalz. If they held Regensburg as well as Ingolstadt, they’d control both of the main crossings of the Danube along the border between Bavaria and the USE. They wouldn’t have to worry that a sudden attack by the USE would get large numbers of troops across the river which could threaten their own rear and cut their supply trains.
The Iron Regiment would be hard pressed to hold Regensburg on their own against the full weight of the Bavarian army. But with the help of what was left of the Danube Regiment and its heavy guns, they’d have a real chance. They didn’t need to hold for long, after all. Tom had been part of the staff planning for this eventuality. General Schmidt could get a full division of the National Guard down to the Danube within a week. Ten days, at the latest, if the independent little principality of Nürnberg got stubborn and refused to let the SoTF march its soldiers through their territory.
He turned to give the order to his immediate subordinates, who had gathered around him once he called the halt to use the radio. To his surprise, he discovered that none of them were paying any attention to him at all. They were all gawking at the moon, it seemed like.
That was annoying. It was just a three-quarter moon, no different from the same sight that came every month. Tom was normally an even-tempered officer, but there’d been enough stress tonight to put him on edge. He was about to make a sarcastic remark when a peculiar gleam caught his eye.
When he looked up at the sky himself, he immediately understood what had drawn his officers’ attention. They weren’t looking at the moon — in fact, they weren’t even looking close to it. They were looking at an airship flying northwest of the city.
That was the Pelican, if Tom remembered what Rita had told him. The airship was carrying out a survey of the region and had arrived in Ingolstadt yesterday. He’d forgotten all about it. Luckily for them, they’d obviously managed to get airborne again before the Bavarians could seize their craft.
He cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, if I could have your attention.”
His officers immediately turned away from the sight of the airship, several of them with slightly sheepish expressions.
“I’ve decided to make for Regensburg,” he said. “That will almost certainly be the next target for the Bavarians. We and our guns — especially the guns — would be a big help for the Iron Regiment. Does anyone have any questions? Any problems you can see that you’d like to raise?”
Most of the officers shook their heads. Bruno von Eichelberg, though, had an intent look on his face. “Does that airship have a radio, Major? If it does, it would give us superb reconnaissance. We could use that badly, come tomorrow. The Bavarians will be able to send out cavalry patrols everywhere and all we’ve got to match them are a handful of couriers.”