1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 04

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 04

“It’d have to hit us here in the gondola, too,” Tom added. “This is a hot air vessel, not hydrogen. There’s nothing that even incendiaries could blow up.”

At that, Franchetti visibly relaxed. He might not be familiar with enemy fire, but he did know airships. Unless an explosion tore a great rent in the envelope above them — which was not very likely — they wouldn’t lose altitude quickly. Just punching a bunch of holes in the fabric wouldn’t do much at all.

And while the gondola they were riding in wasn’t armored, as such, it was still pretty tough. A big wicker basket, basically. A cannon ball striking it head on would probably punch through, as would an up-time rifle bullet fired from a heavy caliber gun. Or, even if it didn’t, the impact would probably send splinters flying everywhere, which might cause even worse casualties if not structural damage. But a round musket ball probably wouldn’t penetrate, unless it was fired at point blank range — and how would anyone get that close in the first place?

There was no real chance that shrapnel could penetrate. The biggest danger would be from an explosion that sent shrapnel over the rim of the gondola and struck the crew directly. But that would take a very lucky shot indeed.

Another rocket volley came their way — defining “their way” very loosely — but Tom ignored it. He’d just spotted an odd-looking portion of the city’s walls and was now studying it through his binoculars.

“I will be good God — Gnu damned,” he said, remembering at the last instant to modify his unthinking blasphemy. People in the seventeenth century didn’t hesitate to swear like the proverbial trooper, but they avoided blasphemy.

“What is it, Major?” asked von Eichelberg.

“I do believe some Bavarian fellow has been using his noggin.”

“And a ‘noggin’ would be…”

“Sorry. American slang. It means using his head. Thinking.”

He leaned back from the railing and offered the binoculars to von Eichelberg. Then, pointed at something on the walls below.

“Look at that bastion,” he said. “At least, I’ll call it a bastion for lack of a better term. It’s new. It wasn’t there when we held Ingolstadt.”

Von Eichelberg spent a couple of minutes studying the structure in question through the binoculars.

“It looks like… some sort of pit? But what for?”

“You see the radial design?” Tom replied. “What looks like a bunch of rails leading up to those shrouded… whatever-they-ares at the top of the pit?”

“Yes,” said Bruno. He lowered the binoculars and frowned.

“I think those are gun carriages,” said Tom. “Slanted up at something like thirty degrees and covering at least one-sixth of the visible sky. And the shrouds would be covering the guns themselves. I’m willing to bet that if we got closer you’d see them stripping those shrouds — they’re probably canvas — right off.”

Von Eichelberg issued a grunt. The sound combined surprise with something close to admiration. “Shrewd!”

Tom shrugged. “Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I’m willing to bet that design’s brand new and never been tested.”

His subordinate grinned. “Well, then. What better time than now?”

Franchetti was looking alarmed again — very alarmed.

“Major Simpson, what are you thinking?”

Tom pointed down to the bastion. Down — and away. They were still the better part of a mile from the city walls.

“Head toward it, Stefano. I want to see what happens.”

“But — but –”

Tom clapped his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Re-lax, will you? Whatever that emplacement is, it’s got to be some sort of prototype. That’s a fancy up-time word that means ‘wild-ass idea that nobody’s tried out yet.’ Almost no prototype ever made worked the way it was supposed to the first time out.”

Little Boy and Fat Man did, he thought to himself. But he saw no reason to worry the youngster with hypotheticals. Besides, Oppenheimer and his team had spent a lot longer — not to mention a lot more money — developing the first atomic bombs than whatever Bavarian bright boys down there could have spent developing whatever this thingamajig was.

Franchetti’s expression made it clear he still had his doubts, but he steered the blimp in the direction Tom had indicated. He had the four lawnmower engines going full blast now, to give the vessel maximum speed. The things were unmuffled and made an incredible racket. Anyone who wanted to say anything now would have to shout — and do it almost in someone’s ear.


“How soon should we fire, Captain?” asked one of the gunners. “And shouldn’t we start taking off the covers?”

Von Haslang didn’t reply immediately. He was too intent on studying the oncoming airship.

“Captain?” the gunner repeated.

Von Haslang shook his head. “They’re still much too far away. And leave the covers on. Once we take them off, they’ll know exactly what they’re facing and they’ll turn aside.”

He didn’t add what he could have, which was that the airship wouldn’t be able to turn away quickly. He’d spent quite a bit of time studying the enemy vessels in the course of the four day pursuit of the USE artillery unit which had escaped from Ingolstadt three months earlier. True, he’d never gotten a close look at any of them, but he hadn’t needed to in order to determine that the airships had one great weakness. They were unwieldy. In that respect, nothing at all like the much smaller but also much faster enemy airplanes.

Those famous airplanes weren’t really much of a threat as weapons, though, certainly not to land forces. They simply couldn’t carry enough in the way of explosives. Their real utility in time of war was that they provided superb reconnaissance except in bad weather.

The airships, on the other hand, did have a significant capability to drop bombs. But… they were slow. Faster than infantry, certainly, and even faster than cavalry except when heading directly into a wind. But they could not change direction quickly at all. Even a man on foot below an airship could easily outmaneuver the thing.

Hence, the design of what von Haslang and the other officers and artificers who’d developed it called “the hedgehog.” It was somewhat akin to a stationary and very big volley gun or organ gun. They had two inch guns on rails slanted about thirty degrees into the air and a few degrees apart from each other. The guns fired explosive shells with timed fuses. Once an airship came within range one of them would begin to fire, and if the vessel veered aside it would come into the line of sight of the adjoining guns.

Once fired, the recoil would send the gun sliding down the rail into the pit, but it would be arrested in time by pulleys and counter-weights and brakes. It could then be reloaded and hoisted back up.

Not quickly, of course. But the airships weren’t that quick either.

That was the theory, at any rate. No one had any idea yet if the hedgehogs would work. They’d built two of them, so far.

“Steady,” von Haslang said. “Steady… Still too soon…”

But his plans were overthrown.

What are you waiting for?” demanded a voice from behind him.

Von Haslang’s jaws tightened. He didn’t have to look to recognize the voice of the garrison’s commander, General Timon von Lintelo. Who was, in von Haslang’s now-well-considered opinion, an incompetent over-bearing ass — but also, sadly, highly regarded by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria.

“Answer me, von Haslang! Why haven’t you fired yet?”

Now turning, von Haslang saw that the general wasn’t even going to wait for a reply. Von Lintelo was already gesturing fiercely at the crew of the gun which was — or would have been in a couple of minutes, rather — in line of sight of the airship.

“Shoot at them!” he shouted. “Quickly, before they pass us by!”

The gun crew stripped the canvas covering from the gun. Seeing that, the other gun crews did likewise.

“Shoot! Shoot! They’ll get away!”

It was utterly exasperating. The USE airship was still well out of range. It wasn’t even in proper line of sight, although it had gotten close.

The gun fired. The recoil sent it racing down the rails toward the bottom of the pit. Before it could reach the bottom, however, the restraining apparatus brought it to a stop.

That much, at least, had gone according to plan.

The shell’s warhead exploded just about the proper time also.

Somewhere between two and three hundred meters short of the target.

The airship began to veer aside. Slowly, slowly.

Compounding his folly, von Lintelo ordered the next three guns to fire as the airship moved into line with them. None of those shots came within three hundred meters of the enemy when the warheads exploded — the last two, not within four hundred yards.

The general shook a finger under von Haslang’s nose. “If you’d been more alert, we might have had them!” The statement was ridiculous and on some level even von Lintelo had to know that. But among the general’s many unpleasant traits was his invariant habit of blaming his subordinates for his own errors.

All they’d accomplished was to give the enemy advance warning of what lay in store for them.


“Interesting,” said Tom.

Captain von Eichelberg was less impressed. “It seems quite ungainly.”

“Oh, yeah — but then, so are we. And unlike the rockets, those shells went where they were fired.”

He went back to beard-scratching. “It’s more like a mine field than a weapon system. As long as you know where it is, you can stay away from it. But I could see where it might make a decent area defense system.”

“I only saw one other pit like that,” said von Eichelberg.

“Me, too. But I wonder how many there’ll be at Munich, by the time we get there?”


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41 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 04

  1. Tweeky says:

    “Somewhere between two and three hundred meters short of the target.”

    Why are they using metric units? They’d be using, no pun intended, imperial-units.

    • Randomiser says:

      Universal literary translator? What units did Bavaria use in those days? I sure don’t know and couldn’t make sense of a distance estimate expressed in them. It’s more concerning that the narrative voice is talking metres (sorry, it:s Amideutch, meters) in one line and yards in the next.

      • Bluemax says:

        The metric System and thus a standardisation was introduced by Napoleon, so linear measures were widely diverging Prior to his era.

        The most appropriate measure would be “foot” oder “Fuss”, though even this measure differed from town to town (e.g. Aschaffenburg 29,05 cm, Nuremberg 30,37 cm – Hessian Fuss was only 25 cm). Closest measure to a meter was the “Klafter” = 6 Fuss = 1,75 m

        Source in german only: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alte_Ma%C3%9Fe_und_Gewichte_(Bayern)

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Eric has said (on the Bar) that he has removed the “meters” part.

      He is still working on this book including what he sent me for posting snippets.

    • Mark L says:

      Metric system was not widely used – even in Europe – until the 2oth century. It is every bit as arbitrary as and no more “scientific” than Imperial measurements, but people have repeated that it is more scientific enough times it is beginning to be believed.

      • Joe says:

        In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s much easier to do calculations using metric since the decimals don’t need to be recalculated to some non-decimal sub-unit. 1.82 meters is easy – 1 meter and 82 centimeters. 4.13 feet requires a second calculation to figure out many inches are in 13/100 of a foot. There’s a reason science is conducted almost completely in metric other than the coolness factor.

        • Mark L says:

          A foot can be evenly divided by 2, 3, and 4. Want 4 and one-quarter feet? 4″ 3″ Want 4 and one-third feet? 4′ 4″ (Actually easier to express than 4.333 meters, as 4′ 4″ is exact, and 4.333 is a round off.)

          Metric seems more scientific because it works in base 10. Computers work in base 2 or base 16. We spend a lot of computing power translating back and forth from hexidecimal to decimal. Actually, for most everyday purposes scientific calculations using duodecimal (base 12) would work better than decimal. You would have less problem with roundoff.

        • Johnny says:

          It is not easier to do calculations in metric. Arithmetic is arithmetic. In fact, metric makes it really, really easy to get your answer off by an order of magnitude. Multiplying by 12 or 8 gets irritating but you know for sure if you are on 10^6 units or 10^5, unlike metric. Imperial is superior in engineering- the aforementioned ability to divide by 2, 3, and 4 is FAR more valuable than being able to multiply quickly. Also, the base units make far more sense. 1 psi is a reasonable amount of pressure/stress. 1 pascal is not.

          Metric is superior in pure science. However it breaks down really, really fast. We made everything ideal divisible by 10… which means in actual practice nothing is divisible by 10. It is easier for laymen to use though.

          In reality what would be best would be to count on a base 12 system vs base 10. Then you could have a “metric” system that combines the best features of imperial.

      • John Cowan says:

        The fundamental units are arbitrary: the system, including the use of prefixes and derived units, is not. That’s what makes it so much better.

        “Quick, how many inches in a mile?”

        • Drak Bibliophile says:

          Who cares (or needs to know) how many inches in a mile? :evil:

          Seriously, IMO metric vs imperial is more of a Religious Debate than any thing else.

          • Richard H says:

            The fact that you have to memorize that there are 5280 feet in a mile (which is actually a quite reasonable number of rods, but nobody uses 16-foot rods anymore) makes it significantly more unwieldy to work with at varying scales. My mechanical engineer friends at college (in the US) significantly hated the assignments which were specified in Imperial units for this reason. Well, that, and because, really, nobody has any visceral sense of how much mass a slug is, while pounds are much more useful as a unit of force than a unit of mass, just to mess everyone up again.

            • Vikingted says:

              In my job I use meters for my RF calculations and inches for distances on my vehicle. I just wish it were all in meters. Consistency in units would have avoided a Mars mishap.

              • Richard H says:

                My intro MechE professor once explained the units people generally advertise air conditioner power in. Apparently, it’s a number that comes out to [BTUs moved per second]/Watt. Talk about mixing your unit systems.

            • Tweeky says:

              If you’re using pound as a unit of mass then the force in question is measured in poundals.

        • marcel says:

          12″ to the foot
          3 foot to the yard
          220 yards to the furlong
          8 furlong to the mile

          • Tweeky says:

            The Mile was originally 5,000 Ft (This was the Roman mile) but IIRC Elizabeth I increased it to 5,280 Ft to make it exactly 8 Furlongs in length. Long term the USE could redefine the mile to its original 5,000 Ft in length another thing would be to redefine the inch in relation to the Foot so it is 10 so that a Foot is 10 inches long.

            • marcel says:

              Strange, the Romans defined the mile as mille passus, 1000 double paces, or 6000 foot.

            • Bret Hooper says:

              Better yet, redefine the mile from 63360 inches (= 2080 feet) to 65536 (= 2^16 = 16^4) inches (= 1.0343434 . . . of our present miles), then redefine the foot to 16 inches and the yard to 2 feet (= 32 inches). This would make all these measurements of length compatible with each other in binary, octal, and hexadecimal numbers (bases 2, 8, and 16) and facilitate replacing the decimal number system in everyday use with the hexadecimal number system used by most modern computers, thus saving the computer time converting numbers input in decimal to hex or binary and converting numbers to be output to base ten (decimal).
              Hex also expresses large numbers mor compactly, e.g.
              hex 10,000 = 1,048,576 decimal

        • marcel says:

          For even more fun, how many pounds to the ton? (long, short, metric, naval?)
          Pint? 586 ml in Britain, 473 ml in the USA, 551 ml USA dry pint!
          The Netherlands:
          Utrecht: 1′ = 10″, 1″ = 26.8 mm
          Amsterdam 1’= 11″, 1″= 25.7 mm
          Bloois 1′ = 12″, 1″ = 24.9 mm
          Putten 1’= 13″ 1″= 26.2 mm
          1 roede = 12/14/16/18/19/20/21 foot depending on the town.

          The dutch royal academy of science gives several hundred different local definitions of 1 foot, varying by location, in time, and use. (so at Geestmerambacht a foot of land is a different length before the lock or after, at Langbroek a foot of wood is a different length for lumber and timber, at Schagerkogge foot of dike/dyke can be 28/29/31 cm, in Nijmegen a foot is 31.5 cm until it becomes just 27 cm in 1743.)

      • marcel says:

        The main advantage of metric is that it translates across dimensions:
        1 Newton of force = 1 kg m / s^2
        1 Watt of energy = 1 N / s
        1 Ohm of resistance = 1 Watt / Ampere
        1 Ampere = 1 Coulomb / s
        etc ad nauseam.

  2. dave o says:

    Making enough two inch shells for this thing must be a hell of a problem for the Bavarians. I would guess that they have to be individually cast.

  3. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Tom is very lucky that this competent officer’s idiot superior intervened before they got in range. Simple bullets may have posed no real threat, but a two-inch shell is a whole different animal.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      I’m wondering how they’re arranging the fusing on the shells. It sounds like they are using fixed fuses, but fairly accurate ones. That’s non-trivial to arrange.

      Even WWII grenade fuses (for example) were often off by a substantial fraction of their supposed timing (this is why holding a three second grenade for two seconds before throwing it was a very bad idea).

    • Vikingted says:

      I just wonder why von Haslang did not tell his idiot commander that he was not in range yet.

      • Drak Bibliophile says:

        The idiot commander wouldn’t listen and would cause von Haslang big problems if he argued with the idiot commander.

  4. OK, so how much does one cubic foot of liquid scandium weigh? You can calculate it about as fast as in metric, if the right software is loaded.

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      And people in every day life need to know that. [Evil Grin]

      Of course, as far as I’m concerned the biggest “problem” with metric are the people who think others need to be forced to use metric. [Frown]

      • Vikingted says:

        My Rocket and missiles are measured in inches and the RF calcs are in per meter units. HiHo, HiHo, conversion here I go….

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        Nobody should be forced to use metric, true. But there are a number of advantages to it, most notably ease of use. For example, it’s easy to mentally convert from meters to kilometers, whereas it’s not so easy to convert from feet to miles.

        For example, if you know a speed in kilometers per hour, it’s actually pretty easy to convert that speed to, say, meters per second; divide by 3.6 (1000/3600). Even without a calculator, it’s not hard to do that calculation, and even if you get it wrong, it’s going to be a relatively small error. Compare that to trying to convert miles per hour into feet per second, which is 5280/3600. The calculation ends up being 1.466666…, which is an irrational number and thus inherently much harder to deal with.

        Sure, you can round to 1.5 and do it that way…but the error involved is going to accumulate pretty quickly. And I don’t know anyone who can multiply something by 1.46 or 1.47 or 1.467 in their heads very quickly, whereas it’s fairly easy to divide by 3.6 in your head.

        Now, I’ll grant that unless you’re doing wargaming (which, in fact, is why I had to figure out how to quickly convert km/h to m/s, since the speeds were only given in the former and that doesn’t tell you a thing about how much ground they can cover in the scales used in a tabletop battle), you probably won’t have to worry about doing this conversion, but it serves as a decent example of why metric is easier to use.

    • marcel says:

      Software, as in computers and calculators? Precisely why science and engeneering in the 19th and 20th century moved away from imperial.

      • Johnny says:


        The fact that we went to the moon in Imperial

        • marcel says:

          I know. Very impressive. I should have said “early 20th century”, before computers became affordable in science and engineering. My bad.
          Except for the fact that NASA was basically Peenemunde 2.0, where many senior engineers and scientists were German, and they probably worked in metric and then translated it to imperial after they finished their work.

  5. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Speaking as a practicing professional scientist, there are several reasons why the metric system is superior to the Imperial system for doing science. Even more importantly, though, is the fact that scientists all over the world have adopted the metric system and communicate all their measurement data in metric. This immensely simplifies communicating and understanding scientific findings to other scientists around the world. Sure, we could have adopted the Imperial system or some other system, but we didn’t; we adopted metric, and that uniform use of the metric system is critical to my profession.

    However, when I want to know how hot or cold it is outside, I don’t ask for the measurement in degrees Celsius. I get it in degrees Fahrenheit. My brain comprehends that it is hot outside when the weatherman says 101 F, but just shrugs when the weatherman says 38.9 C. :-)

    • Vikingted says:

      But then if you were living in mainland Europe (I do not know what units are used in England) the weather would be report in Centigrade or Celsius and Fahrenheit would be an awkward value to wrap your head around.

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        That’s true. It’s conditioning from my childhood that I cannot escape in my middle age. :-)

        • Vikingted says:

          Robert, it was my conditioning also, but I had to visit my relatives in the old country four or five times before I finished high school so both systems were ingrained in my pea brain.

        • Randomiser says:

          Living in Scotland, I have the same conditioning as Robert but my (adult) kids have it the other way round as the schools had switched over by the time they got there.

          Imperial v Metric is not a “religious” argument; a whole bunch of mixed bases vs everything except time on base 10? No contest which is simpler

    • Johnny says:

      Superior for science, inferior for engineering.
      Metric could have been a lot more useful if the scientists making the base units had used their noggins a little. A pascal is a stupidly small unit to use; might as well make the base time unit a microsecond and insist that everyone call seconds megaseconds and hours in the neighborhood of gigaseconds.

  6. Vikingted says:

    I still can not believe these Snippets will last for another five months… It better be an epic story. Why should I fear though, it is a main line story. Here’s to a fun five month activity. Yea!

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