1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 25
“We could parachute in,” said Captain Wilhelm Finck. He leaned over and pointed to a spot on the big map spread across the table in Mike Stearns’ HQ tent. “I think this location would be possible, although we’d have to overfly it first to make sure it isn’t too heavily wooded.”
Mike thought about it, for a moment. The idea was tempting. The location Captain Finck suggested was close enough to the Amper River for his team to make the reconnaissance before a Bavarian cavalry unit could find them. Unless they had bad luck, at least — but that was always a given in war.
“You need a Jupiter, am I right?”
The Marine captain shook his head. “Not necessarily, sir. A Jupiter is the only airplane big enough for a parachute drop by more than one or two men. But we could do it from the Pelican as well.”
Mike frowned. “That thing would be visible for miles. There’s no way to use it for a mission that needs to be surreptitious.”
“It depends on the time of day, sir. If we make the drop very early in the morning, there will be enough light for us to see but the airships won’t be very visible from the ground — and we certainly won’t be, falling over the side. If any Bavarian soldier does spot the airship they’ll simply think it’s on a reconnaissance mission.”
Mike grimaced. The captain was right, probably. But it was still one hell of a risk.
Looking at Finck’s face, as the captain continued to gaze intently at the map, it was obvious that he wasn’t concerned about the danger involved. Although it was part of the USE’s marine forces, Finck’s unit — officially the 1st Reconnaissance Company, First Marines — was more closely analogous to what the up-time US military would have called special forces. The unit had been formed in response to the disastrous attempt to invade the Danish island of Bornholm two years earlier during the Baltic War.
Like all such special forces — Mike had met a few during his stint in the US Army up-time — the men who joined them were adrenaline junkies. They simply didn’t have what Mike considered a normal and sane level of caution and risk assessment — which was something, given that he himself was a former prizefighter and had never lost any sleep over mining coal for a living.
“All right, Captain. We’ll make the drop. How soon can you be ready?”
Finck shrugged. “That really depends more on when the Pelican can be placed at our disposal than it does on us, sir. Me and my men can be ready by tomorrow morning.”
“Tell Franchetti — no, tell Major Simpson to tell Franchetti — to give you top priority.”
Mike grimaced again, this time from contemplating weirdness rather than peril. The up-time military he’d known — for sure and certain some of the tight-ass commanders he’d suffered under — would have had conniptions if they’d been dealing with the Third Division’s realities of life. Mike had what amounted to his own tiny little air force consisting of one airship, the Pelican, and on occasion — nowhere nearly often enough, as far as he was concerned — he also had one of the USE Air Force’s warplanes at his disposal for a few days. Always one of the two Belles, never the newer and more advanced Gustavs. Those were reserved for General Torstensson’s use in the Polish theater.
Mostly Mike was dependent on the Pelican for what he whimsically thought of as his “air operations” — and never mind the fact that the Pelican was a civilian airship being leased by the State of Thuringia-Franconia rather that the USE government. And never mind the fact that it was operationally commanded by Major Tom Simpson, who was an USE artillery officer with no formal ties of any kind to the air force or the SoTF’s National Guard.
What the hell, the set-up worked. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“When we find a good place to cross the river, sir, what do you want us to do?” Finck asked. “Return or stay in place?”
“Stay in place — if you can do so without being spotted. But don’t take any unnecessary risks, Captain. There’ll only be a handful of you and even allowing for your weaponry” — Finck’s unit was armed with lever-action .40-72 carbines — “you’ll be overwhelmed by any sizeable enemy force.”
“Yes, sir. Shall I be off, then?”
“Yes. Good luck, Captain.”
After Captain Finck left the tent, Mike turned toward Lt. Colonel Thorsten Engler. “When the time comes for us to cross the river, even if we have the element of surprise — and if we don’t we probably won’t try it at all — you can be sure and certain the Bavarians will throw every cavalry unit they have available at us. We’ll be depending on you to hold them off.”
Thorsten nodded. His flying artillery unit could be used against infantry — and had been, on several battlefields — but they were specifically designed to counter cavalry. They were not as mobile as a cavalry unit but had much greater firepower at their disposal.
They were useless against fortifications, however, which was their great drawback. Any infantry unit which had the time to build good fieldworks could drive them off as well.
“How wide is the Amper, General?” asked Leoš Hlavacek, the colonel in command of the Teutoberg Regiment.
Mike turned toward Tom Simpson, who’d come back the day before from a reconnaissance mission over the terrain between Ingolstadt and Freising. He’d taken the risk of having the Pelican fly no more than a hundred yards above the ground so he’d gotten a good view of everything. He’d particularly concentrated on the Amper, since that tributary of the Isar was the main geographical obstacle the Third Division was going to face in their march on Munich.
Tom made a waggling motion with his hand. “It varies. In a lot of places it’s not even a ‘river’ so much as it is a braided network of little streams.”
“How little?” asked Georg Derfflinger. He commanded the division’s 3rd Brigade and, at twenty-nine, was the youngest of the Third Division’s brigadiers. “If they’re narrow enough and shallow enough, we might be able to cross without having to put up a bridge. Maybe just a corduroy road to keep the men’s boots from getting soaked.”
Simpson looked skeptical. “It’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. I was up in the air, not down on the ground, so I can’t be sure. But from the way it looked, those places where the Amper divides into a network of streams are swamps. We could wind up getting mired down. I think we’d do better to cross someplace where there are solid banks we can anchor a bridge on. Keep in mind that’s a pretty small river. I didn’t see any place where it was wider than maybe ten yards.”
He started to add something and then closed his mouth. Mike suspected that Tom had been about to make a comment that might have struck the down-timers as American chauvinism. By Tom’s standards as well as Mike’s — any American’s — the rivers in Europe seemed pretty dinky. Mike hadn’t seen the Rhine yet, so he couldn’t judge if it lived up to its world-famous reputation. But neither the Elbe nor the Danube did, for North Americans accustomed to such rivers as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio, although Mike had been told that the Danube was a lot more impressive further east than he’d seen it.
In the United States he’d come from, a body of running water the size of the Amper would probably have been called a creek rather than a river. But Mike had enough military experience by now to understand that it didn’t take much of a body of running water — call it a river, a creek or whatever you chose — to pose a serious obstacle to an army more than ten thousand strong which was operating with the sort of equipment available in the early seventeenth century.
The march on Munich from Regensburg posed one major geographical problem for the Third Division. They could easily cross over to the Isar’s south bank somewhere between Dingolfing and Landshut, where the Bavarians had no sizeable forces to oppose them, and then follow the river all the way down to Munich.
The problem was that in the year 1636, Bavaria’s capital was a far cry from the metropolis it would eventually become. In the time period Mike had come from, Munich straddled the Isar. But today, the city was located entirely north of the river. So arriving at Munich on the south bank would do them no good at all. To be sure, the Isar was narrow enough that they could bombard the city’s walls from the south bank. But sooner or later, once a breach was made, they’d have to cross it — right in the face of the enemy, entrenched in the city’s fortifications.
No, they had to stay on the Isar’s north bank all the way down — but that posed the problem that they’d first have to cross the river’s main tributary, the Amper. Hopefully, Captain Finck and his men would find a good spot to do it. They needed someplace the Third Division could reach easily — while the Bavarians could be held at bay long enough — and which had solid enough footing and enough forest in the area — groves, at least — to build the bridges they’d need for the purpose.