1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 38
Bavaria, on the Amper river
Two miles east of Zolling
The ducks were what saved Jeff Higgins’ life. What bothered him afterward was that he never knew what kind of ducks they were, so he couldn’t properly thank the breed with something suitable like erecting a small temple or naming his next child after them.
He and the small scouting party he was leading had just reached the spot on the Amper which Captain Finck had recommended as a good place for a crossing to be made. Jeff had started to come out of the saddle to lower himself to the ground when the flock of ducks — did ducks come in “flocks”? he didn’t know — suddenly started squawking — or whatever you called the racket that ducks made when they got agitated — and what seemed like thousands of them lifted themselves out of the river and went flying off.
Startled, his weight resting mostly on one stirrup, he looked to the west and had a glimpse of the oncoming Bavarian cavalry.
He assumed they were Bavarian, anyway — and he wasn’t about to stick around to find out. He’d go on that assumption and let the devil worry about the details.
“Out of here!” he shouted, sliding back into the saddle and spurring his horse onto the trail they’d followed down to the river bank. “Get the fuck out of here!”
The ducks were mallards and General von Schnetter felt like cursing the things. The waterfowl had alerted the enemy patrol just in time for them to make their escape.
Von Schnetter wasn’t concerned about the failure to capture the patrol, in and of itself. What worried him was that the big fellow who’d seemed to be leading them was dressed like an officer — at least, if von Schnetter was interpreting the design and insignia of USE uniforms properly.
The army of the United States of Europe was an outlier in that respect, being the only large military force of the time that insisted on clothing its soldiers in standard uniforms. That actually made it harder to distinguish between officers and enlisted men because the gray uniforms were much the same color and the insignia were hard to differentiate between at a distance. In a properly costumed army, the extra money officers usually spent on their clothing made them stand out more. He himself, for instance, was at that very moment wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a pair of splendid ostrich plumes which nicely set off his bright red shoulder sash.
If that big fellow who’d made his escape was just a scout, it would probably take him and his mates a bit of time to find their commander and pass on the warning, and if the commander was a sluggish sort…
But if he was the commander himself, which he might well have been — von Schnetter was in the habit of leading his own reconnaissance, as he was this very moment — and if he was capable…
“Fucking mallards!” he snarled.
“Form up! Form up!” Jeff shouted, as he reached the sentries he’d posted to guard the flanks of the regiment.
For once, he was thankful for the sword he had to haul around. The damn thing was all but useless for actual fighting but it made for the most dramatic pointer you could ask for. He had the sword in his hand and was waving it in the direction from which he and his three scouts were racing.
He wasn’t too happy about that, either, since Jeff disliked being on a horse under any conditions and especially galloping over terrain he wasn’t familiar with. Push come to shove, though, he’d prefer falling off a horse even at high speed to getting shot or — worse still — getting stuck like a pig by a damn sword. Unlike himself, there were men in the world who knew how to use the idiotic devices.
“Form up! The Bavarians are here!”
He didn’t have time to get the whole regiment into proper formation. Not even close to enough time. But he was able to get three companies in a line with their muskets ready to fire.
No breastworks; no pikemen — against cavalry. This was going to be hairy as all hell. He could only hope that Engler and the flying artillery would come up soon.
Bavaria, near Moosburg
Five miles east of Zolling
At that precise moment, Colonel Thorsten Engler was cursing ducks himself — and wasn’t bothering to make fine distinctions between breeds. Being a former farmer, Thorsten knew perfectly well the ducks were mallards. But at the moment, so far as he was concerned, they just belonged to the cursed category of “noisy birds.” Between the ones still on the river just a few dozen yards away and the ones who’d taken to the air, they were making such a racket that he couldn’t hear anything else.
What he was straining to hear was the sound of horses moving. Or, more likely, the sound of cavalrymen’s gear clattering. If there were horses in the area they were moving slowly. Even over the clamor being made by the ducks, Thorsten could have heard the sound of a large group of galloping or cantering horses.
You couldn’t see anything, between the heavy growth and the walls of Moosburg. The town wasn’t fortified, but like almost all towns and villages in central Europe the buildings were erected right next to each other. Looking at Moosburg from a distance of a hundred and fifty yards or so, he couldn’t see anything beyond the walls and roofs of the outlying edifices. For all he knew, there was an entire cavalry regiment gathered in the town square, ready to charge out at any minute.
Or there could be nothing there at all, beyond some frightened civilians trying to hide in root cellars and basements.
The Pelican had arrived shortly after dawn, but it had only been able to stay in the area for a short time. The airship was operating at the very edge of its range, this far from its base in Regensburg. By tomorrow or the day after, the SoTF National Guard should have an airship base in operation in Ingolstadt, which would cut perhaps twenty miles from the distance. Better yet, if the Third Division could cross the Amper and secure a beachhead, they could establish an airship base almost right next to their field of operations.
Just before the Pelican left — actually, after it was already on its way back to Regensburg and several miles away — it reported what seemed to be significant cavalry movement near Moosburg. General Stearns had immediately ordered the flying artillery squadron to deploy west of the town. He was sending the Dietrich and White Horse regiments from the 3rd Brigade to support them, with Brigadier Derfflinger in command, while keeping the brigade’s third regiment in reserve. That was the Yellow Marten Regiment, commanded by Colonel Jan Svoboda.
All well and good — once they got here. But Derfflinger’s infantry was still a good three-quarters of a mile away, and the artillery units attached to his brigade would be lagging still farther behind. And in the meantime, Thorsten and his flying artillery were on their own.
If they’d been operating in open country, Thorsten would have been less concerned. By now, he had a great deal of confidence in his men, especially the veterans of Ahrensbök. Given enough open space to fire several volleys, he was sure he could drive off any but the largest cavalry force.
Unfortunately, the terrain west of Moosburg was wooded. Not a forest, exactly, but there was enough in the way of scattered groves and treelines to allow an enemy cavalry force to move up unseen until the last few hundred yards — not more than two hundred, in some directions.
If only the Pelican were still here…
Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters
Village of Haag an der Amper
The first indication Mike Stearns had that his campaign plans were flying south for the winter was the eruption of gunfire to the west. From the sound of it, a real battle was getting underway.
By the time his units had entered Haag an der Amper early that morning, the little village located a short distance north of the river had already been deserted by its inhabitants. From the looks of things, they’d left several days earlier. Bavaria had been relatively unravaged by the Thirty Years War, especially this close to Munich, but by now people living anywhere in the Germanies — anywhere in central Europe — were hyper-alert to military threats. Every city and town and most villages had their own militias, but except for those of walled cities the volunteer units were only suited for fending off bandits and small groups of plundering soldiers and deserters. As soon as they realized that major armies were coming into the area, the inhabitants would flee elsewhere. To a nearby walled city, if they had privileges there. To anywhere away from the fighting, if they didn’t.