1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 39
In the larger villages, Mike’s command unit would seize the best and biggest tavern in which to set up a field headquarters. In smaller villages like Haag an der Amper, there would be no tavern as such. Typically, one of the more prosperous villagers would use one of the rooms on the ground floor of his house as a substitute.
By the time the army was done with such a temporary field headquarters and moved on, the place was fairly well trashed. The structure would usually remain intact, but the interior would be a ruin. Partly that was from carelessness and occasionally it was from deliberate vandalism — although not often if the troops were part of the Third Division. Ever since the atrocities committed by some of his units in the Polish town of Świebodzin, Mike had maintained a harsh discipline when it came to the way civilians were treated.
Mostly, though, the destruction was simply the inevitable side-effect of having far too many men wearing boots and carrying weapons tromping in and out of a building that had never been designed for the purpose. Mike had been bothered by the wreckage in his first weeks as a general, but by now he’d gotten accustomed to it. War was what it was.
When the gunfire erupted, Mike’s first instinct was to rush to the door in order to look for himself. But he suppressed that almost instantly and turned instead to the radio operator positioned at a small table in a corner.
“Any reports?” he demanded.
The radio operator shook his head. “Not yet, General.”
That was a bad sign. Probably a very bad sign. Mike had stationed Jeff Higgins and his Hangman regiment on the division’s right flank — and he’d done that partly because that was the flank that was more-or-less hanging out there and blowing in the wind. Jeff was his only up-time regimental commander and he had the only up-time radio operator, his old friend Jimmy Andersen. Mike was confident that, between them, they’d use the radio to warn him of any trouble almost instantly. He still had down-time commanders, no matter how many times he snarled at them, whose immediate instinct was to send a courier instead of using their regimental radio.
“Damnation,” Mike muttered. He looked at one of his junior adjutants, who’d also serve him as a courier. “Get over there, Lieutenant Fertig, and see what’s happening.”
Bavaria, on the Amper River
Two miles east of Zolling
Jeff Higgins wasn’t worried about the radio because he assumed Jimmy Andersen would have already sent the warning. His attention was entirely concentrated on trying to keep his formations from disintegrating under the impact of the Bavarian cavalry charge.
They probably would have, despite all his efforts, except that the same partially wooded terrain that was causing Thorsten Engler so much anxiety a few miles to the east was working in favor of the Hangman Regiment here. There were just enough small groves, just enough fallen logs, and just enough brush to give his men a bit of cover and impede the Bavarian horsemen.
It was clear very soon, however, that there was no way the Hangman was going to be able to hold this position. Against cavalry… maybe. But Jeff was quite sure this charge wasn’t the product of an accidental encounter with a passing cavalry unit. There were too many of them and they’d come on too quickly and in too good a formation. This had been planned.
The Bavarians had outmaneuvered them, it was as simple as that. Jeff was sure of it — and that meant there were infantry units coming up right behind. Probably some light artillery, too. They’d sweep right over them. He needed to fall back, anchor his regiment on the river and just hope that the commander of the 1st Brigade, von Taupadel, was moving his regiments up in support.
Von Taupadel was doing just that, and at that very moment. But moving several thousand men in unfamiliar terrain in response to gunfire coming from a still-unseen enemy is the sort of thing that only happens neatly and instantly in war games.
Unfortunately, von Taupadel did not think of using his brigade radio until several minutes had gone by — perhaps as much as a quarter of an hour. In fairness to him, that was partly because he also knew that both the commander and the radio operator of the Hangman Regiment were up-timers, and he assumed they’d already sent a radio message to General Stearns.
Bavaria, near Moosburg
Five miles east of Zolling
Thorsten Engler could hear the gunfire to the west. Each individual gunshot was faint, because of the distance, but that much gunfire can be heard for many miles, especially when it is continuous and never lets up.
Half an hour had gone by since the flying artillery squadron had come into position outside Moosburg — thirty-three minutes, to be exact; Thorsten had a good pocket watch and used it regularly — and there had been no sign of movement in the town. Nothing. Not a dog had stirred.
By now, Engler was almost certain that the cavalry movement the Pelican had reported had been a ruse. A feint, to draw the Third Division’s attention to its left flank while the real assault came on the right.
He was tempted to send a patrol into the town to find out what was there, but he wasn’t quite ready yet. If he was wrong, they’d get slaughtered.
He’d wait five more minutes. In the meantime…
Thorsten turned to his radio operator, who was in place right behind him. Whether because he was betrothed to an up-timer or simply because — this would have been his own explanation, had anyone asked — he wasn’t a dumb fuck mired in military traditions which he didn’t have anyway because he was a sensible farmer — Engler never forgot to use the radio in an appropriate and timely manner.
“Send a message to General Stearns,” he commanded. “Tell him I think the report of cavalry movement in Moosburg was a feint.”
Bavaria, Third Division field headquarters
Village of Haag an der Amper
Mike read the message through once, quickly. He didn’t need to read it again because he’d already come to the same conclusion himself.
He’d have cursed himself for a blithering overconfident reckless fool except he didn’t have the time. He still didn’t have a report from the Hangman Regiment. It was too soon for a report to be brought by a courier and the fact that no radio report had come in meant that Higgins had either been overrun too quickly or something had happened to the radio.
Either way, that meant Higgins — at best — had been driven away from the spot on the Amper which Captain Finck had recommended for a river crossing. Which meant…
The Amper could be crossed there from either direction. Which meant…
Piccolomini had feinted on the right — his right; Mike’s left — to draw his attention that way. He’d then taken advantage of the Pelican‘s departure to launch a surprise attack on the Hangman.
Mike tried to visualize the terrain. The area along both sides of the river was wooded. If the Bavarian commander had moved the troops up either the night before or very early that morning — probably the night before, while the Third Division had been setting up camp — then they could have been in position and hidden when the Pelican arrived. The airship had only been able to stay in position for half an hour before it had to return to Regensburg.
As soon as it left, Piccolomini had launched the flank attack. But he couldn’t have gotten enough men onto the north bank to have any hope of rolling up the whole Third Division. No, he’d use the same ford that Finck had found to move most of his army across, now that his cavalry had driven back the regiment guarding Mike’s right flank.
Ulbrecht Duerr summarized the situation. “They’ll try to get enough men north of the Amper to roll us up. We need to fall back and anchor ourselves on Moosburg. Which means we need to take Moosburg now.”
Long shook his head. “That’s asking the flying artillery to take a terrible risk. The volley guns are all but useless in close quarter street fighting. All Piccolomini has to have done is left a few companies in the town to bleed them white.”
Mike had already reached that conclusion himself. And, for the first time since the gunfire erupted, found his footing again.
“I think we’ve got a bit of time, gentlemen,” he said. “We’re going to rope-a-dope. That’s if the Hangman’s still on its feet. Damn it, why haven’t they gotten in touch?”